Day 59 Epilogue
To quote an old Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In our case a 3,000 mile journey begins with a single pedal stroke. I did some quick math and determined that I would pedal about 750,000 pedal strokes between Calais, Maine and Key West, Florida. For me the journey actually started with a single phone call to Timberline Adventures. I had seen an article in Bicycling Magazine describing the “opening” of the East Coast Greenway and mentioning Timberline as the outfit planning the first organized and fully supported ride down the entire length of the East Coast Greenway.
To me, the thought of cycling 3,000 miles down the Atlantic Coast was a Bucket List item, comparable to my previously completed Race Across America, or the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers race across the Atlantic Ocean. As an added benefit, I would be riding the East Coast Greenway at a touring pace which would allow me to actually see the country rather than just the road 50 feet ahead of my front wheel. I would have time to photograph and document my journey to help raise awareness for the East Coast Greenway and the non-profit organization behind it.
Timberline had a 35 year history of leading tours and impeccable references so I gave them a shout. It was obvious from my call that the 8 week itinerary I was interested in was dependent upon attracting enough riders to make it economically viable. I immediately signed up and began canvassing my ultra endurance riding friends to help make the quota and ensure a riding buddy. Several of my friends were very interested but simply did not have the time. A few months later Timberline notified me that they had secured the requisite riders and we were a go for liftoff.
I then began my preparations in earnest. Every aspect of my bike, bike components, electronic devices, nutritional options, and clothing, needed to be evaluated and tested for use on this 3,000 mile journey. I have done many exceedingly long rides before, but they had always been races with a full support crew, or if unsupported, through areas with adequate services. The two biggest challenges for me would be the fickle east coast weather and the 700 miles of riding on unpaved surfaces. There was little I could do about the East Coast humidity so I would just have to suffer through it. The possibility for heavy rain and thunderstorms was an absolute given during the fall so I beefed up my supply of rain gear.
I wasn’t certain if my Specialized Roubaix was designed for riding off road and more importantly, if I had the necessary handling skills for the task. I mounted a pair of 32mm tires, the widest possible, on her and set out on some mountain bike trails. I started on flat fire road trails and quickly built up to climbing some steep trails with a buddy. I made several rookie mistakes, like getting out of the saddle on a real steep climb and having my rear wheel lose traction and dump me off the rear end of my bike. After a few weeks I gained the confidence to ramp up my speed and recover from skids.
I purchased backups for all of my bike’s key components as well as my electronic devices. The final hurdle was modifying my riding nutrition from 100% liquid to a more normal solid food diet. It would be impractical for me to carry 50 pounds of drink mix and I would soon tire of it anyway. Through trial and error I found that dilute bottles of Skratch supplemented with peanut bars and bananas could hold me for 60 miles, beyond that I would want/need some real food.
Before I knew it I was on the way to Calais, Maine to meet the folks I would ride and live with for the next eight weeks. Those who flew in were greeted at the airport in Bangor by Joe and Cindy, our Timberline guides, and whisked off in our van to Calais. Over dinner we made brief introductions and all looked with trepidation at the weather forecast blaring on the TV. It appeared that our morning send off as well as the following day would be serious soakers. We returned to our rooms, prepared our bikes and gear then tried to get a solid nights rest to prepare for a long, cold, wet day in the saddle.
It rained most of the night but miraculously stopped just as we saddled up at 0 dark something to ride to breakfast. Our collective group of 11 was probably 1/2 the population of Calais and when we arrived in force at Helen’s for breakfast, the 1 regular customer looked up in shock from his coffee and newspaper. We probably exceeded the size of the crowd at the annual Fourth of July Pie Bake and certainly looked like we were heading out to Trick or Treat in our multicolor Lycra’s. Just as we sat down for breakfast the sky opened up again and we watched our bikes get a fresh water rinse through the large plate glass windows. Helen had apparently not received the message we had left the evening before about our large group but enlisted the help of a friend and went out of her way to show us some Down East hospitality.
As we finished eating, the rain stopped so we stepped outside, dusted the rain off our saddles, and headed to the customs bridge, the official start of the East Coast Greenway.
It would rain on and off again all day and most of the following day but that would not dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. We obviously had the right group for our 3,000 mile adventure.
Over the last 8 weeks and 3,000 miles we have suffered
countless flat tires, lost, misplaced, or simply failed bike parts, rain, mud, sand, rocks, wind, fog, and essentially everything else but snow. Navigation is always a challenge on a journey of this length and our trip was no exception. We missed turns, LOTS OF THEM, occasionally because they were incorrect on our cue sheets, but more often because we simply misread or ignored our cue sheets.
We all had our share of mishaps including, running into trees, both upright and laying across our path. Slipping, sliding, and occasionally face planting in loose sand. And in one case actually getting backed into by a truck driver. Thankfully none of these incidents required more than a bandaid and a few Advil. As if on cue, the sky opened up and drenched us just before we reached the Southernmost Marker and the Mile 0 Marker for Highway 1, culminating our 8 week journey.
In spite of all we had to endure, there was never a single tear, other than a joyful one, shed on our journey. I believe that is a testament to the fortitude of the intrepid souls on our journey. This adventure would not have been possible without the sacrifices and untold hours spent by others on our behalf and I believe a serious round of kudos and thank yous are warranted.
First and foremost, I want to thank my partner, Molly, for giving me the freedom to live an adventure that most only get to dream about.
I want to thank Barbara Hoyt and Chelsea Yerdon back at Timberline in Boulder, Colorado for the countless hours they spent organizing and reorganizing this epic journey. I know what a huge logistical challenge it can be. In 2014, I coordinated the logistics for our Race Across America, at 3,000 miles it was roughly the same length as the ECG, but took less than 7 days as opposed to 59, and did not require coordinating hotels, luggage, or restaurants. Barbara, and her husband David, rode along with us during Segment 2 of the ECG and Barbara rejoined us at the end for the triumphant ride into Key West.
Barbara and her staff in Boulder made all of the high level decisions and took care of coordinating our trip. The day to day operations, and grunt work were handled by her 3 exceedingly capable tour guides, Cindy Gagnon, Jenna Moog, and Joe Lang. I’m sure it must not have been easy catering to riders of varying skill levels and dietary interests under the best of circumstances. Adding in the unpredictable weather, unknown road closures, and the large size of our group, made the job that much more complex. In some of our early towns in Maine, or other remote locations enroute, our group frequently outnumbered the local population. Not only did they handle all of these problems, they did it with a smile. They all deserve a huge round of applause.
I wish to thank all the folks at the East Coast Greenway organization for laying the groundwork for our epic journey and frequently sending ambassadors to meet with us, and on occasion, even ride alongside us. A big shoutout to:
Bill O'Neil and Barbara Amodio, near Hartford, CT Eric Brenner, in Washington, D.C.
Brent Buice, in Savannah, GA
Terry Landreth, in Brunswick, GA
If I have forgoten someone, I apologize.
I wish to thank all my fellow riders both for their accomplishment and for adding color to the monotony of waking up in some 50 or so different hotels over 59 days.
James Hann David Fick Lee-Ann Fick Kelli Nantz Marvin Nantz Cecilia McCormick John McCormick Harry Davis
Cecilia, John, and Harry did not have the time to ride with us all the way to Key West, but they rode with us in spirit.
We were joined along the way with many additional riders
Robb Myer Jordan Jacobsen Rosy Jacobsen Barb Hoyt Dave Hoyt Jenny Weinraub Donna Koenig
Jan Kilgore Larry Kilgore
For those who may wish to follow in our footsteps, whether for a section, or the entire 3,000 miles, you are in for the adventure of your lifetime. In spite of all of our political, ideological, and cultural differences, America is a beautiful country and I can think of no better way to experience her beauty then on a bicycle.
Some potential riders may worry about the their physical limitations or fears of cycling near cars. To those I say, only bite off as much as you can chew. There is no shame to walking your bike, I and many pros as well, have resorted to walking our bikes on occasion. If you are concerned about the hills, you can always rent or buy an e-bike. Eventually the ECG will be on roads or paths that are totally segregated from cars, until then you can shuttle around any sketchy sections.
Too all my fellow riders and all those who follow in our footsteps, I wish you fair winds and smooth roads. Most importantly, may Madonna del Ghisallo, the Patron Saint of cyclists, look over you and ward off all the yahoos with lifted pickup trucks.