Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rhode Island

Today I rode my bike 100 miles for 11.5 hours. Today I rode a ferry across a river for $1.00. Today I rode with Katie up and down (but mostly up) every steep hill in the United States of America crammed into the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Katie and I thought of the Ride's new slogan, "RAA 2012: Forever Uphill." We stopped for ice cream on the top of the hill, and biked through a Rhode Island sunset. This morning I woke up to a sunrise over the Long Island Sound and said goodbye to two more wonderful host families.

Today was one of my best days of the entire summer, and tomorrow we ride the last 40 miles of this Ride.

Boston, here I come!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Haven, Madison, and Guilford, CT

I have two pieces of exciting news. First, I have met my $5,000 fundraising goal! Thank you to everyone who has donated to support my efforts and FACE AIDS. The team is still working towards its $100,000 goal, however, so if you haven't had a chance to contribute yet please do so at Second, only two days left to Boston! And only twelve days until I finally fly home.

Today we rode 60+ miles from Greenwich, CT to Madison, CT. The ride along Route 1, of course, necessitated a stop in New Haven for a bike tour of Yale University and a serving of fro-yo at Froyo World on High Street (best chocolate fro-yo I've had in quite awhile). New Haven was nothing like I expected, which was a quiet, all-white, peaceful town. Alas, it was no such thing. It was larger, had several run-down neighborhoods, lots of annoying stoplights, a ton of construction and congestion, many noisy trucks and crummy New England drivers, and way too many busy one-way streets. Not that we haven't dealt with these road conditions before (and not that New Haven or any of its realities were bad), but it's just that Gilmore Girls and other various pop culture/media sources had led me to a certain perception. Gabi tried to go to the Peabody Museum but they were rude to her and wouldn't let her in. We also got a lot of weird looks while walking through the area...why doesn't the general Ivy League public approve of us walking around in our cycling gear? I don't know.

After New Haven we killed some rolling hills and continued along Route 80 to Madison, CT, where we showered and ate at a homestay. Then three of us, myself included, relocated to a cottage right on the Long Island Sound (SUCH a beautiful view) to stay the night with a different family, and here I am, inside a cute rustic Connecticut cottage with excellent Wi-Fi.

90+ miles tomorrow to a town north of Providence, RI, and then 50 miles and a ride-along with folks from Partners in Health on Thursday to Boston. I can't believe that I can think of much of this journey in retrospect. We're almost done!

Monday, August 20, 2012


The team spent the night in Greenwich, CT last night. This morning I woke up and went for a ride around the very affluent area and then ate a delicious breakfast on the deck of our homestay house that overlooks the Long Island Sound. Then Pat, Gabi, and I trained into NYC again and walked through Harlem down 125th St. to make our way towards Riverside Church, an interracial, interdenominational, and international faith community. There we had a great conversation with a group of kids aged 6th-12th grade at a vacation Bible school. From there we continued up the hill to Columbia University, walked around campus, and then walked down the hill, back through a different part of Harlem, and then trained back to Greenwich. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the Harlem area and was happy to have the opportunity to see yet another part of New York City. When I got back I went for another short ride out to Tod's Point (a small island in the Sound that we can see from our homestay) to decompress everything I saw this afternoon. The change in environment between the bottom of the hill (part of Harlem) and the top of the hill (Columbia U area) was abrupt. This summer biking has become my way of processing all the conversations I've had and the places I've visited. While at Tod's I saw the Manhattan skyline and touched the Atlantic Ocean water (which is warm in comparison with the Pacific's).

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Multitude of States, Cities, and People (DE, PA, NJ, NY, CT)

So much has happened in the last several days that it's difficult to remember it all, but I'll try. Since my last post we rode from Baltimore to Newark, DE where we stayed at a church near University of Delaware. The ride that day was a good 70-80 miles with lots of rolling hills on scenic back-country roads in very rural Maryland-we saw lots of mansions and rode through tiny, winding roads in the morning but in the afternoon switched onto a highway to get to Delaware faster.

The following day we rode to a suburb north of Philadelphia. While an afternoon lightning and thunderstorm necessitated that I get in the van in the afternoon, I enjoyed riding through inner Philadelphia in the late morning. Some of my favorite riding moments this summer have been through inner cities. I enjoy the change in environment when we ride through an area with crappy road quality, heavy traffic, narrow roads, run-down buildings, and an almost all-black population. I don't enjoy it because of what some people refer to as a cultural experience. I enjoy riding through urban and impoverished parts of the U.S. because it feels more honest than it would be to ride around them. It would be disingenuous to pretend that certain neighborhoods don't exist. I am grateful to be able to ride my bike across America for many reasons; one of those reasons is that I am able to acknowledge, of my own volition and with my own strength, side of this country that the media usually chooses to ignore except to report violent crimes related to gangs. But the communities I've ridden through are filled with more than what you read on your smartphone or listen to on NPR. Yes, I definitely rode over syringes the other day, but I also rode past blocks and blocks of people socializing with one another on their front stoops. No matter how much you know about a place or person, there's always another side to every story.

This trip is crazy in part because a day's worth of RAA experiences is equivalent to at least one week's experiences in real/normal life. While en route to Philadelphia, I was at a stoplight in Wilmington with Sydney and Gabi and a car stopped next to me rolled down its window. After the man in the passenger seat asked me what we were up to, I got a very positive and enthusiastic response. Later on we got lost, but then when we got back on track we rode past the skyline. Then I lost my sunglasses and was pissed about that, but then I chatted up a woman while standing next to a mini famers' market and she bought us six cider doughnuts. Then after lunch a thunderstorm rolled in and I wasn't able to ride my bike anymore, which was upsetting, but then we got to our homestay, which was comfortable, warm, and had food, so I felt better. I also felt less spiritually tired when I got a call from my friend Nancy, who I met at Lake Johnson in Nebraska.

See what I mean? And that day was slightly uneventful compared to some of the days we've had.

The next day I drove the van while the team rode to Princeton, NJ. The day was 20 miles (the shortest day in RAA history by far) and I had time in the afternoon to wander the campus of Princeton University and to call home (which helped re-energize me for the remainder of the Ride).

The next day I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and was on the bike riding by 5:45. We rode 35 miles to Keansburg, NJ, in time to catch the 9:30 a.m. ferry to Manhattan with 30 minutes to spare. I met a nice man who worked on Wall Street named Elliott on the ferry and gave him advice about how to complete a century (his goal for the upcoming year) by telling him hydration tips from my rides. We passed by all the Manhattan skylines and the statue of Liberty on the ferry, and then got off and rode to find lunch in the nearby city. Then we rode along the Hudson on the path on west Manhattan, and then rode another 35 miles through the Bronx and along Route 1 to Greenwich, CT. While stopped at a Wendy's in West Chester after riding through the crazy and aggressive traffic of the Bronx, a man I started talking with outside the eatery told me he was HIV-positive and we talked about bikes. After dropping my bike and extra luggage off at our Monday and Tuesday night homestay in Greenwich, I rode the commuter rail to Grand Central Station, and then took the subway with a teammate to navigate our way to our apartment for two nights in the West Village. On Saturday morning I woke up again at 4:30 a.m. to go to Rockefeller Center to wait outside the Today Show studios with the team (we ended up being featured for a very short bit on the Today Show). I walked around the city for several hours and took my laptop to the NYPL for some free Wi-Fi to write e-mails, and then navigated to the Great Lawn in Central Park to meet the team and folks affiliated with Partners in Health for a picnic. Then I crashed at 9:30 pm, and woke up today to take the commuter rail to Greenwich again for a church service and picnic fundraising event organized by our host. Now I am writing, reflecting on the unbelievable amount of people I've seen, met, talked to, and/or made friends with in the past several days (and weeks).

Only three riding days left--Tuesday we ride to Madison, CT, the next day Providence, RI, and then Boston on Thursday.

Some thoughts on what people have told me/what I've listened to/what I've learned:
1) Every day is a new day, a gift, and can create new opportunities.
2) Being able to do this Ride is a privilege.
3) I don't like rest days anymore, so how am I going to function in normal life when I don't have time to ride my bike everyday?
4) It's ok if what inspires you is unique.
5) I can do anything and talk to anyone, and I feel empowered by this summer's experiences.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

East Coast Update

Fact: I'm terrible at blogging while traveling. But the lack of recent posts is really a testament to how much exploring of the east coast I've done since arriving in this time zone. I've been in Chicago (although that's technically still Central time), South Bend, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. I went to my first baseball game at Wrigley Field and learned what the Gulf Stream was from someone who worked at law firm where we had an event. I, of course, talked to lots of strangers everywhere we went (I'm known on the team for being extremely sociable and for talking to strangers often and easily). I've ridden through rural Pennsylvania and Maryland, amidst both thunderstorms and sunshine. I met welcoming, warm, and absolutely wonderful families during host stays (which are always difficult to ride away from in the early morning). I am trying to savor every moment of these last 9 days as much as possible.        

Some more stories:    

The team took a rest day in Pittsburgh. Four generous families hosted us and made our stay there very comfortable. We found housing through a friend of mine from Pittsburgh. It’s always hard to leave the families we stay with on rest days, because by then I’ve had two nights to chat with wonderful people and two nights to get to know very warm and welcoming families.

This past week as been an adventure—the day we rode on the Great Allegheny Passage path from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD was one of my best days of the Ride so far. The second half of the day was awesome. During lunch in Rockwood, I walked into a bargain clothing store and chatted with the owner, her daughter, and her granddaughter. I learned a lot about the area from the owner, including the fact that at the time I was standing only 15 miles from where Flight 93 crashed on September 11. The family then proceeded to give me fresh peaches and grapes grown by nearby Amish. The rest of the day’s 90-mile ride was fantastic. I rode with Gabi and we stopped every couple of miles to take pictures of rural Pennsylvania wilderness, the “Welcome to Maryland” sign, and of the Eastern Continental Divide. The last 20 miles was smooth, scenic, and best of all, downhill. I felt connected with nature, peaceful, and happy on the bike for the first time in a few days.

Then next day was an adventure as well—we rode out of Cumberland that morning with the intention to ride 90 miles to Williamsport, MD but encountered very rough trail on the C & O Canal Towpath and lots of thunderstorms. All of us had to stop riding in Hancock, and after we learned that our campground in Williamsport was closed due to flash floods and that more were expected for the following day, we decided to shuttle to Washington, D.C. a day early.

I had three rest days for my first visit to D.C. and did plenty of sightseeing; yesterday we rode to Flannery’s home in Baltimore. The 50-mile ride was gorgeous, hilly, and short. During lunch I met Angela, who stopped her car when she saw our red van parked with “Ride Against AIDS” painted on the side. Angela told me that she was proud of the team, and that it made her happy to see a group of young people trying to start a conversation about HIV/AIDS because so many members of her family are affected by the disease. We also had a well-attended and productive event at a law firm in downtown Baltimore yesterday evening.

Today is August 14, and we roll into Boston on August 23. That means I only have a very surreal 9 days left of this journey with my teammates. While it’s healthiest for this adventure to end at some point, transitioning to normal life without my friends will be difficult at times and I expect to be nostalgic when I’m back at school for the routine we’ve settled into.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Quad Cities

Greetings from Bettendorf, Iowa! The team is resting today in one of the Quad Cities--Davenport and Bettendorf are on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, while Moline, East Moline, and Rock Island are on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Yesterday I arrived to our host's house amid 110 degree heat plus humidity--whenever we stopped at a red light I thought I was going to melt. Tomorrow we ride to Peru, Illinois, and the next day we ride to Lauren's family's house in a suburb of Chicago. We'll rest for two days there, which will be awesome because a) it's Chicago and b) we have to do back-to-back 100+ mile centuries to get there.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Midwest

Hello! To those of you who took my promise to update this blog more often seriously, I apologize. I really have been trying, but I've had infrequent access to internet and blogging energy this past week. I do have some stories to tell, though. I am writing this while sitting in a Mexican restaurant with free Wi-Fi in the small town of Atlantic, IA. Yesterday the team crossed over the Nebraskan border into Iowa, and today we continued our journey to Atlantic. Today’s ride was a rather arduous one, as we all woke up to humidity, heat, and a 50-mile ride up and down the rolling hills (which of course felt like mountains)of Southern Iowa. As an Oregonian, I find myself suffering in the extreme humidity—I’m from a place where the only moisture in the air is in the form of raindrops. The hills, however, do lend a certain charm to the farming landscape of Iowa when compared with the flatness of Nebraska scenery west of Lincoln. I rode with Sydney earlier this week for most of the century from Lake Johnson, NE to Grand Island. That afternoon Sydney and I, melting under the extreme heat, stopped at a gas station in every small town we went through to fill our Camelbaks with free ice and water (which were spaced out about every 7-10 miles). The irony of the convenience of the locations of those towns was that the path to every town along Highway appeared the EXACT SAME—grain silo barely visible straight ahead, train tracks 10 yards to the right with a train going by every 15 minutes, corn fields to the left and right (although sometimes soybeans varied the picture a bit) . . . and bumps in the shoulder of the road every ten feet. Needless to say, the similarity in scenery for an entire 90-mile stretch drove us crazy.

Despite all the flaws causing me discomfort that I could point out about the Midwest, this region’s reputation of hospitality and friendliness has lived up to my expectations. Cashiers and customers at every gas station I’ve stopped at in Nebraska and Illinois with my friends express interest and support in the Ride. Today, a kind stranger bought me Gatorade, trail mix, and donated to the Ride after we chatted about FACE AIDS, the Ride, and how hot it was outside. Just before entering this restaurant I stopped by a Salvation Army thrift shop a half mile from our campground in Atlantic, found myself a sundress, and then met  two employees there who were enthusiastic about the Ride, one of whom told me that her friend had AIDS and then surprised me with an impromptu half-off discount. Earlier this week at the Lake Johnson State Recreation Area, I walked the wrong way back to our campsite after swimming in the lake and ended up detouring through a series of RV sites. While holding my wet and dirty clothes, I met and talked at length with Nancy, Deb, and Tom about the Ride and FACE AIDS. They expressed interest in making a donation, and after a while the conversation turned to other topics. They later invited me to join them for dinner, dessert, a walk to see the sunset over the lake, and finally a few rounds a card game called Shanghai by the light of a camping lantern. Their familial presence comforted me and uplifted me.

America is a strange place—the same chain restaurants and stores are in almost every single sizeable town we roll through. And while some of my country’s residents may be incompetent drivers around bicyclists or may foolishly reside in an area where I feel like I’m swimming through the air because it’s so humid, I am currently convinced that Americans are good people on the whole. My recent encounters with Americans occupying restaurants, rest stops, gas stations, and campgrounds have given me a good impression. It helps to have so many positive interactions with strangers while on the road, because the process of sleeping in a different place every single night can be tiring and draining.

General notes about America:
1) Outside of every town we went through in Nevada there was a sign posted with a list of all the service clubs and churches in the town.
2) City limit signs in Colorado display the name of the city and its elevation.
3) City limit signs in Nebraska display the name of the city and its population.
4) Iowa is not completely flat as I was led to believe while growing up.

I'm sorry for the lack of pictures--I haven't seen my camera since Lake Johnson, and so for the near future I wont' be able to upload any to the blog. I'll do my best to provide vivid descriptions of the hot and humid American landscape for the foreseeable future to help your imagination get a sense of what I'm seeing as the team pedals along. The team bikes to Des Moines tomorrow. Cheers!