Thoughts from Dublin: Looking back on 4000 miles

If you follow this link to Partners In Health’s homepage, you’ll find a picture of the seven of us smiling our faces off in Boston. Its been sixteen days since we finished our cross country ride, and some really flattering articles by Stephanie Garry (http://www.pih.org/blog/cyclists-ride-4000-miles-to-raise-funds-for-pih) of Partners In Health and Kathie Ragsdale (http://www.wickedlocal.com/lincoln/features/x1837077530/Lincoln-resident-rides-across-America-for-the-world) of my hometown newspaper, the Lincoln Journal, have inspired me to write my own end of the trip blog post.

I think that this picture, accidentally taken by my mom as she tried to record a video at the beach in Boston, sums up how I felt that day:

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Saltwater, 63 days of untamed facial hair growth, and closing the book on an incredible 3,850(ish) mile bike ride led to that beautiful smile. After staying in Lincoln the night before and seeing some of my best friends from high school – many of whom I hadn’t seen since graduation – I was feeling indescribably good. I remember telling a friend one or two days after the ride that I had never felt quite so content in my entire life.

Due to the incredible generosity of friends, families, and strangers from all walks of life, I managed to raise over $2000 in the last 2 weeks of my ride, and I accomplished my goal of raising $10,000 for the life saving work of Partners In Health and FACE AIDS, which helped that smile stay on my face for even longer.

Sixteen days after the fact, I finally have the time to reflect on my summer and think about what I actually accomplished through cycling and fundraising. Personally, I managed to tighten my ties to both the United States and its people. For instance, before the trip I thought that Nebraska and Iowa were home to corn, John Deere tractors, football, and more corn. After passing through there, I realized that I was completely right.

But, I also found incredible people there, like a community organizer we met up with in Grand Island, Nebraska, a professional pie maker in Des Moines, Iowa, and a crazy, fun-loving family in Bettendorf, Iowa. The people, rather than the landscape, made me want to get off my bike for a few extra days, spend time following each of them around as they lead their unordinary lives, and figure out how they managed to make the most of everyday.

I cannot think of any banal platitudes to sum up what I learned from all these people. Maybe a combination of ‘act up,’ “do what you love” and “do unto others as you would have done unto you,” but that feels too impersonal. The only real, concrete goal that I’ve made for myself after visiting all these people in countless towns is that I need to learn Spanish. I remember vividly how, in a rural town in Central Pennsylvania, I had a brief conversation with a man from Guatemala that I did not have the skills to continue. I cannot fathom how many more people I could have spoken to and learned from if I had only continued to learn Spanish after finishing high school.

As far as global health and the power of fundraising, the past two weeks have helped put the $10,000 I raised in perspective. Every night before going to bed for the past 16 days, I have been reading a few pages of Paul Farmer’s new book To Repair the World, a collection of graduation speeches and presentations that he has delivered  between 1999 and 2012. Each speech is a passionate appeal to graduates to involve themselves in the fight against some of the worlds’ worst inequities. Money has and always will be a part of solving those problems, and I’m glad to know that my efforts, however, small, will make a positive difference in the fight against those inequities. Most importantly, however, To Repair the World has shown me that I can contribute far more than money. Taking action, organizing people, and fighting the status quo are all skills that the Ride Against AIDS has helped me develop.

Ever since Kindergarten, my teachers and professors have been teaching me how to think – how to analyze difficult subjects like Thoreau’s Walden or the development of a new government in Egypt, and develop an opinion. In class, however, students rarely have the opportunity to take action on those opinions. Extracurricular activities like the 2013 Ride Against AIDS, however, have connected me to the very real issues that plague the world. Experiences like this will always be at the back of my mind as I work through college and eventually find myself in a position to make a difference.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the final few days:

My final corn tortilla sandwich - a staple of every good lunch.

My final corn tortilla sandwich – a staple of every good lunch.

Biking past Boston University on the nice Green Bike Lanes of Comm Ave.

Biking past Boston University on the nice Green Bike Lanes of Comm Ave.

 

Six of us posed for a shot of our tanlines.

Six of us posed for a shot of our tanlines. Lisa finally went crazy.

 

The wild, wild mid-west

This morning, I felt pretty excited to start the day. The seven of us stayed in Forest Park, a suburb ten miles from downtown Chicago. We set off for Downtown Chicago at 6:00am, ready to power through a 115 mile day to South Bend, Indiana. 5 miles into the ride, Kate got a flat and it started to rain. It RAINED and hailed and did terrible things to our early start.

Kate and Amanda working on a flat.

Kate provided Amanda with some pretty tangible moral support as she fixed a flat. That’s Malcolm X’s Oldsmobile in the background, complete with 1969 registration and flat tires.

We tried to wait out the rain, but we really couldn’t escape it. After fixing the flat we set off for Millenium Park and the Lake Shore bike trail. We biked past all of the Lollapalooza tents that were set up for this weekend.

The really tall building - that's the Willis Tower/Sears Tower, which young-man Matthew Broderick and Co. go to the top of in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." I realized yesterday that my only frame of reference for the city of Chicago is that movie, which is just the way I like it.

The really tall building – that’s the Willis Tower/Sears Tower, which young-man Matthew Broderick and Co. go to the top of in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” I realized yesterday that my only frame of reference for the city of Chicago is that movie, which is just the way I like it.

Eventually, it stopped raining and we were able to chillax/relax.

View of Chicago from the Lake Shore bike trail.

View of Chicago from the Lake Shore bike trail.

I stopped taking pictures after this because we had to book it through South Chicago, Gary, Indiana, and everything leading up to South Bend to make it before dark. I can’t stand up because of all the lactic acid in my quads. Nice.

Mr. Chi City

Several exciting things happened yesterday in Chicago. First, I took an obligatory photo at the bean.

Metallic me and I.

Metallic me and I.

Second, I went to the AIDS foundation of Chicago and scored a double xl long sleeve and a snap bracelet. Nice.

Third, I chilled with my boy Hokusai in the Art Institute of Chicago.

A brilliant photograph of tourist-Eric and a woodblock print.

A brilliantly composed photograph of tourist-Eric and a woodblock print.

That is all.

Colorado – the Doldrums

Even though Utah had its fair share of wild personalities and chaotic bike rides through ski towns, I felt relieved to finally make it to the Colorado border.

100 miles on highway 40, the scariest road I've ever biked on, just for this moment. Totally worth it. Oh, and the sign didn't lie. Colorado is to Utah/Nevada as HD is to silent films.

100 miles on highway 40, the scariest road I’ve ever biked on, just for this moment. Totally worth it. Oh, and the sign didn’t lie. Colorado is to Utah/Nevada as HD is to silent films.

Just knowing that I made it past the heat waves, desert roads, and barren landscapes of Nevada and Utah gave me a good feeling. That, coupled with the anticipation of the most intense climbs in the most thin oxygen, made me pretty freakin’ psyched at the time that Amanda snapped that picture of me.

That night, we camped in the Dinosaur National Monument in Dinosaur, Colorado (so called because of the dino quarry that lies between it and Vernal, Utah). I drank far too much water before bed and, groggy and stiff, woke up at 4:00am to go to the bathroom. We had set up camp miles from any big city or town and, as I answered nature’s call, I looked up to see the milky way and hundreds of thousands of stars twinkling in the sky. It was the clearest night sky that I had ever seen, and if I had more time I would try to write my mental image from that night in such a way that you could see it to. The next morning, I watched the sunrise over our campsite wrapped in my favorite fleece. It was cool.

Sunrise over a mesa in Dinosaur National Monument in Dinosaur, Colorado.

Sunrise over a mesa in Dinosaur National Monument in Dinosaur, Colorado.

We made our way through mining country the next day on our way to Meeker, Colorado. It was a pretty short and uneventful day through one of the least visited parts of CO.

I'm not sure how many coal miners in Colorado actually feel this way about Obama, but it was one of the few exciting things that I found on my way from Dinosaur to Meeker.

I’m not sure how many coal miners in Colorado actually feel this way about Obama, but it was one of the few exciting things that I found on my way from Dinosaur to Meeker.

After we ate our fill of rice and beans at our campsite in Meeker, we watched the sunset from the top of red sandstone rim rocks with an ecology bro from Oklahoma State University. According to him, Meeker is home to the largest number of Americans living under the Witness Protection Program. 90% chance that he made that up, but it didn’t make me want to spend too much time there.

The valley town of Meeker, the sunset, and Dana's luscious locks.

The valley town of Meeker, the sunset, and Dana’s luscious locks.

With few people to talk to and lots of camping, our days in Dinosaur and Meeker didn’t lead to any of the swash-buckling adventures or scintillating bicycle rides that I’m sure that you, dearest reader, have come to expect. Fear not! Tales of the bougiest manses, suavest hosts, and summer shenanigans await in Glenwood Springs, Vail, and last, but surely not least, Silverthorne! A new blogpost awaits you in the coming days!

Utah – 4th of July with a Professional

Our experience in Provo, in a nutshell.

Our experience in Provo, in a nutshell.

It was a little worrying that neither Zac nor his motley assortment of hipster-mormon-biker bros had heard of the town of Strawberry, Utah. After an interesting experience in Provo (see above picture), all 7 of us cyclists were aching to indulge in some 4th of July festivities. Strawberry, however, lies off of “old” highway 40, and had the potential to be a ghost town. After putting on the Lance pants and chugging up the Wasatch mountains to Heber City,

Max - the gooniest of all goons. For all you skiing aficionados, the two peaks in the background are the back side of East Twin and West Twin at Snowbird.

Max – the gooniest of all goons. For all you skiing aficionados, the two peaks in the background are the back side of East Twin and West Twin at Snowbird.

we decided on the audible of audibles. Max received a phone call from an individual he only referred to as “Z,” persuading us to join him twenty miles north in the swanky Ski Town of Park City. On the spot, we abandoned our plans to camp out in Strawberry and, with no place to stay or a pitch a tent, headed up North. After baby-wipe showers and a fresh change of clothes, we wandered the town trying to find a stranger to take us in for the night. After Laura failed to cajole a man with a wizard staff (google “wizard staff drinking game”) into allowing us to sleep on his living room floor, she got a call from a friend of a friend; a professional ski-jumper who happened to live year round on the main drag of Park City with a floor for us to sleep on. Such news called for celebration, and we all converged on the Wasatch Brew Pub for drinks and snacks (I had root beer, for my interested parental units).

Enjoying some dranks at the Wasatch Brew Pub in Park City on the 4th.

Enjoying some dranks at the Wasatch Brew Pub in Park City on the 4th.

Next, we gathered on a golf course at the base of the Park City Mountain Resort to watch fireworks. Possibly the greatest day of the trip up to that point.

Fireworks in Park City.

Fireworks in Park City.

Audibles, adventure, and spontaneity are what make this trip totally worth it.

The next day we set off to camp at Starvation State Park. I have no idea why its called “Starvation,” (maybe something to do with the Donner Party) but it was an unexpected oasis in the arid east of Utah. We went swimming and Max made Cowboy Caviar. Yay.

Max dreaming of making Cowboy Caviar at Starvation State Park.

Max dreaming of making Cowboy Caviar at Starvation State Park.

This was our last night in the wild, wild state of Utah. The next day we planned for a century up to Dinosaur National Monument in Dinosaur, Colorado. The coolest town name, ever.

No time to say hello, goodbye

Four minutes of battery power means I need to write a brief post.

Good – Detours to Park City, TV and Radio appearances, Dinosaur National Monument stargazing, and a the anticipation of a day of thigh-burning climbing.

Bad – The anticipation of thigh-burning climbing up the 10,600 foot Vail Pass.

 

Story and more photos to follow tomorrow. I took this on a hike yesterday at the Bougie Beaver Creek Resort.

Story and more photos to follow tomorrow. I took this on a hike yesterday at the Bougie Beaver Creek Resort.

https://secure.qgiv.com/hobnob/account/23840

For those of you who don’t use facebook, here’s a link to the tv segment that Dana and I did on Good Morning Vail: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1b34LfBsOU&feature=c4-overview&list=UUEUviHsGJ9OwQKXCSZNc1-g

 

The briefness of this post might give you a better idea about what its like on the road. 1 minute left, bye!

Aches, Pains, and Provo

Tonight, I’m staying the night in the house of a carpenter who works as a bike mechanic in his free time. To my left lie a stack of books – Nietzsche’s The Gay Science and Thoreau’s Walden, among others – each dog tagged and scribbled in. To my right, a tool belt, complete with the odor that one might expect from a person who works outside for 12 hours a day, and right in front of me a chalk board:

Zac's Chalkboard. Zac helped found the Provo Bike Collective, a non-profit bike workshop in Provo, Utah. Eloquent and often hilarious, Zac lives an unconventional and inspiring life. From skipping high school so that he could spend more time reading at the UNLV library to walking out of a college class when a philosophy teacher handed out a multiple choice test, he really does what he loves.

Zac’s Chalkboard. Zac helped found the Provo Bike Collective, a non-profit bike workshop in Provo, Utah. Eloquent and often hilarious, Zac lives an unconventional and inspiring life. From skipping high school so that he could spend more time reading at the UNLV library to walking out of a college class when a philosophy teacher handed out a multiple choice test, he really does what he loves.

According to some statistic that either Kate or Laura (my teammates) found, the city of Provo, Utah is the most conservative city in the United States. Although I don’t tend to think of myself as a very opinionated or outwardly political person, I felt a little intimidated by that statistic when I heard it the day we got into Provo. The fact that 1. I go to school in one of the largest ex-hippie ultra-liberal mecca’s in the Northeast and 2. I’m riding across America in order to help put an end to HIV/AIDS, which has a negative stigma associated with it in many conservative communities, gave me cause to worry.

Provo, however, has been far more welcoming than the roads of Nevada, where drivers threw coca-cola cans at me, called me an asshole, and made nice gestures out of there car windows. Aside from spending time with the bike collective boys, Myself and my 6 other teammates spent the morning talking to kids at the Boys and Girls Club of Provo. We talked about why we’re biking, healthcare, and why we think that its important to be active in your immediate community. It was dope.

I haven’t had much time to add pictures from Nevada or the first few days of Utah due to a lack of internet access, but I’ll post up a handful right here and try to give a summary of the beautiful boredom of Nevada. Here’s a picture from Eureka, whose economy revolves almost entirely around the local goldmine. Gold is booming, so apparently they have some pretty kick-ass schools right now.

Leonard is an awesome old dude who we met in Eureka, Nevada. He woke up at 6:00am to join us for a 10 mile ride to the mountain pass just outside of town.

Leonard is an awesome old dude who we met in Eureka, Nevada. He woke up at 6:00am to join us for a 10 mile ride to the mountain pass just outside of town.

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Grillmaster Max makes some salty, salty sausage after a day biking through the Nevada-Utah desert.

Some weird bug decided to take a breather on my handlebars. He liked it when I pet him. It was weird.

Some weird bug decided to take a breather on my handlebars. He liked it when I pet him. It was weird.

Max and I decided to put our fat road tires to the test by taking a dirt road through Osceola, Nevada. Osceola used to be one of the most successful mining towns in Nevada during the mid 19th-century, but its run down and deserted now. It was maybe the steepest, hardest climb that I've ever done, but it was beautiful and totally worth it.

Max and I decided to put our fat road tires to the test by taking a dirt road through Osceola, Nevada. Osceola used to be one of the most successful mining towns in Nevada during the mid 19th-century, but its run down and deserted now. It was maybe the steepest, hardest climb that I’ve ever done, but it was beautiful and totally worth it.

Me biking through as the sunrises during our ride from Delta, Utah to Provo, Utah. It was one of those rides where I felt weightless and like I could keep biking forever.

Me biking through as the sunrises during our ride from Delta, Utah to Provo, Utah. It was one of those rides where I felt weightless and like I could keep biking forever.

I’m working on putting together a couple of videos that I’ve taken so far this trip. Those’ll be dope, so get excited.

Feel free to hit up my donation page if you feel so inspired – I’m almost there! https://secure.qgiv.com/hobnob/account/23840

Hot Off the Presses

Before I get to my post, a fun fact: I have one page view from a person that lives in Qatar. We goin’ global.

Peter Rooney, Dan Diner and the Amherst College Public Affairs Department wrote a nice piece about my trip. Its another shameless bit of self-promotion – but hey – there’s a picture of me on the front page of the Amherst College website. That doesn’t happen everyday.

https://www.amherst.edu/aboutamherst/news/news_releases/2013/06/node/498948

If you’re so inspired, visit my donation page at https://secure.qgiv.com/hobnob/account/23840

The team has raised $36,508, and we’re hoping to make it to $40,000 by the end of the week.

The Mountains Are Calling and I Must Go

Less than 72 hours ago, I waddled across the sands at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. It was 8am, and my 6 teammates and I had just dipped our rear wheels into the Pacific Ocean to mark the start of our cross country bike ride. The morning was fogless – which, I’ve been told, rarely happens in San Francisco – and my intrepid teammates and I set forth to conquer the continent before us.

Two hours, a flat tire, and a broken chain later, we had yet to leave the beach parking lot. So much for a fast start.

Amanda replacing her Chain at Ocean Beach. I guess that's natures way of saying what up.

Amanda replacing her Chain at Ocean Beach. I guess that’s natures way of saying what up.

 

Right now I’m wrapped in Flannel outside of a cabin in the Sierra foothills and very much bemoaning the romantic ideas I had about biking across the country. Sure, I’m still excited to meet people and visit places that I never would have before, but some chaffing and burning quads have been a jarring reality check.

As the crow flies, I’m about 121 miles away from San Francisco. 3 days and 200+ miles of biking, and I feel like I’ve already seen a lot of the country. From the traffic lights and glitz of San Francisco

Breakfast at the Java Beach Café in San Francisco.

Breakfast at the Java Beach Café in San Francisco.

 

To the people of Santa Rosa, California

Max, one of the riders, lives in Santa Rosa. His family and friends came over to his house for a dinner and fundraising event.

Max, one of the riders, lives in Santa Rosa. His family and friends came over to his house for a dinner and fundraising event.

 

To the flat roads and vineyards of Napa County

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Me and my lurvely, lurvely grapes

To some peacocks straight chillin outside of Davis, CA

Amanda and a wild peacock

Amanda and a wild peacock

 

to the bridges of Sacramento, completely deserted on an earlier Sunday morning

Crossing the Sacromento River into the city center of Sacromento. Locals call the city "Sac," which can lead to some confusion occasionally.

Crossing the Sacromento River into the city center of Sacromento. Locals call the city “Sac,” which can lead to some confusion. Its also just a really, really unfortunate name for a city.

 

to strawberry stands on the side of the road near Placerville, CA

Delicious.

Delicious.

Tomorrow we climb 5000+ feet through Carson Pass (hence the name of the blog post) as we make our way to Lake Tahoe. Stay Classy.