Slog Across America

June 1 to 14

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June 1, 2012 - Bloomington to Greensburg, IN

We weren’t in any hurry to get started today because the weather report said there was a chance of showers until midmorning. The high was supposed to be only 60 degrees, but it was already 56 when we started at a little before 8:00 a.m. We started out for a few blocks on a sweet north-south bike path right behind the hotel, then pulled over when the drizzle became a bit more insistent to put rain covers on the panniers. That, of course, meant it stopped raining about 90 seconds later, but oh well.

The route out of town went by what I think must be the northern edge of Indiana University. We passed some dorms that looked very geographically undesirable and some research labs. Then the regular RAAM route turned east, while we followed Route 45 north. Both bike shops Jay talked to yesterday advised against us going on the RAAM route, due to traffic and yahoos, and we agreed to take the less-traveled route although it added nine miles to our day. At first the road was just like Wednesday’s hideous road—no shoulder and cars flying past and a lot of hills. But then the traffic died off and the road flattened a little. We were up near the Yellow Forest and some cute little villages. I don’t know if Indiana is wealthier than Missouri (well, what state isn’t, really?), but we passed some really nice homes and it was a good change from the broken down trailers and manufactured homes we had been seeing on the back roads of Missouri and Illinois.

We were still surprised by the continuity of population here. In all other states, if the map shows little towns spread out, there is almost nothing between them. So far in Indiana, though, there are houses sprinkled between the towns and virtually no uninhabited areas. We turned south in Helmsburg on a secret county road for five miles, and I saw a deer trot across the road (Jay missed it). The rain sprinkled off and on and the air stayed cool, which I loved. We had a killer hill to get into Nashville (the third Nashville we’ve seen so far, keeping in mind we have not been to Tennessee), but once there, stopped for a pastry and some coffee in a café. This was about 11:00 and we had gone about 26 miles.

We took up Route 46 (the RAAM route) again and it was sweet! Giant shoulder, smooth asphalt, and we had a tailwind. Plus it was overcast and the scenery was very pretty—big trees and lots of green grass. We made good time to Columbus (about 20 miles away), where we jumped on a bike path and then decided to eat lunch at Taco Bell. When Jay went up to get our food, another customer asked him where we were headed and he and Jay talked for a bit. Then they met up again at the napkin dispenser (Jay asked him for specifics about the bike path) and Jay invited him to come over and eat lunch with us. His name is Craig Walker and he said that if we had been heading west and were ready to call it a day, we could have stayed in his cabin six miles away. So nice!

He’s done RAGBRAI a few times and has done a lot of local trips, as well as lots of mountain biking. He told us that Columbus was rated second as a place to retire to by National Geographic magazine (“Really?” I said, and he replied “That’s what I said too when I heard that”). I had read somewhere that it’s considered an “architecturally significant” town and it did have some cool buildings and bridges. For example, their freeway overpass looks like a suspension bridge. Neato!

We chatted with Craig for a while and he gave us a heads-up on a bike shop to go to for information on the best route out of town. He did clue us in about not following the Route 46 signs through town, because it resulted in a three mile detour. We went to the bike shop, whose owner, Matt, will be riding RAAM on an eight-person team in less than two weeks. Matt gave us a good route out of town (avoiding a four-lane highway with no shoulder) and we went out into the rain. We were headed north, and now had a cross-wind, so it was kind of cold. When the wind blows on your back it’s not near as freezy. After a couple miles we turned east again and were flying! The hills had pretty much disappeared (Craig told Jay that it would be almost flat until we got to Ohio) and I was in my big chain ring just cranking away. I saw a deer run across a field (this time Jay saw her too). The rain pretty much let up but it was still overcast and cool.

We stopped for a snack on the side of the road and then for Gatorade a bit after that. Our end town, Greensburg, was about 25 or so miles from Columbus. The clouds were getting darker but we were only about three miles from town, so we weren’t too worried. We stopped for a mapcheck on a side road and it started spitting rain, so we got back on the bikes. We had to head west for a few feet, directly into what had been our tailwind, and it was torture! I am sooooo glad we were not going west today, we would have been exhausted. Once we turned east again, it started to really rain for the last couple miles. So much that the rain was dripping off my helmet and down my nose. And it was pretty cold—55 degrees. Neato! So nice to have such a dramatic change to the weather in just two days.

We made it to the hotel and then the rain stopped. It was a pretty easy day, given that we did almost 76 miles. Most of the hard climbing was in the beginning and it didn’t get much over 62 degrees, so it was a pleasant day for riding. The tailwind made it easy at times and we were very appreciative. Tomorrow we should get to Ohio. Yay, another state!

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June 2, 2012 - Greensburg, IN to Oxford, OH

Today was a great day to be a bike tourist! According to the RAAM route mileage, we had a short day, only 49 miles, so we didn’t set our alarm but were still up by 6:15. We had the crappy hotel breakfast and were on the road at 8:00. We weren’t sure exactly how to get out of town, so after taking pictures of two very different businesses across the street from each other that both sold guns, we stopped at the fire station for directions. The firefighter who helped us was very nice and impressed with how far we’d come. We stopped on the way out of town to take a picture of the old courthouse, then noticed it had a tree growing out of its cupola. How’d that happen?

The road we were on, Route 46 again, was great. It didn’t have a gigantic shoulder but there wasn’t a lot of traffic so that didn’t matter. After 17 or so miles, we turned off onto state route 229 in Batesville. This road had no shoulder at all, but after a few miles traffic thinned out and it was a cute little country road. It went through Oldenburg, a quaint German village, where we wanted to stop for a snack but couldn’t find anything open. After a few more miles, we pulled over at an abandoned barn and farmhouse and wolfed down some trail mix. It was about 10:15 or so and although the sun had come out, it wasn’t too hot—about 68 degrees.

There were a few rolling hills but nothing too bad. We did see some very sad roadkill, which I will not elaborate about. Then we came screaming down a long hill, across a bridge, and turned onto Route 52 headed north. We had entered the town of Metamora (which is so small it isn’t even on the state map) and were cruising through when Jay noticed some people turning onto a side street. There was a sign that read “Special Event today” and then another sign that said “Strawberry Festival,” so Jay said, “hey, let’s go see what this is.”

We rode down the side street and there was a collection of really old buildings. A local was sitting outside his shop and said hi to us, so we said hi back. Then he said “Hey, those bikes look pretty heavy-duty. Where’d you come from?” Jay said “San Diego,” and he answered “SAN DIEGO?? I used to live there! For 33 years.” So of course we pulled over. His name is Paul and he used to teach high school at Sweetwater, Chula Vista, and Hilltop. He’s from Indiana originally and moved back when he retired because he said there’s so much to do in the area (including Kentucky and Ohio) but not as many people as San Diego. On his advice, we bought a chili cheese dog from his next door neighbor (who runs the local gourmet shop) and it was delicious!

Then we went to the strawberry tent and got “The Works,” which was shortcake, strawberries, ice cream, and whipped cream. The strawberries are not local, but they were okay, but the shortcake was god-awful. It was hard and tasteless—if I had made it, I would throw myself off a bridge. There was a guy with a 12-week-old puppy where we sat to eat it, though, so I gave up on eating the dessert and played with Mr. Cuteface instead. He was super sweet in the way that all little puppies are. Very licky and nippy and so happy.

Then we walked around the town a bit and stopped in at the old mill, which still runs every day. They make cornmeal and grits to sell to tourists. There was a classic car show going on so we looked at some of those, then decided to get back on the bikes. We don’t have the most detailed map in the whole world, and the RAAM map pages are not super helpful, so Paul gave us directions on how to get to Ohio. He warned us about a steep grade getting out of the next town, Brookville, but said “you’ve come across the Rockies, it will be nothing for you.”

We set out about 11:50 and it was a bit warmer (78), but starting to cloud up. En route to Brookville, Jay saw a varmint in a field. A while back in Kansas, we saw something cavorting in a wheat field but never got a good luck at what it was. It would poke up every once in a while, and it had a round head with no ears and a dark body. I said I thought it was the elusive “prairie otter,” but Jay said “there’s no such thing.” This time, the field was bare so we got a good look at the critter. It is about the size of a small chubby cat and has a short tail, but we still don’t know what it is. While we were watching it, it ran into an underground burrow. Jay said “Maybe it is a prairie otter.” We are counting those in the Squirrel Game now because they seem kind of rodenty.

A few minutes later, we saw a bunch of canoers on a river, so we turned in at a canoe sign to watch them. It seemed kind of fun and one of the kayakers said the water was about 50 degrees. Because we had a short day and the weather was nice, we could make all these stops and not worry about the time or the heat.

We stopped for Gatorade at a gas station. The clerk, a man from India, said “You are getting some good exercise while I am getting stressed out in here!” I said, “Hey, it’s no picnic out on the road sometimes, either.” Then he said “Are you from California?” I said “Yes, how do you know?” and he said “By your accent.” So then I wanted to be all like, “Dude, I don’t have an accent!” but by now Jay had come up and said “We don’t have an accent, but you do.”

He said “Yes, I am an Indian-American so I have an accent but so do you.” Funny! I’m all “No WAY!”

A tiny bit later, we turned onto the secret road to Oxford, Ohio, which immediately became a monster of an uphill climb. Paul was not kidding about the grade out of Brookville. The sun was out and we were quite dewy at the top. There were a few more hills, then things flattened out and we were on a country road with not many cars. With a tailwind, to boot. After about eight miles, we saw another bike tourist coming toward us. Turns out, he is Jonathon Voelz, who posts a lot on, which is one of the main websites for bike tourists. Jay recognized his name from some of his articles. He was on a supported tour for a bit around Kentucky, etc., but now is mapping a diagonal route from [somewhere, maybe Cincinnati] to the Adventure Cycling TransAm route in Missouri, to submit it to Adventure Cycling as a connector. He was happy to meet up with us and took pictures of our bikes and us to put on the Crazy Guy website. When we find them, we’ll insert a link.

The secret road went on way longer than we thought it would. We kept hoping we’d see a “Welcome to Ohio” sign, but there never was one. We saw a cute bunch of cows that were eating grass right next to the road, so I took a video in hopes that the chewing noise would come through. It was like a small-engine lawn mower. Then we had a steep downhill and steep uphill, and then it looked we were finally getting back into civilization. Jay stopped a man in his yard to ask how to get to Oxford.

The first thing the guy said was “Do you want to come back to my driveway while I give you directions? People travel really fast on this road and there’s no shoulder.” So thoughtful! So we went back to his driveway and he started telling us how to get to the motels in town, then said “Do you want me to draw you a map? That might be best. And would you like a cold drink? We have cans of Coke, or Coke Zero.” I said “Coke Zero would be excellent!” So he went in his house, after saying we could sit in his grass (he had one of those great front yards that looks like it could be a football field) and then came back in a few minutes with a really detailed map and two cans of soda.

So then he explained the map to me, and it was super easy to follow. It was just like a map I would make, and I am one of the best map-drawers I know. We chatted for a bit while Jay and I split one of the sodas. His name is Rick Jackson and he was really nice. He’s retired but has lived all over, and he and his wife spend winters in Florida (although this year they came back in February for the birth of their grandchild and were surprised by how mild it was). He and his wife got married 36 days after they met in 1970, and they’ve been married 41 years. Meeting people like him is one of the best things about this trip.

We followed his very excellent directions and got to the motels (right where he said they’d be!), but then decided to continue on into town a bit. We finally decided on a hotel a bit closer to downtown, where we walked up to eat after getting cleaned up. I looked up restaurants on Yelp, and saw there was a Skyline Chili. Elisabeth and I discovered their chili spaghetti when we were in Cincinnati last November for her work. Jay and I went there and got “large” servings, and they were so big we couldn’t finish them. Jay got a 5-way, meaning it has spaghetti, chili, cheese, onions, and beans, and I got a 4-way (no beans). We took the leftovers back to our motel for breakfast tomorrow, which means we can forego the crap motel food (and no sausage gravy from a machine, dang it). We made a stop at United Dairy Farmers for ice cream (we each got peanut butter chocolate chip, which was good, but not as good as ice cream from Bloomington’s Chocolate Moose).

Oxford is the home of the University of Miami, Ohio, considered one of the country’s “public ivy universities.” I think we’ll make it a point to go by the campus on our way to Wilmington (Ohio, not Delaware) tomorrow because the campus is supposed to be quite pretty. It should be another good day, and kind of short, 55-60 miles with a bit of climbing but nothing that looks too hideous.

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June 3, 2012 - Oxford to Wilmington, OH

I woke up this morning before 5:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep. Waaah. We warmed up chili spaghetti leftovers in the microwave and had that for breakfast. It was good! And a nice change from eggs pancakes toast blah blah blah. My sister Chris had told us about a historic covered bridge near the motel we were at, so we headed out around 8:00 to go see it. It was only half a mile away. When we turned down the private road to go see it, a big deer was standing in someone’s front yard! He seemed surprised to see us, then bounded away into some woods. Neato!

The bridge was cool. It was about 200’ long and had been built in 1868 so people could get to a sawmill. It sounds like there’s been very little reconstruction of it (maybe just a bit of restoration); the timbers were gigantic and looked old. The plaque near it said it was the longest and most impressive of Ohio’s covered bridges. I haven’t seen any other bridges here, but this sure was a good one. We turned to leave the bridge and Jay spotted the deer in the tree line. I think he was stalking us. I got a picture of him, then he went back in the woods and crept uphill.

Coming back into town, I saw a sign about Oxford’s beginnings and called out “STOPPING” so I could get a picture. Then I felt something grab my tire and heard a thud as I was trying to maneuver my bike away from whatever held it. Jay had caught his front wheel on my back one and it made him fall over. I panicked when I saw him on the ground and jumped off my bike and laid it down, but by then he was already up and saying “I’m fine. I’m fine. I just fell over. It’s nothing. I’m not even scratched.” And he WAS fine, thankfully, but the sound of the accident made my heart race. The accident tweaked the position of his bike seat and his mirror, so we pulled over into the next driveway for me to calm down and him to fix his bike. Scary! But with 2500 miles down, one of those slow-speed collisions was bound to happen.

We rode up the hill into downtown and went to Starbucks, just because it was the first one we’ve seen since Arizona. I got a Frappucino and Jay got coffee and a pastry (he’s never one to shun pastries). Then we headed east, past the University of Miami campus (pretty brick buildings, but I think I like IU’s limestone ones better). Then we turned onto Route 73. The road looked nice enough at first (not a wide shoulder but not too much traffic), but then some hideous climbs reared up. Plus, my bike thermometer read 75 degrees, 10 degrees warmer than it had been when we left the hotel. Luckily, after four or five really long steep climbs (with some nice downhills), the terrain flattened out.

Then we had to turn onto Route 127 for a bit. This was great! It was still 75 degrees, but we had a bit of a tailwind and the terrain was level and the road had a great shoulder. This only lasted for a couple miles, then we had to turn east to stay on Route 73 again. We stopped for a map break by an abandoned motel. I did a stealth pee in the weeds behind it and looked inside the rooms. It was kind of creepy. Some of the rooms were fairly clean, but others had trash and tires inside. Then we had a giant hill to climb, although for most of it we had a pretty good shoulder. One thing we’ve noticed is that Ohio drivers don’t like to get out of their lane for us. Some will slow down, which is nice, but it’s rare when people go into the oncoming lane (like most drivers in other states have). The really mean ones hold their ground and pass us from about three feet away.

This part of Route 73 had a few more climbs and then leveled out. We stopped at a Taco Bell in Trenton (named after Trenton, NJ—why would any town claim that?) for a snack. It was pretty warm by now. It was around 10:30 and it was close to 80 degrees. Because of the hills, we were going pretty slow all morning so we had done only 17 miles. We got a blue Gatorade for our water bottles and headed back out. We had only a few miles to go, then we had to transition to Highway 4 to get to Highway 63. Highway 4 was just one big uphill slog, but at least it was only a 4% grade because it was a four-lane divided highway. With a really wide shoulder, yay!

Five miles later we took the exit for Highway 63, which also started with a long uphill climb. The area (around Monroe and Lebanon) was pretty populated so there was no good place to relieve my bladder. As I’ve written, I have extremely high-functioning kidneys, and when it’s hot out, I drink more, which means—well, you know where I’m going with this. It gets to be annoying when you’re climbing a lot and your bladder is full. Finally, we saw a Kroger (grocery store, same company as Ralph’s) so we went up the driveway to it for us to use the restroom. I applied more sunscreen to my arms and face and we set off.

A few miles outside the town of Lebanon (which people pronounce something like LEB-nin), our great highway with a nice shoulder turned into a two-lane road with no shoulder, but cars were still going pretty fast. And the new road, after seeming nice for half a mile, threw in a gigantic climb that got really steep at the top. Then we had a monster downhill and a flat space into the town, which looks quite wealthy and historic. We were looking for a place for lunch when Jay spotted “Village Ice Cream Parlor And Restaurant,” so of course we went there.

We each ordered a sandwich; tuna salad for me and chicken salad for Jay. The sandwiches came and they were not good. It would be like if you went to lunch at the house of a friend who was a very lazy cook and she fixed you a sandwich. They had almost no taste, and to make matters worse, the handful of chips that came with them were some off-brand that wasn’t even salty. I hate when a place that gets a lot of tourist business thinks it can serve an inferior product because they don’t have to worry about repeat customers. One funny thing Jay and I say when we’ve had a bad meal on this trip is “I’m never coming here AGAIN.”

It was now about 1:00 and we still had about 25 miles to go to get to Wilmington. The road stayed crowded and with no shoulder, which was getting nerve-wracking. We were just coming down a small incline when I saw a prairie otter right near the road. We got a really good look at him, and based on Jay’s research yesterday, think he was a groundhog or woodchuck (see Roland’s Comment about this same thing!). I got to claim him in the Squirrel Game, but later we decided that starting tomorrow they will count as two points because they’re so big. It was neat to see one so close.

Just a couple minutes later, on the edge of town, we saw a guy on a bike loaded down with panniers coming toward us. Jay waved and the guy came over to our side of the street. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and something seemed kind of weird about him. When he got to us, I could see he was wearing flipflops and jeans. He stopped next to Jay and when Jay asked where he was headed, he explained that he was “local,” which I think was a euphemism for “homeless.” But then he said he had gone to Los Angeles in April and rode his bike to Las Vegas, and now he just rides around with his panniers on so he doesn’t get out of practice. I was pretending to try to figure out where we were exactly while Jay talked to the guy, who was pretty wacky. Finally Jay said we had to go, so he wished us well and rode off.

Next up was a short steep hill, which we had to climb with cars right beside us. Then there were some rolling hills for a few more miles, then we had to turn on to Route 350. We saw a sign that said “No semis, trailers, or RVs in two miles” so we were encouraged by that. As it turns out, we should not have been. In two miles, the road made the twistiest, curviest, steepest, longest descent we’ve seen yet, to Little Miami Creek. The final curve was like a pinched U-turn diving down to the right, and there were tons of scrape marks on the road from where cars had bottomed out.

After we crossed the creek, we had to go up the other side, which was also twisty, curvy, steep, and long. I got about 60’ up the hill and then pulled off to walk my bike up the 17% grade. Jay pulled off too, but then he was able to get started again and rode for a short while until the road twisted to the right and he couldn’t make that sharp of a turn while trying to hug the shoulder. The overtaking cars couldn’t give him any room because of the steady oncoming traffic. He walked around the curve and up a bit, but rode the rest of the way. The road here was very Ozarkian. If Missouri could see it, it would tip its hat to the steep grade and say “well played, Ohio.” I was really sweating just pushing my bike up the hill, so I don’t know how Jay managed to ride most of the way. He came and got my bike for me about 20’ from the top (so nice!). My glutes were exhausted! I think the elevation change was something close to 300’, and the road was never less steep than 13%.

There was a triathlon finish area at the top of the hill. Instead of the swim portion, people had to canoe some distance (in the creek at the bottom of the hill), then run, then bike (usually triathlons are swim, bike, then run). We pulled into the finish area to use the portapotties and have a snack. We definitely looked out of place with our loaded bikes compared to all the road bikes. No one looked at us or talked to us. We felt like giant weirdos. As soon as we finished our Mojo bars, we rode out. For the next couple miles (which were rolling hills, not flat), the last finishers of the triathlon were coming toward us. They looked pretty worn out. I don’t know if they biked up the same hill we came up, or maybe a different portion, or they ran up it, but they were tired.

After only four more miles, we turned onto State Route 22 for our last 10 miles. The sun kept threatening to go behind some clouds but it never did. This road started out smooth and level, and then there was a two-mile grade of 3-4% that wouldn’t have been too bad except it was hot (90 degrees) and I was tired from all the climbing so far, plus I was really feeling the effects of waking up at 5:00 a.m. I was just grinding through it and getting kind of punchy, when Jay said “What’s a sligo?” I’m all, “What?” Then I saw the sign for the town we had just come to, and sure enough, it said “Sligo.” For some reason, this cracked me up and I started laughing the way you do when something isn’t super hilarious but you’re exhausted and for some reason it just tickles you. We stopped to take a picture of the sign.

Finally, we got into Wilmington. All the hotels were on the opposite side of town. This city was featured on 60 Minutes a few years ago, because it had been doing okay during the recession but then its largest employer, the air express carrier DHL, decided it was going to leave. Six thousand people were going to be out of a job. The downtown has nice brick buildings but looks pretty depressed. On our way out of town to go toward the hotels, we came across the local Wilmington Inn. After the horror of the local motel in Bloomfield, Indiana, I asked to see a room before we signed up. The room was clean and normal looking, plus the motel gives you a coupon for a free onion loaf at the sports bar and grill next door, so here we are.

I told Jay that it seemed like all the Ohio roads we’ve been on so far start out by saying “Welcome! I am a nice little road with a big shoulder and level terrain.” Then when you’ve been on it for just a few minutes, the shoulder goes away and the road rears up to throw a big mean climb at you. I hope the roads in the central and eastern part of the state are nicer.

We just got back from dinner. Jay was super excited about the free onion loaf appetizer and mowed through two-thirds of it in about five minutes. The restaurant part of the bar has big horseshoe-shaped tables that look out onto four enormous television monitors on the wall across the room. Each table has its own controls so it can have the volume for the TV of its choice turned up at the table’s individual speaker. Kind of like a drive-in theater. Jay was mesmerized by seeing Tiger Woods win his 73d major tournament, so that’s what we listened too. I got a salad and Jay got a half-pound hamburger that came with pulled pork on top and French fries on the side. Then we got a piece of chocolate cake to take back to the room. For some reason, Jay was too full for dessert right after supper.

Tomorrow we head to Chillicothe (you pronounce the last “e” like “uh”) and then after that, Athens, and on Wednesday we should enter West Virginia. We think we’ll get to Cumberland, MD on Saturday and start biking down the tow path on Monday, to finish on Thursday, June 14. So, if all goes well, we have 10 more days of riding and one day off. It’s supposed to be cooler tomorrow, so the 60 or so miles we have planned should go better than today. I think it’s less hilly, too. My hamstrings sure hope so.

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June 4, 2012 - Wilmington to Chillicothe, OH

We slept in until 6:50 today! I guess we were tired from all the climbing yesterday. The motel had only the barebones for breakfast, so Jay had four packets of instant oatmeal and I had a big bowl of Raisin Bran and a banana. Although we got up late, we got started at 8:20, so that wasn’t bad at all. It was 65 degrees when we set out, with an expected high of 80.

We rode a couple miles out of town and then turned southeast onto Route 73, with a tailwind. YAY! This started as a nice four-lane divided highway with a wide shoulder, but like most highways we’ve been on, it went down to two lanes with a narrow shoulder. The traffic was a lot lighter than yesterday and the road had been newly-asphalted, so it wasn’t a bad ride at all. We passed a road crew that was cutting the rumble strip into the shoulder, that’s how new the resurfacing was.

The hills weren’t too bad for the first 12 miles. Rolling but not steep and not too big. I did some in my big chain ring and the rest in my middle gears. Then, in New Vienna, we turned east onto Route 28, and that road was tiny with hardly any shoulder, but again, not too much traffic for most of it. It was getting warmish but not too bad, although of course I would have liked it cooler. We got into some more rolling hills, some of which were pretty steep. There wasn’t a lot to look at. A corn field once in a while but otherwise just some trees and a few houses. This part of Ohio seems a lot poorer than the part of Indiana we were just in. A pit bull charged us from a house across the street, but he seemed like he was trained to not cross the road, so he let us pass.

We stopped at a shady tree in Leesburg for a snack. There was a decaying barn and farmhouse across the street. I peeked in and there was a lot of trash inside and ivy growing on the walls. We got back on the bikes and headed for Greenfield, the next big town, for an early lunch. We arrived about 11:15, and went to Community Market, Deli and Restaurant for a sandwich. The store looked mostly like a regular grocery store, and they had a deli counter. Jay asked if they made sandwiches and one of the clerks said yes and asked us what kind we wanted. I asked for smoked turkey and Jay got fried chicken breast, each with Colby Jack cheese. She asked “white or wheat” and we said wheat. So, that’s what we got. Some meat and a slice of cheese on bread.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, but we are getting tired of getting sandwiches that have no adornments whatsoever. Jay said “What if you grew up in this town and ate these crap sandwiches, and then you went to San Diego and got a good sandwich? You’d be all” and then he feigned astonishment, looking at a great sandwich. Then I said “But then you’d be all, ‘hey, there’s like, fur on my sandwich.’ And the server would be all ‘that’s not fur, it’s lettuce.’” And then we cracked up.

We got back on the bikes and right out of Greenfield, the rolling hills started back up but they were longer and steeper. We saw some horses and tried to get them to come over for petting and to eat some apples we took from the hotel just in case we ran across them, but they weren’t interested. Then we stopped down a side road for a bathroom break, and it was so hot the tar coating on the road was sticky and got in my tires, so then I kept picking up small rocks that made ticking sounds with every rotation. The hills got super steep and a lot longer, but thankfully the sun went behind the clouds a few times. Finally we got to the end of the hills and had a great mile-long downhill.

The road stayed flat for a while, then it ended and we turned east onto U.S. 50. In about two miles, the outskirts of Chillicothe started and there was one more hill into town. We wound through the downtown then stopped for a map check. My phone was having difficulties so Jay went inside the store we were in front of, Fastenal (industrial supplies), to ask about the hotels in town. Turns out, the local paper mill has shut down this week for maintenance and all the outside contractors who do the maintenance have all the hotels booked up. Egad. One of the employees called a bunch of hotels for us, and they were all full.

There was the Chillicothe Inn within sight, but everyone said that was a dive. Jay said “we’ve stayed in some pretty sorry places on this trip,” so we decided to check it out. They had one room left. It’s tiny and basic, but clean, so we took it. The alternative was to ride 60 miles to Athens!

We walked about a mile to eat at Max and Erma’s (a local place kind of like Applebee’s; when you order a hamburger, you can choose “Erma size,” which is 6 ounces of meat, or “Max,” which is 10 ounces!). The food wasn’t bad. Then we walked to Walmart for more Mojo bars and sunscreen. Then walked back. A lot of people here are quite large, like over 500 pounds. And the drivers are the least courteous we’ve encountered. They're impatient even with pedestrians! Even on the country roads, when cars could shade over just a touch, they pass right beside us. Mean!

According to the Fastenal workers, we have a tough day ahead on U.S. 50 to Athens. The elevation profile looks pretty daunting. We will be glad to get out of this state. If for no other reason than AT&T is having a data service problem, which is messing with my iPhone.

Jay said "I am imagining things, or do most people seem like stupid lunkheads here?" I answered "Well, they still live here, which is kind of proof that they're not that bright." That was snarky of us, but really, this place seems like there is nothing good about it.

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June 5, 2012 - Chillicothe to Athens, OH

After what the Fastenal workers said to us yesterday, and then looking at the elevation profile for today's ride, and then feeling so tired after yesterday's ride that I thought had a lot of climbing but had 600' less than Sunday's, I was really anxious last night and slept hardly at all. Plus, the innkeeper must be super leery of human body fluids contaminating his linens, because he had crinkly plastic covers on the pillows underneath the cases (we took those off, it was annoying), and a plastic mattress cover that really reflected your body heat. I finally looked at the clock and it was only 5:19, too early to wake Jay.

After a suitable interval had passed, Jay kind of woke up on his own around 6:00 and we got up and moving. There was lukewarm coffee in the lobby that Jay got for us (yecch), but no breakfast, so we just went next door to McDonald's. I had two Egg McMuffins and Jay had two Sausage McMuffins, and we went back and packed up and hit the road about 7:20. Athens, our destination, was 60 miles away.

The road out of town was four lanes with no shoulder, but luckily we turned off that after a couple miles, onto a two-lane road with a decent shoulder. The traffic wasn't helping my anxiety and I was having to really concentrate on taking deep breaths and relaxing. The traffic calmed down after a bit, but the shoulder went down to 10 inches and at about mile 5 the first big hill appeared. The top of the hill was in shade, making it hard for overtaking cars to see if anyone was coming down at them, so they didn't get over at all to give us room when they passed.

There weren't near as many steep hills in the first part of the ride as I had remembered from the elevation profile, so my anxiety was reducing. We got six miles done (a tenth of the way there), then ten miles (a sixth of the way), then 12 miles (20%!), then 15 (one-quarter finished!). Yes, there were hills (including one where Jay yelled for me to get off the road and stop--there were three big trucks in a row and none were giving us any room), but they weren't one right after the other like yesterday afternoon.

At around mile 16, there was a turnoff for Old Route 50 and we went straight, onto the new Route 50. This was a great stretch of road--really wide two lanes, with a giant smooth shoulder with a rumble strip. I took a picture of Jay on it and then not too much later, a stag jumped onto the road, trotted across, and then ran across a field into the woods. He was so great to watch! He leapt over a 5' fence like a person would step over a concrete block.

According to the map, there were towns along the road, but none of them had even a convenience store. We were making pretty good time when we got to about the halfway point, McArthur, at 10:30, having gone 30 miles. The weather stayed cool and it was clouding up, and we had taken a break a while back for trail mix, so we decided to keep going. There were a few long climbs but they were only 3-4% grade, nothing I couldn't do in my middle chain ring. Once in a while, a shorter steeper hill, but nothing too bad or too frequent.

We had just climbed a medium hill when we saw a person wearing all black on a red road bike coming toward us. After meeting the homeless guy on Sunday, I was a bit wary, but then we saw he was towing a Bob trailer (that's how you tour if you want to ride your lightweight road bike, instead of putting racks and panniers on a heavier bike). We went over to his side of the road to talk to him. His name is Jared Houseknect and he started in Long Island ten days ago, headed for the west coast (probably San Francisco). He's averaging 100 miles a day! He had super muscly shaved legs and was in great shape. He was in his late 20's or early 30's, I'm guessing, and said that he was finishing up his Master's Degree (in architecture, I think, with an emphasis on sustainability). He went to school in Pennsylvania and was looking forward to getting to Colorado so he could ditch the trailer with friends and then climb Pike's Peak on his bike. Criminy! He was really chatty and interesting and gave us some good information about the road ahead, through West Virginia. We talked for probably 40 minutes. He might end up in San Diego, so we gave him our card for him to look us up if he does.

After that, we had less than 20 miles to go to Athens. There were a few more hills, but nothing bad, and then we had to turn onto a four lane divided highway to stay on Route 50. Jay had seen a squirrel and a chipmunk so far, and that was it. Surprising, considering we were in forest for a lot of the way today and it seemed like prime squirrel habitat. We had gone four or five miles when I saw a woodchuck in the ditch beside the road, who was then joined by four teenage woodchucks, all of which ran for cover in the tall grass up an embankment. Thanks to the new rule change, that was 10 points for me right there! We stopped to see if we could catch sight of the family, and one of the young ones kind of peeked his head out, but that was it. They are so cute! Jay saw one a little bit later, but he ended up losing today's game, 10-4.

It got up to 75 today at one point, but clouds came in and blotted out the sun and it got a lot cooler, like 68. Then some dark clouds came in and started spattering rain, so we made for an overpass and hid under there to put on our rain covers. The last part of the shoulder had intermittent loose sand, which was the same color as the gravel. Jay and I both almost crashed at one point when the sand grabbed our tires. Route 50 into town is pretty much like a freeway, with exits and on-ramps that we had to dodge on the bikes. We finally made it to State Street, where hotels and restaurants are, and pullled over at the first one (Applebee's) for lunch and to dry out and make a plan about where to stay. Thankfully, Chris found us a room at Hampton Inn, so that's where we are now.

According to the RAAM time station list, we have only 231 miles to go to get to Cumberland, but Jared said we will be climbing for a good part of that. We stay on Route 50 for all but the last 30. The first 110 miles are on a four-lane divided highway (like we took into Athens), so the grades shouldn't be too bad. But then, according to Jared, the next 90 or so are up in the mountains with grades of 20-30% (surely that is an exaggeration) and lots of switchbacks. There are almost no big towns along the route that would have a place to stay, so we may be camping. We'll see what happens. Nine more days....

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June 6, 2012 - Athens, OH to Pennsboro, WV

Today was a loooong day, but we are now in our second-to-last state, so that feels good. We had the worst Chinese food of the entire trip (which is saying something) last night for dinner, but then got a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream for dessert at the hotel, so everything worked out. Then we watched an episode of Breaking Bad, read for a bit, then went to sleep. We got up a little before 6:00 and had the hotel breakfast (Hampton Inn always has a good fruit salad, but the rest of the stuff is pretty standard) and got on the road about 7:40.

After half a mile, we found a bike path that took us the last mile to the highway. The highway here is a divided four-lane with a nice wide shoulder. Once in a while the shoulder had a bunch of debris on it, which led to another flat tire for me. Drat. We had 30 miles to get out of Ohio, and there were some climbs but not too long and none over 4% grade. It was supposed to get up to 90 today, but it was only 63 when we started, which was nice.

Since we've been in Ohio, we've seen a lot of barns that have quilt patterns painted on them. I took a picture of two of them that we saw today. Barns are hard to decorate, but the quilt paintings help. I was feeling pretty tired so I was slow for a while, but then perked up when I saw the super cool bridge we had to cross to get into West Virginia. The Ohio river is wide! Maybe wider than the Mississippi where we took the ferry. As soon as we crossed, there was a big climb to get into West Virginia. It was much longer and much steeper than of the Route 50 climbs in Ohio. I told Jay, "I wonder if West Virginia's Department of Transportation motto is 'If we're gonna grade a climb, we're not doing some sissy 4%.'"

That started a succession of giant long steep climbs. We had a couple to get to Parkersburg, the first big town about eight miles from the border. There, we Yelped a bike store near the highway to get information about the North Bend Rail Trail, a bike path that extends from Parkersburg to the middle of the state (72 miles). We exited the highway onto the street, and then the first car that passed honked at us in a mean way. Nice. The road was busy and we had to go up to the intersection and cross as pedestrians. Once we got to the store, Jay asked the owner, "Would our bikes be okay on the rail trail?" The owner said "Huh?" Jay repeated his question, adding "I read where the trail isn't good for road bikes, but would our bikes be okay on it?" The owner said "What do you mean?" So then Jay said "Will our bikes work on the trail?"

The guy came out to look at our tires and said "Yeah you'll be fine." Then he took us over to a map of the trail and started pointing out all the areas where we'd have problems. The trail has 13 tunnels on it, and Jay asked "Will we need lights in the tunnels?" and the guy said "No. There's no lights. Some of the tunnels you can see the end so that's okay, but you definitely need lights for the one that's half a mile long." The way he processed English was hurting my brain, and Jay could see I was faltering in my ability to withstand much more, so we left to go get lunch.

The only lunch options were fast food, so we went to Burger King. There was a young woman at the counter who was folding kids' meal boxes, who had a type of craniofacial deformity that is usually associated with mental retardation. One side of her face was kind of caved in and the eye on that side was almost closed. I didn't think anything of it until she said, after a few seconds, "May I help you?" Then I looked at her, but saw her open eye was wandering, so then I didn't know where to look and plus I was surprised she talked to us (there was a guy behind the counter who I thought was coming over to take our order). So I stumbled through my order (fish sandwich) and Jay said his (double Whopper with cheese, egad).

A lot of the customers looked like there was something wrong with them. Jay said "I feel like we're in a different country." I said, "Yeah, a third-world country with no prenatal care and no public school system." It was very weird and I was getting majorly creeped out. Our food came, Jay refilled our water bottles, and we decided to stay on Route 50 for another 30 miles to Ellenboro, then get the rail trail there to Pennsboro. Pennsboro has the only hotel in this area, but both times we've called they said they didn't have any rooms.

It got up to 90 degrees after lunch, which made for some hot climbing. I clocked one of the average climbs as being 1.3 miles, with anywhere between 5-8% grade. That is steep for that long of a climb. Plus, the climbs were for almost no reason. We were at 770', then climbed to 1,120'. then descended to 907, then climbed back to 1,010', all within four miles. It was getting exhausting. A dark cloud came over us and it started raining, so we had to stop on a downhill and put the rain covers on. We had a northeast wind all day, which took some of the fun out of the downhills. The rain cooled things off to 70 degrees, so that was nice.

Most of the road today, aside from being hilly, was through deep solid forest, so it was at least pretty. Where the forest met the road, it looked impenetrable. We thought the woods of Missouri were thick, but they have nothing on the forest here. We exited Route 50 at Ellenboro, got ice water at Dairy Queen, and found the bike path. The surface was crushed limestone, which we got the hang of pretty easily. It was nice to be away from the traffic. We saw two turtles that were safe from cars, and a bunny, and then we got to go through a 588' long brick tunnel that was the coolest thing ever. The trail was soggy mud in a few places but we navigated fine, so now I think we'll stay on the trail for the next 33 miles until it ends, then we have about 33 more miles to Grafton, where we have hotel reservations.

So, we are at the Legacy Inn in Pennsboro, but not in a hotel room. They were, in fact, all booked up. Jay wanted to camp somewhere in town, but the hotel clerk wasn't sure of where we could pitch a tent. Thunderstorms are forecast, so Jay asked the clerk if, for $20 or $30, we could throw our sleeping bags down in the "conference room." The clerk had to call the pastor's wife to ask if that was okay (some church runs this hotel). She said it was, and for another $10 we could take a shower at a bathroom upstairs. We agreed to the extra charge.

The clerk showed us to the "conference room," which is really a banquet hall. We are on the raised stage area in the back. I went up to the shower, but it was being used as storage for a popcorn machine and microwave oven and some other stuff. I came back down and told Jay, and said he should go look at all the junk in the shower. He did, and said "But you missed the shower that has a foosball table in it." I'm all "Whaaaa?" He found another bathroom upstairs that was also not usable. Jay talked to the clerk, John, who apologized and said that probably the pastor's kids had moved stuff around and the wife didn't know about it, and he didn't want to tell her. He said we could have breakfast instead of the shower, and he also gave us the wifi code, "Jesuslovesyou." So there's that.

There's no air conditioning in the room we're in and it's warm and muggy. But we won't get rained on in here. I opened one of the windows to get some air in here, but had to shut it when I saw three wasp nests (with live wasps!) on the upper sill. The other window works, though. We used our ActionWipes to clean up a bit, then went across the street for dinner. We both got the special, a really good Chicken Parmesan Spaghetti. Then Jay got blackberry cobbler with ice cream for dessert and I got a piece of Boston Cream Pie, which was quite acceptable. After supper we looked in the windows of the old train depot, which is being restored.

Within a mile of starting tomorrow, we have the half-mile long tunnel on the rail trail. Jay put lights on our bikes so we're all set. It's supposed to be warmer tomorrow with another chance of rain, but at least the first half of the day should be nice. Eight more days to go.

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June 7, 2012 - Pennsboro to Grafton, WV

We took Tylenol PMs last night to help us sleep, and they were, at a minimum, helpful in getting us TO sleep. I woke up at one point and saw Jay had rolled off his air mattress and was sleepiing on the floor. I kept tossing and turning after that, mainly due to trying to stay on the air mattress and keep my pillows arranged just so. The hotel clerk turned on a light at the other end of the room at 4:30 and started making coffee. We got up about an hour later. The hotel "breakfast" consisted of prepackaged muffins and donuts. There was cereal and milk, but no bowls available. We made do with what was there and decided to just get started and eat on the trail later. When we set off at 7:07, it was 53 degrees and deliciously chilly. Jay had to stop and put his jacket on, but not me.

We had heard that the surface of the rail trail was not uniform. That is an understatement. We started out (right in front of the hotel!) on grass that had grown up through gravel, which wasn't too hard to ride on, but then the grass went away and there was only gravel, but it was hard-packed so still navigable. Then we got to a muddy patch, which was slow-going. Then that went away and we had giant gravel. Jay has waaay more mountain bike experience than I do, so he gave me some tips like "stay in a low gear so you can spin out if you get stuck in something." That helped, but after half an hour I told Jay "This path is stressful and relaxing at the same time." He agreed. You had to be vigilant to avoid things that would grab at your tire, but the setting was really pretty. Plus, because the trail was flat, you had to be always pedaling. No coasting whatsoever.

We saw two deer, countless bunnies, a squirrel, a chipmunk, and a couple woodchucks. We also overtook a cyclist from Kansas who is headed to D.C., who the owner of the bike shop told us about yesterday. He camped on the trail last night, after going to the church that operated the hotel we were at and getting a weird feeling and deciding not to go in. I wanted to ask "What was the weird feeling? That they would totally gouge you if you asked if you could camp on the lawn?" He was not a seasoned tourist, wearing a sweat shirt and sweat pants, a baseball cap, and Tevas. He was walking his bike listening to his iPod when we passed him. He started in Kansas a while ago, did the Katy Trail (which we looooves and said was MUCH BETTER than the trail we were on), and then got so badly sunburned he had to take five weeks off to heal. Um, what? After we heard that we said "have a good day," and left.

The air was heating up and it was really slow going on the trail. We averaged only 7.3 mph for the 28 or so miles we were on it. We saw lots of neat things, but those were hard-fought miles. The trail cut through people's yards and adjoined businesses, so there was a lot going on, but then there were stretches where the only sound was us pedaling though the brush. We stopped for lunch about noon at a Subway in Salem and met a nice couple that were interested in our trip (the woman noticed our bikes on the way in). They seemed pretty normal and it was good to chat with them. The woman asked if we were carrying anything for protection, and before I could process what that meant, she said "Are you packing?" and I said "What? NO!" which she thought was funny. She said they used to trust people but now they don't and she wouldn't take a trip like ours without a gun. Funny!

We went through three tunnels on the path. We were really looking forward to the one that was half a mile long (it was 11, not 1, miles from the hotel). But when we got there, you could see to the other side! That's not scary at all. We stopped halfway through to take a picture of how dark it was, then we heard someone cough but of course couldn't see them. It turned out to be some local walking through, SMOKING A CIGARETTE. Ewwww. We had to ride the rest of the way breathing second-hand smoke. Yuk. The other two tunnels, although shorter, were scarier because they had a curve to them. The last tunnel we were in was water-logged and had egg-sized rocks in it, so we decided to get off the trail after that. We went less than three miles past the Subway and then Route 50 met the trail, so we jumped on it.

Then, it was back to loooong climbs, traffic, and heat. Most of the trail was shady, but it was getting muggy in there with the day heating up. But out on the highway, there was no shade whatsoever and with the engine heat from cars and the black asphalt, it was a lot hotter. It got up to 97, which is quite warm when you're climbing. We had to go through a major city, Clarksburg, which was the equivalent of riding your bike on the 101 through downtown Los Angeles. Literally. I am not kidding about that. We had to dodge four exits (and their onramps) and the shoulder went down to 10". Then, we had a bit of a downhill and a gigantic uphill where we had to cross two lanes of merging traffic. It was quite stressful, and once we were up the hill we pulled over so I could take off my helmet and cool my head off and we could calm down a bit. And yes, that part of Route 50 is still the official West Virginia bike route.

We rode a few miles further, then we had to navigate the interchange with I-79, no small feat. A little bit after that, when Route 50 had become only two lanes, we stopped for another lunch at Panera. It was now about 3:15 and we had about 20 miles to go to get to Grafton. We had heard from Jared (the guy we met two days ago) that this part of the ride wouldn't be easy, and he was right. There was virtually no shoulder, and then there were drainage grates on the side of the road that you had to dodge. We pulled over a few times into driveways to allow people to pass. A few people were really nice and either hung back until they could go around, or went into the oncoming lane. Many others just blasted past, and quite a few people yelled things at us. Plus, the hills were ungodly. Loooong and steep. Like, really really long. Way longer than Torrey Pines. And we had tired out our legs by doing the four-hour mountain bike ride this morning, followed by two hours of long steep grades on the highway, so we were going pretty slow. Luckily, on a few of the downhills, there were no cars coming so we were able to take over the road and descend. Fun!

We finally got into what we thought was Grafton, but there was no sign of the hotel. We were faced with yet another hill, so we pulled over for Jay to call and see if we had missed it. No, we had not. We had to go up what turned out to be the longest hill of the day after pedaling 60 miles and almost seven hours already. The neat thing was it had clouded up a lot, so it was only 77 degrees, and we could see lightning in the distance and hear thunder. Then we were headed down the hill, and finally saw the sign: Crislip Motor Lodge. We pulled in and I told Jay, "I am always happy to see the motel, but I am especially happy to see THIS motel."

It was a weird day. The bike path was nice but stressful because of the trail surface and how heavy our bikes were to manhandle when we encountered sticky spots. The highway part was hot and stressful, and the two-lane part of Route 50 was really stressful. Considering the first 28 miles had virtually no elevation change, we had a mammoth day of climbing over the last 42 miles. We have 70 miles to go tomorrow to Keyser, and it is all supposed to be like the last 20 were today. Two-lane road, no shoulder, and lots of traffic. Think good thoughts for us! We finish one week from today....

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June 8, 2012 - We were all set to get an early start today, knowing we had a long day of climbing, but then Jay noticed his tire was flat. He started changing it and I did one of the few things I can do to help, which is run my fingers along the inside and see if I feel something poky. I did not, but did notice that his tire is BALD. It has NO tread left, and there's a red stripe visible that I think must be put there by the manufacturer as an indicator that you need a new tire. There are no bike shops in Grafton, so there was nothing to do but get breakfast and start out.

We went to McDonald's (the only place open) and I ate one and one-half Egg McMuffins (which I am really growing to dislike) and Jay ate his two sandwiches. I know really smart people are not drawn to either work or eat at McDonald's, but the population sample here does not speak well for West Virginia. So many people we saw have sunken cheeks due to pronounced tooth loss, and that is not a good look coupled with facial wrinkles from smoking since they were 11. Almost no one is of normal weight; they're either skeletal or obese. We will be glad to leave this state.

We got on the road about ten till eight o'clock, and the climbing started immediately. We had two short climbs (less than 100' elevation change), then a few miles of what counts as flat here, then the first 1000' climb started. We put on our red taillights because the climb was, thankfully, up through a shady forest. We had to get off the road for a couple logging trucks and other big semis carrying what we think was rock or shale (maybe coal) from a quarry we could see. The climb was long, more than two miles, and most of it was 7% grade or steeper. But we made it up and then had a loooong downhill, which of course was fun.

A lot of people drive pick-up trucks here, and it seems many of those are diesel-powered. An abnormally large percentage of drivers passed us, then stepped on the gas to make a big cloud of black smoke come out their truck's exhaust. So mean! Plus, the trucks make a really sinister growling sound when they come up from behind, which is nerve-wracking. I don't think there is a smog law in this state. It's a big coal-producer, so why would it have a smog law?

We stopped at a country store for a Gatorade, and then went by a river that was clear and broad and pretty, so stopped there to take pictures of it. We got really lucky with the weather. It stayed around 75 for most of the day and most of our long climbing was in shade. We had another long (1200' elevation change) climb in the first 30 miles. This climb started out a lot steeper than the first one, and it was just S-curve after S-curve. It was never less than 8% and was usually 10%. We had to stop a few times just to give the legs a break. Climbing that steep of a grade for more than three miles is pretty tiring. Dehesa Grade out near Alpine is longer, but it's not near as steep, so it's a lot easier.

Once we got up that climb, we were at 3,000' and then had about five more descents and climbs, varying from 300' to 500' elevation change. We crossed into Maryland on one hill, and were immediately greeted by a "Share the Road" bicycle sign. Nice! After the first few miles this morning, traffic eased quite a bit, so we got lucky there, too. Maryland seems like a nice state; Route 50 there had a decent shoulder. But it had the third-longest climb of the day, with almost no shade. Once we got up that. we came across a little store that sold hunting supplies and cold drinks. We were dying for another Gatorade and some potato chips, so we pulled in. A big black dog came running up to us, barking, but he seemed friendly. The owner of the dog (who we think owned the store, too) said "He won't bite." We parked our bikes against the store and the dog jumped up to smell us. There was another dog there who came down the steps to check us out.

They are German Wirehaired Pointers and super handsome. We were really sweaty from the climb, and both dogs licked our faces. So sweet! It is really a good thing to have your sweaty face licked by a big dog. We went in and got an Arizona Iced Tea (no Gatorade, dang it) and some Utz Salt and Pepper chips (not that great). One of the owner's friends was there, and when he found out where we were from, he said he used to be stationed there in the 70's. He asked if Boll Weevil was still around and the Butcher Shop, and we talked about other things he liked about San Diego. We both kept petting the dogs and letting them lick us. Then it was time to get going again, we had about 27 miles left.

After five more miles, we got back into West Virginia. Three more big climbs and descents, before the final big climb (400') and then a five-mile descent. We stopped at a scenic overlook to take in the view. West Virginia is very pretty from afar, that's for sure. Then we started the downhill and saw a caution sign for trucks: 9% Grade for 5 Miles. Yippee! It was the best downhill of the whole trip. Only one car passed us the entire time, so we could take over the lane and cut the corners and carve the turns like we owned the place. I hit only 35.7 mph; we kept it slow so that Jay's tire wouldn't give out. But it was still great fun.

Once back in the lowlands, it was definitely hotter (85 degrees), and then we had a headwind for the last four miles into town. What a buzzkill. We finished at just over 71 miles and 1.20 miles of climbing. Egad. That is the most climbing we've ever done. It was a LOT and I'm so proud of us for making it. Most of the climbs would have been tough on a road bike due to the grades, but we pulled through them on our loaded touring bikes. I guess we really are a lot stronger now than when we started.

Jay and I amused ourselves for part of the day by thinking of alternate state mottos for West Virginia. It's current one is "Wild. Wonderful." We thought of these:

Just try to find a flat spot!
We're not last in EVERY socio-economic category. Thanks, Arkansas!
Who needs dental plans?
We dare you to name one good thing that comes from here.

Tomorrow is a short (25 miles) day to Cumberland. We will check out the C&O trail and figure out our plan of attack for it. We may take Sunday as a rest day, or just start on the trail and do low miles until next Thursday, when we finish. Definitely the hardest part is over! Six more days and we'll be done. Whew.

Please check back for updates!

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June 9, 2012 - Keyser, WV to Cumberland, MD

Hoo boy, were we tired after yesterday. I did something to my left shoulder (like the tiniest bit of dislocation) pulling so hard on my brakes for a lot of the time yesterday, so I had some trouble sleeping. I woke up at 4:30 but got back to sleep, then we both woke up around 6:30. We futzed around and ate the crappy hotel breakfast (not many more of those in our future!) and got on the road at 8:35. It was already 73 degrees and you could feel an underlayment of heat in the air.

We had only a short day, 25 or so miles. The first few miles were downhillish and shady, so it was a nice warm up. According to the RAAM route elevation profile, we had a few hills today, but the biggest was only a 400' elevation change. That's peanuts compared to yesterday. At about mile five, we hit the first climb. My hamstrings were like "Dude, NO WAY." Sadly, I had to tell them, "Way." We were both slow getting up the climb (Jay was feeling it in his quadriceps) but thankfully it wasn't too long. Then we had a nice descent, then another climb, at the start of which we crossed into Maryland. Maryland is sure way nicer to cyclists than West Virginia; the road had a very smooth wide shoulder and I guess it's not Maryland's fault there's a mountain on the state line.

The air temperature was heating up and we were sweaty at the top of the hill. Then we had a nice downhill for a while, with a few rises along the way. Because our distance was so short today, it was fun to call out "one-sixth of the way there!" after four miles, then "one-fourth done!" after only six miles, etc. We stopped in the town of Bel Air (which my friend Randy, who lives in Baltimore and has custody of our bike boxes, is disputing the existence of) for a Diet Coke at a gas station convenience store (not many of those in our future, either). The extent of the air condtioning inside the restroom made me contemplate asking if we could sleep there, it was so cold.

Then back on the bikes to finish off the ride. We knew we had the longest climb of the day (400' elevation change) up ahead. The road went slightly downhill for a couple miles, then there was a 100' rise, then another short downhill, then the climb started right in a road construction zone. Our shoulder went away almost completely, but most of the cars were nice. We ascended about 150', then had to cross a freeway onramp. Then we had a big downhill. What happened to the rest of the climb? We'll never know, but maybe the RAAM route turned off somewhere and we missed it. Boy, were we sad to miss the other 250' of the hill. As it was, we climbed more than 1,200' today in fewer than 25 miles, which is kind of funny compared to 70 mile days in Kansas where we climbed less than 800'.

We made our way into downtown Cumberland, which is a really historic ciity with tons of old red brick buildings. It's quite fetching. We were trying to decide what to do (we were looking for a lunch place) when we pulled onto Baltimore Street (the downtown pedestrian mall). A man wearing a motorcycle vest came up to us, saying "You look lost." I said "We're not super lost," and Jay said "We're looking for a place to eat." The guy gave us directions to a good deli a few blocks away, Queen City Creamery, which also had a 1940's era soda fountain and homemade frozen custard. Because it was approaching 90 degrees, we were sold. He then told us a little about the town, explaining that it was central in the French-Americfan, Revolutionary, and Civil wars. There definitely is a sense of history about this place.

We went and got lunch and then set out to find the bike shop the guy told us about. Jay bought a spare tire for when (if?) his bald one gives way on the towpath. Then we went for a short ride on the towpath to see how it was. The surface is packed dirt with tiny gravel ground in; it's way smoother than the North Bend Rail Trail we were on Thursday, so we think we can make pretty good time on it. Then we were both ready to fall asleep, so we went to the hotel where we had an early check-in.

Once in the room, we both indeed did take a nap. Even before taking a shower, that's how tired we were! Our legs were really burned up from yesterday's epic ride, and they could have used today as a rest day. But who wants to sit around a hotel room in West Virginia? Not us. We got up and showered and walked around the city a bit, then went to a bookstore, then had supper, and here we are. I think we'll do some exploring tomorrow and then plan to hit the trail early Monday. It's supposed to be hot the next few days, but several people have said that a lot of the trail is shaded, so that will help. And then we finish on Thursday! We can hardly wait. We both feel like our trip is 99% done, because all that's left is 188 miles, all but 3.5 of that on bike path with no hills and no traffic. Anyone can do that!

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June 10, 2012 - Cumberland, MD

Spent the day being a relaxing in Cumberland, MD.

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June 11, 2012 - Cumberland to Hancock, MD

This will be short because we're starving, and just waiting for laundry to finish before we go eat. The towpath started out great today. It was warmish when we started, 70 degrees, and got up to 85 before the sky clouded up and it cooled off again to 80. Most of the towpath was in shade, which was nice, except that the trees kind of held the humidity in once the day heated up. We thought we'd see a lot of other cyclists, but traffic was pretty sparse. We did see about 10 deer, a groundhog that ran right in front of us, a few squirrels, and a chipmunk. And something we couldn't identify. It was either a mongoose, a ferret, or a mink. I took a picture of it but it didn't turn out very well.

We did talk to one guy, Joe, who was coming up from mile marker 117 (Cumberland is at mile marker 184.5, we met him after 30 miles or so). He had tried to do the whole path last year, starting April 12, but then there was a torrential rain storm and the path flooded. He and a guy he was cycling with (who had his two children with him, nine and ten years old) had to be rescued by a police boat. The water was up to the kids' necks! He said "Funny thing--you go out for a bike ride and almost drown."

Joe was the only person who talked to us on the path. At mile 140.9, we got off the path to go into a town, Little Orleans, for lunch. The only place we saw was super creepy. There was an old man behind the counter and a woman in her 60's. We asked about one of the specials on the board and the woman mouthed "Don't do it" to us. Then we asked about another one, which they were out of, then the woman kind of shook her head "no" at us, so we decided just to buy a bag of potato chips and a candy bar each, along with a Gatorade. There were two other customers, a man and woman in their 30's. They were riding up from D.C. and were headed to connect with the Great Allegheny Passage trail to Pittsburgh. They were kind of weird too. The woman was wearing a spaghetti-strap top with a black lace bra underneath and a lot of makeup. The guy had on a regular T-shirt and shorts. They seemed like they didn't really know what they were doing. The woman asked us how we got across the country, and after I told her our route, she said "How was Arizona? I bet it was beautiful." I never thought I'd hear that question and that sentence consecutively.

After about three more miles of the towpath, which was pretty but a bit uneven, we took a gravel access route a few feet over to the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It parallels the towpath but is paved asphalt. It was nice to be on a paved, level surface again. We were on that for 12 miles to Hancock, where we are staying in a B&B. After our icky experience with the Kansas B&B (where there was the kitten with the prolapsed rectum and the dogs stuck in pens all day), I wasn't too keen on staying in another one, but the owners seem normal and the house is really neato. It was built by a doctor in 1875 and our room is his former office.

We will stay on the WMRT for another 10 miles tomorrow, then get back on the towpath. It's supposed to rain tonight so that may make the towpath slow-going. Who cares though, there's no cars and no hills! Only three days left....

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June 12 2012 - Hancock, MD to Sheperdstown, WV

Ugh, so we're back in West Virginia, but down around these parts they call this the tri-state area, so I guess we should not consider it regressing. Today we were riding not just the Slog Across America, but, as Jay said, we should call it the Sog Across America. It was rainy! For about five hours today, so our bikes and ourselves got very muddy. But let me start at the beginning....

The B&B we stayed in last night, the 1828 Trail Inn, was quite lovely. The owners, Bill and Darlene, were welcoming and friendly but not intrusive. The shower was great, the bed was great, and the breakfast (a cheese omelette inside a croissant, made by Bill, and a delightful fruit salad and blueberry muffins, plus bacon) was fantastic and very fortifying. If all B&Bs were like this, I would embrace them and not be so terrified.

We chatted with Greg this morning, who also stayed last night with his two sons, Robert (?), who's 20, and Ryan, who's 15 or 16. Jay had met Greg earlier last night, and then we ended up at the same place for supper, so I met all three of them then. They live in Leesburg, WV and are headed home after doing the towpath that we're on and, I think, the Great Allegheny Passage trail also. Greg is really nice to talk to and his sons seem very nice as well. They are on mountain bikes, and Greg is pulling a trailer with all of their stuff.

We got started a little after 8:00 on the WMRT, so we had about 10 miles of paved asphalt. The sky was overcast and it started to sprinkle a little, but we were under the tree canopy so it wasn't too bad. After the trail ended, we had to get onto the towpath, and that was the signal to the rain clouds to let loose. It started raining about 9:00, then raining more heavily by 9:30. We hadn't been on the trail too long when we came up on a dad pulling a trailer and his two sons up ahead on mountain bikes. Jay and I looked at each other--could that be Greg and his sons?! No way! They hadn't even eaten breakfast when we left. How could they be ahead of us? We got up to them, but it turned out to be a different dad with his sons. Phew!

The trail stayed passable for the most part for the first hour, but then we started encountering giant puddles that you couldn't escape. You just had to run through them. After an hour of this, we were soaked head to toe. My shoes felt like giant sponges strapped to my feet. Everytime I pedaled, water would squish on my feet. I didn't put on a rain jacket because it was still 70 degrees, and the last time I put my rain jacket on, the sweat from my skin made it seem like I was in a portable sauna. After about 17 miles (almost two hours of pedaling), we came to an area of the path called "Four Locks," and ducked under the front porch to get a snack and see if the rain would let up. We were just hanging out (I was reading a "Dear Prudence" column from Slate magazine on my iPhone) when we realized that a sparrow was chirping on a nearby telephone wire and then flitting around and acting perturbed. Then Jay noticed a nest up in the corner of the porch roof we were under. It had two baby birds in it! So we decided to shove off so the mama bird could tend to the babies.

Almost as soon as we got started again, the rain really came down heavy. It wasn't a torrent, but it was a solid heavy rain. And it lasted for a long time. Like, we almost never get rain like this in San Diego. We knew we had a detour coming up that was supposed to be hilly, so we were looking for a place to get lunch, but that never materialized. We finally stopped under a train trestle for another snack. Then, back on the bikes. By now, the path was more puddles than not puddles. We had seen a turtle sitting, quite happily, in a puddle earlier, and some ducks on the path. We hadn't been going too long when a frog jumped out in front of Jay from a puddle to the side of the road. Jay said "Now, if I see a fish on the path, I'm really going to be worried." Funny!

A bit later, we came across three guys that had passed us earlier, at an area where there was a dam and a waterfall. They took our picture for us, and we took theirs. They cycle the towpath every year to raise money for an autism research group. None of them have fenders on their bikes, so they were waaaay muddier than we were. It was Jay's idea to put fenders on, and I was resistant at first (extra weight and all), but they were sure worth it today.

We kept going. Our choices were (1) keep going and get wet and muddy, but make progress or (2) stop and get off the bikes and get wet, but make no progress. There was no place to get out of the rain. So we kept pedaling. Finally, after about 33 miles, we saw a fishing club (?) that had outdoor seating under a covered patio. We passed it, but then decided to go back and dry out for a bit and look at the map to see if there was a place closer than Harpers Ferry (where we were headed, 64 miles from Hancock) that had a hotel. We met two women there who were cycling on the path and had been camped out for a while, waiting for the rain to let up. They were nice to talk to.

After about 30 minutes, we were ready to get going again. I was trying to maneuver my bike and it was like it was stuck in taffy. Finally, I looked down and saw my front tire was flat. Dang it! That's No. 7 of this trip. So Jay changed the tire while I talked to the women, then we were ready to go again. After about three or four miles, there was a sign for a six-mile detour. Some part of the trail that is at the base of a cliff is being reconstructed, so we had to go on the road. There was a steep gravely uphill to get to the paved road, then we had country roads (with hills!) for a while before a steep descent back to the path. But it had stopped raining finally, about 2:00.

As soon as we got back on the trail, we were like "what's that noise?" It was a giant waterfall! Really lovely to behold, with a giant tree stuck in the middle of it. Then more pedaling, about 13 miles to go to Sheperdstown, our new destination (12 miles this side of Harpers Ferry). The sun made an appearance and didn't dry up the water, but sure made things steamy. My bike shorts didn't dry out either, so for almost all day it was like I was cycling in a big wet diaper (not that I know how that feels, exactly). The path was full of standing water, so it was still some tough riding, but now it was hot and humid. They really have quite the range of weather here. I was getting exhausted and had to stop for another snack, then finally we came to the turnoff for Sheperdstown. Ugh, we had a big hill to climb, then we crossed the Potomac into West Virginia. We stopped at the first hotel we saw, the Bavarian Inn, which turns out to be posh but inexpensive (relatively speaking).

The Inn let us use their garden hose to rinse the mud of our bikes, our panniers, and our shoes. Then we took a shower and went to dinner. We had just started on dessert when Greg and his sons walked up to our table! What a great surprise! They left the B&B at 9:30 so got rained on almost the whole day. This was their intended destination and they teased us about stopping 12 miles short of ours. They had seen our bikes on the bike racks (when they put there's on it) so they knew we were here. We commiserated about the weather, then they went off to their table. So funny! We may run into them at breakfast this morning.

So, we have 72 miles left on the towpath (we're less than a mile from it right now) and three or less from the end of the path to the Washington Monument. It looks like we'll be camping tomorrow somewhere along the path, then have 20-30 miles to finish on Thursday. We can hardly believe it.

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June 13, 2012 - Sheperdstown, WV to Chisel Branch Hiker Biker Campsite at Mile Marker 30.5

Harpers Ferry, where we were SUPPOSED to get to last night, was only 12 miles away so we ate a bagel with peanut butter in the hotel room and then started out. Greg and his sons' bikes were parked right outside our hotel room, and they were just too tempting to leave alone, so we wrapped a tiny bit of toilet paper around them as a prank. Greg, if you read this, we hope you (or at least your sons) thought that was funny. We saw Greg walking to breakfast right as we finished, but we don't think he saw us tampering with the bikes. We returned our keys to the front desk, said one last good-bye to Greg and his kids, and headed off back across the Potomac to rejoin the towpath.

It was a refreshing 64 degrees when we started, a little before 9:00. That is an ideal temperature for riding; once you warm up, it feels like 70 degrees or so, so you don't get overheated. But you still sweat. The spiders had been out in force last night, redoing their webs from Tuesday's rain damage. I will say that there's hardly anything as uncomfortable as running through a sticky spider web with your sweaty face. Although the tow path was shady, I finally had to put on my glasses because I grew tired of picking web strands out of my eyelashes.

The 12 miles went by slowly. We weren't in any hurry. We got to the Harpers Ferry "exit," only to find that we had to get our bikes up 49 steel steps to a railroad trestle. We tried to see if we could lift the loaded bikes up the stairs, but they were too heavy and the stairs were too steep. So we had to unload the panniers, carry them up, get the bikes, carry THEM up, load up the bikes, and ride across the Potomac. Harpers Ferry is an island where the Potomac meets the Shenandoah River. Supposedly there's a great view if you go all the way up the hill (the island seemed volcano-shaped from where we got on it), but we'll never know. It was hot out by now and humid, so we started up the hill but then stopped at the first place we saw to eat; We were a minute too late for breakfast (it was 11:01), so we had a sandwich (really sorry example of a BLT for me, Jay had pulled pork that he said was good). Then we headed back down to see the town.

Harpers Ferry is the site of a National Historic Park. There are restored buildings from the Civil War era, with reenactors playing the parts of the provost marshal, general store keeper, etc. We looked at some of the buildings, then talked to a cyclist who was hanging around where are bikes were parked. Coincidentally, he was joining the group of tourists that Jonathan Voelz (whom we ran into on June 2) started with a a couple weeks ago. We chatted bike tourism for a few minutes, then started back across the bridge to the towpath. Once on the bridge, we ran into another bike tourist and chatted with him for a bit. While Jay was talking, I noticed a group of kids tubing down the Potomac. That looked like fun! I wonder how wrinkly your butt would be if you tubed the whole length of the river rather than rode your bike down it.

Back on the path. Harpers Ferry is at Mile 60.8 and we wanted to camp at Mile 26.1, so we had a ways to go. The next part of the trail was sunny and had dried from yesterday's rain. We went off the path into the town of Brunswick at Mile 55, looking for provisions, but were told they were up a looong hill, so we decided to skip that. The path after Brunswick was considerably more muddy than anywhere else we had been that day. Up till now, we had to dodge just a few puddles, but here the path was soggy with a lot of standing water and mud from edge to edge. The mud was thick and grabbed at the bike tires, so it was getting stressful. I did my best to get through it, but finally there was a stretch that had standing water, then mud, then more water, then a long stretch of mud, and I went past my limits of off-road riding and succumbed to a tire grab. My bike pitched over and I fell into the puddle. My knee hit a submerged rock and broke open a tiny bit, but mostly I was unhurt. Just messy.

Jay rinsed off my knee and my hands and we went back at it. The path would be clear for a few hundred yards, then get boggy again. We had just passed a guy walking his dog when a particularly deep muddy rut caught Jay's bike and threw him off. He fell the same way we did, but HIS knee hit a bunch of little rocks and broke the skin in several places. We rinsed off the wounds and started over. By now, it was getting late (4:30) and we were only at mile 38 or so. We came across White's Ferry at Mile 35.5, which had a little convenience store. We stocked up on snacks (they had "pepperoni rolls," little sandwiches that looked kind of good, so we bought salami to add to those, plus chips, Goldfish, Gatorade, an ice cream bar to eat on the premises, and some sweet rolls for breakfast) and took a break.

Back on the towpath, it was still slow-going. We came across a campsite at Mile 30.5 at 5:30 and decided to call it a day. Maybe if we had gotten an earlier start, we could have made it the other five miles to the next campsite. But our nerves were frayed from battling the mud and it was starting to get dark. So we decided to camp. The setting was pretty, with the river behind us and recently-mown grass all around. Jay set up the tent while I got out the snacks and blew up the air mattresses and pillows. Then we made dinner, a pasta mix with a foil pouch of chicken. I'm glad we won't be eating that anymore. The bugs came out, so we went in the tent around 7:30 and watched the season finale of Mad Men on Jay's Kindle Fire. Fun! We went out of the tent one last time to watch the fireflies (Jay surprised a raccoon who was nosing around our trash bag), then went to bed for our last time before we finish. We are excited and kind of sad to be finishing tomorrow. I didn't think I'd be sad to get this over with, but looking back at everything we've been through, and knowing how tough we are now, I think I will miss being challenged every day. Next stop, the Washington Monument.

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June 14, 2012 - Mile Marker 30.5 to THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT

WE MADE IT! Although it was never really in doubt after the first few days were behind us, it's a little hard for both of us to believe we're really here in D.C. We had a pretty easy day of riding, because most of the thick sticky mud that slowed us down yesterday had dried overnight. We had been told the towpath's surface improved as we got closer to Georgetown, but that didn't seem to happen.

We took an extended break at the Great Falls section of the towpath. The Falls are indeed Great. The noise the water makes rushing over the enormous boulders is an enormous thunder that you can hear from yards away. The Visitors Center was well-done with some nice exhibits to look at. Shortly after that, we had another detour, where we had to portage our bikes up a set of stairs, cross a bridge, then go up some more stairs. The bikes were too heavy with the gear on, so we had to move the gear separately, then go get the bikes, then lug the bikes over then put the gear back on the bikes blah blah blah. This detour, however, was on a flat gravel road and went for about a mile only, so it wasn't strenuous riding at all.

There were more and more people on the path as we got closer to D.C. Earlier in the day, we had passed people that we would say "Good morning!" to and they would answer us, but then locals out for their daily run or ride pretended not to notice the freaks on heavily-loaded bikes bearing down on them. We stopped at Mile Marker 3.1, Fletcher's Cove, where we noticed a paved path running alongside and below the towpath. Jay talked to someone who said that was the Capital Crescent Trail, and he kind of gave us directions for getting to the Washington Monument. We had about five miles to go and set off.

It was a little disconcerting to go from three and one-half days of almost solitary riding to being in a big city. Being on a bike path helped with the transition, because we didn't have to dodge traffic. We kept looking for the Monument and couldn't see it, then crossed over some street at a sign that said "Monuments Next Left" and got up on another path. We curved around and then we saw the Monument in the near distance, sticking up over some trees. We saw it at almost the same time. Tears sprang into my eyes and I stopped breathing for a second. I pulled over just as Jay, his voice breaking, said "Do you want to stop here for a second?" We stopped at looked at the monument and I tried not to cry, and then Jay said "We made it! We're here!" It was exhilarating, joyous, hard to believe, and a relief.

Jay and I did a celebratory fist bump and then headed toward the Monument. We hadn't gone very far when the path we were on ended at a busy street, and we couldn't see where it picked up. We were faced with four lanes of speeding traffic. We looked around for another way and saw a guy in a full racing kit on a super fancy road bike coming toward us. Normally, those guys don't give us cyclotourists the time of day, but he looked over, I waved, and he came up. We said "We just rode our bikes here from San Diego and we need to finish at the Washington Monument. What's the best way to get there?" He said "Don't go in that traffic. Follow me."

And we did! He took off going kind of fast, but then slowed down and kept looking behind him to make sure we were keeping up. He was about 60 and had a short beard tied with a ponytail holder, and I think a slight Swedish accent. He told Jay he rode his bike 6,000 miles last year and had already hit 2,000 for this year, and then added "So I am almost with you in spirit." He led us through traffic, on a couple paths, turning left, then right, then left, up onto the sidewalk, and then to a traffic light across from the Monument. We were waiting for the light to change and I said "It'd be pretty hard for us to get lost now" and we both thanked him. He said "You're welcome. Nice meeting you and congratulations" and then sped off. We never even asked his name or got his picture, dang it.

Once the light changed, we crossed the street and headed up the walkway to the Monument. Chris had texted me that our welcome committee was at the east entrance, whatever that meant. We were headed up the short incline to the Monument and Jay asked me "Do you see them?" and I said no, but then all of a sudden I heard people cheering and I said "I hear them!" Then they were just a few feet up ahead, unfurling a banner that was just like our business cards, except it said "Congratulations" on it. My two sisters were there, and my Uncle Bob and his wife, Aunt Dohnie, and my cousin Karen Zeiters (who drove down from Pennsylvania) and my other cousin Lena (my Uncle Rick's daughter) who lives in Virginia and whom I last saw more than 20 years ago! (And Lena brought her handsome two-year-old son, Carter, and her au pair.)

We stopped and hugged each other and then hugged everyone and a lot of us were crying. It was a beautiful end to a tough journey and could not have been better if it had been scripted. We took a few pictures and then piled into Karen's van for the trip to the hotel. Chris and Elisabeth had already checked us into our room, which they had decorated with streamers and another banner. We started to get cleaned up, when there was a knock on the door. Our friends Pat Kelly and Ron Widmer had sent over cupcakes! A dozen cute miniature cupcakes, each decorated perfectly.

We went to lunch with my family, and Uncle Bob snuck out to pay the tab as a welcome to D.C. for us. So nice! Bob and Dohnie are letting us borrow their car to go to Baltimore to pick up our bike boxes at Randy and Stacey Getz' house (I went to law school with Randy). They are having their annual Getz Fest tonight, so that will be fun. (I asked Elisabeth if she would please bring me one of her sundresses that would go with blue flipflops and she brought me four to choose from! How nice is that?!) As we were getting ready, there was another knock on the door, and this time it was room service with beer, champagne, nuts, dried fruit, and enormous chocolate-covered strawberries. From Ron and Pat, AGAIN! They are the best. I called Pat to thank her and she said they thought it was important to recognize when someone has realized their dreams. SUPER NICE!

We have still not fully processed that we made it all the way here. We are just regular people that, literally, put one foot in front of the other mile after mile and pretty soon those miles stacked up. And here we are. My family has gone above and beyond in recognizing our accomplishment and we feel so loved by them and all of you who have posted your comments and encouraged us along the way. We couldn't have done it without all of you cheering us on, and especially Chris handling behind-the-scenes details and the website stuff, Elisabeth taking care of niggling details, Kristi Anderson and Nate Briner watching the house and Orange Kitty, Skip Forsht meeting us in New Mexico with hydration supplies furnished by Jeff Cook, Jan Campbell saving us from frostbite in Colorado and letting us relax at her house, and many many others. If you ever want to know how many people love you and want you to succeed, then I encourage you to take on a challenge that you've thought about. When you find out how many people believe in you, you will end up believing in yourself.

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