Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Photo Essay: St. Louis, Missouri to Yuma, Colorado

In Sweet Springs, Missouri, we were given a hero's welcome. A small town with a big heart.

Cuts for Cancer...

Shareef as the new (and free) 4K poster boy

Cream Can dinner in Arapahoe, Nebraska. A slew of vegetables and sausage were steamed inside a cream can and served in a trough...luckily we didn't have to eat straight out of it

Our hostess Grandma Ginny. Everyone should hope to be as graceful and giving as this woman when they're older.

Tan lines. We've all got 'em...some are prouder than others.

In Nebraska rattlesnakes run rampid, apparently. One of the older gentlemen at the senior citizen center in Benkleman explained in great detail how to kill them. "Well, you have to run 'em over with a car. Or shoot 'em."

4K fundraiser/party in Benkleman, NE. Pickles cost $1.

Dessert table shenanegans.

Grilling. I had the privilege (?) of having a lengthy discussion with one of Nebraska's richest cattle farmers at the cookout. He laughed at me when I told him I don't eat red meat and warned me of the dangers of salmonella.

4K family with 4K baby candidate.

Rainstorm at our backs.

Goodbye, Nebraska!

The 4K loves animals. We've had some very successful animal rescue missions along the way, too.

The St. Louis Arch...The Gateway to the West.

Today I have an absolutely wonderful host family in Yuma, Colorado! Kit and Randi are such amazing people. They're frequent hosts to many young people who pass through town, and their hospitality and friendliness is not something you'd expect from just any couple.

We just crossed the state border from Nebraska today around mile 30 and ever since then it's been love at first sight. The scenery in Colorado is completely different. There are no mountains in sight (yet), but there is a much more rugged landscape that you don't see in Nebraska.

The photos below are a compilation of everything I've deemed "worthy" to be posted. Once the trip is finished I will upload all the extras online in some fashion. These also deserve captions that I will hopefully continue to add as quickly as possible. Enjoy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Western Territory

It has been far too long since I've posted on this blog. Computers are very hard to come by in the west. Most towns out here have a population of no more than 300-400 people and only a select few have accessible libraries. One town we passed through had a population of 66 people. Riding through them is a surreal experience. Most store fronts are broken down and abandoned shells on the inside. On our day off in Sweet Springs, Missouri, one of our riders claimed that we were "the next big thing to come through this town since Jesus." Christianity plays a HUGE role here in the midwest. Each day we pass by at least two or three anti-abortion billboards along the road that stand high amongst endless corn and wheat fields. A surprising sight for me was the amount of Catholic churches in Kansas. Apparently, it's a phenomenon in the midwest for Catholicism to have any place among the saturation of Protestantism.

Today we find ourselves in Benkleman, Nebraska. It is another small town that has been severely hit by the recession. Some locals will admit that the area has hit hard times long before a recession was ever publicized. The infrastructure is extremely bare and walking through the streets in the evening can be a lonely experience. We entered town on a Sunday (yesterday) and there was a maximum of three cars parked along the main road.

Tomorrow we head into Colorado! This is the part of the trip I've been itching to experience. We will make our way towards the Rocky Mountains and eventually climb Trail Ridge Road, which is rumored to be the highest road in terms of altitude in the United States. (I'm assuming the criteria include car accessibility and pavement.)

One of the main challenges on this trip, besides finding a working computer and internet access, is patience with other riders. All the riders on this team find themselves at various ability levels. While some are experienced riders who can charge up hills at 24 miles per hour and keep pushing onto the next, others are still struggling. The fortunate thing is that we're all improving drastically. Every rider, including myself, has found themselves at a completely different place than they were 4 weeks ago. I never imagined looking forward to climbing the Rockies. However, I can barely wait for those thousand-foot ascents. According to word of mouth, we will be reaching a maximum altitude of 15,000 feet in Colorado.
There is a constant mixture of emotions throughout the team. As with everybody else, I have my fears: I'm afraid of descending down 15% grades. I'm ly afraid of wiping out. We've all gotten some bumps and bruises along the way, but this is going to be a true test of our ability to stay safe...not just as individuals, but as a team. I'm afraid that people will not be responsible enough (although I'm sure they all will once they see the massive peaks ahead) and will hurt others through their own messiness.

Despite all this fear, there is an uncontrolled excitement that is surging through me. I've never traveled to Colorado before, and I cannot even anticipate the beauty that lies before us in the mountains. We are half way through this journey, and reaching this point is an extraordinary feat for all of us. I'm hoping that the family we've slowly created and nurtured along the way thus far continues to develop. It is too easy to become stressed by the little things on this trip. I'm just hoping that we can embrace everything that we come across as the unique experience that it is and will remain throughout our entire lives. Not many people can bike across the country, and I hope that people see this as a privilege in and of itself.

Amendment to my previous post: it was pointed out that I ally pegged the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra as the Chicago Symphony orchestra.

The computer I'm currently using does not allow me to upload photos via my camera, but hopefully our next day off in Boulder will afford me such capacity. Until then, check out the website for updated photos: http://www.4kforcancer.org

Friday, June 12, 2009

Deep Dish Love

Picture preview of the past week...mostly of my mini-Chicago adventure, since the Midwest is full of farms and nothing else...

The Big Bean sculpture in the middle of the city...

Banana Foster Pancakes at Eppel's Restaurant in Chicago...delicious.

Mount Baldy sand dune in Michigan City, Indiana. So beautiful at the top! You could see Chicago from there across the Lake.

The church we stayed in at Michigan City...the stained glass was so lovely that I decided to sleep in the sanctuary that night. However, it didn't help that the place was considered "haunted"...we definitely heard some noises that night.

A fave water stop of mine by a previous rider/alumni...those brownies were so yummy!
(below) Us on our way out of Cleveland, Ohio...and into the boondocks...

Today was our day off in Chicago! It was a nice treat to be in the city and be amongst a bit more civilization. The small towns we've passed through have always been extremely kind to us by providing meals and shelter each night. However, when you have the rare occasion of passing through buildings larger than two stories and hearing the hustle and bustle of traffic, honking cabs and reading newspapers that cover more than the cat that fell down the well that week, it's a nice breath of fresh air...ironically.

I got to get my bike serviced today at a local bike shop, Kozy's, located only about a half a mile away from where we're staying at University of Illinois at Chicago. They offered some amazing service, tuning our bikes for free, and then gave us a great discount on all of our purchases...something that is always appreciated in such an expensive sport.

Here are some pictures from the past week! The photo opportunities are not quite frequent in the midwest as they were in the Allegheny mountains. Things are pretty flat and the scenery is basically farmland for miles. At our stop in Fayette, Ohio, we were able to pick up packages that friends and family sent to members on the team. Salman had sent this amazingly large package of goodies for the team, but since our stop was so far out of the way (i.e. in the middle of nowhere) then FedEx didn't "feel like" riding back out to drop it off. This was followed by an intense minivan bolt to civilization to pick up the box and then drive back to our host. This is the downside to these areas. However, the upside includes the fact that the land is something you never see on the east coast. The crops that are mostly grown in the region are corn and soybeans, so they hadn't really grown tall while we were riding through.

Tomorrow we ride out of Chicago and make our way through Illinois. In a couple days we'll be in Missouri...I have heard mixed things from past riders about the state. Some seem to despise it, but I hope to get through it with a slightly more positive attitude. Taking each day one at a time has helped a lot, and I'm hoping to continue this throughout the trip. While I was visiting with my good friends Maansi and Sarah here in the city today, as we shoved our faces with deep dish pizza and listened to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Millenium Park (which was phenomenal, by the way) we got to talking about the trip. Their friends couldn't believe what I was doing, and it almost got to a point where I couldn't believe it, either! After leaving, I had to talk myself down and realize that I've gotten this far. I have a feeling that there are going to be plenty more of these "breathers" in the coming weeks, but I'm also realizing that I've got a whole 26 other people to help me through this...and of course I look forward to doing the same for them.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mail Drops...

To those who would like to send some lovin' to the 4K team as we bike across the country this summer...here are our mail drop dates/locations! Everything is appreciated...particularly food. If you plan on sending food items, please keep in mind we have team members who are allergic to gluten, so gluten-free items are much appreciated!
Mail Drops

You can send mail to riders at the following locations. Please make certain your mail will be there by the listed date, and clearly address it to "4K for Cancer" and include your rider's name.

June 8
Fayette Christian Church
203 W Main St.
Fayette, OH 43521

June 13
First Presbyterian Church
317 E Court St.
Kankakee, IL 60901

June 20
104 E Jefferson St.
Sweet Springs, MO 65351

June 28
Strikers Diner
1309 A St.
Benkelman, NE 69201

July 9
Paonia United Methodist Church
PO Box 157
Paonia, CO 81428

July 24
Austin Baptist Church
PO Box 183
Austin, NV 89310

July 29
Episcopal Church of Saint Anne
1020 W Lincoln Rd.
Stockton, CA 95207

Bicycle spottings via the Sartorialist

After not having checked my email in a billion days, here are some great photos I found on The Satorialist blog! It feels great to see that bikes are catching on...

4K for Cancer: Days 1-7

Starting location: Baltimore, Maryland (Send-off: May 31st)
Current location: Cleveland, Ohio

The past 6 days have already blown past us! There is so much to tell and so little time...I only have limited internet access due to our random positioning each night. Some places have Wifi, but it's difficult to acquire computer usage since there are only a couple that are with us on the 4K.
Today we're in Cleveland, Ohio! It's our first day off, so here's a little re-cap of what's been going down since leaving Baltimore on Sunday...

Rain welcomed us at the back of Shriver Hall as we all met up to caravan down to the Inner Harbor. Caravaning is one of the coolest things we get to do while we're riding through the country. It basically entails all of us getting in a double line with one van in front and the other behind...kind of a bicycle parade, if you will. We get a sort of celebrity status as we pedal through busy cities and it keeps us all together without traffic nudging their way through and hurting anybody.

When we got to the Harbor, the rain had stopped, the clouds cleared, and the sun broke through just in time for us to dip our bikes in the harbor waters and then proceed towards Pennsylvania for the first day! Mileage that day was about 72 miles (?). Maryland is beautiful outside of the city- there are plenty of farms (which you pass a lot of throughout the east coast in general) and constantly rolling hills.

Water stops basically consist of small daily increments of intense team bonding. While shoving our faces, between 27 people we easily amuse ourselves without hesitation.

(Team "Ska-Doosh")

(PA Border!)

We made it to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania! However, in order to get there, we had to climb Blue Ridge Mountain's base. I've never climbed a mountain before on a bike...surprisingly we made it. The key is to find a steady cadance (the rate at which you turn your pedals). If you can find that niche then you're good to go. Once we made it to the top, I met my first big downhill. The grade was about 8% (I think). That's a pretty steep hill...and we reached a speed of about 40 miles an hour, maybe faster.
By the time we got into the town, we had suddenly started passing a vast array of food venues. Nicole and I spotted a billboard with a giant strawberry cheesecake on it, as well as a banner advertising the "Thickburger." I don't eat red meat, but we were so hungry at that point, I could've easily walked in there and chowed down on one.
Once we got into the church center where we slept for the night, we were greeted by the best pasta dinner I've ever laid witness to. That's one thing on the 4K: Food is a very crucial and constant part of our day. Each person will eat approximately 4-5,000 calories a day...and that's only in the beginning. As we near the end, especially the guys on the team, will pack down as much as 7,000 calories.
Monday and Tuesday:
The 2nd and 3rd days were full of mountain climbing, which has grown on me since then. However, after hearing rumors that our second day would be over 100 miles, I began to feel queasy. Of course, it wasn't 100 miles (maybe around 70-ish?) and we ended up climbing 3 mountains that day! Blue Ridge Mountain, Bald Knob Mountain (which provided for some humorous pictures at the summit sign) and another I can't remember. On the 3rd day, we finished the Allegheny Mountains after conquering Mount Laurel, which is well over 2,000 feet in elevation. The soreness was unbelievable. The worst part was stopping at our water stops...if you stay still too long, your muscles freeze up. Sometimes the most stretching you can possibly do won't help when you have to jump back on the bike and immediately begin to climb again.
The 4th day we landed in Butler, PA after a ridiculous amount of rain. HOWEVER, the weather's sourness was definitely matched by one of our teammates, Rebecca, who managed to finish her first ride of the 4K! After have difficulty for the past few days, she managed to finished her first ride on the worst day thus far. The rain was pelting us non-stop and downhills were dreaded when you had to be extra careful not to slip as you slowed down to a stop light and then start up again at the bottom of a hill. It was really the most beautiful time thus far.
Thursday and Friday:
Into Youngstown, Ohio the next day and yesterday into Cleveland were very kind to us and made for great muscle recovery. Ohio is FLAT. Oh so flat, but the roads are horrendous. Into Cleveland it was like we were mountain biking. Once we were 68 miles down, we had 3-ish miles to finish up through the city in a caravan formation.
We also had the most AMAZING hosts while in Youngstown. The food was unbelievable in volume and quality. It was like Thanksgiving dinner...but better.

Waiting for the vans in to caravan through Cleveland.

bringing us to TODAY! It's our day off and we've just gotten back from a little biking adventure through Cleveland. Nicole, Rob, Diana and I rode our bikes into a nice little hipster part of the city to venture out for a bike shop to pick up a few things. However, it ended up taking us past a market and weekend festival going on! After picking up our things, we walked around a bit, listened to some awesome folk music, and stopped at a great little coffee shop for an early dinner and coffee (of course). On our way back, Rob took a bit of a spill. However, on this trip, you learn to fall and do it with ease. There's no way you don't get through this trip without falling at least once. I'm just waiting for my turn...

Team names thus far (that I can remember): Each day we name our smaller groups that we go out with. Here are few that I can recall...
Team Ska-doosh
Team "Mega-Sore-A**" (think a dinasaur)
Team Warp Speed
Team Sexy

Also, here's a link to our "official" resident photographer's 4K photo website, Conor.

Stay tuned! I'm going to do my best to find a Wifi connection whenever possible...