Vol. 16 •Issue 17 • Page 14
Home at Last
Rough Rider Recounts Trip
Count them. It comes out to 1,468 miles, 650,000 pedal strokes, 7,750,000 feet traveled, 123 hours and nine minutes of riding time, eight states covered, four broken bike spokes, three flat tires, run off the road twice, six puncture wounds as a result of one dog bite, 21 hotel stays, four numb fingers. No matter how you wish to quantify my recent East Coast adventure, the quality of the trip made it an experience that will remain with for me for the rest of my life.
I left home in Rochester, N.Y., on June 18 at the start of a 24-day road trip to Walt Disney World in Florida to raise money for “Team Taylor” and the Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong in Rochester.
I knew when I left that each day would bring a new road, a new town, a new experience. Only by looking back am I able to realize the extent those experiences encompassed.
Some things did not go as imagined. When planning the trip, I figured the hills of Pennsylvania would be the most challenging part. I was surprised to discover the most rugged hills would be further south in Virginia and North Carolina.
Although the Pennsylvania hills were higher, they were less numerous. They also came at a time when the weather was cool and cloudy, something I would soon wish for throughout the rest of the trip.
Traffic was also the most challenging in Virginia where a lack of adequate shoulders and an abundance of aggressive drivers and heat turned me into a bundle of nerves yearning for the quiet country roads I had once envisioned as my entire dream route south.
In North and South Carolina I did find those dream roads, fortunately. Two-lane country roads beckoned me through rural America—past farms, small towns, people tending to their yards and family picnics. Of course, those placid roads came equipped with plenty of hot, searing weather. I also found they came inhabited by country dogs.
I was clearly in their territory and they let me know it. I had not been bitten by a dog since I was a kid. My lucky streak came to an abrupt end, however. I was double-teamed by an experienced duo. One ran in front to slow me down; the other clamped his jaw around my left leg, leaving six punctures. When I was forced to stop, their equally large housemate joined them, and the three of them took turns growling each time I tried to move my feet. They kept me hostage, with their owner looking on from her riding lawnmower, until I was able to use my cell phone to call for help.
Deputy Joseph eventually came to my rescue and I was soon on my way once again, at that point far more fearful of dogs than I had been an hour earlier.
When the roads did flatten out further south, the pedaling was much easier. That did not make the trip a breeze. The heat and the sun became my nemesis. At that juncture, I took advantage of every opportunity to grab a cold drink and spend a short time in an air-conditioned store.
OCEAN OF SWEAT
Because of the high heat and humidity, it took only a few minutes each day for me to soak my shirt with sweat. And all of those fluids needed to be replaced. At times, the heat was so unbearable that I alternated five miles of riding with a half hour of drinking and resting.
I also was reminded of the commercial that advises us we are “not as clean as we think.” I often thought of the plight of the unfortunate person who would end up sitting in my restaurant booth after I slid my sweaty body out and continued my ride.
Although I prefer heat to cold when I ride, the heat I encountered in the South was more than I expected, and it took its toll daily. I found myself looking ahead for any tall trees that could give me just a fleeting moment of shade as I rode past, but they were few and far between.
On the second half of the trip, my route ran parallel to I-95, taking me through towns where business districts no longer existed. Stores had gradually moved over the years to massive interstate interchange complexes offering just about every imaginable service, restaurant and gas station.
At times, I could look down the road and spot large buildings on all four corners of an intersection in a community I was approaching. In those instances, my tongue would tingle in anticipation of a cold beverage sliding past. Disappointment all too often became the emotion of the moment when it became apparent customers had not passed through the doors of most of these stores in years, contrary to the optimistic ‘Open’ signs still propped up in the front window. It didn’t take long for me to learn to curb my enthusiasm and to appreciate those stores that did remain open.
When the only thing you wish for is a drink, all else seems trivial.
END OF THE ROAD
The road signs all pointed to Disney World as I neared the end of my journey. I stopped at a Shoney’s for a final hot fudge sundae just five miles from my final hotel, and I sat there for a long time, looking ahead at the road, not wanting to ride the final five.
It was not that I didn’t want the daily ride to be done. I already had ridden 60 miles in the Florida heat that day and I was more than ready for a shower. The end of that final day, however, would signal the end of my experience, and I was not ready for it to end.
True, I welcomed a day or two of rest before heading home. But thinking of the end was sad.
A waitress came up to me as I savored my sundae and said, “You look tired.”
“I am,” I replied. But I think it was a look of sadness she saw, not weariness.
My ride ended when I rolled my sweaty, tired, more experienced body up to the front entrance of the Dolphin Hotel in Disney. I assumed the valet parking available was not meant for me as I, dismounted for the last time. I had a smile on my face. A big smile.
I can’t fully explain how much I enjoyed this trip. It is something you have to do for yourself to understand the feeling. I ran into two other traveling bicyclists along the way, and we exchanged experiences and tips. They know what I mean. There is a lot of country out there and a lot of folks, each with their own experiences and stories.
I was fortunate to cross the paths of a few of them. These are people I would never have met had I stayed home and followed my normal work routine. A trip like this puts much into perspective and allowed me an opportunity to look closely at myself. I was able to push myself and work harder than I have in years. In that attempt, I succeed.
I hope through my journey I have been able to inspire a few therapists to look at themselves and maybe decide to do something different or attempt to accomplish something they have thought about for a long time but haven’t had the opportunity to try.
I have been inspired by the families and patients I have seen over the years and by many people I have met on the road. Even short conversations can mean a lot.
Now that I am at home, I look to the future. I planned my next bicycle trip the first night I was in Disney World. Now I need to find time for that journey. I know I will.
And remember my slogan taped on my bike: “Courage doesn’t always roar.”
Scott Sharick is a New York practitioner.