Day 1 was full of unknowns, rain, detours, and more rain. Upon arriving at the campground, we found out our site was flooded. The campground allowed us to pitch our tent in a covered pavilion; which was a nice bonus. The highlight of the evening was a phone call from my sister with MS. She called to see how I was doing, to tell me how proud she was of me, and how much this meant to her. Hearing that from her made all my aches and pains fade away, and placed a smile on my face.
On paper, day 2 was going to be even more challenging. After eating a good dinner, it was time to get some sleep. Falling asleep proved to be difficult, as my mind was racing thinking about everything that happened. Slowly, I dozed off only to be awakened by a visitor outside the tent. The visitor was of the 4 legged kind, and turnout to be a skunk. While our new friend was nice enough not to spray us, it took its time to check out our camp site. That said, it was more than enough for my wife to retreat to the truck! I on the other hand, curled up in my sleeping bag, thought about my son and sister, and finally drifted off.
I awoke around 7 am to break camp, eat, and get on the road. Originally, Day 2 was scheduled to be an 80 mile day, but I now had to extend it to 87 miles since yesterday was cut short. The plan was to make the first stop in Towanda, Pennsylvania, which was about 40 miles from the campground. It was the right distance for my first break, and I had been invited to have lunch at the Red Rose Diner. The owner of the diner, Joe DuPont, had read about my ride and emailed me with the invite. From Towanda, it would be off to the planned campsite in Hills Creek State Park, which is about 7 miles east of Mansfield, Pennsylvania.
It was also going to be another hot and humid day - into the mid-90s, so I was hustling to get my bike loaded up and on my way. I wanted to move the truck out from under the pavillion for Theresa before I left. Great idea but unfortunately, the battery was dead! So off I went to see if anyone was A) awake and B) had cables to give me a jump. Luckily, I was able to find both but once again, I was going to be leaving later than I wanted. Normally that would have made me antsy, as I hate to be late for anything. Surprising, I found myself very calm. I think that calmness was because I was so into the moment - committed to the journey.
Finally around 9:30 am, I was off. From the campground, it was about 4 miles of backroads to return to Route 6. It was rolling hills, and I could feel the tightness in my legs from yesterday's effort. Regardless, I was in a very good place. The sun was breaking through the morning haze, and the country side was absolutely beautiful. By the time I got to Route 6, I was feeling great. In hind sight, I had no idea what I was getting into!
Almost as soon as I made it to Route 6, the climbing began. As you can see in the elevation chart, it was going to be hills all day. The morning hours were pretty good, and I worked hard to stay hydrated as I could feel the heat rising.
I made great time to Towanda. I was riding comfortably and staying in a good rhythm. You cross a bridge as you enter the town, and then you make a hard right onto Main Street. A few blocks down the street on the left is the Red Rose Diner, and it is a really cool place - a true blast from the past. Joe is a very interesting character. When I say character, I mean that in a positive and respectful sense. Joe, a native of New Jersey, moved here after retiring. He takes great pride in his new community. Two years ago to he purchased the diner to save it. He didn't do it as a personal investment, as it isn't a money maker. He bought it because he wanted to save a piece of Towanda's history.
Joe and his staff are incredible. The diner is frozen in time, and its obvious that Joe is very proud. Throughout the diner are photos from days gone by, as well as recent visitors. I am proud to say that Theresa and I are now a part of it's history. Not only did Joe feed us, he gave us Red Rose Diner tee-shirts, and he wrote a generous check to "Wake Up Narcolepsy". I can't begin to tell you how touched I was. So take it from me; if you are passing through Towanda on Route 6, make the Red Rose Diner a stop on your agenda - I give it 5 Stars!!!
Upon leaving this little town, I was feeling awesome - fueled, new friends and nothing but sunshine! I was also greeted with a short but steep 2 mile climb. This climb quickly made the memory of Joe and the Red Rose Diner a distant memory. For the next 10 miles, Route 6 was a constant up and down. As I approached mile 50, the climbing got real serious. I was still feeling better than day 1. My cadence was steady and my average speed was better, but the elements - the heat and humidity were beginning to take their toll.
From mile 50 to 69, there was very little relief from the climbing. For one stretch of 12 miles, it was nothing but up! The incline grade was constantly changing anywhere between 2% to 10%, which made maintaining a rhythm difficult. I noticed the sweat had become a steady flow off my face. If the hills weren't enough, the winds were incredible and they came in all directions. I found myself beginning to tire and was unsure of what awaited me with each turn of the road. It became a mind game trying to guess if the top was around the next bend, or if it would continue to climb. I fought hard to maintain my focus but to make matters worse, I was starting to get cramps in my thighs.
One of my goals for the ride was to never walk with the bike no matter how bad the hills got. I now found myself in a pretty bad place both physically and mentally. I stopped during this climb to get more water out of my panniers, take another salt tablet, and to eat a banana. I stretched my legs, and sat on the guard rail watching some trucks go by. After a few minutes, I thought about the call from my sister the night before - how she said she was proud of me. After a few moments, I began to reclaim my focus, put some more food in my jersey pockets, and climbed back on my bike. I told myself "slow and steady, slow and steady". As I was taking my first pedal strokes easing back on the road to continue my climb, a car approached. As the car slowly passed, the driver yelled "You got this", and gave me a thumbs up with his arm out his window as he drove off. With this, I found some inter-strength and I was off. It was another 5 miles before I crested the hill but when I did, I felt joy and relief all at the same time. I also thanked my sister and that driver out loud for helping me find what I needed to continue.
From the summit, it was basically flat or downhill for the next 9 miles into Mansfield. I made one final stop at a Sheetz for a bit of food and more importantly, water. After a short phone call with Theresa to let her know where I was, it was time to finish the day. My confidence was back, my cramps where gone, and I knew the campsite was only about 7 miles away. Little did I know that these last 7 miles would prove to be the most challenging of my life. In hind sight, it wasn't just the last 7 miles that took me to a place I had never been. It was accumulation of everything - heat, difficult terrain, head winds, and in the end, emotion.
As I left the Sheetz parking lot, my legs were heavy, but they felt strong. It was a busy road for the first couple of miles as Route 6 intersected with US 15. The congestion made me focus on my surroundings of cars, trucks, and on ramps. As I passed the last ramp and traffic began to settle, an incline in the road had already begun. I now began to focus on what lied ahead. It seemed like just another hill. What I didn't know was the steepest inclines of the day were beginning.
I had a good rhythm early on, and it looked like the hill crest lied a 1/2 mile ahead. Unfortunately, that "crest" just became a bend in the road, and the road kept getting steeper. This became a pattern over the next 6 miles. Hill crests lead to turns, turns lead to sharper inclines, and it just kept repeating itself. I turned my attention to my computer to put my focus on my cadence and heart rate, instead of the never ending climb. My computer also shows me other numbers - like the percentage grade of the incline. The hill was now consistently above 9%. The heat was once again becoming an issue, as it was in the mid-90s. Each stroke of the pedals became harder. I can honestly say I have never been in such physical distress in my life. I was looking to anything to give me strength.
I found myself talking out loud to my mother and father - asking for strength. At times I was screaming. Self-doubt was in full bloom. I was exhausted, my emotions were all over the place, and it seemed like I was in control of nothing. I remember looking down and realizing I still had 4 miles to go. I began to think about one of the reasons I was doing this; which was to try and put myself in the shoes of my sister and my son. Thoughts of my son's struggles began to flood through me.
My emotions and thoughts were out of control. Why did this have to happen to him? Could I have done anything differently? Did I, or something I did cause this terrible disease for him? Finally, I couldn't peddle another stroke. I quickly came to a stop on the side of the road. As I came to a stop my legs almost buckled, and I screamed at the top of my lungs "I am sorry"! I stood there for several moments with my mind spinning off in different directions - I felt tears on my face. I thought of all the moments leading up to his diagnosis.
I also had feelings of awe in how he has faced his challenge. How he refused to let the disease define him. How he reached out to us when he was struggling to acclimate to the drugs he now had to take. I then felt free - free that if I couldn't complete this ride, I would let him down. To say I was in a bad place would be an understatement. I drank some water and told myself if I don't start riding right now, this whole thing would be over. I had to try - so I pushed off once again, all the while trying to keep my emotions in check.
At this point, I'd like to say I found this rush of inner-strength. I'd like to say my body was revitalized, and that I charged on to my campsite, but that was not the case. I thought of my son the remaining miles, but that didn't take away the hills, the wind, or the heat. The only promise I made at that point was, I wasn't going to stop until I either reached camp, or my body just said no more. Finally the climb was over, and I made the turn onto the road of our campground. I felt a huge relief, but I was done. Even the smallest of inclines felt like mountains. I was a little less than 2 miles from camp, but I had nothing left. I called my wife for help - to come and pick me up. I know if rested for a while I could complete the last miles, but I also know I could pick-up right where I left off in the morning. I found peace in my decision, because I often told my son that asking for help from family is never a bad thing. It doesn't mean you lost - it means you are never alone. So here, I found myself taking my own advice. Support from family in the form of a ride from my wife, and the thoughts of everything my son has had to endure.
As I got to camp, I slowly began to feel a sense of accomplishment. I survived, and I experienced something I had hoped; a sense of what my son and sister go through. Now it is time to eat, recover, and sleep. Tomorrow it starts all over again, but as far as today goes, it was 88 miles that I will never forget.