Yesterday, I learned a lot about myself. I am also thankful that at the end of the day, I found myself in an awesome place - Hills Creek State Park. It a word, it was simply stunning. I have to say that while I am a native of Pennsylvania, I have forgotten how beautiful this state really is. The only downside is that I can't stay around longer to enjoy it. The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon is so close and so tempting, but it will have to wait for another day. We will be back again to make that happen!
Today, I woke up feeling pretty refreshed, considering what I had been through the day before. And while yesterday was by far the hardest day on a bike in my life, all of my riding stats improved from day 1. Today was planned as a recovery day, with only a little over 50 miles to reach our camping destination outside of Coudersport. Yes, my legs felt a bit heavy but mentally, I was feeling a lot stronger. I survived the hardest day of this journey, and I wouldn't have changed a thing. My appreciation for what people with Narcolepsy, MS, and other diseases go through is so much greater than I had before this ride began. The physical and mental hardships that challenge their health, their careers, their relationships, if not all aspects of their lives is very real. No, the hardships may not be present every day, but it is always there - always ready to throw another hurdle their way.
My son and sister have approached these challenges differently, but also the same - they are committed to directing their lives and not letting their illnesses be their pilot. Yesterday was hard, but it also gave me clarity about the rest of this ride - I will be my own pilot. I will not let the wind, the hills, the weather dictate my happiness. Today, my plan is embrace everything the road throws at me. Yes today is a recovery day, but only in distance. Today has one small obstacle in the form of Denton Hill. It is my focus for today.
I set off - actually on time today - slightly before 8:00 am. I wanted to finish as early as possible to get as much recovery time as possible. The plan with my wife today was to meet at the Brick House Cafe in Galeton, PA., which is 30-some miles from the campsite. She found the place on-line and it looked pretty cool, so the plan was set.
The weather was so much better that yesterday; mid-70's in the morning with limited breeze. The terrain was a bit up and down, but my pace was solid. I was definitely riding into shape. I was making great time, and even stopped a couple of times to snap some photos of the beautiful scenery. Before I knew it, I was at Galeton's city limits, and I set off to find the Brick House Cafe. I was hungry and feeling great.
I got there before Theresa, and I found out something else about small towns on Route 6; almost everything is closed on Sundays! While I was looking forward to eating here, it was a bit refreshing that not everything in the world is open 24/7. As I waited for Theresa to figure out plan B, I looked around at the building. I then saw something that indicates a lot of cyclists stop and eat here - see the picture to the left. Theresa showed up, and we checked our phones for other options. There was only one - Subway. This actually was a perfect place to start. It was on the far west side of town, and about 1 mile from the start of my target for the day - Denton Hill.
After getting some much needed fuel and filling my water bottles, I was off. Denton Hill actually started about 4 miles before arriving to Galeton, but the rise was very small - 1 to 2%. For me, the official climb starts now. For the next 14 miles, it is my intention to own this hill. Except for a sharp rise leaving town, the climb started very modest. The incline for the first 6 miles varied between 1.5 & 4%. It was totally manageable. My plan was to stay in a constant cadence, and to keep my heart rate in check. I wanted to be aggressive, but smart. This hill was personal to me - in fact I was timing myself. At mile 6 of the climb, the hill got a bit steeper - 3-6%. I was feeling great with no intention of stopping, but things change. I was coming around a bend and low and behold, there it was, the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. I have to admit, I chuckled a bit when I saw the sign, and I am talking a BIG sign. I had to stop - but a quick stop. I hit pause on my timer, pulled over, and just then Theresa showed up! Perfect timing. She quickly snapped a photo, and I was off. I have to tell you, this is a big museum. I wouldn't mind stopping back at some point in time.
Soon after I was back on the ride, the road continued to rise. I was feeling so great! Even as the head wind was building, my legs were strong. I was listening to a playlist my daughter had given me, as my pace continued to build. As I was climbing, my mind went back to my thoughts from the morning - about being my own pilot today, like my son and my sister. Then it struck me. One of the many reason I wanted to do this ride was to get closer to my son - to walk in his shoes. To get closer to understand his and my sisters hardships. I now find myself on another hill and wearing their shoes once again, but these are a different pair of shoes. These are shoes of strength. They are shoes of control. Right now, they are giving me strength. I am my own pilot!
From that point on, I was in a special place. A place the complete opposite from were I was nearly 24 hours ago. I soon found myself on the last 2 miles of the climb. This is the steepest part with inclines in excess of 10%. More than ever, this was MY hill. No matter how much I increased my efforts, I continued to feel strong. With about a 1/2 mile to go, I stood up out of my saddle and let it go - everything I had. My music was driving me, thoughts of my family were driving me, I was driving me! Near the summit, the incline was down to about 6%, and my speed was increasing. I sensed a vehicle slowly coming up beside me. It was 2 guys in a truck, and the passenger had his window down. They slowed to nearly my speed, I looked over at them, I was still standing, still pedaling strong, when they shouted at me, "Keep going, you've got this!" Now I have to tell you, I have had trucks pull up beside me in the past and yell things at me. Lets just say that they weren't yelling words of encouragement!
Hearing those guys encouraging me was incredible. As I raced over the summit, I looked at my timer; 1 hour 7 minutes to beat this 14 mile hill. I can't put into words how wonderful I felt. I was my pilot. From here, it is was 9 miles of downhill into the town of Coudersport.
As I arrived in town, I met my wife outside a beautiful historic building which houses, Olga's Gallery, Cafe & Bistro. Olga's is a combination of art gallery, retail shop, and restaurant. We met the owners, John and Olga Snyder who had read an article about my ride in one of the local newspapers. We didn't stay long, as I was eager to get to our campsite so I could shower and clean up. We loaded the bike on to the truck, and headed to theAllegheny River Campground in Roulette, PA. We would return to the same spot tomorrow to start day 4. We quickly set-up camp in this very nice campground, and we made our way back to Olga's for diner.
We had a delicious dinner at Olga's Gallery, Cafe & Bistro, and enjoyed walking through the gallery and shop while our dinner was being prepared. We also enjoyed getting to know Olga and her husband John. They had a lot of questions about my ride, and even posted/shared it on their FaceBook page. If you are ever in or near Coudersport, you HAVE TO stop by this incredible establishment. It is a feast for the eyes and the palate, run by two of the most welcoming and gracious people you'll ever meet. For more information, click on to the picture and the links provided to their web page.
While I was looking forward to getting some sleep, there was one more place that Theresa wanted to take me, Cherry Springs State Park. This park is designated as a Gold Level International Dark Sky Park. This is were you come, if you want a breathtaking view of the night sky. Since I needed to get some sleep and it was getting chilly, we only stayed for a short while. It was well worth the drive, even for a short visit. Slowly at first, the stars began to appear, and not long after the Milky Way began to emerge. It was incredible beyond words. It made me feel small, as the universe began to unfold before my eyes.
As we sat there, I reflected upon on my journey of the last 3 days. I have walked in two new but different pairs of shoes, and I piloted myself through uncharted waters. I thought back to those two guys cheering me on up this incredible hill, when I realized the real power of this journey - the real message goes beyond the monies needed to find a cure. The message I want to share is this: to simply let people that are struggling know that you care and believe in them. And there I sat with this epiphany building in my head, in the huge, dark field with my wife, and under a magnificent night sky. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.