This morning I awoke with mixed emotions. I spent a great evening relaxing with Theresa's relatives. I always enjoy catching up with our Erie family and reliving old memories. This morning however, I am thinking how far I have come the last 5 days. Everything I've seen and experienced was beginning to set in. It is a bit overwhelming. No, it's completely overwhelming!
The only thing standing between me and finishing this journey is 53 miles, and the weather. As of last night, the weather forecast was a bit iffy. There was a strong chance that thunder showers would be popping up. My plan was to arrive in Titusville around 3:00 PM. The weather report this morning was going to decide if today was a go, or no go. There was a small window to make it there today, but I would need to arrive before 2:00 PM. I made the decision to go for it, and packed up. While I certainly could have used a day of rest and to visit more, this was the right decision. Stay the course, and make it in 6 days as planned. Besides, I am pretty tired of sleeping on the ground.
Before I left Erie, there was one more interview with YourErie.com - click to watch. With that interview behind me, I was off. My course today would take me down 38th Street, before making a left out of town on Lake Pleasant Road. Riding down 38th, I was greeted by many cars passing by honking their horns and some even shouting "Go Bill". Amazing what a little TV coverage does. At a Red light, a woman in the car next to me rolled down her window and asked if I was on an MS ride. I told her I was on my own MS adventure. The interesting thing was, she actually works for MS in the Erie area. She wished me well and we were both on our way.
As I turned on to Lake Pleasant Road, I was expecting a nice rural road that I could reflect on everything. Well, that nice rural road turned out to be a nice road with a continuous series of short, but steep hills. And by steep, I mean 10%+ steep. A few days ago, it would not have been so bad, but the miles were finally catching up with me. While none of the hills were longer than 400 meters, they added up to over 2,000 feet of climbing.
Lake Pleasant Road finally came to an end at an intersection with Route 8. To make it to Titusville before the storm, there could be no long breaks. I planned to meet Theresa along my route to get more water and quickly grab some food. I first met her outside of Union City, and took about 3 minutes to get more water. Once in Union City, I was briefly back on Route 6 for about a 1/4 mile before turning left onto Route 178. As I was leaving Union City, there was a crew working on the road. A woman was controlling the traffic as they worked. As I approached her, she waved and asked if I was "The Guy" that rode across PA. As I passed I said, yes I was. She began to clap for me, and wished me a safe finish.
The unexpected climbing in the beginning had me behind schedule so leaving Union City, I knew I had to pick up the pace. I was committed to making it to Titusville before the rain. I built to a good pace, and was soon making good time. With 16 miles to go, I met Theresa one last time and grabbed a banana. I was now on familiar roads, and not by chance.
Every time I came back to Titusville this year, I brought my bike to train. More times than not, I was riding this road between Titusville and a small town called Spartansburg. It was a road I knew well, having grown up in Titusville. I made a decision a while back that this was the route I wanted to take to Titusville. I wanted familiar surroundings to help me through the last miles, as I knew I would be tired both physically and mentally.
So now I had a single purpose, to make it to Titusville as quickly as possible. I meant to ride these last miles hard - to attack every hill, as I still had 1,000 feet of climbing ahead. As fast as my legs were moving, my mind and emotions were going just as fast, if not faster. Thoughts of my son and my sister, things I had experienced these past 6 days, all the training leading up to the ride. I found myself being so thankful for all the support from friends, colleagues, family and even strangers. These thoughts brought smiles to my face, and even tears to my eyes.
I was ascending one hill when I saw an SUV coming towards me and slowing. It was my sister Debi, driving out to meet me and cheer me on. Rain drops were beginning to fall off and on. Over the next 8 miles, or so I would come upon Debi and Theresa every mile or so. They would be pulled over, holding up signs, and cheering me on. I was inspired - I was flying - I was going to make it!
I knew there were people waiting for me in Titusville. Family, friends, and former High School classmates, but I had one stop to make first. I needed to stop where my parents are laid in rest. I needed a moment with them. I need to thank them for being with me. I felt closer to them these past days than I can ever remember. Part of me didn't want the ride to end, fearing that the closeness would fade, but I now know that can't happen.
It was now time to compete my adventure - I was home. What I didn't fully comprehend was the incredible welcome I was about to experience. To thoroughly explain what happened, would require 3 more episodes to give it justice. Let me try and summarize: Police escort down Main Street complete with lights and siren, children from Main Street Elementary School and YMCA lining the street. They were cheering me on holding signs they made & my i-Ride4.comFLYTES.
There were signs everywhere. They were created by former high school classmates and their families. We made a right turn onto Franklin Street and proceeded to my end point - Carpenter's Corner Antiques. This location is special for two reasons. First, it is in the main building complex in the center of town but more importantly, it is owned by a high school classmate of mine, Terri Fiely. Terri, along with two other alums for the THS Class of 1977, Rhonda Rhodes Schroeck, and Sue Brink Porcenaluk, are the master minds behind this incredible welcoming. They had heard about my ride through social media, and took it upon themselves to get behind my cause. I am so grateful they did.
Titusville is a historic old town. Back in 1859, it was the birth of the American Oil industry. It was here that Col. Edwin L. Drake drilled the 1st oil well. The success from that time can still be seen from many of the homes that still exist in this little town. While I was growing up here, it was a steel town. The steel plant was the main employer, but that all came to an end when the plant closed in 1992. A lot has changed since I headed off to college in 1977, but not everything.
Titusville was and is, a community that values family and friends. It's a community that cares about their neighbors, and takes pride in its town. It has always been the place I have called home, even though I haven't lived here since I left to go off to college. Now I found myself back in the center of town, surrounded my family, old friends, and people I didn't even know. They came out to welcome me home.
As I came to a stop in front of Carpenter's Corner my emotions were in full swing. I was surround by familiar faces, more newspaper reporters, hugs from my family, and so much more. There was so much going on I didn't know what to do first. Funny thing was, even though the ride was over I found myself still in my ride mentality. People where asking for pictures, but I had to find my MS hat! After I found my hat I calmed down a bit, but that didn't last long. Rhoda and Terri approached and presented me with what they, Sue, and all of Titusville collected for my charities. Sue couldn't be there due to work. This incredible town collected over $2,500 in support of my ride and my message. It came in the form of coins and bills and checks. There are no words that can even begin to properly explain how much this all meant to me.
After I regained my emotions, I went around to say hello and to thank everyone. I finished up with the reporters, and had
a quick interview with the local TV pod cast. I also had the great pleasure of making a new friend, a young boy with Cerebral Palsy named Kane. Kane happens to be the grandson of a high school friend. He is an incredible boy with an infectious smile, full of life, and he captured my heart instantly.
After things settled down, I decided my ride wasn't quite complete. I wanted to ride my bike to my sister Debi's house, which also happens to be the house I grew up in. It seemed only fitting that my ride should truly end there.
I am so grateful to Rhonda, Terri, and Sue for making this happen. They are the perfect examples of the very best of Titusville. I also consider them to be the very best of friends - my friends. We plan to get together with other friends on Saturday evening.