So during my last week of riding I completely abandoned writing posts and decided I would live in the moment and cherish every last moment with my teammates. I hope it doesn’t make for a watered down post!
In any case, I last left off at Sandusky, Ohio. Since then we’ve made our way around Ohio through Cleveland and Niles; into Pennsylvania through Pittsburgh and Uniontown; into Maryland through Cumberland, Hagerstown, and Bethesda. Bethesda was our last day until DC. (I’ll leave DC for it’s own separate post).
Cleveland was a real exciting time. We had a real short ride in so we could make it back to lodging in time to shower and get ready for the Cleveland Indians game. We watched them take on the White Sox. It was a great game to watch. Cleveland has some very passionate fans so it was fun to experience. The ballpark was great. If anyone knows me, I always pig out at ballparks. This time I consumed BBQ Chicken and Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese, Fried Cookie Dough, and of course a hot dog. I had a blast hanging out with the bros and relaxing.
That’s myself, Alex Eplan (GA Tech), Luke Millen (Purdue), and Jack Johnson (Tenn.) before we left the game. The Indians won that day 6-1.
While in Cleveland, the ladies of Delta Gamma at Case Western Univ. put us up in their house. The area around Case Western was beautiful.
The next day we were fortunate enough to get a tour of the Cleveland Clinic Children’s hospital. They have a worlds ahead facility that is world renowned for their type of care and support.
That day we hit our final mail drop. Friends and family were sure to send us tons of junk food and snacks. David Iles (Iowa) tried to stuff 3 large Rice Krispies bars in his mouth that day. It was pretty entertaining.
That night after the Cleveland Clinic we had a sponsored dinner at ‘Melt’ a Gourmet Grilled Cheese Restaurant in Cleveland. I had a BBQ Chicken Melt. It was 2 slices of Garlic bread smothered in god knows how many different types of cheeses and BBQ Chicken. It was easily one of the best meals of the trip.
Melt has a world famous challenge. Consume a 3.5 lb Grilled Cheese plate with a heaping side of Fries and a colossal scoop of Cole Slaw. There was something like 12 different types of cheeses in this sandwich and 3 slices of garlic bread. Here’s a photo of the before.
Jesus Palma (Nevada) and Josh Preslar (Tenn) both tried the Challenge. Both finished around 2/3’s of the challenge. It was pretty impressive to watch.
Here’s the group cheering them on.
Cleveland > Niles, OH ~ 60 Miles. On this day we were joined by Jim Karlovec. Jim was the first and second Project Manager for the Journey of Hope back in ’88/’89. Mr. Karlovec has done a relay race across America in 7 days. Needless to say, he’s an absolute beast on the bike. That day I rode with Alberto Minocci (Iona College) and we finished as the 3rd pace line in and about 10 minutes behind Mr. Karlovec’s pace line. It was quite the accomplishment for us. That day in Niles we had a huge Dance Party. The DJ had an extremely touching story. He struggled to make a living for himself finding work so he applied for grants and was able to get one through a local Small Business Association to buy his DJ equipment. He gave us an inside look at how difficult it was for people with special needs to find work.
After an Olive Garden sponsored dinner we made our way to the car wash to vacuum and clean the vans. Later that night we went shopping to buy team gifts and get our outfits together for DC. I couldn’t get a photo with the Ohio State sign when we got in (The Toledo sign kind of sucked), so I got a photo before crossing in to PA!
Niles > Pittsburgh ~80 miles. I can’t seem to remember much about this ride. If I’m not mistaken I rode with Reggie Quaye (Iona College) and Mike Jones (UMBC). I originally rode with these 2 guys back in February for our Regional Training. After we finished our ride we had an older brother sponsor Chipotle for us. We ate along the river and prepared for our arrival at the Three Rivers Association. The organization is a local group that specializes in recreational therapy. Rowing is their main sport but have different water activities as well. The ride in to the arrival was pretty sweet. We rode along the pier where the 3 rivers meet. We got to pass Heinz Field and the Pirates Ballpark. We were greeted by the Build America guys at our arrival and got to spend a couple of hours with them. I got to meet with my chapter brother, Daniel Soraluz again!
Later that night the family of a former rider sponsored some downtime at a local bowling alley for us. We got a chance to unwind and hang out. We went out later that night to chill near the Univ. of Pittsburgh. We all got some cheesesteaks and for the first time in 3 months I got to enjoy a nice, tall, and cold glass of Yuengling. It was pretty fun hanging out with some guys who did the trip before as well as brothers from U Pitt.
The next morning the our Pitt brothers sponsored an awesome breakfast for us at our hotel. After our hearty breakfast we moved on to the United Cerebral Palsy Center.
There was probably 30-40 clients at this center all with light to severe symptoms of CP. I sat down with a lady who seemed a little older and quickly noticed she wasn’t very verbal. I tried to make small talk with her to no avail. I noticed that on her schedule on her wheelchair there were was time set aside for coloring. So I asked her if she liked to color and her face lit up. I downloaded a coloring book app on my iPhone and let her play for a little while. I noticed that she liked to color the cartoons so I asked what her favorite cartoon was. After she responded ‘Spongebob’ I put on Netflix and watched a few episodes with her. I selfishly thought to myself “man this is pretty neat, I don’t have to dance or play, I’m just sitting here watching cartoons”. She kept thanking me and telling me how appreciative she was but I didn’t think anything of it. One of the counselors told me that it was the happiest they had seen her in months. That kind of stuck with me. All I did was give this lady attention and colored with her and she was the happiest she’d been in months. After our Spongebob session I wheeled her up and outside to snap a photo with her and the group. Pushing her up and down the hill wasn’t easy but it sure was worth it. After I dropped her off back inside and it was time to go she yelled out loud ” thank you, I love you very much”. I can’t remember the last time any moment or memory touched my heart that much, let alone one with spongebob. Here’s Leslie and I before we left-
As if this day couldn’t get any better, we left to the Woodlands Foundation for a Friendship Visit. They’re a local summer camp just outside of Pittsburgh. The Build America guys were there doing some work and we joined ’em for dinner that day. All the clients were around our age (18-24). The counselor gave us a telling story about how many of these people were beginning to reach their age limit in schools and now having to begin their transition into adulthood. A few JOH guys gave speeches for the clients about having to overcome obstacles and a time where everyone doubted them but they still overcame the issue. It was pretty touching to hear the stories and comments from the clients. It was a shame that we could only spend a few hours with them. It was definitely a visit many of us could feel the true impact of our visit.
Pittsburgh > Uniontown ~50 miles. After the ride, we all showered up and left for a team activity. A cyclist from last year, Andy King, treated the entire team to whitewater rafting in Ohiopyle. This was a first time experience for me and many of my teammates. The 4-hour trip went about 7 miles, and the team took many spills (Luckily for me my team didn’t take any!). One such instance was when the team approached “Dimple rock” (which is notorious for spilling rafts) and sent two boats topside up. The teammates that spilled out were retrieved once they were carried through the rapids and to an area of calm water. It was pretty entertaining to watch. They were Class III Rapids we faced. That night the local Knights of Columbus organization sponsored our dinner and snacks.
Uniontown > Cumberland ~60 miles. Now this is where things started getting fun again. After weeks and weeks of seeing flats and averaging 0 ft of elevation change, we finally got our challenge. Boy was it a challenge. I rode with Matt Docimo (Houston) and Kyle Marpe (Purdue) that day. We made it a point to be the first to finish that day. We were killing it on the bike. I was hurting but kept fighting and kept it to myself so I didn’t weigh the guys down. We passed Amish country and cut off several Horse and Carriages. Some of us ran over horse dung in the middle of the road which wasn’t pleasant. We pulled in to one of our last crew stops and were red flagged with the 2 other pace lines in front of us. We finally made it in to a new YMCA facility and were able to take a nap on their indoor soccer field. It was actually one of the best naps I’ve had on the trip.
Yes, that’s a horse and carriage on the road. It felt like a scene out of “Les Miserables”.
That photo was taken on a hill that we hit 45 mph on. There was a cop up ahead and had we not stopped to take this photo, we probably would’ve been pulled over for speeding in a 30.
Cumberland > Hagerstown ~75 miles. What would have been a really tough day turned out to be a really fun one. Our paceline was slowly approached by the paceline behind and before we knew it we caught up to the one in front. We were all talking crap and having fun then we started talking about forming a peloton. We nicknamed it the pelican and slowly gained 20 cyclists to our paceline. Crew wasn’t too happy about it but they let us have our fun when they realized we were safe about it and it was one of our last rides together. We rode through extremely thick fog. The fact that we were all together probably helped our visibility 😉 We had a blast all riding together. Here’s some of the photos that we caught-
This is one of the signs we saw on our decent. Notice the “ditch trucks” comment. It made for a GREAT downhill.
Hagerstown > Bethesda ~78 miles. I rode with Stephen Blythe (Tenn) and Matt Docimo (Houston) on this day. We were sweeps so we had to stay behind everyone in the group. We experienced 7 pacelines that got flat tires in front of us. At one point we were stopped for 30 minutes. It was really tough to get into rhythm this day having to continuously start and stop but we pushed through and finished. It came to the point where we had to cover 45 miles in 2 hours if we wanted to make rack point. Luckily we skimmed by and made it to lodging. It was a tough but great last ride. It was pretty emotional for all of us as our last real ride of the trip.
So that’s it for all the rides. It was an incredible feat to accomplish and I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t have 34 of the bestest friends to do it with.
Be sure to read my next post about DC for an entire recap of arrival and the trip!
Thanks for reading!