Friday, August 16, 2013

Washington D.C.

To start this blog I want to share a poem with everyone that was written by a Pi Alpha. This poem is called "My Fraternity" and thinking about it now, my team really is like a chapter, one that I wish was coming back to Tennessee with me. 

For some, fraternity is a house. A structure of walls and rooms where men live and pass time.
But my fraternity has no walls, except perhaps the rock walls of Loveland Pass at the Continental Divide, or the walls of corn in Iowa, the skyscrapers in Chicago, the orange girders of the Golden Gate Bridge, the relentless climb of Kirkwood.
For some men, fraternity is a collection of photos on a wall.
But for me, it’s the photos taken by the disposable camera I keep in my back jersey pocket. It’s the photos taken in front of the welcome signs as we cross state borders. It’s the countless snapshots taken with clients with smiles so wide you can see every tooth and most of the gums.
It’s the fireworks on the Fourth of July in a corner of America I’ve never seen before.
It’s the stories in the newspapers, and answering the same reporter’s question, “Tell me what you guys are doing exactly?” for the hundredth time.
It’s shaving EVERY DAY, remembering to zip up my jersey, remove my sunglasses, tuck in my shirt, and smile for the photos that will hang in homes and offices for years after I leave this place.
For some men, fraternity is in the parties or in a cup of beer.
For me, it’s in the gallons and gallons of water that sustain me. It’s in spotting the support vehicle every five miles or so, where I can always count on a word of encouragement. It’s in the songs that play over and over on the FM radio stations that become the soundtrack of my summer.
It’s in the faces of the kids who talk to puppets like they are real people. It’s in preparing meals or shopping in different grocery stores every day so that my guys will stay healthy enough to ride tomorrow.It’s in the children asking for autographs, and kind, incredible strangers who reach out to thank me for coming, when really, they are the ones who should be thanked.
It’s in the cry of excitement I hear from the girl in the wheelchair as I ride up for the picnic.
For some men, fraternity is the pin on the shirt or the trophies in the case.
But my fraternity is in the proclamations in the dozens of small towns celebrating our arrival. It’s in the trucks that move one lane to the left and honk their horns to say hello. It’s in the spaghetti dinner prepared by people I’ve never met, or the grease mark that just won’t scrub off my leg. It’s in the gym floors where I sleep and the lump in my throat of the volunteer who says goodbye and “see you next summer.”
It’s maintaining my place in the pace line, making my way to the front, where the wind is stronger.
For some men, fraternity is in the party that ends in the early hours of the morning.
For my fraternity, it’s in the sunrises. It’s in those quiet hours in the Nevada desert or through the Ohio farmland when the world is asleep, and all you hear is the sound of a dog barking some distance away.
It’s in my t-shirt that desperately needed a wash two days ago, and now is simply disgusting. It’s in smiling my way through my second or third flat tire of the day.
For some men, fraternity is about impressing sororities.
But for me, it’s in the cards and packages that wait for me at the next mail drop, especially the ones with the stickers and magic marker hearts all over them.  It’s about the volunteer in Nebraska who hugs me like she’s always known me. It’s about getting our butts kicked in wheelchair basketball. It’s in anticipating the look on my mom’s face as I ride on the grounds of the Capitol, and the pride in my dad’s voice while he waits patiently for mom to let go.
For some men, fraternity is about getting another event t-shirt.
But for me, fraternity is forgetting that I’m standing in front of a few thousand people in a baseball stadium, wearing Spandex. It’s riding next to Bruce Rogers into Denver, pinching myself because I’m riding next to the guy who started it all.
It’s in the phone calls from my girlfriend who understood how important this was to me. Or, in the admiration of my chapter brothers, and my real-life brother who thinks I’m cool.
It’s dancing with the young woman with the walker who makes me blush when she shamelessly hits on me.
For some men, fraternity is about pledge class unity, or leadership positions.
But for me, it’s glancing in my left rear view mirror for the first cyclist to appear as I wait alone on a roadside. It’s that moment when I realize that these guys riding beside me have become my family, and that soon this incredible journey will be a memory.
It’s about those times when we get off the bikes and just look out at a piece of scenery so breathtaking that no one says a word. Then, one guy turns away to wipe his eyes with his forearm and says, “Let’s get back on the bikes, fellas.
It’s about arriving at the end and wanting in some small way to turn around and do it again. Or in the relief in the eyes of the staff members and crew who have prayed every night for my safe return.
For some men, fraternity is about four years.
But my fraternity goes for miles and miles on two thin wheels.
I’m a Pi Kappa Phi, and I have learned the true meaning of fraternity.
I am a Pi Alpha.
That poem is the best way I can think of to try to describe my summer to someone who has never done it. The memories that we create on a day to day basis are ones that I will never forget, and being able to say I am a Pi Alpha is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and I know that without my team there with me, it wouldn't have been the same. I am writing this post from my apartment in Tennessee, because to be honest I have been putting off writing this post for a few days. I know that the trip ended on the 10th, but a little part of me felt like I could keep it going until I submitted this final post. 

We woke up to start our day into D.C. and although it was going to be very hard to end this summer, I was very excited to ride to the steps of the Capitol Lawn with my teammates. We ate breakfast together at the high school and then got ready to ride to the stage up location which was about 9 miles away. We were told to ride with our best friends on the trip, so David Iles and I rode together. David and I have created so many memories together this summer, and when I had to leave him, it was one of the more difficult goodbyes I have made in a long time. After we ate we did our morning circle up, and it was not easy to hear Nick tell us what we would be doing today. He told us that the 9 miles was pretty much all down hill and that we would be meeting up with the other teams to get in our double pace line formation. After that he told us how proud he was to be our Project Manager, and how honored he is to be able to arrive onto the Capitol Lawn with us. Looking around everyone pretty much had the same emotions, and from what I saw I wasn't the only person with tears rolling down my face. We decided as a team we would ride for everyone we had talked about this summer, from our family members, to clients we met a long the way, as well as all the people who have influenced or impacted our lives. 

David and I were some of the last guys to leave the parking lot, and when we did we rolled out of the gate together, towards D.C. We didn't talk as much in the beginning as I had thought. I rode in front of him, and I had a lot running through my mind. I was pretty teary eyed the whole way there, and from what I gathered, David was just as emotional as I was. We got a big enough shoulder so we would ride next to each other and we took it slow. Being able to take in those last few miles with David meant a lot to me, and I can now say he is one of my best friends I have ever had. We arrived at the stage up location at George Washington University and met the other teams. Every one hung out for a little while until we got the call to get into our formation. Everyone there circled up together and one of the Trans guys said an amazing prayer, asking for us to stay safe, and to always remember the amazing memories we have made this summer. We got into our double pace line formation and I was upset. David looked at me and I can remember him telling me to cheer up, and to enjoy what was about to happen. The ride to the Capitol was only about 2 miles, and I don't think I had ever been that nervous. I was happy, scared, sad, and excited all at the same time, and once we made the corner and saw the dome of the Capitol building, tears of joy and sadness kicked in. I looked to my right and knew that David and I were sharing the same emotions. We rode up to the lawn as a team and I couldn't have been more proud of what we had all accomplished. Seeing my family in the crowd was such a great feeling, and I was very happy that they were there to share that moment with me.

The four teams got into formation on the capitol lawn and Chad Coltrane gave a speak along with the four project managers. When Nick gave his speech, he absolutely blew the other PM's out of the water, and I am so proud to say that he was on my team. After group pictures, families were allowed to come up to us and it was like releasing bulls. My mom was the first one to come up to me and seeing everyone put the cherry on top of what was the best summer of my entire life. 

My team and I reached the steps of the Capitol building after spending 64 days on the road. 3700 miles, 13 states, 250 hours in the saddle, 150,000 feet of climbing, hundreds of lives touched, and 35 lifelong brothers. The feeling of embracing my team on the lawn of the Capitol is one I will always remember. There are simply no words to describe the Journey of Hope. Family and friends will ask me about it. They'll ask me for my favorite moment, and I'll respond with a blank stare, as memories flood my mind. They'll ask if I'm glad to have my own room and to sleep in my bed again. They'll ask if I'm happy I don't have to wake up at 5:30 every morning and spend the next six hours on my bike. The truth is, I'll take a sleeping bag on a hard gym floor surrounded by my teammates any day. I'll take the heat and the endless desert in Utah over the comforts of home. I'll take the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado over the skyscrapers of the city. Our team pushed through heat, fatigue, and pain, as we rode for those who couldn't. We walked into countless friendship visits expecting to interact with people with disabilities, but left sharing stories about their amazing abilities. Many say we "sacrificed" our summer to do this. To sacrifice is to give up or lose. We may have given up time and sweat, but what we got in return is intangible. This summer was the experience of a lifetime. Our team had a motto which we now live by: The only disability in life is a bad attitude. 
Proud to be a Pi Alpha.

Bethesda, Maryland

Knowing that today would be our last ride of the summer is mind blowing. To think that we rode our bikes from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to Maryland still hasn't hit me, except when I try to get out of bed every morning and I cant stand up because my legs are so sore. I was glad to have my bike fixed and ready to go, so after getting dressed, loading up the luggage in the vehicles, and eating breakfast it was time to make our way to Bethesda. We had our circle up and it felt a little bit different than usual. Today was the last time we would be going on a long ride together, and you could feel everyone was on edge because of it. Nick explained that we had about 70 miles into Bethesda, and other than a few rolling hills we wouldn't be climbing too much. Someone volunteered to do the Disability of the Day and then after we discussed that once again we would ride for everyone that had touched us this summer. Today I wanted to keep Jose from the Cleveland Clinic in my prayers and thoughts while riding. Since I met him he has been on my mind very often, and I hope he is keeping strong through what he called his "unexpected journey."

Throughout the summer I had managed to ride with everyone on my team except for Sanjeev, so today I made sure we got in some miles together. Along with Matt Docimo we swept for the last time this summer. Everyone planned on taking it easy and enjoying the last ride, and Nick wasn't worried about us being in a time crunch so he did not set a rack point. We left the Potomac Center and began the day. It was a very beautiful ride and the three of us had a blast. I went over my life story with Sanjeev, and then he told me about his undergrad career and how involved he was with student government. Around mile 30 the pace line in front of us starting running into problems with flat tires. Between the three guys they ended up having 6 flat tires which really slowed us down. From what I heard Reggie got his 22nd flat tire of the summer which may be a new JOH North Route record. Although it was unfortunate that the guys kept getting flat tires it gave the 6 of us a lot of time to hang out and I don't think I would have had the day any other way. We got all the flats out of the way with 25 miles left and then kicked butt because we were late to a sponsored lunch and arrived into Bethesda together. Arriving into Bethesda was very emotional at times for a couple of reasons. It was our last time riding past crew vans which meant no more crew stops, and Im sure I wasn't the only one that saw the signs for Washington D.C.

Lodging for the night was at a private high school and that is also where we had lunch. We had a ride along for the day who is a Pi Alpha from 2001 and he provided the team with Subway. After eating we had a few hours to clean our bikes or relax until going to the all team banquet for dinner. I went inside the school, got showered up and then laid down for a little bit and tried to catch up on the sleep I missed because of our late night. Around 5:00 we loaded up in the vehicles to make our way to Virginia and meet the other teams for a dinner. One of our crew members designed a team tshirt so we all rocked them at the dinner. It was neat seeing our team set apart from the others because they wore their blue team shirts that we all have. While we were eating I thought it was interesting to see the 4 teams stay pretty much segregated instead of mixing in with each other. Along with 5 of my teammates I sat at the end of a table and enjoyed the awesome sponsored BBQ. After eating we went outside to discuss what was going to take place for arrival and then practice our big group picture formation. I learned that trying to get over 100 guys to sit and stand in straight lines is not as easy as you would hope, and it took us a little while to figure everything out.

After spending some time with the other routes I was ready to head back to lodging and spend the last night with my team. We got in the truck and went on our last ride together. We made sure to play all of our favorite songs from the trip and I don't think anyone said much other than when singing. When we got back to lodging most people cleaned their bikes which I did as well. This summer taught me that I probably shouldn't have purchased a white bike, but when it is clean, Liberty sure does shine! Once my bike was all cleaned up I went into the school and everyone hung out together for the rest of the night. We were fighting each other while in sleeping bags, wrestling, and reminiscing on memories from the summer. A lot of people ended up staying up past 3 in the morning, and nights like that are what I am going to miss most about this amazing summer.

To end the night we had a team meeting to discuss the following day and to allow everyone to say anything they would like. We went around the summer and everyone was able to talk. I got pretty choked up during this, and I know that after this summer I have made 34 new friends who I will never forget. Tomorrow is the day we have all been waiting for, after a 11 mile ride we will arrive on the Capitol Lawn and conclude this absolutely amazing journey. I cant imagine spending my summer any better way, and the fact that it is coming to an end is hard to deal with. The say that we touch the people we go and meet at our visits, but I know that I am the one who will forever be impacted.

Hagerstown, Maryland

After a very fun night with the team, waking up this morning and realizing it was our second to last day of cycling was a surreal feeling. We have come so far and grown so much as a team and I couldn’t believe in just two days that I will be saying goodbye to them. Wake up was at 5:30 and we got ready for a ride like a normal day and then racked our bikes on the vans to drive to our starting point. Although cycling has become enjoyable, at this point in the trip I would rather skip the riding and just go straight to the next city and hang out with our team. The ride today was taking us to Hagerstown, Maryland. My pace line for the day was with Mike Jones who is a native of Maryland, and Chris Stubel, someone who I have come to love riding with. After driving to the launch area we had our breakfast and then started the ride. Yesterday I dropped my bike and it landed on the drive train side and screwed up a few components. I rode through the problems yesterday, but right off the bat I could tell the problems had gotten worse. We made it about 6 miles and I ended up racking my bike and finishing the day off in the van to avoid further damage.

It was pretty depressing not being out on the road with my teammates today. While driving past them in the van it looked like they were having a blast, and missing out on that really bummed me out. About three hours after racking, and a nice nap we arrived in Hagerstown to the Potomac Center where we would be staying and having our final friendship visit of the summer. I got showered up and once the other cyclists arrived a few of us made our way to the bike shop. The mechanic told me that everything looked fixable but I had to leave the bike so we went back to the center to have our friendship visit. Knowing it was our last I was very excited and although it was fun, it didn’t compare to the majority of the visits we had this summer. We went up to some of the residence houses and pushed the clients that were in wheelchairs down to the gym where we ate dinner. I brought a woman named Lizzy down and once we were in the gym I also helped her eat her dinner. The staff at this center were a lot different than those I have seen before in their lack of attention. I was kind of blown away, but all in all the visit was pretty fun.

Being at our last friendship visit made me think of all the ones thus far. This picture is from our second friendship visit of the summer. Crazy to think about how much has happened and see how much I have changed! 

As the visit was coming to an end I made my way over to the bike shop to pick up my bike and I made it out with only a $24 bill. I was glad to see that the part could be fixed, and that I can finish my ride knowing everything will be okay. We are spending the rest of the night hanging out together knowing that tomorrow will be a busy day. I cant believe tomorrow is our last full day of cycling especially after seeing how far we have come. What a summer it has been!

Cumberland, Maryland

Woke up this morning and I was fairly excited to get on the bike and start climbing the mountains that we faced to our east. We woke up at 6:00 and got ready for a long day on the bike. Lately we have had great sponsorship so we haven’t had to eat crew chief breakfasts but this morning Mark had the table set up outside with bagels and cereal like we saw a lot in the beginning of the summer. The team also got a treat this morning for breakfast; the delicious bread my mother makes that I picked up from my aunt when we were in Pennsylvania. Everyone loved it, and I am pretty sure some guys took loaves on the bike with them today so they could eat it while riding.

After eating we did our morning circle up and talked about some of the amazing relationships we have made this summer, and vowed to ride for them today as we climbed our way into Cumberland. I rode today with two TCU boys, Michael and Blake and earlier in the summer when we rode together we named our pace line the Pine Trees. Today the Pine Trees were back in action and although they were a little more ready than me, we were pumped for the terrain that was to come. We left lodging and within 5 miles we started climbing the steepest hill I have seen this entire trip. It was close to a 5 mile hill and by the time I got to the top of it I was sweating bullets. The good thing about most uphills though is that usually you are able to go down after climbing up them. Some of the downhills we saw today were monstrous, and I know a lot of our guys reached their own personal top speeds of the trip today. At mile 30 we crossed the Maryland state line and for the next 10 miles or so I couldn’t help but think of what was going to happen in the next couple of days. Between my last friendship visit, arriving in D.C., seeing my family, and saying bye to 34 of the greatest guys I have ever met, I know things are going to get emotional. My train of thought quickly left me though when we started climbing again, and the only thing I could concentrate on was how bad the mountains suck but also how fortunate I was to be in this position. Whenever I get tired I just think of everyone I am riding for, the abilities of all people, and with that little extra push I got over every mountain of the ride. 
Greatest thing I saw all day

The Pine Trees at the Maryland State Line 

5 hours after starting we arrived in Cumberland at the YMCA where we are staying the night. We had close to 3 hours before we had to leave lodging to go to dinner so I laid down and took a nap for about an hour and a half. I woke up a little bit before we had to leave and looked around the room and 90% of the team was passed out. The ride today kicked everyone’s butt just like it did mine and I could tell every one was enjoying the time to rest. I got up and got dressed in my team tux and we made our way to a near by park to have dinner. Our sponsor is part of the Rotary Club of Cumberland, and along with some of the other Rotarians they set up a great meal for us. After a long ride I was so excited to eat a big meal and we got just that with hamburgers, fried chicken, beans, and fried ice cream! The desert was absolutely phenomenal and I had two servings of the ice cream while using the motive that is was alright because I worked hard on the bike today.

Once we did our introductions and said our goodbyes we went back to lodging where we are staying for the remainder of the night. We were in a pretty small area together which was nice because it gave everyone the opportunity to spend time with each other, and also while there we had a little team activity. Really reminded me of how much I love my team. The forecast is showing rain tonight and into tomorrow so hopefully it wont be to bad so that we can ride into Hagerstown, rather than getting racked because of the weather. I look forward to another great day in the life of a JOH cyclist tomorrow!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Uniontown, Pennsylvania

Waking up this morning was tough not only because getting out of the big comfortable bed was challenging but because I had to leave another city and get one step closer to D.C. I was talking to one of my teammates and we realize that we are super excited for Washington and we know it is going to be an awesome experience, we just don’t want the times we spend together to end. Once I got all of my stuff out of the hotel room I was in a great mood this morning and I was super excited to get the day going. Nick and Spencer explained to the team the night before that the road conditions leaving Pittsburgh were impossible for cyclist so we would have to rack to our breakfast location, and then again to where we would start our ride. My day got even better when I was told we were going to Chick Fila for breakfast.

Dino Taylor, the gentleman who provided us with lunch when we arrived in Pittsburgh sponsored our breakfast. Chick Fila is my favorite fast food place by far and the fact that I started my day with a chicken biscuit made my day so much better. The team enjoyed a great breakfast and then we went out in the parking lot and circled up to talk about our day. During circle up Nick explained to us that the roads were going to be pretty crappy, and then he told us that when we got to Uniontown there would be a surprise waiting for us. Once we drove to our drop off location I got in my pace line with the one and only Danja Doug and Kevin Dubbins. Our ride to Uniontown wasn’t to long so I was hoping to be off the bike in a short amount of time. As we get closer to the Appalachians we are beginning to feel some of the hills and today we definitely saw that. We didn’t have to climb any super big hills until the end of the ride but the incline was noticed. We made a turn at Sam’s stop about 5 miles out and hit one of the steepest hills Ive seen all trip. A few minutes later we arrived at lodging but those hills to end the ride had me breathing heavy.

We pulled into the YMCA and met with one of the Pi Alphas from last year who set up our lunch for the day. Along with his mom, and some of her friends we were served sandwiches, chicken tenders, corn, and lots of fruits and veggies. Everyone really enjoyed the meal, and what we found out next was even better. The Pi Alpha also works at a nearby White Water Rafting place who offered to take us all out on the river so the whole team loaded up in the vehicles and we made our way out to the river. We split up in groups of 6, went over the safety stuff and then made our way to the water. The name we gave our boat was the Banshee, and everyone in it had a name. My name was Hog, along with Hawk, Iceman, Breezy, Magnum, and Searg. We had so much fun out on the river, and I know I will never forget it. The river was full with all kinds of rocks and although I think my boat had the most fun we definitely weren’t the best at navigating down stream. We made it out with only minor scratches, lots of laughs and even more memories.

After a few hours on the water we had to hustle to make it to dinner where our sponsor of 17 years was waiting for us. The Knights of Columbus of Uniontown sponsored a wonderful mean for us and he created the perfect environment for us to relax and hang out after a long day. After we ate about 12 of us starting playing volleyball, which was a lot of fun. By the time we were done everyone was getting pretty tired so we made our way back to lodging.
Hanging out with Sam after dinner 

We got back to lodging and called it a night. Tomorrow we head to our final state of the trip, Maryland. It is such bittersweet feelings knowing that this trip is almost over, and I cant imagine spending this summer any other way. Tomorrow also brings the beginning of the Appalachian Mountains and a lot of climbing so I am looking forward to seeing how much I have grown as a cyclist.