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Joel’s final note

by EP on August 6, 2010

To my friends and family,

These entries normally start with a quick recount of the breakfast we had before hitting the road for the day. Since I’m back in Texas now, and since I didn’t eat my weight in eggs or pancakes this morning, it has been tough to get this going. Actually, it has been tough to get a lot of “normal” things going since finishing up the ride. For the past two months, “normal” consisted of rising early, stiff and starving, eating a huge meal, and then riding for 70-90 miles across some open stretch of America. Now that I’m home, little things seem foreign and crazy, like a small bowl of Cheerios, or consistently clean clothes, or not having hunger pangs every other hour until falling asleep.

That really is the best part of any journey: making the trek and then reconciling who you are now with who you were before you left. Once starting, it’s not like we changed much beyond our daily routines; the same guys who were at West Point or in Iraq or Afghanistan were on these bikes, just with (slightly) more spandex, deeper sunburns, and much longer hair. We changed our routines, but the way we saw the things around us was the same. So, you come back to those familiar places you were before you went away for somewhere new and figure out what needs to be rearranged, reconsidered, or left the way it was. I have felt this sense of progress a few times, and it’s always rewarding to think about the lesson or the common thread of each experience. Which is actually why it’s funny to me that the first thing I thought about when sitting down to write this was an omelet. Oppressive food consumption is not the moral of this story, but it certainly plays a supporting role.

After committing to this trip, I had lingering concerns about the details of seeing it succeed. Did I have the right bike? Is there a right or wrong set of things to take along? Will the route we choose really make that much of a difference? Or even, how do you change a flat tire? To quell some of these concerns, I asked a good friend and avid outdoor adventurist in Alaska about many things, including how to prepare physically. His response about everything I asked was simple and pointed: ride lots. So I did. From Portland to San Francisco, when something unexpected came up, I just told myself to ride lots. Because after any new challenge arose, big or small, all I had to do was handle it and keep riding and it would soon be behind us. With that simple mantra as my baseline, I was free to see the country without any real worries about what was thrown our way, and everything about the trek turned into something fun and enjoyable.

The toughest question I get about my travels is what the favorite state or place to see was. It is hard to single out one moment or one experience because when I hear that question, I see everything between Portland and San Francisco all at once, and I don’t really know how to wrap that into a meaningful response. It’s fitting to focus on the high points, when everything went great and the views were incredible, thinking it’s easier for public consumption when you do. I loved the sendoff in the rain in Portland, Maine from the Old Port Wine shop on Commercial Street; the view of downtown Boston from Pat’s roof in Charlestown; the wide open shoulders and scores of cyclists from Manhattan catching a quick ride after work on the road between West Point and NYC; the bike paths and energy of Manhattan; the reception and patriotism in Wilmington; the laughs shared with my sister when she rode with us from Baltimore to DC; the enduring reminder of why we were riding at Walter Reed; the Great Allegheny Trail between Frostburg and Southern Pennsylvania; the hundreds and hundreds of miles of corn fields in the Midwest; laughing until it hurt when our guest rider, Vic, pulled a Diet Crystal Pepsi made in 1992 out of his bag on the Katy Trail in Missouri; the sunsets on Highway 50 running straight and true across Kansas; climbing up and over the incomparable Rockies; seeing America untouched in the deserts and canyons of Eastern Utah; surprised by the endless views, cool temperatures and pine forests in the mountains of Western Utah; catching up with family in Cedar City; seeing the West as it really sat over 100 years ago across Nevada; meeting up with civilization again in Carson City; climbing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, encouraged that it only took one day; riding through Davis, the Cycling Capital of the World, and into miles and miles of California wine country; cresting the ridge outside of Sausalito and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time; covering my bike with sand and saltwater on the beach in San Francisco.

It’s easy to romanticize the trip by only focusing on the good, but the good times would not be quite as good without the hard ones. I don’t want to only share the highlights for fear of forgetting the rest of the times I’ll cherish, the times when things were a little less laughable until after the fact. Like slipping and sliding across the rain-soaked metal bridge into New Hampshire before ducking under a store front for cover from the driving rain… on day one; white-knuckling through traffic in Boston; fighting a flat tire on a steep downhill while freezing rain doused us in Connecticut; climbing our way to Bear Mountain Bridge with no shoulder in the rain; a close encounter with a bus in Midtown Manhattan; nervous miles spent through South Philly; fighting a portion of the Appalachians where, every time Dan checked our mileage for over an hour, we were still sixteen miles from Cumberland; a well-hidden highway sign in Ohio sending us 22 miles (round trip) in the wrong direction; the shoulder east of St. Louis where the hot tar made it a struggle to stay upright for nearly twenty miles; the piercing humidity of Missouri; the winds of Western Kansas; the never ending, four MPH climb up Monarch Pass; the blinding 115 degree heat across 130 miles of unshaded Eastern Utah; the unforgiving Nevada desert, where you could see 30 miles ahead and not be there for hours; and nearly fifty flat tires between the three of us. They all matter, and they all made this experience what it was, contributing just as equally as the good times to my memory of the journey.

Whether the days were good or bad, my primary observation from this trip was a newfound respect for America and the Americans who have and continue to make this a great place to call home. From Boston to Manhattan, Frostburg to Barnesville, Pueblo to Cedar City, or Carson City to San Francisco, I saw people proud of their local traditions and unique personalities, yet bound to and protective of something much larger. The idea of America, hatched a long time ago, manifests itself every day in people from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is impressive to think about and even more powerful to see in person. It’s the power that makes three guys on bicycles not just feel, but actually be at home in every city, town, or open byway over 3,800 miles of road. For a country as large and diverse as ours, we can all be very proud of it. All of it.

There are hundreds of people, whose names we never learned, who I should thank for teaching me this lesson over the course of the summer. They give me a great amount of strength from which to draw when things got tough or the boredom of countless hours in the saddle started to overtake me. There are some who can be named, though. Mom, Dad, Shannon, Morgan, and Jane, thank you for your motivation and support, in person or otherwise. To the rest of my family in Texas and Utah, thanks for helping shoulder the load of my Mom’s worrying from day to day. Thanks to the Phipps and Marques families for being gracious hosts. To the Forney’s and those at Blue Cross Idaho, thank you for being an extended family of followers and for making us look good as we crossed the finish line. To the Daniels family for making KC home for a couple days. To Dr. Samet, whose article got right to the point of why we did this adventure, helping us explain it to our friends and family. To the West Point Societies and Parents Clubs across the nation, thanks for being behind us, our cause, and for getting the word out from coast to coast. Most importantly, thanks to the Wounded Warriors who gave us seriousness of purpose every morning. Your sacrifices inspired me every day to ride a little harder and advocate on your behalf to everyone we met. This ride might be over, but I’ll still be in your corner, and you can always look me up. Judging by the people we met across 21 states, DC, and four time zones–and those who followed along from around the world–I know I’m not alone in that promise.

Dan and Pete, nice job doin’ work this summer. You guys made me laugh every day. Thanks for making it so easy. Lastly, thanks to Eric for making this website, managing the donations, and maintaining our relationship with the Wounded Warrior Project. You got none of the credit and all of the grunt work, and I appreciate every bit of it. Especially the part about you getting all the grunt work. Sounds hard.

Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to follow along this summer and support the Wounded Warrior Project with us. I’ll see you at the next adventure.

Best,

Joel

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Thank You

by EP on August 6, 2010

Before you read Joel’s final comment I want to let everyone know that this has been a lot of fun for me. I was able to live through these guys, as many of you have as well, each morning. This started over a year ago, Pete offering my very unprofessional website services to Joel and Dan. I told the guys in the beginning that we should do a blog, posting updates along the way. Obviously the idea stuck, and like many of you, I am glad it did. Each night or morning my blackberry would buzz with an email update from one of the guys, followed by picture text messages (I am sure I bugged them more than they bugged me with my requests for certain pictures). I would do minor editing of the posts to add the pictures then publish it to the site as soon as possible for everyone else to enjoy as I had.

Though their appreciation of me is very kind, it is unnecessary, this was not hard. I will miss not being able to post their stories and tinker with the site but it has been a great experience for all. Thank you for sticking around and don’t forget to pick up your jersey so you can always remember the experience.

Stay tuned for Joel’s post, it’s great!

- Eric

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Dan’s final note

by EP on August 5, 2010

This is Dan Marques here. Throughout the ride you could probably tell when it was my turn to write the update. Every third day I wrote a very concise, and factual update, I lack some of the creative writing skills my friends (Pete and Joel) possess. In keeping with tradition, I’ll stick to the facts in this last update:

In addition to raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project, I wanted the chance to reconnect with the country I spent so much time and effort defending overseas. Riding my bicycle across the country with two good friends from West Point allowed me to do both. I was pleasantly surprised with much of what I saw in America over the past two months. For example, despite Americans’ backgrounds or political views, they all are genuinely in support of those who join the ranks of the best military in the world. We were received just as favorably in New York City as we were in Wheeling, West Virginia and Wilmington, Delaware. We met so many great people along the way that it’s tough to speak about them individually, and much easier to speak about them as a whole. Americans are good. Americans are compassionate and charitable. Americans care about each other and will rally together to support one another in good times and in bad. Americans are patriots and are proud of what what this country has accomplished in its short history. I came away from this trip with not only a greater appreciation for the sheer beauty of our country, but with a greater respect for the people who call America “home”. If you think I’m just making this stuff up, try showing up in a small mid-western town covered in bike grease, dressed in spandex and in need of some water or directions…..your people won’t let you down (I know from experience).

I’m pretty sure that there’s no way I could have completed this trip without the support of my family. My wife, Kelly, encouraged me to complete this trip from the moment I spoke to her about it (nearly two years ago). After sticking with me through a 15 month deployment to Afghanistan, she somehow found it in her heart to support me through another two month separation. There’s a reason I married her. Actually, there are a thousand reasons I married her. In the interest of saving space in this letter, I won’t list every one. It goes without saying sometimes, but it never hurts to throw it in there once more…I love you, Kelly.

To Paul and Bridget for flying to Salt Lake City to see us only to be disappointed by a last minute route change, to Loro for driving up and down the California coast and letting us destroy your car with my new bike rack, to my grandparents for keeping us honest and punctual with our daily updates from the road, to my folks for having enough beer and steaks on hand in California to feed a small army, to all of my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who helped us get the word out about this ride…I thank you. Your contributions helped us get through this. I’m lucky to have each of you.

Pete and Joel, well done, fellas. I’ll never forget what we did this Summer. That being said, I won’t even pick up the phone if you try to call me to organize another cross country ride.

I just have one final note. Pete, Joel and I talked quite a bit this Summer about the concept of “paying it forward,” or helping people as early and often as you can in order to improve everyone’s quality of life in the long run. We offered assistance to every person we could this Summer and were constantly on the receiving end of random acts of kindness. Let’s keep helping each other. Let’s keep it going…

-Dan

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