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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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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz & George Brengel September 1, 2010 at 6:46 am

Your journey for America’s Wounded Warriors Project gives a breath of fresh air to the fact that strong pride in the strength of our service men and women remains alive .Thanks for sharing your journey.I wish we had been able to see you.

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Carol-Christian Soldier August 11, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I shall miss the daily takes on your experiences–
God Bless you three on your next adventures….
carol-CS

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Carolyn Allen August 7, 2010 at 11:10 am

Thanks Jane for pointing us to Joel’s adventure through your postcard. Joel, today’s final blog entry was a lesson all Americans should read. First of all it is so well written, a credit to being the son of educators! The happy stout sixth grader named Joel I knew in Abilene certainly has become a titan in our eyes and hearts. Great things are ahead for you!
Hooray for the Wounded Warrior Project.

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Liz Grimsley August 7, 2010 at 2:32 am

Congratulations to all. Billy and I are so proud! Please please please consider a book on this….

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Mark Beal August 7, 2010 at 1:35 am

GREAT JOB SIR ”AUTOMATIC”

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Lynda and Craig Brady August 6, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Joel,
Great job~it was a pleasure to meet you while you were passing through the West Point portion of your trip. You are always welcome in our home.

Lynda and Craig

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Pam Sutey August 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Following your trip was one of the best parts of my summer. Thank you for sharing with all of us.
West Point ’07 & ’09 parent

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Dr. & Mrs. Herbert N. Piper August 6, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Thanks Joel for your rep0rt on “Trip Across the USA” that you 3 young men did for your wounde friends etc. We were happy to meet you in Corona and hope to have you visit again. God bless!

Dan’s grandparents
Herb & Gertie

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