Sunday, June 23

Days 66-70: The Finish Line

Thunder rumbles lowly outside as rain patters against the window. I would have never imagined that it would be here at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA where I would conclude my record of Team Seattle 2012's journey. It has been over a year since our departure from Baltimore. This year's teams, including a new route and a cross country running team, have already embarked on their journeys. In our own small ways, my former team members and I have helped prepare the 2013 teams for their adventures.

It bothered me that as all this time passed, as we became 4K for Cancer Alumni, my blog remained unfinished. I am often reminded of the past summer; the right song, the mention of a location, and the old itch to get on the bike and leave all spark nostalgia. I’m surprised at how long I've let the blog remain open-ended.

I have decided that it is time to formally conclude my blog. Over this past year I have had ample time to digest and reflect on the trip in it's entirety. Thus, while my ability to recall exact details of the final days have faded, my ability to understand and appreciate the adventure has grown exponentially.

The End of the Line :Summarizing our last days on the road

Day 66: Playing Gilligan on Guemes

My last post was over nearly a year ago on August 24, 2012, detailing our arrival to Anacortes in western Washington on Day 65 of 70 as we descended from the Northern Cascades. On Day 66 we headed off to Guemes Island after hanging out in the city of Anacortes for some time. The afternoon spent on Anacortes was enjoyable, filled with cafes and bike shops that had a calm vibe perfectly matching the city’s location west of Padilla bay. We commuted to Guemes island via the ferry after loading all of our bikes onto the van, since we weren't allowed to commute across on bike.

The ferry was particularly smaller than my prior ferry experiences, but perfectly sized to meet the needs of the population of Guemes (605 according to the 2000 census). The island was beautiful, and for a little while I was able to imagine that I was far removed from the end of my journey and stranded on a peaceful island far removed from society. Keep in mind, this is an island where people travel by horse regularly.

The community church gave us a wonderful orientation about the island and its geography. While they were preparing dinner I went exploring around the island by myself, biking along the shore and stopping to climb to the highest point on Guemes. The dinner was enjoyable and the company was fantastic. We shared our stories and our pictures. With the night winding down, we sprawled out and fell asleep on the floor.

Day 67: Homely Oak Harbor

After a lovely breakfast on Guemes Island we left the island via the ferry, heading back to Anacortes. Once on land at Anacortes we had until dinner time to travel to our host at Oak Harbor, WA (relatives of Lindsay). It was only about 20 miles to Oak Harbor from Anacortes, so the team split up and people made their way south at their own pace. Some people stayed to explore Anacortes more, others headed out to see what they would discover on the road. The ride was as scenic as most days in western Washington.

We all gathered at our host for a delicious home cooked dinner. We were soon split up into groups to stay in separate neighborhood houses for the night. I had a very warm and welcoming evening with the Bankowski family, and was even able to catch up on some of the Olympics.

Day 68: Positively Pepper Neff

After breakfast with the Bankowski family my group returned to the host to reconvene the team and perform our morning dedication circle and cheer. We were enjoying our time at Oak Harbor so much that we failed to realize how late it had gotten. We raced the ten miles to the Port Townsend Ferry to catch the ferry on time. Three of the team's group (mine included) had made it to the ferry on time. The other's, however, had to wait for a later ferry. The rest of the 40 miles to just outside of Kingston, WA went smoothly, though even along the coast western Washington's hills were surprisingly steep. Before long we arrived at Alex's Grandparent's home.

I had an amazing evening with Alex's family. They were welcoming and fun. Her Grandparent's home was beautiful and had views of Seattle from the yard. It was at this point that the realization that our trip was coming to an end struck each and every one of us. We could see Seattle. It seemed so close! Fortunately, we caught a rare glimpse of Mt. Rainier.

That night we gathered around for our last Team Pow-Wow. We reflected on our journey, talking about our favorite moments. We shared our future hopes and dreams and enjoyed one of our last nights together.

Day 69: Final Countdown with Caughies

I (reluctantly) left the Pepper Neff residence in Kingston, traveling to Bainbridge Island. The ride was only 20 miles, though hilly like the day before. When were instructed to stop as we neared the main part of town and waited. Surprisingly, the community of Bainbridge had arranged for a police escort to take the team through town to a local park. We rode into the park as if we were our own parade, with people lining the streets to clap and cheer us on. We were shortly presented with a proclamation from the Mayor of Bainbridge, naming August 3rd as "4K for Cancer Day."

Soon after the celebration we rode down towards the water of the Puget Sound to dip our tires in the Pacific, as we had dipped them in the Atlantic back at the Baltimore Inner Harbor. If someone didn't know any better, they might have thought that Bainbridge was the end of our journey.

After the tire dip (though it was more like a slip in the mud) we rode to Cali's house, since she lived on Bainbridge Island and it was her family that was hosting the team for the night. This night was special, however. Not only was it our last night together as a team, our families who traveled to greet us at the finish line met us for a grand dinner celebration. I had not seen my brother or father since I left in May. It felt great to see them again. Reuniting with them only increased my desire to go back home and spend time with the people I love and missed the most.

After our families took the ferry back to Seattle, the team gathered around to appreciate our last night together.

Day 70: Sincerely, Team Seattle

After rising for our final day, we ate breakfast with mixed emotions. I yearned to go home and return to those I had left behind on this journey. I wanted to share my experiences and learn of others' adventures this summer. But, to do all this meant leaving the team behind, it meant ending the summer's adventure, returning to responsibilities beyond getting from point A to point B alive and well.

It was on Cali's backyard porch that we shared our last dedication circle. The cheer that morning was the best one we ever did, complete with all of our phrases and cues. It was bitter-sweet.

We geared up for our last ride-- our final twenty miles.

We rode to the ferry and loaded up our bikes, heading to the dock to watch the Seattle skyline approach ever so slowly. It was the longest ferry ride of my life, watching the buildings grow taller and taller, inch by inch as we nudged closer and closer to the dock.

When we made land, we rode together as a team throughout the city, eventually making our way north to the Seattle Children's Hospital, where we rode up to the front entrance. There to greet us stood our friends and families, signs waving and voices cheering us on. We huddled together at the finish line, one team grown together over 70 days across 4,000 miles, and hollered our last cheer, full of energy and excitement.

After taking pictures we were ushered inside. We were given a tour of the facilities. Soon after we entered into a cafeteria where a presentation was given and photos taken throughout our journey were played in a slideshow. Pictures collected over the trip flashed across the projection screen; 70 days were summed up in a few minutes. Something didn't feel right--this didn't feel like the finish line. 

Before long it was time to go, except this time I would leave with my father and brother, not with the team. As I loaded my bike onto the van for the last time (so it could hitch a ride back east), I gave an open farewell to my teammates, figuring that I would see them later that evening. I grabbed my bags and headed with my father and brother to their hotel. Whatever the reason, I never met back up with my teammates in Seattle (many of them having disbanded already as well).

Coming Full Circle

The rest of the weekend was spent exploring Seattle with my brother and father. It was a fantastic, vibrant city, the perfect place for the end of a journey. But as I wandered the streets, as I had done so many other places across the States that summer, I felt something missing. Closure. I had gone from waking up with 26 people ready to ride miles upon miles to waking up in a hotel room, quietly getting ready to start my day.

It wasn't until dinner with my father and brother at the Skycity Restaurant atop of the Space Needle that I felt the journey come to a close. As the restaurant spun slowly, giving us a 360 degree view of the city and the land surrounding it, the sun began to set. Under that setting sun I could peer far north, towards the zeniths of the Cascades that we climbed over; west, past Bainbridge and the islands, the direction that had marked my progress all summer; south, taking in majestic Mt. Rainier and wondering about the other teams concluding their southern routes; east, over the southern Cascades that divide Washington, back through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, back 4,000 miles to where it all began--to home. As the sun set in the west my gaze turned back east. While sitting there, surrounded by reminders of all that I had accomplished, everything came full circle.

Friday, August 24

Day Sixty-Five: The Astounding Anacortes

I volunteered for van duty today. I had one more left so I figured I would get it over with while maintaining some control over what day I fulfill it.

Except, today wasn't an ordinary van day. First off, we were leaving a campsite, which always creates chaos (you have to pack up the tents, get everyone together, and enforce the "leave no trace" policy). Secondly, we weren't all going to the same host. That's right, tonight the team is split up among a group of houses scattered around Anacortes: three in the city, one south, and one north. That's five baggage drop offs, five routes, and five "the riders are near" phone calls.

It was a crazy day, but Melanie and I did it. If I do say so, we were on top of our duty. We had each group routed, bags sorted, and bags delivered. More importantly, effectively organized the arrangements for tomorrow ahead of time (whose bags to pick up, in what order, when).

Tensions ran high, and at moments things got stressful, but we did it--all while enjoying these views:

It's so great to be back on the coast. You can smell the salt in the water! This is my first time ever being near the Pacific, let alone see water that originates from it. A sense of accomplishment has finally begun to sink in, slowly, and what a beautiful place to start feeling it in...

Did I mention we biked here? Yeah, I don't believe it either.

Pacing Past the Pacific,

Day Sixty-Four: Our Final Pass--Camping in the Cascades

This morning I awoke and repeated my climbing ritual of writing motivation on my thighs and forearms:

You've made it this far...why stop now? & Seattle is over the mountain!
I wasn't nearly as anxious as I was the morning of Powder Pass. This morning I was much more excited, ready to take on the climb, see the Cascades, and get ever closer to Seattle. It took us longer than we intended to get out and going this morning. But, this was well warranted due to the AMAZING home cooked breakfast that friends of the Grange prepared for us this morning. It was so good we got the recipe. After a delicious meal like that, we could take on any mountain.

& Take it on we did:

A little motivation from the van...

Climbing over the first pass of the day: Washington Pass, elevation 5477 ft.

As close as we could get to Washington Pass peak.

Conquering the second pass: Rainy Pass, elevation 4855 ft.
Another day spent with my climbing buddy Jose. We conquered the Cascades on our own terms--stopping at outlooks, looking back and appreciating all that we had accomplished. In fact, it was going so well that we couldn't believe that Rainy Pass was the final peak of the trip--we wanted something more.

But, the day wasn't over. After lunch we continued onward, through the cascades and down into the campsite, passing breathtaking views as we went:

The river that ran through the back of our campsite.
Before long, we were settled in, bathing in the river (ice cold), setting up our tents, and cooking over the flames of a fire pit. We entertained each other, surrounded by the beauty of the Northern Cascades. Our amazing campground host even paid for our campsites in honor of her mother who suffered from breast cancer (just another testimonial to the truth: the generosity of this world is nearly as abundant as its beauty).

My desire for city-life aside, I am going to enjoy my last night camping with the team. Tomorrow we descend towards Seattle, and get even closer to the finish line.

Over the Mountain,

Day Sixty-Three: 'Twas One Day in Twisp...

I got to see the dam in the daylight this morning as we climbed past it, into the sunrise.

Yesterday's failed expectation of an easy day made me weary to chalk this one up to an easy day as well. Turns out, I was right for remaining conservative in my expectations. We hit some nasty headwinds that slowed us down as we passed by scenery like this:

But then we were met by an unexpected climb, which is exactly what we wanted the day before we have to climb over the Northern Cascades. The groups broke apart as we each began to tackle the pass at our own pace.

Luckily, we we're rewarded for our efforts with a sharp descent into Twisp (A note on the descent: the vans made the poor decision to make the lunch stop in the middle of the descent, which means a short stop and oncoming traffic for us riders...please never force a cyclists to stop on a descent, it's dangerous!).

Our host, the Twisp Grange Farmer's Cooperative, is a beautiful open space with a hard wood floor, perfect for our bikes, duffles, and sore bodies.

Now to prepare for tomorrow, our final mountain range--The Northern Cascades.

Up and Over,

Day Sixty-Two: A Grand Ol' Time at the Coulee Dam

Today was slightly more difficult than I anticipated...

Maybe it was the barren, Eastern Washington land that got to me, or maybe it's just that I expect these last days to be easier (except for the Cascades).

It may have been the lack of shade. I've always disliked the lack of shade, the sun beating over my head for the whole day.

At some point, though, Eastern Washington gives way to shade, and water-- meet the Grand Coulee Dam:

Tonight we attended a laser light show at the dam. Projectors stationed around the park project a motion laser show on to the dam wall. It was an interesting story that personified the "mighty Columbia River," utilizing the character to narrate the history of the area (and the dam). Although it was entertaining, it's important to note that it was also a wonderful piece of good ol' American Propaganda.

I can look past that though, and end with this: Grand Coulee has  been a welcoming oasis in the Eastern Washington desert.

Trekking Through Washington,