PAC Tour: Epilogue

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The pizza party last night started out with a slide show of the whole tour set to music – very well done, a great mix of humorous moments, spectacular scenery, and stirring photos of the cyclists and 32 days of life on the road. Then after a break for cake and ice cream, Susan started handing out personalized plaques, including a few photo prints, for each cyclist. She had something to say about each and every one of us, as we came up to shake hands and hug her and Lon. She good-humoredly gave us grief about having the fattest tires ever on a PAC Tour. It’s pretty amazing how many miles some of these cyclists have ridden with them – one cyclist has done 9 transcontinental tours with them! There were several with over 10000 miles, which gets your name on their trailer, and quite a few with over 20000 miles, which gets you a street sign with your name attached to the trailer – e.g., John Lake has a John Lake Shore Drive street sign. John Lake actually has over 40000 miles with them, starting in the early 90s, both as a tour rider and as a crew member.

The final act of the evening was the auction of the tour map, signed by everyone on the tour:


The bidding started at $500 and rapidly escalated to a bidding war between the father/son teams of Mike & Caelen and Greg & Zach, with the final bid of $3000 coming from Mike and Caelen. The money will go to a charity that Lon works with in Ghana, Africa.

On an earlier blog  we said we’d come back to the all important topic of saddles – what did folks sit on for more than 3000 miles.  First, Lon and Susan both ride Brooks – no surprise.  Among the rest of us, we saw a good number of Brooks, Sella Anatomicas, and Rivets in the leather category – perhaps half the bikes were wearing leather.  The rest was pretty widely distributed – a couple Adamos, SMPs, and Terry’s and some dang minimalistic ones on  the fast guys’ bikes….perhaps they were in the saddles much less than us!  A pretty popular method of avoiding serious tush pain was to rotate saddles every night by having each saddle set up on its own seatpost.  Lots of variation in the saddle department – each of us looking for that perfect perch!

Finally, I wanted to describe in detail a typical PAC Tour day. Breakfast was scheduled for 6, 6:30 or 7 am, depending on the length and difficulty of the day’s ride. We usually set our alarm for 1 hour before breakfast, and nibbled on raisins while getting dressed and partially packing up our gear. Every other day, we did two sets of 20 pushups and 20 bench dips to try to keep some upper body strength while doing all this riding! The bike racks were usually set up 10 minutes before breakfast, so we’d wheel the bike out, fill water bottles from the large jug of Heed, then wait for breakfast to start. Occasionally, the hotel’s breakfast was used, but usually PAC Tour provided breakfast outside at their red trailer. We had been asked to bring our own plastic bowls and cups, in order to reduce paper waste, and the tour provided colorful all-purpose plastic sporks. There was always a large vat of oatmeal with all the fixings – brown sugar, raisins, dried cranberries, walnuts, pecans, and almonds. There were even M&Ms for a few days after one of the ice cream socials. There was a selection of dry cereals with milk, chopped up bananas and strawberries and/or blueberries, yogurt, toasted bagels with your choice of cream cheese, peanut butter, and Nutella, and a variety of pastries. Orange juice and surprisingly good coffee were also supplied. That was the standard breakfast. Every few days, they would cook us something different along with all of that, like scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage or french toast. Seating took the form of 5 gallon plastic buckets with planks between them, set out in the parking lot by the trailer.

After breakfast, we turned in our sporks, took our bowls and cups back to the room to be washed, and finished packing up our gear bags and getting dressed for the ride. Breakfast was usually 30 minutes, and then another 30 minutes was allowed to load all the gear bags and depart. Typically, John and I were one of the last to depart, right at 10 minutes after the trailer was opened for loading the bags. We weren’t sure why everybody was in such a rush to get going, and always kind of felt like we were behind right from the start.

Rest stops were usually 20-30 miles apart, ~2 hours of riding, depending on the difficulty of the terrain. There were usually two rest stops in the morning, a lunch stop, and an afternoon rest stop. On the longest mileage days, there were two rest stops in the afternoon. The rest stops were well stocked with a variety of cookies (Fig Newtons – our favorite, oreos, nutter butters, chocolate chip, etc), granola bars, Hammer energy bars, Hammer gels, raisins, nuts, potato chips, beef and turkey jerky, crackers, candy, bananas, and a bin of fresh fruit that was different every day. Over the course of the tour, we had watermelon quite often, a yellow type of watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, cherries, pineapple, plums, apples. Sometimes there were Pop Tarts or Rice Krispie bars. There was cooler full of a wide variety of soda, a large jug of Heed or Gatorade, a large jug of ice water, containers of powdered Heed or Gatorade, electrolyte tablets, copious amounts of sunscreen and chamois cream, and a cooler of ice on the warmer days. There were a few chairs set out, but usually the riders just grabbed what the needed, chatted for a couple of minutes, and were on their way again. Canopies were set up for us if the weather was rainy. Mesh bags were available if riders wanted to get rid of a jacket or tights.

The lunch stop was usually at the 75-80 mile mark, which for us was usually somewhere around 12:30-1 pm.  The 5-gallon buckets and planks were set out for seating again. Every lunch was different. Sandwich fixings were always available – deli meats, a variety of breads and wraps, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, olives, veggie plates, condiments like mustard, ketchup, guacamole. PB&J was always available as well. There were always a couple of different types of cold salads – potato salad, coleslaw, asian salads, broccoli salad – and a variety of chips. Maybe every other day, the crew cooked something hot for lunch. We had hot dogs and sausages several times, burgers and veggie burgers a couple of times, spaghetti, macaroni&cheese, soup, grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, quesadillas, burritos, fajitas, sloppy joes. There was always the cooler of soda pop, and hot water on chilly days for making hot chocolate or tea. There were always a couple of different desserts as well, whatIever baked goods looked yummy at the local grocery store, I’d guess: carrot cake, chocolate cake, lemon cake, apple pie, cherry pie, coconut cream pie, brownies, Twinkies a couple of times. We were extremely well-fed – several riders said they thought they were gaining weight on the tour!

At the end of the day, the bike racks were set up in the parking lot of the hotel, and buckets of soapy water, pumps, and tools were available for any necessary bike repairs and cleaning. A board listed the room number for each rider, and the room keys were available in a box attached to the board. The gear bags were unloaded from the trailer and lined up in the parking lot, or inside the hotel if the weather was bad. A few snacks, soda, and water were available, and there were also a couple of coolers of beer for a nominal charge. The white board listed the nearby restaurants, the location of laundry facilities, the hotel’s wifi info, and the schedule for the next day. Underneath that was the map marked with our progress so far (see photo above).

When we finished the day’s ride, John and I would check the tires for glass or other problems, then he’d clean the bike or lube the chain, if needed, while I got us a couple of beers and took the gear bags to our room and got cleaned up. We’d have an energy bar while getting showered and dressed, and if it hadn’t been a really long day, John would usually wash our bike clothes in the sink (PAC Tour provided laundry detergent) while I downloaded photos and started working on the blog.  When the laundry was done, we’d walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner. We used the hotel’s laundry facilities a few times, but usually there was a queue for a single washing machine by the time we finished. Then I’d try to finish the blog. Most days there wasn’t time for much more than that! We tried to make sure bills were being paid and answered a few emails here and there and watched a little TV while we were taking care of other chores, but usually by the time I finished the blog, it was time for bed.

Of course, in between the feeding, the blogging, and the sleeping, there was a whole lot of pedaling going on. We tended to be toward the back of the group, mostly riding around Bill & Jill, Joel & Shuli (during the first part of the tour), Ellery, Gerry, Jim, Neil, George, Stuart, and David and Phaik-Foon. We also saw quite a bit of Paul, Karen, and Sid and Karen. We chatted quite a bit with Kevin on a few different occasions, and Chris on one day when he wasn’t feeling very well. Greg and Zach were usually ahead of us, getting ready to leave a rest stop just as we arrived. We never really got to know the fastest riders – we’d see them briefly at breakfast and maybe at the end of the day, but that was it!

It was a great way to spend a month – an amazing group of cyclists to ride with and an equally amazing crew that took excellent care of us. It’s easy to see why they have a 75% return rate – we’re already starting to think about another tour with them (maybe not as long!) for next year. But for now, it’s time to take a short vacation from our bike to let our butts heal 😉


PAC Tour Day 32: Ashland to Yorktown, VA – The Final Day

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The final morning felt a bit hectic – breakfast was scheduled for 6 am, with 6:30 am load and depart. Breakfast was split between the hotel breakfast room and a nearby meeting room, and it seemed like everyone was eager to get their food, eat, and go. We headed out on Rt 54 east into an overcast morning:


The forecast was for a sunny, warm, muggy day, and the clouds eventually broke up as we continued southeast through gently rolling Virginia terrain, with a familiar mix of farmland, wooded areas, vineyards, and small communities.

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We even passed another familiar landmark from Lynn K’s fleche – the Studley General Store.

We continued on through New Kent, past Martha Washington’s birthplace. The traffic was unpleasantly heavy through this section, as we approached I-64, but it calmed down a bit once we crossed over.

Our 2nd rest stop was after 55 miles, at which point Bill’s cleats finally stopped working completely – so he spent a few minutes to change them:


The plan was for all the riders to regroup at a particular location just a short distance from the final destination at 12:30 pm. We were all informed by Lon H that we were making good time, so we might want to stop at a McDonald’s along the way so we didn’t have to wait so long at the regroup point. We arrived in Williamsburg a few miles later:


and spotted the McDonald’s and the whole gang of cyclists:


So we stopped and shared a milkshake before pedaling on. We headed into Colonial Williamsburg and turned onto the Colonial Parkway – a beautiful but rather rough road

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which we followed for about 10 miles to the regroup spot overlooking the Chesapeake Bay:

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We arrived at about 12:15, so spent the time chatting with the other riders and taking some photos.


The last cyclists arrived, and Jerry announced that the youngest rider, Caelen (16), the oldest rider, Gerry (74), and the tandem with Greg and Zach would lead us all the final mile to our destination on the beach in Yorktown, VA:


It felt pretty amazing to be riding with this whole group that we’ve spent the last month with and to see Susan and the PAC Tour crew cheering us on at the end:


We all wheeled our bikes onto the beach and down to the water for photos:

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We did it – we bicycled coast to coast across the country! We weren’t quite done yet, though. After a nice picnic lunch, we all backtracked the 14 miles back to the EconoLodge in Williamsburg and everyone started packing up their bikes and the crew started cleaning up the PAC tour vehicles.


John and I had it pretty easy – we’re taking the train home tomorrow and will drive back down on Friday to pick up the bike, so the hotel is storing it for us until then.

In just a couple of minutes, the final pizza party starts and that will be the end of our cross country bicycle adventure. It’s been an amazing trip. We had a great group of people to ride with, and Susan, Lon, and the crew have all been fantastic. I can’t imagine a better way to have cycled across the country.


PAC Tour Day 31: Harrisonburg to Ashland, VA

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

I can’t believe it’s the 2nd to last day already! The day started with a little light rain, so it was nice that breakfast was in the hotel breakfast room again. We got on the road a little after 7 am again, and the rain stopped after less than an hour, although the skies remained overcast for the whole day, We were on busy Rt 33 heading out of town, approaching Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the last tough climb of the tour:

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We crossed the Shenandoah River at the 14.5 mile mark:


and the road gradually turned up as we began the climb toward Skyline Drive. The climbing got steeper as we entered Shenandoah National Park, but of course the scenery was gorgeous along the way.

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Another 2.5 miles of strenuous climbing, and we were at the top – the Swift Run Gap entrance to Skyline Drive:


Then it was one last exhilarating, winding descent through more forest:

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before the rode gradually leveled out into more rolling Virginia countryside:


This first section of rolling hills seemed very tandem-friendly, and the miles passed quickly. After the first rest stop in Stanardsville, we left Rt 33 for some smaller roads, passing through Wolftown, where we recognized this convenience store from a couple of DCR brevets – we’re on some familiar roads again:


We also passed by James Madison’s Montpelier home:


Entrance to James Madison’s Montpelier

We had a bit of confusion getting to the 2nd rest stop in the town of Orange – the signage wasn’t very good, and the cue sheet was a little confusing, but we escaped with only an extra couple of blocks, thanks to Veronica. Some other folks got pretty lost, so we lucked out there.

We noticed a lot of kudzu swallowing trees along the way:


Maybe these goats could help with this problem – goats eat anything, right?


We ran into some pretty heavy traffic in the town of Louisa, but made it through to the lunch stop in a park in Mineral – sloppy joes today with cake and coconut pie for dessert, yum!

We passed through Buckner, and another store that we use as a control on Lynn K’s fleche every year:


Shortly after that, as we were passing through Bumpass (great name, eh?), we had some excitement with a dog that had apparently broken its chain, and ran into the road right in front of us, barking menacingly. John and I were both yelling, at the dog, and at the owner to come get the dog. We both got off the bike, in order to keep it between us and the dog, and I squirted some Gatorade towards it. That seemed to do the trick, it ran away after that, the owner caught it, and we were able to continue on.

We were stopped for a short while by a train that arrived just as we got to the tracks:


Our last rest stop was shortly after that, and then it was only 20 more gently rolling miles to the finish. We stopped briefly to let Veronica use our pump on her flat:


and then finished the last few miles to the Hampton Inn in Ashland, VA, for a total of 122 miles for the day. Everyone seemed to be in great spirits as we finished up today – I think we’re all excited that we’ve almost finished this transcontinental bicycle journey, but also a little sad that the adventure is ending.


PAC Tour Day 30: Elkins, WV to Harrisonburg, VA

Monday, August 5, 2013

We started out in fog again today, with chilly temps around 50 F:


We expected a long day, even though the mileage was a bit shorter, so managed to be a little more efficient and started out just after 7 am, back onto Rt 33 east, which we followed most of the day:


We had about 6 miles of 4-lane highway riding at the beginning, with the first of 9 big climbs for the day. Here’s Jose just finishing that climb:


This was Jose’s first day of riding since his little spill a couple of days ago – unfortunately, his back has been bothering him since then. Even though it was highway shoulder riding again, the views were still fantastic:

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and it was just a short time before Rt 33 narrowed and the traffic lessened, as we continued up 3 more climbs to the first rest stop. The climbs today were much longer than yesterday’s, with grades mostly in the 8-12% range, so it seemed much more strenuous. The descents were still pretty darn good, though!

The 1st rest stop was at the top of the 4th climb of the day, up Rich Mtn, and had a very nice view of the surrounding hills:

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My saddle had developed an extremely annoying squeak by this time, but we forgot to try to fix it at this rest stop. As we continued on, it got on our nerves more and more, so we were a little cranky by the time we made it up another climb and to the 2nd rest stop at a little church in Onego:

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The support van had some lube, so John thoroughly lubricated anything on my saddle and seat post that could possibly be squeaking, and we continued on – squeak gone! Yay! We passed Seneca Rocks shortly thereafter:


then turned onto a very small one lane road:

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It was nice to be on a quiet road, but it turned out to be quite a strenuous long climb, and eventually led us back to Rt 33 again. Where we started another long climb, ugh! We did see a deer with two fawns in a field though, that was pretty cool. There was a short break in the climb at a 3rd rest stop at the German Valley Overlook, and another gorgeous view:


Then we finished that climb, and another wonderful descent, and started the last long climb before the lunch break. We’d been riding with Bill & Jill off and on throughout the day, and happened to be just a little behind Jill when a young black bear suddenly darted across the road directly in front of her, and disappeared on the other side! She quickly made a U-turn to avoid it, and then turned again to continue back up the climb. Very exciting!

Lunch was a welcome break from all the climbing, but it was getting late and we still had one last big climb before the end. I think we left the lunch stop around 2;45 pm and continued on through Brandywine to the start of that last climb as we entered the George Washington National Forest:

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It looked innocent enough at the start, but it was the longest climb of the day, around 2000 ft of elevation gain, and quite steep as well, with lots of switchbacks:


But as we’ve learned, if you just keep pedaling, you eventually get to the top – and to the Virginia border at the top of Shenandoah Mtn, with lots of cheering from Susan N and Veronica as we struggled up the last little bit. We paused for a quick snack and a photo:


then mounted back up for the wonderful winding descent, which eventually became a more gradual descent through lovely Virginia forest:


Then it was another 13 miles of rolling hills – which turned out to be more difficult than we had hoped after all the climbing of the day – to the Best Western in Harrisonburg, VA, the final state of our transcontinental tour. We finished at 5:30 pm, with a total of 106 miles and 10500 feet of climbing.

We had a very nice dinner with Bill & Jill at the Ruby Tuesday next door, then headed back to our room for the night. Our toughest days are done, just two more relatively easy days to go!

PAC Tour Day 29: Parkersburg to Elkins, WV

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A little cat greeted us as we stepped out of our room this morning, and then scampered away when it saw the bike – very scary! The Red Roof Inn was shrouded in fog as we ate our breakfast out by the trailer, and anticipated the climbing ahead:


The fog stayed with us for the first hour of the ride before it started to burn off:

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The first third of the ride, 47 miles, was highway shoulder riding on Route 50 east, part of the Robert C Byrd Appalachian Highway System, with long gradual climbs followed by long gradual descents. On the positive side, the grades were gentle and we had great views of the rolling, forested West Virginia hills, and wildflowers in the median:

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Here’s Steve – a crew member – nearing the top of one of the climbs. Crew members get to ride every other day.


Although it had a nice wide shoulder, there was a lot of debris, so several riders got flats throughout the day. And of course the traffic isn’t very pleasant. So we were relieved to turn off the highway onto Snowbird Road, a much quieter road


which led us to Doddridge County Park for the 2nd rest stop of the day, where we had our official PAC Tour photos taken. I think the climb back out of the park was one of the steepest of the day!

We continued on quiet rural roads through some small towns. The climbing on these was quite a bit steeper than on the highway, usually in the 10-15% range, but the climbs were fairly short and almost always followed by a nice descent, so it was actually pretty fun.

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Eventually, we arrived in Weston for lunch on the grounds of the Weston State Hospital:

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We all managed to avoid getting committed there, in spite of this crazy ride across the country, and continued on Rt 33, which turned into more highway riding. Fortunately for us, a long section of this had recently been repaved and the right lane blocked off from the rest of traffic by orange cones, so it was actually pretty nice riding.

We turned off onto old Rt 33, another pretty rural road


with some more climbing and an exciting 50 mph downhill section. We were back on Rt 33 for a short section before exiting toward Crystal Springs and then just a few more miles to Elkins, WV, where we saw this church with an unusual tiled roof.


And a couple miles later, we arrived at the Super-8 right around 5:30 pm, for a total of 123 miles and around 6500 feet of climbing.


We walked across the street to the Steer Steakhouse for a buffet dinner with Paul and Karen. It was a long day, but the climbing had seemed pretty moderate, and hadn’t been as difficult as we thought it might be. By the look of the profile, tomorrow’s gonna be much harder.

PAC Tour Day 28: Circleville, OH to Parkersburg, WV

Saturday, August 3, 2013

It looked like it was going to be Icky Day 2: The Sequel – this was the view from our hotel room window:


Lucky for us, breakfast was in the hotel breakfast room rather than at the trailer outside, because it was raining fairly heavily, and the radar picture on the local weather report wasn’t looking good. Everyone seemed to linger longer than usual, but eventually we all got our rain gear on and headed out, back onto Rt 56 east again.

We rode in pretty steady rain for a little over an hour, and then, unexpectedly, it started to let up. We were riding through rolling hills with lush green woods and vegetation, and mist at the tops of the hills:

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A little before the first rest stop, we caught up to David, who usually rides a tandem with Phaik-Foon. He was on a single bike today, Phaik-Foon was having a rest day. We leapfrogged with David as the hills became steeper, leading up to a really steep slope with a 20% grade shortly before the first rest stop at the Ash Cave Picnic Area near Bloomingville in the Hocking Hills area of Ohio. A little taste of the West Virginia hills coming tomorrow! We leapfrogged some more with David, until he stopped to move a tiny turtle off the road – hurray, David, the turtle hero!

The second rest stop was at a small church:

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The skies continued to be overcast, but no rain, with temperatures in the low-mid 70s. We were expecting to be pedaling in upper-80s to 90 degree temps with high humidity this time of year in this part of the country, so this cool streak has made the riding much more pleasant than expected – even with the occasional rain.

Shortly after the second rest stop, we finally left Rt 56 to ride on a bike trail for a few miles, near the Ohio University in Athens:

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The bike path ended and we merged onto Rt 50 east until we turned off for our lunch stop at a park in Stewart, OH:


After lunch, we had 10 miles of rolling hills on Rt 144 to get us back to more highway shoulder riding on Rt 50 east again.


We stopped at a highway rest stop, and on the way out of the rest stop, we passed Ohio’s smallest church! So lucky we needed to use the bathroom or we would have missed it!

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Then it was just 12 miles to the bridge over the Ohio River into West Virginia. Ellery got there just before we did and stopped to take a picture, so we stopped, too, and then Bill and Jill joined us, and we all took pictures:

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At this point, it started to rain just a little bit again, so we all mounted up to finish the last 4 miles to the hotel together. The rain picked up as we rode along, and kept getting heavier as we went, until suddenly it just started pouring, and it was really cold rain! John and I were in the lead, and we peeled off into an auto repair place that happened to be right in front of us, with Ellery, Bill, and Jill right behind us. The receptionist was very nice and let us bring our bikes into the garage for shelter, and after just a few minutes it tapered off again.  It was just a mile more to the Red Roof Inn in Parkersburg, WV, where we arrived a little after 3 pm for a total of 102 miles.

Dinner was at the Omelet Shop next door – and it rained on us again as we walked back! Weather’s looking better for tomorrow, sunny but still cool, which will be appreciated. These next two days through West Virginia are rumored to be the toughest of the tour, with the most climbing.

PAC Tour Day 27: Lima to Circleville, OH

Friday, August 2, 2013

The day started with a beautiful sunrise over the Motel-6 – perhaps not the finest lodging we’ve experienced, but we slept really well anyway!


After an excellent breakfast of bacon, eggs, and oatmeal with all the fixings, we headed southeast out of Lima on Rt 117 to Rt 65, following Sid and his wife Karen on their tandem for much of the morning. Karen joined us just a few days ago to finish the tour with Sid,


The roads started out flat and straight, like much of yesterday’s ride – and oh, look! More corn and soybeans!


More fun with shadows: we were riding our big-wheel bike today 🙂


We’ve seen a lot of these small fake lakes, they seem to be really popular here in rural Ohio – this was one of the prettiest houses we saw with one, along with Bill and his squeaky parrot, and more shadows.


We rode for a little while with Greg and his 23-yr old son Zach on their tandem. Zach will be the first person with Down’s syndrome to cycle across the US! It has been pretty cool to have him on the tour – he’s almost always smiling and laughing and high-fiving the other riders and crew. Greg’s been blogging about the tour as well:


The first rest stop was at a very small park at a rural intersection, with this historic bell from a church that used to be there:


After the first rest stop, we got onto Rt 29 and started to encounter bigger rollers, and more woods and streams, along with the occasional orchard:

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This old barn and silo caught my eye:


We passed through Urbana, OH for the second rest stop, riding down a street of large old homes – here’s a sample:

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The weather started to look a little more threatening again as we left Urbana, and turned onto Rt 56, which we followed all the way to Circleville. Luckily, we had only a few drops of rain during our lunch at Cowling City Park in London, OH, and no more for the rest of the afternoon. The terrain got flatter and became mostly farmland again along the way to the last rest stop at a park in Mt Sterling. Bill & Jill caught up to us shortly after that, and Bill jumped ahead and pulled us all the last 15 miles into Circleville. We were going over 20 mph the whole way – that was awesome, Bill!


Bill pulling us into Circleville


Jill, Paul, and Mike behind us

We finished right at 4 pm at the Holiday Inn Express in Circleville, for a total of 119 miles. We wandered over to Bob Evans for dinner, picked up a couple of things at Walmart, and made it back to the PAC tour trailer in time for the ice cream social at 7:30 pm. Yay, ice cream again!