At the end, we were elated that we had made it! Seven days, five hundred and eighteen miles! We were also a little sad that it was over. In our seven days together we had formed a special bond, a great team. We took care of each other when we needed to, we encouraged each other at just the right times. We joked, we laughed and there was an occasional tear or two.
We couldn’t have asked for a better mix of riders for the beta year of the Empire State Ride. Every genre of rider who will ultimately do the Empire State Ride was represented on this epic beta year. We proved that the Empire State Ride is for anyone that enjoys biking and is looking for a great escape that is a meaningful experience. It includes a safety net of an amazing support staff and fellow riders that make sure every rider has the time of their lives.
Here is my version of our story for the 2015 Empire State Ride…….
Twas the night before the ride….
On August 14th 2015, the dream was about to come true as everyone began to assemble to check in at American Youth Hostels in Manhattan, NY.
We descend upon New York City in different ways. You can fly or drive directly to New York City or leave from Buffalo, NY and ride in our transport vehicle to the city. The ride from Buffalo is about 6 hours, it is a good chance to start getting to know your fellow riders. Some people might prefer getting to the city in advance to see some of the sights – it is your choice. We have bike shops in Buffalo and NYC that assemble bikes and get them ready for the road if you are shipping your bike. In 2016 we will also have bike shops that will provide road bike rentals. When you arrive at check in the night before, the reality that you are about to really do this thing hits home. There are official posters indicating where to check in, get your official ride clothing and complete last minute administrative paperwork . Yes, you really are about to embark on an adventure of a life time! As the other riders are filtering in the big question of what will the other people on the ride be like, is getting answered live and in person.
On the eve of the ride everyone met for the first time at the Hostel that many of us stayed at. Some people chose to stay at other hotels close by as the hostel life, didn’t really appeal to them. The hostel was pretty cool, it was the first one I had ever stayed at. I was glad I had the experience. The common areas were clean and modern, and security seemed to be great. The name of the Hostel is American Youth Hostels. The name fit as most of the guests are younger college age folks, they didn’t kick me out for being too old, and it did make me feel younger…..
Dinner for the first night was an indication of the fantastic healthy meals we would be getting for the duration of the week. Gluten free food was an option upon request. There is an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits. It is the type of food that bodies need to make it through seven long days of cycling.
After dinner we have our orientation and first safety briefing. The normal routine for the ride is explained and we meet our key staff personnel that will be taking care of us. There is the cooking crew, the rest stop crew the heavy lifting crew and the mechanical support crew. These are really fantastic people that love cycling. My good friend and ride colleague, Blue Hannon will be out every day scouting the next day’s route, making sure that there are no new obstacles and painting route turn markings on the roads and streets. On this first evening you get very comfortable knowing that these are professionals who take their jobs very seriously watching over every rider. Their first priority is our safety and health and it shows in the way they command our attention during the briefing. Time to get some rest, the adventure will begin in just a few hours!
It is 7AM! Our luggage is packed and delivered to the luggage truck, they will transport it to the next evening’s overnight stop. Breakfast is served it will be a typical light breakfast fare, we also make our own sandwiches just the way we want them for lunch. I am not much of a bread eater so I make some lettuce wraps with hummus and sandwich meats. We put our sandwiches into a baggie with our name on it and it goes into the lunch stop cooler.
8AM day one! We are on our bikes, we meet our guides that will be taking us through the city to the start line at Battery Park and then out of the city to the George Washington Bridge. As we head towards Central Park, there is a feeling like we own the city on this quiet Sunday morning. The enormity and significance of what we are doing starts to set in. This is going to be awesome!
As we are riding through the city, guided by our NYC based riding Marshall we come upon Times Square. On TV it looks so big! A few of us stopped our bikes for a photo op, the horizontal footprint of Times Square seems small, but the vertical rise of the buildings is enormous! Someone starts humming “Start Spreading the news, I am leaving today”, the rest of the song comes alive in my mind and it doesn’t stop! We are in New York Baby!!
I want to be a part of it New York, New York – These vagabond shoes They are longing to stray – Right through the very heart of it New York, New York – I want to wake up in that city That doesn’t sleep – And find I’m king of the hill – Top of the heap – My little town blues They are melting away – I’m gonna make a brand new start of it – In old New York
If I can make it there -I’ll make it anywhere -It’s up to you New York, New York – New York, New York – I want to wake up in that city That never sleeps – And find I’m king of the hill – Top of the list – Head of the heap – King of the hill – These are little town blues – They have all melted away – I am about to make a brand new start of it Right there in old New York
And you bet baby If I can make it there – You know, I’m gonna make it just about anywhere – Come on, come through New York, New York, New York
Sorry, I digress! But the feeling is indescribable. Shortly after Times Square you get a good view of Freedom Tower and that just puts you over the top and it’s like Holy Crap, this is going to be an Epic week! You are proud of yourself for getting this far and we haven’t even started yet!!
Actually, the fact that you did make it this far is significant. You reflect back to when you first heard about the Empire State Ride, it sounded really cool, but scary. You were thinking, there is no way I could do that, I am not in good enough shape. Many people think you need to be a super hard core biker to do this. For many of us there is a huge sigh of relief after we meet other people on the ride and realize that there are all kinds of riders here. After we get on the road, people will separate into natural groups and it will be just fine. All of that worry for nothing. Oh by the way…. Registration is open.
Here we are! Battery Park! The Statue of Liberty standing prominently across the water. Group photos, some celebration and high fives and here we go! We are off to the George Washington Bridge!
Heading up the West Side of Manhattan, the sights, sounds, and people we pass with ear to ear smiles on our faces. They probably have no idea what we are all doing or where we are really going. I have to believe that if they knew we will be riding to each of the major cities in New York State and through the beautiful countryside in between they would love to join us.
Approaching the George Washington Bridge is a little tight, but once you are on the bridge and look to your left, it is kind of sad to say goodbye to the great city of New York. It is also exhilarating knowing that you are beginning a journey that few people will ever do. Even though you are with other people and it is a common experience, it is also a personal one. This is your journey. A story that you will tell for the rest of your life as you inspire people with what you have done.
The first day is typically a shorter day than the others because of the time it takes to get out of the city, but it is very pretty as we ride along the Hudson and thru the small towns along the way. When we get to the first nights stop, we have a decent idea of how the riding groups will most likely naturally be split up for the coming days. We are starting to get to know each other, tomorrow we will be riding with new friends who only this morning may have been strangers.
The support team is up bright and early, starting to make breakfast around 4:30 or 5:00AM. Coffee is on for the riders at 6:00AM and the pattern of who the early risers are is becoming evident this morning. This year Larry was the early riser, the first one to coffee in the morning.
It was hot yesterday and it is going to be hot for the next couple of days. Temperature as read on the Garmin was over 110F. Hydration is so important, especially on days like this. I have a camelback that I wear on hot days and it is a blessing. I highly recommend having a small camelback loaded with ice water and also have water bottles on the bike when it is this hot. Even though we have rest stops at ¼, ½, and ¾ for the day, having extra water is important. I also had creatine chews which contain amino acids and I took extra magnesium with my vitamins to prevent muscle cramping. I believe these things are important especially as you get into the second half of day two and beyond.
A couple of hours into day two we get to Bear Mountain and Bear Mountain Bridge. The view is absolutely incredible as we head over to the east side of the Hudson River again. This year we all gathered together at the first rest stop and went over the bridge together. The employees that work at Bear Mountain provided an escort across the bridge so we had the whole lane to ourselves, it is always cool to have a vehicle escort, it makes you feel special. Big thanks to the Bear Mountain crew for putting up with us!
There are some decent hills on day two and three. I kind of wish I had a third gear on the front for some of the hills. I think I will change out my gears before next years ride to make the hills a little easier. They weren’t really steep, but as I am getting older, there is no sense in working harder than you have to. Not a lot to add for day two other than it was a great day, with great company. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to be riding with. I will also say that the butt is starting to get a little sore by the end of day two. Good bike shorts with quality padding is highly recommended.
Albany here we come!!!
We are starting to get into a groove now. We pretty much know what pace everyone is comfortable riding at. We know a fair amount about the people we have been riding with and there is a bond starting to really take shape we begin to become very mindful of where everyone is and how they are doing. We are starting to get into the part of the ride where great conversations are happening. Sometimes the great conversation is actually with yourself. Taking yourself out of your daily life and going on a multi-day journey consisting of 5-8 hours a day of physical exertion immersed in whatever nature has in store for you has indescribably therapeutic benefits.
Yes, you are starting to grunt a bit when you sit down on the saddle today, but the fact that everyone is experiencing the same thing actually gives you and everyone around you a common thing to complain about. Being able to openly share with people who were complete strangers a few days ago, how sore your ass is and what you are doing about it has certain endearing elements that you just can’t get anywhere.
Yesterday afternoon and most of today we have been inland to the east of the Hudson River, so the River hasn’t been in sight. Today we start off the day riding through beautiful farm country. Depending on how the growing season has been, you may experience the luxury of fresh off the tree peaches. There is nothing like the nectar from a fresh peach to quench your thirst and give you a shot of sugary energy. Thankfulness for the realities of nature are everywhere around us as we ride through this fertile farmland filled with fruit trees, corn and cattle.
We reach the early afternoon and start our approach to Albany. The river is just as beautiful today as it was when we left it a day or so ago. During this last part of the day as we approach Albany, the anticipation of riding thru a city again starts raising a level of excitement. What we are doing is a big deal and a great story. I can’t wait for us to share our story with the press and whoever will listen in Albany. It is an opportunity for us to inspire others and feel good about ourselves. Being a rock star for a few minutes is always good for the ego.
The buildings in City Center Albany are grandiose to say the least. The architectural detail is incredible and it certainly is a reminder of this nations European roots. It is also a reminder of the important role that New York State played in the establishment of the United States. We are also going to be heading into the Mohawk Valley and Erie Canal Corridor which was an integral part of establishing interstate and international trade. Time to celebrate the end of our northern leg and prepare for our trek westward.
Day 4 Utica!!!
We are almost half way to the Falls and today our butts are starting to feel better. We know each other well enough now that we can really start ribbing each other, well…. maybe I am getting more than my fair share of ribbing. I consider it the greatest sign of affection, it sure seems like I get a lot of people poking fun at me. Well, maybe it’s because I tend to go “exploring” occasionally. If you are riding with me and totally trust me, we might go some places the other riders don’t get to experience. The other day they put that GPS tracking device on me and I just can’t explain why it might have shown me going off route to that brewpub.
Yes, we know that there might be times on the ride that you might want to go check something out that is not on the route, that is OK as long as you communicate with the ride coordinators what you are doing and leave your safety triangle on the main route where you went off course.
Today is our tipping point. We are beginning to head west now and for me this leg of the journey is when I have found that I started to really peal back the layers of my mental toughness. The reality of how far we have come and how far we have to go sets in. It was on this part of the journey back in 2014 that I really started to realize the true power of living in the present moment. I started to become much more aware of my surroundings and marveling over the amazing power and beauty of nature. One goofy thing I started noticing on this part of the trip was a consistent point in the vertical climb of birds when they take off, where they poop. Maybe small minds are easily amused, but I sure did start enjoying the basic things in life. My sense of gratitude for the opportunity to do this ride really started to sink in in today. The Saranac brewery that is waiting for us at the end of the day is also a decent motivator for some riders.
Before I rode the Empire State Ride, I didn’t know anything about the Mohawk River Valley. What a beautiful part of the journey! The historical significance of the Mohawk River Valley may not be apparent today, but back when the big push to move west was the thing to do, this beautiful valley and waterway provided a passage free of the more challenging terrain to the north and south. For most of the ride we are riding along the ridge of the valley and as a result have a fantastic view of the valley and Mohawk river. As we get closer to Utica we have some awesome downhill descents and yes a corresponding climb or two. We may tweak the route to offer part of the canal trail as an option to bypass a big long climb on this leg. But, I will leave route management and the safety and logistics associated with providing alternate paths to our route commander and chief from Biketernity.
The day comes to a close as we all congregate at the Saranac Brewery for dinner, brewery tours and tastings for those so inclined to do so.
Off to bed, tomorrow on the way to Syracuse will be a good day for drafting. For those who do not have a lot of experience having someone break the wind (block the wind, not flatulence) in front of you, it makes a huge difference in the amount of effort it takes to pedal against the wind. We need to talk about the safe way to draft before we do it so that everyone understands the critical success factors to keeping the wheels on the ground. Zero accidents and injuries is our goal.
Good night Utica. Syracuse, here we come.
Day 5 Syracuse bound
We have some city streets to navigate early in the morning as we head out of Utica, but it doesn’t take long to get back to rural scenery. This leg of the journey is pretty flat, which is why you might become a fan of drafting with your team mates. I am always thankful for the opportunity to get behind a strong rider and also very happy to pull my weight and take the lead for others. If we weren’t in the best shape when we started the ride, by day 5 we are feeling much better. It’s a day where you just power along the scenery today includes a vast marshland if the conditions are right we may see some waterfowl. Good times with good friends and great teammates.
This year we stayed at a campground outside of Syracuse near Weedsport called Frosty Acres. The campground was very excited about having us stay. They actually took up a collection in the preceding months to help us with our fundraising. It was a special moment when we had the check presentation. The realities of how widespread cancer is sets in once again as we hear about how it has affected the lives of our hosts. We are reminded that while this is fun, we are accomplishing something that is much greater than anyone of us. We have the ability to change the face of cancer with every dollar we collect for research.
Day 6 Rochester here we come!
It is hard to believe that we are heading into our last evening before Niagara Falls, the anticipation of getting to the falls is building. Tonight we will have a very festive dinner and celebration for those of us that are making the entire journey. It is also very exciting for the many riders that will be joining us for the final leg of this journey.
More drafting today as we navigate some lowlands and start heading through the outlying communities leading in to Rochester. There is always time for having some fun. I picked up a corn on my foot. Ha! Get it! Corn….on…..foot!! I mean no disrespect for those actually suffering from corns on their feet.
Well my friends, this is our last night together, tomorrow is the big day. What an accomplishment, only about 80 miles to go. We couldn’t have done it without each other, we have become physically, mentally and perhaps spiritually stronger over the past 6 days. This is something you will be proud tell people about. Here we go! Niagara Falls here we come!!!
Day 7 Niagara Falls!!!
Waking up this morning, getting a shower and having a great breakfast. Time to put on our final Jersey showcasing our epic journey. Morning photo’s together look great! We are one big team, we have come so far. I have goosebumps looking at how fantastic we all look. We represent a true cross section of the human race. We come in all kinds of shape, sizes and colors but the color of our blood is the same and so is our zest for life. We now share a common bond as an Empire State Rider. Let’s go meet our new friends who will be riding with us on this last leg of our journey. It is exciting to be part of the final leg. I have heard so many positive things from those that rode with us this year. The Empire State Riders are an inspiration to others, true warriors who have made the journey and have put a dent in cancer.
Today we are riding near the small but important towns that line the Erie Canal. Brockport, Middleport, Gasport, Lockport…….
Be careful not to get too cocky about not having a flat tire the whole ride until you get to the end. In year one I had my first flat a few miles out of Rochester and this year it happened to at least a couple of other people on the ride. The good news is that we are always ready to help each other out and we have great SAG support if your situation is more severe than a simple flat.
Lockport, which is where the last two locks on the Erie Canal are. Stopping at Lake Effect Ice Cream in Lockport is an awesome treat, it is unbelievable how many unique flavors of ice cream they have. One of our amazing team members this year helped come up with one of the new flavors. I don’t remember what it was, I just remember it was pretty darned good.
We reach our final rest stop prior to etting to Niagara Falls and everyone hangs out until we are all gathered together. Getting to arrive in the falls in one big group is going to be amazing. We look awesome in our final day Jerseys, A couple of miles out and the mist of the falls is visible, as we get closer you can start hearing the thunder of Niagara, what a beautiful site!
The crowd waiting for us to get in is quite a rush, this is our chance to feel like Rock Stars for a few minutes. Crack the Champaign, break out the pizza it’s time for high fives, hugs and smiles! Photo Ops at the falls, TV Cameras recording and reporters interviewing. We have done it, a ride of a lifetime, saving, changing and celebrating life. Life is good.
It is really important that I mention the family members that helped us make this epic journey. They have put up with us as we began training for the event months in advance. They put up with us as we relentlessly talked about the ride as we did our fundraising. They worried about us each and every day as we were on our journey. We are in very good hands, but they may not be able to relate to that. We also don’t get a lot of time to communicate with them as much as we might normally do. They will see pictures of us on social media and the news as we make our journey across the state, they will be proud of us, but they will also feel a little left out. It is hard to convey to them how much this meant to us. So don’t forget to thank them for all that they have done for you that helped you make this a success. We couldn’t have done it without them.
I will close out with one of my favorite quotes from Mother Theresa – I cannot do what you can do, you cannot do what I do, but together we can do great things.
Cheers to ending cancer as we know it.