Below is Rob's day-by-day blog written by Rob Paddor while his rides.  It starts with the American Challenge in September 2011.

9/11 American Challenge

Sept. 10, 2011.  Prep Day

Our flight left on time at 6:00 this morning and once we arrived in NYC, we jumped in 2 cabs with my friend, Rick Bruder and his wife, Patty and friend, Lisa.  Rick is chairman of the Board of Ride2Recovery and Lisa is past President of USO of Illinois.  Unfortunately, we flew into Laguardia in Queens, but our hotel was at the Meadowlands, in New Jersey.  Rumor has it we had rooms near Ground Zero and got bumped by President Obama's entourage.  We took the Midtown tunnel into Manhattan and then took the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey.  We missed the 10:00 tour bus and a wreath laying ceremony and tribute at a Firehouse and a tour of the WTC Visitor Center.  We checked in and went to the R2R hospitality rooms and put our bikes together.  Lunch followed.
At 4:00 there was a mandatory R2R orientation and clinic.  John Worden, executive director and professional cycler, went over the rules and stated that the 530 mile American Challenge is not a race.   That put a smile on my face.  He also introduced a lot of staff, including ride, publicity, equipment, taskmaster, luggage and medical managers and directors.  John's number rule is, be on time, and he was serious.
Dinner began at 6:00 and included introductions of sponsors, including United Health Care, USO, American Legion, Shimano, Monster Energy and U-Haul.  Speakers at tonight's dinner included, Tim Brown from NYFD-11, who was a first responder and entertainment was performed by country/western singer, Emily West.  A touching moment was a video of 10 high school kids who rode their bikes from Washington to MAINE, over 3600 miles.  They did it last summer and raised over $100,000. for the R2R.
After getting up at 3:45 this morning, I think it's time to hit the sack.  I got a  50 mile ride tomorrow from Liberty Park and Princeton, NJ.


Sept. 11, 2011   Day 1

Today was a great day, even though I didn't finish the ride.  Everyone was in their assigned red,white and blue jerseys, bibs and socks.  We had an 8:30 ride meeting with a 9:00 start.  Rule of the day, watch for pot holes.  New Jersey has a reputation for bumpy roads.  This weeks ride has the biggest field of any that R2R has ever done.  The key was 9/11.  A New Jersey State Police officer sang God Bless America.  The recumbent bikes took off first.  By the time I got started, the lead bikes were a half a mile ahead.  Going 2 x 2 and sometimes 3 wide, the comradarie was beyond anything I have ever experienced.  Additionally, New Jersey State Police cars and volunteers riding Harleys, led and blocked streets so to cardon the riders from any traffic.  The standing traffic were blaring their horns and Americans were lining the streets waving and taking pictures and video taping.  The ride to Liberty Park was 10 miles and everyone made it there intact.
Liberty Park is directly across from the WTC on the Hudson River.  A group picture was taken on a small hill with the skyline of NYC in the background.  The Pledge of Allegiance was spoken and the National Anthem was sung.  John Campbell, deputy assistant Secretary of Defense, spoke and praised and thanked all the wounded warriors and first responders who were riding and talked about his mission of care and the transitioning our heroes into the private sector.  We then had an opportunity to sightsee and take pictures.  Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were visible and everyone's emotions were going wild with Patriotism.  We then exited the park and headed southwest to Princeton. 
We had a lunch stop scheduled 23 miles away.  Riding through the metro areas of Jersey City and Newark weren't very scenic, but the honking and waving continued.  After a while we rode to some rural towns with charming storefronts and various road grades.  I started to drift to the back of the pack and some of the slopes in the roads required some strenuous peddling, but then experienced riders had my back and helped urge me with a push with one of there hands.  As we got closer to our lunch stop the grade got even more difficult and I had to get off the bike for the first time.  After a while, I got back on the bike as I got closer to our lunch stop and then felt pain in my left hamstring, not good.    I had a trainer help me with stretching, after a lunch of peanut and jelly, energy bars, bananas, oranges and Gatorade. 
I got back on the bike and went another 17 or 18 miles when the hamstring locked and I was forced to get off the bike.  I was probably one of 10 riders who dropped out because of injury.  There was a broken arm and a fractured collar bone in the group.  I was bussed to the hotel with another broken down rider as company.  As we arrived at the hotel, most of the riders were already there, with uniformed Army passing out energy bars and Monster energy drinks.  I ran into Rick Bruder, who knew I was hurt and told me that training staff would be at the pool working doing some rehab.  Afterwards,I went up to my room, checked a Bear score and put on a bathing suit and headed for the pool.
Dinner was at 6:00 and afterwards announcement were made about tomorrow's ride to Philly.  The featured speaker was, Bob Delaaney, an interesting guy who's tenure included the New Jersey State Police, both uniform and under cover of vice, a 25 year career as an NBA referee from the Michael Jordan era and an advocate for PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  The stories were haunting, but Delaney's spirit of recovery and treatment spoke volumes of his mission, discussing his book, Surviving the Shadows.   That ended Day 2.  I went up to my room wondering how long I last for tomorrow's ride.


Sept. 12, 2011.  Day 2

Today was another great day and the best part about it was, I finished.  It rained overnight and we woke up to fog.  I had Lynn tape up my sore thigh after icing continually the night before.  After yesterday's injury, I thought I was done for the week.  By 9:00 our ride briefing convened, the sun came out and Bruce told us some course conditions by mile marker.  Today's ride was from Princeton, NJ to Philadelphia, PA, just under 60 miles.  At 9:30 we took off into the beautiful New Jersey countryside, with nice asphalt roads.  With exception of 2 small climbs, the first 20 miles were manageable.
Entering PA., the terrain was more rolling.  At the 22 mile marker, we stopped for lunch and entered a new 911 Memorial installation, called "Garden of Reflection."  Again, energy snacks and drinks, Raman noodle, bananas and oranges ruled, but the stop had little to do with lunch. 
John Wordin presented Ellen Saracini, widow of one of the pilots that went into the WTC, with a R2R autographed jersey signed by all the ride participants.  She shared her story and described how the garden was laid out based on WTC deaths in various communities.  I tried to speak with her briefly before we left, but I fell apart.  I walked away and entered the Memorial with sadness as I read the names of the local citizens killed on 911.    Google this PA installation to see the beauty and importance of this monument.  The ride continued and was quite pleasant, going into some wooded, dense forests and feeling the coolness and enjoying the damp smells.  We saw some vintage stone houses and some old stone fences, circa 1700.  We passed an elementary school who's entire class, with teachers waved American flags and encouraged us with their patriotic screams. 
Later, at mile marker 49 the terrain changed and became more metro.  It started to look more like Jersey City as we passed the the Philadelphia Industral Correctional Center, pretty spooky with razor walls at street level. We continued and saw some old Philly type row house with Granny sitting on the porch waving.  We made a brief stop at an American Legion Hall and were handed iced water by older veterans who proudly wore their uniform caps.  I washed down my second Aleve of the day, before we thanked them and rode off.  After a few turns, I saw the Philly sky line, we were getting close, but still far away.  We then entered an older section of Philly, which had old street car steel rail lines with deep grooves and uneven surfaces.  I saw a rider go down, 30 feet in front me, with a thud as he was unable to uncleet his shoes from the peddles.  One of my support riders, Joe, stayed with him until a medical team showed up and later telling me the rider broke his collar bone.  More emotion came my way as I felt for him, because his ride was probably over. After a few more turns, we pulled into an old Best Western Hotel, which would be our accommodations for the night.
Our dinner plans changed as the American Legion switched from a dinner at the Philadelphia Armory to a boat ride on the "Spirit of Philadelphia.".  The dinner cruise went on for 3 hours with more presentations to American Legion members.  Later, some riders and I jumped into cabs and headed to Gino's for a late night Philly cheese sandwich and talked about tomorrow's long 77 mile ride.  I'll tape up in the morning and see how it goes!  http://www.9-11memorialgarden.org/

 


Sept. 13, 2011.    Day 3

Another beautiful day in America.  Today was a grueling ride, 77 miles of hills and slopes.  I was up late last night writing and paid for it today with little or no energy.  During our ride briefing this morning a special guest and rider was introduced, Sir Charles Barkley,  He had on a jersey that he couldn't even zip up.  Our first stop was 2 blocks away, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Sir Charles posed for pictures with all the riders in front of the Rocky Balboa statue. 
We headed northwest and entered the city of Manayunk with galleries, shops and trendy restaurants before entering the Schuykill River Trail.  a stunning river scene on our left with beautiful elevations, with multiple scullers rowing up river.  We then crossed the river and headed for Valley Forge.  We had our first rest stop as guests of Lockheed Martin, the jet and rocket firm that sells weapons to our military.  200-300 LM employees waved us in their parking lot and passed out to us snacks, water, and energy drinks.  This is where Sir Charles said goodbye to all of us.
We headed to Valley Forge, the 1777 military camp that Gen. George Washington forged before battles against the British.  The terrain was stunning, but the elevations and hills became a battle that I would take on for 10 miles before I would drop out of the ride.  The 3600 acre monument had period homes and cabins along our ride with some old cemeteries.  The 10 and 15 degree hill slopes were endless and I just ran out of gas.  My day was over.  I got into a chase vehicle and figured I did okay, by going 37 grueling miles.
I had a gas in the chase vehicle with a couple of guys from Texas and one from Colorado, all retired military, but young.  They were shielding the recumbent riders from the cars and trucks on the 2 lane historic road and we passed out water, while motoring and helping riders with flat tire replacement wheels and tire.  The one liners were non stop.  We continued on route 23 for miles and entered Amish/Mennonite territory  in Lancaster County, with shops and an occasional Amish Horse and buggy siting.  We continued to our hotel and saw that some riders were already there, but most were still riding stretched out for miles, based on strength and endurance biking abilities.  
The night ended with an informal dinner at a local American Legion hall.  Tomorrow we head to Gettysburg, which should be a great ride, assuming I can handle 55 miles of hills and valleys.  Either way, if I'm on my bike or riding in a chase vehicle as support help, this week has been sensational.  The majority of the riders have military backgrounds and the stories they've been sharing with me daily are astounding.

Sept. 14, 201l.  Day 4

Another beautiful day in southeastern, PA.  We had our usual ride briefing and had an opportunity to check our bikes and fill up our water bottles with high energy supplements.  Today's ride was from Lancaster to Gettysburg, 55 miles.  I'm now 2 for 4' because I completed the ride, with multiple breaks and unbelievable support.  Once again, Jerry, ret. 18 year Latino Marine veteran was at my back.  What that means is, when a section of the ride because too difficult and your legs have nothing left, Jerry is riding by my side and has one of his hands on my back helping me and basically pulling me along up a long steep hill.  Later, when Jerry was helping another rider, I had a couple other guys, just show up at my back, right before I'm ready to get off the bike.  That's comfort!  Additionally these Military Latinos coached me on my gearing, which allowed me the challenge of some hills without any support.  We left the hotel and the first 20 miles were on the most beautiful backroads, with hillsides with church steeples, enormous farmlands and rivers and lakes.  There was uncut corn stalks on both sides of the road offering a chute like ride as we flew on the downhills.  This was my favorite part of today's ride.  Unfortunately, at such speeds and potential danger, I won't take pictures while I ride.  As we headed west, our lunch stop was in York.  We were told the the USO canteen trailer would not be there, so to our surprise, the American Legion of York, opened up the minor league ballpark of the York Revolution.  The Legion veterans passed out the drinks and allowed us to walk into this brand new ballpark to enjoy a pizza lunch.  What a joy it was to take a bite out of a slice of pizza, when the usual bill of fair includes, PBJ and PB and honey, plus the usual, orange slices,bananas, energy bars, etc.  The hospitality was tremendous.  Another highlight was the Paradise elementary school in Thomasville, all 300 kids and teachers waving flags and screaming out, USA! USA!  I got pretty choked up, but after that, the ride was on a busy state highway that didn't have the beauty of  our earlier ride sessions.  We did go through a bunch of old small towns, with rickety houses and too many abandoned storefronts.  We made another stop, about 10 miles from Gettysburg, at a Special Needs Kids middle school.  Most of the kids were gone, because it was after 2:00, but the school staff laid out another spread of drinks, snacks and an air conditioned lounge with deep sofas, which feel real good after 5 hours on the bike.
Lastly, tonight's dinner was another outstanding affair, put on by the Gettysburg American Legion Auxillary.  It was in our hotel's ballroom and I had the honor of sitting with 2 retired Generals, 4 star U.S. Army General George Casey and U.S. Marine Major General, Richard Natonski, both part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. 
Thursday's ride is Gettysburg to Bedford, 95 miles and breakfast starts at 5:30 with a 7:15 start. 


Sept. 15, 2011   Day 5

Not a pretty day in Gettysburg.  With breakfast at 5:30, a ride briefing at 7:15, a 95 mile mostly uphill ride and finally pouring rain.  Not pretty.  I was 50/50 at breakfast, but by the time I went back to my room to get ready, I said, Not happening.  I have never ridden this bike in the rain, not my thing, and with those skinny tires and dangerous slopes, I think I made a great decision.  Instead, I rode in 2 different chase vehicles at 2 different portions of the ride. 
Leaving the hotel, the  chase driver, map helper and I followed the riders to the Gettysburg cemetery for a ceremony, including a look alike Abe Lincoln.  He praised his soldiers and recited the "Gettysburg Address."  The short ceremony ended and the riders left in a rainstorm.  While driving, you could see the overgrown fields, out droppings and the split rail fencing.  It all  looked so real in the rain.  The riders were level, but a eventually they had to make a right turn after a 300 or 400 foot drop.  Most made the turn, some went down.  I was helping riders in the minibus with their bikes and offering any comfort I could.  Before long, the 8 seat bus was full and our driver told us at the rest stop, we had to look for another truck, because he had to make room for other riders, because he was at the back of the caravan.
  I then hooked up with Ellis, a Harrisburg native who knew who knew the local terrain and as a R2R rider, he chose to man the chase vehicle for rider support.  I saw him change tires, adjust brakes and position his truck to protect the riders.  The riders ascended up the mountain, 5500 feet, and then the fog rolled in and the wind started to howl.  We were heading up to the  Laurel Highlands, the eastern ridge of the Appalachian mountains.  Watching the riders go up 15-18 degree slopes on a wet track was extraordinary.  Some had to get off their bikes, but most didn't, as they maintained perfect cadence and slowly rode.  Watching their calves, reminded me of perfection, like Michaelangelo's David.  I only saw a few recumbents, because of the potential danger.  Lunch was at an American Legion hall in McConnelsburg, with the usual exceptional hospitality.  Some chose to take a bus directly to the hotel after lunch, which was the 58 mile mark, many continued the last 37 miles, all uphill.  As we got higher, the vistas, the mountain ranges came into play and believe it or not, the sun started to come out. 
Bedford was finally reached, but the marching band was starting to leave.   We missed the fanfare.  The faster riders were already there, the Shimano guys tending to the bikes, checking them out for bent parts.  Tyler, master Shimano tech, was adjusting someones lockin  pedals,  another tech was truing rims, while everyone was looking for their bags and get cleaned up for a 6:00 dinner at another American Legion hall.
We took buses to the Legion Hall and saw the usual excited and happy members, volunteers and officers.  This was my 6th dinner on my ride and this was the 6th consecutive night of chicken and pasta.  They must know what the riders like.  The highlight of the evening was an appearance by the parent's of 911 hero, Todd Beamer, who's heroics with other passengers, took down United Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA.  David Beamer spoke poignantly, as he shared his story with an emphasis of our country's vulnerability to radical Islam and the continued threats to our country's security.  John Worden presented him with the customary autographed R2R jersey while the picture taking went on. 
Friday we have a 72 mile ride, but Shanksville is  our first 25 mile stop and I hope I can make it, with more monster uphill climbs.  With Jerry at my back, that is my goal, even if I have to get off the bike.


Sept. 16, 2011   Day 6

Today was unbelievable. It got cold the night before, so most riders had on cold weather gear. John Wordin required that we wear our Patriotic R2R jerseys and bibs, because We were going to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, the hallowed ground at the crash site and now monument. We all left in proper fashion and proceeded nicely, until the hill climbs got unmanageable. I was only 5 miles out, but I had nothing left, as I got into Scubby's bus. As we entered the Memorial you could see a huge field, with wild flowers and some outcroppings. We got off the bus and gathered by some new pine trees next to a plaza where American Legionaires, Air Force Color Guard and other visitors were. Then tone was somber, with visitors quietly observing, as David and Peggy Beamer were there to honor their late son and hero, Todd Beamer with the entire R 2R family. John Wordin brought 3 American flags for the flag raising ceremony which the R2R riders were to participate. I was shocked and honored, when John approached me and asked me to be part of the flag raise. General Casey and 2 R2R soldiers marched to the flag pole and pulled the flag down and handed it the Air Force Color Guard to be folded in the proper manner and then returned to the General. The 3 groups followed in sequence raising and lowering their flags and then handing them to the ColorGuard to be folded. I was in the 3 rd group and the only non-military participant. The Beamers then walked to the flag pole and raised the last flag honoring their son, Todd. David spoke afterwards with the same themes he shared with us the night before, before he led all the site visitors in a acapella version of "God Bless America.". After visiting other areas of the memorial, we headed to Berlin, our American Legion Lunch stop.
The hospitality of these Americans was consistent with every other group that hosted a lunch or dinner meal. Today was sloppy joes, chips and beans. other servings included cut up fruit and assorted homemade cakes and pies. Even though I stuffed myself with lunch, I got on my bike and enjoyed a long downhill run, with speeds up to 35 to 40 mph, but then another long uphill eventually forced me to end my ride. I wish I would have stayed on for a bit longer, because the rest of the was all downhill to Maryland and the Rocky Gap Lodge Resort. A banquet dinner was followed with a large group of military going to the hotel bar, with soldiers singing like, Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I stuck around for one round of drinks and called it a night, because tomorrow's ride is 64 miles.


Sept. 17, 2011. Day 7

Another cool and sunny morning greeted the riders for a 3 state ride, that included Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Before the ride, another thrill happened to me at breakfast. I was sitting alone, with Aloha Jones, volunteer photographer for R2R, when General George Casey approached me and asked, if he could join us for breakfast. Wow!!! That got my heart pumped and shortly thereafter, we left Rocky Gap and headed for Winchester, VA. A good portion of the ride at the beginning was downhill and with some small hill climbs, but after we entered West Virginia, it all changed. The monster hill climbs were back and forced me off the bike for some of them. By mile 27.7, I was through and fell off the bike awkwardly into a guard rail, keeping me from rolling down an hillside. Scooby and the other riders saw it in the bus and told me as I got on, that the fall looked like it was happening in slow motion. I was not hurt.
We finally got to the 40 mile lunch stop which was next to the Bloomery OMPS grocery store. The USO canteen trailer was there and were starting to break camp, as the slower riders and chase vehicles arrived. I had some Rammon noodle and some Slim Jims. I helped with clean up and got a ride from Lee, one the R2R volunteers who had bikes and other supplies in her long wheel base passenger van. I was tired and didn't want to get stuck in Scooby's bus, because he was following the last group and I knew he'd be the last one to the hotel.
Tonight was our last dinner and our host was another American Legion hall. Upon arrival to my hotel, I saw within walking distance a Texas Longhorn Steak House and Saloon. My mouth watered as I thought of ditching the group and ordering a big steak and potato. After cleaning up, my decision was made, I was going out for steak. Entering the restaurant, I was looking for other R2R riders, who may have had the same supper thoughts and wanted a big fat steak. I ran into 4 riders and asked if I could join them. We found a bigger table and proceeded to have the most wonderful dinner date. I knew 3 of the 4 riders from our ride, and we went around the table sharing our stories. One rider was a 26 year Army vet who just retired from the army. I found out later, he is a writer and has books on Amazon. Another rider enlisted in the Army in 2002 and was an MP, with 3 tours of duty in Iraq. The last military rider only spoke of her family, she looking very young, but with 4 children, including a 19 year old. The commonality of the 3 is PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a mental illness that afflicts most serviceman. This is the silent taboo that wasn't recognized or treated in earlier wars. The dinner ended too early and we walked back to our hotels for an early night, because we have a 72 mile ride tomorrow that ends at the Pentagon, our last stop.

Sept. 18, 2011.  Day 8

Today was our last day and our schedule was tight.  We had to go 72 miles and be at the Pentagon by 2:00.  I was up at 5:00, breakfast at 5:30, ride briefing at 7:00 and a ride start at 7:15.  My bike was still in chase vehicle 14, with a twisted right hand break from my fall yesterday.  Lynn also asked me to get taped earlier, because she had a growing list of other riders who needed her medical expertise.  Another problem was that it was still dark outside until 6:30 or so.  Everything came together though and we left on time.
Because it was our last day, everyone rode.  The flotilla of riders started south, as we left Winchester VA, and headed for a real nice bike path which forced us to ride, 2 x 2.  It was neat, because there were hundreds of riders going the other way, on some sort of ride, because they all had numbered signs on their handle bars.  The Virginia countryside was beautiful with huge lots and sprawling homes.  The riders pace was fast and the 20 miles or so I rode seemed to feel like a sprint.  We entered an Interstate highway and had State Police blocking entrance and exit ramps, as we continued.  We were told there was only one big hill climb, but as usual, the ride director lied, and the second hill climb did me in.  I got in Scooby's bus again and found the same usual suspects, the weaker riders.  We all met at a rest stop, a local gas station and I began taking a lot of pictures of riders,  because I knew the ride was almost over.  I got back in the bus and we headed for our last lunch stop in Great Falls, Virginia.  On the way, we went through some small towns that were impacted from the Civil War.  We passed legendary towns like, Leesburg, which was where the Confederate Army, won a historic battle, called the Battle at Balls Bluff.   When we finally got to our lunch stop,the space was loaded with riders, not just R2R riders, but several groups of local riders who were going to join us for our last 17 miles to the Pentagon.
I had a chance to meet Sloan Gibson, the national director of the USO.  He was going to join us for our last ride leg.  I had a chance to visit with General George Casey again, as we talked about golf and our summer homes, his being on the beach in Mass.  The USO canteen trailer was there serving the usual faire.  I enjoyed my last cup of Ramman noodle and a couple of bananas.  At 12:30 the riders headed out and it seemed like our riding group had grown to 500 riders.  Again we were 2 x 2 and went down a road that would take us to the Pentagon.  The homes were just as beautiful as the ones in Virginia, sprawling on both sides.  We then entered D.C. and media trucks started popping up all over the place taking videos of the riders.  Soon we were able to see the Washington monument and I knew we were getting close.    We then made a few turns and had a few small hill climbs, and I then felt a hand at my back and it was John Wordin, helping me ride the last few miles.  Soon the Pentagon came into view and volumes of people waved and cheered us on while we entered the Pentagon parking lot.  The ride was over.  All the riders were asked to come to the new Pentagon Memorial, the site of where American Airline Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.  We were greeted by Commandant James Amos, the head of the U.S. Marines.  He explained to us how the Pentagon Memorial was created, with sloping benches coming out of fountains of water.  Some benches pointed away, represent those killed in the Pentagon and others pointed towards the Pentagon, those killed on AA77  Deborah Burlingame was introduced, the wife of the killed pilot on AA77, and  she spoke of our courage and thanked us for riding in memory of all the 9/11 victims.   All the riders lined up for one last group photo, as hundreds of people began taking pictures of the riders for the last time.
All the riders were invited to Fort Myer, an Army Base,for a special ceremony and reception.  We rode as a group and entered a gate without the usual scrutiny one would expect on an Army Base.  Soon we heard patriotic music being played by a U.S. Marine Military Fife Band, as we parked our bikes and entered Henderson Hall for our last group meal and some sentimental gifts that were passed out to us from the  U.S. Army.  All the riders hugged each other as we said our good byes.  We then rode to the Arlington Sheraton to pack up our bikes, clean up and make our way to the Airport.  560 miles later, the ride was over and what will always be remembered to me as a life changing experience.
A final blog will be written encompassing my 9 day ride experience and how it affected me, probably for the rest of my life.

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The Gulf Coast Challenge


March 2, 2012 Gulf Coast Challenge Pre-Ride

After getting an award seat in First Class, my arrival in New Orleans went without a hitch, sans major turbulence for the first hour of our flight.  Little did we know that tornados were destroying the Midwest below us, with death and destruction.  My old Tulane friend, Alan Smason, picked me up at the airport and our first stop was a regular lunch spot from my college days called Domilise's.  After devouring a fried oyster po-boy, we went to the PBS studio, WYES, and I watched a taping of a local show, called Stepping Out, which is a show like, ABC's 190North, a show which previews New Orleans culture.  Alan is a featured panelist who reviews and previews New Orleans theater.  He dropped me off at the hotel, Hyatt Regency New Orleans, afterwards, that just reopened following a $300Million renovation, post Katrina.  I met up with some R2R staff and scheduled a dinner party for eight, at Dickie Brennan's Palace Cafe.  We all enjoyed the Cajun food and subsequently walked off dinner in the French Quarter.  We walked up Royal and saw magnificent French antique stores, made a left on St. Louis and crashed Antoine's restaurant, where I gave everyone a tour of the of this historical gem.  Dining rooms include, Wine, 1840, Escargot, Rex and Proteous rooms to name a few.  These dining rooms include vintage photos, Mardis Gras costumes, including all the props, beads and Mardis GRAS doubloons.  Our tired group walked back to our hotel, after a brief stroll on Bourbon Street.


March 3, 2012   Day 2 GCC Pre-Ride
After hosting such a wonderful dinner party, John Wordin, President of Ride2Recovery, asked me if I was interested in giving a tour of New Orleans, on our bikes.  Our ride group included Sara Bell, John's assistant and Jim Penseyres, veteran and R2R staff bike fitter.  I suggested we start our ride with a stop at Cafe  Dumond, a historic coffee shop that brews coffee and chicory and makes donuts called beignets, a New Orleans specialty.  Afterwards we biked up the Mississippi river on the landmark Riverwalk.  We then headed up St. Charles Ave. and made our way uptown.  We made a left on Louisiana Ave. and headed to another New Orleans gem, the Garden district, which features magnificent antebellum homes.  We segued up Prytania St. and entered the beautiful Audobon Park.  Audubon Park is just how I remembered from my college days, with huge oak trees, with hanging Spanish moss.  The park was busy with walkers, cyclers, golfers and families.  We headed North, got back to St. Charles and entered the Tulane campus, which is directly across the street from the park.  Being at Tulane, gave me a dejavu, as I shared old college stories and pointed out the beautiful historic buildings.  We headed back downtown so we could be there for the 11:00 a.m. R2R rider registration.  It was great to see my R2R family, as we shared stories again from our 9/11 ride last September.  Lunch followed with oysters on the half shell and another oyster po-boy.  The afternoon included a mandatory ride meeting at 3:00, going over all the rules of the ride/road.
Dinner was called for 7:00 in the opulent hotel ballroom.  Our dinner cuisine included red beans and rice, seafood gumbo, and a spicy chicken dish.  Dessert included bread pudding, with creme fraiche and square pecan bars.  Our dinner speakers included title sponsor, United Health Care and Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed (USMC, Ret.).  The Lt. Col. was a pretty funny guy, who asked us to spend money in our restaurants, bars, and suggested parking tickets were okay, too.  He said New Orleans needs the revenue.  Lastly, he said be careful, because we don't mind the money, in the event you get arrested.  The house cracked up and you could here Marines with their customary call, Oorah, battle cry!!  The night ended with a few drinks at the comfortable hotel bar.  I was so tired and I never made it back to the French Quarter.


March 4.  Day 3  Let's ride!
The day started at 6:00 a.m. of packing our bags, breakfast and a 8:15 ride briefing.  The sun was out, as we made our way to the National World War II Museum, our first stop.  We were treated to an unbelievable performance by the "Victory Belles", a vocal trio who sang all the old standards from the World War II era and could have been mistaken for the Andrew Sisters, in their vintage uniforms, hairdos, make up and 3 part harmonies.  Presentations were given by a local Army Lt. Colenel and R2R rider Michael McNaughton, new Director of Veteran Affairs for the state of Louisiana.  A special guest made an appearance and spoke briefly, Paul Prudhomee, chef and restauranteur of the legendary K-Paul Louisiana Kitchen, a French Quarter landmark.
We finally departed on our ride, which took us back up the Mississippi river, and East out of downtown New Orleans.  The ride continued through some of the devastated parts of New Orleans, that are still trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina.  Our ride made it's way up Elysian Fields, and then turned east up Robertson crossing the famous Desire street.  We crossed a bridge out of New Orleans and climbed and then I witnessed a terrible bike accident on the downhill, a cycler losing control, flying off the bike and rolling down the bridge like a rag doll.  He was finished for the day.  Ride highlights included cycling through the bayous and forests of Louisiana, as we made our way into Mississippi.  At mile marker 60, we were hosted to a nice lunch by a local Americam Legion Auxillary Post 77 in Waveland MS.  Before long, the Gulf of Mexico was on our right and old Civil War homes were on our left as we made our way to Bay St. Louis and our last stop Gulfport, 79.1 miles from New Orleans.  Needless to say, I was beat, with sore thighs, hands, shoulders and neck.  Two Advils later, I cleaned up and enjoyed a 7:00 dinner hosted in our hotel, by the same American Legion Post.
Dinner included, pulled pork, beans, potato salad and cole slaw.  Tonight's speakers included, the mayor of Gulf Port, rider and USO executive, Jeff Kent  and Congressman Steven Palazzo.  Additional highlights included a $10,000 check from the American Legion Post and some crude comedy from some local comedy clubs.  Tomorrow is another long ride, 65 miles to Mobile, AL.

March 5, 2012.  Day 4   Another day of beautiful sunshine in Gulfport, MS.   The Gulf of Mexico was sparkling  without a cloud in the sky.  Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel returned and gave a great send off to the riders and shared what a wonderful home it is for Military veterans.  There is a lot of Military industry on the Gulf coast, including the builder of drones that have been very successful on our war on terror.  Our first stop was a Military retirement community with magnificent grounds and newer buildings.  The veterans were lined up cheering and sharing their stories with the riders.  We then headed over to Keesler Air Force Base and did a ceremonial loop around their entire facility of barracks, a small airport, and a golf course that was being enjoyed by servicemen and their wives.  We saw cadets jogging and the riders were yelling out, Oorah, you dirty dogs and Semper Fi. We then got back on Highway 90, that is just above the Gulf and continued on to Biloxi, where we saw some rebuilding going on and several casinos.  We then rode up to a huge bridge, with plenty of  hill climb, over the Bay of Biloxi and enjoyed the panoramic views.  We then left the coast continuing east and headed to Pascagula, where the the Gulf returned and crossed 2 tall bridges and that's where I had my first flat tire.  A Shimano mechanic was right behind me and he and Danny Lupold, an R2R staff rider, did a quick tire and wheel change in less than 30 seconds, and then I was back on the road. We finally got to the 35 mile mark and American Legion Post 160 hosted lunch, with a Mardis Gras theme.  Lunch consisted of the usual peanut butter and honey sandwiches, Ramen noodle, cut up oranges, bananas and assorted desserts.  At mile 48, we entered Alabama state line, as the riders cried out some redneck slang.  We finally reached Mobile, which is miles North from the coast and at 70 miles, entered the Holiday Inn.  We were greeted by Army soldiers, in their digital camo and they assisted us with our bags.  Entering the hotel, we saw 8 or 9 massueses from a local Massage Envy offering free massages.   I signed up and 45 minutes later I had a serious neck and shoulder massage, including stretching of my legs and arms.  I was in a daze, as I heard Chris Swan, R2R staff member, an announce that the bus was leaving in 2 minutes.  I sprinted to my room, changed and just made the bus, as we enjoyed another dinner from American Legion Post 250, which included pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans and potato chips.  We returned to our hotel after announcements and 2 rounds of Happy Birthday for one R2R rider and one staff member. Upon our return, the USO set-up a Casino Night, which every person was given $2000. in fake money, with a picture of Jeff Hill, V.P. USO U.S. Operations on it.  The games included black jack, poker games, roulette and a craps.  The action was loud and the riders got to turn in their winnings, with a chance to win raffle prizes that included an iPod, digital camera, a Kindle and 2 Guitar Heroes.  A good time was had by all. Lastly, I wanted to share with you my ride success.  I have completed 151 miles in 2 days, and have burned off more than 10,000 calories, according to my Garmin.  The ride continues tomorrow, with another 79 miles as we enter Orange Beach and a NASCAR night, which is in the works.


March 6, 2011.  Day 5
Another beautiful morning in the South.  Once again plenty of sunshine, but we  had a 15 to 20 mile an hour headwind, which stayed with us all day.  The pace was fast and the hills in Mobile, AL were brutal.  After  breakfast, we headed to downtown Mobile to have a meet and great with  Mayor Sam Jones.  He invited his city council to participate in the  ceremony, where we heard great news with the Mobile Police.  They agreed to let us use their underground tunnel which goes under a large portion of Mobile Bay.  This allowed us to cut 8 miles from our ride.  Cheers  followed.  Afterwards, we rode to the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Park on  Mobile Bay. Aside from the battleship, there were retired airplanes,  helicopters and monuments.  We stayed for about 30 minutes and took  pictures of these Military relics.
After we left, the hills going south became an obstacle for the weaker riders.  We were told earlier in our ride briefing, that lunch was at mile 31.   Between the hills and  the headwinds, it felt like 100 miles.  Even with R2R staff riders at my back, literally pull me along, the hills wore me out and I bailed with 1 or 2 miles short of our lunch stop.  However, after a lunch of Ramen  noodle, oranges, honey roasted nuts and Monster drink beverages, I got  back on my bike and finished the ride, going another32 miles.  My 3 day  total is approximately 215 miles and I've burned over 14,500 calories.
We finally made our way to Orange  Beach, our last night in Alabama.  We  are in a Hilton Garden Inn hotel, and me and my roommate, Andy, have a  beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico. Tonight was another American  Legion dinner, with Post 44 in Gulf Shores, AL.  What made this night a  bit different, we had a reception with up to 25 Legion members, both  husbands and wives, greeting each rider with handshakes and hugs,  thanking them all for their Service in the Military.  The dinner was  delicious, which include hot bread, salad, spaghetti, followed by white  cake.  John Wordin donated another signed jersey to the Legion Commander and then I put the thought in John's head to ask the Legion Pastor to  pray for a wind shift.  His prayers were heard and we hope for winds out of the west at our backs to make our 72 mile ride to Ft. Walton Beach  more manageable.
Lastly, I want to share with you, the love and  patriotism that Southern Americans have shown throughout our 3 day  ride.  Streets are lined with these citizens and the cheers and love  they show is extraordinary.  I saw a sign yesterday that says it all,  "Because of you, we are free.". The ride wraps up Friday for me, when we finish in Tallahassee.

March 7, 2011.   Day 6
Even with our American Legion Pastor praying for wind conditions for our  ride, the wind got even heavier and the sunshine disappeared, with dark  clouds. Although I've ridden 215 out of 217 miles, I didn't feel great  when I woke up and I figured I was good for maybe 15 to 20 miles.  The  ride from Orange Beach, AL. to Ft. Walton Beach, FL. is 74 miles.  I did make one brilliant decision though, I decided to switch and ride with  the "D" newer riders, instead of the "C" better riders.  There are "A"  and "B" riders, as well, but they are in a total different class.  I  felt that yesterday's pace wore me out with going 15-16 mph, in a 20 mph headwind and today felt like 25 mph winds, with gusts over 30 mph. 
We left at 9:00 and started with a slow pace of 10-11 mph.  We were  bunched up, for the purpose of drafting, which means that the riders in  front block a good portion of the wind.  I had a gas!!  We had riders in our group called,  "Redneck", "Tugboat", "Seabass" and of course,  Gramps, which is R2R staff rider, Jim Penseyres. 
The wind blowing  on the beach was rough, but we kept plodding along.  My Garmin, which  records time, miles and calories went dead 5 minutes into the ride, so I didn't have the tools to help me.  The first  7 miles were on the  beach, but then we entered Florida and went a little North and trees and homes blocked some of the bluster.   At this point, the sun decided to  come out, but the strong winds continued.  We entered the Pensacola city limits, where we stopped for an early lunch at American Legion Post  33.  The early lunch gave me the energy I needed to keep going and then  we came across a long bridge with a big hill.  As we were going up, I  got stuck behind a slow recumbent bike.  I went around the rider and  powered myself up the hill and then crashed, when my wheel hit my pedal  cage while I was riding and I wiped out.  I went down hard on my right  elbow and forearm.  The good news was, that we were going up a hill and  with little speed, so my road rash was minimal.  I did get back on the  bike and kept going.  After crossing the bridge, we went east to Gulf  Breeze Pensacola and went back on the beach road.  The winds were so  strong for the next 10 miles there was a mini sand storm.  There were no boats out or sun bathers.  We did see a couple of kite board sailors,  but it certainly wasn't a beach day.  We stayed in our pack and carried  on.  We took a couple of water breaks, to hydrate and rest and kept  going.  I went another 50 miles and finished the ride adding 74 miles to my new total of 289 miles of riding in 4 days.
Dinner was at another American Legion Post and we had a repeat of salad and spaghetti and  meatballs.  Tonight was Beach Volley Ball night with ice cream sundaes.  The USO continues to add quality entertainment to our wounded  veterans.  Tomorrow, we head to Panama City, a shorter ride of 59  miles.  Let's pray for a wind shift!!

March 8/9, 2012.  Days 7/8
I never got a chance to write last night, because of last night's  activities which included a fried chicken dinner at a Shriner's  clubhouse.  Because of the long ride to Tallahassee, we had specific  instructions for today's ride, including a time change to EST and a 108  mile leg.
Yesterday's ride, however, was the shortest leg of the  week, only 59 miles.  We left Ft. Walton Beach yesterday to promising  skies and a little less wind.  A JrROTC group led the Pledge of  Allegiance and then we made our way east.  Other than beach towns, there was no historical elements in yesterday's ride, however, on the way to  Panama City, we passed through a couple of newer beach communities.   Wyse and Rosemary Beach had the cutest little town and newer homes,  apartments and shops, than anything I've seen on our Beach ride.   The  headwinds still were there, but with tight drafting, we kept up a decent pace.  When we got to mile 50, I hit a wall and several riders, Terri,  Ray, Dan, Danny Jerry and Robert helped me make it to the hotel, by  having my back.  Our rooms weren't ready, but our hotel, Wyndham Bay  Resort, had a spa.  Although I couldn't get any spa services, they were  booked, it gave me a chance to use there jacuzzi and shower facilities,  which were new and impressive.  Like I said, the Shriner's served us a  delicious chicken dinner and gave us a chance to enjoy something, other  than pasta.  Afterwards, the USO had an evening planned of, America's  Got Talent.  Karoke at its finest entertained the riders and the top  entertainer received a Kindle. Being my last night on the ride, I wanted to get out a bit and took a cab to Pineapple Willie's a old family  owned restaurant bar on the beach in Panama City.  I rounded up a few  riders and enjoyed a few drinks, alligator bites and nachos, and  some  terrific Raggae which  now brings me to today.
Everyone was up early as we end the ride today in Tallahassee.  Because of the length of  today's ride, 108 miles, all groups other than 108 ride milers were  driven to a point, 37 miles closer to Tallahassee, which is where most  riders began their ride.  Because of my sore ribs, I'm taking the  morning portion of the ride off, but I will finish the last 15 miles  with the entire group, at our coordinated last lunch stop.  That's it  for now, I'm in a chase car picking up riders who ran out of gas and our now joining me and driver, Robert, in Van #6.  Our driver Robert, is  Army in Ft. Polk, Louisiana and was recruited just to,assist the riders  by blocking traffic and, offering rides to riders as they wear out.
Tonight I'll finish up my blog, as I say goodbye to all my wonderful Military friends and staff from Ride2Recovery.

 

March 9, 2012. The Ride Ends

Van #6 finally arrives for the final lunch stop of the ride.  Robert, our driver had picked up 2 more tired and weary cyclers, and the 3 of us walk to the USO Canteen for our final tasting of lunch, R2R style, Ramen noodle, Chili Mac, Bananas, oranges, pickles and energy snacks.  We fill our water bottles for the last time, as we wait for the rest of riders to meet up with us so we can ride together for the final 15 miles to Tallahassee.  They finally show up and we all start clapping, congratulating them for their efforts, because 20 or so of the riders started 108 miles back and are ready to join the rest of the fleet.  Those riders finish their  lunch and we line up for the final time.  You could start to feel the emotion and the sadness that the ride will soon be over.Soon the Florida State Police and County Sheriffs join us and escort us for the final miles.  The pace is quick and we see more flags and Americans cheering us on as we make our way Downtown. 
We fight the last few hill climbs and know that our final destination is close.  After a few turns we make our way to the Doubletree Hotel in Tallahassee.  The streets are narrow and then we are asked to ride one more lap, to City Hall.  As we circle, we see more signs and thank you's and waves from City officials.  We return to our hotels and get off out bikes for the last time.  Many of the riders start hugging each other, because they know that we completed this ride together.  It wasn't about any individual, but the group and the support we have shown for one another during the week.

Some lyrics from the music of Spring Awakening, the musical, epitomize this week:

Those you've known, and lost they walk behind you,
All alone, they linger till they find you,
Without them, the world goes dark around you,
And nothing is the same, until you know that they have found you.

Now they'll walk on my arm through the distant night.
And I won't let them stray from my heart
Through the wind, through the dark, through the winter light
I will read all their dreams to the stars

I'll walk now with them
I'll call on their names
I'll see their thoughts are known

I'll never let them go
They walk with my heart

And one day all will know

Lyrics(assorted)-Steven Sater


The Minuteman Challenge

September 10, 2013 

Day 1

Yesterday's journey to Boston could have started out better, with a 3:30 wake up call, and with a canceled flight and a rebooked flight 3 hours later, it all didn't really matter, because any day that starts a Ride2recovery Challenge,  is okay by me.  Finally arriving at the hotel after 2:00, it started with hugs with my fellow riders and then I unpacked my bike and put it together.  At 4:00 we had our mandatory rider orientation and then a 6:00 dinner hosted by United Health Care.  Because of my early wake up call, by 9:00, I hit the sack and got ready for today's ride from Quincy, MA to Providence, RI, 52 miles south.
Today, we had a later than usual start, to allow the riders a break, because tomorrow we ride 73 mile to Hartford, Conn.
At the start, the riders were anxious, because of the late start, but by 9:30 we made our way to Foxboro, to enjoy our first break and lunch at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.  We had little or no support from local police, to help us cross busy streets, initially, but with 200 riders, later in the morning portion of the ride, they seemed to find us, and with the help of the Harley riders, we never made a stop.
I felt the tone of the ride was different from last year's 9/11 ride, the 10 year anniversary of 9/11.  With the exception of the a few workers, we really didn't see anyone watching us, offering support and encouragement, like we did a year earlier.  I don't think it bothered the riders, but I sensed a big difference.  I did see a fireman saluting us as we went by, but no schools or business's cheering us on as we continued.The ride did include a few hill climbs, but nothing too difficult, as we made our way to Foxboro.
During our lunch break, we got a chance to walk on the field to take pictures and hot dog.  Many of the riders were Tebowing at the 50 yard line, posing for pictures and having a good time.  We finally made our way to Providence, with some interesting streets, scenery and history.  While the route was no Valley Forge, we did see some Pre Civil War homes and old stack stone fencing.  The hill climbs weren't too bad and we made our 29 post lunch ride in less than 2 hours, as the pace was brisk, because it was Day 1 and more difficult portions of the ride are forthcoming.
Dinner was hosted by a local American Legion Post at our hotel.  The cuisine was the usual pasta and chicken, but on R2R rides, meals are of little consequence, because the riders main mission is to ride and offer support to their fellow riders, as needed.  After dinner, our speaker was a United Health Care VP, who offered encouragement and gratitude to our wonderful military who come to these rides to be challenged, physically, mentally and emotionally. We were told that tomorrow's 73 mile ride is loaded with hills, but I will give it my all and hope to ride all 73.
Lastly, I wanted to share with you my reason for riding.  I love the challenge and the camaraderie, but fundraising, to help these fine people, is a big part of my mission.  Today I was e-mailed with several notifications that donations are being made, but one of the them was extraordinary.  I received a $500.00 donation from one of my Subaru customers, C. Smith.  I was blown away and I immediately called her and thanked her.  My voice quivered as I told her my appreciation for her kindness.  The feelings I feel this week guide me as I continue to offer support anyway I can to these brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for me and America!!


Day 2
After a lunch stop at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, we rode the remaining 29 miles to Providence.  The following day was September 11, the eleven year anniversary of the airplane attacks on our soil.  We rode our bikes to the Providence State House where ceremonies of speeches were held.  John Wordin, President of Ride2Recovery, spoke first and shared with us why we were there.  Our next speaker was, General George Casey, 4 Star Army General who again spoke of our mission and the heroics of the riders who served and sacrificed.  At 8:46, there was a moment of silence, to remind us of the first airplane that hit the South World Trade Center Building.  Lastly, the Lt. Governor of Rhode Island wished us a safe ride and after posing for a group picture on the State House steps, we made our way to Hartford.
The 66 mile leg to Hartford Ct. was okay in the beginning, but after 40 or so miles, my neck and left shoulder started to bother me.  My ride for the day was over, as I got on the Scooby 2, and helped other riders, who dropped out, too.
Soon we approached downtown Hartford and saw thousands of people, 5 deep on Conneticut Street, all wearing blue shirts, United Health Care employees, waving flags yelling USA, USA!!  We ended up at Bushnell Park, adjacent to the capital building.  Again, there were ceremonies honoring the riders, but 2 riders got a special tribute.  Valerie Gambino, lost her fireman brother, Thomas on 9/11 and first responder, Sean Reilly, of Brooklyn was also honored.  They both spoke eloquently about their feelings on such a horrible day in American history.  Later that evening we had a dinner hosted by a Local American Legion Post.  It was lights out early, as we got ready for our next leg, New London, CT.

Day 3
The following morning, Bruce Gustafson, Ride Director, told us of some major hill climbs leaving Hartford.  Valerie Gambino and a few other riders decided to hang in Scooby 1 for the first 20 miles and joined the riders for the last 40 at the water break stop.  Halfway there, we had our lunch stop that consisted of the usual lunch faire of Ramen noodle, chili Mac, bananas, oranges, pickles, energy bars and energy drinks.  Quickly, we left and before long, we entered the Naval Submarine Base in New London. The sailors were waiting for us as thousands of them cheered us on and high fiving us as we passed.  We exited the base and crossed the Thames River on a very narrow bike path, one by one.  We regrouped after we crossed and before long found our way to our hotel.  Dinner was back at the  Submarine Base, but my roommate, Andy, and I decided to ditch the group and head to Mystic, Ct., to enjoy some seafood.
I never made the connection, until we got there, but Mystic is famous for their pizza and a well known old movie, Mystic Pizza, with Julia Roberts.  Dinner was delicious as I enjoyed a dozen oysters, a salad and a dish called seafood ambrosia, which was scallops, shrimp and crabmeat au gratin.  Afterwards we walked over to Mystic Pizza and got a large deluxe pizza that we brought back to the hotel for the riders, it was consumed in minutes.

Day 4
The next morning started out with a 2 mile ride to the New London Ferry, where we boarded and enjoyed a 90 minute ferry ride to the east end of Long Island.  We took pics on the top deck and anxiously awaited our Long Island ride.  Once we docked, we rode off the ferry and made our way on Highway 25 which dissects Long Island in half, north and south.  The pace was quick, as we had a 96 mile leg to Glen Cove, our final stop.  We saw beautiful beach communities and plenty of vineyards, as we made our way west.  For some reason, I noticed a tremendous amount of road kill of small animals and even a small deer.  Our lunch stop was 25 miles later, at a beautiful vineyard.  everybody was looking for shade as temperatures were near 80 and with our quick pace of 17, 18 and 19 mph, everyone was hot and sweaty.  Lunch was the usual and within 25 minutes, we were back on our bikes.  We continued west and Long Island started to look more metro, as we reached neighborhoods and shopping malls.  I packed it in 20 or so miles later, with the same aches and pains.  Eventually, the hills became problematic for the riders as we stopped at the local VA for a break.  I noticed a female rider being attended to by paramedics.  From what I understand, she was with the "A/B" riding group and crashed pretty bad.  The put neck supports on her and put her on a gurney and then an ambulance, which took her to a local emergency room.  I never heard anything about her condition, but the riders continued on to Glen Cove.  The final 20 miles or so were extremely treacherous, as I rode with a support car, following the "A/B" riders.  The terrain included some 12-15 degree grades and I saw the group struggling up the hills, but slowly they made there way to our final stop, the Glen Cove Mansion.  Once we arrived, I noticed many of the riders riding circles around the property.  I couldn't quite figure it out, until I was told they wanted to complete a "century"' a 100 mile ride.  Andy and I cleaned up and went to the bar for a drink, when we saw General George Casey enjoying a beer.  We ordered and then the General made a toast, "here's to the old guys!!"  We clinked our glasses and had a chuckle!!  We took a bus to the Glen Cove Golf Club, where we enjoyed a patio dining of chicken and pasta.  We hurried back to the hotel, to watch the Bear game, but the hotel did not have the NFL network, so we went to bed, disappointed.  We set our alarms for a 4:30 wake up call.  We had a ride to Macy's in Manhattan for a 7:30 breakfast.

Day 5
The ride briefing began at 5:15a.m. In darkness.  I chose to board a bus and join the riders in Queens, NY, for our ride to Manhattan.  I wasn't alone as 20-30 decided that riding in the dark could be a problem.  30 minutes later the bus took us to a parking lot, where we got our bikes ready.  Shortly thereafter, we saw John Wordin, leading the riders and we joined them as we made our way south to Macy's.  After crossing the Queensboro Bridge, very cool, we made our way to 1st Ave. and before long we were at Macy's on 34th St.  We parked our bikes and walked in the department store where we saw a wonderful buffet of eggs, bacon, sausage, French toast, yogurts, bagels and sweet rolls.  All the riders loaded up as we got to meet Harry Carson, Hall of Fame football player, with the New York Giants.  Everyone posed for pictures, as we went outside for some speeches by Macy's executives, new sponsors for R2R.  The New York Police Department Band played patriotic music and then the National Anthem.  Speeches continued, before we made our next stop to the 9/11 Memorial.  The hallowed ground was awe inspiring where we saw 30 foot waterfalls flowing over the footprint of both the North and south towers of the World Trade Center.  There was a wreath laying ceremony, honoring a recovering victim of 9/11, as well as both Valerie Gambino and Sean Reilly.  We quietly spent an hour there, until we rode our bikes to our hotel, in Ft. Lee New Jersey.  We enjoyed a bike path on the west side of Manhattan, which was adjacent to the Hudson River.  Eventually we made our way to the George Washington Bridge, which included some serious hill climbs to get there.  I felt Brian Smith's hand on my back and he helped me up the bridge.  we got to our hotel by 1:30, but unfortunately our rooms weren't ready and we just hung out, sweaty and tired from our 30 or so mile New York City ride.
The evening started out with a pizza party at our hotel and then we boarded buses to our journey to Times Square and a performance of Tony award winning, Porgy and Bess.  The USO of New York, R2R and myself hosted the riders to the Broadway show, which included a talk back, by the entire cast, following the show.  My friend, Michael Alden, Producer of P &B, helped me arrange the terrific evening.

Day 6
The following morning we loaded buses, which took us to West Point, for the Army football game.  The grounds were beautiful, with plenty of hills and forests.  The campus included some older buildings, mixed in with the new.  Miche Stadium, home of the Army Black Knights, was up on a hill as the buses parked and we walked to our seats.  The stadium was loaded with young cadets as they stood the entire game cheering on the home team.  Unfortunately, Army lost a close game to Northern Illinois University, 41-40.
Afterwards, the buses took us to American Legion Post 1, for our last dinner as a group. Dinner was terrific, with chicken, turkey, fish and pasta and wonderful desserts.  Following dinner was a ceremony for our POW/MIAs.  Over 88,000 soldiers have not returned home from our wars and a ceremony consisted of speeches and gun salutes.  The tired riders boarded the buses for our last night together.

Day 7
Honor Ride and Travel Day.
Sunday consisted of an Honor Ride, a ride open to the public to join the R2R riders.  we made our way up the west side of the Hudson River, which included many river communities and beautiful scenes.  I took the shorter 20 mile ride and returned to the parking lot to put my bike up and to say good bye.
I have to say, now that I've ridden on 3 Challenges, my feelings didn't include some of the sadness I felt before.  Maybe because I know I'm going to be riding with them again and the convenience of staying in touch on Facebook, the R2R forum that the riders connect on.
Next year, I'll be riding the Texas Challenge.  I've heard the ride is exceptional, with the flat plains of Texas and good old Southern hospitality.  That will be my next Blog!!
I want to thank again, all my ride sponsors.   Anyone can still sponsor my ride challenge.  I have raised close to $3000. and will match whatever my ride total brings.  Because of these riders, we are free!!



The Texas Challenge

March 22-23 2104, Texas Challenge, Days 1 and 2

Travel day is always and important day with Ride2Recovery. The anticipation of wondering what old friends and new friends will be riding this year's Texas Challenge. Hospitality is the key word when talking about the Texas. This is Texas where everything is big. After checking in at American Airlines, it was nice that they waived both my bag and bike bag fee. I have heard some pretty bad stories of how our Military have to fight to get bags fees waived or reduced. Some airlines have charged $200.00 for the bike bag/case fee. Getting picked up by the Marriott North Houston shuttle was easy, and I quickly brought my bike to the bike room and registered for the Challenge. A mandatory health fair is required and I did 19 push ups and 1:30 in the plank position. Not bad for 61 year old.
The usual hugs followed and we got our R2R goodie bags, filled with the new R2R kit, jersey and Bibb, with rich reds and royal blue colors. We then sat through our usual rider orientation and then enjoyed a lovely hotel dinner of chicken and pasta, hosted by Joe Myers Ford.

Today was a 85.7 mile first leg and with head winds and cool temperatures, John Wordin, President of R2R suggested that Delta Company, my ride group, take a bus to the first water break stop, 20 miles away, and rest and wait for the better riders, and do a 65.7 miler. It turned out to be a good idea. Delta Company was met by volunteers, veterans and politicians from the host city of our first stop, Tomball. With flags waving and Eagle Scouts greeting us and giving us a special coin, each side with the city of Tomball and R2R. Coins and the Military have a rich history, given out by leading Politicians and all branches of the Military. I was glad I layered up for this ride, because the temperatures were dropping and the winds were blowing. Proclamations were made by the Mayor, Chief of Police and the local County Commissioner, as the Tomball veterans were holding flags in a ceremonial formation. Shortly thereafter, we were on our way to College Station, home of the Texas Aggies. 25 miles later of socializing with the riders, in our 2by 2 positions, we made a water stop at a local gas station, representing itself as a General store. I got a cappuccino and a Kind bar and then I sat down and rested. We continues northwest, in a 10-15 mph head wind. The pace was slow, but before long just 17 miles later was lunch, at the Navasota City Hall. The USO Canteen was there and riders devoured snacks and peanut butter and honey sandwiches. My lunch was the usual Ramen noodle, a Slim Jim and a Snickers bar. The final 24 miles were problematic for me, with neck and leg pain. As I started to drift back of the pack, it was great to feel a hand on my back from John, Jennifer and Denny, pushing me along, helping me get through the final 5 miles or so. My head was playing mind games, telling me to quit or holding on and finishing. Fortunately, I finished, which always brings on a feeling of personal success of this leg of the Challenge, in such difficult riding conditions.

Dinner was at the Texas A &M Student Recreation Center, in a large private room, and the usual chicken and pasta was the cuisine of the evening. Our Texas A&M hosts made speeches of thanks and hope that Ride2Recovery will come through College Station again. The university is known to develope the most major Military Brass, other than the Military colleges, in the nation. A highlight of the evening was a reunion with Vice President of Student Affairs, General Joe Weber and R2R rider, Dave Johnson. Dave served under the General in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005. Knowing we have a 100.8 mile ride tomorrow to Georgetown, John Wordin, called the evening as the tired riders made their way to the buses to get them back to the hotel for a good night sleep. We have a ride briefing at 7:45 tomorrow mornign and we depart College Station at 8:00 for a long day of riding to Georgetown, Texas.

 

March 24, 2014. Texas Challenge, Day 2

Century Day.  A Century is a 100 mile ride.  With a stop at the George Bush Presidential Library for a group shot on the Texas A & M campus, the ride was actually 102.8 miles, with Bonus Miles figured in.  We took a quick group picture and made our way west to Georgetown.  Luckily, the wind was at our back, as we left College Station.  The pace was quick, averaging some speeds over 20 mph.  My average is 12-15, so I was being pushed.  Soon we were in the Texas countryside, where the blue bonnets were in bloom, and  cattle ranches with huge meadows and lots of green grass.  The smells were incredible, with the freshness of Spring and the occasional dung aroma.  The roads were okay, but as we went farther, the roads were pebble like, which brought with it some vibration  which I could feel in my hands and legs. 
Our first water stop was at mile 25 at a municipal park.  I enjoyed some Gatorade and 2 Kind snack bars.  We continued west, as the cattle and horses were watching us ride, with some horses running with us in their pastures.  As the roads got rougher, we slowed down a bit and then some small hills, I call them bumps, had to be challenged with our first real climbs in Texas.  With an overall elevation of 2195 feet, the climbs got a little steeper as we headed west.  Our next stop was at mile 51, in Rockdale, at their famed Railroad Depot.  Lunch was only 10 miles further, at 61 miles, at a property called Apache Pass.   With beautiful grounds, including a 325' suspension bridge, crossing the San Gabriel River, the scenery of the setting was calming to the me and the riders.  The USO Canteen was there, but I saw a grill, 100 yards away, where the owner of the property was grilling hot dogs.  I had mine with chili and onions, as the shaded grounds cooled us off, as the late morning sun started to get warm.  The riders were pealing off layers of gear, when we continued our ride to Georgetown.  My day end at mile 75, because of fatigue, left leg and right hand pain.  I got in a car and felt a little sad, because I was hoping to do the century, but it was not to be.  Other riders started to breakdown, as the support cars and trucks filled up with riders and bikes.  Two hours later, we made it to Georgetown, the A and B riders got in a hour or two earlier, who were showered and greeted all the Century riders, many who had done it for the first time.
Dinner was pizza and a movie, which I passed on.  I took out 4 of my riding pals for a nice steak dinner.  Tomorrow is only a 43 miler, but it takes us to Killeen, home to Fort Hood.

 

March 25, 2014, Texas Challenge, Day 3

 

Yesterday I wrote that today's ride would be an easy 43 miler.  With temps in the 40's, rolling hills and winds at 10-20 mph, today's ride was a bear.  The only good thing though, was a cloudless sky and it was very sunny.  Because we were going only 43 miles, we had a 10:15 start.  John Wordin let us sleep in after yesterday's 100-mile Century ride.  We left in our groups, headed south, then west.  The wind was at our back for a bit and then it was a crosswind.  When we got to the 7or8 mile mark, we took a right and headed north, and were immediately hit with a wall of wind.  My body was still sore from yesterday's ride that made the first part of the ride very uncomfortable.  I started to have doubts that I wouldn't finish the ride, but I kept pedaling.  Then the hills came after we left Georgetown.  The only good news, was that the lunch stop was at mile 17, so I kept on pedaling.  

Lunch was at the Florence Fire Department, with the usual USO Canteen, but because of the cold and wind, the line up of sandwiches, drinks and snacks were served inside the empty fire station of trucks.  I ate 2 bananas and a peanut butter and honey sandwich on wheat bread.  

Right after lunch, we continued north, but right when we were leaving, Kimo, in his hand cycle, tipped over while making a right turn.  Kimo is a retired Navy Seal, who is paralyzed, a single arm amputee and doesn't speak.  Thank God he was strapped in, and quickly staff and volunteers helped him immediately, and then we continued.

The landscape was so different from yesterday.  The fields were dried out, with cactus and large outcroppings of rock.  We passed many quarries, with fields of cut stone, and didn't see a cattle ranch.  We did see some horses though, running around their meadow, following us until they ran out of space.  The temps began to rise and hillsides and trees were beginning to block the strong winds, so the ride became more manageable, until we hit the roads made up of chip seal.  Chip seal is an aggregate that is less expensive to apply on roads, rather than customary asphalt.  This surface causes vibration, which can be felt while riding the bike.  Your hands and entire body feels the vibration even more, with tire pressure in your road tires at 120 psi.

Nevertheless, I finished the 43 mile ride, with satisfaction, because I was thinking of bailing out 30 minutes into the ride.

Rooms weren't ready, so we sat around checking our e-mails and our Facebook pages.  Ride2Recovery riders love Facebook, their portal of choice.  Two hours later we got our room keys and got cleaned up for a big dinner at Club Fort Hood, the big dining hall at Fort Hood.  With 250 riders and staff and many levels of Military personnel as our hosts, the room was filled.  After buying drinks at the bar, we sat down and enjoyed an evening of fellowship.  They had a slide show, featuring pics from last year's ride and I was in a few.  After dinner, short speeches were made and recognition was made to 5 soldiers, who have major disabilities from their service to our country.  Kimo was honored, as well as Tim Brown, a triple amputee, who rides a hand cycle with ease.  One of the victims of the Fort Hood massacre was honored as well, after serving 5 gunshot wounds, from that awful tragedy.

Tomorrow we ride to Fort Hood for a ceremony.  Afterwards we ride through the base and acknowledge the tens of thousands of Army personnel.  Fort Hood houses 1/3 of our countries Army, with a size of 340 square miles.  Rain is in the forecast, with cold temps in the morning for tomorrow mornings' 9:00 start.   Another day of lousy conditions for a long 70 mile ride to Waco.

 

March 26, 2014, Texas Challenge, Day 4  

 

The big day came.  Riding through Fort Hood is the highlight of the Texas Challenge.  Another cool morning with overcast skies.  It didn't matter to the riders, because being honored for your service by your peers is overwhelming.  The pace was quick, as we left the hotel.  We left in one group so we could all ride together no matter what ability.  We entered the gate of III Corps, the United States Army Forces Command.  This is the think tank of the Army.  

 

March  27, 2014,  Texas Challenge, Day 5  

 

I must apologize that I'm a day late with my Day 4 Blog.  It was incomplete, because I was so tired, but I'll resume where I left off.

 

We rode to the III Corps Headquarters building and the entire drive circle was lined with soldiers 3 deep.  They were cheering us on as we made our ceremonial lap.  We got off our bikes and the rain came.  This is the Army, so the program went on during the downpour.  Brief speeches were made by the Command thanking the R2R Veterans for their service.  Carl Allen, from Heritage Bag, a major/title sponsor, with offices in Dallas, gave a rousing send off.

As we left the ceremony, more cheers came from tens of thousands of soldiers, lining the streets on both sides.  It was almost like a gauntlet, with bands playing patriotic music, in the rain.  I had the joy and privilege of slapping hands with the Veterans, as I was riding slowly by them, thanking them for their service.  This went on for miles, before we left them behind.  The rain started to let up, but the headwinds slowed me down and I got in a support car after only 20 miles of riding.  My day was done for now, because with Ride2Recovery, you can get back on your bike and ride whenever you want.

23 miles later was lunch at Lakewood Elementary school.  The kids lined the playground and cheered the riders as we entered the school grounds.  I thought for about 10 minutes that I'd get back on the bike after lunch,  but felt too cold and sore.  35 miles later the riders stopped at the Waco VA for another ceremony.  Speeches were made by the Mayor and other dignitaries.  A local Pastor said a prayer for the riders.  BBQ food was available for a quick nosh, and that's when I got back on my bike and rode the remaining 10 miles to our hotel.

Dinner was at the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum, home of the Scottish Rite Masons of Texas.  Our Mason hosts served up delicious BBQ brisket, beans, potato salad and little Dixie cups of Bluebonnet vanilla ice cream.  I had 2 plates, the best dinner of Challenge week.  Tomorrow we have a 70 miler to Cleburne, but with strong winds from the south, we'll have wind at our backs.

 

 

Another cool, rainy morning welcomed us as we were getting ready for today's ride.  Temps in the low 60's and drizzle, with sunny and warm skies predicted for the afternoon, inspired me to have a good ride.  I only rode only 30 miles the day before and I was ready for a big day.  Delta/Charlie left at 9:00, my group, with Alpha/Bravo leaving 30 minutes later.  Our first rest stop was 23 miles away, so we rode fast, to hopefully outrun the rain.  The rain continued, plus with riders in a tight group, I had rain and road dirt sopping me for hours.  Lunch was at Whitney High School, where the students greeted us with cheers, as they allowed us to eat in some of their classrooms.  The USO Canteen was there and I had my usual Ramen Noodle, a peanut butter and honey sandwich and a snickers.  Afterwards we raced/rode to Rio Vista School for a 1:30 school assembly.  We entered their cafeteria and they had cold gator aide and bananas.  The high school band played patriotic music, while the elementary school sang for us.  Afterwards, we got on our bikes and the sun finally came out.  By now, I had taken off my filthy rain jacket and vest.  Temps rose to 80 degrees and the ride finally became comfortable.  From there, we had 15 miles before we reached our hotel.  Just before our arrival, I took out a bunch of R2R staff and ride pushers to Dairy Queen, where we all ordered various Blizzards.

Finally arriving our hotel, Ride2Recovery set up a power washer to hose down our dirty bikes from today's ride.  Dinner was at the Cleburne Conference Center, where we all enjoyed Texas Tex/Mex.  We all enjoyed cheese and beef enchiladas with retried beans.  Special guests included retired Dallas Cowboy greats Hall of Fame Tony Dorsett and Charles Haley.  Dorsett will ride with us tomorrow, as we complete the Texas Challenge, with a 54 miler to Dallas/ Ft. Worth.

 

 

March 28, 2014 Texas Challenge, Day 6

 

Today's the final day of the Texas Challenge.  The day started with a breakfast hosted by the City of Keene.  Keene has been hosting breakfast for the R2R riders for several years on their beautiful waterfront.  We racked our bikes and then got in line to enjoy eggs, French toast, bacon, juice and coffee.  They had long tables set up for the 200 riders.  The Mayor spoke briefly before the Pastor said a spiritual prayer for the riders.  There was a flag raising on a small island, with Jennifer Goodbody volunteering to crank the flag up the pole.  A POW flag was raised below Old Glory.  Cannon fire ensued by costumed volunteers in Civil War uniforms.  More speeches and Proclamations were read before we headed out to American Legion Post 624, 20 miles away in Mansfield for a water break.  I met Tony Dorsett in the bathroom, who was struggling with the ride and the pace.  He was applying gobs of Chamois Butter to relieve the chafing that can go along with long ride cycling.  I told him maybe he need to apply heavily before the ride starts, not 20 miles later.  

20 miles later we had a lunch stop in Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys.  United Health Care volunteers cheered us on as we circled the perimeter of Texas Stadium.  Our long lunch stop included interviews with the riders by the media and pictures of the riders posing in front of the massive Stadium.  Some Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders posed for the guys, myself included.  The riders knew the ride was close to ending and the last stop included another group picture in front of the Stadium.  26 miles later we made into our hotel in Ft. Worth.  Dinner was at Coopers BBQ in the old Stockyards in Ft. Worth.  I bought rounds and rounds of Shiner Bock in frosted goblets for many of my friends and staff.  

It was the most delicious BBQ I have ever consumed, including thick slices of brisket, sausage, beans, mashed potatoes and peach cobbler.  Afterwards, we heard a few speakers, including wounded Military who had other charities to represent the plight of our wounded/killed soldiers.  One of the charities was 22Killed.com, a group that was selling tungsten rings to be worn on your trigger finger, representing the fact that 22 Veterans commit suicide daily.  Additionally, fundraising for this charity included 22 push-ups when recorded on video, which would bring a $100,000.00 donation, on the basis of a dollar for every push-up.  Immediately, many veterans went in front of a camera to be recorded, doing 22 push-ups while other did the same in shifts.

Dancing followed before the buses came to take the tired riders back to our hotel.  The hotel bar was busy as staff and riders knew that the following day was a travel day for most riders.  I continued to buy drinks for my friends when Sal Guinta, Medal of Honor recipient in 2010 and friend to R2R showed up at the bar.  Sal Guinta would be riding with his peers tomorrow for the Clay Hunt Memorial Honor Ride.  More on Clay Hunt tomorrow.

 

 

March 29, 2014. Day 7  Clay Hunt Memorial Honor Ride

 

Honor Rides are one day rides open to the public.  380 riders have registered for this historic ride, plus our Challenge riders which brought the rider total to over 500 cyclers.  Clay Hunt was a R2R rider from the early days of the R2R program which began in 2008.  Clay Hunt was supposed to be on the 2011 Texas Challenge, but never showed.  During the ride, it was reported the Hunt took his own life in despair.  This suicide hit the riders and staff hard, because it was one of their own.  Clay Hunt's mother was at Cooper's BBQ the night before and spoke of the need for our Veterans to not internalize their pain and sorrow.  They must let their loved ones know what's going on so support and therapies could be available to those in need.  After her poignant words all the riders and staff gave her a standing ovation to show their appreciation for the courage of her words and the hope that is available to our healing heroes.

The ride included 3 different courses, including short to long rides.  Another chilly morning, with temps in the 40's, awaited the riders.  I started out slow and decided to go back to the hotel because I was cold and tired.  I had ridden over 350 miles in 6 days and my legs were spent.  I changed into jeans and got a ride to the ride which was held in the large parking lot of Cooper's BBQ.  When I got there, the ColorGuard were marching and cycling helmets were removed with the playing of our National Anthem.  A countdown ensued and the mass of riders took off for their last ride in Texas.

While they rode, I walked over to the old Stockyard property where I saw rings of show cattle getting cleaned up for a 6:00 auction.  I met a young 11 year old rancher who gave me a tour and shared with me the business of cattle ranching.  These Herefords, some still weaning on their cow mothers.  A cow is a Hereford that has given birth to a calf.  Quite an education in the cattle business with similarities to the car business.

I went back to Cooper's BBQ to see the riders return, before a BBQ lunch of pulled pork sandwiches were devoured by the hungry riders.  From there, the goodbyes began with long hugs.  The ride was over and the 200 cyclers know that they will meet each other again on future Challenges.

On deck is the Bluegrass Challenge, Cincinnati to Nashville, a 400 miler in April.


The Normandy Challenge

18-19 July 2014. Days 1 and 2 Normandy Challenge

This is my 7th Challenge with Ride2Recovery, but my first European Challenge.  Every year, for the last 4 years, Ride2Recovery has had a European Challenge, whereby allowing our young men and women in the Military to cycle throughout Europe and allow them to visit all the historical sites from World War II.  This is Ride2Recovery's second sojourn in Normandy, with 2014 being the 70th Anniversary of D-Day which happened on June 6, 1944.  But what makes this Challenge so different from those in the States is that there is no USO Canteen serving lunches, there are no American Legion Hall hosting dinners.  Riders are given the opportunity to enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, somewhere on the route and dinners at host hotels, prepared by the French locals.  Like all Challenges, there is a travel day, which brought us to Paris after an all night plane ride.  We gathered our belongs and were bussed to Caen, our host city for 2 nights.
Upon arriving at our hotel, the parking lot was loaded with cardboard bike boxes, which riders were required to ship, because of the cumbersome ness of large bike cases that would have taken up too much room in trucks and hotels.  The Ride2Recovery mechanics were helping some of the riders put their bikes together, in order to have a predinner ride.  I headed out with John Wordin, President of Ride2Recovery and his assistant and Women's Initiative Director Sara Bell and some other staff members.  John has been to Caen before, which is always the starting point of the Normandy cycling adventure.  Caen was liberated by the Canadian Military in July of 1944.  John was able to tell and show us all the history he knew of Caen, but dinner was at 7:00 and being a travel day for most, lights were out early as Day 1 of the ride which includes the American Cemetery and Memorial which overlooks Omaha Beach, the beach where the D-Day invasion began.
Busses took the riders and staff to the Le Memorial on Saturday, where Ride2Recovery had a private opening, where 2 special flag raisings took place.  Riders were Pre selected by John and I was called on to assist a triple amputee, Tim Brown.  I'm sure most have seen images of the large white crosses and Stars of David of the 3900+ americans who lost their lives in World War II, but to be part of a flag raising in Normandy was pretty surreal.  Afterwards we had a couple of hours to visit the various installations and Memorials throughout the cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.  One of the recommendations of our visit was to bring a plastic bag to fill with the sand of Omaha Beach.  My bag was filled with sand, as well as some small stones and beautiful wild flowers that were all over the beach.  Afterwards we walked to the cemetery and visited the grave of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Theodore Roosevelt, later there was a special wreath laying ceremony for Uncle Willie, friend of Ride2Recovery and Uncle of popular actor Joe Mantegna.  Following our visit at the cemetery, we were bussed to Arromanches, site of Operation Mulberry, the port built by the British with heavy caissons and connecting bridges which allowed the Military to unload their ships in deep water with tanks and other heavy Military vehicles and equipment needed to fight Adolph Hitler on all fronts.   Lunch consisted of wonderful ham and cheese sandwiches on delicious, fresh French bread and chips.  Before we left Arromanches, we were treated to a 15 minute film of old World War II footage of the D-Day invasion, in their 360 degree theater, somewhat like Disney.  Dinner was back at the hotel again, and lights out.

Sunday started with a delicious French breakfast of ham, Brie, strong coffee and crescent.  Today will be an 88 kilometer or 54 mile ride from Caen to Carentan.  We left in one large group for the Le Memorial, Caen's monument for their liberation, which include many French Military, some in Foreign Legion attire. We have 10 or so riders from the German Military riding with us this week and they hoisted the first flag.  The American flag was raised next, followed by the French flag.  Gifts were exchanged and then we posed for a group picture and headed out.  Skies were overcast and a light rain shower greeted us as we made our way to Omaha Beach.  We then split up in groups and I left with Bravo, hosted and led  by John Wordin.  The French countryside was the perfect setting, as we made our way through little towns.  Occassionally we heard cheers from the French, as we looked sharp in our yellow jerseys.  The contrast of the vintage old stone houses, with beautiful pink and purple hydrangeas, was post card quality.  Being a Sunday, many French were getting ready for church.  Before long, we made it to Longues-sur-Mer battery, which is where Adolph Hitler had a collection of bunkers with 115 caliber guns protruding out of the various bunkers.  Some of the old rusted gun emplacements were pointed up and some were in decrepit condition looking collapsed.  These bunkers allowed the Germans fortified positioning along the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean.  We continued on to Omaha beach, where additional memorials and monuments adorned the beautiful beach.  Next up was Pointe Du Hoc, which was another fortification of bunkers, which the Rangers captured on D-Day. These Rangers from the 2nd Battalion, scaled the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc and seized the German artillery positions which were hazardous for the Allies landing of Utah and Omaha beaches.  After 2 days of fierce fighting, the 5th Ranger Battalion took control and destroyed the guns and forced the Germans southward.  Pointe Du Hoc was our last stop before a quick ride to our hotel in Carentan.  Dinner was another French gem, a local chicken dish with mushrooms and many sides.  Tomorrow brings on more monuments and stops, as the sun finally came out and brings better conditions for our 2nd day of riding.

20 July, 2014 Day 3 Normandy Challenge

Another day, another opportunity to take in all history that Normandy allows.  The sun is out and the temperatures will be in the 70's for the remainder of the week.  Normally on a Challenges, we ride from city to city, but because of all the history in the northwest of France, we will be staying 4 nights in Carentan and do day rides from our hotel in many directions.  John Wordin has set 10:00 as a start time, which allows the riders to sleep in and enjoy a European breakfast of crescent, cheese, salami, hard boiled eggs and yogurt.  At 10:00 we took off in our groups and headed to Utah Beach, the other famous beach on the west side of Le Pointe Du Hoc.  The winds were blowing out of the Northwest and the pace in Delta is perfect for me and the other riders.  We rode through Carentan south and then crossed a river before heading North.  Utah Beach is one large beach with a massive shoreline.  It was low tide again, as the blue water seemed to be maybe a mile away.  We had an hour to walk the grounds and take pictures.  More monuments to the D-Day invasion were all over, with sculpture and obelisks and a fine museum with complimentary admission.  We then rode our bikes down the coastline before settling in at a couple of lunch stops at Quineville.  The riders took over the restaurants and enjoyed anything from burgers to mussels.
The remainder of the afternoon included more stops at German Bunkers, that seem to be all over Normandy.  Our first stop was at Batterie of Crisbecq, a 21 unit compound of German bunkers, which included bunkers with 21cm canons and sleeping quarters.  This unit commanded a wide part of the Atlantic Wall, and provided the defense against assaults from the 4th infantry  divisions.  Of the original 406 defenders of this Bunker 78 were forced to remain at their post.
An hour later we stopped at the Batterie of Azeville, another compound of Hitler's bunkers.  Spread all over many acres, these underground bunkers were like a little city with tunnels and low ceilings.  We were allowed free entry as we walked down the dark stairs and into the cavern of tunnels and small rooms, where bunk beds were, as well as small dining rooms.  There were pictures on the walls of the spaces we entered, which showed a functioning underground Military camp.
After our 60 minute stop we headed back to the hotel, where another fine  dinner awaited us of lamb kabobs and assorted prepared French vegetable dishes.  Post dinner included conversations and drinking of the delicious wines and beer on the patio of the hotel.  Tomorrow we head out to St. Mere Eglise, the site of the 82nd Airborne landing, another major fighting force of paratroopers putting their lives on the line for freedom, 70 years ago, last month!

21 July. 2014 Day 4 Normandy Challenge

Another great sunny day greeted us as we leave the bunkers behind and now head to the various towns that were occupied by the Nazis.  We have left the Normandy coast and now visit the towns that were greeted by our Paratroopers from both the 82nd and 101st Airborne.  These brave Men were dropped at 1:40 in the morning with 3 objectives, to seize and hold Sainte-Mer-Egise, hold the bridge at Chef Du Pont and hold the bridge at La Fiere.
Today wasn't about the miles, only 35 or so, but to visit these places that had so much significance on D-Day.  Our first stop was at the Le Merderet Bridge at Chef Du Pont, a strategic spot and a stronghold by the Germans.  The German's flooded the fields and tried to hold the Bridge.  A relentless gun battle ensued, before the Americans took control of the bridge, so they could advance their vehicles and tanks.  The Nazis were on the run.
Our next stop was La Fiere, where another battle went on to take control of of the causeway.  Buildings adjacent to La Fiere were taken over by the Nazis before the 1st battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment took control.  The buildings are now a Bed and Breakfast and the owner showed us boxes of war artifacts that were collected all over the grounds, including helmets, guns, provisions and personal items.  Before we left we took pics by the Iron Mike statue, which was a slang term for the tough, brave and inspiring soldiers Americans who died liberating the French from the occupation of the Germans.
Before long we entered the quaint village of Sainte-Mer-Eglise.  This was our lunch stop, but before that, the Mayor spoke to us and thanked us for coming and visiting his beautiful town.  The church in the middle of the square was where the paratroopers landed, with one hanging from the church steeple.  If you can remember "Red Buttons" who starred in the movie, "The Longest Day", who pretended to be dead, as his parachute got caught, only waiting for the right time to fire his weapon.
We broke into groups as Andrew, Nathan, Tanner and I found a quaint restaurant as I enjoyed a salad Nicious, while the other guys enjoyed various special pizzas.  Afterwards many of us enjoyed free admission to their wonderful museum where multi media presentations showed the brave work of our armed forces, as they took control of the town.
Our last stop was another small town, Sainte-Marie-Du-Mont and Bell Tower.  This is where 2 German soldiers took over the town's bell tower, only to be thrown out by the Vicar, who wanted to begin a Sunday Mass.  Another bloody battle ensued, while the Americans took control and liberated another town.
Our short ride back to our hotel followed and another delightful dinner was served followed by fellowship with the riders and the arrival of our 10 guest riders from the German Army.  Bottles of Bordeaux were opened as we toasted our guests and thanked them for joining us.

23 July, 2014  Day 5. Normandy Challenge

What a difference a day makes.  Yesterday the sun was shining with temps near 80.  Today brought on heavy clouds with temps near 60, as we made our way to Saint Lo, the site of one of the most bloody fighting campaigns of Normandy.
What also made this ride extremely tough were the hills, which never seemed to go away.  Hill climbing is the hardest part of cycling for me.  Some hills can be a bit steep, but most are long.  Even with proper gearing, tackling a big hill can be problematic, but with support riders in every group, they are there to help by putting one of their hands on your lower back and literally push you up the hill.  Seb, one of the French Army riders who are riding with us this week, had my back yesterday on most of the challenging hills.  Thank you Seb!!
We headed south to Saint Lo, without any water breaks.  The 20+ mile ride got us to Saint  Lo early, so we had an extended lunch break.  Saint Lo, being a big city had plenty of restaurants near their city square.  Nate and I found a brasserie and enjoyed a panini style sandwich although I thought ordered a bowl of soup. 
After lunch I rode my bike around town and saw the many usual monuments that exemplified the fighting and the deaths of the locals at the hands of the Nazis.  It wasn't until July that the 29th Infantry Division arrived in Saint Lo.  It took nearly 3 weeks to liberate the city, with destruction of buildings from heavy bombing from the allies.  This fighting campaign was known as the Battle of Hedgerows, because of the terrain and the cover it gave.
After lunch, we climbed out of Saint Lo, with another long steep hill.
Our next stop was the Memorial at Graignes.  This was a church that was setup as a hospital, to help the local and allied soldiers recover from their wounds.  Without much protection, the Nazis came and killed all the wounded Americans and 44 civilians who were only trying to care for the injured. 
Our ride back to our hotel consisted of even more hills, as I struggled with the last 5-10 miles, but with Seb at my back, I finished, with a climbing total of 2089 feet.
Our last dinner in Carentan consisted of a delicious beef bourgoun, with carrots and a delicious sauce.  The riders called out the chef, who took a bow as we thanked him for all of his delicious dinners.
Tomorrow we head back to Caen, before stopping at La Cambe, the German war cemetery, which has a much darker look than the American cemetery counterpart.


25 July, 2014. Day 6. Normandy Challenge

Today was the last official day of riding for the Normandy Challenge.  Always bittersweet, while packing up our bikes, however, a beautiful day of warm temperatures and a cloudless sky greeted us.  We left in our groups, and were at our first stop at the 20'mile mark, La Cambe, the German War Cemetery.  Somewhat of a contrast with the American Cemetery, with the black crosses and small headstones versus white crosses and Stars of David.  There are over 21,000 German soldiers, sailors and airmen at their final resting place here.  Additionally, there is a 20 foot high mound/tumulus which was established for the 207 unknown dead and 89 who are known by name in a "Kameradengrab"/mass grave.  Our 10 German Army riders laid a wreath at the top of the mound at the base of the basalt lava cross, with 2 side figures.  In addition, there is a beautiful "Peace Garden", with over 1200 maple trees.
After our one hour stop, we rode to Bayeux, the gateway to the Normandy landing beaches.  The Mayor and other local dignitaries greeted us at Musee Memorial, their local Normandy museum.  More speeches and thanks took place before we left for a lunch spot in Bayeax.  Another salad with salmon and a glass of Chardonnay was my standard, but others ordered crepes and omelettes. 
An hour later we were back on our bikes and for our final 15 or so miles as we came back to Caen.  More climbs prevented me from finishing, as I got in a car with less than 3-4 miles remaining.  It was hot and I had nothing left, as I boarded Richard's support van.  Richard cranked up the air conditioning and before long I was comfortable again, as we entered Le Memorial, our last stop for a final flag lowering.  Le Memorial was our first stop on day one, as French, German and American flags were raised in honor of our multi national riding adventure.  Now it was time for them to be lowered, as our 6 day journey concludes.  More speeches were made by the local mayor and other dignitaries, and gold Normandy Challenge Coins were distributed to all the riders.  The ride was officially over.
We returned to our hotel, as the parking lot became the center of packing our bikes for there return home.  I final dinner together in Caen was a poor man's version of steak frites, which left a lot of us hungry.  Andy, Nate and myself found a charming little cafe in Caen later, as we ordered more food and enjoyed a bottle of Burgandy.
Tomorrow we head to Paris, for 3 days of rest, relaxation and sightseeing.  On Monday, most will return home, however, my family will be arriving on Monday, as we extend until the following Saturday.
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Gulf Coast Challenge, Ride2Recovery, Feb. 27-March 7

This is my 10th Challenge of 45 in Ride2Recovery's 7 year history. In the meantime, thousands of injured Military continue to go through the cycling program which Ride2Recovery advocates. Anywhere from 30-50 percent of these riders are first timers. There has been some turnover of Ride2Recovery's Staff, but from what I see, is that it's only getting better. These Military, all branches, are working on their emotional and physical injuries of war. One soldier, Delvin, who is a quadruple amputee, is a legend in the program and now rides an upright bike. It was my first time riding with him and seeing him ride and climb hills is miraculous.

Feb. 27
Typical travel day, with riders showing up in waves, checking in, picking up some Ride2Ricovery cycling wear, going through the health fair and sitting in on a mandatory meeting. The rules of the road were highlighted and staff introductions followed. A buffet dinner followed, with John Wordin, President of Ride2Recovery, kidding around with the riders, laughing and sharing stories.

Feb. 28 Day 1
Everybody knew that the weather for the first day of the ride in Atlanta was going to be pretty bad, cold and rain, but that didn't bother anyone at the start. We all left together, with temps in the high 30's, for a short 1.4 mile ride to the Georgia Statehouse. The rain started about a mile into the ride. I never made it to the ceremony, I opted to put my bike in a truck and sit this ride out. The rain only got heavier, as I watched the riders from my support vehicle, where I was sitting shotgun. We picked up a couple of riders, before we made it to the rest stop, mile 17. Everyone gathered in a small convenient store to warm up and decide how many miles more miles they would ride before the 38 mile lunch stop. I stayed in the truck as we followed the Delta Force cyclers, which I am a member, to the lunch stop where the ride ended. It was miserable, as buses picked up the wet and tired riders and took us to Ft. Benning, where dinner was ordered in from a local Italian restaurant in Columbus, Georgia.

March 1 Day 2
Monday was more promising, with temps near 50, with an afternoon high of 60 degrees forecast. Rain was a possibility, but the long 91 mile ride to Montgomery, Alabama was what I was thinking about. Under dark and heavy clouds, we left the hotel and enjoyed a ride around the Chattahoochee Riverwalk, with the rushing Rapids cutting the city in half. At the 9 mile mark, we entered Alabama, as I removed my rain jacket, because I was heating up. The ride got more rural and hilly as we rode to our first rest stop at mile 22. 28 more miles of riding ensued before we entered the Tuskegee Airman National Historic Site, home of the retired African American Military Flying Unit from World War 2. Lunch was the usual USO canteen, where I wolfed down 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and rehydrated with bottles of Gatoraide. After lunch, I made it to mile 72, before I knew my day was over, with neck and shoulder pain. Shortly thereafter, the rain came, but the riders continued to the hotel at mile 91. 30 riders continued their ride by doing circles around the hotel, 36 of them, which would then give these riders a Century, credit for a 100 mile ride, a status I have never achieved. Dinner was on your own, and I took a couple of friends and staff members out for some seafood in Montgomery.

March 2. Day 3
Today was only a 50 miler, but with rolling hills and monster climbs, it was grueling, as my neck pain began just 10 miles into the ride. One interesting site was the Hyundai factory plant and training center campus, which covered miles in many directions, which was on our right, as we headed to mile 25 for our only rest stop. I hydrated and grabbed some snacks, before we took off for the last 25 miles. The rollers continued with long tiring climbs, but the downhills made it so rewarding, cooling off in the breeze. At mile 50, I was the last rider to make the turn into our lunch stop at the American Legion Hall in Greenville, AL. Buses took us to Pensacola, 120 miles away, where Day 4 will begin. Dinner was at the Pensacola Naval Base, where the historic Lighthouse and Museum from 1859 was the backdrop. Ride2Recovery's newest sponsor, Geico, hosted a delicious shrimp boil, where a steel drum band played popular melodies. Tours of the haunted Lighthouse followed, before buses took us back to our hotel. Tomorrow is a 77 miler to Mobile, AL. A warm day is forecast, but we know a cold front is rolling in, and will it jeopardize a delightful ride along the Gulf of Mexico, with no hills!

 

Gulf Coast Challenge. Day 4

The weather is warming up a bit and the riders now enjoy less gear, no arm or leg warmers and jackets. The sun is out and everyone is pumped! We leave the brand new Springhill Suites and head to Mobile, Alabama, a 76 miler. Charlie and Delta Force leave first, with Alpha and Bravo leaving 30 minutes later. Eventually we will get passed by the stronger riders, but it evens out our abilities with the staggered start. The lunch stop is at mile 36, but I come up a few miles short with neck and shoulder pain. I got in car and realized I probably could have made it to lunch, which was a few miles up the route. I grabbed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and found a mechanic to tilt my handlebars up a bit, so I won't have to lean over as much. I got back on my bike and rode the last 40 or so miles with little pain. We were going southwest and beginning to get close to the Gulf of Mexico. Suddenly the temperature dropped 25 degrees as we got closer to the water. The hills behind us now, we enter the Gulf Coast and cycle to Battleship Park, home of the USS Alabama, retired planes, helicopters and Monuments. I cycled to my support car, the Delvin and grabbed arm warmers and another jersey to stay warm. We had wonderful Police escorts take us through the Mobile tunnel which runs under Mobile Bay which will take 7 or 8 miles off our ride. 15 miles later we make it to our Holiday Inn, where dinner will be carried in and an evening of Casino Night sponsored by the USO.

Gulf Coast Challenge. Day 5

This day has brought much anticipation to me and the riders. A major cold front is coming our way and everyone is anxious! It is going to be a brutal day. I had other plans. Sara Bell, Women's Initiative Ride Director of Ride2Recovery, and I are headed to Dallas for a full day and night of activities at the George W. Bush Presidential Library, home of the Bush Institute. Being a donor in the President's Leadership Circle allows me to participate in programs at the Bush Institute. Today's agenda is a program on Global Women's Issues, including a graduation of 17 Bush Fellows, Tunisian women who studied for a year in their country covering influential topics such as business, education, health, law, media and politics. Each Fellow had an American mentor who helped with their achievements. Afterwards, Mrs. Bush spoke with pride about these empowered women. A panel discussion followed with Alisyn Caremota from CNN, acting as the moderator. The program ended with President Bush speaking of freedom and democracy and how important those endeavors are for Peace in the Middle East. A fancy dinner followed, but before that, all guests had an opportunity to be in a picture with President Bush and the former First Lady. My 15 seconds of FaceTime allowed me to remind him about Ride2Recovery and programs that help our veterans. After dinner I met with GWB staff members who I know and shared with them my agenda, which was an invitation to join Ride2Recovery's Texas Challenge next month for dinner at Ft. Hood, are 3rd stop on our journey from Houston to Ft. Worth. His aide Freddie Ford took notes and said he'll keep in touch. Throughout the evening I introduced Sara Bell to all my contacts which allowed her to share her agenda, Women only Cycling events. The evening ended quickly, because tomorrow will be a long day of flying and getting back on my bike to complete the last leg of the Gulf Coast Challenge, Slidell to New Orleans.

Gulf Coast Challenge. Day 6

It's 6:00 in the morning, as we made our way to the airport to get back into the ride in Louisiana. Sara Bell arranged an airport pickup in Kenner/New Orleans who drove us To the lunch stop in Slidell for the final 40 or so miles to Kenner. We arrived at the lunch stop at Sportman's Marina, a boatyard with raised buildings on stilts along the Bayou, just as the Alpha group cyclers entered the lunch stop. I changed into my cycling kit, of jersey and Bibb and layered up with temps in the 40, however with the sun out it felt a bit warmer. 45 minutes later, we left for the last leg on the Challenge. Less than 2 minutes into the ride was the first of many bridges we were going to cross that day. It required a big climb, however, with it being my first climb of the day, I handled it with ease. The rest of the ride was enjoyable, however we did see remnants of Hurricane Katrina, houses and buildings in disrepair, ready to be torn down. Pretty soon I could see the New Orleans skyline and I knew we were getting close. Our route took us above the French Quarter and downtown New Orleans, a shorter route without the heavy New Orleans traffic. I knew we were getting close with street names that are so New Orleans, Chef Menteur Highway, Gentilly Blvd., St. Bernard Ave. and West Esplanade Ave. We arrived at the Kenner Doubletree in fine fashion with tremendous Police support, including City, County and State Police escorting us and holding back traffic so we never had to stop on our final journey. Upon arrival were the usual hugs and congratulations to all the Challenge riders. Room keys were passed out and we had a couple of hours to get ready for our final dinner together. Dinner include a impromptu speech by Duane, a Viet Nam veteran who is a double leg amputee. He proudly talked of his new life with prosthetics he's been wearing for 40 years. He looks at his disability with open eyes and compares it to someone who wears glasses, which he considers just another disability. He was asked to Mentor the new riders who struggle every day with their injuries, both physical and emotional. He closes with his own story and what he's had to do to recover from the emotional wounds of war and the bad things he did. There wasn't a dry ice in the house as he thanked everyone for listening. Afterwards most riders called it a night, but with only one night in New Orleans, this rider and few friends were heading out for a night in the French Quarter for some drinks and oysters.

Gulf Coast Challenge. Day 7

Today's agenda included a Community Service project in City Park. Buses took us to the Park where we met City Park volunteers, who organize service projects. We broke up into 4 groups and proceeded to clean, paint and landscape various parts of Tad Gormley Stadium. after two hours of work, buses took us back to the hotel to checkout and say our final good byes. Till we ride again!!