Here's the Blog I maintained on my bike ride from my home in NYC down to Washington, DC, as part of a group of about 130 riders participating in Climate Ride (to raise money for various biking or environmental causes).
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Well Schwed is back on his bicycle again, this time heading in the opposite direction. I'm participating, with about 130 other cyclists, in the Brita Climate Ride, from NY to DC, a five-day, approximately 300 mile ride to raise $$ for environmental and energy-related causes, as well as to promote bicycle advocacy. This contrasts with my solo, non-fundraising ride, two summers ago, from NY to Cape Cod. A number of you followed my blogs on that trip -- and didn't shower me with too much abuse -- so now I'm giving you another chance to make up for that failing.
I'm writing this from the quasi-comfort of the campgrounds at the Princeton YMCA, after day 1 of riding. This ride, although organized and supported (we even have a truck to carry our luggage), through some misguided over-identification with the climate causes it is supporting, has chosen to have us all camp out -- the same thinking, I suspect, that led to all-vegetarian meals today.
But the day was better than that, even though most of it took place in New Jersey (sorry, Elyse, cheap shot). We all rendezvoused in lower Manhattan at about 8 a.m., got organized, and then headed off to Pier 11, near the South Street Seaport, to take a 45 minute ferry ride to Atlantic Highlands, NJ, as our starting off point. So, yes, we've already cheated -- but the Climate Ride from Atlantic Highlands, NJ to Washington DC doesn't sound as good to donors, does it?
Today's mileage was about 46 miles, plus another 8 getting to lower Manhattan from home, for a total of 54 miles. Overall, a relatively easy riding day -- future days are going to be in the 60-70 mile range. The start was quite hilly (Atlantic Highlands living up to its name), but flattened out over the last 20 miles into Princeton.
The scenery was -- well, mixed. Nice open fields and farmlands in places, but hideous, huge houses in others. New Jersey definitely puts the "mac" in McMansions. Road surface and riding shoulders and conditions were pretty good -- which, unfortunately, requires me to revisit one of my Cape Cod missives where I opined that NJ drivers were "clueless and incompetent" in terms of passing etiquette. This well-researched opinion outraged at least one of you (whom I won't name, Elyse), so I considered it further field research to spend the good portion of today being passed, well, by NJ drivers.
And, well, er, umm, it pains me to say it, but they were, well, mostly polite and even competent. But it may have been an aberration is my thinking. Tomorrow takes us to PA, and then we'll get to MD before heading into DC, so more license plate driver theories, perhaps, to follow.
Speaking of following, it's a very different feel to be on a large, organized trip as compared to heading out self-guided and solo. The sociability and comradery is definitely better! But the sense of adventure and exploration -- which sometimes led to me ending up on highways on the Cape Cod trip -- is definitely less. Which may or may not be a good thing.... Someone else has already planned and tested the whole route, and while I may not know what awaits around the next turn any better than I did on the way to Cape Cod, the feeling is different and, somehow, a bit less thrilling. Kind of like having the expert pack your parachute, instead of doing it yourself (hmm, maybe not the best analogy).
Which may explain why I didn't accept my kind brother-in-law's invitation (actually, ex-brother-in-law, but why should I share that type of unnecessary personal detail with you?) to sleep at his house in Princeton, about 1 mile away from the campgrounds. I instead cadged tent space from a total stranger to lay out my sleeping bag (male, for those of you who must know - the stranger, not my sleeping bag -- sleeping bags don't have genders, at least last time I checked). And I did this notwithstanding a forecast of rain and two of the cyclists already finding ticks on their bodies. What was/am I thinking? I'll let you know tomorrow.
And, speaking of tomorrow, it's a bit of a bummer because, in addition to being a 70 mile day, the forecast is for thundershowers. And, actually, the forecast is for rain for each remaining day of the trip as well. Ugh. If I stop writing, it will either be because I soggily abandoned the ride or my iPhone shorted out (I discount the possibility -- perhaps foolishly -- that all of you will reply beseeching me to stop pestering you with these stream of consciousness emails)
The other complexity is that I am, and will be, spending about 30 minutes each evening icing my shin. For those of you who watch baseball bloopers and can recall Don Zimmer, coaching third, being bowled over by a Gary Sheffield foul line drive, that's sort of what happened to me coaching Little League this past Saturday. Except Zimmer got out of the way. My shin didn't. The swelling was pretty immense and the bruising eventually extended all the way down my foot.
My primary physician suggested that I consider bagging this ride. So I did the logical thing. I looked for another doctor, who cleared me (thanks, Nick, if you're reading this -- I hope you know how to remove ticks). Actually, in all fairness, it was my primary physician who made the reference to Nick, who is a vascular surgeon, but that perhaps makes for less interesting reading (but I'm writing about my physical ailments, so I've already lost on that count).
It's getting dark, the typos are increasing, and, more importantly, one of the friendly cyclists just offered to share his bottle of red wine with me and others (alcohol is not, technically, allowed in the Y's campgrounds, but I think it's too dark for anyone to notice or turn us in). So I better get moving.
Pray the weather gods are kind to us!
Yours from the road,
Day 2 from the Road
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
OK, I'm going to try to be briefer tonight because (1) I'm kinda beat after a hilly 65 mile day; and (2) I'm short on time because the hour after dinner was spent attending an environmentally-conscious lecture (the Climate Ride organizers are setting them up each night) in which I learned all about B corporations (it's sort of like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for companies that promote social or environmental causes and answer to all their stakeholders, not just shareholders). Who knew?
Anyway, unless you're a corporate lawyer (why do you think I led with this?), you're probably more interested in the cycling. Today, we bicycled from Princeton, NJ and into Pennsylvania, ending up at the Freedoms Foundation lodges at Valley Forge, PA. Yes, lodges. Even with tiny quarters and bunk beds, they beat camping. Last night, in a shared tent, was, as they say, good to experience -- and, in truth, more social than being in a room -- but every thing about it is just that much more difficult -- from the hard ground under one's sleeping bag, to the awkwardness of getting dressed and undressed in a tiny space, the long walk to the communal showers, and the complexity of responding to a middle of the night call of nature -- that it doesn't rank all that high up there on my "gotta do that again" list. It sort of compares in my mind to trying to sleep in a coach seat on an overnight trans-Atlantic flight -- you doze on and off sporadically -- but never with fully satisfying results.
Oh yes, the biking. The ride today was two very different rides. The morning, until our lunch break in Doylestown, PA (about 30 miles) was simply fantastic. Isolated, empty roads through meandering farms, fields, tree canopies and countryside. Gorgeous scenery all around, and really good cycling conditions -- both in terms of the roads (and, yes, the mostly NJ drivers) and the weather, which, while mostly overcast, had the decency not to rain on us.
There was, of course, a catch. Maybe you can guess it if I tell you some of the roads we pedaled: Goat Hill Road, Stoney Hill Road, Snake Hill Road, Upper Mount Road, and, my favorite, Burnt House Hill Road. The "road name rule" lives. Yes, it was hilly and strenuous. But the exertion was well worth it in terms of a great overall biking experience.
The afternoon was a different story. The countryside switched from rural to suburban, the roads narrowed significantly -- most didn't have shoulders, just a white line right at the right edge of a single lane -- and the drivers, well, they were mostly from PA, and here my Cape Cod ride experience mostly held -- way too many of them went by too fast and without a wide enough berth for passing. Perhaps of a kind with the fact that some PA state transportation department actually decided to stick bike route signs on these ridiculously bike-unfriendly roads. It made for pretty stressful riding for almost 20 miles -- compounded by -- yes, the long-expected rain (but at least not a thunderstorm!). The rain, in truth, was kind of refreshing for the most part -- it only came down too hard for maybe 30 minutes.
The afternoon also was unnecessarily enervating due to mechanical difficulties. My rear wheel, after a short period of pedaling, would repeatedly begin rubbing against my right rear brake pad. But not very perceptibly. So I would go on like this until I stopped for some other reason and only then noticed that the wheel did not spin freely (i.e., it would revolve once or twice when spun and then stop). So I would readjust the wheel's placement between the brake pads by releasing and resetting the wheel's quick release lever, give the wheel a quick spin to make sure it was no longer binding, and get back on my saddle. Only to have the same sequence repeat in another 10 or 30 minutes. This must have happened 5 or 6 times before I came upon one of the ride's roving mechanics, who quickly diagnosed the obvious (at least to him) problem that I had been missing -- the wheel wasn't shifting slightly; the rear brake caliper was sticking after use and not snapping back out and away from the wheel. The field expedient repair was lots of oil, but he suggested replacing the calipers and brake cable eventually.
I like to think that I would have figured this out myself if I hadn't been so tired from the morning's hills and the afternoon's stressful roads.
The saving grace of the afternoon was that it was relatively flat -- until about the last 10 miles or so, when we biked into and through Valley Forge national park. The scenery was gorgeous (not to mention historic for us American history buffs) but was unfortunately outweighed, in the opinion of my trembling quadriceps, by its numerous, massive, steep climbs. Definitely worth a return visit -- by car.
The final blow? The Freedoms Foundation lodging is entirely dry -- in the prohibition sense. As is, I'm told, tomorrow's lodging at the Mormon-founded Camp Andrews. Water and Gatorade only takes you so far. So I may have to think twice about doing the Climate Ride again (they do it every year) -- or plan better in my packing (I could definitely see spiriting away a few bottles of wine in the luggage being ported by the van).
Lousy forecast again for tomorrow -- but maybe we'll get reasonably lucky again with the rain holding off mostly. I think I'm going to need it -- it's our longest day yet (over 70 miles) and, I'm told, our hilliest. Is it too early to begin looking forward to the after-bike massage? Did I mention this earlier? $15 for 15 minutes. Definitely the best bargain on the ride.
Yours from the road,
Day 3 from the Road
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
It's 9 p.m. on Day 3, and I'm sitting in a 10 person bunk bed cabin (one of many of varying sizes and configurations) in Camp Andrews in Holtville, PA, where we're staying tonight. The Camp's prominently displayed logo is "Introducing Urban Youth to Jesus." It doesn't say anything about cyclists, but the Camp's administrator, during our dinner, blessed us, asked us to pray with him, and told us (at length) about his personal relationship with the almighty. I admit, it wasn't exactly what I was expecting.
There's a massive thunderstorm going on outside right now, but all is well. We completed 70 miles today over hilly terrain. We started at 7:30 in the morning in light mist -- which I kept telling myself was "nature's air conditioning" (sort of helped) -- and eventually the clouds burned off and the sun even appeared now and then. The terrain was pretty spectacular -- riding through Amish country, replete with horse and buggies, dairy farms, wide open terraced fields, grain silos, rapid flowing streams, forested parks -- well, you get the picture. And watching the Amish in action is pretty awe-inspiring.
Stopped by one field and watch a multi-generational softball game in action, with little boys and girls (wearing their full length dresses and bonnets), teenagers, parents and grandparents all playing -- and playing well. Later, we say a field with about 6 co-ed volleyball games going on -- all teenagers this time -- their Sunday afternoon activity; no xbox or texting! Really a different -- and thought provoking -- world.
Day 3 from the Road (part 2)
Oops. The prior email somehow got sent before it was either completed or edited. I'll take that as my cue to wrap up for the night -- either I'm too tired (and I am) or the box of Pennsylvania home grown "wine in a box" that a few of us picked up and snuck into camp (3 liters for $29!) played a role.
Tomorrow's ride, into Maryland, is a bit shorter (about 60 miles), but apparently hillier, if that's possible. More rain in the forecast, but maybe we'll continue to get relatively lucky in that area.
Glad I'm not camping outside tonight! (although about 20 diehards in our bunch have chosen to do so).
Yours from the road,
Day 4 from the Road
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Today was the hardest, but in some ways the best, day yet. The ride was extraordinarily hilly and scenic. Leaving Camp Andrews, its bunk beds, plastic mattresses and religiously fervent staff behind, we pedaled slightly over 60 miles into Maryland, ending up in Reisterstown (I never heard of it either) at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center. A definite giant step up in lodgings. But more on that later.
In truth, I started the day with about zero enthusiasm for getting back on a bike. Part of this was due to the road immediately ahead. The turnoff into Camp Andrews the day before was about 100 yards before the start of a gargantuan hill -- good news for yesterday's exhausted travelers, but bad news for our departure this morning. Plus, I was just dog tired, with my leg muscles (quads, hamstrings, calves -- heck, all of them) sore and tight. Finally, the organizers announced that it was Vegan Day today -- and we could look forward to a nice meat-free lunch!
But my outlook slowly improved. To Camp Andrews' credit, their breakfast was the best to date -- maybe having something to do with serving REAL (not vegan facsimile) bacon, strong coffee, cereal, fruit -- generally just the works. Then I looked at the route sheet (only given out in the morning) and saw that we were turning right out of camp -- retracing our steps and not taking the monster hill. Sure, I knew there would be killer hills later -- everyone said this would be the hardest day of the trip -- but not starting with one immediately was a big lift. Finally, the weather was great. The rain had stopped overnight, and it was cool, but not too cool, and even periodically sunny.
And the first 10 miles of today's route were truly fantastic. It even started with a long, steep downhill, through a winding, forested road with a running river next to it -- a great way to start, especially after my earlier low expectations. We then crossed a huge dam (definite photo op), followed shortly thereafter with an equally scenic crossing of the Susquehanna River (444 miles long - the longest river in the US that empties into the Atlantic - who knew?). As Amish country faded away, horse paddocks and open fields and vistas were found in every direction -- oh, and hills.
Now I actually like, and am reasonably good at, hill climbing, but the frequency and grade of these was pretty daunting. You know that when you are in your lowest "granny" gear, standing up on the pedals and traversing the hill (i.e., going up in a serpentine pattern to reduce the grade) that a hill is pretty steep. Nonetheless, I'm proud to say that I never walked any portion of a hill, or stopped before the top (I had to set some kind of competitive goals for myself to make it through!).
And the downhills, which inevitably preceded or followed the uphills, were simply fantastic. First, the roads were dry, which means you have normal braking power (wet brakes do squat) and can push your speed. Second, the roads were generally empty, winding enough to be interesting, but not dangerous, and incredibly scenic. It was thrilling. I regularly attained over 30 mph (sorry, Laura) and even maxed out once at 42 mph -- I'm pretty sure the fastest I've ever gone on a bike.
Our lunch spot was at a working horse ranch -- where, surprise, I opted for the non-vegan peanut butter and jelly -- followed by a lovely ride on the (famous?) Horses and Hounds Scenic Byway. Scenic it definitely was. I'm not sure I saw any hounds, though.
The worst hill of the day -- by far the steepest and over a half mile long -- came about 5 miles from the end. The ride organizers had brilliantly scrawled chalk encouragements every few yards up it - which actually helped. And then, at the top, as if on cue, it began raining lightly -- couldn't be more refreshing or better timed.
And then, 3 miles from the end, my front tire flatted (my first of the trip, although the ride's mechanics reported that the group had a record 30 flats in total on Day 2). And, as I was changing my inner tube, the rain got heavy. And then the inner tube valve broke. Ugh.
Anyway, I finally got the job finished and was just remounting my bike, when a pickup truck, going the other way stopped -- and a character right out of Deliverance, with only a few front teeth still in place -- said, and I am paraphrasing here, because his speech was largely unintelligible -- "you better get a move on boy -- those girls are finishing ahead of you -- it's a disgrace."
I of course thanked him for his keen observation and pedaled on.
And arrived a few minutes later, soaked through, at the Pearlstone Resort. And found rooms with queen-size beds! And real mattresses! And linens! And towels with actual nap! OK, I admit I would be very easy to impress at this point, but it is a nice way to spend the last night of our trip. The Pearlstone, by the way, is a Kosher, Green Center.
Again -- who knew?
Seventy miles awaits us tomorrow, with kinder (but, unfortunately, more urban) terrain, as we head into Washington, DC, aiming to arrive on the steps of the Capital at 4 p.m.
I'm even looking forward to it.
Yours from the road,
Day 5 – Done!
Phew! I did it. Made it to DC today at around 3 pm, after riding a final 68 miles in lot of rain.
Details and wrap up email tomorrow (I'm just plain out of energy at the moment).
Day 5 (part 2) – Final Report
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Thank you for your congratulations (and the usual snide, but witty, comments) after last night's abbreviated report. So herewith some final (I promise) thoughts from the road.
Got to our DC gathering point at about 3 pm yesterday, after a somewhat hurried and wet 68 mile ride from Reistertown, MD. The forecast was absolutely horrible, so in the game of diminished expectations, we didn't do too badly. We started off at 7:30 in light rain, which continued on and off until about 1:00, with "only" two or three periods of heavy downpour (which, frankly, is two or three times too many). After that we actually got intermittent periods of sun and were able to dry out somewhat.
The ride was a bit hurried because, a) it wasn't particularly scenic (except for the first hour out of Reistertown and the last hour along the Capital Scenic bikeway in DC, which runs along the Potomac), b) the ride organizers wanted to make sure we all arrived in time for the planned Capitol Hill activities at 4 pm, c) it was wet and cold and d) we had a lot of mileage to cover.
The timing worked as planned, helped by the fact that the final 20 miles was mostly downhill or flat, and we then rode en masse from our gathering point up (or is that down?) Constitution Ave. to the Capitol lawn to assemble for speeches from Senator Cardin of MD and Representative Edwards, also of MD. Also speeches from the CEOs of advocacy organizations, such as 350.org and Railways to Trailways.
It was all quite a scene, and more than a bit inspiring, to be part of a group of 140 riders (plus probably 50 alumni from prior Climate Rides and the families and friends of those riders from the area) cycling through our nation's capital, stopping traffic and drawing assorted cheers from passerbys (we were all wearing the same Climate Ride jerseys, distributed to us for the occasion).
I joined the ride primarily because I like to cycle and enjoy longer-distance challenges. But I ended up being very impressed by the passion and commitment of the younger folks on the ride. Many of them work in businesses or roles affiliated with the "green" economy or climate change, and they talk about what they are doing, and trying to do, articulately, intelligently and with enthusiasm. A good many of them are staying in DC for an extra day to meet with their home state senators and/or representatives and petition them on climate change issues (meetings that are a contemplated part of the ride and facilitated by 350.org). Ironically, and certainly indicative of the difficulty of effecting meaningful change, yesterday evening the Senate voted on ending tax subsidies to the oil companies, and failed to pass the bill by a filibuster-proof majority.
The younger cyclists' energy and optimism - and general overall positivity -- carried over to their biking and the whole trip experience. They were friendly, encouraging and helpful in all respects that I can think of. Based on this admittedly small and unscientific sampling, I think we are in good hands with this next generation.
In sum, camp lodgings and vegan food issues aside, it was an excellent experience. I'm proud of the riding I accomplished -- the hills, the distances and the weather -- and glad to have participated in, helped and learned a bit about an advocacy movement (or, more accurately, movements) for which, in truth, I was not all that enthused initially.
So thanks for listening and for your charitable dollars and kind words of support. I hope these missives helped you enjoy the ride as well, even if only vicariously.
Yours one last time from the road (or, more precisely, from the Bolt Bus taking me back to NY with my bike in the luggage compartment -- ahh, it's so good to sit on a seat more than 3 inches wide),
P.S. Contributions can still be made on my donation page at