3,000 miles. 8 states. 12 riders. 5 crew. 1 Babs. It was a helluva ride.
We left Palatka about 11:45 as we only had 32 miles and were meeting the police escort in St. Augustine Beach at 2:20. As it was, we got there about 25 minutes early. The weather was warm and a bit windy (from the east, of course) and we hardly broke a sweat. A few miles down the road we looked up and saw Lynn’s brother in his Cessna flying overhead taking pictures of us. Mark that down as another first… a fly by!
At mile 20 we decided to pull over at a convenience store for our last rest stop and to toast each other with a chocolate milk. Chocolate milk has been the go-to choice at rest stops for most of us for most of the tour. Something about it on long rides is so satisfying. We had, as Mike calls it, “a Kumbaya Moment” where I told the group how wonderful it was to ride with them and thanked them for being part of this life-long memory, followed by hugs all around.
We then rode the remaining 8 or 9 miles to the checkpoint and waited for our police escort to arrive. Now THAT was cool… following a squad car into town with his lights on! The riders were in front with Babs close behind. When we got to the restaurant there was another squad car directing us to turn right toward the beach where we saw a nice crowd of about 60 people all holding signs and banners and cheering their hearts out. Wow… what a moment! A couple people were holding a tape and the riders all lined up as we approached them and broke the tape together. Followed by hugs and pictures and more hugs all around. We then shouldered our bikes, went out onto the beach and officially completed the journey with a tire dip in the Atlantic. A couple of bottles of champagne appeared, we doused ourselves and had a few gulps and it was now time to go to the restaurant and celebrate!
It was a wonderful celebration and we talked about all the riders and crew, even those that weren’t there. Before I knew it, it was getting late in the afternoon and I was saying my final farewells to each of the team members as they were getting set to go off their separate ways. More hugs.
So that’s it. The ride is over. 3,000 miles. 8 states. 12 riders. 5 crew. 1 Babs. It was a helluva ride. But our cause remains.
Thanks for your support. You have no idea how much it meant.
Love and Blessings, Allen.
Just a beautiful day for riding. Left with an expanded group out of Gainesville this morning with the arrival of Casey late last night. He and his wife Lynn drove all the way down from Raleigh, NC in one straight shot and got to Gainesville sometime after midnight but Casey was his bright and cheery self this morning for the ride. Great having him back for the last couple of days of riding! And great to see Lynn too… always adds positive moral to any group. Additionally, Rich’s good buddy Ivan rode with us today. Ivan is another firefighter so that makes three riding with us… I feel very safe on this ride!
Skies were sunny and winds were light and the temperature was cool and invigorating. All that equals just a really wonderful riding. On top of that, our route today put us on trails for probably over half of the mileage… and good trails at that! We rode just under 60 miles to Palatka with a lunch stop in the town of Melrose where we also met with some in-laws of Lynn Salvo’s. Great lunch and then a brisk pace into Palatka, 30 miles away.
We checked the group into a hotel in Palatka. Boy, we’re getting soft! So much for the camping! We’re only about 32 miles from the finish so Mikes wife Karen picked up Mike and I in Palatka and we are staying with our respective families for the evening in St. Augustine Beach. Then in the morning Karen will schlep us back out to Palatka where we’ll meet up with the riders for the final day!
Well, I should really start with Day 60, because apparently I forgot to blog yesterday. It may have something to do with hydration. Anyway yesterday was the last time on this tour that we got the privilege of packing up our tents. From here on out its hotels. We woke up to a cool crisp morning in Ichetucknee Springs with just 50 miles to our destination in Gainesville. Rich and I, as has become custom, left early to find the elusive extremely large breakfast, which we found in High Springs about 20 miles out. Beautiful ride but being deficient on calories to burn I’d call the pace casual. Breakfast included pancakes. The pace following breakfast I’d call “mashing the pedals.” There’s a correlation there between ability to mash pedals and having pancakes for breakfast. Pancakes are a super-food to cyclists. If a cyclists ever stays with you, like if you open a bed and breakfast or something, give them pancakes for breakfast and they will know that you understand their inner core.
So we got to Gainesville very early before lunch with a few hours to kill before we could get into the hotel or before Babs would show up. It gave me the opportunity to buy a new Garmin at the bike shop as my last Cateye (cycling computer) basically drowned in the monsoon we rode through last week. Not knowing speed or distance while riding was driving me nuts. After the bike shop Rich and I had the opportunity to test out some of Gainesvilles downtown pubs and restaurants, who graciously helped us rehydrate after our hard morning ride. Hydration, as any cyclist knows, is best done with fine Ales, and if those ales are craft ales, then all the better. As was the case here. Of course this soon was followed up with a nap as soon as we got our hotel rooms later.
Now, on to today… we had a wonderful opportunity to meet with the good people at NAMI-Gainesville, who came out in force on this Friday morning to meet, greet, talk about what they do and what we are doing and to give us valuable contacts for our St. Augustine arrival. Terrie Mullin, NAMI President extraordinaire, has her people fired up here in Gainseville and we had a wonderful time!
And now announcing the first annual RTA Golf Championship. Rich, Mike and I (I’m Allen, btw) were the only entries but we had a great time. Rich took the trophy home, but I won’t share his score because it was too embarrassing for Mike and I since our scores were even higher! But it was a great way to relax, do something completely different than ride for a change and have a little fun.
Back on the bike tomorrow morning for Palatka. We welcome Rich’s good friend Ivan who will be riding with us. For the south Florida contingent, we’re a bit concerned as the predicted temperature at ride time is in the mid-40’s. To me that is so far beyond the limits of what I would ride in back home… yes, I am a wus. I don’t care.
The ride is winding down and with each day emotions are becoming more and more mixed. Two months is a hell of a long time to be gone from family and friends back home so certainly everyone is anxious to end this thing. But on the other hand, we have just a few days of experiences, adventure and riding left so each mile is becoming more and more precious. We somewhat arbitrarily decided to end on Sunday, November 15th many months ago and as that date approached we’ve stuck to it, knowing it may be more than we need but keeping in mind that those extra days may come in handy for weather days or whatever. But here we are on Wednesday and we are really only one long bike ride away or two moderate rides so we could easily be in St. Augustine Beach by Friday afternoon. But family and friends (and there’s a lot of them coming) have made plans, rented houses and hotels and arranged schedules to meet us on Sunday. So we’re basically riding around in circles in North Florida waiting for Sunday. Everyone is understanding of the situation though so there really is no tension about it. As I’ve been saying all along, this is an exceptional group of people and each is making the best of it.
So on to today. Yes, another exceptional day of riding. The weather was cool, the winds were light and mostly favorable and the scenery was outstanding. And on top of it all, WE WERE IN ANOTHER PARADE!
Brenda found this parade in Live Oak on the internet and we called yesterday and sure enough, they had room for us. Obviously it was a Veteran’s Day Parade and the highlight for me was meeting Earl Mills, the Parade Grand Marshall, a WWII Vet who parachuted into Normandy and Holland with the 101st Airborne AND was at Bastogne, Belgium when they found themselves completely surrounded by the Nazi’s. Ever see “Band of Brothers” on HBO? That’s basically this guy. Amazing. We were told he would be arriving to the gathering point in a red convertible and Rich and I were walking around when we saw this red convertible drive up and the driver got out looking for someone. So there’s old Earl sitting in the passenger seat grinning like he just got a new toy for Christmas so Rich and I came up and introduced ourselves. Right at that time the rest of the RTA gang came along so the timing was perfect… we had a nice little chat and took the group picture before the parade got underway. The parade? Oh that… well now that we’ve been in two of them it was old hat and we rode behind some horses, dodging the obvious, and went out to a nice breakfast afterwards.
Following the parade we had a rather casual ride to our campground in Ichetucknee Springs (say THAT three times fast!), checked out the park, had a wonderful dinner that Brenda and Lynn put together and that was pretty much our day.
Tomorrow we continue our snail’s pace with a stop in Gainesville. We’ll probably hang out there for an extra day and then do two very easy days to St. Augustine. That, or maybe we’ll just circle up to Georgia or down to Orlando. Who knows?