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A Preview of DC in MS

Monroe, LA to Vicksburg, MS

Today the roads flattened out and gave us a really, really easy 80 miles. The stereotypical Louisiana roads smoothed out about 10 miles in, and from then on, it was ‘smooth sailin’. On a day like today, when the ride is nice and easy, there are several things we tend to do to pass the time, and you probably guessed it, crazy challenges. My pace line and I did some things that I definitely would not let my unborn child do, mainly because of the safety issues; however, our young age and average time spent per day on a bike has made us somewhat invincible. For example, I took a picture of a couple of the guys rehydrating each other going down the road, and at some crew stops others got involved in a new hobby, called corn diving. This comprised of riding your bike into a corn field and jumping off, letting the corn stalks softly catch you. I did not partake in this sport, but definitely got a good laugh out of it.

As we neared the end of our ride, we stopped just before the Mississippi river to sign some release waivers to cross a bridge. Signing anything of legal importance scared the team a little bit because we weren’t sure how safe this bridge was going to be. The bridge we would be riding across is usually closed to the public and no cars are allowed to drive on it. We gained special permission for our group, but the support vans would not be following us. We were expecting to ride over a condemned bridge struggling to stay intact, but it actually wasn’t that bad. We’re not sure why the bridge doesn’t operate normally, but we could tell the width was just wide enough for about 1 1/2 cars. Something about crossing the bridge and the Mississippi River brought back memories of San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate. I couldn’t believe I had made it this far, and thinking back to that cold morning to kick off the trip seemed like ages ago.

Jackson, MS

Our short 55-mile trek to Jackson, MS was another walk in the park. We are really getting in the Deep South, the south that I’m used to seeing. Over farm roads and country bridges we rode, enjoying and taking in the scenery. A lot of the northern guys were really impressed with what they saw. Some commented: “This is why I chose to do South route”. It felt good to hear those words and to see that they liked the area.

One cool part of the day was when a crop dusting airplane buzzed right over us at about 150 feet. It was so cool getting to see a plane fly that close. As we were refilling on water at a crew stop, the plane came by and landed to refuel itself. It literally landed on a mowed down strip of grass that shouldered the road we were cycling on! About 30 min. later we heard the engine roar above us and we all looked up to see it fly right by and continue dusting the crops to our right.

The arrival into the state’s capitol was amazing, possibly the best arrival so far. The city was celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and we were part of the huge reception. As we rode closer and closer to the capitol building I started to get chills down my arms and spine because it felt like I was riding into Washington D.C. The police sirens sounded off to let the awaiting audience know we were close and you could hear the people shouting and cheering from the distance. With about 100 people in attendance, we rolled in and lined up behind the guest speakers to hear the mayor’s proclamation.

It’s always a great feeling to hear the words being read from a proclamation recognizing the efforts and goals of Push America and what we as cyclists and crew are trying to advocate. I really felt blessed to be part of something that means so much to some people and the fact that 90 college-aged men can raise empathy and over $500,000 for people with disabilities.

After the reception we headed over to a big fair with a moon bounce, live music, and lots of arts and crafts for the event. There, I got to meet a lot of people about my age who have disabilities and also very dynamic and surprising personalities. The highlight of my day was one a teenage girl asked me if I would bounce her around in the moon bounce. I was almost shocked because she was a perfectly normal looking girl, who just happened to be in a wheelchair, and her request was the last thing I expected. It never occurred to me beforehand that people in wheelchairs don’t get an opportunity to have that kind of feeling, and without hesitation I hopped in and bounced her as high as we could. I admired her courage, and something so simple as bouncing around made an impact on me. I think I take the freedom of walking, running, and jumping around for granted, and even though I feel like I’m getting closer to understanding people with disabilities, this experience was something new for me.

Tonight we’re staying at a First Baptist Church – one that features a gym and bunks for summer programs. It’s a little shady though because the complex is located in a bad neighborhood and is constantly watched over by an armed security guard. It’s a little nerve-racking for some of the guys but I think we’ll make it through the night.

Jurassic-Era Alligator

Shreveport to Monroe, LA
July 22, 2010

After performing the role of crew chief to perfection (I think), it was time to get back on the bike to finish up our last leg in Louisiana. We woke at our usual 5:30 AM calling and prepared to bike what we thought would be a mostly flat 120-mile day. However, we were pretty surprised to encounter many rolling hills, which was actually pretty tough and brought back memories of New Mexico. It might sound crazy, but most of us actually prefer climbing mountains than riding hills. The long continuous climb of mountains allows us to find a rhythm and really get down in a good grind; but, climbing hills on the other hand doesn’t really allow for a steady rhythm and therefore is somewhat more difficult. With triple digit, Louisiana temperatures tacked on, the ride proved to be a little more difficult than we anticipated, so, we passed the time and took our minds off the misery by talking and debating about the movie we watched last night, Inception.

Around mile 80, we were met with brothers from the local chapter at Louisiana Tech. They sponsored us with some nice sandwiches from Subway and ice cold, refreshing Powerade. From lunch onward, some of the chapter’s brothers joined us for the ride and commiserated about the quality of Louisiana roads which provided many bumps for our always-sore bottoms.

For dinner, we had a friendship visit at an organization that exists to help people with disabilities live completely on their own. These people hold their own jobs, pay their own bills and buy their own groceries. The best part about the meal though is that I was able to sample some local Louisiana cuisine. Alligator that is. One of the volunteers showed us a picture of her son and the said Alligator, which looked like it was dug up from Jurassic Park. Apparently this gator was being a pest and her son was the one who killed it. It may have been a pest, but it definitely tasted great being part of the jambalaya!

After just arriving in Louisiana yesterday, we are on our way out and into Mississippi tomorrow. I am counting down the days until Alabama, and truly can’t wait to see everyone on our stop in Birmingham. Our stay tonight is at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The dorm rooms are brand new, and we each have our own personal bedrooms, which we have come to value as a great luxury.

Mid-summer Mix Up

With our bellies still full of the Texas size steaks and our bodies in warm comfy hotel beds, it was a small challenge to get rolling this morning. Today I was not going to be cycling but instead performing the very important role of crew chief and therefore had to wake up thirty minutes earlier than the rest of the team. One of the regular crew members was going to do his ride along and therefore we shuffled the roles around a little. Our project manager became a regular crew member and our regular crew chief became the day’s Project Manager. I was really excited to take on the challenge of managing the crew and cyclists safely from Longview, TX and across the state line into Shreveport, LA.

With a borrowed red crew polo on, I gave the first instructions to the team as they left lodging. “Right out of lodging and then left at the light!” The directions were then repeated by the cyclists to show they understand. As the last pace line rolled out I quickly said a prayer and asked that everything would go smoothly today.

Some minor construction and safety hazards were the only obstacles that stood in the cyclists’ way. The team arrived just a couple minutes late, which I was thankful for. As crew chief, I had to make a decision whether or not to rack the last pace line in the essence of time. The decision was really tough because I know how hard the cyclists push themselves to make rack point, but in the end, I had to call it in. For lunch we were sponsored by the Shriners Hospital of Shreveport. The arrival was really cool with a lot of kids and media coverage. One of the kids gave us a tour of the hospital which featured a train set, air hockey table, and lots of fun things the children could play with.

After our friendship visit we loaded up the vans and headed to lodging at a huge church called the Calvary Baptist Church. The church even had its own small school system! Our dinner was sponsored by Mr. J. Ernest Johnson, an alumnus from Auburn University which is just down the road from my own at UAB.

Being crew chief today was a really cool experience and I got to see how everything works ‘behind the scenes’. I wanted to have an awesome surprise for my fellow cyclists so at one of my crew stops I had water balloons for them to get crazy with. It was tons of fun and really brightened up everyone’s day from the heat and humidity of Louisiana. I also put on my own “jalapeno challenge”. I had a lot of jalapenos from a sponsored dinner left over in the van, so I challenged some of the guys to eat as many as they could without water. Not to be outdone, the cyclists kept “one-upping” each other until all that was left was the juice (which another cyclist drank straight up). As a cyclist myself, it was fun getting to put together cool things for the team. Tomorrow we leave for Monroe, LA, our last city in Louisiana. It’s unbelievable to a lot of us that we’re passing through this state in a mere two days. With just over 20 days left until Washington D.C., we are dreading the end while the trip seems like it’s going by faster and faster.

A Great Ending to Texas

Fort Worth to Dallas, TX – 35 miles
7/18/2010

The 35 miles today seemed to be a lot easier than it actually was. We all knew that it was going to be a very short day and as a result, “shut our minds down” in anticipation of an easy ride. Our path was all urban, making us stop at almost every red light. Around mile 25-30 everyone in my pace line was literally screaming for the day to be over. Once we “finally” got to our lodging for the evening, we took advantage of the free time and relaxed. I went to a local bike shop that is the biggest one in the country and saw a bike that cost over $10,000! It was crazy seeing a bike cost the same as a car!

That evening our ride along, Randy Stillinger, treated us to an awesome pizza dinner and some time to play this really cool game called whirlyball. I had no idea what the heck whirlyball was, but was really excited to play. Whirlyball consists of two teams with each player riding around in bumper cars. Each player has a scoop, similar to a Jai alai scoop. The object is to score more points than the opposing team by flicking a ball into a goal. The game is somewhat face-paced and requires some skill at maneuvering the cars and passing/shooting the ball. We had a ton of fun trying to master all the different techniques. The place even let us commentate over the game using the in house mic and sound system, which we used to knock on each other using inside jokes from throughout the trip. At the end of the day, we were all in high spirits and felt really recharged for the next couple of days.

Terrell, TX – 50 miles.
7/19/2010

Not too bad of a ride today. Our ride along, Randy, was leaving us after about a week of cycling and living with a bunch of “young guys”. He left us with a few words of wisdom from his experiences during and after his own Journey of Hope back in the day. He also showed us a ton of pictures from his trip and it made me realize how well off we are this year. The team used to really camp out, mostly sleeping in tents outside wherever they went. Randy really connected with a lot of us as his subtle but hilarious comments really took the edge off a lot of situations. As an Apache pilot for the military, we all wished him a safe and successful career and thanked him for all he had given the team.

Our lunch was sponsored by the Terrell Lions Club and it featured Country Fried Steak and Sweet Tea. (I capitalize these two because as far as I’m concerned they are proper nouns). Afterwards we headed to a nearby park where we performed a Kids on the Block show for a group of kids from a local summer camp. I think we’re getting really good at doing the show and I’m really beginning to see the puppets as real characters instead of inanimate objects.

For supper we went to the Terrell State Hospital where we got to spend a lot of time with the patients there, who had some emotional problems in the past and were in the midst of rehabilitation. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from the visit, but I had a great time. We played a lot of different games and just got to know all the different kids. After we said our goodbyes we made our way back to lodging at a Super 8 motel. 105 miles awaits us tomorrow so we’re hitting the sack early.

Longview, TX – 105 miles
7/20/2010

We awoke at 6 AM, looking east towards Longview, Texas. Longview will be our last stop in the state of Texas, and most of us are looking forward to entering the flat lands of Louisiana. We packed the vans and ate a nice continental breakfast sponsored by the lovely people from the Terrell Chamber of Commerce and began our departure from the relaxing Super 8 Motel. We rode out of the city of Terrell by double pace line and were accompanied by police officers to ensure our safety through the bustling streets. This escorted departure was a cool change from our escorted arrivals. Once we made a bit of progress out of town and down Highway 80 East, our lawmen friends said their goodbyes and we were on our own for the next 100 miles.

One rather nice surprise was a wonderful sponsored lunch by David and Melinda Thomas. Instead of the normal ham and cheese sandwiches we are supplied with by our crew chief, Nick Breaux, we were blessed to dine on pulled brisket sandwiches, watermelon, and sweet tea. It was an extraordinary lunch and we were all extremely rejuvenated after the long miles.

Finally, with much pain, toil, and sweat, we arrived at the Fairfield Inn, our lodging for the night. There we were greeted by the kind staff and quickly assigned rooms for the night. As we arrived at our dinner location, we were excited to see a large basketball court, beautiful house, large swimming pool, and a few cows in the pasture. We got to the front door of the house and were greeted by our hosts, the kind volunteers at AMBUCS. AMBUCS provides mobility solutions to people with physical disabilities. We swam, played ping pong, and chatted with our new friends until we were interrupted with the loud call for dinner. This was not any ordinary dinner, it was a full spread. There were chips, cheeseburgers, hotdogs, sausages, salads, drinks, cookies, and most importantly, fifty ounce steaks! These were easily the largest steaks I or any of the other team members had ever seen. They were amazing. Most of the team cut the behemoth slabs of meat in two, but a couple of us, including myself, took the challenge of devouring the entire piece. It took about an hour to finish it, but I was able to hold the cow down. The portion was so much that I later felt really sick and almost threw everything back up.

After dinner, we lounged around with our stomachs stuffed to the seams and enjoyed the late evening in Longview. Today was a great finale to our time in Texas. We’re finally moving into the south with our stop in Shreveport, Louisiana tomorrow.

Finally, Some Cowboy Gear

Fort Worth, Day 1
7/16/2010

Today was one of the worst days of the trip. It wasn’t because of the heat or some mountainous climb, it was, surprisingly, because I had to stay off the bike. Last night I felt an excruciating pain on my right eye that left it extremely sensitive to light. I wear contacts, so I figured that it an eyelash or some dirt had gotten in, but even after I took out the lens the pain and sensitivity was still there. I went to bed last night with the hope that by morning everything would be alright.

Initially when I woke up I felt a very minor discomfort, but thought that everything would be okay and I would be able to ride. However, after exposing my eyes to more light I quickly realized that it would be a much wiser decision to take the day off. I realized that taking a risk of injuring my eyes more would be more detrimental than getting them checked out and staying on the safe side. As odd as it seems, it was a real bummer not going through the same routine as any other day. While my cycling compadres suited up and pedaled out of lodging, I sulkily hopped in a crew van.

I went ahead into the city and found a local optometrist to check my eye out and it turns out that I was experiencing symptoms of a scratched cornea. He said he had heard about the bike ride and sponsored my clinic visit and some antibiotic eye drops. I immediately put a few drops in and went to meet up with the team 60 miles in at our sponsored lunch at Chipotle. We’ve had a couple lunches at Chipotle before, and even though the food is great, it is terrible getting back on the bike because we end up passing gas into each other in the pace line. As much as I miss this, I was sort of glad I wasn’t a part of it today.

We arrived 20 miles later in Arlington, TX with a police escort and a nice welcome. Here at Arlington City Hall, the mayor proclaimed today as Push America Day and we were treated to really nice smoothies and protein bars. After this we hopped in the Univ. of Texas – Arlington swimming pool and got ready for our wheelchair basketball game with the UTA Movin’ Mavs, who are 7-time national champions! We put up a really big fight but ended up losing 77-8. Tonight we’re staying in a dorm at Texas Christian University. I’m hoping that my eye recovers quickly as I really missed being on the bike today. Watching my teammates work really hard made me feel bad because I wasn’t with them. Tomorrow’s day off should provide some much needed rest and hopefully I’ll be able to ride into Dallas.

Fort Worth, Day 2
7/17/2010

We’ve been looking forward to today for awhile. It’s our first day off since Roswell, NM and being able to sleep in until 8am was really nice. We were all treated to an amazing breakfast from Einstein Bros. which features fruits, bagels, and five different flavored cream cheese! Afterwards, we spent the next few hours making bike shop and Wal-Mart runs and a couple of us even laid back down to relax.

Lunch was provided by Carlo of Z’s Cafe. Carlo was a cyclist in Gear Up Florida in 1998 and owns his own cafe and catering company in the local fine arts center/gallery. The lunch was great and the desert was even better. Since we missed out on cowboy gear on our way into Muleshoe, we took the time after lunch to stop by the Fort Worth Stockyards, which is now a big tourist/shopping district. Here, we bought boots, belt buckles, hats, and anything that screamed Texas.

Just when we thought the day was over, we were surprised to find out that we were going to a friendship visit in the city of Hurst with the Kinder Frogs, a local organization that works with children with down syndrome. We spent a couple of hours hanging out with the kids in the pool and finally headed back to our dorm rooms at TCU.

More Challenges into Stephenville, TX

It’s our sixth straight day on the bike and the last leg of the “Texas Triple Crown”. Most of the team has already fallen short of the challenge but we’re pumped about today due to a really nice roadside lunch scheduled and a visit to the oldest Dr. Pepper factory in the world! Of course, on a long day like today there’s only one thing to do on the bike: challenges.

Two geniuses in my pace line wanted to do a ‘real challenge’. Something that only ‘real’ men in their quest for glory would do. I overheard one conversation later today and it went: “Mom, I’m sorry. Today… we did what we called the cigarette century… the Marlboro Miles… the cancer stick challenge. Yes, I know how stupid this was, and I will NEVER smoke a cigarette again in my life.” These two guys smoked an entire pack of Marlboros over 110 miles on the way to Stephenville, TX. As painful as it was for them, the rest of us got a real kick out of it because we heard them coughing and panting the entire day. Nevertheless, they finished the challenge, which I thought was a good way to show them how bad cigarette smoke is for your health.

Another cyclist took the “Tampico challenge”. The requirements for this was to drink an entire gallon of Tampico orange juice (and no water) throughout the entire day. I had never heard of Tampico until I went west, but apparently it is a highly sugared, 2000 calorie ‘juice’ drink. He had a rough time as well and I wasn’t sure if he would finish but he managed to pull it through. That would also probably be the last time he ever drinks anything like that for a while.

For lunch, a few guys who rode Journey of Hope in the past drove about 3 hours with a bunch of brats and a huge grill to cater for us. The brats were awesome and a nice change to regular hot dogs. As we continued from lunch, we were stopped by an old couple selling peaches in front of their house. They told us that they see us ride by each year and have always wondered what we were doing. After giving them all our information, they graciously handed out cold, fresh peaches to all the cyclists! This was definitely an awesome desert to an awesome lunch and it was cool hearing their story and getting to spread our message.

We rolled into Dublin, TX about 15 miles outside of Stephenville. We were really excited to go to the Dr. Pepper factory because we could get floats, ice cream, and most importantly, Dr. Pepper made with real cane sugar! After learning about what we were doing, one of the managers let us sample anything we wanted and even gave us free bottles of Dublin Dr. Pepper. I had a classic float and afterwards bought some cool memorabilia.

Tonight we’re staying at the Graham Street Church of Christ. Dinner was sponsored by the Scroggins family, who graciously welcomed us into their home (and swimming pool).

Catfish, Armadillos, and Bread Pudding

Day 2 of the “Texas Triple Crown” was supposed to be impossible.  Our rack point for the day was 75 miles in 4 hours, so we prayed to God for tailwinds and the strength to push harder than we’ve ever pushed. 100 miles down the road lay our next destination, Abilene.

Our pace line was cutting through the air like a knife. We were tight and the adrenaline was flowing through us like gasoline. We were making great time with little to no headwinds and passing the time by singing some traditional fraternity songs and telling stories. One of the most memorable sights of the day was a wind farm that we cycled through in the morning. It was really cool passing by these whirring giants, and with the sun rising behind them, made the moments extra special and magical. Today no one was supposed to make rack point, however, two pace lines made it.

Unfortunately, my pace line was not one of the two, but we did make a decent distance. We were just around mile 70 when a crew van pulled up and racked us for time. Even though we didn’t make it, we felt pretty accomplished for our distance and our efforts. Our first arrival was with Disability Resources Inc., which was absolutely amazing. DRI began in 1987 with the wish of a young man who wanted a place to live, work, and play with his friends. From that wish to now, the mission of DRI has been to assist developmentally disabled individuals achieve their full potential in a Christian environment. The organization has grown to forty-nine participants in residential and vocational programs with seven group homes and a thriving vocational center. DRI treated us to a nice brisket lunch which featured a couple of their products, Down Right Incredible barbecue sauce and salsa, which were, you guessed it, Down Right Incredible!

After eating an amazing lunch and briefly meeting with a few of the residents there, about half of us split off to ride 6 miles to our second friendship visit at the City of Abilene Adaptive Recreation Services. Apparently a huge dance was waiting for us, and once we arrived the party got started. I met a lot of new friends showcasing my amazing talent at dancing (and falling). After the dance died down, a summer camp of kids came by and we performed a Kids on the Block show for them. KOB is an educational, fun, and interactive way to teach kids how to interact with people with disabilities. It tells the story of 3 individuals who each have a different disability but also shows that more importantly, they have a lot of ABILITIES.

This evening we were sponsored by the Wehmeyer Family, whose son rode Journey of Hope several years ago. We took a short drive down to Buffalo Gap to this famous steakhouse called the Perini Ranch. The Perini Ranch Steakhouse caters food to people all over the world, including the President, and has been featured on a multitude of cooking shows. I bet you’re thinking we had these huge wonderful steaks but we too were pleasantly surprised when we saw… catfish. Many of the cyclists were a little skeptical about fish, but we weren’t at the Perini Ranch for ‘average’ eats. The catfish was perfectly seasoned and cooked and literally melted in all of our mouths. We followed the catfish with a desert I’ve never had before, bread pudding. The famous Perini Ranch bread pudding, as legend tells, is harvested straight from the clouds of heaven. I didn’t know bread could ever taste this amazing…this succulent…this mouth-watering.

It was difficult to leave the Perini Ranch Steakhouse, mainly because we couldn’t stand up or walk, but we finally had to say our goodbyes. We took a picture by this 30 foot, Texas-sized, steel armadillo at the ranch to commemorate our memories of the dinner. A gym floor awaits our slumber tonight. We’re looking forward to tomorrow because we’re scheduled for a roadside grill-out with several guys from TCU and a visit to the Dr. Pepper factory as we pass through Dublin, TX.

If you would like more information on Disability Resources Inc, follow this link: http://www.driabilene.org. Another big thanks to the Perini Ranch Steakhouse and the Wehmeyer family for sponsoring our amazing dinner.