Final Thoughts of the Crew

Ron’s final thoughts:

At the end of every journey comes a time for reflection on the insights we have gained from our travels. My bike trip across the United States is no exception. The first thing that I learned is that from adversity comes new perspectives. When our bikes were stolen, I experienced a spectrum of negative emotions, but soon came to the realization that it was only property that was taken and that can be easily replaced. The truly important things such as family, friends and relationships are the possessions that must be guarded most closely.

Next I had a new appreciation for vastness and beauty of the United States. When I saw the country from the saddle of a bicycle, it gave me lots of time to look around. Each state and region has a unique quality which differentiates it from all others. From California to Florida the variety is almost unbelievable.

I also came to appreciate the friendliness of the American people. The negative stereotypes that I had about people in the deep south and Texas were groundless. I can’t count the number of times that people told me to have a “safe trip”. They seemed genuinely interested in our travels. At times they were a little difficult to understand even for a speech pathologist. I only had complaints against a few pickup drivers in Texas.

The last and most important thing I realized is how fortunate I am. I was able to take seven weeks to fulfill a dream. I kept my tired, old body together with just a few aches and pains. I have an understanding wife, Mary Jane, who supported me in this crazy endeavor, and I have five friends and team members who always had my back. Not to mention five drivers that saved us more than a few times. How lucky can a guy get?

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Allen’s final thoughts:

You set out on an adventure like this and sometimes the hype doesn’t live up to your expectations. This one did. As a matter of fact, it exceeded my expectations. As you all know, we had a rough start to our trip in San Diego. For several hours that day, I thought I was coming home. Roger summed it up best that day as we were all deciding if it was possible to salvage the trip. “We started this together and we need to finish this together.”

I was constantly amazed at how the landscape around us seemed to change each day. That doesn’t seem possible riding 80 miles each day but it did. One of the more memorable days was the day we rode from Safford, AZ to Silver City, NM (115 miles). Riding in two separate groups about 30 miles into the ride we came to an intersection called Three Way, AZ. Bob and I went left the others went right when we should have all gone straight. Turns out all but the support driver chose wrong. That set off a chain of events none of us will ever forget but we all ended up in the right place shortly after dark.

The first of my two favorite riding days came on the stretch from Bayou La Batre, AL to Dauphin Island, AL. In Bayou La Batre, a lady in a parking lot insisted we needed to take the scenic route. Turns out Shell Belt Road is the shrimp boat capital of Alabama and also the site where Forest Gump was filmed. A few miles later we found ourselves on a 7 mile causeway that included a 3 mile long bridge to the island with a few dolphins swimming nearby. The next day we took the ferry from DauphinIsland across MobileBay to Ft Morgan and rode for 60 miles past white sand beaches through the communities of Gulf Shores, AL, Orange Beach, AL, and Pensacola, FL.

Maybe the most remarkable thing about the trip is that all six of us were still riding at the end of the seven weeks. Many start a trip like this but a good number don’t finish. We all made it to St Augustine healthy and in one piece. We couldn’t have done it without our drivers. Dan, Joe, Rick, Teresa, and Jill. you were as much a part of this trip as the 6 riders – Thanks. Many people have asked me since I’ve returned home would I do it again? Absolutely I would and with the same six guys.

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Roger’s final thoughts:

First of all, WOW!! My experience was awesome from the moment I found out my bike was the one which wasn’t stolen, all the way across the southern tier of states, and to beaches of St. Augustine. Awesome!!

The guys- This group of friends I biked with was just awesome. We left for the ride as friends and, when we returned, we were still friends. How cool is that?!? There were moments when each of us was probably irritated with each other but, for the most part, we really got along. After the first few days, routines appeared which enabled us to act like a ‘well-oiled-machine’. Get up in the morning. Take care of bathroom necessities (That’s all I’m saying about that!). Get on the bike and ride all day. Usually one of the other riders had to change a flat somewhere on the route that day. Arrive at the next overnight hotel. Unload baggage out of trailer and into our hotel room. Do bike maintenance. Relax, shower and have a few drinks. Watch ‘Duck Dynasty’, and go to sleep early to prepare to do it all over again.

The challenges- The challenges probably were different for each of us. There were a few days on the bike that were a little longer than I would have liked. One 120 mile day with heat, a sizable mountain pass and a stiff headwind all day comes to mind. I’m one who didn’t complete that day. Traffic was another challenge I didn’t like. I ride a recumbent so imagine sitting in your desk chair, reaching your left hand straight out to your side and have an 18-wheeler going past at 70 mph. Not a fun time.

The best things- There were many “best things” about the ride for me. The sense of accomplishment for me upon completion was a great feeling. Especially since no one got hurt. When you’re riding your bicycle across the continental United States, you have a lot of time to think. Think I did. I thought about things that were most important to me.

Here are just a few:

Faith- I’m Catholic and I found myself needing to pray the rosary nearly every day. I had a lot of conversations with God that gave me many “Holy Spirit” moments. I really discovered that even though I do have a relationship with God, it could be better. During times when I felt like traffic was too scary or if I needed extra strength to ride up a mountain pass, I found prayer helped me a lot. I frequently rubbed the crucifix on my handlebars at times such as these.

Family- I discovered how important my family is to me. Sue, my wife, deserves a medal just for allowing me to do this ride. Instead, we’re soon leaving for France for two weeks. Greg manned up and took care of the home fort for me and kept his studies at DMACC going at the same time. I’m extremely proud of both of them. My parents and my brothers and sisters and their families were also present in my thoughts about family.

Friends- If anyone knows me and considers me a friend, they probably already know how important they are to me. The emails/text messages/Facebook “likes” really helped me along the cross country trek. Of course, my STCR riding companions rank at the top of that list.

All this being said- when are we going to do it again? Thanks for following our blog!

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Phil’s final thoughts:

We traveled to the California coast to a city that holds a lot of charm and after all of the planning and execution that was involved, we enjoyed a sweet but personally challenging short ride. But then Bob’s ashen face appeared in the hotel room saying the ride was not going to happen. Well, I was having second thoughts on how this ride was going to shake out. I certainly did not want to have our bad luck somehow turn out worse. There are a million things that can happen on a ride. Some of those are not good. I kind of had grown attached over the years to all of my friends on this ride. I was not looking forward to any more disasters or heart break. I had signed on for only the laughs, tour director!

We picked up our shattered visions and naiveté. Then we figured out that the credit card companies were going to enjoy a modest bump in our spending. We found what we were looking for, bought it, and then ran for the hills as it were. So started a sojourn that lasted until we reached the Eastern seaboard in Florida.

The first few days were interesting and challenging. Temperatures were just a tad bit below where we would have liked them to be (clear into Eastern Texas). Is that sniveling? No, just stating a fact. We were escaping the Iowa winter, right? Roger’s first spill of the ride, highlighted a rain filled last few miles of the day, early in the ride, but did not dampen his spirit. I took this as a good sign. Then the indoctrination started with episodes of Duck Dynasty. Oh how we were tempted by someone to walk into its light.

The mountains provided us the physical challenges to harden those who had not been in spin classes. Brian’s meals at the end of the day, along with re- hydrating each night, helped to heal the souls that were stinging from the mental challenges that beset us along the way. Then there was the wind. Ah, yes that miracle of miracles. The world, in all its wisdom, sent us the blessed wind. It was only blowing from the wrong direction! Ahh…tour director? I only signed up for the TAILWIND ride.

The rest days were so enjoyable. Shopping for more re-hydration products! Finding missing personal items multiple times during the same day. Doing goofy stuff when we didn’t have to get up and ride. Dining out at a sit down restaurant to further us from the memories of “not another Subway”!

In the end the challenges were many, but the rewards were too many to count. I had a great time with my friends. We shared our pains and some foggy memories that turned out to be too funny not to remember. We had a great time with all the drivers who supported our efforts. We lived life on the road. I enjoyed the people I met, the food that I devoured and the drink that was offered. Will I do this again? I hope to! What’s everyone doing next year?

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Brian’s final thoughts:

My ride across America was a very personal and a soul searching event for me. I didn’t do it for grand accolades and certainly not to become an attraction of the news media. I do however want to thank my wife Linda, family, friends and other followers for all their support and encouragement.

During the seven week journey, I learned a lot of things about myself. One being that if I ever undertake a trek like this again, I can’t think of 5 better people to do it with than Roger, Ron, Allen, Phil, and Bob. (Hey, they never asked me to leave!)

As to my thoughts, ramblings and memories of the Southern Comfort Ride, in true Lone Wolf fashion, I just plan to keep them to myself. Thanks again, Brian

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Bob’s final thoughts:

As the crew knows, a few times it was difficult to write the blog after a long day on the bike. Realizing the value of the website journal we kept when crossing the Northern Tier route in 2001, I knew it would be worth taking the time to write about our journey. If even one person out of the hundreds who followed our adventure via the blog is moved to step out on their own adventure because of what they read, it was time well spent. Allen and Phil provided most of the pictures you saw and every crew member provided input for the daily writing of the blog.

As you can tell from the other member’s final thoughts, the scope of a bike ride like this is a major accomplishment for those who take it on. I enjoyed every minute on the bike with these five friends and hope to ride many more miles with them.

Despite having an auspicious start to our journey when our bikes were stolen, I will repeat something I said 12 years ago at the end of that journal:

We are blessed to live in a beautiful country that we can ride across and feel safe doing so.

We are blessed to have ridden this distance with no major accidents or injuries.

We are blessed to have had the opportunity to take this much time away from home (and in Allen’s case work).

And above all we are blessed to have understanding partners at home who were willing to take on the extra challenges while we were “off somewhere riding our bikes”!

St Augustine, Florida

After the celebration on the beach, a good meal and a good night’s sleep the STCR Crew had one more day to enjoy the sights and warmth of St Augustine, Florida, before heading back to the reluctant spring of Iowa. Linda, Sue and Pam had already been at their beach condo for several days, so Brian, Roger and I moved in with them being careful to respect the routine they had already established. Although I never did quite get it down, it had a lot to do with the beach and Starbucks coffee in the morning, while the afternoon focused on the beach, a wine & cheese happy hour, and out for dinner. While we three struggled to learn this new ritual, Ron, Phil, Allen, and Jill got rooms at a nearby Best Western Motel and came to the condo to learn the beach, happy hour, out to dinner part of the routine quite nicely.

Nearly 450 years old, St. Augustine, Fl. is the oldest city in the U.S. and we found plenty to see during our short stay. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is the oldest masonry fort of the Spanish colonial era in the continental U.S. and has a fascinating history. The churches, shops, harbor, restaurants and narrow streets of old St. Augustine, along with the beautiful sugar-sand beaches made our crew unanimous in it’s decision to return sometime soon.

The two day ride back to Iowa was a long one as most trips home from an adventure are. I can’t help but think that the members of the STCR crew spent at least some of that windshield downtime in a little self reflection on what this journey across the southern U.S. has meant to them. As the unpacking and washing of clothes gets done over the next couple days, I have asked each crew member to write down their final thoughts about this adventure we shared. When I have them all I will add one final blog post to our story.

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20130424-112742.jpg Our condo on the beach

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Adventure Accomplished! 4/16/13

It was a warm start to the last morning of our biking adventure as we rode out of East Palatka towards St Augustine. The light fog burned off quickly to provide the STCR crew with a virtually flat 50 mile ride. And I do mean flat, we climbed only 147 feet during the entire day and that must have been mainly the bridges and overpasses.
The fields along the road were growing acres of potatoes and cabbage. The potatoes were in all stages of maturity: some ready to harvest, some just blooming, and some just coming through the ground.
Since the day was such a short one we only made one stop, which was at Molasses Junction. It was actually just an ancient crossroad convenience store about 19 miles from the beach in St Augustine. Jill went on ahead to meet up with Sue, Linda and Pam at the beach for our celebratory conclusion. After the tire dipping pictures on the beach, the ladies offered two bottles of champagne that we all shared a toast with. We are thankful that we have come through this entire adventure with no major accidents, injuries or illnesses. Considering the time on the road and the number of miles we traveled, that is a major accomplishment in itself.

After some relaxation on the beach, the whole group went to the Saltwater Cowboy Restaurant to celebrate our adventure’s conclusion.

20130416-213047.jpg Brian was ambushed last night while sleeping in the van.

20130416-213245.jpg Ready to leave for St Augustine on the last day.

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20130416-213653.jpg Potato fields

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20130416-214144.jpg Bridge from downtown to St Augustine beach

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Dinner at Amelia’s

We were in need of some Italian food the evening we were in Gainesville FL. So Jill, Allen, Ron, and myself set our sites on Amelia’s. It was located in the older historical part of Gainesville. We arrived slightly underdressed in the pouring rain. We were graciously greeted and seated. Our waitress was very attentive and helpful with our choices from the menu. A Antipasto plate arrived with a lovely arrangement of meats and cheeses. The salad course was crisp and delicious. The entrée course arrived and all were beyond our expectations in presentation and taste. A heartfelt thanks to chef Andy and the wonderful staff at Amelia’s. Their personal touch and caring about our experience made us fans for life. – Phil

Gator Country 4/15/13

After a Subway breakfast across the street from the motel in Gainesville we rode for just a few miles before getting on the 13 mile Gainesville – Hawthorne State Trail. This was a delightful trail through swamp, 200 year old live oak trees draped in Spanish Moss and dense marsh forest areas. Although Allen has been scouring every swamp area we pass through, thus far, there have been no alligator sightings. We have tried valiantly to appease him by pointing out all the dead snakes along the road but he seems less than eager to get near them. The four recumbent riders stopped in Hawthorne after we got off the trail to have some key lime pie & chocolate cake for a mid-morning break, while Ron and Brian soldiered on. The balance of the day’s ride floated along on gently rolling terrain, with a wide shoulder and smooth pavement below our wheels.
Brian decided that for our last feast we would have salmon on the grill, with Rotel rice and lettuce salad. Jill picked up chocolate brownies for dessert!

Hold the presses!! There has been an ALLIGATOR sighting! Just before supper Allen went down to the St John’s River to take some pictures and saw “gators”. We all walked down to the river after supper and sure enough we spotted an alligator lounging in the water. With the help of Jill’s binoculars we all got a good view of it and Allen got pictures. Mission accomplished!

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20130415-213235.jpg Coming into Palatka

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20130415-213703.jpg Finally, an alligator

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20130415-213841.jpg Gecko, a slightly smaller lizard

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Three Days and Counting

Very light sprinkle or two to start the 75 mile ride from White Springs to Gainesville, Fl. We put rain gear on and off several times during the day but the rain held off until after we got to our motel at 3:30 pm. Then the main storm hit and it literally poured for an hour plus. The crew was definitely lucky with the weather once again today.

This morning we stopped at a small town cafe for a great country breakfast at about mile 15 and then headed out again to try to dodge the sprinkles. We continue to see great numbers of vultures along the road doing what they do best – cleaning up the road kill.

The route today continued to give us great views of the countryside. Pastures of cattle, timberland, and the ever present Spanish Moss guided us into Gainesville. On our way across Gainesville we stopped by the University of Florida to tour “the swamp” better known as the Florida Gators football stadium.

20130414-191720.jpg Country cafe

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20130414-192041.jpg How would you like vultures roosting on your house?

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20130414-192233.jpg Nature’s armadillo road kill collector!

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20130414-192900.jpg We noticed that mopeds are very popular on the University of Florida campus.

Florida, It’s Not All Sand and Swamp. 4/13/13

We had a cool 48 degree start to our 86 mile ride to White Springs, Fl. It soon warmed up for a beautiful ride into north central Florida. Early in the ride Brian found a dead snake along the road that he attached to his rear bike rack with bungee cords in order to show it to Allen in the next town. Let’s just say, Allen was less than impressed!

Later in the day we crossed the Suwannee River. It is a “black water” river, so called because of the high concentration of tannins that leach into it from decaying vegetation. The river was running full and the water really did look black.

Some of the pictures over the last few days have shown the Spanish Moss hanging in the trees. Actually it is not a moss at all but a bromeliad, a perennial herb in the pineapple family. It is so thick on many of the big oaks that we wondered if it kills the trees, but in fact it is not parasitic at all, and does not harm the tree.

This part of north central Florida is very agriculturally oriented. In addition to a number of center pivot irrigation corn fields, we saw a large number of cow herds on pasture. Timber stands of
loblolly pine trees were also prevalent which explains the many logging trucks we have encountered on the road. Baling pine needles to use in commercial landscaping was a new farming operation we witnessed at a rest stop. Another interesting thing we noticed is that all of the rural mailboxes face the ditch. The mailman drives off the road on the ditch side of the mailbox to deliver. This way he is off the road while at the box and doesn’t need a special car to deliver mail. Of course unlike Iowa they don’t need deep ditches to catch the snow.

I am sure you are tired of hearing us say we had a great ride again, but we did! To top it off,
Brian fixed guacamole, brats, chicken and sauerkraut to go with the three salads Jill purchased at the grocery store. Oh yes, and chocolate cupcakes for dessert. Life is definitely good!

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20130413-204850.jpg Spanish Moss

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20130413-205100.jpg Slash left after pine tree harvest

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20130413-205301.jpg Ditch delivered mail

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20130413-205820.jpg Parking lot social hour after supper