My adventuring spirit didn’t just magically manifest. It’s hereditary. (Thanks, Pops.) I can’t speak for how my dad was before I came into this world. But I believe that he started to embrace (or maybe re-embrace) his adventuring spirit just when I started to rediscover mine. I was 14 years old. I had been diagnosed with depression and in response to asking what I could do instead of take antidepressants, my doctor told me, “run.” And so, I started running. And as I ran, my dad biked alongside me. Soon, he was rollerblading alongside me. And then, he too was running.
My dad has been a part of a lot of my adventures, from picking me up when I rode my childhood mountain bike 40 miles from home and was too tired to ride back, to guiding me as I ran backwards to be able to finish my first marathon running after my knees hurt too badly to run forwards. He understands that when I set my mind on something, I will do it. No sense in talking me out of it. He supports me, encourages me, and sometimes even joins me.
So, for a few of his birthdays over the last several years, we have embarked on an adventure, perhaps to test his mortality. For his 55th birthday, I gifted him “the epic bike ride.” My dad said many times that he thought it would be cool to say he rode his bike from his house to the shore. So why not make it happen?!
On September 24, 2016, at 6:20 in the morning, with no training, we turned our tires down the driveway of my dad’s home in Tylersport, Pennsylvania, with our sights set on Cape May, New Jersey. There was still a fog to our exhales, and we strained to see since the sun hadn’t yet broken the horizon.
This was mile one. We had 111 miles to cover. This was going to be epic.
The start was ordinary, passing through towns we had ridden through many times before. But then came Germantown Avenue. Through Chestnut Hill, it turned into trolley tracks flanked by cobblestones, both of which threatened to eat up our thin tires. Early Saturday traffic was kind, keeping its distance from us, but my inner voice was still screaming. All I could think about was the trolley tracks grabbing my front tire, launching me from my bike and under a Septa bus. My child-sized biking gloves dug into my thenar webspace as I gripped my brakes for emotional support, leaving a faint trail of burnt rubber the whole way down the hill. Thankfully, neither of our bikes were eaten up and neither of us ended up under a Septa bus. We had made it through Chestnut Hill unscathed.
After 33 miles, we were crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge. It was my dad’s first time crossing on the foot path. I’ve crossed it many times before but always on foot, never on bike. The Ben Franklin Bridge is easily my favorite part of Philadelphia. You’re out of the congestion and into open sky where the breeze has no barrier. It’s where I go to let my thoughts and dreams breathe. It meant a lot to share the bridge with my dad, who does his best to keep me dreaming. After a minute of taking in the open sky, we carried on.
Shortly after crossing into New Jersey, we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts to eat breakfast, have a little caffeine, and warm up. We looked at the map book my dad made for the trip and refilled our water bottles. The handmade book was spiral bound and filled with laminated turn-by-turn directions.
My dad knew I would have us head East, hoping we eventually ran into beach. So, he took it upon himself to plan a route. All we had to do was follow along, turn by turn.
With the next few turns locked to memory and thankful to be out of hilly Pennsylvania and into flat New Jersey, we took back to our saddles. But the hills didn’t stop. They rolled on through Jersey incessantly. Our memories, however, weren’t as persistent. We made a wrong turn or two, circled around to try again, and then succumbed to a break.
We laid our bikes onto a grassy patch alongside the road and slumped down to chow on some homemade energy bar. My dad had created what he deemed to be the most energy giving bar. It was the size of a large baking sheet and was filled with oats, nuts, raisins, bran flakes, and a bunch of other things he couldn’t recall, all of it held together with honey. We took turns reaching into the large Ziploc bag to pull off pieces as we discussed our options for getting back on track. Setting the homemade map book aside, we asked Google for some help.
We were 68 miles into the ride but were still 50 miles out from Cape May. Our turnabouts had tacked on 7 miles. But we were still on track to finish before sunset and the roads had flattened. We knew we were going to finish this. After sucking the honey from our fingers, we clipped on our helmets and took back to our saddles. We were feeling confident!
Then came the mile of sand.
The road we found to get us back on track was only a mile long but, we discovered, was also sand: not dusted with sand, not hard packed sand, just deep and loose sand. Where did this sand come from?! And why did someone think it was a good idea to “pave” a road with sand?! My back tire kept fish tailing, and every push moved me no more than an inch. This was the only point I was thankful for not having clip in shoes, because I would have fallen over again, and again, and again. My dad said I was too light and needed to make myself heavier so I wouldn’t ride on top of the sand but sink into a groove instead. After about a quarter mile of struggling to “be heavier,” I hopped off and trotted my bike the rest of the way. (Stupid sand road.)
Now we were back on track and cruising. But our energy was quickly fading, and our butts were killing us! If it weren’t for my padded shorts, my sit bones would have broken through my skin. (No doubt.) After riding the same road forever, we stopped for more of that homemade energy bar and a map check. We had missed another turn. We were now 100 miles in with 20 miles to go. We had tacked on another 2 miles. But the sun was still shining, and neither of us was backing down. So, we got back on our saddles.
At this point, we weren’t talking too much. We were focused on making every single turn, so we could finally eat something other than that homemade energy bar. The miles ticked by slowly and the sky began to dim.
Just before the sun turned off completely, we pulled into the neighborhood of the house we were going to stay at that night in Cape May, New Jersey. We excitedly zigzagged along the road, around corners, and finally into the driveway. We peeled ourselves from our saddles and lifted our bikes overhead for a victory shot. We made it!
The ride: 120.2 miles covered, 8.25 hours in the saddle, 10.75 total hours of adventure.
After quick showers, we drove to Wild Burrito for a vegan feast! There was SO much food. And none of it was homemade energy bar. It was perfect. We were surprised at how little our bodies hurt and thought for sure we would be in so much pain in the morning. But when we woke up, we walked with no issues! So, we feasted again! (Adventures should always include lots of food.) Then, we rented kayaks and paddled our way under bridges, through tall reeds, and along open water. And before driving home, we dug our toes into the warm sand.
There had been no medals and cheer squads. We didn’t even get t-shirts to commemorate the experience. But we didn’t need any of that. We had the adventure. It was ours. And that’s all that mattered. It was one epic ride. Thanks, Pops.
Side Note: Now, we may have completed this ride without proper training. However, I don't advise it! Completing an endurance event without proper training is a good way to injure yourself! My post Going the Distance gives a brief explanation of the body's adaption to endurance training to help you better understand the importance of it! Read up and then train up!