Just stumbled on this and had to share. So beautiful, so far beyond words.
an Epic ride to help End cancer for Everybody (but mostly Ericka)
Just stumbled on this and had to share. So beautiful, so far beyond words.
Just a quick note to let you all know that Ericka (a.k.a. the most convincing female Eminem ever) is doing really well. Today we went to the oncology radiologist and she got fitted for her radiation therapy which will start in about ten days and last through the middle of December.
It was all a weird blur of contrast dyes, CAT scans, masking and three tiny tattooed dots that will allow the physicists (yes, physicists!) to line her up properly for each of her daily treatments.
As for me, I have so many thoughts and memories swirling around in my head from this past month’s journey across New England. I reached all six states and cycled through at least 145 towns and cities. It was such an incredible journey and I can’t possibly thank you all enough for the love, the support, the shout outs, the financial contributions and everything else that made it all possible!
Yesterday I dove right into National Novel Writing Month because deep down inside (and all the way up to the surface actually) I’m a total nerd. So please excuse me while I dig into that. I’ll check in on the blog occasionally but you probably won’t hear much from me until I come up for air in December.
Sending love and light! FUCK CANCER!!!!
My route out to Mattatuck was just over forty miles. Gorgeous ride, perfect length. Should’ve put me back at home right around eighty-two total like I wanted, but I took a different route back and it ended up being a bit shorter.
I figured I’d get to Danbury and do a few victory laps somewhere to make up for any missed miles so I could officially surpass 1,400 – but I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids. It was getting late and I had promised all four of them that I’d be there for trick-or-treating. How ridiculous would it be for me to be late because I was riding around in circles for a number that doesn’t seem to mean anything to anyone?
My mileage total has always been an estimation anyway because I didn’t use an app like Strava and I had bike computer issues on three of my rides.
Instead of putting unnecessary emphasis on my grand total I decided to pack it in and just get home. I showered quickly and headed out the door, arriving at their house just in time for the building frenzy of four kids excited to get out into the neighborhood. The ten-year old vampired me up – blackened cheeks and eyes, bright red lipstick to look like blood dripping down fake fangs – and we were off:
One Harley Quinn
One living dead breast cancer awareness cyclist
And the most convincing female Eminem you’ve ever seen
It’s never been about the miles anyway. It’s always been about them.
And look who’s hair is growing back!!
Officially getting to 1,400 miles would have been nice. But trick-or-treating with a gaggle of nut cases, candy swapping on the living room floor and snuggling in bed to watch Alvin & the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman was priceless. I’m gonna go ahead and say that with 1,395.2 miles, I came close enough.
Happy Halloween! And love and Love and MORE LOVE!!
Tomorrow is the last day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and my last ride for Cycle My Heart Out. My plan is to put 82 more miles on the bike which will land me at 1,400 total for the month. Far from what I originally intended, but it still feels like a really good stopping point.
I’m going to head north through Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington, then east to Mattatuck State Forest.
Tonight I feel such a mix of emotions. I’m looking forward to a scenic and quiet last ride partly to help me make peace with this journey ending, and partly to help me clear my head to figure out what’s next.
Most importantly I’ve got to be back before dark so I can get my Halloween on by joining Ericka and the kids for trick-or-treating. No matter what’s going on in our lives, having our priorities straight is always one of the most important aspects!
Thank you again to everyone who has supported this effort. It means the world to me that you’ve helped me help my friend. And for anyone who intended to give but hasn’t gotten the chance yet, it’s not too late! Anything you can do to help will in fact… help!
My Uncle Bill taught me how to skip rocks and fish up on Lake Champlain in Vermont, and by “fish” I mean I would catch and release tiny yellow perch with a pout of excruciating boredom across my face until he caught an actual trout. Then he’d hand it off to me and we’d race up the dock to the house he was renting, him giving me all the glory. “Look at this beauty! Can you believe this little pipsqueak nabbed such a big fish all by herself?!”
I thought about him a lot as I was riding south through Vermont last week. He lived in a couple different states but for a while he was near Rutland. My grandmother would drive her grey Chevy Celebrity up Route 7 to visit him and my Aunt Carol. He was the oldest of her five children, the one who took her to hot air balloon festivals in Arizona, the one who drove her cross country to see California and Mount Saint Helens. The only one she lost.
Most of my memories of my Uncle Bill are from Candlewood Lake in Danbury, CT. That’s where he had the speedboat. That’s where he would yell, “I’m letting go so you better take the wheel!” as we’d go whipping across the surface at speeds that seemed unimaginably dangerous to my eight year old self.
Losing Bill to lung cancer in 1996 was devastating for everyone. He was only 56. Way way way way way too young.
I’m circling the lake today remembering how he and Carol were always out there on their boat for the Fourth of July fireworks that were set off from the island near the Danbury Town Park. I’m remembering the sound of his gravelly deep laugh, how tall he was. How much fun it was at their wedding because Lionel Ritchie’s Dancing on the Ceiling had just been released and the videographer kept turning the camera upside down on the dance floor so it would look like we were on the ceiling too.
I’m circling the lake slowly through Sherman, thinking about how tired I am today, so tired of riding, and for a minute I have the audacity to complain. Immediately there’s Joanna cheering me on. “When you’re finished you can light the bike on fire if you want! For now, ride Jenny ride!” And I just want to smack myself for being such an ass.
How lucky I was to get so many summers with my Uncle Bill as a kid, to have this treasure trove of memories of his smiling face tossing horseshoes in my grandmother’s backyard, because not everybody gets that. I’m circling the lake somehow forgetting about Joanna’s daughter Eleanor who will never get to know her Uncle Frankie, another awesome uncle gone way way way too soon, also to lung cancer just this past January.
So how about I shut up, remove my foot from my mouth, and ride for her?
Of course Eleanor has other great uncles, just like I do, but I know that Frank would have been to her what Bill was to me. I hate that my mom and Joanna both lost perfect amazing totally awesome big brothers, idols. Frankie, the jokester who was always laughing, every single time I ever saw him. Either laughing, or cracking a joke, or trying to jump off the roof of the Contorno’s house into the pool. How impossible is it to lose that person?
I continue past Squantz Pond through New Fairfield and back into Danbury. I’m passing the Amber Room where Ericka and I went to the prom twenty years ago. It’s also where I ran the Ann’s Place 5K along with Frank’s wife Lauren back in August before I started pedaling. And I’m thinking of my Aunt Carol and Lauren losing husbands, best friends. The utter impossibility of it all.
Heading home from the lake I ride down Hayestown past Abbot Tech and over Hospital Avenue. I pass the Praxair Cancer Center where Frank, Ericka and countless others received their chemotherapy. I take White Street to Cross Street and start up the back side of Old Shelter Rock to Skyline. I’m crying long before reaching my grandmother’s house, which still hasn’t sold since she passed over a year ago. When I finally get there I lean my bike against her mailbox and collapse onto the grass.
The maple tree in the backyard is gone now. The one my teeny tiny Grams pulled a large branch from out of frustration and anger, slashing a huge gash into her leg right after Bill died. Mothers are not supposed to lose their children at any age. I cry for the pain she felt. I cry for Frank’s mom Cathy.
I started today for my uncle and I ended it for the Contorno’s, every single one of them. Frank wasn’t just a delightful human being; he was a beacon of light amongst his family and in his community. Hundreds of people attended his funeral. Nine months later friends continue to post messages to his Facebook wall. The King Street Intermediate School where he worked planted a tree and dedicated a bench to him, engraving it with Live Laugh Love. He was so important to so many people.
Losing a family member to cancer is gut wrenching and atrocious. As a family mine has had many years to grieve but the Contorno’s have only had a few months. The loss is so fresh, so visceral.
Joanna I’m sorry for complaining. I love you so much. Thank you for waking me back up to what really matters.
When I initially saw the weather report for Maine, nothing but rain, I just wanted to give up. I was warm and toasty at a friend’s near Boston and it would have been so much easier to say I’ve done enough and I just want to go home. But nothing I’m doing out here has been as painful or as uncomfortable or as awful as what Ericka’s been doing back home. And she does it all with a grateful smile on her face.
So yesterday I waited out the rain in Ogunquit at a packed little hole in the wall called The Omelette Factory. I knew if I could put in four hours on the bike I’d be able to cross over a big milestone – 1,200 miles – so I was OK to wait until noon to start. That’s exactly what I did and it turned out to be a gorgeous ride from Wells Beach up to Old Orchard and back in my sixth and final New England state!
It’s been clear for quite some time that my initial goal of over 2,000 miles in thirty days was just a tad overblown. Haha! That’s putting it mildly. Going into this I really had no idea how far I could go or how fast I could get there, I just wanted to set out on something epic enough to get people’s attention and raise a decent amount of money to really make a difference.
My true goals have been to plaster all six New England states with fliers (done!), flash as many people as I possibly can with a big grin when they notice my FUCK CANCER jersey and to tell a good story that sheds light on what really happens when a woman is diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I won’t reach my mileage goal but all of those other more important things are happening and the donations are still piling up.
Meanwhile back at home Ericka has continued her trek up Recovery Hill. She’s been to physical therapy to increase range of motion in her arm. The surgical oncologist removed so many lymph nodes from her armpit she’s had a lot of pain in that area and difficulty stretching.
The physical therapy will help reduce her chances of having lymphedema, which will be a concern for the rest of her life, and also get her to the point of being able to rest with her arm above her head while lying down. That’s the position she’ll be in next month when she starts five weeks of daily radiation.
It’s all still so much to take in but she keeps moving forward no matter how difficult or painful it gets.
Tomorrow she’ll continue physical therapy and implant spacer inflation. She’ll start to grapple with what radiation is going to be like and hopefully figure out what the heck is going on with her eye (ocular nerve damage being another little tidbit left behind from our dear friend chemotherapy). Meanwhile I’ll tackle the Kancamagus Pass from Conway, NH to Lincoln, NH and back – over 2,000 feet of elevation gain in each direction. We’ll be brave and strong for each other as we each tackle hills that at one point may have seemed insurmountable.
And I figure whatever intended miles I don’t conquer on this journey, I’ll make up for in vertical feet tomorrow. Haha!
Wish us luck! And don’t forget to check out my fundraising page. If all of you made a tiny contribution we’d be able to help a tremendous amount of people through Ann’s Place, and of course my dear friend and her four wonderful kids! Ten or twenty bucks goes a long way when it’s multiplied by all the people tracking this story!
Here’s me surpassing 1,200 miles at Wells Beach in Maine! Thank you SO MUCH for the continued love and support!!
Northern Vermont scarred me. That’s a bad place to start but there you have it. It’s crazy up there.
I thought Vermont would be like Massachusetts. I thought there would be towns every few miles with houses and people walking their dogs in between. But Vermont is not like Massachusetts. I know that now.
When I started the trek south from Burlington on Monday I was wearing every item of clothing I had: sports bra, the tank top I slept in, my No Barriers bamboo wicking t-shirt (the one that dutifully reminds me that what’s within me is stronger than what’s in my way), the homemade pink sleeves my mom made out of knee high performance socks, a long sleeve shirt, my hoodie and my new yellow windbreaker.
I had my hood up under my helmet and folded around my chinstrap to keep my cheeks warm(ish). Instead of contacts I put my glasses on, which I never do when cycling, because I thought maybe they would cut some of the wind going to my eyes. I doubled up on socks with toe warmers sandwiched in between the two layers. And I had my sweatpants on over my leggings and cycling shorts.
It was 21°.
A lot of you don’t know me well but those who do would tell you very quickly that I don’t do cold. Thank goodness I stopped at the first country store I found because the next semblance of civilization was 25 miles away. (That’s over 2 hours on by bicycle!) There I picked up the toe warmers and also got a pair of fluorescent orange fleece gloves. Can I just pause for a moment to say… I looked fabulous!
I was still so cold I couldn’t feel my feet. The only thing to do was keep moving.
I battled a strong head wind the entire way. Ninety-five miles from Williston, VT to Manchester, VT. The only saving grace was that the sun was out, though I couldn’t feel it, and there was no rain. I rode for what felt like forever and had only passed two towns and the small city of Rutland by sunset.
Here’s me in the pitch black of night still cycling down Route 7 towards Manchester. No one is out. I am the only person out. There are more rustles in the leaves beside the road than there are cars passing me. People in Vermont know to stay indoors when it’s dark outside but this is one of those not-so-well-planned days for me where I don’t know where I’m going to stop and I don’t have a reservation or a friend anywhere. In a nutshell I’m the only idiot on a bike at night desperately seeking a hotel room I did not plan ahead for.
When I finally found a motel that had a vacancy, after four failed attempts and numerous desperate unanswered inquiry phone calls, I texted my parents vowing I would never in my entire life ever step foot in the state of Vermont again. Ever. (Even though I was still there.) Then my dad had the gall to suggest I go out and find myself some dinner. As if, after almost eleven hours in freezing cold lonely desolation, there was any chance of me leaving a heated motel room!! I think it’s so ridiculous that I’m doing this on a bicycle that people just forget I don’t have a car to jump into.
I showered, ate cashews and a protein bar, then slept like the dead.
All day Monday I had been thinking that was the worst it could possibly get – to be so cold, so far away from human connection, so lost in the desolation of a frigid unpopulated landscape, even if it was ablaze with gorgeous fall colors. And then I woke up to a drizzly Tuesday and it got so much worse.
I still had 40 miles to ride south before I crossed over into Massachusetts. Nothing to do but keep moving even though it was barely 40° and the rain was getting heavier. At least it was above freezing and on Tuesday I had a destination to look forward to: my friend Patti’s house just outside of Pittsfield, MA.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever get there. Google maps immediately sent me to a dirt road that was going all uphill. Google maps put me on a lot of dirt roads in Vermont, (because why pave a road no one’s going to drive on?) which I can handle for the most part when it’s dry, but in pouring rain no way. I’m out there on a road bike with skinny tires and a 20 lb. pack on the back.
Within seconds my shoes and legs were caked with mud. It was really white and looked like wet cement from the tip of my toes all the way up to my knees. I was slipping in every direction.
I had no choice but to turn around and figure out a different plan. I headed east to Route 7 only to find out that part of it was a major highway that prohibited bicycles. I spun around west to Route 30 which took me back over to 7A: super narrow, no shoulder, lots of trucks, a bunch of hills, still raining = AWESOME. At least I was heading south on pavement.
After a while I hit the next town and some construction guys told me where I could find a convenience store. I made my way to Paulins in Arlington for a hot chocolate and a cinnamon donut, the staples of my Vermont weekend diet, and tried to dry off a bit. It didn’t really work. Looking at the maps and forecasts I knew I was going to be soaked at least until Bennington.
The weather wasn’t going to change where I was, so I got on my bike and kept moving.
Once I got down to Pownal and crossed the state line into Williamstown the roads dried up and the sun came out. The temperature rose and before I knew it I was on the absolutely stunning and well-maintained Ashuwillticook Rail Trail cruising alongside the Cheshire Reservoir. Back to civilization at last!
After a few miles on Route 8 and Barker Road I eventually got to where I needed to be: under a hot shower at a good friend’s house with a beer waiting for me when I was done.
I’m telling you Vermont wore me down. But I pulled through. It’s a beautiful thing when you make it out of a difficult situation alive and well with a good story to tell. I’ve got five states down and only one more to go. As of right now my back is out and my bike needs love, but Maine is staying on the docket for this weekend.
It’s crazy to be home in Connecticut for a rest day and it’s 70° and sunny. Here’s me trying so hard to smile as I rode south through snow kissed pastures in northern Vermont.
In Pittsfield, VT I met two of the most hospitable and generous people: Simon Burrows & Jessica LaCroix. They run Great Bike Tours in Vermont and the Florida Keys. Their yearly travels also take them to South Africa and New Zealand. They bought me a delicious dinner at Casa Bella and put me up for a restful night. Then the following morning they helped me map the rest of my route north to Burlington.
Unfortunately ten miles into my ride on Saturday it started pouring. I pulled off the road to an antiques store called Wildwood Flower that wasn’t open yet and hunkered down under the awning to stay dry (though I was already pretty soaked) when the owner came out and invited me in to dry off by his wood burning stove. I keep meeting the most awesome helpful happy wonderful people on this journey!
The owner mentioned a bike shop a mile farther up the road and when I texted Simon he confirmed I should go to Green Mountain Bikes and tell them he said hello. The guys there were totally cool and helpful. They were out of my size for the cheap rain jacket so instead they hooked me up with the expensive version for the same price. Total rock stars! They made my day and made me warm, dry and most important VERY VISIBLE!
I cruised up the VT Scenic Byway Route 100 as fast as I could and managed to snap this photo about ten minutes before the hail storm started.
I went as far as I could (20 more miles) in non-stop freezing cold rain. It felt like ice chips pelting my eyeballs. There were puddles of water in my shoes. I lost feeling in four of my toes. They went completely white! I got pretty nervous and decided to stop in Warren, VT to dry out again at the country store. Lucky for me I got rescued by my friend Rob and driven the rest of the way of the Burlington, VT.
Rob just got his 18 year-old son Dan off to college but I got to spend a much needed day off with Rob and his awesome 15 year-old son Tom, sipping maple syrup hot chocolate and eating copious amounts of cider donuts before an incredible dinner at Prohibition Pig in Waterbury, VT.
I can’t begin to fathom losing a mother as a teenager or the love of my life at any point ever. Rob and June were a perfectly matched couple who were great role models to me when I was a teenager in dance class and learning the ropes as a stage manager in the community theatres of my hometown.
Rob would tell you he offered me a job once. I would say he opened the door to my theatre career and trusted me with something no one else had up to that point: more responsibility than I deserved. I ran with it and before I knew it I was stage managing all over the region, building quite a resume before college that eventually got me to the top of my field in New York City.
He’s good like that. And he’s great with his boys. Despite their horrible tragedy last year it’s clear he’s got everything taken care of. His sons are very lucky to have him as their dad.
So much love and gratitude to everyone I met on my way North and to Rob for opening his home to me even though he hadn’t seen me in over 20 years!
I can’t believe I’m three fourths of the way to northern Vermont!
Here’s me with Stacey & Jennifer from So Delicious Homemade Bakery in Kent, CT. Not only did they offer me free amazing coffee cake, but they were so moved by the work Ann’s Place does they want to donate services and product to future raffles and functions. Thank you ladies, you rock!!
And here’s me with Anne Meddaugh, an old friend of Ericka’s mom who put me up at her beautiful home in Keene, NH. Her husband Billy cooked me an incredibly delicious vegetarian dinner which we shared with their awesome cyclists friends! And there was pie with fresh whipped cream!! Such a wonderful night. Thank you Anne & Billy!!
And here’s me leaving Keene for the first time this morning (as in there was a second time)… more on that fiasco later…
Tomorrow I ride to Burlington, VT to honor June Nolan Poodiack who we lost way too young to pancreatic cancer this past December. June was my childhood dance teacher and the first instructor I assisted for. I have a million happy memories of her and I can’t wait to spend time with her husband and boys this weekend.
This ride has been so far beyond challenging I can hardly believe I’m still pedaling. But it’s been worth every ache and every hill. Tomorrow I ride for the husbands and the sons.
Onward to Burlington!