About Lea's Foundation

In 1998, Lea Michele Economos, a young woman who died of leukemia at the age of 28, made a dying wish to her parents that others would not face the hardships she encountered by finding a cure for this disease. Her family started this charity to carry on that wish. Today, Lea’s Foundation takes an active role in finding a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and myeloma and to better the lives of people living with these diseases. At the UCONN Health Center, the Lea’s Foundation Center for Hematologic Disorders sponsors research in this field. A new program covers the cost of bone-marrow testing to help recruit life-saving transplants for patients. Also, annual scholarships are given to children with leukemia who are planning to attend nursery school. For more information on other projects carried out by Lea’s Foundation, please visit their website at www.LeasFoundation.org.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 38 - Rest Day in Grand Island, NE (0 miles)

Jonathan: Reflections

600 miles in 6 days. As I sit on my comfortable queen sized bed, basking in the air conditioning that distinguishes the motel interior from the 100 degrees of humidity outside these walls, I can't help but reflect on what has been an absolute roller coaster.

Over the past week, each day has seen 8-10 hours of sitting on a bike. Sunrises quickly become sunsets, and sleep is merely an unconscious delay towards the next day of riding. Reaching the destination at the end of the day is an incredible feeling, as relief and satisfaction overwhelm the body-- but it is short lived. After a quick meal, shower, and scramble to take care of any remaining needs, it is off to bed only to continue the grind the next day.

If you, the reader, believe that it is possible to remain completely sane throughout this process - you are mistaken. The journey on the road is flooded with highs and lows, and very little in between. The high moments leave one feeling on top of the world, while low moments can be completely demoralizing. 

Luckily for us, the week started on a very high note. Leaving Shoshoni Wyoming, I was already stressed at the complications caused by my patella tendonitis, while attempting to prepare mentally and physically for what would be my longest day thus far - a 125 mile ride to Glenrock. Compounding to the stress was the fact that the road was through the Wyoming high desert. Miles of seemingly endless highway with limited resources in between (one convenience store for 100 miles). But little was I aware of the (literal) push I would receive that day.

The winds blew easterly with sustained forces between 15-20 mph. Leaving breakfast, I remember feeling the wind rush through my hair and forcing a smile on my face. It felt powerful, and more importantly, it made me feel powerful. Pedal after pedal, the bike gained speed. It was effortless. Looking down at the speedometer, I witnessed a reading of 30 mph,  but was still in disbelief. The bike was moving so quickly, that all feeling of the wind had disappeared. This was an illusion of course, for the wind was still there. It was like I had become the wind. My bike was an extension of my body and for the first time in days, I was excited to be on the bike. Finally, I wasn't simply going through the motions, but I felt alive. Invigorated. It was like medicine for my broken body.

While days like this are necessary for the spirit, truthfully, they are far and few in between. It is this realization that has forced me to focus less on hoping for great days, and instead to brace for the impact of the difficult ones.

Upon reaching Nebraska, we had anticipated miles of flat road and eastern winds -- smooth cycling. This was not the case. The winds were strong, and they were against us. Pedal after pedal, we had to work for distance. No meter came easy. In our lowest gears, we sustained speeds of 9 mph. The ground was flat but it felt like we were climbing, only this time we would not have the gratification of a downhill reward in the future. As minutes became hours, my mind became more desperate for something to blame. I thought about how "unfair" the situation was. I pondered why the winds had to fight us. How much simpler this could be without such an incredible resistance. Deep down, you start questioning if fate is simply against you. Although these thoughts are pointless, the darkening skies and thought of hours of riding until reaching the destination keep them in the back of the mind. 

The constant cycle of highs and lows is taxing on both the mind and the body. At times it is easy to ask the question; Why keep going? And truthfully, there are many answers to this question, all intermingled and contributing to our individual motivations. But sometimes, it requires something above the daily minutiae of thoughts to truly act as a reminder of why we endure such physical and mental hardship day in and day out. 

Upon reaching Brady Nebraska, we were hungry, battered by winds, and an hour away from our destination. Distant thunderstorms left us trapped in this small town which had no restaurants but a local bar. One of the waitresses saw us and immediately sat us, reading the distress on our faces. She learned of our story and our cause and was immediately humbled by how far we had come and how far we still had to go. After ordering, she told us that our meal had been paid for. Such a simple gesture, but the impact was indescribable. Among the midst of struggle and hardship, it is too easy to be blinded by the moment to moment challenges. Incredibly, a simple gesture was enough to remind us why we ride. For the foundation, and all the good the ride was doing. For ourselves, and all the strength gained from perseverance. This was more invigorating than any tailwind -- and immediately, I felt like I had once more been saved from the doubts and fears that plagued  my mind.

So we keep on riding. Mile after mile, hour after hour, each turn of pedal brings us closer to home. Closer to our families, friends, and normal lives. Personally, I yearn to be surrounded by all the people whom I've grown to miss desperately on the road, and almost every day, I daydream about being reunited with them. But a process like this cannot be rushed. Day after day, I know we will become closer to home and until that day comes it is necessary to be immersed in all that is going on in the present. The highs, the lows, and everything In between. Truthfully, I don't think I would want it any other way.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 37 - Gothenburg, NE to Grand Island, NE (104 miles)

We woke this morning knowing that we'd have a strong westerly tailwind behind us that would slowly transition to being a more northerly crosswind. Either way, not having a headwind was a very welcome change.
We made good time to Cozad with the usual stream of cargo trains following us on our journey. There was not much in Cozad save for an arch proclaiming Cozad to be the location of the 100th Meridian. Unfortunately another sign accompanied the arch, saying that the rod between Cozad and Lexington was closed and that traffic should detour onto I-80. This was not an option for us. The gas station clerk called her mom (a member the Cozad Police Department) who said we could ride through the construction zone. We took this pseudo-permission as sufficient and headed past the orange and white barricades. I was happy to not have to add a 5 to 10 mile detour to our daily agenda.
The construction was to mill and repave the highway to "Lex" as the locals all it. The shoulder was amazingly smooth and we flew with our tailwind for about 10 miles. Cruising 18mph hands-free was a great way to rest my ulnar nerve damaged hands and a good morale boost for the day. Passing past the construction crew we were videotaped on one of their cell phones, not sure why he felt the need to do that. Fresh out of the construction zone, we stopped in at a local restaurant serving breakfast.
We were seated next to two ladies finishing up their breakfasts. They asked about our trip and fundraising for Lea's Foundation. After we ordered they asked if we had ordered a hearty meal because they wanted to pay for our meal. We thanked them profusely and could not believe we had had two consecutive meals donated to us. After they paid, they returned and wished us well before giving us another $25 cash donation. Nebraska is tough, but the people here do seem very genuinely interested in what we are doing.
Stops in Overton and Elm Creek kept us fueled up and hydrated. Today's heat did not reach triple digits, but the humidity is the highest we have felt yet this trip. We can now feel ourselves sweating profusely every time we stop moving. Previously we would just have salty deposits on our skin after hours of pedaling.
We grabbed lunch across from University of Nebraska Kearney. We planned to reach Grand Island, another 40+ miles ahead of us. Today's trip was particularly flat and straight even for Nebraska. We could see small towns approaching by their silos appearing over the horizon miles and miles before we actually reached them. The trains remained our source of entertainment and we continued to exchange waves with the train engineers. I reflected that some of train drivers had likely seen us already in a western part of Nebraska. The next train that passed had its engineer hanging his whole torso outside his locomotive window as he waved at us.

With a stop in each small town on the way to Grand Island, we crawled our way to "GI". In Wood River a young couple asked us where we were biking. The girl said she thought she had seen us "back in Lex" that morning, but could not believe we had managed to make it so far.

Finally the sun was setting again, the temperature cooling, and our pace to Grand Island quickening. With a motel near a Denny's and a rest day on the horizon we knew another late night breakfast was imminent. Google Maps showed us a shortcut down Husker Highway and before we knew it, it was time for breakfast #2 of the day. We reflected that while biking at night was cool and easy, we needed to get back on a more sustainable early schedule.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Day 36 - Ogallala, NE to Gothenburg, NE (94 miles)

Another day, and once again we face headwinds, heat and ever-increasing humidity. Small towns came and went, and we kept pedaling into the wind, determined to ignore it and distract ourselves from the fact we'd be heading straight into the wind. The drive to get home to Connecticut drives us, but the challenge of wind and monotony of Nebraska make us want to stop constantly.
Another day of train counting, music, TED talks and discussions about how to improve the ride ensues. My biggest issue at this time is ulnar nerve pain in my hands every time I hold onto my handlebar, and even worse shooting pain every time I let go of my bars. There is no relief, and it's something I feel I will have to push on through for the rest of the trip.
Leaving Keith County we reached Central Time! For the first time since Eastern Oregon, we had escaped Mountain Time. To me, this was one more check mark on the list of tasks leading to home.
Eventually we reach North Platte. We eat at Taco John's and seek refuge from the hottest day of the week, with temperatures reaching 100 and a bit beyond. After lunch we sought out a bike shop: new rear tire for me, tri-bars for Jonathan. 
As a side but vitally important note, the bike has officially earned the nickname "Moose" - Jonathan 
 The steep hill in town was not welcome after our Mexican food lunch. Bars fitted and adjusted, we continued our eastern trek. The bars afforded Jonathan an extra hand position to maintain more comfort throughout our long daily rides. The shop owners told us that North Platte has the largest train classification yard in the world. Not sure if this is true, but it would definitely explain the endless trains we see around here.
With the sky darkening behind us, we kept pushing on until we reached the small town of Brady. In its convenience store Jonathan saw the radar which showed a threatening storm cell coming our way. We asked where to get food and was told there was a bar out back. We went in and were noticeably the only patrons wearing spandex. Our waitress was interested in our ride and shortly after taking our order came to tell us that our meal had been anonymously paid for. When asked who the donor was, she replied that she could not say. We suspect she might have been an owner/manager, but whoever you are, thank you for your generosity!
After dinner we powered on to our motel, the Travel Inn in Gothenburg.  Checking in we were told our room was "old style, but clean". Clean might have been a bit of an overstatement. Before we fell asleep we lost power in our room three times (two of the times as we were showering). We were told it was because of next door neighbors were using hotplates most likely. Why would someone need to use a hotplate at 1130pm? *cough* meth *cough*

Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 35 - Bridgeport, NE to Ogallala, NE (89 miles)

Yesterday was a long day battling the wind and we hoped that today would be easier and we might be able to get to North Platte and get back on schedule. Unfortunately as soon as Highway 26 turned east, we knew we would be fighting the wind all day. Physically the wind makes it so that your legs are constantly spinning and never get to rest, even going downhill. Mentally, the wind is a constant pressure on your skin and constant loud whooshing sound in your ears. Further, the slower speed means we will be staring at the uniform landscape for very long uninterrupted times.
We crawled along, passing through Broadwater and finally arriving in Lisco. Here we hit up the one business in town, a restaurant that opened a few minutes early for us to eat. We ordered sandwiches and swatted away the flies as we ate them. With nothing else to do in Lisco, we crossed the train tracks and headed on to Oshkosh.
I continued my games with train car serial numbers and we both listened to music to deprive our ears of the rushing sound of wind (we're in denial that Eastern Nebraska is able to blow this much air at us). Jonathan discovered that he can listen to NPR discussions on TED and nearly forget that we are pedaling on bikes for over 8 hours. When I say 8 hours, I mean that is how long our wheels are moving for, the time we are traveling from door to door is even somehow longer.
The train conductors became our friends on the road as they blew their horns and waved at us. We ate at a gas station in Oshkosh and met a man who told us that there were too many people and trees where we are from. Even though he was completely wrong, we had a polite conversation.
Approaching Lewellen we found another construction zone, this time with a flagger and pilot car that we had to follow through the milling operation. Through another construction area we sat down to cool off for the last time at Lewellen's convenience store/bar. Here we met the local drinking crew that when told of our plan to bike down to Ogallala, warned us of a massive 6 mile long hill, one which we would not get to go downhill from. We were told of a more scenic route along Lake McConaughy. This route was said to be "less hilly" but our maps showed it added at least an extra 6 miles. We decided that Nebraska did not have hills like the Rockies and opted for the shorter route.

Sure enough the hill was a manageable 2.5 miles long. Unfortunately, the wind on top of the bluff was intense. We fought hard but made little headway. The sunlight was fading and soon we were once again biking in the dark. The temperature was cooling, and traffic was slower making this a nice ride. Reaching Ogallala, we found a well paved road, street lights and a nice downhill to reach a 24 hour Denny's restaurant.
Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day 34 - Torrington, WY to Bridgeport, NE (69 miles)

After our late arrival and we had a slow departure again. Leaving well after the sun had risen, the air was already quite warm when we left our room. The wind was light and not a factor and we cruised through the rest of Torrington before needing to repair a flat on Jonathan's rear wheel. Flat patched and we headed off towards the Nebraska border. The "Welcome to Nebraska" sign informed us that Nebraska is home of the "good life". I guess we'll see how true that is over the next several days.

A few rolling hills greeted us but in general we were out in the flatness that is the beginning of our Midwest adventure. We were excited to see some deciduous trees, and most importantly, some of them were overhanging the road and providing shade. With the exception of Grand Teton/Yellowstone, we've had close to zero shady rest spots along the roads since the first days of Oregon.

With Nebraska came more freight trains that I have ever seen. Interestingly, most of them are 100 cars or so long, and carrying only coal eastbound and returning empty westbound.  As the train car count increased, so did the headwinds. 

For the first time since California we were averaging under 10mph and pedaling our best, all to go barely anywhere. Slowly we crept along, amazed by how far we were able to see ahead of us. This fact and our slow speed led us to often stare at some taller landmarks for over an hour. It was clear that Nebraska was going to become more of a mental challenge than we had seen previously on this trip.

Soon we were staring at Chimney Rock. Stopping in at a combination RV park/café/gift shop we learned that Chimney Rock was the most often mentioned landmark in the writings of westbound emigrants on the Oregon Trail. We spent a while in this shop talking with the owner as we looked for any excuse to not go out and fight the wind again. After packing 8 pounds of ice into everything we owned, we headed back out to the wind/heat. My boredom grew and I devised games to play with the passing train car serial numbers. For those that are wondering, the numbers are 4 to 6 digits long, and on about 30% of trains there will be two consecutively numbered cars next to one another. Thrilling.

It became obvious that we weren't going to get past Bridgeport today. As we got closer, hills were added to the fun we were having with the wind. Getting to the top of the hills was tiring, slow work. Once there we had the "opportunity" to see even further in the distance, not exactly what we wanted.

Finally we got to Bridgeport. The motel had a unique self service check-in system. Following local advice we headed down to a local bar/restaurant and gorged on pasta. Going to bed we hoped the wind in the morning would be kinder to us than what we had just experienced.

Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 33 - Glenrock, WY to Torrington, WY (124 miles)

We started the day off with bagels and peanut butter, along with delicious fruit/yogurt smoothies made by Kathy. On the way out of town we grabbed some supplies at the grocery store, then we headed past a power plant and onto I-25. Our favorable wind from yesterday was at our backs once more. Back on an interstate for the first time since Idaho we faced big uphill climbs followed by big downhill descents. Despite the rolling hills, we still averaged over 15mph, which is fantastic.

In Douglas we grabbed some breakfast burritos from Taco John's, which is quickly become a favorite food choice.
Fighting back against the winds to rejoin the highway traffic flow we realized how lucky we were they the wind would be pushing with us for most of the day. The prospect of future headwinds seemed quite demoralizing. The rolling hills continued as we passed through Orin Junction. Heading the opposite way into the wind was a Bike and Build team. We exchanged waves and I did not envy the headwind they faced. Their only hope was that their dozen riders could all take turns fighting the winds while the rest drafted behind the leaders. Also, their tour is supported and they did not have to carry their bags.

We pushed on over the hills and made it to Glendo. As I-25 turned south, the southwest wind that had been pushing us became more of a slowing crosswind, a sign of things to come perhaps. We refueled our bodies and cooled off. The radio station inside the gas station repeated how temperatures would be reaching close to 100 and listeners should avoid strenuous activities during the hottest parts of the day.

Heading south on the interstate brought bigger hills and stronger crosswinds that did nothing to help push us forward. 20 very long miles later we reached the turn off for Guernsey, and with it a rest area. Wyoming's rest areas are all air conditioned, have clean bathrooms with running water and water fountains with cold water... Take note Idaho. After a long rest and some electrolyte supplements to replenish the electrolytes that had been pouring out of our bodies, we went to leave, only to find that I had yet another rear flat tire. (90% of the time it's the rear tire that gets punctured. If it's the rear, then all the bags have to come off and the bike has to be flipped in order to remove the tire. This just adds to the ordeal of every flat.)

Finally we were off towards Guernsey where we were going to grab dinner and depending on how we felt, either camp at the state park there or push on another 30 miles to Torrington. While most of the restaurants were closed, we managed to make dinners out of items from the grocery store. Before a short rest out on the store's benches we decided it would be best to push on to Torrington.

The first half of this final ride was very hilly and greatly increased our ETA. To compound this, our tailwind had died and was replaced by a light headwind. As the road flattened out, the sun began to set leading to some phenomenal photos. A few miles later I hit the 2000th mile of this tour, meaning that half the mileage back to Connecticut had been covered. With the sky darkening and bugs swarming us we pushed on to Grandma's Inn in Torrington. Arriving well after 9pm, we were glad to see our room had been held for us and that we'd be getting to shower before bed after all.

Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Day 32 - Shoshoni, WY to Glenrock, WY (124 miles)

TL;DR: Wind, heat and more Oregon Trail. And wind.

Once again, we woke early and by 7am were grabbing drinks at the Shoshoni gas station and heading east to our 98 mile goal of Casper, WY. The first 60 miles today would be a slow climb, followed by a slow descent into Casper. Before we left, I let Jonathan know that the wind was supposed to build from our bags as the day and heat went on.

The climb was so subtle that we were making good time and barely felt the climb in our legs. The land grew so flat that we could see for mile and miles before a hill would interrupt our vision. Many elk grazed along the road as we rode by, and they scattered over the plains when they took note of us. 20 miles in, we stopped at the first "town" of the day. Monetta had two mailboxes, two dogs, two buildings, barbed wire and a Confederate flag. Despite the weird feelings we got from this place, it worked as a place to eat our improvised breakfasts.

As we ate, the Confederate flag flapped in the breeze, indicating that our much desired tailwind was beginning to fill in. As we left, our climbing became faster with the wind pushing us along. The scenery became rather routine and our music playlists were essential to get us through the morning monotony. Quickly we reached the 40 mile mark of our ride, and with it, Hiland, WY. Boasting a population of 10 and a 3-in-1 motel, gas station, and bar/restaurant called Bright Spot, the town of Hiland was a highlight of our trip to Casper. Entering the "restaurant" we ordered breakfast and sat down to drink expired Gatorade. We didn't know that Gatorade could expire, but I guess if you have as few customers as Bright Spot then anything is possible.

By the time we finished eating, the wind had intensified greatly. We screamed out of the parking lot, quickly accelerating with our bodies and panniers acting as sails. We reached speeds between 25-30mph on flat straightaways and over 35mph on almost every single downhill. Even climbs were typically close to 20mph. A few miles were even spent without needing any pedaling at all.

Shortly after mile 60 we reached Hell's Half Acre. This multicolored canyon shared a name with the lava fields we saw in Idaho, but not much else. This canyon was beyond my ability to describe and I'll defer to a picture that I'm sure Jonathan took. Interestingly, Native Americans used to drive buffalo into the canyon for slaughter, and more recently (a few decades ago) the canyon was home to dirt bike racing.  At Hell's Half Acre we saw another group of touring cyclists hitching a ride westward to avoid fighting the headwind.

The remaining miles to Casper flew by with the winds howling stronger than ever at our backs. We slowed down by a flat tire for both Jonathan and myself. Constant tire changes is not something I've been missing from Idaho.

At Taco John's we decided to push on to Glenrock (about 25 miles more) for the night. We had met Mark and Kathy at McDonald's in Thermopolis. Mark has toured previously and offered for us to camp in their yard if we ended up in Glenrock. I contacted Kathy and they enthusiastically offered for us to head over. The route there was mostly flat with the exception of County Line Hill. But with the tailwind still blowing strong, we made great time. Arriving at Mark and Kathy's home we were very appreciative to be given their guest room and use of their shower. Kathy even offered to do some laundry for us! The generosity of the people we meet on this trip definitely keeps us going strong.

On the ride to Glenrock, Jonathan completed his first biking century! Very impressive considering we did 124 miles with full gear.

Photos by Jonathan Kobles