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, August 2, 2014

Day 45 - Danville, IL to Carmel, IN (93 miles)

We got an earlier start than yesterday, but knew that only a couple miles into our trip today we would be losing an hour of riding due to our triumphant return to the Eastern Time Zone.  Even before that happened however, I pedaled my 3000th official mile since leaving San Francisco back on June 19.  Right after passing the Danville Correctional Facility, we reached the Indiana state line, and with it, our "new" and favorite time zone.  Shortly thereafter, to ruin the moment, a piece of road debris cut a 1.5 inch gash in Jonathan's rear tire.  Instantly he lost air through the large hole, and our streak of having no flat tires since Lincoln, Nebraska was broken.  We taped the inside of the tire and replaced the tube, and we were off and pedaling in about 10 minutes.  The majority of our morning in Indiana was spent on what appeared to be flat, boring cornfields, but we were in fact slightly gaining "elevation". 

We crawled along as this constant terrain does not allow us to pick up the same speed, and maintain momentum the way that rolling hills do.  At a gas station in Covington, we decided to make it almost 40 miles before we would stop for a meal in Crawfordsville.  Once there, we were not in the mood for fast food, so we decided to take our chances at the local pizza shop.  We split a large pizza that was delicious, and were ready to head out on the rest of our ride.  Not even half way to our destination, we knew this day was going to drag on.  (Random side note:  There was a gas station in Crawfordsville selling regular gas for $3.09 that had an absurdly long line of cars trying to take advantage of this price, which is about $0.40 lower than I've been seeing in the rest of Indiana).

The afternoon's ride was much of the same flat, slow terrain, and we found ourselves playing games to keep our minds off the ride, and let the miles instead slip by painlessly.  We had one of our traditional mid-afternoon gas station breaks where we both refueled and caffeinated our bodies to keep our spirits up.  After passing the Indianapolis Executive Airport, we reached Westfield, where we turned off Indiana 32 and onto US Highway 31 to head down to Carmel.  This road, unlike many of the US Highways we have ridden previously, truly became a highway, and we quickly exited to take a more scenic bike path and ride through a local park.  We emerged next to a large shopping center with businesses and restaurants that reminded us of being back on the East Coast.  With only one meal under our belts of the day, we craved real food and headed down to Chili's.

We were greeted enthusiastically at the door, and as the hostess walked us to our table she enquired about our ride and asked about Lea's Foundation.   She had a connection with leukemia and told us about the work she has done with events such as Light the Night.  Our waitress, Jessica, was equally excited about our ride and could not believe that we had ridden all the way from San Francisco.  As more members of the Chili's staff learned about our story, more of them came up to say "hi" and wish us luck.  Just as we started to eat, the manager introduced himself and told us that he had paid for our meal and was very impressed with the distance of our trip and that we were averaging 100 miles per day of cycling.  After our meal, Jessica asked for our blog URL so that she and other members of the restaurant staff could read about and follow our trip (Hi guys!).  The welcome reception we received at Chili's and the complimentary dinner was amazing and it absolutely made our night.  Thanks so much guys!

Following dinner we rolled across the parking lot to Walmart to supply for tomorrow, and then on to our hotel at the other end of the parking lot.  Today was a "short" day, but still took a lot out of us.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Day 44 - Normal, IL to Danville, IL (93 miles)

After our late arrival last night, we agreed that we should get a bit of a later start today, especially since we "only" had to bike 94 miles.  As a departure from our normal routine for biking 30-40 miles before breakfast, we decided to get our second consecutive meal at the Denny's across the street.  Filled with our Grand Slams, we headed off to take the Constitution Trail, which was another rail-to-trail bike path that would lead us through the heart of Bloomington and spit us out south of the city on Highway 150 heading towards Champaign.  The path was beautifully shaded and being used by many other people.

Today's ride through the corn was a bit less enjoyable than yesterday's.  The road was flatter and the miles seemed to drag on, so the appeal of Illinois was slipping.  As we biked we found ways to distract ourselves and soon we noticed that there were dark clouds forming on three sides of us.  During a quick road-side break, I checked my phone and saw on the radar that there were scattered thunderstorms throughout Illinois and that Bloomington (where we had come from) and Champaign (where we were headed) were both getting hit with very strong storms.  Luckily, for the time being, we were in the clear so we continued on our trek.

Eventually we reached Mahomet where we decided to grab lunch at Subway.  Eating our subs, Jonathan noticed a weather advisory had been issued around noon.  The advisory stated that over Urbana (right next to Champaign), a funnel cloud had been spotted by a trained observer, and that there was a continued risk of funnel cloud formation until 4pm CDT.  With storms closing in on Mahomet, we saw a window of opportunity to get the next 12 miles to Champaign safely.  We biked quickly and only got rained on for a couple minutes right before we reached Champaign city limits.  As we rode through the city we saw and heard an impressive display of thunder/lightning off to the north.  We turned onto University Avenue and headed towards the University of Illinois and were greeted with beautiful houses and lawns right inside the city.  We reached the bicycle shop we were headed for and ducked inside.  After browsing, and some light bike maintenance, we saw that the funnel cloud advisory was expiring and the radar was clearing up.  We decided to ignore our contingency plan of staying in Champaign overnight, and instead, head the extra 38 miles to a motel in Danville, IL (on the Indiana border).

As we rode on, we required a few gas station rest stops as our bodies were still tired from yesterday's very long ride.  As sunset approached, the clouds began to clear and the sun was actually visible for the first time since mid-afternoon.  Looks like our radar reading abilities were spot on.  Around 8pm we finally reached Danville and after being disappointed by their many fast-food options, decided to try our luck at the local chinese buffet.  The restaurant staff was the nicest I had ever seen at a chinese buffet, and they even offered to make us any dishes that were empty at the buffet.  Very stuffed, and loaded with a very noticeable amount of sodium we headed off to pick up supplies for the morning and get to our motel.  The Friday night scene in downtown Danville was interesting.  I was very glad that the motel we booked was about 5 miles from the city center; with each passing mile we felt more and more comfortable.  We arrived at our motel, but before we could get to shower/sleep, we had to lug our bikes and gear up a flight of stairs to our room.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 43 - Burlington, IA to Normal, IL (128 miles)

We survived our stay at the Lincolnville Inn with no need to use our bear spray. As we reassembled our bikes and bags after carrying them from our second floor room, we took in the stunning site of a blood red sun rising to the east. We set off towards Illinois and after a short construction site we were rolling over the Mighty Mississippi. 

Once on the other side we decided to walk down to the river bank for a better view. The mud was soft from flooding, but getting down to the Mississippi's river edge was well worth the effort (and frustration of scraping my cleats clean with a stick). 

We headed off Highway 34 for the first time since before Iowa, and into cornfields as we covered some county roads.

30 miles of rolling cornfields and occasional train tracks later, we arrived in Roseville. We found a local café and sat down for breakfast. While we waited for our food we talked with the owner about our trip, Illinois, and that today was his last day in the restaurant business before he retired and went back to police work.

Well-fed we headed off to Farmington (Illinois). Illinois has some of the rolling hills mixed of Iowa with the flat agricultural fields of Western Nebraska. Overall, I found it enjoyable. There were finally areas of trees with some deciduous shade trees overhanging the road that reminded us of parts of New England. Reaching the intersection with Highway 41, we saw the ironic "Star of the American Road". The service station has been out of state long enough for their pumps to have warnings that the fuel contained lead as an anti-knock agent. The miles flew by through the countryside and we soon arrived in Farmington.  We took the requisite pictures in front of the "Welcome to Farmington" sign, and then headed further into the town to grab a quick gas station snack. 

 As we sat down to cool off and refuel, a group of local boys arrived from their middle school football practice.  They had seen our bikes and wanted to know all about our trip.  They told us that the longest ride they had heard of before was when one of their friends road 10 miles to a neighboring town.  They could not believe what we were doing.

Once more we set off, this time continuing on to Peoria.  Peoria was the third biggest city we have biked completely through on our entire trip after Lincoln and Boise.  Despite its rough roads and broken up sidewalks as we approached Peoria, we ended up on a road with a wide, well-marked bike lane that likely afforded us the safest passage of our entire day's trip.  We sped through the city and eventually onto Illinois Highway 40, that led us over the Illinois River and to our Subway dinner in East Peoria.  Finishing up our food quickly, we set off towards Bloomington.  We knew that we had quite a bit of distance to cover in order to reach Normal, IL before it was too late.

We rode on an old railroad line turned bike path from East Peoria to Morton (River Trail of Illinois).  I talked with a 61 year old man who was out for his nightly ride on the path.  He shared stories of his riding and touring throughout Illinois/Iowa and offered some tips on the roads we planned to take for the next few days.  Reaching Morton, we rejoined traffic and pedaled at a brisk 20mph out of the city and back into the cornfields.  While there certainly is a lot of corn here, it does not bother/bore me the same way it did back in Nebraska.  Illinois has just enough curves and hills to help us keep up our momentum and engage our minds.  We rode through a number of small towns along Highway 150 as we mirrored the Interstate (Which we are unfortunately not allowed to ride in Illinois--Our post-dinner ride would have been shortened from 39 to 30 miles if we had been welcome to ride its shoulder). 

The sun set way before we reached normal, leaving us in the dark for the last 15+ miles of our trip.  The view was spectacular though as we rode the rising hills between wind turbines, corn and thousands of fireflies.  We wished we could have captured the scene on our cameras but knew that they would not have done it justice.  Eventually we pulled into Normal, and headed for the Denny's across the street to grab a late night meal.  It's such an odd coincidence that we keep ending up having lodging directly next to or across the street from 24-hour Denny's...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 42 - Albia, IA to Burlington, IA (95 miles)

We set off with lots of optimism after yesterday's very impressive ride. The morning was cool again, although this time without the dense fog from yesterday. Every downhill chilled me and I looked forward to being warmed up with the sun fully risen. We knew that our legs would be sluggish as they always are first thing, but soon enough we were flying up hills just as we had yesterday.
Our good fortune of having a safe shoulder continued into Ottumwa. This city is nicknamed "The City of Bridges" due to its many crossings of the Des Moines River. We passed a pretty park and campground that was just out of our reach last night (would have been another 20 miles) and were soon crossing the Des Moines River. After our crossing we saw our first "Share the Road" bicycling sign. It was reassuring to see that other cyclists also ride on Highway 34, which at time definitely feels like the last thing we should do on it.

Leaving Ottumwa, Highway 34 became a true highway. Now a divided four lane highway, our shoulder once again became less than ideal. For the rest of the day, the majority of the shoulder would consist of 2.5 feet of concrete with periodic rumble strips ruining our smooth riding. Despite the bigger riding surface, the traffic was still light on this stretch of road and we were probably the safest that we have been in all of Iowa. Still flying along the Iowa countryside we reached Fairfield for our daily Taco John's breakfast.
We set off for another 20+ mile stretch to our next rest stop in Mount Pleasant. As is becoming routine in Iowa, we made great time. There were points today where we were topping 20/21mph as we pointed uphill. We had quite a climb into Mount Pleasant, but after a snack and some POWERade, we were ready to keep biking.
After Mount Pleasant, we passed through another Connecticut town, New London. Getting to Danville it was time to arrange our lodging. Hotels were busy overall but we found a good deal at a motel that we thought would be acceptable. With the motel refusing to hold a room, we had to hustle the last 14 miles down to Burlington. The motel room was horrible, but did lack a deadbolt despite having an interesting selection of neighbors. This just gave us one more potential use for our bear spray.
On the way to dinner, Subway, we descended the steepest hill we've seen this trip. It had to be about 12% grade. Unsurprisingly, we chose a different route back to the motel after we ate.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 41 - Stanton, IA to Albia, IA (127 miles)

The day started with a cool for hanging over much of the Iowa countryside. Without the sun fully risen, it was quite cool outside and this all made for pretty decent riding weather. The early start also allowed us to ride on the shoulderless Highway 34 with much less traffic constantly trying to pass us.

 The hills started off aggressively this morning and it seemed like we were constantly climbing only to fall not quite as much as we had risen. From the hilltops the foggy landscape appeared to almost be an ocean in the middle of Iowa. We approached a thick fog bank that fortunately had good visibility once we were within its boundaries.

As the sun grew warmer the fog began to lift. The shoulders were still a meager zero to three inches wide. Occasionally there would be 20ft of shoulder that would suddenly appear and then end abruptly for no reason. Reaching Corning, a shoulder appeared once more and this time actually remained for many miles. I was always sure that around every corner it was going to suddenly disappear and we would be sharing the right travel lane with trucks and cars.
Now that we had a shoulder, Highway 34 was closed to traffic. Since we have had good luck with closed roads previously, we headed past the signs forbidding thru traffic. Three miles in we saw a collection of cranes, trucks and heavy equipment. Where there should have been a bridge, there no longer was one. We walked down into the construction site and we asked if we could walk through the site and on a side construction access path. The workers saw no issue with this and we did not have to backtrack on gravel county roads. We were back on our glorious empty shouldered road.
Eventually we reached Creston (about 43 miles in) and we ate another Taco John's meal. This first portion of the day had gone by slowly and I was concerned that we would be able to reach Chariton (99 miles) by the end of our ride today. Luckily our pace quickened after Creston. We were flying up and down hills alike. For whatever reason we had suddenly regained the ability maintain our fast 16-18mph cadences up the rolling Iowa hills. Combined with the ever-present shoulder, we were making great time.
By the time we reached Osceola for a snack and break to refill our water, I had gone from doubting that we would reach Chariton to believing that we could stretch our day out to reach Albia. Following Osceola, our speed continued. The hills were unrelenting but barely slowed us. Finally with these shoulders and speed I began to appreciate Iowa. It is a much prettier and stimulating state than Nebraska and I no longer spend my day hoping to get a chance to stop staring at flat nothingness.
We powered on averaging over 15mph to Chariton. As it was still before 5pm we decided to grab dinner at Subway then push on another 25+ miles to Albia. Dinner inhaled we set off. Leaving Creston we hit some good climbs which are never too fun on full stomachs. Luckily a "flat" section appeared and we got back into our powerful cadences and were making good time once more. During a short break we remarked that we had finally gotten better at biking. These rolling hills had given us repeated practice at choosing the correct gear and powering up minor and medium inclines alike.

Right before 8pm we reached Albia and headed to the Albia Dairy Bar before our motel. Nothing finishes off a 127 mile bike ride quite like 800 calories of blended ice cream and candy. Our motel provided us with free drink tickets for the lounge. Altering showering, I put on my best (only) outfit and headed to the bar. For my first beer in over two weeks, I ordered the most local bottled beer they had: Sam Adams.

Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Day 40 - Lincoln, NE to Stanton, IA (99 miles)

Our early start was interrupted by another slow front tire leak in Jonathan's tire. After patching and seeing there were no bike shops coming up for over a day in Iowa, we decided it was best to start our day at a 24/7 Walmart. Doing this actually led us down a series of nice bike paths through Lincoln that kept us off the pre-sunrise roads. Spares tubes restocked, we rejoined traffic and headed off on Highway 6. Other than the interstate, this road is the major connector between  Lincoln and Omaha, so it was quite busy on a Monday morning. We met a man commuting to Novartis at the edge of Lincoln. For about a mile and a half we talked about our trip and biking around Lincoln. We both agreed that a North-South route up to Omaha would be very helpful.

Our commuting friend headed to pulled into his pharmaceutical plant and we continued north towards Greenwood. We headed east, finally off a busy road and onto a slower county road. With this turn off came the rolling hills of Eastern Nebraska once again. Up and down we rolled for nearly 25 miles more to Louisville, NE. Here we raided the local grocery store for some sort of breakfast. We ate out on the sidewalk before continuing our eastward trek towards the Missouri River. Shortly after breakfast my bike started making a clicking sound and I noticed my back pannier was loose. Stopping to fix it, I realized the pannier was attached firmly, the rack however had lost a bolt. Over thousands of miles of vibration, the bolt had loosened and fallen out. One close inspection, I found two other bolts that were also on their way to leaving my bike.

Our climb to Plattsmouth brought more rolling hills on Highway 66. Finally we reached the downtown and headed towards the river. One final up and down, and we reached the bridge toll booth. The toll collector informed us that we could not cross today. When asked why he explained that on the Iowa side of the river, they were paving. We said that we'd ridden in paving construction zones with one way piloted traffic before. His response, "You'll be riding with your lives!" I wanted to laugh, but the thought of backtracking and finding another route across the river 15+ miles north of our location had left me in a non-laughing mood. We told him we'd take our chances and he waived the 25¢ bike toll.

We followed the pilot car and other traffic across the narrow bridge and into Iowa. We posed for our usual state sign pictures and soon struck up conversation with the man whose job it is to paint the lines on the fresh pavement. He told us about Iowa (apparently they're the second biggest wine producer after California?) and wished us well. We headed off on some flatter road before stopping for another Subway lunch.

After our break we headed off to rejoin Highway 34 which we had abandoned before Lincoln. We were met with huge rolling hills and a narrow shoulder. Then, without warning, there was no paved shoulder at all. We tried biking the packed gravel but that was too slow and unpredictable to be viable.  This was really no road for biking but we had no other choice. Interestingly there's a famous annual bike tour across Iowa known as RAGBRAI. All these riders use this same shoulderless Highway 34. I guess surviving this road is possible.

We hugged the white line all the way to Red Oak. Having reached our goal destination, we realized we could bike more but needed a break from this hellish road. One pasta dinner later, it was time to bike the final 8 miles to Stanton, Iowa.

We made good time despite our stuffed stomachs and soon reached Stanton. The traffic had lessened, making this road feel much safer. This gave us hope for tomorrow morning's ride. Stanton is also a large community for Swedish immigrants. This goes along with the Swedish town and business names we have been seeing all throughout eastern Nebraska, and the 2 to 3 Lutheran churches we saw in each small town.

Hopefully Highway 34 improves. So far Iowa does not seem very bike friendly.

Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 39 - Grand Island, NE to Lincoln, NE (92 miles)

515am and my alarm was ringing. After a day "off" my bike, my mind was in denial that we were about to bike again. Regardless, I was glad to be back on an early schedule and ready to test out the new gear I picked up at Wayne's Cyclery. A new flat resistant tire should keep me from switching inner tubes on the sides of highways and new gloves should protect my ulnar nerve and help reverse the pain and numbness in my hands. (I was told gloves usually last 1000 miles, my last ones "lasted" about 2500 miles)
The weather was cool with a breeze filling in from the NNE. The severe storms that went north of Grand Island had lowered the humidity and the riding today was very comfortable.

We rode over the Platte River and took in a beautiful sunrise, unlike all the sunsets we've been riding through recently. The road was flat and pretty straight once again. This is the typical Nebraska we have gotten used to. We made great time and after a quick 40 miles we arrived in York for some breakfast burritos. This breakfast at 930am is the earliest we have eaten breakfast while riding in quite some time. This earlier schedule is working great.

We kept cruising quickly with a good strong wind and easy riding. The only annoyance is the ever-present cracks in the shoulder to keep jarring us violently. Riding into Seward brought us our first climb of the day, and probably the biggest we'd seen since before Ogallala. Still, it's Nebraska, so it was very manageable. Seward was a nice town that would have fit in with any New England landscape. We sat down to plan the rest of our day. Choosing to do a "shorter" day today and a bit more length tomorrow getting into Iowa, we set off for Nebraska's capital (a manageable 20+ miles away) .
Suddenly Nebraska had transformed. There were trees, everywhere. With the trees came big rolling hills. We rolled our way to higher and higher heights between the corn and trees. Finally we got to roll our way back down to Nebraska flatlands. Even with the hills, we made excellent time. My well-rested legs felt a bit out of place having to climb repeatedly, but the ability to finally rest them on the biggest downhills we'd seen in Nebraska was an awesome feeling.
We reached the suburbs of Lincoln and cruised into our night's lodging. Refreshingly it was around 330pm instead of our more recent habit of arriving after 10pm. The new schedule and cooler weather for the next few days will have us headed to Connecticut in no time.
Photos by Jonathan Kobles