Friday 29 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 43: Burlington to Revere Beach, Ma (17 Miles)

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Before starting today’s stage some long overdue and important business had to be concluded. Back on the 2nd of June I won a bet with Bruce by not telling the story of Pawnee Rock. So today Bruce paid his dues and I got my £1 and €1. Cathy (aka Person Number Three) acted as the official witness.Well actually I got £2 which is okay Bruce as we’re apparently leaving the EU so the €1 would probably not be much use to me. Now readers, you might still be wondering what’s the story of Pawnee Rock. Well as I’ve trousered my winnings I’m now going to tell you.

Pawnee Rock is a famous landmark on the historic Santa Fe trail. Strategically it was an important viewpoint where Indian tribes used it to pinpoint approaching buffalo herds and wagon trains. For some it was regarded as the most dangerous place on the Santa Fe trail. For others it was a waypoint denoting that about half of the journey westwards was complete. Over the years many of the people passing by carved their names into the soft rock. Sadly by the 1870s much of the rock had been removed to be used as building stone. Since 1970 it has been officially protected and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. So there you are. That’s what I didn’t tell you about before in order to win the bet!

The Euros stand together one last time
Today’s stage was effectively a parade lap to the beach. Just a few short miles to mark the crossing of a continent. Just as we did on the first day of the tour in El Segundo, we gathered in front of the hotel in Burlington and set off in groups of three. Pete, Emil and I, previously part of The Fabs and now the Euros, lined up alongside each other and then off we went. With such a lot that has happened I was feeling very emotional. The euphoria of actually completing the ride – 3,417 Miles and achieving EFI Status (Every Foot and Inch). A realisation that I would almost certainly never ride with this whole group of wonderful people again but a hope that some of us may cross paths again one day. And some sadness too that it was not possible for someone who has become very close to me to be there as I crossed the finishing line.

We  rode south east from Burlington gradually crossing Boston’s suburbs before we all gathered together again to form up for the final procession to Revere Beach. We were formed into a line in pairs and I was pleased and proud to be standing next to Pete. We both recalled our first ever ride together, to the Hollywood Hills, before the tour started. We have travelled so much ground together since, both on the tarmac and off it, and we have become good friends. I look forward to the day we rode together again – how about something around the Trossachs or the Borders, Pete?

Taking advantage of the brief halt, I asked Pete to hold my bike and went to the front of the line and worked my way back saying ‘goodbye’ to each of the riders individually. People, kindred spirits that  I have ridden with and got to know well and others who I now wished I knew a bit better. Such is life on a Tour. From every one of my fellow riders I have drawn tremendous inspiration. Each of us, experienced cyclists or not, have shared a unique experience and overcome so many obstacles and challenges that threatened our achievements. I will treasure those memories forever. A good route makes a good ride or tour. And great tours are made by great people. This has been one of the greatest tour teams I have ever ridden with.

We were led in convoy, with a police escort, along the final four miles to Revere Beach. We must have looked a splendid sight as so many passers by stopped to gaze at us.We even received some cheers from the sidewalk and several car horn toots. Then suddenly we turned the last corner and in front of us was the Atlantic Ocean, journey’s end. The seafront was lined with people, families and friends who had come to cheer and congratulate their riders. There was quite a party atmosphere. Then everyone gathered round as we dipped our wheels in the ocean and posed for a last group  photograph.

I have a lot of memories from the tour and it is going to take me a long time to process and understand them. I need to organise my photographs and other records as one of the downsides of a long tour like this is that places and events blur into each other. So when, in a few days or weeks time I have made sense of all this I plan to write one final reflection on the tour. Watch this space …

I had one final act to perform. As we left Manhattan Beach on 13 May I picked up a small peddle from the shore. It has been in the back pocket of my jersey every day since. It has been a constant companion for me and CV throughout the tour. Each morning it has sat in front of us at our one-to-one meetings in our hotel room as a daily focus for collecting our thoughts and getting ready to ride. I spent a couple of minutes on the beach silently reflecting on what has happened to us, me and CV,  over the last seven weeks and then hurled the pebble as far as I could into into the Atlantic Ocean. We were both happy to see it fly and sad to let it go. We have travelled a long way together. We have travelled 3,417 miles!

Thursday 28 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 42: Brattleboro, VT to Burlington, MA (100 Miles)

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Today’s stage was the last full stage of the tour. Tomorrow is effectively a parade to the finish line. A bit like the Tour de France where the last stage is usually a ceremonial one and not a racing stage. So we all lined up together for the penultimate departure. I say “all” but not quite. Once again the Euros were depleted as Pete had snuck back to the early group. (Was it something we said?) So Barry, Bruce, Cathy (aka Person Number Three), Emil and I, plus Peyton (the new kid/mechanical genius/bike fixer extraordinaire) were the last to leave Brattleboro.

I should probably explain that Peyton (the kid) was recruited in Champaign (IL) to provide some extra mechanical support. He was working in a bike store there and seems to have keen kidnapped, willingly I understand, to provide some extra support for the tour. Bruce and Cathy (aka Person Number Three) have taken him under their wing and are rounding him out as we progress. Being young he has limitless reserves of energy and his antics on the bike are a constant source of amusement to us. But when all is said and done, his mechanical skills are outstanding.

We rolled down the hill back into Brattleboro’ and crossed over the Connecticut River before reaching the New Hampshire State line – State Number 13 so far. Then it was up into the hills again with some quite testing climbs. Short and sharp but nothing too severe. For a lot of us, the euphoria of nearly reaching the end seems to have added some impetus and strengthened our resolve.

Much of the route was through forested areas, mixtures of conifers and deciduous trees with lots of delightful small villages in between. Unfortunately the road surfaces were quite sketchy which meant that I really had to concentrate on the tarmac in front of me. This is not the time for a wheel buckling pothole incident – or worse. I have however made a mental note that this is an area that would be worth revisiting should the opportunity arise. In fact I would quite like to do a tour across New England. Now there’s a thought…

As we progressed eastwards the roads gradually got busier and we received a few suggestions from lippy motorists who clearly didn’t appreciate sharing ‘their’ tarmac with us. Added to the sketchy surfaces it meant we had concentrate even more. This was one of the few occasions where I felt that I actually needed my rear view mirror. Thus far it has largely been a convenience. Not having to look back over my shoulder this morning meant that I could stay fully focussed on the road in front of me.

All of a sudden up popped the Massachusetts State Line. So suddenly that we almost missed it and had to turn around to get the photo for the collection. So that’s it, the last state of the tour, number 14. Quite a landmark really. Unlike 12 of the other states we have passed through, Massachusetts is actually a commonwealth. But the distinction is a subtle one with its roots in history. In the late 18th century constitutional writers sometimes used the word ‘commonwealth’ in the legal documents that created the which established a state. Around this time the term was used to describe groups of people who maxed up a nation or state. Commonwealths are states but states are not commonwealths. John Adams, the second President of the US when drafting the Massachusetts constitution. And for the record, the other commonwealth that we rode through was Pennsylvania.

Another century completed
As we approached Burlington, Bruce came alongside me and asked if I would be interested in doing a few extra miles at the end to turn today’s stage into a century ride. Well, it didn’t take much asking – another century. The Captain wouldn’t miss out on that. So that’s exactly what we did. We arrived at the stage finish and then turned around and did another seven miles to take us over the hundred. What a great way to mark the end of the tour!

Oh by the way I’ve forgotten to mention something. It rained all day. High fat drops of the stuff which glistened the roads and created some massive puddles. But who cares, it’s only water!

Wednesday 27 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 41: Albany to Brattleboro, VT (77 Miles)

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After several stages of comparatively flat riding I was looking forward to today’s stage which promised some proper hill climbing. At 34 miles the route notes commented: “Begin 6.3 mile climb; last 3.5 steeper.” So I was quite excited at the prospect, as was the CV.

Our morning route RAPs have become quite comical. Headteacher Paula is struggling to manage the class as end of term fever is setting in. Let me give you an example. As we were about to receive the day’s briefing we (BBCX and the Euros) were looking at a video of a previous night’s antics. In a nutshell we had set off to the nearest Walmart in search of some of Ben and Jerry’s finest. One of the BBC’s, Bruce, has been having some knee issues so to help him out we stuck him in a shopping cart and rolled him across the very large car park. As you can imagine, this caused much mirth and merriment. Anyway when we arrived at the store we discovered that the cupboard was bare – no Ben and Jerry’s. Zippo! Quick as flash Cathy (aka Person Number Three) pounced on an unsuspecting Walmart person demanding to know the whereabouts of our ice cream. Well, to cut to the chase, said Walmart person disappeared out back and reappeared with a shopping cart full of every variety known to the human race and, I suspect a few that were not. Result – we able to make our choice and order was restored. Getting back to the point, our attempt to relive and celebrate the experience was received with some scepticism by the Headteacher who, I am sure, would rather have delivered her briefing and got shot of us onto the road. And let me add, no shopping carts were injured in the course of this merriment.

We left Albany and crossed over Hudson River before immediately heading upwards. Each day two groups set off 30 minutes apart. This helps manage the flow of riders through SAGs and helps with other logistical aspects of each stage. Today however the early group arrived at an impassible road closure, a bridge that was being repaired, and had to double back. Consequently they then met the later group (us) coming up the road so we were now all riding as one. With the prospect of being the leader on the road for once, I wound it up and set off on a little break of my own.

Capitalising on my lead I opted for a short pause at the SAG before continuing on the day’s climb. At the start of the climb I crossed the state line into Vermont (state number 13; just one - Massachusetts left now). I’ve been told that Vermont is an exceptionally pretty state so I was looking forward to seeing it. (For the record what I have seen is delightful.) Once over the state line the climb began. Let me just say that it was a real delight. Longish, gentle gradients (always less than 10%), a broad smooth shoulder to ride on and superb views to the densely forested hills I was riding through. So I got settled in, dropped onto the granny ring and spun my way upwards, tapping out a nice easy rhythm. What a pleasure, what bliss. Especially as it wasn’t too hot either. As I climbed steadily upwards I found myself thinking just how lucky and happy I am now. Today was one of those special riding days when my head and my heart were soaring free.

Cresting the summit of the Green Mountain I then enjoyed a long, fast descent which seemed to go on for ever. Some roadworks meant that I had to check my speed a couple of times so I didn’t get above 40mph. Without the roadworks I am sure I could easily have topped 50 mph. But this wasn’t the end. Another lesser climb, Hogback Mountain was waiting as a sort of encore for the day. The long descent was pretty good too, marred only by the rough surface which meant I had to pay close attention and pick my lines carefully. I was pleased also that I have left behind any lingering fears from the blowout incident.

Eventually I arrived at Brattleboro which I had been told was a delightful place and I wasn’t disappointed. I even managed to find the bike shop to buy a new rear flashing light as my old one seems to have packed up. I spent a very pleasant quarter of an hour chatting to one of the owners, Barbara Walsh about the tour and cycling in Vermont. What she shared with me has left me feeling that I must come back and spend more time here. Indeed I already have the germ of an idea developing so who knows.

Monday 25 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 40: Herkimer to Albany, NY (79 Miles)

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Late yesterday I received some very sad news that a friend of mine, Tim Elliot died while out riding his bike. Although we had never met face to face I count Tim as a friend. Tim was the central figure, the bottom bracket, that drove the Bianchi Owners Club USA forward. I contacted him earlier this year when I was preparing for my USA tour. From our very first exchange Tim was both extraordinarily helpful and very friendly to me. He was a source of great advice and good humour. But more than that, once I had started the tour Tim frequently sent me messages of support and encouragement which I really appreciated.

Regular readers will know that I regard fellow Bianchi riders as my extended family and I am proud that I have cousins and uncles all over the world. Whenever we meet (in the UK) our reunions are fantastic occasions. The cousins chat to each other and there is a lot of Passione Celeste around. Judging from the outpouring of comments and memories about Tim that I have seen my US cousins share over the last 24 hours, it is beyond any doubt that Passione Celeste, what I describe as the very DNA of Bianchi, is widespread and heartfelt. So today, I dedicated my ride to my Uncle Tim. And Tim, if you are reading this from afar, I hope you enjoyed the ride too.

Leaving Herkimer this morning there was a distinct chill in the air. So much so that for the first time since we left Los Angeles I was wearing my arm warmers. With a blue sky and sunshine I suspected that it wouldn’t be long before they came off and I wasn’t wrong. Once again the route followed the Erie Canal and Mohawk River from start to finish. With yet more superb scenery and relatively quiet, smooth roads, the ride was a delight. Like yesterday, much of the ride was under dense tree cover but from time to time clearings and pockets of open farmland created spectacular views across the lush, green land.

With a relatively short distance to cover we were able to ride at a leisurely pace, stopping regularly to look at the views and take some photos. The European theme was still present, especially when we reached Amsterdam. First settled by Dutch immigrants in 1710, the area was called Veedersburgh after Albert Veeder an early mill owner. With an influx of settlers from New England the town’s name was changed to Amsterdam in 1803. The arrival of the Erie Canal in 1825 created a major economic boost for the town which became well known for the carpets manufactured here. The city was badly damaged by floods caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011. As I rode by today it seemed that the damage had largely been restored.

Before we set off Pete had mentioned that we would be passing through Scotia. I am not sure quite what he expected to find; he did express a hope for haggis, neeps and tattles but I suspected he was going to be disappointed (I was proved right). But in terms of distance and timing it was an ideal spot to stop and enjoy lunch and cold glass of beer. And enjoy it we did as we sat on the terrace of a bar/grill and watched people pass by on their daily routines. Scotia was established by Alexander Lindsay Glen who named it after Scotland, his home country. Historically its main claim to fame was for broom making. In the 1800’s over 1 million brooms were produced annually – that’s a lot of sweeping! Nowadays it is principally a residential base for people who work in the surrounding area.

We rode the final 15 miles to Albany, the New York State Capital along some lovely, gently undulating if rather rough roads. As we made our way along I found myself wondering what Uncle Tim would have made of today’s stage. I rather think he would have liked it. So Tim, rest easy and ride easy. Passione Celeste!

USA Tour Stage 39: Syracuse to Herkimer, NY (72 Miles)

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Today BBC and the Euros reformed. Pete, who has been ‘resting’ by setting off with the earlier group (they’re not slower, honestly), applied for re-instatement. So we held a short meeting on the start line and voted (4-1; Bruce how could you!) to let him re-join us. I have to say that I have been missing both his company and his Scottish wit on the road these past few days. Since our first ride to the Hollywood Hills before the tour, started we have travelled a long road together and got to know each other really well. As the only two Brits on the tour we have formed an alliance and have spent a lot of time together – on and off the road. So I was delighted to spend a large part of today riding alongside him and enjoying his company.

Today was much like yesterday, only better. More of the delightful upstate New York countryside on smooth, largely traffic free county roads. To make the ride even better, the sun was shining and my rain jacket was firmly packed away. Our route has been following the Erie Canal which runs from Buffalo on Lake Erie to Albany on the Hudson River. When construction was completed in 1825 it was the second longest canal (363 miles) in the world. Today it extends for 524 miles. It has played a major role in the commercial activities and economy of the USA. Although a small number of commercial vessels still use it, now it is primarily a recreational resource and has been designated as. National Heritage Corridor. Many of the towpaths running alongside it have been converted in to cycle routes, mostly gravel so we have to stay off them. The great thing about following a canal is that it means gradients are likely to be pretty gentle, which at this stage of the tour is no bad thing.

As we rode along on the first part of the stage to the SAG I spent a lot of time looking at and trying to understand the countryside we were passing through. There are lots of trees, woods and forests which gave it a very enclosed feeling. From time to time, where the tree cover had been removed, great sweeping views opened up particularly northwards where I could see rolling hills in the distance. The houses here are a constant source of fascination for me. They come in all shapes and sizes and are mostly constructed from wooden boards. No two houses are the same; each has its own distinctive character. The lots around the houses are usually grassed though not normally on the same scale as I saw in Ohio. The most striking feature is that many, if not most properties have a slightly scruffy and disorderly feel to them which, in my opinion actually enriches and enhances their character. The whole atmosphere of the area is slightly sleepy and laid back.

Interspersed between the house lots are some delightful villages. We stopped in once such village, Canastota which is alongside the canal. A couple of the bridges and walls have some delightful murals celebrating the canal’s heritage and history. There is also a museum dedicated to the same subject. The name is derived from the Iroquois language (Kristen Stota meaning ‘cluster of pines near still waters’). Onion growing has been an important part of the village’s economy. I was surprised to see a sign to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Two world champions (Carmen Basilio (Welterweight and Middleweight; he beat Sugar Ray Robinson to take the Middleweight title) and Billy Backus (Welterweight) are from here. Just another in a long list of unexpected discoveries that riding makes possible and makes it so rewarding.

With a relatively short stage, fast roads and a tailwind we made excellent time and were in danger of completing the stage before noon. So to ease things a tad when we spotted Dave’s Diner we pulled over and had some fantastic ice-cream. Proper ice cream! The CV and I plumped for a serving of Sea Salt Caramel in a cup. Recognising the risks of overindulgence from our last feast we opted for the small portion. We both agreed that it was more than sufficient.

Despite this we arrived in Herkimer much earlier than normal. Our hotel (motel) tonight is, I have to say, underwhelming and at the opposite end of the spectrum from the comparative luxury of the Hampton Inn which we left a little over six hours ago. Such is life. Every cloud has a silver lining though and there is one piece of excellent news to report. Cathy (aka Person Number Three), Navi, Pete and I went for a stroll into the town and discovered an excellent little restaurant. I had a wonderful Strawberry and Spinach Salad with nuts, berries and feta cheese. Possibly the best lunch I have enjoyed on the tour to date.

Until tomorrow …

Sunday 24 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 38: Canandaigua to Syracuse, NY (72 Miles)

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After yesterday’s excitement the CV and I made a pact at our morning team talk. Throttle back and take it a bit easier. Today’s stage was one that I had been eagerly anticipating for some time because of a connection to another of my passions. More in a moment. First let me set the scene and deal with the essentials. With low cloud, mist and fog floating around and a cooler temperature the ride started this morning with what was uncannily like a proper autumnal feel to it. In June? That can’t be right. Anyway it was one of those rides inviting the classic “Do I” or “Don’t I” question. I’m referring to the donning of my rain jacket. I did and then I didn’t and then I did again and then I didn’t again. OK, you’ve got it? I’ll shut up about it.

Within five miles guess what happened? A puncture for Emil so just as we had warmed up we had to stop and cool down. We both hoped that this wasn’t the start of “one of those days…” It was’t as it turned out. By now, fixing punctures is something we take in our stride. After all we’ve had lots of practice. So we were soon up the road and setting a good pace with the help of a modest tailwind. With the fog reducing visibility somewhat it was a day for lights – front and rear. As we ate up the miles we passed through Geneva and then Waterloo. Waterloo was designated as the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon B Johnson on 26 May 1966. This year it was celebrated on 28 May when we rode from Las Vegas to Tucumcari on Stage 14. That seems like an eon ago now.

Leaving Waterloo behind we reached Seneca Falls where I discovered that the first convention on Woman’s Rights was held over two days in 1848 – there’s a plaque marking the location. Then convention was a landmark event marking the start of a movement, that grew relentlessly leading in time to the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution which was passed into law in 1920 giving women the right to vote throughout the USA. As we rode through the town I found myself wondering about the pace of change and I was more than a little surprised to subsequently discover that it took over 60 years for all of the remaining states to ratify it, Mississippi being the last to do so in 1984. Of course, the right to vote is only a part of the story and I have plenty of friends who rightly feel that there is still a way to go. Discovering these little nuggets of history has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of this tour.

Now earlier on I hinted at my eager anticipation for today’s stage. So let me unpack this a bit – hang on in there as it might feel a bit left field. Long standing readers will know that I love Bob Dylan. And once again let me emphasise that it a love of his writing, his lyrics and not any other sort of love. I first tuned into His Bobness through the Basement Tapes and related stuff from The Band (Music From Big Pink). What did it for me was their drawing on the countryside and lifestyle of upstate New York to create some fabulous music. Now I appreciate that where I am today isn’t anywhere near Woodstock or Saugerties but the gentle lifestyles amongst the woods and forests that in part inspired their music has been with me for a long time. Earlier this year I read Robbie Robertson’s excellent autobiography, Testimony, which rekindled my interest. So I was keen today to look much more closely at the character and atmosphere of this part of New York State and to try and find some inspiration of my own. And yes, I did find it.

Long leafy lanes, gently rolling hills, canals, lovely wooden houses – each individually distinctive providing a rich tapestry and backdrop for my ride. A great ride! So rich that at least twice I failed to notice the Garmin telling me to make a turn. This was a very pastoral landscape interspersed with some lovely towns and villages and its was easy, for me at least, to understand how environments like this can fuel such creativity. It’s helped me to make sense of some of the things I want to write more about when I tell the full story of this tour. But in the meantime I have made a note to return, perhaps linked to another goal of riding in New England. What I can say for sure is that as I emerged from the woods approaching Syracuse I felt quite rejuvenated. I even had a little sing song of my own – a quick blast of ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’. (Look it up if you want to know more.) But in the light of yesterday’s excitement I shut up pretty quickly – this wheel is definitely not on fire!

Saturday 23 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 37: Hamburg to Canandaigua, NY (96 Miles)

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Well here we are, another day nearer the end with a long stage across upstate New York. Now here’s a thing I didn’t know. There’s the town of Hamburg which was established by decree in 1812. One of the earliest recorded events was agreement to place a $5 bounty on wolf hides due to complaints by local people – about the wolves I imagine, not the hides! But in addition to the town there is also a quite separate village of Hamburg which spun off from the town in 1874. That explains the sign I saw on the way out!

Today was clearly going to be a signs day as I saw references to Warsaw and Lima as well as Wales. Naturally I stopped to get a photograph of the latter. Established in 1818, the town was given its name because the green fields and hills reminded the founders of the land of my fathers. I understand that the townspeople work hard to preserve a small-town, traditionalist atmosphere with much emphasis being placed on family life and small business. It bills itself as “a town of families, friends, farms and so much more!” To celebrate the town’s bicentennial this year, a wide range of events are being staged including walks, sports events, picnics and intriguingly a pie baking contest with the entries being judged in a couple of weeks time.I wonder who will win.

Heading onwards from Wales I found myself riding with Cathy (aka Person Number Three). With the rain of the last few days the road surfaces have collected a lot of debris and unfortunately for Cathy this translated into three punctures in rapid succession. On the second occasion we pulled up on the drive of a local house owner who soon appeared with her dog to see if she could help. In short order we learnt that Kathy was also a cyclist, that her husband races and that her dog was called Thor. As is usually the case on these occasions we had an interesting chat about our tour and, Kathy, if you are reading this please accept our grateful thanks for your assistance. You are another fine example of the kindness of strangers.

Cathy (the other one) had her third puncture just before the first SAG of the day so we decided to replace the tyre with a new one – no punctures for her thereafter. The first SAG marked another significant milestone in our journey eastwards; we had reached the 3,000-mile point. There are now just 417 miles to go to the Atlantic Ocean. I can’t believe how much has happened in the last six weeks. Cathy and I rode out of the SAG together pretty smartly as she was hoping to link up with some friends who had set out from the second SAG and were riding towards us. Link up we soon did to huge whoops of delight from Cath and her friends. As soon as they had turned around and completed the introductions I managed to bring the party atmosphere to a halt with my own rear wheel puncture. This was only a short-lived distraction though and we were soon underway again.

The second SAG was in the town of Avon at the (volunteer) fire station. They have let Crossroads use their restrooms for many years now. Basically, the leave the door unlocked and we just do what we have to do. I had a quick look around the inside of the station and managed to snag a pic of the CV and me propped up against one of the engines. Do you like it?

We headed off on the final leg. Today had the feel of a sluggish ride. I guess that the accumulated mileage is taking its toll – on some more than others. Bruce is wearing compression socks at night and packs his knee with ice as soon as we finish each stage. Pete is maintaining steady progress starting with the early group and keeping to a pace that he can sustain. There is a steely determination building in the group and we are all focussed on getting to the finish – individually and collectively. I have found that a little treat towards the end of the stage provides both the CV and me with a good boost. So let me tell you about today’s “little treat”.

Passing through the town of Bloomfield I spotted an ice cream parlour. The car park was quite full which was a good sign. So I pulled over to investigate – the rest of the group carried on and I said I was happy to make my own way to the finish. Looking inside, it was quickly apparent that I had arrived at ice cream heaven. A delicious selection was available, all home made. So I opted for a small pecan maple variety in a cone. I should have sensed trouble when I was told that we might find a bowl and spoon helpful. ‘Small’ turned out to be three scoops, large scoops by my definition, creating a veritable mountain of ice cream. Taking my spoils outside I found a quiet corner and the CV and I began to tuck in. This was ice cream of the highest order. Proper ice cream; rich and creamy with the sweet tangy taste of maple and the slightly flavour of pecan. I have to say that it was quite possibly better that that Pecan Fudge Pie that I tasted in Somerset (6 June). But I do know someone who would probably beg to differ and assert that the pie was better! Whatever, today the ice cream defeated the CV and me so we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and reluctantly headed off on the final leg of the day.

Riding on our own gave us the chance to up the speed and burn off some extra calories. We were making excellent progress and pace when we had a little mishap. There are three things readers that I dread on tour. Three ways that can force us to abandon. First is getting sick, so we are as scrupulous as we can be about our hygiene, particularly at SAGs when lots of people are handling the same food. I have known riders succumb, leaving them with no choice but to head home. Second, a major mechanical – a bike breaker. And third, serious injury – broken bones, especially collar bones the cyclists Achilles Heel as it were. Well today we had the luckiest of escapes and cheated two of the three threats.

A couple of miles from the finish we were whizzing gently downhill at about 35mph along a long, wide, smooth shoulder. We were so happy that we were about to burst into song. Our reverie was cut short by an almighty bang, total and instant loss of air from the real wheel and the sound and feel of the rim bumping and grinding on the tarmac. But worse than that the CV began to swing from side to side. I spent the next two hundred yards desperately trying to stay upright whilst reducing our speed. The rear brake was largely ineffective due to the speed and the flat tyre. Using the front brake too harshly risked accentuating the swinging into a jackknife with the certain consequence that we would hit the tarmac hard. Eventually we managed to come to a stop and I unclipped and nearly fell over so much were my legs shaking. I heard a voice behind me say:”Buddy are you alright?” or words to that effect. Looking up I could see a policeman walking towards me and behind him was his car with the roofs lights flashing. Once I had collected my wits and we had made our introductions I learnt that he had seen the incident and quick as a flash had acted to slow the following traffic in case I veered out onto the carriageway. He remained with me until I had replaced the tube and temporarily boosted the tyre (there was a hole nearly ¼ of an inch long in it). Then, after shaking my hand and wishing me well on the ride to Boston, he followed me for about half a mile once I got going again. It was a mighty relieved Captain and CV who eventually pulled in to our hotel.

All’s well that end’s well though. I’ve fitted a new rear tyre – and a front one as well. The CV has stopped shaking and we are both ready to go tomorrow. In my experience the best medicine in these situations, apart from a glass of beer, is to get on with it. So that’s precisely what we’re going to do. And besides, tomorrow is a stage that I have been eagerly anticipating. As I hope you will discover.

Friday 22 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 36: Erie, PA to Hamburg, NY (81 Miles)

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After enjoying a lovely leisurely day in Erie including a beer or three on the first evening, brunch at Dave’s Diner (superb), a visit to the Maritime Museum and a wonderful curry last night I was ready to get back on the road for what is now the final phase of the tour. Pretty well the whole of today was spent riding parallel to the southern shore of Lake Erie. State Route 5 heads gradually north east with occasional glimpses of the lake through the trees. As we rode out of Erie Bruce pointed out a sign commemorating Captain C V Grindley. So this Captain, riding a CV, just had to take the picture

Around the 20-mile point we crossed over into the State of New York. This was a landmark moment for me and a realisation that the end of the tour is not far away now. The thought of entering a state that has its eastern edge on the Atlantic Ocean really did brings it home to me. I spent quite a few minutes thinking about what this means. Seven weeks in the saddle on tour is a long time and I have to say that while I am still in reasonable shape physically the succession of one night stays and the conveyor belt of chain eatery food is taking its toll. Fortunately for me the highs of riding more than compensate for the domestic challenges – most of the time. Of course it isn’t over until the fat lady signs. But today I sent word to the good people of Boston that the Captain is coming. He’s riding hard and fast and there will be fireworks, music and maybe even a dance when he arrives. Indulge me here readers; indulge me!

What was a complete surprise to me were the numerous vineyards that lined the road for the first half of the stage. Pennsylvania is the largest grape-growing region in the country after California and the Lake Erie area is known as ‘the Grape Belt of America’. Over two dozen grape varieties are grown including native reds (Catawba and Concord) and whites (Niagara), as well as a large number of hybrid species (Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc). There are also several European varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. I could see that the soil was suitable but I was surprised that the climate was as I would have thought spring frosts might be a problem but clearly not – perhaps due to the lake’s microclimate. Vines have been grown in the state since 1683. The wine growing region has over 200 wineries, including several with an international reputation and others where a new generation of winemakers are challenging tradition, with some success.

Now I’d like to let you into a little secret. Well, two secrets. Today I rode through Barcelona and Dunkirk on the way to our destination at Hamburg. That must be some sort of record for crossing Europe, surely. And talking of records I was pleased to see that I had claimed a Strava KOM (King of the Mountains) – on the Southwestern Rollers segment (4.7 miles). I lead the field by over a minute. Of course I’m bigging up the bragging rights here. But let me have some fun – please!

The first half of the ride was really enjoyable with a reasonable road surface, attractive scenery and relatively little traffic competing for the tarmac space. Unfortunately the second half was much less pleasant – the wide shoulder was definitely needed given the increased volume of traffic. I rode in to Hamburg with Chris who is from Manchester and now lives in Florida and is relatively new to cycling – golf is his thing and very good he is at it too. But I have to tell you that Chris is also a source of inspiration. Every single day since leaving LA Chris has ridden to the limit and has been determined to make it to the finish. But the real inspiration is that Chris has an incurable cancer, a rare lymphoma. (You can read more about him here.) So I felt very honoured to ride alongside Chris for a while today and share our tour perspectives. Compared to him, my struggles are trivial.

Once I had finished the stage I had an opportunity to tick off another item from my ‘to do’ list. Emil and his wife Eve invited Pete and I to join them on an excursion to see Niagara Falls. Although this was a very brief visit I am glad to have made it. It was a great way to end another great day. I’ve heard tomorrow could be quite tough so I’m off to get some shuteye now.

Thursday 21 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 34 Wooster to Niles, OH (102 Miles) & Stage 35: Niles to Erie, PA (90 Miles)

First up an apology for the break in transmission. Over the past few days there have been some things happening off the bike that I have had, and wanted to prioritise over my writing. So my fingers have strayed from the keyboard. But I am back on the case now readers. I am writing this on our final rest day in Erie, a delightful city on the lakeside. I’m going to play a little game of catch up here and combine the last two days stages into one report. They’re both pretty much all in Ohio so that makes it easier. I hope you don’t feel shortchanged!

Stage 34 was from Wooster to Niles (93 miles – click here for route flyby). Wooster is a lovely city with lots of charm and I enjoyed a delicious dinner at a small restaurant with a special friend the evening before. It was especially nice to eat fresh food which tasted like it had been prepared to order, rather than the more usual manufactured fodder that the chain eateries provide. We rolled out of Wooster at the usual time of 07:30 and gradually headed eastwards on a succession of quiet country roads. The countryside we passed through was beautiful – the further east we go the more lush it seems to get. We crossed over a large lake before entering Berlin (not that one!). The village was founded in 1816 by John Swigert who, not surprisingly, came from the other Berlin. Most of the early inhabitants were from Germany and Switzerland. Today, the village is best known as the largest Amish community in Ohio.

As I left the village I spotted a depot full of yellow school buses so I pulled over to grab a photo. It’s not often that I’ve seen such a big nest of buses! As I crossed the road I could see a Sheriff’s vehicle parked with the deputy inside looking at the passing motorists. So I rode up to him and asked if I could lean the CV on the front of his vehicle for photo. After looking at me incredulously he agreed and within a mere few minutes we were in the full throes of a debate about how American motorists treat cyclists compared to the UK. He had quite a few interesting opinions, and I suspect that on the basis of my observations on UK motorists, may now think that I come from a country of homicidal drivers. “How close do they pass you? Wow!”

Time was pressing on and the stage finish at Niles beckoned so I had to leave my peacekeeping friend to his peacekeeping duties and resume the ride eastwards. The final part of the ride was a real delight – a dedicated paved cycle route through the woods to the edge of Niles. It was a really blissful experience. So lovely that I actually turned around and rode back a few miles to do it again, using the time to clear my head and float free! I also had a hidden agenda. The extra miles meant that by the time I arrived at the hotel I had managed to notch up my third successive century! Yay.

I awoke the following morning to a leaden grey, heavy sky. Rain was in the air. So on with the swan neck to protect my backside from the spray. The last time I fitted it there was no rain so I was hoping that it would have the same effect today. It didn’t and within just a few miles the heaven’s opened, down came the rain and on went my Idrio jacket (100% breathable, 100% waterproof). Breathability is a major consideration with the humidity we experience. Sadly, the rain stayed with us until virtually the end of the ride so I just got on with it. Tapping the pedals and taping out Stage 35’s  miles, ninety of them. Keeping moving is the best way to keep warm in these conditions. (Click here for route flyby.) Pete had decided to go out with the early group as he fancied a gentler day on the road so this was the first time I have not ridden with him since we met in California on our Hollywood jaunt. Was it something I said? Pete says not.

The second SAG today was at the White Turkey Drive-in, an establishment which has achieved legendary status on previous Crossroads tours. Founded in 1952 by Eddie and Marge Tuttle as a place to showcase their farm-raised turkey sandwiches. The restaurant takes its name from the White Holland breed of turkey. The business is still run by the family and their friends. But I had heard of something else that they served which I decided to give a whirl – a root beer float. Under the expert tutelage of Bruce, who I had been riding the rain with, I stirred with my spoon and pushed with my straw and got stuck in. Now I have to say that root beer is an acquired taste and with a little practice it is a taste that I might well acquire – especially when the float is so delicious. As I downed the drink and spooned the ice cream I could see Bruce looking at me out of the corner of his eye and smiling to himself. You may just have started something Sir Bruce!

Although the rain was easing I kept the Idrio on and crossed over into Pennsylvania (state number 10) before rolling into Erie and the prospect of a day off the saddle. I arrived with a dry backside and body (thanks swan neck and Idrio) but as I walked into the foyer of the hotel I could hear my feet squelching. Ah well, everyone can’t be perfect I suppose. Erie has the feel of a really nice place and the hotel is situated right on the lakeshore. An ideal place to have a proper rest and to recharge my batteries. Especially as the last few days have been both tumultuous and an emotional roller coaster. But that’s a story for another time!

I’ll be back tomorrow and I hope dear readers that the next report from the front wheel isn’t unduly delayed…

Monday 18 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 33: Marysville to Wooster, OH (100 miles)

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The cue sheet for today showed that the stage was 97 Miles. Close, temptingly close to a century. Regular readers will know that the Captain doesn’t consider 99.9 miles to be a century – it has to be 100. So it was game on for a few extra miles at the end of the stage to rack up a proper century.

The stage was another full day’s riding in Ohio. As we progress eastwards the countryside is getting more and more lush. Lots of greenery - grass, crops, trees, hedges, woods and forests. Delightful roads meandering through valleys with streams and rivers, some full of fish, gurgling and burbling their way along. Lots of lovely properties too, large and small, mostly set back from the roads and almost invariably well maintained. The homes of proud folk. And lots of architecturally simple, plain white churches. It was totally enjoyable riding, often freewheeling along as I took in everything around me.

I had one unexpected and very pleasant encounter. I had stopped at a bridge to get a picture of the river we had been following for several miles and while looking around a woman, in her ate thirties I guessed slowed and asked me if everything was ok (I was riding solo at the time). So I replied I the affirmative and added that I was just admiring the view. Picking up on my accent she got out of the car, asked if I needed any cold water and came over for a goss  – the usual stuff, where I had come from, where I was going and so forth. As we were chatting there was a cry from the back of her car to which see said “Oh that’s just one of my kids waking up.” Sensing that our conversation was coming to an end I mentioned this blog site to which she produced a pen and paper and got me to write down the URL. So dear lady, if you are reading this then my thanks for both your concern and your interest. One again I am struck by the kindness of strangers.

Today, the character of the route changed towards the back end. A complete transformation from gentle undulations to rollers. And some quite brutal rollers at that. Around about the 70-mile mark we faced a succession of climbs, some touching 12%, which had me changing down on to the granny ring which I haven’t needed to use for some time. With the temperature and humidity rising sharply what had seemed like an easy ride turned into something much more challenging. Now it was almost a case of survival. I could feel the seemingly never ending succession of rollers leaching away the strength from my legs. The downhill sections provided opportunities to recover but never quite enough to before the road turned upwards again.

I did have one moment of light relief as I arrived at the village of Funk. Yes, that’s right, there is actually a village called ‘Funk’. By co-incidence as I taking the requisite photo Mary and Navi in one of the support vehicles pulled up and quick as a flash Navi worked her magic and a burrs then of James Brown emerged from the car’s speakers. Well, I didn’t need a second call.  The Lewis got moving, the torso got shimmying and I gave it my all to the beat. Fortunately this time no photos or videos exist! So will have to take it from me – I was funky in Funk!

The last part of the stage into Wooster was relatively straightforward. I was able to top up my water bottles to ensure I strayed hydrated – the main challenge for the day and Pete and I eased into town via a rather fine bike shop (didn’t buy anything). Then with a couple of circuits if the town to put on the requisite miles for the century we rolled up at our hotel just as the clouds burst – literally. Two centuries in two days! Wonderful.

Sunday 17 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 32: Richmond, IN to Marysville, OH (104 Miles)

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Every evening in the reception area of our hotel the Crossroads team display a large map showing how far we have come. Since leaving LA last month we have travelled about 2,600 miles and passed through nine states. I remember looking at the map a few days after we set off and thinking that we have pedalled a lot a lot of miles but don’t seem to have gone very far. Looking at the map when we arrived in Marysville today after a long and hot stage I realised that we have made huge progress. The line tracing our route, and the photographs lining it, show just how far we have come. What really struck me today was that we really are closer, much closer to the end now. There are only 11 riding days until we reach the east coast and dip our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean.

I’m looking at this with very mixed feelings. Satisfaction and a growing feeling of achievement as we get ever closer to the finishing line. Not that I’m counting any chickens. Happiness at some new friendships I’ve made, including a couple of very special ones which I hope will continue after the tour. Pride at being part of a group of riders who collectively have grown into a magnificent and strongly supportive team. The collective response to overcoming the interstate puncture challenge set, for me at least, a new benchmark in teamwork. I’ve also got a few twinges of sadness – things I didn’t see or quite appreciate on the road. And some people who are no longer on the tour – a couple of folk in particular who have been in my thoughts a lot since they left us.

Of course a lot can happen in eleven days. And I am sure that my thoughts and reflections will continue to involve but today’s stage was for me, one of reflecting and taking stock. Today’s stage was also one that a close friend of mine would really have liked to have ridden. For me it had a certain English countryside feel to it and I would have enjoyed chatting about what we saw. So my motivator for riding today was my ‘absent’ friend. There in my thoughts throughout if not in person

Three miles after leaving Richmond we crossed the State Line into Ohio, the tenth state on the tour so far. I had heard that this part of Ohio was very pretty so I was looking forward to the ride. The countryside here is very lush, green with lots of trees, hedges and woods set in rolling land. In places it felt very much like parts of Suffolk, especially the area to the east of Newmarket so I felt quite at home. In fact One of my local riding chums said just that in a message to me!

One of the challenges I have riding in countryside like this is the difficultly of concentrating on the Garmin and the route map. It is all to easy to get so absorbed in the passing scenery and miss a critical turn. The Garmin responds almost immediately with an “off course” but if you are not looking at it then you are none the wiser. And yes, I’ll fess up now. I once went several miles before I realised the error of my navigation.

But it’s not all doom and gloom Sometime going the wrong way reveals a hidden delight. Today was a case in point. Having missed a right-hand turn  I spotted an old mill building ahead of me so rode to it to investigate. And what a lovely four storey wooden building it was. Complete with a replica vintage pickup truck parked outside. As far as I could determine the mill is open to visitors (not today, sadly) and is also the workplace of a photographer

There wasn’t much to trouble me physically on today’s stage. It was largely flat with smooth surfaces and fast tarmac. So easy riding. We did however come across a couple of disruptions – some road resurfacing works and a collapsed bridge both of which we took in our stride. Nothing stops the Crossroads train!

One hundred and five miles ands exactly six hours after setting off Pete and I rolled in to Marysville. This was the first of four long riding days – I can sense the possibilities of another century on tomorrow’s stage and possibly one the day after. The CV is liking this. My legs are not so sure!

Saturday 16 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 31: Indianapolis to Richmond, IN (72 Miles)

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With the prospect of three tough days ahead today was another relatively easy stage and the BBC and the Euros rolled out of Indianapolis bound for Richmond. I was rather fetchingly kitted out (well I thought so) in a new orange and blue Illinois Fighting Illini college jersey that I bought on our last rest day in Champaign. Rather frustratingly I had a puncture within the first five miles – another of those infernal truck tyre wires. Fortunately the team rallied round and the tube change was made in very short order. An added bonus was that Mary, who was driving one of the support vehicles today, pulled up with a track pump at exactly the right moment. (Good on ya!) So in less than 5 minutes I was rolling again. Having a puncture in the first few miles of a stage can often set the tone for the rest of the day so I was delighted not to suffer any further misfortune. Indeed today was a very relaxed, almost leisurely affair with several stops for photos and refreshments as well as some good natured chit chat in between.

Passing through Greenfield at about 20 miles guess who I spotted sitting on bench? James Whitcomb Riley, the well-known Hoosier poet, author and entertainer. So I pulled over for a chat with him. Now I guess I ought to come clean at this point. When I say that I pulled over for a chat with James, I am talking metaphorically, not literally. He was born in Greenfield in 1849 and now his statue sits gracefully on a bench on the sidewalk surveying all who pass by. Riley’s career received an early boost with an endorsement from Henry Wandsworth Longfellow (author of The Song of Hiawatha) and his most famous works include “Little Orphant Annie” and “The Raggedy Man”, the latter providing the inspiration for the Raggedy Ann doll, beloved of many children.

From my post-ride research I have discovered that Hoosier is the collective name for the inhabitants of Indiana – hence Indiana been known as the Hoosier State. The source of the name is uncertain but it was in common use by the 1840s. Sadly, the term is also used in a rather more derogatory fashion, which I am not going to get into here.

Every so often on a ride you get an entirely unexpected surprise. Riding in one direction means that I often fail to spot a sight or feature. But sometimes you get a lucky hand as I did today. With hot, humid conditions we pulled into a gas station in Cambridge City to get a cold drink. Cambridge City, which is named after the university city near where I live in the East of England seemed a nice place With the number of Stars and Stripes flags and banners on display along the Main Street it was clearly a patriotic place. It is apparently also a highly popular place for antique collectors to visit. Well, while downing my drink on the gas station forecourt I happened to look back towards the direction we had come from and right in front of me was a magnificent mural. Not just any mural either but a depiction of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train which transported the late Presidents coffin from Washington DC to Springfield, Illinois. The train passed slowly through Cambridge City at 4:15am on 30 April 1865. Although not scheduled to make any official stops it did in fact stop three times in Cambridge. The first lasted 5 seconds outside the home of General Meredith, a friend and ally of Lincoln, where the whistle was sounded in tribute. Then the train stopped a second time  for 15 seconds at the grand arch in the city centre so that 3,000 townspeople could pay their respects. Finally the trainUIKEYINPUTDOWNARROW stopped at level crossing on the western edge of the city, though I am not sure why. The larger than life mural, by Pamela Bliss, was unveiled in April 2015 to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death. This was part of a bigger commemoration of the event when the entire city was decked out in mourning, just as it was a century and a half before. So it just goes to show that sometimes it is well worth looking over your shoulder.

From Cambridge City to Richmond was an easy spin. And Pete and I paused for the usual stage end photos in front to the town sign. And, no we didn’t have to look over our shoulders; we saw it coming!

Friday 15 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 30: Crawfordsville to Indianapolis, IN (55 Miles)

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Doing the Madness Walk
Today was another short day and the ride over to Indianapolis was pretty unremarkable. So unremarkable that I Mahdi only taken one photograph until the last leg of the stage. But it was definitely worth the wait. If I tell you that on the first half of the route we passed through endless fields of maize and soya along straight, nondescript roads, you’ll probably get the picture. The tedium was lifted slightly in Jamestown where we spotted a large white statue of a figure striding across the grass. Quick as a flash Pete had us doing a variation of the Madness walk to lighten the mood. And if I’ve lost you here look for Madness (the band) videos on You Tube and work it out for yourself!

We approached the outskirts of Indianapolis on some very busy and very rough roads. This was all rather unpleasant. But with only a few miles to go it all changed. Leaving the main roads we turned on the the White River Trail and it was like crossing over into a new world. Gone were the noisy, exhaust-fume belching lorries passing through an endless series of industrial areas. Now we had entered utopia or so it seemed.

A lovely smooth cycle trail weaved its way through mature trees and woods with glimpses of the White River beyond. In just a few seconds we were in a magical world, quite, lush and teeming with wildlife. The transformation was total and totally unexpected. Although we had been given a heads up at the morning’s Route Rap nothing had prepared me for this experience.

But there was more to come. We burst out of the trees on to a small promontory with the whole of downtown Indianapolis laid in front of us. The modern skyscrapers sitting on the horizon with the river cascading over some rapids in front of us was just magnificent. Although this had been only a short part of the whole stage it easily made up for the underwhelming nature of the previous parts.

Gradually we got nearer and nearer to the city centre, turning eventually onto a wide car-free bridge to cross the river. Indianapolis. The White River State Park that we had been riding through is one of the jewels in the city’s crown. It is very pedestrian and cycle friendly and, for me a least, quite different to anything I had seen so far on the tour. The range of street art provides a vivid counterpart to some of the city’s buildings, many of which are architectural masterpieces. Although in European terms they are relatively recent constructions, many of the buildings are very traditional in their design with huge columns and pillars enriched with intricate stonework.

The last few miles were so enthralling that I seized an entirely unexpected opportunity to ride it again with one of the tour team. As I rode along I recalled a brief chat earlier that day about Van Morrison and that set me thinking about a couple of his songs. And do you know what? Van the Man has the words that sum up perfectly how I felt about this part of the ride:

These are the days now that we must savour
And we must enjoy as we can
These are the days that will last forever
You’ve got to hold them in your heart

As the end of the tour slowly comes on to the horizon I find that increasingly I am taking stock and reflecting on those moments, places and people that I will be holding in my heart. This is very definitely one of them. And readers, I make no apologies for getting all sentimental again.

Thursday 14 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 29: Champaign, IL to Crawfordsville, IN (82 Miles)

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Krannert Art Museum
Yesterday was a rest day and I had a thoroughly enjoyable and rather unexpected day exploring Champaign. I had no expectations, indeed before arriving I hadn’t given Champaign a second thought. I spent most of the day with Pete in the University District. This was a delightful campus with nicely landscaped grounds, some outstanding architecture and some lovely art installations. The highlight for me was our visit to the Krannert Art Museum which took a bit of finding but was well worth the effort.

There was a fabulous exhibition of postwar (1945-55) print making and I spotted an amazing collation of photographs of Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles. This evoked some powerful memories of my rides before the tour started and also of our wheel dipping ceremony on Stage 1. It is incredible how far we have come since then and how much has changed along the way – at so many different levels. Rather stupidly I didn’t make any notes about the collation so I have contacted the Museum to see if they can help me. There is a story to be told here and I would like to tell it when I write my book of the tour.

There is one other exhibition that I really have too tell you a bit about. It was by Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme and in two parts. Firstly a video and sound installation following a group of young people walking through a destroyed village in Palestine and second a study, a sort of catalogue I suppose, covering the prehistoric past and digital future interpretations of Palestine and the West Bank from a unique perspective. Let me just say that I was really challenged, in a good way, by what a I saw and heard. Some of the short writings and poems that were dotted around the installation brought big lumps to my throat. Such power and emotion in the simplicity of the words. This is one of the greatest pleasures of a rest day for me. I never quite know what I am going to stumble across. I am usually quite content to explore and discover in a random or spontaneous way as opposed to having a target or a goal to visit a specific place and tick it off a list.

Champaign struck me as a really nice place. Such a contrast to the concrete installations that the elves construct for us each day. I even spotted a couple of pavement bistros and a trattoria and was disappointed not to have had the time to enjoy them with a new friend or two. Being able to do this would have made the day a proper rest day. Plus ├ža change

So there you have it readers. A glimpse into a rest day on tour. Much needed and, in some respects, all over too soon. Today we were back on the road. And back with a vengeance! Our little group seems to have evolved into the BBC and the Euros. The BBC are Barry, Bruce and Cathy. The Euros are Emil, Pete and me. We’ve been riding together a lot over the last few days, although once we reach the first SAG Barry, who prefers not to linger, usually heads off on his own. The rest of us like a rather more leisurely halt.

Soon after we rolled out of the hotel Cathy and I stopped to photograph some cycling street art followed by a comfort stop (thanks Starbucks). The rest of the group carried on riding and Cathy and I then engaged in a spot of high speed catch up. Over the next 25 miles, and with a light headwind, we rode hard and fast, going full gas, in an effort to close the gap. We had no idea how big the gap was. We could only guess based on the assumption that the group was maintaining a constant speed and we were riding 3-4mph faster. This was hard work, very hard, yet also satisfying. (You’ll need to do it to understand.) I led and Kathy pushed me every mile of the way. The further and harder we went I could see my heart rate rising to a level where I eventually had to back off for fear of popping a rivet or three. And for my cycling readers, yes, I was very definitely “on the rivet” as they say. Also, as the miles rolled by I could feel the lactate level rising in my legs and started to wonder how long I could sustain this momentum. It’s been several years since I’ve sustained such a high output, in a two-up on the road for so long. Maintaining this level of performance in a bunch is an entirely different, and much easier proposition.

Celebrating the catch!
Eventually, with a long straight ahead of us I thought I could see a red flashing light up the road. Resisting the temptation to raise the pace still further, if that were even possible, and risk blowing up, we gradually closed the gap inch by inch, foot by foot over the next couple of miles. Slowly and surely we pulled them back. With about 400 yards left and with a shout of “Let’s go” we stamped on the pedals, Cathy came round me and somehow we found an extra 2-3 mph to finally make the catch. Looking at my Strava record I can see that we started chasing at 4.6 miles on the stage and made the catch at 29.2 miles after 1 hr 28 mins. So having joined back on we felt quite entitled to sit on the back and recover. What fun. Hard work but very satisfying too. I should add that when we reached the SAG my legs asked me ‘What just happened?” and once I could stand up properly, I had to engage in a spot of leg stretching to untangle my muscles. For the record, the CV just purred throughout.

After the ‘excitement’ of the first leg we stuck closely together, each of us sharing a little smile from time to time. Shortly after the SAG we crossed the state line into Indiana – the Crossroads of America - stopping in Veedersburg for a welcome drink which was livened up by the attentions of a couple of passing ladies. I am not going to say any more (what goes on tour, stays on tour). But suffice it to say that this wasn’t the only encounter we had with them today! We also experienced a spot of dangerous driving which Cathy phoned in to the police. We had noticed the driver a few miles earlier as he’d been pulled over for some violation as we passed by. The final leg to Crawfordsville passed without incident and it was one weary Captain who finally collapsed onto the armchair in his hotel room. But one happy Captain too.

See you tomorrow!