Saturday, June 6, 2009

Day 4 Blog Post

Day 4: Bedford, PA to Butler, PA

‘Twas cold. ‘Twas wet. ‘Twas the kind of rain-cold assault that makes one’s teeth chatter, knees buckle, will deflate.

But the day had started like many others in 4k lore. We spent the night at the YMCA of Greensburg, PA, an impressive three story structure complete with a gym, locker rooms, fitness rooms, offices, a childcare center, and an emergency youth shelter. Like many years past, the 4k was given the entire third floor – complete with pool table, Sound of Music VHS, and stunning vistas of downtown Greensburg – to relax and sleep.

The childcare center a floor below invited us for breakfast that morning. Before entering, we dawned our thinking caps knowing that the incisive philosophical ruminations of the toddlers would challenge our assumptions about consciousness. With bananas and cheerios consumed, the discussions began.

4k’er: Why are stickers called stickers?

Philosopher-Child of Greensburg: Because they’re sticky.

4k’er: Why are they sticky?

Philosopher-Child of Greensburg: Because they’re stickers!

Astounding, I thought. They must have some sticker-related super brain powers. Envious, I put a banana sticker on my forehead before the ride in hopes of boosting my intellectual prowess. And soon I would be put to the test.

Tom, our director with hair far longer than necessary, had recently put me in charge of organizing our snack and lunch foods into separate bins. The driver of the day before, Kristine “The First Test Tube Baby In The World” Casey, had scored mountains of ham sandwiches from Wallet’s, an establishment that boasted such customers as Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Smell inspections revealed that the sandwiches needed to go. I don’t like to toss food out before trying to give it away, so I took to the streets of Greensburg looking for takers. I waved down a taxi and before I could offer him the meat, he asked for the purpose behind all these spandex-laden people clomping around their town. I told him about the 4k, and he told me about the many cycling treks he had undertaken, including a cross-country ride many years back, and a recent tour around ten countries in Europe. He directed me to his blog which I highly recommend,

The rain began early that morning and would not relent for a moment. Our route took us around Pittsburgh towards Butler, PA where we found a painful lack of back roads. At one point we accidently found ourselves on an interstate going through a narrow two-lane tunnels. Cars zoomed by as we did our best to avoid getting side-swiped or just plain squished.

Then silence. I looked around and noticed all the cars had vanished. Was it some sort of divine sign? A symbol from above? It was. We saw flashing lights and a man in a neon-orange vest stepped out of an oversized pick-up and told us they had shut down the tunnel to traffic because cyclists are not allowed inside. We threw our road hogs on the back of the truck and were dropped off in town where we adjusted our route and pedaled on.

Like I said, the rain was relentless. We were sopping wet by this point and had hit our final 30 mile stretch for the day on a road infested with angst-ridden drivers in a rush to a place that was clearly important enough for them to justify rolling their windows down to show which of their fingers best expressed how they felt about us.

Fifteen miles away from our destination, the elements had overpowered one of our riders. We pulled into the parking lot of the Two-Bit Tavern and waited under an awning for our support van. As cold as we were, getting off the bicycle only made us colder as our muscles stiffened and energy declined.

While we stood shivering, a woman pulled over and rolled down her window. She had an uncanny resemblance to one of the riders on my team that day, Rebecca. “Are you Rebecca’s mom,” I asked.

“No,” she answered. “But it looks like you guys could use some help.”

We would learn her name was Stef Scarlett, that she had Multiple Sclerosis, and that she insisted we sit in her heated car to warm up while we waited for the van to arrive. We learned many things about Stef, that this wasn’t the first time she offered to help cyclists caught on the unpleasant roads just outside of Pittsburgh on a rainy day; that she fought the debilitating symptoms of her condition to help others too weak to access their medications alone; that she had an incredibly positive outlook on life; that her nurturing demeanor immediately comforted us from the traumas of an unpleasant day on the road; that her generosity and attitude inspired us more than she can understand.

Here we are with Stef after the ride.

I stepped out of the car to run into the tavern’s restroom. The looks I got on my way out clearly indicated that these bar-goers rarely saw cyclists run into their establishment. “Where you going,” one man asked.

“San Francisco.”

He asked me why. I told him about our mission. He collected the money he had put out on the counter and handed it to me. “My wife died of lung cancer two years ago. Remember her.”

The woman next to him turned and spoke. “I lost my father to melanoma.”

These were the words that got our team through the next 15 miles into Butler where the rain fell harder and cold blew more than earlier that day. Stef offered to drive behind us for the remainder of the route with her car hazards on to deter impatient motorists from speeding up to us and laying on their horns. Her generosity and patience with us was inexplicable and affirmed to me that there are still great people in this world. I will remember her fondly as the challenges on this ride grow.

There's Stef in her car blocking traffic for us!

Thank you, Stef.


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