My Last Ride With Dad

MARKLETON, PENNSYLVANIA

After a lifetime of not riding with my dad, I was able three years ago to take him on the Great Allegheny Passage which runs through his backyard in Somerset County, Pa. We went again in 2013 but missed a ride last year (despite trying but my dad was too tired the day we were going to ride). This time, we got it right.

Markleton on the GAP
Markleton on the GAP

I told my sister, Betsy, that I would meet her and Dad at Markleton, Pa. on the Great Allegheny Passage. Betsy followed him to Fort Hill, where he left his Jeep, then the two of them met me at Markleton. It was in the low 60s but absolutely beautiful.

GAP near Markleton
GAP near Markleton

I chose this route because of the newly opened Pinkerton tunnel. Also, my dad hadn’t been this far on the trail. I knew it trended downhill from Markleton to Fort Hill and packed a lot of scenery into its five miles.

GAP in the Fall
GAP in the Fall

With leaves mostly still on the trees in Northern Virginia, it was strange to be here where most leaves are on the ground. The trail was fully covered in places.

Cassleman River near Markletong
Casselman River near Markletong

Words cannot describe how pretty the trail is. We went a couple miles then came to the Pinkerton Trestles. It was probably 10 years since I last rode through here which was always Trestle – Detour – Trestle. And that was a beautiful route.

Pinkerton Tunnel
Pinkerton Tunnel

But with the tunnel open, it was even more beautiful. Although the trail trended downhill, it is mostly flat. One can’t coast but pedaling is a little easier in this direction. We were in a heavy forest and with leaves on the trail one could not see the surface.

Heavy leaf coverage on the trail
Heavy leaf coverage on the trail

And then – the trestle. We came to the Pinkerton trestle although we didn’t stop on it. We saw the tunnel and kept riding. It is not lighted, one would be helpful but is not necessary.

Pinkerton Tunnel
Pinkerton Tunnel

At the far end we were on the Pinkerton High Trestle. We stopped and took pictures off this one.

Pinkerton High Trestle
Pinkerton High Trestle

Reaching Fort Hill my dad asked “Is this the end?” He said he wanted to keep riding. I was worried that if we rode four miles down to Harnedsville that it would be too much for my 86 year-old father to ride another four miles back up to his car. I grabbed his keys and drove his Jeep down to Harnedsville. And so we rode.

Besty, Dad, Barry
Besty, Dad, Barry

Betsy and my dad rode ahead. Once at the trail head with his Jeep, I rode back up to the trail to meet them and we then continued to the Harnedsville trail head. At the end we got a little concerned when he went into the middle of the road where the trail crosses and stopped. Just stopped. A road normally lightly traveled, there was a car coming from each direction. Betsy yelled “Dad!” I got the attention of one car and motioned for him to slow or stop. Dad said “OK!” Then he moved. Whew!

DEL_GAP03

Although he wanted to ride ahead and look at a church in Harnedsville, there was no way we were going to ride on the road with him.  I loaded his bike in his Jeep and he drove home.

GAP at Confluence
GAP at Confluence

Betsy and I rode on down to Confluence. We looked for a place for a snack and found stairs leading from the trail with a bike trough to walk the bikes. The problem was the trough was on the side and not in the middle so the pedals hit the supports as I pushed the bike. Oh well.

Stairs from the GAP, Confluence, Pa.
Stairs from the GAP, Confluence, Pa.

We grabbed some cookies and a drink then road back up to Markleton. What a gorgeous day on a bike.

Confluence overlooking the Youghigheny
Confluence overlooking the Youghiogheny

UPDATE: (SEPT. 14, 2016) – This post has been updated to “My Last Ride With Dad.” With each ride we wondered if this was our last ride with him but this ride had more of a finality to it than the others. My dad seemed a little out of it standing in the road and I worried for his safety going home. He made it safely and then promptly sold the Jeep.

He never talked about it but looking back I sense he knew his mind was failing and that it was best to sell that beat up Jeep he loved so much. We were just talking about another ride this spring when he fell in April. I wanted one more ride. I looked at first at recumbent bikes. Hand cycles. Tandems where I did the work. Ultimately, he would never ride again. And on this day we said goodbye to him we were thankful for the rides we shared with him. We were the lucky ones.

 


Livestrong for Alex

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Six years ago I didn’t see myself doing charity rides but then … cancer. And today I lined up for my fifth Livestrong Challenge. Two were in Philly (actually King of Prussia) and now the third in Austin.

Lexi Rogers
Barry with Lexi Rogers. She was my bicycle buddy for the Texas 4000 and we got to meet at In N Out Burger Saturday night.

I wanted to ride with 13 year-old Alex Shepherd in Oregon but never got the chance. At his service in June I told his dad, Dan Shepherd, I’d like for him to join me in Austin and we would ride for Alex.

Dan at the end of the road
Dan at the end of the road

I arrived on Thursday and attempted to find a route called the Volente Loop using a downloaded file on my GPS. The problem was there were a couple spots where the route crossed over (think figure eight) and the GPS wasn’t sure, or probably I wasn’t sure, which way to go. At 16 miles I found myself back at my car. OK, at 95 degrees, I gave up.

LS16_1
Rudy’s

Friday morning I went to the airport and picked up Dan. We didn’t have much time as he assembled his bike then we rode downtown to meet Will Swetnam and some of the Cyclists Combating Cancer group at Mellow Johnny’s. We rode over to a Rudy’s which is delicious BBQ in a gas station.

Four of Seven Yellow Jerseys at Mellow Johnny's. I think the Tour de France called and want these baclk.
Four of Seven Yellow Jerseys at Mellow Johnny’s. I think the Tour de France called and want these back.

Yesterday Dan and I went to Livestrong Headquarters to pick up our registration materials. After lunch were able to do the real Volenti Loop. Still hot with some punchy hills and “heavy” pavement. Those 42 miles seemingly took something out of me.

Dan adding Alex's name to the wall
Dan adding Alex’s name to the wall

This morning we timed our entrance perfectly. I had raised enough funds to get a priority start in the first coral. I wanted to ride with Dan but being in the front coral meant I could ride out with the top fund raisers. Our CCC team almost always the top team but this year we were second to “Lance and Friends.” Well good for him.

Ready to roll out
Ready to roll out

Lance Armstrong lined up in the first group and I thought if I had a chance to ride next to him, I would. I got to the coral at 7:29 a.m. One minute to spare. But there were lots of cyclists in cue and I was at the back of the group. I never even got a glimpse of Lance at the front.

LS16_14

We rolled out at 7:30. Our plan was for me to soft pedal if I wasn’t with Lance and in either case, we would meet at the first stop at Mile 10. I wasn’t with Lance and I began to back off the pace. At Mile 6 Dan and I joined up, both looking splendid in our Team Alex jerseys.

Texas 4000 at Rest Stop 2
Texas 4000 at Rest Stop 2. Ayesha Kang (middle). Ayesha is part of the 2016 Rockies Team.

I rode up behind a man wearing a picture of a child and said “tell me about your daughter.” I slowed to talk and I think Dan saw that it wasn’t all about the riding. The best moments of the day would come from riding.

On the road
On the road

At the second stop I met the kids from the Texas 4000. That was a surprise to them as I started dropping the names of Vanessa Beltran, and Lexi Rogers and others who were part of the program the past couple of years. They seemed genuinely excited to meet me. Well, I was excited to meet them too.

LS16_16

Each “challenge” is designed to feature a challenge on the century route. While this route was mostly flat with some rollers, I remembered well the Wall. Around Mile 50 you could see this butte in the distance. As one got closer you could see there was a road straight up the side to the top. Closer still, you could see almost everybody pushing their bikes.

As Dan pushed on I told him we should back off a little. Don’t want to hammer it and then having nothing left for the big climb. At Mile 48 we pulled into a rest stop. There I met Rudy the Chicken. A girl was holding him and offered to let me hold him. She now has me rethinking my love affair with Chick-fil-A,

LS16_17

As we rolled out I wondered about the Wall. Dan went ahead and I found myself next to a woman, Christy San Antonio. I asked her if she had ridden this century before. She looked at me and said “I rode a century yesterday.” She must have heard “ridden a century before.” We talked.

Dan Shepherd
Dan Shepherd

The next 25 miles went by as quickly as any I have ridden this year. Not quickly as in fast but quickly as in the time few by. Mostly, Christy and I rode side by side and did not notice we were pulling 12 riders. Christy’s friend, Christa Ginsburg, and Dan were busy talking too.

Back at the rest stop (with the chicken – we made a loop) there’s always that moment of truth when you have been riding with strangers. Do you wait for one another or do you move on? Not sure who but we waited for one another and the four of us rolled out of this rest stop.

LS16_23

Both women are strong. Both are triathletes. Christy has been to Kona for the Iron Man. Do I need to say more? But on this day, her derailleur wasn’t functioning and she was stuck in a small ring on the back. Not the 11t but close to it. Having ridden a century the day before in Houston and now riding in a “big gear,” I actually had a chance to stay with her.

LS16_24

At the next stop we found a mechanic. He put the bike on a stand and said a piece of hair was in the derailleur and he removed it. None of us believed that was the cause but her bike functioned again. The mechanics also confirmed that Lance and friends came by real early but apparently did not ride the full century. I never saw him the entire day.

We rode back to Austin enjoying more talk about cycling, doping, school, and politics. Once we passed a man, fit looking, who was struggling, and he looked over and saw two women. Whatever struggles he had that day he put behind him because he took off just like someone lit an afterburner. It was apparent he wasn’t going to get “beat” (it’s not a race, it’s a ride) by women.

LS16_21
Christa Ginsberg and Christy San Antonio

As we approached the finish line I soft pedaled and let the three of them go on. I still find the first 99 miles of these challenges to be easy but the last mile difficult. Even while talking about cancer all day I was really thinking about cancer. But the last mile is one where I think of others and I reflect on my own journey. I slowed down and moved to the right where volunteers handed out yellow roses to cancer survivors. It was my 5th time receiving a rose but it’s still hard.

LS16_04

Back at Camp Livestrong, Dan and I went to the food tent. While we were there a woman came by pimping her kid with a donation jar. She told us her sad story of how she needs money because he child has brain cancer. Dan and I were taken aback and I was the first to ask “what kind of brain cancer?” We know a little about pediatric brain cancer. She started backpedaling both from her story and from our table. Pathetic but perhaps a pathetic cry for other help.

LS16_20

I made bibs/cards for 60 people that I wanted to put on their message board. Just as soon as we started putting them up, workers were tearing them down. It was 4:00 p.m.

LS16_22

With nothing more to do we gathered our belongings and went back to shower at the hotel. Dinner. Pack the bikes and reflect on the day. It was a great day of talking about Alex, Jake “the Hero” Grecco, and others affected by cancer. The talking was therapeutic as was the riding.