The 2014 Anchor House ride

The Anchor House riders head to Lexington, Virginia today and the start of this year’s ride. I am not one of them.

Instead, I’ll be riding 325 miles in October in support of the East Coast Greenway, an amazing bicycling project that stretches from Canada to the southern tip of Florida, in Key West. (And I shouldn’t say a bicycle project — the route is for walkers and others too.) You can follow me on my new blog.

To follow this year’s Anchor House ride, read my friend Ken’s blog. Planet Princeton will be filing daily reports too. And here’s a nice article in the Trenton Times about a 25-year ride veteran.

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A final (?) word

I thought I was “one and done” with Anchor House. After the past week’s heat (especially Friday’s ride), fall rides seem much more appealing than summer adventures. But then this email came from a fellow rider that could make me change my mind:

“As you all know, I’m not one of the stronger riders by any means.  … At times, especially on those long hot climbs at the torrid pace of 4 mile per hour, I often questioned my judgment about doing the ride and wondered whether this would be my last year.

But a great thing happened to me after the ceremony at the mall (you may have read it in Ken’s last post).

I was leaning on my bike, waiting for my wife to retrieve the “welcome home” banner when a young lady in her mid-twenties approached me.  She had been shopping and was unaware that the event would be taking place that day.  She told me that she was at Anchor House at the age of 13 when her mother was unable to take care of her.  She is now married and has a small girl of her own and is doing well.  She said Anchor House saved her life.  I felt elated … for both of us.

Looks like I WILL be back next year.  Maybe even better trained.”

So ask me next year. I might be back after all too.

Again, thanks to all who so generously sponsored me and helped me raise far more money for Anchor House than I thought possible.

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Day 7 — Bethlehem PA to Trenton NJ

(Well, Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrence)

It was amazing to be part of this long line of cyclists, riding two by two, all in black T-shirts (OK, I could have done without black) for 10 miles along local roads and then over U.S. 1 to the Welcome Home ceremony at the mall. And being toward the back, I could see the line snake around the curves — an incredible sight, and I wish I had a photo to share.

Police stopped traffic, so we didn’t wait for a single light. Then we rode (yes, on our bikes) through the mall doors and past a line of people, heard our name called (or maybe heard above the din and through the excitement) and dismounted, handed off our bikes to one of the many Anchor House helpers and stood in the center of the mall high-fiving each other for having finished this amazing ride and applauding as more riders came in. We were welcomed home by hundreds of people on both levels of the mall — among them some of my neighbors. Thanks!! Many people came with posters honoring a family member or friend.

We also heard that this year’s ride has raised a record $516,000 and counting — amazing! Thanks to everyone who helped us reach this incredible amount!

Here are some pictures at the mall:

Anchor House at the mallfirst Anchor House riders arriveAnchor House at the mall

More pictures are here on the Trenton Times’ website.

Also on Ken’s blog.

And the day’s other 56 miles?

So, so much better than Friday, even if we still had some steep hills. (And that last one, shortly before the picnic? Was it really necessary??) We spent the night near Lehigh University in Bethlehem, so we had to climb out of the valley this morning past some mansions that must have been occupied by the big steel bosses. Beyond the city, we saw some beautiful homes made of stone, and we went through two covered bridges. It was mostly cloudy, so while temperatures once again reached into the 90s, it was OK.

covered bridgeanother covered bridge in PA

And then we had a picnic at the home of a family that has hosted our last meal as riders for the past 25 years. This is how they welcome us:

Anchor House picnic

A New Jersey roadside sighting:

on the road in NJAnd what next?

I’m hoping that after 500 miles and all those hills, I can beat my Citibike time to work on Monday! Or at least go from 33rd Street past the 39th Street light in one shot.

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Day 6 — Matamoras to Bethlehem PA

via NY (Port Jervis) and about 50 miles of NJ.

I am starting to feel human again. This was a really tough day, the kind where you ask yourself why am I doing this?  82.4 miles officially, likely 83 for Joan and me since we missed a turn in Port Jervis, 5,050 feet of climbing and so hot that the tar was melting in one spot. Headwinds made the downhills no fun, and I was so tired of climbing, even if it was just a “bump” to some. I tried to tell myself that Anchor House kids face tough days like this all the time. Joan rode with me — slow for her — and blocked some of the wind, even made an unscheduled stop so I could get pizza. But I was not a happy rider.

The highlight of the day was that the route took us through Blairstown, where Joan and I met at summer camp before senior year in high school. Not that we had the energy to actually go to Blair Academy.

Blairstown-20130719-00324

We also had our first “welcome” sign when we crossed into a state. As you can see, I was already beat by then. Then the shade got harder to find. Plenty of corn fields, but even that didn’t flatten out the terrain.

welcome to PATomorrow we ride back to Mercer County and to Quaker Bridge Mall for the welcome-home ceremony at 3 p.m. Even though it’s just 55.8 miles to the noontime picnic, we’ve got a couple of big climbs early and another 4,166 feet of climbing. Early start.

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Day 5 — Kingston NY to Matamoras, PA

It is amazing how quickly you can forget just how hot it was today, especially when there was no shade and the pavement was reflecting heat back on you, making it even worse. It was well into the 90s and barely a cloud in the sky, so the “real feel” seems to have been above 100.

But Anchor House riders ride rain or shine, heat or cold, so ride we did, even if some had to be “sagged in” by our support crew to the next rest area (“sag stop”). Today was constant small climbs because we started out at 160 feet above sea level in a town along the Hudson River and topped out at 1,300 feet in the broader Delaware Water Gap area before dropping down to a tributary of the Delaware River at the border of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Yay, the cue sheet was off by 1.2 miles and our day was actually about 70 miles and not nearly 72.

My friend Ken is one of those oddballs who actually likes hard hills. His blog about the ride is here.

Yes, my legs are tired — and tomorrow’s climbing and mileage totals will be even higher, as we ride along the NJ side of the Delaware Water Gap, perhaps through Blairstown, and then into Pennsylvania and into Bethlehem. You just drink, drink and drink and appreciate shade and any air-conditioned food stops. And keep going. The rover crews are always looking out for us, ready with extra water when we need it. And we’re going through hundreds of pounds of ice at rest stops. I don’t even try to keep up with Joan.

The hardest part of the day was probably the 7-mile stretch with barely a lick of shade to our final rest stop, just before the last push to 1,300 feet. I’m glad someone had an insulated water bottle with ice-cold water and decided to start squirting water on our backs (I offered up my head too) — nice way to cool down fast!

After that last break, it was another 2.3 miles to the top. I thought we had another bump up to go when we were greeted by a couple of people with squirt guns. But no, that was it and I started my descent in a hail of warm-water bullets. It was straight down — so glad our path up was far more gradual!

Today’s sights included this bridge that is part of the 24-mile Wallkill Valley Rail-Trail.

Wallkill Rail-TrailA group of riders called “these guys” (named after someone said to a new rider, apparently in an impressed tone: You’re riding with these guys?) had some fun with the bridge we were on below:

these guys

Joan’s mom and one of her sisters met us in Matamoras, just across the state line from Port Jervis, NY, and swooped us away to lunch and ice cream. And then we went hunting for the East Coast’s version of Four Corners — a stone you can sit or stand on and be in three states at once:

tri-state monumentTonight was Banquet Night, when Anchor House recognizes participants (impressive group of 18-29-year-olds,  but the biggest was 50-59 years old) and tells us how much we’ve raised so far. The big number: more than $485,000. Thank you to all my sponsors for your help in making this happen! This is a huge part of the funding for Anchor House and all it does for troubled kids. And as they told us, it’s never too late to donate. Read more here. A new total will be announced when we reach Quaker Bridge Mall on Saturday. The welcome-home ceremony is at 3 p.m. — come join us!

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Day 4 — Latham to Kingston

80 hot miles. Too hot to eat much, even Nutella and bananas. Lots of up and down beyond the 4-mile climb. This, by the way, was the view back from the top of that:

Top of the 4-milerThat sign, by the way, says 15% grade for the next mile. That would be the way we came up.

Lots of rolling hills, and I was truly fed up with them by the time we headed pretty much down for the last 25 miles or so into Kingston. So much that an “up” (short, as it turned out for “car up”, not going uphill) drew a loud protest from me.

Yes, the legs are tired. Good thing Thursday’s route is 10 miles shorter and and less climbing.

Another scene from the road:

dinosaurJoan and I agree that the Anchor House ride is incredibly well organized and supported — they have learned lots over 35 years. (Read here for how it was earlier.)

When we’re not on the bike, life revolves around the Yellow Truck (which isn’t always yellow). We bring our luggage there every morning and get it back after the day’s ride. People gather there, and beers and water flow, so if you are looking for someone, that’s a good place to start. We gather there for announcements and stories at 8:15 p.m. most evenings. And it’s also where we sign out and back in for the day, using the chit board.

We take our token as we head out and return it to the board when we get back. A great way to keep track of 200 riders! And if you forget to take it (or take the wrong one, as one person we know did), you get fined. The money, as just about everything here is, goes for the Anchor House kids.

chit board

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Day 3 — Glens Falls to Latham

We are just outside of Albany in one of those just-off-the-Interstate hotels. Not the most scenic place. But the day’s route was pretty quiet and definitely fairly easy. At 66 miles, it was a bit longer than yesterday’s, but the climbing was less. Even that five-mile climb turned out to be pretty tame — I would describe it as undulating gains. And it was only about a net 500 feet, based on eyeballing the map. Tomorrow is four miles and 1,000 feet — plus an 80-mile day.

Actually, half the time I had no idea just how far we had gone or how long the climb was because my bike computer started acting up just as the big climb started. Just after I took this photo, actually:

U.S. GrantGrant is General Grant/President Grant, and he died not far from Saratoga in 1885.

At the other end of the day’s route was the Erie Canal. At that point, I was riding with four others, and I was amazed that only the two Midwesterns knew the words to that song about the Erie Canal. Just the first verse is all. What did they teach them in second- or third-grade music class?? Or did they not catch Bruce Springsteen singing it on the Seeger Sessions album and tour?

This is Lock 7 along the Mohawk River:

Erie CanalWe also were on an awesome bike trail at that point — we had 11 miles on the Mohawk-Hudson Bikeway, an 86-mile route that connects Albany and Schenectady counties. Our section was all paved and well-maintained. Impressive! We hit it by a GE plant around lunchtime and it seemed pretty popular.

But really, it’s starting to be more about the food. A big group of us overwhelmed a coffee shop early (with coffees called Foglifter, German chocolate mint and egg nog blend, among others), so I settled for a Clif Bar and carried on without “breakfast”.

I’ve developed my own concoction for the rest areas, though — bananas with Nutella down the side. When one of the women suggested I add a goldfish  pretzel, I reached instead for an Oreo (possibly filled with peanut butter) and smashed it on top instead. Good way to keep Nutella off my fingers! The look on her face was one of either horror or amazement — I’m truly not sure. But I did go back and try one with the pretzels. I’ll say it added some crunch. And as I left, they were slicing a few bananas lengthwise and adding a layer of Nutella, which I would call a refinement on my idea. Perhaps there’s now a new Anchor House food?

My Nutella concoction, with goldfishLunch? When my riding group disappeared from Lock 7 on the Erie Canal before me, Daryl and Jack said the magic word: pizza. And I rode with them until the pizza place just 0.1 miles before the hotel. Forget going to change (and as it turned out, I still had to wait for my room). We quickly demolished this giant pie:

pizzaAnd now it’s time for dinner!

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