I slept well and did not hear it, but I was told that there was a pretty severe thunderstorm during the night. Bruce said that his tent leaked for the first time. It was still raining as we did our usual pre-ride ritual for the last time–loading our bags onto the Penske truck, pumping our tires, and filling our bottles with water and Gatorade.
We rode back to the UNH cafeteria for breakfast; the selections were just as awesome as they were for dinner. I had a ham, mushroom, and cheese omelette made to order. Most of us sat around and chatted longer than usual, wanting to put off our final departure a little while longer.
When we finally did gather ourselves and leave, it was still raining, but it did not matter. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that there was still nowhere else we would rather be at that moment. For the first five miles, the conversations were infrequent and hushed, as we just enjoyed the gently rolling country road, listening to the click of our freewheels and the whirring of our tires on the wet road. Even through the rain, I could see some people choking back tears, including myself. Most of my closest friends were all there: Colleen, Molly, Marisa, Bruce, Robert, Brian, Meg, David, Jane, Lynette, both Matts, and others. It was like a little This Is Your Life documentary as different people rode by, and I would think back to individual moments with them throughout the tour.
We had a brief jolt back into reality with a crash. At an intersection, a few people went through, but then Marisa stopped as some cars approached. David came up to her from behind, swerved to avoid hitting her directly, but grazed her right side, and she then fell sideways on top of him. Fortunately, other than smalls scrapes on elbows and knees, both were okay, as well as their bikes. We continued on, but split into smaller groups to keep the riding more manageable.
If it weren’t for the distinction of this being our last day, we probably would have considered this one of our worst days of riding. Other than that first few miles out of Durham, the roads were through very busy towns and traffic-filled strip mall highways. I dare say that the rain made it more interesting. The rain was coming as hard as ever as we took our customary pictures at the Massachusetts state line, around mile 31.
It was still raining as we approached the lunch stop at a riverside park around mile 36. We caught up to Jim Ryan, soaking wet and worn out. As I moved past him, I thought for a minute, “After all these weeks, I can finally get to lunch before Jim!” But then I remembered, one thing I’ve learned on this trip is that is not what it’s about. I dropped back, and rode alongside Jim and listened to his light-hearted complaining about how wet and tired he was. When we got to the park gate, I motioned him ahead and said, “You first. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it should be.”
We all huddled under the canopy as we ate. Even with the rain, we were jubilant; everyone got cheers as they rolled in. We all gave Kira and Tauna big hugs as we left and thanked them for our meal for the last time.
As we stopped at the last water stop, even that had a bittersweet feeling. Those simple orange jugs had come to mean so much. They were comfort stations, small milestones throughout the ride days, at times literally an oasis. During some of those long days in the deserts and through headwinds, setting a goal of just reaching the next water stop was the only thing that got you through the day. And here we were at the last one.
The rain finally trailed off and we got to the town of Essex, and here, we could also smell the salty breeze off of the Atlantic for the first time. We started to re-gather into a large group for the final few miles. We passed Colin at the side of the road with a flat tire; Colleen and Matt stopped to help him, while Bruce, Molly, Marisa, and I stopped to wait a little up the road.
I can’t describe how we felt as we rode up the main street of Gloucester, because I’m really not sure how I felt. One thing I can recall is that it felt kind of unreal. I think I also felt a combination of sadness and relief. I was glad it was over, but not because I was tired of riding, tired of cold showers, hard gym floors, or rain, not tired of anything, other than tired of knowing that we’d have to face it being over soon.
As we made the turn into Gloucester High School, my family and friends where there waiting, cheering, and snapping pictures. My mom and I both cried as we hugged, and then I made it to everyone else–my brother Jeff, his wife Marianne, my neice Juliana, my nephew Alex; my friends Jacques Parker and Judy Masucci from Pittsburgh; Doug Remington and Anne Peters, Randell and Christine Drane from the Boston area; Sandy Yusen from Burlington; and Jill Winer, all the way from San Diego. It meant so much that they all took the time and effort to be here. And all the other riders were jealous that I had the biggest welcoming party!
We waited for all of the riders to arrive, and then with a police escort, we rode as a group back through town to the beach to dip our front tires into the Atlantic Ocean, officially completing our coast-to-coast journey. Then of course, we dipped ourselves in as well. The water and the breeze were pretty cold, but we didn’t care as we laughed and hugged in exhilaration. The official final reading on my odometer was 3,204 miles.
I rode back to the school, and for a while it seemed to us like everything was as it should be again–we dragged our bags inside, inflated our air mattresses, and showered. Again, though, it had that bittersweet overtone, being the last time.
After I got cleaned up, my family picked me up, and we drove out to Christine’s parents’ summer home in Essex, where they had invited us for a barbeque. I was as hungry as usual after the ride, and I ate a fair amount, but I wasn’t as ravenous as usual. My head was just spinning, trying to take it all in. I told stories of the trip to everyone, but it was so random; there is so much to tell, I never know where to begin. I started raining again before we left the house.
We drove back to Gloucester, and my family and friends joined me, my fellow cyclists, and the Cycle America staff on a harbor cruise. It was still raining when we boarded, but a short time after we got out on the harbor, the skies cleared and we were treated to a beautiful sunset.
The boat docked halfway through the cruise. My family and friends left, as did many of the staff and tour riders. About a dozen of us stayed for the second half of the cruise. We sat around and reminisced over a few more beers. Molly sang her “Wish They All Could Be Coast-to-Coast Girls” for us again, and David Beraru sang his “Cycle America” song.
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