Reaching the Finish Line - Now What?

After 3,700 miles, mountains, heat and dogs we finally return to Long Island and the familiar roads of Syosset, Mutton Hollow and Wheatley Heights. The question is now, "What Next?"

Total Miles Ridden - 3,713
Total Miles Ridden Today - 60.77
Average Miles Per Hour Today - 15.7

The tears had been coming off and on since I started crossing the George Washington Bridge, and no it wasn't because I was heading East and the sun was in my eyes.  When I looked South and saw the Freedom Tower and the rest of the Manhattan skyline I knew I was only 60 miles away from a journey that started ten weeks and almost 3,700 miles ago. The realization that I might actually do this, the gratitude I was feeling for my family who suffered with me through this journey, and the knowledge that something that had consumed me for almost a year would soon be finished all rushed together to hit me with a Tsunami of emotion.  This tidal wave of emotion would ebb and flow all day long, sometimes hitting me harder than I ever imagined it would.

 As I crossed the bridge my family drove slowly in the right hand lane with Sarah in the front seat filming my progress across the bridge for the documentary Phil will be putting together of our journey.  Of course, I don't think they captured the moment I missjudged one of the sharp little bends around the support girders and hit that steel beam.  Ouch!!!!  I have a really nice red gash on my back.  Not too deep but enough to remind me of the perils of not paying attention. 

 Before I knew it I was on Broadway and 177th Street heading South!!!  IT WAS SO COOL!!!!!!!!  You see, back when I lived in Manhattan I never owned a bicycle.  I did rollerblade down Broadway on my way from midtown to Goldman Sachs in the mornings but its not quite the same as rolling through the streets at 20 mph and actually rolling through the red lights (ala Kevin Bacon in Quicksilver), I felt like such a scofflaw.  To be honest, I crossed the GWB at 6:30 becasue I thought it would take me an hour and a half to get down to the WPIX Channel 11 studios on east 42nd Street.  I made sure to take video at key stops along the way, Upper Manhattan, Barnard College, Columbus Circle, Times Square among others.  Before I knew it I was at the studios and getting prepared to be the Friday Forecaster!!!!  My family joined me shortly after I arrived and the children immediately discovered in the Green Room an electronic Monopoly set - they set themselves right to the task of playing in their usual cutthroat style!

I was soon wired up and ushered in to meet Linda Church for my blocking and directions as Friday Forecaster.  We were sitting there all relaxed and prepared for to go on at 8:45 when we were told there was breaking news and we had to go on in two - good thing I'm good at improv!!!  We were a little rushed for time but it came out great as you can see here.  It got the name of Sunrise Day Camp out on everyone's minds and hopefully it may have generated a donation or two.

And then it was time to hit the road for the final push into Long Island.  In my brain dead state I had forgotten my Garmin Edge in the hotel so Amy and the kids had to go back and get it after filming me crossing the bridge.  They then had left it down in the van which was on East 23rd so I had to go down and retrieve it before heading across the Queensborough Bridge.  By now we were into rush hour and the cycling commuter match race was on.  I'm sorry, I couldn't resist spanking a few of these commuters on their home turf as I breezed by them heading uptown - I was on a mission to get home and could not afford to take any prisoners!

Of course, once I crossed the QBB my Google Maps directions were useless as was my Garmin.  Too much detail to deal with and I was too brain dead.  So I hopped into a local bike shop and got a copy of the official NYC bike map.  That turned out to be a blessing since now I had a safe bike route through Queens and Flushing.  I connected with Northern Boulevard/25A and I knew I was on my way - 40 miles to go!!!!!  I managed to get through Douglaston unscathed into Nassau County - and here is where the fun began.

Now I have cycled across the country in all types of terrain and on all types of road surfaces with all types of traffic.  I was nervous and frightened in New Jersey but it was nothing compared with what faced me once I hit the Great Neck/Manhassat area.  It was as if I was wearing a sign on the back of my jersey that said "I DARE You To Hit Me!!!!" since I was closely buzzed (as in closer than THREE feet) about six times and almost right hooked once.  The only thought in my head was "really, I survive 3680 miles only to get killed now?!?".

Eventually I found the blessed relief I was looking for - Brookville Road!  I knew I was only 20 miles from Sunrise at this point and the tears began flowing again.  Suddenly I had new energy and the 3% steady inclined felt as if I were going downhill.  I KNOW THESE ROADS!!!!!  This is my turf now, roads I have ridden in the Gold Coast and with the Huntington Bicycle Club.  And then I made the left onto Muttontown Road - almost to Syosset!!!!  Before I knew it I was there on Cold Springs Harbor Road heading for Stillwell Lane.

And the tears continued to flow.  I was in familiar territory, roads I commuted and trained on so many, many times.  As I sped down Stillwell Lane I could barely see for the tears of joy and gratitude streaming down my face.  I was going to do it!!  After years of talking about it, soliciting sponsors, hoping and praying for donations, working so hard to try to help the kids of Sunrise, I was actually going to finish this!

I crossed over into Plainview and headed up Hartman Hill Road and once again I thought of Amy Hartman and how we always try to connect when she's in Manhattan and still have yet to do so.  I do so want to make that happen.

And then I was passing down Sweet Hollow Road, this was my uber long commute route and I knew every twist and turn coming up.  And during all of this time I'm constantly trying to ride and talk on my cell phone with my mother-in-law who had called earlier and told me the folks from Channel 12 News were trying to catch me so they could get some footage of me riding on the road.  It was only when I called Amy that I found out they were with her at our rendezvous point.  Now the time trialing began!  I had to get there, I was running late and people were waiting on me - I HATE to keep people waiting!

There was one last hill to conquer - the one that heads up Bagatelle Road to the LIE Service Road.  It's short, its steep and it has always been a pain in my butt when I train.  This time I cursed my way up the hill - cursing cancer the entire short, punchy way - "come on you BITCH, you want a piece of me?!?! - Take this, and THIS!!!"  and I punched my way up the hill and over the LIE!  I headed down the hill on the other side and there they were, my family!!!!!  And waiting with them were the crew from Channel 12 News!  I pulled over, put my bike away and started to cry again as I hugged my beautiful and long suffering wife.  My wife who made this entire thing possible.  Because of her all I had to do was focus on getting up and pedaling every day.  Because of her I wasn't slowly dessicating in a ditch in Arizona somewhere.  Becuase of her I still had some of my sanity left.

So after hugging her (and crying some more) I was wired up by the Channel 12 cameraman so he could get all the audio of me crossing the finish line.  The kids and I then lined up and the Channel 12 van rode in front of us to get footage as we rode the last two miles to the camp.  As usual I was herding cats on a bike, telling Sarah to speed up and William to slow down and sit down (for some reason he likes to ride standing up, even with the padded shorts) but as we neared the finish line Sarah told me to take the lead.  As I rounded the corner to where everyone was I started crying again and saw a banner stretched across the drive that said "Finish Line" (courtesy of my mother-in-law I think).  And what were the words that came out of my mouth that were captured on the Channel 12 broadcast?  "What happens if I crash?", ah words for posterity!

And then when I finally stopped my bike, turned around and saw who was there, you guessed it - I started crying even more.  Tears of joy, tears of gratitude, tears of exhaustion (mental, physical, emotional), and tears of sadness that this was over.  There were friends old and new, family, students (my ACT family - I love them), Sunrise staff, Sunrise Campers and parents, and media.  It was a bit overwhelming to say the least.

I was incredibly grateful that my sister-in-law Laura and brother-in-law Mark were there because I know how difficult it was arranging crazy schedules for them.  I was (and am still) so incredibly grateful and humbled that they believed enough in me to make this a priority in their busy lives.  I am so thankful to Amy, Leah, Emily and Deanna for not only being at the camp but also for making this little homecoming possible to be held at the campgrounds.  And I was overwhelmed by the love shown to me by my ACT family and friends.  After 3713 miles in the saddle, it was a blessing to have all of these people there.

After saying a few words of thanks and hugging everyone I could find, the media had questions and interviews for us.  Again, something I had to thank my wife for setting up.  She sent out press releases constantly and they finally fell on fruitful ground!  Now don't get me wrong, I'm not thankful of the publicity for my own sake.  I really didn't do any of this so that people would look at me or read about me and say, "what an amazing person he is, he is so wonderful, he is a great person" or any other such thing.  To me, and especially in this economy, its all about getting people aware and hoping that folks will step forward and make donations to Sunrise.  As of right now we're still $5,000 short of what we realistically hoped we could raise in this journey and we're really at a loss to figure out how to raise those funds.

Now I hate to be cynical but it seems that because its not one of my own children suffering from cancer we can't seem to find the hook to encourage people to give.  My ACTers (past and present) raised so much through charity fundraisers, various groups at SHS also chipped in and many family and friends have donated but it just doesn't seem to be "sexy" enough for others to give.  For instance, news of Lance Armstrong's being stripped of his titles today generated $80,000 in donations while we've yet to see any more donations hit our site. 

Across the country though, we've met incredibly generous strangers on the road who have dipped into their pockets and handed us 20 or 30 dollars on the spot and said things like, "I just lost my father to cancer and I know what this is about, give this to the kids" and other similar comments.  Yet despite the press, the facebook posts and other social media people seem that they couldn't be bothered.  I know the economy is difficult but these kids (and their families) REALLY need this.  Its not a luxury, its a summer that can really mean THE difference to these families and their children.  I just wish I knew a way to appeal to the right audience.  I guess that's part of the "Now What?" that has to be addressed, what more can I personally do to help Sunrise and the campers (and their families) who so desperately need this in their lives.

And then there was Gina Mayer.  She was one of the campers that was there at the event.  At the end, after most of the interviews were done her mother Katherine brought her over and Gina handed me an envelope.  Katherine told me, "it was all Gina's idea".  I thanked and hugged her and honestly thought it was a thank you letter.  It wasn't until later on when I opened the envelope and discovered money inside that once again I lost it and the tears flowed down my face.  Here was a little girl who has been battling this disease, whose family was a recipient of the mission of this camp, and yet she felt that it was important for she herself to make a contribution.  If only the rest of the world who has read and seen my story could react the same way.

After we said our final goodbyes and loaded the kids' bikes back on the car, there was one final thing to do - I had to ride the water's edge at the end of Bergen Avenue in Babylon to dip my front wheel in the Atlantic ocean.  The journey started 64 days ago with us all dipping our rear wheels in the Pacific and with only eight miles to the ocean I couldn't walk away without doing it.  It wouldn't be coast to coast otherwise.

We arrived at what Google maps said was a clear access only to find there was no access to the water.  A restaurant near by had a floating dock so we started to take our bikes there when we were told it was a private dock and we needed to move our bikes.  We then explained what we had done (and the kids started handing out brochures) and that we just wanted to dip the front wheels in the Atlantic to finish the job.  They relented and were very supportive (an incredulous) about what we had done.  We dipped our wheels, chronicled it for Phil, thanked the folks and reloaded ALL the bikes onto the van for the very last time!

Time for food!  We drove back to Northport, still marveling at the surreal feel of it all and the odd sense of loss I think we all felt that this was now really over.  We enjoyed a great dinner at Sweet Mama's (one of our favorite restaurants) and headed home.  Only to be met with a nightmare of a mess.  We had been warned but the reality was something completely different.  But that will be fodder for another post!

For now, we are home, we are safe and we are grateful for everyone who has helped us make this possible!  We're still hoping that others will see the media coverage and feel the charitable urge to give but if not we know that we did our best and that's all that we can ever do in life.


Stay well my friends and I'll see you on the road (this time on Long Island)!

For another perspective on our journey check out Amy's blog at http://www.crosscountrymama.blogspot.com//

To help us reach or goal for the kids of Sunrise go to https://www.wizevents.com/register/register_add.php?sessid=1809&id=1056

Check out our website at http://www.connorsarmy.org/

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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