Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Two, Four, Eight - Reflections of Bills Big Ride

Route – Leaving Phoenix, AZ on April 2, one heck of a big bicycle ride, short ride in an ambulance, long ride in Ruby, and finally, a day’s drive to Guerneville, CA.

Worst Moment – I’ve accepted that I won’t likely ever complete a bicycle ride of the perimeter of the United States.  And I’ll never really know whether I really could have done it or not.

Best Moment – I think that the very best moment of the entire ride was April 2, 2011 as I was leaving Paradise Valley.  I was so filled with the eager anticipation of the event of a lifetime.  There were so many good friends that came to see a group of us ride out of town.  Looking back on that day now, a little more than eight months ago, I can still sense the feeling of adventure and awaiting discovery I would experience for nearly 4 and one half months of cycling.


Neita and I have been settled in our Guerneville home for nearly two months. It has been just over four months since the Big Crash.  And nearly 8 months since Bills Big Ride began.  This seems like a good time to reflect on my accomplishment and summarize the ride.

First of all, a huge “Thank You” to all of my supporters.  I was able to raise nearly $3500 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I know that this money goes to help people struggling with cancer. 

My biggest supporter was, of course, Neita.  She was there every afternoon with camp set up and a cold margarita or, when it was cold and rainy a steaming cup of hot cocoa.  I know that this trip wasn’t an easy thing for her to do.

She drove the monster motorhome, Ruby, a full perimeter of the country.  She drove every mile.  On top of that, she also planned the menus, did the grocery shopping, and did most of the cooking.  I grilled sometimes, but Neita did all of the prep.  Her support was unbelievable and I only hope that I can somehow make it up to her.  Her love, devotion and belief in me was the astounding constant of the ride.  (That doesn’t mean that she was always the happiest camper – she wasn’t, but considering the personal sacrifice she went through, I’m the most grateful camper.)

Now the facts:
  • ·      Actual miles ridden 9809 (That is like three times the distance between Portland Oregon and Bangor Maine.)
  • ·      Days riding – 115
  • ·      Rest days – 19
  • ·      Average miles per day – 85
  • ·      Century bicycle rides (100 miles or more in one day) – 21
  • ·      Double metric century rides (124 or more miles in one day) – 2


  • ·      States bicycled – 28 plus the District of Columbia
  • ·      Photos taken 1812
  • ·      Tires worn out – 7
  • ·      Flat tires – 21
  • ·      Adventure Cycling maps used – 23 plus some Google Maps and some AAA maps.
  • ·      Chains replaced – 3
  • ·      Different bicycles used – 3


Since the Big Crash, four months ago, my hand continues to heal.  It is still very stiff every morning and I’m finally just now able to cycle fairly easily and not have to take my left hand off the bike when I go over bumps in the road.  There is still some swelling in the fingers.   However considering how much it did hurt for some time, it’s come a very long way.  

Nearly everyday I’ll have a flashback or memory from the ride.  It might be a certain section of road, the frustration of not knowing where I was or being able to find the route.  Or, it could be the absolute exhilaration of a certain downhill, the fox or deer that bounded out across the road in front of me, or the sound of the click of the derailleur changing gears.  I have so many, many vivid memories of the ride.  I cherish being able to do as much as I did.  There were so many favorite places and only one (or two) places I’d never visit again.   I know I never want to go back to Kent, Texas or Myrtle Beach, SC during bike week again. 
Kent, Texas
I would love to go back to Mackinaw Island, MI, Bar Harbor, ME, Key West, FL, and the Outer Banks again. 
 Florida Keys
Arcada National Park

I very much enjoyed meeting so many new people across the country.  It was so much fun getting to talk to so many people and hear their stories.  While there were many folks I met and shared a story with, there are two favorites - ones that really stand out -  the woman who bought my coffee as her good deed for the day and the couple we met in Kitty Hawk, NC.  I enjoyed everyone's emails, encouraging phone calls and text messages.  If I was feeling a little doubtful about my purpose or ability, they spurred me onward. I am also forever grateful to those dear friends that came to visit us on our trip.  Your time with us means so very much to me and Neita.  It was such a thrill to have you come see us.  We'd love to have you all visit us in Sonoma County now!

photo of the Russian River from our deck

It still amazes me how for six months, Neita, Duncan, and I were able to have more than everything we needed in the 350 square feet of living space Ruby provided.

I don’t know if I’ll be fortunate enough to do more bicycle touring in the future.  I can tell you that I would love to be able to bicycle tour for the rest of my life.  There is truly no better way to experience this country (or any country) than on a bicycle.  For now, I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with touring Sonoma County – not a bad place to bicycle.    
Fall in Sonoma County

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Last Day


Days 182 – 184, September 30 – October 2, 2011 – The Last Day


Route from Wickenburg to Paradise Valley, AZ

66 miles, averaging 14.5 mph

Worst Moment – While I suffered a flat tire about 20 miles outside of Wickenburg, I really believe that the worst moment of the day was the realization that the Big Ride is really coming to a close.  And, even though, things didn’t end as expected, it is sort of bittersweet knowing that The Ride is not what I’ll be doing now.

Best Moment – About 7th Avenue on the canal bicycle path, my good cycling buddy, Tim met me for the “Ride In.”  Tim and I’ve trained for and ridden in two ALC San Francisco to LA rides over about 7 years.  It was so great to have his company coming back into Phoenix.

The route from Wickenburg to Phoenix was mainly on Highway 60 and is fairly flat and mostly downhill.  The shoulders were huge.  After riding for 25 miles through the desert, I began to see the urban sprawl of Phoenix. 


Just east of the Sun Cities, I got on the canal bicycle path, which I followed until the Dreamy Draw.  After climbing the short hill to the top, there was just a brief ride through NE Phoenix to Chris’s house in PV.


The temperatures seemed vicious.  There was a temperature sign indicating it was 98 degrees and that was at 10:30 in the morning!  Compared to my last 6 weeks in Guerneville, CA and Jackson, WY, this was just plain brutal!

The hand is still not back to normal and every bump in the road sent painful reminders of its status.  The swelling returned and the knuckles retreated in the puffiness I experienced.  I also felt the time off the bike in my legs and seat.  The Klein has more of a race saddle and less of a touring seat, which probably exacerbated my seat’s sensitivity.

In order to arrive at the finish line at 3, Tim & I stopped for Starbucks before heading south on 64th Street.  I called Neita from the intersection of 64th & Northern so she could get the small, cherished welcoming party positioned.  It was magnificent to see these wonderful friends and family with streamers, balloons and poppers to welcome me back to where it all began.


Within the next few days, I’ll post a “Reflections of the Ride Blog” – so stay tuned.

I feel it is especially significant that Bills Big Ride concluded on October 2.  This is Livestrong day and the day that Lance Armstrong decided to fight the cancer that nearly ended his life.  If you would like to donate to my ride, to help others fight cancer, my link for the Lance Armstrong Foundation is http://grassroots2011.livestrong.org/billsbigride197.  I really appreciate your support.

Friday, September 30, 2011

It Takes Three Bikes


Days 178 – 181, September 26 – 29, 2011 – It Takes Three Bikes

Route along River Road, Martinelli Road, and Hwy 116 – then South on Interstate 5 to Mission Bay RV Resort in San Diego, CA with Ruby.



22 miles, averaging 14.3 mph - bicycling

Worst Moment – The realization that West County Revolution Bike Shop didn’t do a good job.  I had so wanted to like this small bike shop in Sebastopol, and will probably give them a chance to fix what was wrong, but I didn’t discover their faulty work until it was too late to do anything about it before the Ride In.

While riding around Sonoma County over the past few weeks, I began to notice small stress cracks in the Mavic rear wheel rim of the Cannondale.  This further attests to my belief that my road bikes aren’t built for cross-country riding.  (I had been using this bike since Erie, ND when the mud road disabled my touring bike.  I had made the appointment to get the touring bike fixed in Williston, ND the day of the Big Crash.)

I stopped at West County Revolution to hopefully get a new wheel set, or at the least a new rear wheel that would be compatible with the front wheel.  After a very long time of looking for a Mavic wheel that would be available before we left Guerneville, the bike technician, and the shop owner decided that it might be better to see what they had in stock.  The owner had a wheel that he hadn’t used much, it was true and the tech said that my cassette could be placed on the new rim.  Great!  We had some errands to run in Santa Rosa and could pick up the wheel in about an hour. Super!

I didn’t think too much about the quality of the work when I picked up the new rim and paid the $100, but knew I wanted to get in at least one ride before leaving Guerneville.  My hand had been fairly stiff and not riding seemed to be helping the swelling go down – so I haven’t been putting many miles in on two tires.  Plus there are a lot of things that needed to be done around the house like unpack boxes and take out our dock.

Finally on Tuesday, I was able to get away for a ride.  It was absolutely glorious to be on the bike again.  However there was an intermittent rattling sort of noise.  I checked the frame, the headset, the wheels, and finally the cassette.  The cassette that had just been installed by the bike shop was loose.  I wouldn’t be able to take it on the final ride of Bills Big Ride.  I brought out the Klein that has been my California bicycle for a number of years.  I will ride it on Sunday into Phoenix – my third bicycle of the Big Ride.

Best Moment – Riding and being able to use my left hand to shift again felt pretty good!

So during this trip I’ve been able to see some really super customer service and realized how it makes me as a customer feel.  Well, there are two incidents from our trip from Guerneville to San Diego that illustrate the difference between a WOW moment and an OKAY moment. 

First the WOW moment.  During our stay in Guerneville, we rented an economy car from Enterprise to get around and to help get things settled at home.  As I was returning the car, I mentioned that the front left tire was worn out and should be replaced.  The agent was so concerned and mentioned that we should have called when we noticed it and someone from Enterprise would have taken care of things – even if it meant bringing a new car to us.  I tried to let him know that it was no big deal since we weren’t going that far or planned to use the car a whole lot during the time we had it.  He told me that they were reducing the rate of the rental by 25% and here was a coupon for a free upgrade the next time we rented from Enterprise.  WOW, I wasn’t expecting anything and was very surprised at their concern and willingness to accommodate me.  Will I rent from Enterprise again?  You betcha!  Every chance I get!  Not only were they the low cost provider, and they had superior service.

The OKAY moment.  We stopped in Lebec, CA on our way to San Diego.  We saw a Motel 6 a bit further from the freeway and we thought it would be less noisy than the other choices.  It was quiet, but our room did not have hot water.  I called Mike at the front desk when we discovered it as we were getting ready to retire after a long day of driving Ruby.  (Neita had enough of Ruby for the day and didn’t want to have to try to find a campground and get set up.)  Mike agreed to put us in a different room, but that they would probably have the hot water fixed by morning.  We didn’t want to move at that time and said we’d check the water in the morning.

Well, as I was having coffee in the lobby, there were several other guests who mentioned that there was no hot water in their rooms.  The clerk apologized, but did nothing for these guests.  There were a few Motel 6 employees standing around and conversing about the problem with the boiler and why it would take so long to fix.  The problem wasn’t new and they knew about it.  Why book these rooms???  To make things even more of an only okay moment was that when I went back to the room, I checked for hot water again. No - only lukewarm.  I called the front desk and they sent down the maintenance guy to turn on our water and verify it was only lukewarm.  Then they opened a different room for us to shower in. 
Our luggage now

The big difference – Enterprise didn’t check to see that the front left tire was bad they believed me and did something positive at the moment. 

Please join me for the Billsbigride In on Sunday Oct 2.  Wear yellow – it is Livestrong Day.    If you would like to donate to my ride, my link for the Lance Armstrong Foundation is http://grassroots2011.livestrong.org/billsbigride197.  I really appreciate your support.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Moving Out


Days 169 to 177, September 17 - 25, 2011 – Moving Out

Route from River Bend Campground to The Russian Bonita – Guerneville, CA

No bicycling

Worst Moment – No bicycling for over a week.  It seemed that the times I’ve tried to ride, have made my hand more swollen, so, I’ve not bicycled for over a week and I can’t really tell that this is helping things heal faster or not.  Of course, we’ve been moving and that probably hasn’t helped healing things.

Best Moment – The shower at home is the best of the entire trip.


Our Russian River home was rented through September 17, but you’d better believe that we were hear ready to start moving in at noon on Sunday – the check out time.   We’ve moved most of the stuff out of Ruby and stored her at an RV camp in Duncan’s Mills.  The River Bend Resort would charge us $20 a day to leave it there, while the other place is only $5 a day (or $50 a month.)





It was sort of disappointing to see the condition of our home.  The carpets were filthy, filthy, filthy.  We mentioned it to the cleaning person on duty Sunday, who agreed, but didn’t do anything to make it better.  When we mentioned it to the management company, they said that their head of housekeeping had told them to prepare us for the shock of the appalling condition of the flooring.  We had left Spot Shot for them to use, but the cans were still full.  Spot Shot really worked to get the worst of it looking better.  I still had to shampoo the carpets on Monday.

Chris had moved a load of boxes up here in June and I’ve been moving them from the basement to the kitchen where Neita is in charge of unpacking.  It is sort of amazing to see the stuff that we thought that we couldn’t live without, but haven’t missed for the last six months on the road.

This weekend is the Russian River Blues and Jazz Festival about a mile down river from us.  We can hear the music and get to watch the entertaining parade of boaters, rafters, and kayakers head down the river to get closer to the music.  Friday night there was an underpowered motorboat towing a barge downstream to be nearer where the action would be at Johnson’s Beach.  The barge had a huge bonfire burning on it with folks toasting marshmallows and themselves – all on the barge.  Every few hundred feet the boat would stall and the driver would curse, get it started again and continue slowly downstream. 

All things considered, it is good to be home.

Plans are in place for the “Ride-In” to where it all began on six months ago.  I will be riding 65 miles from Wickenburg to Paradise Valley on October 2 – exactly six months after the start.  I plan to arrive at 7815 N Ironwood, PV around 3 p.m.  It is fitting that October 2 is also Livestong Day and a day to wear yellow.  Please join me for the ride or consider joining us for a beer to celebrate this Big Ride. If you plan to join me for the ride, or just the post ride celebration, please drop me a line at billcomings@hotmail.com to let me know to expect you.   

If you would like to donate to my ride, my link for the Lance Armstrong Foundation is http://grassroots2011.livestrong.org/billsbigride197.  I really appreciate your support.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Not There Yet


Day 164 – 168, September 13 – 16, 2011, Not There, Yet

Route from campground to Duncan’s Mills, twice

54.7 miles, averaging 14.4 mph

Worst Moment – I’ve frequently thought about the stranger who bought my coffee in Shalotte, NC on day 60 of the Big Ride.  I wish that I could be more like her. 

I had the perfect opportunity today to provide a random act of kindness and didn’t take it.  At the bakery in Duncan’s Mills, the woman behind me in line was going to purchase one of their prepared sandwiches and presented her credit card for payment.  Well the bakery doesn’t take credit cards and the woman didn’t have cash.  They made her leave the sandwich on the counter.  I really should have offered to pay for her, and I even considered making the offer at the time, but I didn’t.  I realize that the kindness exhibited by the woman in North Carolina will take some work to nurture.  I am disappointed that I’m not there, yet. 

Best Moment – Cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting at the Duncan’s Mills Bakery are amazing!

I didn’t ride for two days, hoping that my hand would start getting back to its normal size.  It still has a ways to go.  Then I did ride for two days and may have taken a step backwards.  Guess that healing things just take longer than I want to admit.  The good news is that I’m able to discern that there really are four knuckles on my left hand.  Also, typing two handedly is getting easier.  But it’s not there yet.

The road to Duncan’s Mills is wonderful.  Mostly flat, it follows the Russian River and provides wonderful views of the hills and homes on the river.  This really is a wonderful place!

Yesterday, I rode out by myself and took a detour up to Armstrong Woods – the state redwood preserve just outside of Guerneville.  Today, Neita joined me and we went to Duncan’s Mills and back.  As we rode closer to the coast around noon, we could see the fog waiting to pounce back into the river valley.  This happened both days and the temperature, which was just over 70 near Guerneville, plummeted to 59 at Duncan’s Mills.  To make things even more of a challenge, there was quite a headwind as we went west.  Then after our break, the wind seemed to be coming from the east.  Headwinds both coming and going – yuck.

The Big Ride into Phoenix is coming on October 2nd.  Stay tuned for details.   I will be riding from Wickenburg to where it all began in Paradise Valley, and would love for people to join me. 

If you would like to donate to my ride, my link for the Lance Armstrong Foundation is http://grassroots2011.livestrong.org/billsbigride197.  I really appreciate your support.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wine Tasting


Day 163 & 164, September 11 & 12, 2011, Wine Tasting

Route – The Wine Road on Rocket and then to Healdsburg & back on bicycle



28.2 miles, averaging 14.7 mph

Worst Moment – Forgetting my camera for the winetasting on Sunday – I missed some really great shots.

Best Moment – Riding on Eastside Road into Healdsburg has to be one of the classic Sonoma County bike rides.  There’s very little traffic and beautiful views of the vineyards.

Neita and I took off on Rocket to check out some of the new wineries that have opened since we were last here for wine tasting a year ago.  On Westside Road alone, there were three new places and one with a new name. 

We checked all four out.  It was probably one of the most fun tastings that we’ve had.  We had four really great experiences – maybe this was because it was Sunday afternoon and things were sort of slow, or maybe it was the weather sort of cool and cloudy.  The staff seemed extra friendly and the guests talked to one another.  We even met some people who actually live in the area!

John Tyler was one of the wineries.  The “mom” – owner - who was in the tasting room, grew up at Korbel.  (Sort of a wonderful place to grow up.)  They had great wines too.  The tasting room had only been open 2 months. 

We went to VML – a winery that has had many different names since we’ve been coming up here.  Then we went to another new place Davero – they bottle and sell other winemakers wines, along with their own Italian varietals, but focus on olive oil production.  We tasted olive oil!  The last place we went to had been open barely one year and was closing this week.  Such is the nature of the business.

Today I thought I would try riding the loop on Eastside Road to Healdsburg and back on Westside Road.  While I loved the ride, my hand didn’t.  The pavement on Westside Road was very bumpy and there were a few tough hills.  I found that I’m not ready for longer rides.

Bills Big Ride In has been moved up to October 2.  I won’t be riding along any of the coast this time.  And while, this is very disappointing to me, I know neither my hand nor my psyche is ready for the challenges and traffic of Highway 1. I guess it is good to always have some challenge to look forward to in the future.   Who knows?

I do plan on bicycling into Phoenix from Wickenburg on October 2.  I would love to have anyone interested join me for all or part of the ride in.  And certainly join us for a celebration at the end of the adventure. So watch for the details to come. 

If you would like to donate to my ride, my link for the Lance Armstrong Foundation is http://grassroots2011.livestrong.org/billsbigride197.  I really appreciate your support.