The Final Mile
I chose to spend the last two nights in a hotel for several reasons. One, I wanted to start sorting out the final leg of my journey, logistically, mentally, and emotionally. Two, I wanted to have the opportunity to reflect on my journey alone. Three, I wanted to get to bed as early as possible. I knew I had a lot to do and that I needed to stay focused. I enjoy talking too much to stay at the fire station. I would never get anything done, besides I did not want to seem rude, working on all my own things while being a guest at the fire house.
This was going to be my final leg, 55 miles to go. Like I have said in the past, its the short rides that scare me, they’re the ones that seem to go wrong. This was worse, this was the final short ride. Maybe it is because of the way my life has gone so far. Maybe it is how many stories I have heard where some tragedy happens right before the completion of the trip. “We could see our destination in sight, “then it happened.” It is the “then it happened” I’m worried about.
The last few days have been a struggle. There has been an air of nervous anticipation running through my soul. I have been at this for so long now, I almost don’t know how to stop. I have been reflecting on our troops overseas and how they must feel. I have never been in the military and am not attempting in any way to say that I know how they feel. The opposite is true. I am saying that I can’t imagine how they feel. Their “bike ride” goes on for several years, not months. I am grateful that there is people who are willing to give their lives to protect our freedom. This bike ride is as much about Freedom is it is about Service. I have not talked a lot about the Armed Forces in my blog because I have no experience in this arena. I believe people should talk about their experiences, otherwise you should put your statement in the form of a question. I would gladly trade a lifetime of your advice for a day of your experience. It is with humble admiration that I salute you, even Firemen need heroes.
I start packing my gear for the last time, throwing out unneeded items , and dumping the last portions of nutrition into their appropriate containers. “I wont need this again,” I say to myself. It’s wet outside, but it’s not raining yet. I manage to push some weird hotel egg sausage things into my nervous stomach while I pack. I check the room several times in an attempt to not leave anything behind. This has become a ritual that I have not yet perfected. Look under the bed, next to the sink, next to the bed, wall plugs, all clear. Ok this is it, “let’s get this done,” I say to myself.
I head out into the chilly, wet morning. I can feel my soul’s desire to finish. I stock up at the gas station next door with water and candy. No one around me has any idea what I am doing, they have no idea that I am about to finish an epic journey. They need to get gas and get to work, they are probably running late or right on time, no time to talk to strangers. When people do ask they get a story. How often do I run through life ignoring things and people around me, how many great stories have I missed? I stopped to ask my friend Herbert what he was doing, in an instant a stranger became a great friend for life.
I turn on my iPod. I usually save the music until the second part of my ride, to push me over the crux of my ride. Today the entire ride is the crux (the hardest portion of the route), so I will begin with music. I head out to the highway. Nothing has changed, this is the same thing I have been doing now for 46 days. My body, mind, and spirit are tired. It takes about 20 miles for me to get warmed up everyday, so i’ll only have to go 30 more miles after that. I make 20 miles and decide to go to 30 before I take a little break. “Don’t stop too many times,” I tell myself. I make 30 miles and see a gas station. Candy and Mountain Dew are my reward for getting this far. “Don’t stay too long, get moving,” I tell myself. Resting at this point is a double edged sword. I remember when a break like this was well-earned and enjoyable, not today. Today, rest is my nemesis, I must keep going. “Focus man, look around you, this is it. You will never be here again.”
3.42 miles behind me so far today. No rain, things are looking good. Why does my rear tire feel funny? “Flat, already?” I think to myself. I pull over to fix it. “Come on, 3 miles and I already have a flat. Is this really how this day is going to go? I go through the normal daunting task of repairing my rear flat. Do you remember the tire with all the goofy modifications that takes forever to change? I pump up the tire and see water bubbles coming out the side. “What now?” I think. I carry 3 extra tubes with me. When I change a flat I keep the one with a hole in it just in case I run out of new tubes before I reach a bike shop to restock. If I have to, I can patch the tube and use it to get to the next bike shop. In this case, I must have mixed them up. I just installed a tube with a hole in it. “Ok, no big deal, you still have a tube that you patched last night.” I put a little air into the tube, it’s good. I install the tube onto the wheel. As I am reseating the tire over the tube, I pinch the tube and air comes rushing out. You have got to be kidding me! You idiot, you amateur, you rookie. AHHHHH, are you kidding me? Do I really have to “endure” this ride all the way to the end? I feel defeated, I just want someone to come pick me up. I want to quit. I am sick of this. Did you just say quit? Are you kidding me? Quit? Go ahead quit, just get on your phone and call someone to pick you up. Ride into New York in a car, that would be cool. Maybe whoever picks you up can bring a car seat and a pacifier. Oh poor baby, you have a flat tire, you poor thing. I’m sure the men on the pile at Ground Zero would feel bad for you. I am sure they would be real proud of you right now. Wallowing around in the mud feeling sorry for yourself. I am going to only say this once, so listen up. Stop your whining, fix your tire, and get your butt back on your bike, NOW! Ok, I have to patch this tire and get going. So I ride off with no more tubes. I come into a town that seems like it would have a bike shop. I find one with my GPS. I feel a sense of relief as I pull in to the shop. I talk to the girl behind the counter a little bit about my ride, probably stalling. Turns out, I am heading down the wrong route. I am on Highway 10, I need to be on Highway 46. Good thing I got a flat tire or I would have gone the wrong way. That would have cost me a lot more time than that flat tire.
Is that what that flat tire was all about? Was the universe simply directing me the right way? Was the flat tire simply an omen? Was I so caught up in myself that I almost missed the boat. Was my problem really a vessel taking me from Highway 10 to Highway 46? I believe it was. The universe knows what I need today, I just need to trust it, I need to listen to what it is saying.
“Focus!” I tell myself. I am way too out of focus and don’t even know it. Focus means everything is clear and not blurry. What I am really telling myself is, “tunnel vision, tunnel vision, don’t look around, keep your eye on the finish line.” Then it dawns on me that this is the “then everything went wrong” moment. This is why people get hurt at the end of a journey, they get summit fever. You are so caught up in the finish line, you can’t see the open man-hole in front of it. “Take a deep breath, you have plenty of time, relax.”
Humility comes hard for me. It seems that it is only after a good self beating, do I get a glimpse of it. I don’t mean the self spoken humility. I mean the true “I am a small part of a big thing” humility. For a moment I feel it. This is not about you. It is about them. The men that died, the men and women that do this everyday, the men and women over seas right now, the people at home that have been supporting you all along. This ride is about them. “Ride,” I tell myself, “just ride.”
A few days ago one of my moms said to me, “Your dad and your brother are with you.” I feel their presence when I see eagles soar above me. As I was riding, I heard a voice. It was similar to my own, but it was not mine. It was very distinct, it felt like my dad was standing behind me with his hand on my shoulder. My brother was standing on the other side. The voice said, “you got this.” As I crested one more hill, I felt like the world opened up. In the distance I could see New York. That beautiful skyline with all its scars and glory. I was close, 10 more miles to Fort Lee where I would meet Nicole ,Whitney, and Haylee.
I navigated the final few miles though the busy windy streets of New Jersey to the Econo Lodge. I pulled into the “dead hooker hotel,” and asked for my room. I called Nicole to get an ETA. In about 45 minutes, I would be reunited with my wife. I will be with family. We will finish this journey together. I was a nervous wreck. I was looking at the George Washington Bridge. It was the only thing standing between me and my goal. It would carry me across the river to New York City. I would no longer be alone. It seemed like an eternity before they arrived. Then it happened, they pulled into the hotel. I felt like I dropped a ton of bricks. I felt so relieved, we made it. I wanted to cry as I embraced Nicole. That little voice inside would not allow that. I was so happy. Nicole, Whitney, Haylee, and I talked for a few minutes while they stretched their legs. “Are we ready to finish this thing,” I asked. “Let’s do it,” they replied.
The George Washington bridge is really awesome. What an engineering feet. The girls walked along side me as I rode the final few feet. We stopped along the way to take pictures. The bridge cables change colors along the way with a small green sign welcoming you to New York. What a spectacular view! I just can’t believe that it is finally over. I can’t believe I am finally here. I tell my body it is over, you have completed your task. I feel like my body does not believe me. I have been focused on this moment for so long, I just can not accept it is over. Well then, for now I will just act as if. We made our way back to the roach motel. “Well you did it, you’re crazy. You just rode your bike from Los Angeles to New York. How do you feel?” they ask. “I’m not really sure yet,” I reply. I was really hungry and wanted to eat Thai food.
After eating Thai food, we returned home to the Crack House Inn. The girls asked housekeeping to please remove the black hairs from their bedding. We all agreed their sheets were used in some type of crime and they just forgot to clean them. Haylee was a little upset that the DNA was being removed from the room as she was practicing her evidence collection skills. In spite of Haylee’s desire to stay and play in the CSI playground, the rest of us decided to find another room for the next night. So Nicole, being a 5 star planner got to work on her lap top. She used Priceline.com to find us a 4 star hotel that happened to be next to Ground Zero.
I was torn between having a big flashy finish or just finishing. I just can not bring myself to tell everyone what I’m doing. “Look at me, look what I did,” just does not sound right. I have followed my instinct this far, why change now. I decided to do a quiet tribute and that’s how I’ll finish. Not very flashy, but real. I finished with the ones I love. I feel like I have more questions than answers when I finish. Did I really accomplish anything? Did I make a difference? Was this a tribute to those men? Only time will tell. After some food and a fresh squeezed juice, my mind feels a little more at ease. I start feeling a little more human, a little more happy.
It turns out that if you rent a car from Hertz rent-a-car one way, you get charged for it for every additional day. We decided to drive into Manhattan and exchange the rental car in order to save $150.00. Hertz in New York City could stand a little training in customer service. Both Hertz locations were so rude and unfriendly, I could not believe it. They really put a little damper on our evening. After dealing with such great people for so long it was sobering to be treated so unfriendly. The girls and I decided that as long as we are nice to each other we can deal with a few unfriendly outsiders. Thank you for nothing, Hertz.
We went to bed hoping not to get killed or caught up in some type of crime scene. I fell asleep very easy. I was awakened by the sound of a car alarm at about 4:30 am. Starving, I attempted to find something to eat at the vending machine, fail. “Babe, wake up we have to go eat, I’m starving.” So we went back to the diner that we ate dinner at. After breakfast we went back to the Cesspool Inn and went back to sleep.
The next morning we prepared for our journey to the big city. Nicole was super excited about driving in New York, a feeling she would soon lose. Renting a car in New York $130, GPS $300, driving in New York City, priceless. After a long adventure through city streets, we finally made it to our hotel. Great job driving, Nicole.
We pulled up to the The Millinium Hilton and checked in. The hotel was not just close to Ground Zero, it was at Ground Zero. “Oh my God, we are staying at Ground Zero.” I feel emotions rushing through my body as I realize that I am at Ground Zero again. It looks so familiar. I take a deep breath and follow the girls up to our room. We are staying on the 35th floor. We walk into the room, this cannot be right. Our window is over looking Ground Zero. Nicole opens the blinds and looks out. I walk slowly with hesitation to the window. Nicole is already in tears, she is overcome by the sure power of Ground Zero. “Oh my God,” I think to myself. My room is on top of Ground Zero. I cannot believe this. As everything comes into view, I am overcome with emotion. The memorial is beautiful. It is done in very good taste. It is a very wonderful pool that marks the foot prints of the two towers. I am surprised that there is still so much construction going on. The memorial is complete but everything else is still under construction. It looks similar to what it looked like 9 years ago. The big difference it that it is under construction not demolition. I can’t believe how nice the memorial looks. This is why I rode my bike all those miles. I knew I would never get anywhere around Ground Zero on 9/11. It was like the universe just handed me a back stage pass. I would have the next 24 hours to pay my respects to those men. Just then the phone rang. It was Rob Curtis. We talked about 9/11 and what it meant to us as I watched the sun set on Ground Zero.
I started to feel some comfort while I soaked it all in. I am so glad the memorial was done in good taste. I am so glad to see the rebuilding. The Freedom Tower is a beautiful sign of recovery. This place will always have its scars, but it is healing. Healing, that’s what I feel, like I am healing as I stand here. I share my experiences with my family. I talk about what this place means to me. I encourage them to have their experience. What I did does matter. It mattered to me. I spent the last 47 days dedicating myself to the victims of 9/11 and I feel good about it. I did what I needed to do to honor them. I just finished the final mile.
To the men and women of the fire service across this nation, I send my deepest sympathy, brothers. Job well done.
Love Your Brother,
Some how the stars aligned when I decided to bid on a secret hotel that turned out to be the Millenium Hilton on Priceline.com just last night. They accepted the bid and now we are on the 35th floor overlooking Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers stood ten years ago. The area is bustling with people from all over the world… just as it probably was before 9/11/2001. Except now there is this overwhelming feeling of grief and loss when we think about all the human beings that lost their lives that day, including the 343 firefighters that died answering the call of duty one last time. We can’t stop staring out the window at the 9/11 Memorial site.