Biking West from New York

The ride had been hatched in the Jacuzzi at the Casa Blanca Hotel in Mesquite, Nevada last year. My cousin Mike and I were relaxing after a week-long bike ride. We had covered well over a hundred miles, had been on the trail every day and had loved it. In fact we were ready for more. As we let the heat and bubbles of the spa work their magic, we started talking and dreaming.

“I wonder how far we could actually ride in one trip?” I asked.

“I could go on indefinitely if I had the vacation time,” Mike replied. “All I need is a day’s rest every week or so, and I’d be good to go.”

I was comfortable doing the same. When I had hiked the 500-mile length of Nevada a few years ago, I had planned to take a day off each week. But once my hiking companion and I got on the trail, we found we didn’t really need it.

“But I sure don’t want to camp,” Mike said.

“Me neither. I got that out of my system in Nevada. I wonder if it’s possible to bike far enough each day to reach a motel and have a hot shower and clean sheets?”

“Gotta be; dunno about hot tubs though. I wonder if they even have those in ‘fly-over country’?”

Biking over the East River

“What if we started in New York at Jennifer’s [my daughter]. Everything’s so close together back there, we could easily reach a motel every 25 miles. And if we kept that up for a hundred days, we’d reach California.”

“Yeah, and as we moved west, we’d get stronger and faster and be able to cover more miles each day, about the time the distances between motels increased. Maybe we wouldn’t need 100 days!”

“Wanna try it?”

The dreaming intensified as we talked and the water bubbled.

In truth both of us needed this project badly. I had been in a real funk after losing two people that were very dear to me in the last year. When my Aunt Marlis, in reality a second mother, succumbed to cancer at 89 last September, it was difficult, but I thought okay, this is the way life works. People get old and, regardless of how much you care for them, they die.

But I had no sooner accepted that, than Lucena (Luz), Marlis’s caregiver for the last three years of her life, died at 53 of a cerebral embolism. This was below the belt. She had won her way into our hearts over those three years, and had become a member of the family. Losing her, particularly at such a relatively young age, was a real shock. And all this had been just as hard, if not harder, on Mike as Marlis was his mother.

Dealing with all this death had made me weary. I found myself frequently staring off into space, a practice I rarely indulged in. Concentration had become difficult, little things became major distractions and my life became directionless. My melancholy wasn’t so much a fear of my own death as it was that people had to leave us at all. I needed something to absorb the physical, mental and emotional energies that were now leading me in circles, and this bike ride seemed just the ticket.

“So when’s the best time to start?” Mike asked as we lobstered in the hotel spa.

“Well, starting in the east, I think we’d want to begin in the late summer so it wouldn’t be so humid and buggy.”

“Yeah, and it’d be cooler when we got to the desert.”

“If we got to the desert. You’re getting us a little ahead of ourselves aren’t you?”

“Okay,” Mike said, “I get the equivalent of six weeks off each year, and I could bid to get them all together. Who knows, I might get lucky.”

Mike is a captain for a large international airline flying out of Los Angeles. He has to bid for both his routes as well as his vacation time, and his seniority dictates how successful those bids are.

In March of this year while I was in Los Angeles on a periodic visit (my home is in San Jose), Mike announced that he’d got the six weeks off, beginning right after Labor Day.

“Holy shit, we’d better get in shape.”

Though Mike and I live 400 miles apart, we’ve had some experience training together. On a mountain climbing trip we made to Ecuador two years ago we had to condition ourselves to what, at least for us, were extreme altitudes – staying at 10,000 feet and climbing as high as 19,000 feet. The expedition leaders told us we should be working out 15 hours each week. As often as possible we hiked and biked together, and when apart we texted our daily activities to each other to provide motivation.

We could do the same with this trip. Both of us loved to bike, we rode often individually, and when together we do it almost every day. Our regular outings took us into the mountains, on both paved and dirt paths, but getting our “tushes” hardened to withstand six days a week of constant pedaling was another story. We had work to do.

“Hey, let’s bike from your mom’s old place to your house,” I said to Mike the day after we had finished our planning for the initial phase of the ride.

Marlis’s home was in Chatsworth in the western San Fernando Valley, while Mike lives in the Santa Rosa Valley in Ventura County. In between was twenty-five miles of semi-rural Southern California including the city of Simi Valley. It was exactly the distance we’d need to become accustomed to when we began our trek.

“Okay which direction?”

“Let’s go west so we can get the pass out of the way at the beginning.”

Santa Susanna Pass was the only real climb along the route, and it came quickly, five miles west of Chatsworth.

Both of us liked the idea of having a real objective for our bike riding. It added an element of excitement to be actually training for a long distance trip. We made the 25 miles in two and a half hours.

Two days later, we decided to do the route in reverse, and two days after that, we did it round trip, our first 50 mile day. Relaxing in Mike’s hot tub afterwards, feeling none the worse for wear, we were mellow.

“Well whatchathink?” I asked.

“Piece of cake,” Mike responded. We weren’t in any mood to consider the ‘what if’s.’

The next morning before I headed home to San Jose, we squeezed in one last ride together, another one-way transit along our now familiar 25-mile route.

Noon found us in the middle of Simi Valley, two thirds of the way to Mike’s house when it started raining – sprinkling at first, and then pouring.

“Well pardner, we better get used to this stuff, cause it does a lot of it back east.”

“Particularly when there aren’t any motels nearby,” I added as we got hit by an angry sheet of water from a passing SUV.

After another few minutes of miserable pedaling, Mike looked over with a soggy smile and said, “I got it. We get stationary bikes and we put them in the shower?”

I had to smile back. At moments like that, corny was good. In fact it was perfect. Besides, it seemed like I was beginning to see this whole death thing slowly moving towards the rear view mirror. With a little more work and some luck I just might keep it there. Another angry sheet of water punctuated my thoughts.


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One Response to Biking West from New York

  1. Karen Kahmann says:

    Great reading all the thoughts and discussions that have led up to this adventure. You know I will be reading regularly, as your partner has informed me he won’t be writing. Twitter only. I wish you both smooth sailing, though I know you both will be able to weather any storm that may come your way. I pray for clear sky’s and cool temps and no cramping:) Looking forward to your photos.
    love to you both

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