Let me preface this blog post by saying that the people of Ohio love their state. A lot. It seems as soon as some of the guys from Ohio re-entered their state, it was literally all they could talk about. The guys from Ohio were so excited to get back into their home state, the rest of us were sick of Ohio before we even crossed the border from Michigan. But, come to think of it, the team probably thought the same thing about me when we rode into Colorado. At least we have mountains….
Whatever. I woke up in my University of Michigan dorm room bed, and I knew I had finally kicked my cold. I put on my cycling gear, packed up my bag, and headed down the elevator, where the vans took us to breakfast at the Pi Kapp chapter on campus. When the sun first came up, it was cloudy and was threatening rain, but the clouds quickly broke and the sun came out. I was not 100% back to health, but I felt significantly better than the days before, and knowing it wasn’t going to be pouring rain on me all day definitely helped my outlook on the day. Since I wasn’t sure if I was going to be riding that day, I had not set up a pace line previously, which left me scrambling after breakfast to find somebody to ride with. I ended up settling into a two man pace line of myself and Alex from Georgia Tech. During circle up, Nick told us we had really hard rack points they would be enforcing because we had a major arrival ceremony in Toledo. Every time I have ridden with Alex so far, it has just been the two of us and both times we finished first, so even though I wasn’t feeling my best that day, I was confident we would finish.
We got off to a strong start, but were red flagged after about 20 miles. We were there for only 15 minutes, but that ended up making a major difference in the day. After we were released, we quickly passed the pace line of Matt and Michael from Houston and Mike from UMBC. Alex was riding strong, and pulling at about 24 mph. Thinking we had left the other pace line in the dust, we looked back to see that they were still right on our tail. Apparently, they had put quite a sizable gap between themselves and the rest of the team earlier that morning, and they didn’t take too kindly to us passing them after they had been red flagged for so long. Alex and I decided we were up for the challenge, and that the only way they were going to take back first was if they earned it. The awkward part about this whole situation was that after we decided to race, we hit city roads, which meant we were stopping every mile or less. So we both pushed as hard as we could, only to have our progress halted just as soon as we got up to speed.
Their pace line was drawing in closer and closer and seemed to be poised to make a pass, when we barely made it through a light which they got caught behind. We rolled into stage up first, and they came in not 5 minutes behind us. They were not particularly happy about the outcome, and I can’t blame them. They rode stronger and deserved to beat us that day, but sometimes things just don’t work out in your favor. However, the disappointment of defeat was soon replaced by relief because we were told we were the only two pace lines that weren’t racked that day. If we hadn’t been racing, literally giving that day everything we had, we probably would have been racked as well. It was an awesome feeling to get back on the bike after four days off and have such a strong ride, and I have Alex, Matt, Michael, and Mike to thank for that.
Soon after we finished, the rest of the team was shuttled in by the vans and we filed into double pace line formation and rode to a big ceremony on the University of Toledo campus. We were treated to a Chick-fil-a lunch and then rode back to the dorms where we were staying, showered up and headed off to friendship visits. The team split up into two groups and went to separate visits, I was lucky enough to go with the puppet show group. Kids on the Block had become something the team always looked forward to because the guys who preformed it brought so much life and humor to the act. Kyle from Purdue was the main character Mark, a gregarious, red headed boy with cerebral palsy. The way Kyle would slip in jokes and how he fielded question from curious kids just kept us laughing the entire skit. This was the last time the group would do KOB on the trip, so it was awesome to be able to see their last performance.
The sponsor for the day in Toledo was a regional governor (a major position with the national fraternity) and he made it clear to us he wanted Toledo to be the best stop of the trip. He certainly did a good job at treating the team that night. After the friendship visit was finished, we headed to Outback Steakhouse, where the entire team was treated to a steak dinner. After a summer of two meat, one cheese at lunch, you can say the steak was much appreciated. But the special treatment didn’t stop there. The team was then shuttled over to a local massage school where we were all given massages. Some guys on the team had gotten wind of this early in the trip and were literally counting down the days until they got a massage. Finally, to cap off the wonderful day, we were invited over to Saurabh’s (who was from Miami of Ohio) house, as he lived in town. There, his family had a big display of deserts and treats set up in their backyard for the whole team. After we had our fill of deserts, we mingled with Saurabh’s family and friends and then found our way to his basketball hoop, where we played a few spirited rounds of knockout.
The following day we had a 60-mile into the town of Sandusky, Ohio. I rode with Derek from TCU and Travis from Georgia Tech. The first part of the ride was not very enjoyable. We were on trucking roads and so it was too loud talk, and on top of that, we were all getting over being sick, so none of us felt too hot. Eventually, we turned off the major road and were on much quieter country roads and we had some great conversations. Travis and I had a long conversation about how everything that happens to you in life has an effect on where you go and what you do in the future. We talked about what brought us to our current situation in life and how we came to ride JOH. I realized just how lucky I am to have joined Pi Kappa Phi and to have the bravery to sign for an event like this. Even though something may seem like a terrible at the time, you never know what doors it might open or where it will lead you in life, and that was certainly the case with me rushing Pi Kapp.
By the time we had reached stage up, we were all in high spirits. After all the other pace lines arrived, we got in double pace line formation and rolled into our friendship visit for the day. It was a big lunch followed by a dance with a group called Ability Works. All the clients were so excited when we arrived, I could tell this would be a fun friendship visit. After getting my lunch, I sat down at the same table as my friend Blake from TCU and he introduced me to a man named Jeff. Jeff had a developmental disability and was in a wheelchair, but Blake and I had a great conversation with him using some broken sign language to communicate when we couldn’t portray our message vocally. After we had finished lunch, we asked Jeff if he wanted to go join the rest of the group on the dance floor. So we wheeled him out and put him right in the middle. He couldn’t stand up, but he was giving it all from his chair. By the end, he had a huge smile on his face. When it was time to go, it was tough for me to say goodbye to Jeff. I had made a connection with him unlike any other person so far on the trip. But, this was the usual course of the day, we must say our goodbyes and then move along to the next activity scheduled for us. Later that day, I was talking to Nick about Jeff because he had seen me with him for most of the friendship visit. Nick told me the year before that Jeff was not in a wheelchair and was the life of the party on the dance floor. Nick said one of the tough things about doing the trip twice is that you the same people a year later. Sometimes, he would see improvement in people from the year before, but a lot of the time he would see regression in some way and that was certainly the case with Jeff. However, as far as I could see, he did not let the wheelchair get in his way or complain about his situation in life, he just kept trying to live his life to the fullest. Jeff was definitely an inspiration to me and I vowed to ride for him and to keep him in my thoughts in the remaining days to DC.
After a nap at lodging, we were taken to the main attraction of the small town of Sandusky, Cedar Point amusement park. Cedar Point is one of the biggest and most famous amusement parks in not only the country, but the world as well. I was with a large group of friends, but eventually people had different plans of attack when it came to the rides they wanted to wait for, and so I ended up splitting off from the group with my friend Jack from Tennessee. Jack was one of the guys on the trip I had come to know the best, so it was nice to have some time to just hang out and talk about our lives back at school and plans to visit each other and the rest of our friends after the trip. Eventually, it was time to leave, so we walked back to the vans and headed back to lodging. That night we had our second to last team meeting of the trip, a wake up call to just how quickly our amazing journey would be coming to end.
The next day was a 70-mile ride to the city of Cleveland. However, none of us would be riding that full 70 miles because after a sponsored breakfast and a later start than usual, we had to make it to the Indians ball park by 1 pm for a baseball game. Nick told us no one would be finishing today, but we should try to push it and see how far we can make it before we get racked. I was riding with Luke and Kyle from Purdue, and we decided today was a better day than any to push the pace. We were doing 1 mile pulls, which kept the guy at the front of the pace line fresh and strong the whole time. At times, we were holding a 26-27 mph pace. We flew. By the time we were racked, we had made it 35 miles and were the second furthest pace line on the team. Considering our performance of the day, we decided to give our pace line a fitting name and dubbed ourselves Team Garmin (a major pro cycling team). After showering up at our lodging, the Case Western Delta Gamma house, we quickly went downtown to catch the remaining innings of the Indians game. The Indians were victorious and we then headed back to the DG house for some rest before dinner.
Dinner that night was provided by a local family, who were parents of a past Pi Alpha. After we had eaten we headed back to lodging and had a free night to do what we pleased, as we had a day off the following day. The next morning we had a friendship visit at the Cleveland Clinic. The Cleveland Clinic is a hospital for children with all kind of mental and physical disabilities, as well as children with serious illnesses. We got to tour around the facilities in groups, trying our best to brighten the day of the kids in each ward. After the tour, we had lunch with all of the patients outside, played basketball and whatever other games the kids wanted to play. It was an awesome friendship visit, and it felt good to make a difference in the kid’s day, even it was just a little bit.
After our day off, we left Cleveland and headed for the little town of Niles, Ohio. I rode with Michael from TCU and Beau from Miami of Ohio. It was a beautiful 55-mile ride along country roads through Amish territory. I must say passing a horse drawn carriage is a pretty cool feeling. Michael, born and raised in Dallas, Texas, was shocked by the site of Amish people, as he had never seen them before. Beau and I took about an hour of the ride just explaining to him how the Amish people lived and some of their customs. Next thing we knew, we rolled into lodging and had a fried chicken lunch waiting for us.
After lunch, the school we were staying at began to fill up with clients, and we migrated to the gym for our last big dance of the summer. The DJ was a local guy with a disability who was able to buy his equipment with the money from a grant from Push America. He then started his own DJ business and explained to us how his business had taken off and how busy he had been with work lately. Everyone had a great time, and the DJ finished off the dance with a five-song tribute to the stars and stripes, culminating with “Proud to Be an American”. Everyone circled up, arms around each other and one of the guys on the team even ran and grabbed the giant American flag and ran to the middle of the circle where he began waving it.
After the dance was over, we headed to Olive Garden for a sponsored dinner and then to the local mall. Recently, we had drawn names out of a hat for a gag gift exchange, so we were at the mall to pick out our gifts. I was pretty happy with what I came up with. That’s all for Ohio, on to Pennsylvania tomorrow!