YMCA of Greater Erie

Bike Tour 2014Hi! My name is Cynthia Johnson, and throughout the past couple of months you may have heard about my participation in the YMCA Bike Tour from Sept 21, to Sept 27. The Y organized the bike tour to raise funds and awareness for the Strong Kids/We Build People Campaign. Money raised for the bike ride is applied toward scholarships that assist families who are facing a challenging season in their lives. I’ve had the pleasure of working at the membership desk at Glenwood YMCA for the past five months, and I see the scholarship program at work every single day. The Y brings people and families together through healthy activity, sports, and health related educational programs. Many families would not have access to the Y’s programs without scholarships that make it possible.

My Glenwood YMCA family, members, and various family and friends raised over $1900 for my ride!! The support I received for my effort has been amazing! Members, Staff, and Friends took a genuine interest in my effort, and were by my side every step of the way. Shortly before I set cycle for the adventure, my Glenwood Staff family presented me with a care package of YMCA gear that would aid me in my journey. This package also included a bag of trail mix for every day of my ride, and a sealed motivational card, each marked day’s 1 thru 6, to be opened each day before I set out for the day. It became my routine to take this card to breakfast and open it as I mentally geared up for the 70ish miles for that day. I really looked forward to the cards to boost my confidence for the challenge ahead!!

Cynthia Johnson Bike TourDay 1, Sunday September 21 our group departed from the County YMCA in Edinboro bound for our first destination in Warren Pa. In addition to the 6 day ride, there was a 2 day option, and everyone set cycling together. It was a chilly and damp morning, and no group could have been more excited to get started. The crowd thinned out with some riders forming small packs, and others enjoying the solitude of a beautiful ride alone. Our route was very well marked by our dutiful ‘Uncle Roger’. He drove the lead support vehicle, made certain our path was safe, and he marked direction with Yellow arrows and a big yellow Y. Along the way, we had two additional ‘SAG’ Vans that kept us herded in the right direction. The support vehicles provided safety and support, made sure we were accounted for, and gave us peace of mind… and carried our refueling goodies and drink! We had 3 amazing gentlemen at the helm of the SAG vehicles; Justin (my hero from the Eastside Y), Isaiah, and Mr. Mel. These men jumped at every need for the entire adventure, from bag retrieval to first aid. It was comforting to see the SAG vehicle parked ahead as we passed a check point, and come up from behind protecting us on some more travelled, or poorly kept roads. Our stops were well equipped with fresh donated baked goods, fruit, coffee, etc. Each time we came together, we waited for each cycling member to come in before anyone departed on their way. It was nice to gather as a close knit group at each and every stop. We arrived in Warren Sunday evening, sufficiently exhausted after 77.57 miles. I was a little concerned about what I had gotten myself into. Once showered and settled in however, I was ready for a walk along the beautiful bike path in Warren. We had a terrific dinner mingling with new friends and old. Our fearless organizer, Craig Latimer, provided a history and prediction recap, and Gerry Van DeMerwe, the Y’s Chief Executive Officer, offered up his words of encouragement and thanks. After a bit more friendly chatter, we settled in for the night. This was the end of my cell service for the rest of my trip. As I lie in bed with throbbing legs, I wondered how I would get back on my bike for another day of the same, and another, and another….. ‘It’s for the kids’ I could hear everyone say.

Beginning day 2 we headed out of Warren along the beautiful, forest surrounded, creek-side bike path. It was a misty and drizzly 42 degrees. We had an official police escort that allowed us to pass across Kinzua Dam, a securely closed off area since 9/11. We tackled the first of what I consider ‘memorable’ big climbs on our way out of Warren. I was warned about the difficult climb of this hill. I would later learn that each hill climb that was described to me in anticipation was merely a preparation for the brutal climb of that particular portion of the ride, and in no way reflected that this was the end of the most aggressive of hills for the trip. In other words, the hills got bigger and steeper. Our lunch this day was at a small town church in Lafayette. The congregation prepared an immaculate feast of soups and sandwiches. There were fresh baked pies on every table in the room. We were wet from sweating and dampness. It was frigid cold outside and the longer we sat the more chilled we became. We didn’t sit around too long. We proceeded to Kinzua Bridge to some amazing views, and where we sadly had to bid farewell to our fellow 2 day cyclists. I had mixed emotions at this point. Part of me was scared to be staying, and part of me was SO very sad for all who had to leave. Watching those bikes being packed up in the transport trailers was downright saddening. I was tired and unsure of my ability, but ready to continue the adventure. A small hotel in Port Allegheny was our destination for this eve. Dinner was at a local restaurant (Two Mile) that opened specifically in our honor. Conversation this night was a bonding experience as we recollected the first two days of our ride and began to rest into the hearts of our fellow 6 day riders.

And so day 3 began at 37 degrees as we walked to our breakfast at a local diner. I brought my Day 3 motivational card with me, and read the encouragement that my coworkers had written as I indulged in oatmeal drizzled with our ‘house’ pure maple syrup that was donated by Hurry Hill Farms in Edinboro. This syrup dutifully went with us to every breakfast on our trip; another responsibility of our trusty chaperones. After breakfast, me donned in full finger gloves, a beanie cap, and knee socks, we aimed our tires toward Wellsboro. I love cemeteries, and we passed some incredibly magnificent and monumental cemeteries on our way through Coudersport. The climb of today took us up Denton Hill Summit in the Allegheny Mountains; elevation 2424ft. It was a long and brutal climb, but with magical fall foliage views, and a downhill reward that was exhilarating. Evening in Wellsboro gave way to a few hours of much appreciated laundry duty at the local laundry mat. I fell asleep apprehensive about day 4’s scheduled hill climb, right out of Wellsboro, as we entered the PA Grand Canyon.

Day 4’s motivational card was exactly what I needed to build up my confidence for the brutality of the hill climb out of Wellsboro. I made it!! And the downhill reward took us to the beautiful Pine Creek Trail through the valley of the PA Grand Canyon. The creek side trail gave way to crimson colored leaf changing for miles and miles. Some left knee discomfort began here, which altered the rest of the trip slightly for me as I adjusted my cycling mechanics. After lunch I was informed that the entire afternoon was an upward climb to Williamsport. A few in our group were not able to complete this portion and I was really worried about the daylight we had left and the brutality of the afternoon. We set out for our afternoon of climbs. WHEW!… it was crazy nuts! I paced myself well and when we arrived at the hotel, I wanted to go back and meet up with a couple other determined riders that were behind us. This made a few of us late for dinner, but it was worth the team spirit of reward! We did some sightseeing after dinner and I got settled in way too late. I was popping naproxen pretty regularly now, and sleeping with a heating pad that was a gift along the way. Our mileage this day was 85.42.

The morning of day 5 took us along some busy roads. I rode by myself all morning and part of the afternoon. Many of us rode by ourselves during different segments of the ride. Riding alone can provide a nice relaxing solitude. It was rainy and the ground was wet, but I wasn’t cold. As we approached a busy intersection I aggressively caught up to some riders that left the rest stop earlier than I did. I didn’t even look at the directional arrows at the intersection, I simply followed the riders in front of me. We were not supposed to turn at that intersection. Luckily we grouped together and found an alternative route to our lunchtime stop. What fun this added to the adventure! Our self-designed route included views of Amish farms, corn crops, goats, ponies, chickens, roosters and outhouses ….and a dam crossing on a long path filled heavily with stones. I don’t like the slipperiness of chunky stones, so not falling was a huge accomplishment for me. I was so wet by lunchtime that I chose to change my clothes before continuing. Thank You Support Team!! The rest of the afternoon took us through the Amish rolling hill country roads, dirty and muddy, with a killer hill ending in Bloomsburg. After dinner we spent some time cleaning dirt and grime from our bikes to be sure no dirt clumps caused trouble with bike mechanics for our last day.

I awoke on day 6 unable to believe it was the last day of our adventure. Veteran riders described some brutal climbs ahead, and I was ready! I couldn’t imagine hills could be any more difficult than what I’d already tackled. Boy was I wrong! Before lunch, and after lunch, we climbed two of the most difficult hills I’ve climbed in my few years of riding. The hill prior to lunch was so steep that I attempted to climb it as a switchback, trying to reduce the steepness by riding horizontally across the hill. It wasn’t working. As I approached the ¾ peak of the hill, and rounded the corner, it became steeper. I panicked a little and was puffing so hard I couldn’t breathe. Determination set in and I talked myself through it. I stopped at the top to reflect on my accomplishment. It would have been more rewarding if I wouldn’t have been apprehensive about what the afternoon would bring. We enjoyed lunch at a culinary academy for troubled teens. What a great experience having these teens police our bikes and gear, and serve our lunch! Riders behind us described a black bear that crossed the road between us and them… so sorry to have missed seeing that. As soon as we left lunch, we had our second wicked hill to tackle. I was tired, and worried about being defeated. As I climbed, I only allowed myself to watch my wheel, and the ground 3 feet ahead. I wouldn’t look up. After a good while of climbing I heard hoots and hollers to signify the upcoming peak of the hill. I looked up to see a highway and assumed the climb was over. YES! I could do this! As I crested the hill, a dramatic right turn led the way to the rest of the brutal climb to PA’s Highest Borough, Freeland; Elevation of 1,942 feet. I knew that this was the end of the highest of high climbs for the entire ride. I pedaled hard… and posed for pics at the top! Accomplishment and Pride is all I felt at the top. The downhill led us to what would be the final bike trail ride to Jim Thorpe, our destination. We all gathered on the path to pose for group pics by the waterfall in Lehigh Valley. The bike path into Jim Thorpe provided a beautiful and relaxed conclusion to the ride. Jim Thorpe is an adorable little town and our hotel bellowed history and sophistication. As we dismounted our bikes, at 417.98 miles, they were immediately swept into waiting transport vehicles that signified an official conclusion to the adventure. It was a little sad, but to be honest, I was happy to not be mounting a bike the next morning. We enjoyed a pizza party of celebration, comradery, laughter and reminiscing of the week past. We exchanged contact information and said official farewells.

I awoke Saturday morning stiff, sore, tired and grateful. The moment breakfast was over however, I was ready to get back on the bike rather than climb in the transport van for the ride home. It was a beautiful trip home with lots of pointing to roads behind the trees where we had pedaled just days before. I’m grateful for such an amazing, memorable and heartfelt trip accomplished in the name of a cause that is close to my heart. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity of which I’m eternally grateful for having the chance to participate in, and for so many individuals who were a part of my experience. A simple thank you seems hollow in comparison to how grateful I feel, alas, it’s all I have.