America by Bicycle

Confessions of a Novice Cyclist

At some point during our 50 mile ride last Monday, which would
complete Barry Haarde’s epic ride across America, I had to confess to him that
while I was pleased that I was keeping up with him, a world class athlete, at
his pace, I had only learned how to clip in my bike shoes two days prior.
Emily Haarde surprises son Barry
I would not have done this ride at all if it were not for Barry’s insistence
that 1) I could do it, and 2) I had to do it as president of Save One Life, the
nonprofit I founded and the cause for which he just spent 49 days in a hard
saddle, cycling from the Pacific Ocean in Oregon to the Atlantic Ocean by noon
on August 6, raising about $35,000. Barry’s ride truly was epic: no one with
hemophilia, much less hemophilia/HIV, had even attempted this. Barry attempted
and was victorious. And I was so privileged to ride alongside him for the last
Privileged but not worthy. I am such a cycling novice. Somehow,
Barry seemed to think that because I had summited Mt. Kilimanjaro last August
(if you read my blog from a year ago you know that I was pretty much dragged unwillingly
up that summit in the final 7 hours; the rest of the hike I did just fine), I
was naturally going to be good at cycling. But my bike, an Orbea Diva, a very
expensive 50th birthday present to myself four years ago, scared me.
Yes, my bike scared me.
Its ultra light carbon frame, clip pedals and wacky gear shifting
made it a totally different ride from the heavy, clunky but sturdy hybrid I had
been riding for years. When I first took the Orbea out for its maiden voyage, I
turned to look behind me at traffic, in order to execute a quick U turn. I
promptly fell in the middle of Route 1 northbound in Rowley, Massachusetts—not a
good place to be! I was mortified. I couldn’t get my darn feet out of the clips (you know something is bad when I say the word “darn”). I couldn’t get the feel of the bike; like a
highly sensitive horse, the bike responded immediately to any slight shift in
my body weight.
I couldn’t get the hang of the gearshift: what did the instruction manual mean by two clicks?  I shifted gears like crazy, not knowing whether I was in
high or low or what. I rode the bike only twice that year, not enjoying either
ride. I didn’t ride it at all the second year. My beauty hung on the garage
wall, ignored, like a forlorn trophy gathering dust. Last year I took it out a few
times, scared, unsure and still not able to shift any gears. I marveled at the
cyclists I saw, how they had mastered their steeds. I had little time to crawl
back humbly to the bike shop and ask how to shift the gears. Soon, I told
myself, soon.
Then came Barry Haarde, with a wonderful idea to raise money for
Save One Life ( Barry was so taken with our cause, that he proposed something no
one had ever done. Save One Life would raise the money with him, and support
his trip. He joined America by Bicycle ( and 49 other cyclists, and embarked on a well defined route that would lead him
to my backdoor, practically: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, just 20 minutes up 95
north from my house.
And he wanted me to join him that final day, to cycle 50 miles to
dip our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean in victory.
But I was not worthy to wipe his clip-in bicycle shoes!
Laurie and Barry
about to set out
So I started rehearsing, mounting that feather light frame,
wobbling on razor thin tires, jamming my feet helter-skelter into the foot contraptions,
eventually snagging the pedals, and off I went. The most I ever cycled at one
time was 12 miles. My first venture of the day left me saddle-sore, bow-legged
and bruised badly. This is fun?
Undaunted, on Sunday, August 5, I drove with my daughter Tara to
Portsmouth, where we waited for the cyclists to roll in. And in they came: most
of them were in their 50s and 60s, silver haired speed demons on a gorgeous
collection of elite machinery: hip clothes, excellent physiques, and not the
least bit tired looking, despite having cycled 76 miles that day. Gulp.
Finally Barry coasted up to the Comfort Inn, where we waited with
hugs for his achievement thus far. He had a wonderful, fantastical faith in my ability
to do the 50 miles the next day. Should I tell him now about the clip in shoe
confession? Maybe I should tell him that I still couldn’t shift the front gears
at all. That might have an impact on my ability to climb hills.
Off we go!
Nope. There were other things to do. Barry’s family had secretly
flown all the way up from Orlando to welcome him and surprise him and we were
keeping this a state secret. They had all checked in about 30 minutes before.
While Barry was upstairs getting settled in for the evening, his mom Emily, age
84, snuck down stairs and waited in the lobby armchair, just as cool as a
cucumber, but giggling with anticipation. When Barry reappeared, he walked
right by her, sat in an adjacent armchair and began speaking to me about the
day’s road trip. The surprise was getting anticlimactic when the son didn’t
recognize his own mother (who in all fairness was turned away from him watching
the Olympics on TV). I eventually had to suggest that the nice lady in front of
him might come to dinner… and then, what a sweet reunion! Barry had hoped his
family would join him and so they did: brother, sister, nieces and cousins.
Dinner that night was a celebration and ceremony of the achievements
of a diverse group. Barry was riding not only to highlight the plight of the
poor with hemophilia in developing countries and to raise funds, but also had
been devoting each day in memory of someone who had died of hemophilia/HIV.
This included his own brother and brother-in-law, whose photos he would wear on
his back the next day, the final day. I would spent a lot of time on Monday
staring at that back, staring at those wonderful men who passed away so young.
As we left the dining room, Emily, bringing up the rear, leaning on her cane for
support, joked, “I’m the cow’s tail,” which made me turn and smile at her—this was a phrase I had not heard since my grandmother passed away in 1996. It was one of her
favorite phrases. That phrase would dog me the next day.
I love cycling because the
clothes look cool. Really
Adrenaline was surging Monday morning! I hopped out of bed at 6 am,
donned the very stylish cycling clothes (one thing about cycling is that you
get to wear über cool clothes. You just feel athletic in them). Tara slept
away, knowing that she could take her time, and catch up with us later in the
morning. She would be my own personal support person, with water and snacks,
since I was not technically part of the cycling group, of course. Boundaries
would blur later in the day when she got lost and emergencies happened.
By 6:30 am we had gulped down many carbs at breakfast (oh my,
could these guys eat) and straddled our bikes, ready to go. “Barry,” I timidly
said, first confession about to seep out. “Could you check the air in my tires?
The Orbea hasn’t been in the bike shop in… about four years.”
Oh yeah. It was at 20 pounds of pressure when it should have been
120 pounds.
Off we went! The day was cool, with thunderstorms predicted but
which never emerged, thankfully. I was thrilled when we zipped away, over a
bridge, down the road. This was pretty easy.
Twenty minutes into the ride and I noticed I was really losing
ground as Barry pulled away from me. Try as I might, I couldn’t recover.
Wait—my bike was making an odd, rhythmic sound. Barry slowed down and I asked
him about the sound. The front gear? I reached behind and squeezed my tire,
which was completely flat. A flat tire. Me. The interloper. Barry remarked he
hadn’t had a flat tire in oh-about 2,000 miles, not since Wyoming. Me, 20
minutes into an historic ride.
We called the support van, which showed up immediately and changed
the tire. This put us about 15 minutes behind everyone. What a difference when
we began riding again! We zoomed along. Despite not being able to shift the
front gear, it was permanently stuck in low gear, so I couldn’t manage any hills
By about 9 am we had our first pit stop (SAG, as they call them). Everyone
gathered together, chowed down granola bars, peanuts, chips, fig newtons,
oranges, replenished water bottles and joked about. Jeff and Al decided to
switch bikes, not something recommended but after 3,600 miles, they must know
what they are doing.
Off we went again; the miles passed easily and Barry and I enjoyed
coasting by picturesque New England towns and back roads. Old Congregational
churches sporting white steeples, horses grazing in the fields, men fishing off
bridges, rolling green hills and rich green trees. Barry couldn’t stop remarking about
the lushness of New England compared to Texas, where he now lives. New Hampshire
is a pretty state and typically New Englandish; it’s a state I turn to for
adventure and fun. It’s here I go rock climbing and skydiving—and now cycling.

I confessed to him when I was feeling more cocky about my ability to master the clip in shoes just on Friday. Barry diplomatically didn’t comment. 

The next pit stop seemed to come up quick: a bakery in downtown
Exeter. Again? Really, guys? Bagels, donuts, coffee… I could have kept going
but it seems the team was eating its way across New Hampshire! Off we went again
and this time no more stops…. So we thought.
The ride was going unbelievably well. Barry, having a rear view
mirror attached to his helmet, knew the best times to pull alongside me and
chat. Cycling is so much better when someone is along to chat with or pace you.
I learned more about this remarkable man, the brother he lost, how he got
involved only since 2009 in the hemophilia community, how it took his brother’s
death to push him to become a participant, then activist, and now, first person
ever with hemophilia to cross the US by bicycle. With over 1,400 friends on
Facebook, almost all related to hemophilia, Barry has become an icon in our
Team America by Bicycle!
Barry announced my milestones: “Twenty-four miles, twice as long
as your longest ride!” “Thirty-five miles…” and then “Just two miles to the
high school…” where we could congregate, do a group photo and then be escorted
by New Hampshire’s Finest to the Atlantic Ocean at Wallis-Sands Beach for the
wheel dipping ceremony.
And then disaster struck: Barry’s bike made a terrible noise and
he pulled over to the shoulder, on a residential street with magnificent homes.
Only two miles from the “finish.” His chain had snapped. With characteristic Zen
calm, he said, “That’s it. I’m done.” And then added ruefully, even smiling, “Figures.
I’m always the underdog.”
I happen to like rooting for underdogs. He called the support
vehicle, but wasn’t sure just where on the route we were. I thought it was
North Street; Barry thought it was West street. The driver got the wrong street
number and waited for us down the road somewhere. Precious minutes were ticking
by. At 11:45 am, with or without Barry, the team would cycle to the beach and
dip their wheels. Barry just had to be there!
“Take my bike,” I begged. “It’s important that you finish!” But Barry patiently explained 1) it’s a
girl’s bike (but it’s only 2 miles!) 2) the seat is too low (well, bend your
knees!) 3) I can’t bend my knees due to arthritis (Oh. I felt stupid; all this
time I never noticed that Barry couldn’t bend his right knee beyond 45 degrees.
And he did this all across America on that knee?) 4) The seat is too low. (But…but….)
The support vehicle finally showed, and Mike, the driver, was none
too pleased. Tension was mounting. He thought they couldn’t fix the chain in
time. Take my bike, please. Mike then took my bike, muttering “Where’s your
personal support vehicle?” and jacked up the seat, as high as it would go,
“without it snapping in two,” he warned. Barry sat on it; his feet couldn’t
even clip in to the pedals. But off he went. It was amazing how fast he zipped
off; before we even got into the van—with Mike frowning at an
unregistered rider in the support van (Tara, where are you?)—Barry was
just gone.
Congratulatory hugs at Wallis-Sands beach!
We drove in to the high school, begged everyone to stop the photo
shoot to wait for Barry and what seemed like agonizing minutes was really only
about 5. Barry wheeled in, looking like a teenager riding a little kids’ bike.
He got cheers and whoops from his own teammates, and a few jokes. Amazing
victory; seriously, the Olympics held no greater charm for me than this sweet
After the shoot, the police positioned their cars and everyone
slowly cycled to the beach, an armada of wheels, helmets and great big smiles.
Al, the joker (every team has one) kept declaring, “I want to be last!”
But Al, someone shouted, Laurie is! “Aw, she doesn’t count!” he
quipped. And I agreed; me, the cow’s tail, didn’t count. I only did 50 miles,
and these cyclists did over 3,677! 50 days to my one day!
A huge crowd was waiting at the beach, as they knew to expect the
riders. People of all ages, applauding at their achievement! Present too were
Save One Life staff Martha Hopewell and Tricia Sico, and Janie Davis of Baxter Healthcare (Baxter sponsored the ride) and even a few local families who so
kindly came to give their support.
We dipped our wheels in the chilly Atlantic, amazed at how this
day turned out. It seemed no obstacle, no matter how close to the finish, could
stop the incredible Barry Haarde. His mom, standing by his side in the
brilliant sunshine, beamed. So proud of her son, as she should be. So was I; so
were we all.
Congratulations to Barry Haarde and to all the cyclists that day; I
do believe you don’t know who you are until you know what you can do, and
pushing yourself to near-extremes is one way that adrenaline junkies like Barry
and me find out. I didn’t know I could do 50 miles on a bike I was afraid
of.  Barry didn’t know he could do
over 3,677 having hemophilia, HIV, a half-useful knee. I think when you attempt
feats with a purpose, a cause greater than yourself, a cause that helps others
less fortunate, you find strength within, and resources within, you never knew
could be possible.
And just to prove it, Barry pushed me some more. You’d think he’d want to rest after traversing the US? No way: 12 more miles the next day in Massachusetts; up to 6 am Wednesday to drive to Maine and do another 12 miles all along the gorgeous coast of York. I couldn’t think of a better way to share his victory. And I can’t wait to do the next ride with him.

Special thanks to Baxter Healthcare for sponsoring Barry’s ride! Thanks to all who donated! (If you’d like to support Barry, there’s still time!

Book I Just Read
The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional
Values and Spiritual Growth
by M. Scott Peck
An appropriate title to read after this road trip, but not nearly
as exciting. Written in 1978, the book explores the meaning of love through the
eyes of a psychoanalyst. Love, as he defines it, is a journey that helps
another grow spiritually. Peck delves into meanings of love and discipline,
expressions of love, and shares vignettes of how people overcame emotional
difficulties. He describes the difference between love and being “in love”—which
was well written. I read this in the 1980s and thought it was brilliant; rereading
it again, I now see it as dated, fairly academic and dry, and limited. Who can
really say what love is, when there are so many types of love? The first half of
the book is more about love and mental health and taking personal responsibility for navigating life—good stuff; the second part gets into spirituality, God,
science and Christian values. Some of his take on religion vs. science is a bit
head-scratching. I found the first half of the book more readable and useful
than the second half, which was muddled and lost focus. Two out of five stars.

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