Happy Easter Everyone! It's a great day for new beginnings...I think today is the first day I woke up and it really hit me that life would be different now. No more adventures every day, no more meeting amazing people from all over the country or seeing new things every day- no more wondering where we will sleep at night or what town we will end up in. We are just going to be like everyone else again- waking up, going to work, coming home, and then doing it all over again every day. There will be a lot to do every day, especially with getting our apartment back in running order, so hopefully we won't get too bored too quickly- and of course there are other trips to plan for, even if they are just short ones. But either way, I decided to do one last blog since today is the day we will see our apartment in Buffalo for the first time since we left. So here's how our first transition day went...After having the rest of Grammy's peanut butter pie for breakfast (an awesome way to start the day!!!), we got ready for church. Since we haven't been back to Buffalo yet, I don't have any dress clothes, or even a pair of jeans to wear to Easter Service. So, we started looking through Grandma Stiller's clothes, and sure enough I was able to find a pair of dress pants to fit me. Problem solved! I can't wait to wear all of my nice clothes again! The original plan for today was to ride our bicycles all loaded back to our starting point for the trip. Although I wanted to go to church with the family, we weren't going to have time to do both (especially since we will be heading to Lyons with Joey's Mom later this afternoon to get our car back on the road and Joe's bank accounts all sorted out). Our plans changed today when the weather was chilly and it was raining. Both of us already feel like the trip is over- Joey more than me. With that being said, Joey said it didn't matter if we did one last day of riding, although I really wanted to finish exactly where we started. In the end, it worked out ok. Both this tour and the last one ended at Grandma and Grandpa Stiller's, even if that wasn't the starting point. Joey stayed at the house with Aunt Jo and Eileen while Grandma and Grandpa Stiller, Mommy Olgin and I went to Mass. It was a very nice Easter Mass. Afterwards, the four of us went to the Four Corners Restaurant in Eden for a Sunday Brunch. It is so nice to get to spend this time with the family before we go back to having busy working lives. When we got back to the house, we cleaned up the last remnants of our party yesterday and got the car all packed. It worked out really well that Grandpa Stiller still had his bike rack. Joey took off our our panniers for the last time and got them all loaded into the car and our bikes on the rack. I guess we were glad to not be riding in the rain, although it wasn't raining that hard. Off we went to Buffalo. It was a really quick drive, or at least it seemed quick since we hadn't spent a lot of time in a car in a while. As we were driving down Main St. everything was exactly as I remembered- like we had never left at all. It was just like a time warp for us- everything just kept moving but yet hadn't changed one bit. Our first stop was the family apartment where Joe's brother Andy lived when he was studying at UB and where Joe's sister Christina and her boyfriend are living while they are at UB, too. That is where the majority of our belongings are being stored. Everything from our clothes to our kitchen utensils. The apartment too looked just as it did the day we left. We took a trip to the attic to look around. The first thing I saw was a pair of boots, I was so excited- I had completely forgot that I had these- It's going t be like Christmas when we unpack everything! I found an outfit to wear so that I can get out of our trip clothes and we were on our way to Linden Ave., where our apartment was. Driving down Hertel Ave. was the only thing that was different. There were a few new stores and some that were no longer there. Our bank was also now officially a First Niagara bank instead of an HSBC bank. 540 Linden looked exactly the same. This too was exciting for us because now we would be living downstairs instead of upstairs. It had been a while since I had been in the downstairs unit even before we left. The good news is that the living room and bedrooms are bigger than I remember, and now we have a kitchen with more counter space and cupboards! It was interesting to do a walk through and see all the work we have ahead of us from the lady that was there the year we were gone. Lots of painting to do, we have to refinish the wood floor in the dining room and living room, and of course lots and lots of little projects from getting blinds to fixing door handles. We have our work cut out for us- we definitely won't be bored for a while! After we got our bikes and all our panniers inside, I felt like we were finally home. Just that little bit of moving in our only belongings from the past year made it feel like we had begun the moving process. It is going to be an exciting week. From there, we headed off to the Olgin family house in Lyons. Such a long car drive, although it went by very fast surprisingly! When we got back to the house, the first thing on our agenda was dinner. We had some salad, bread, and baked ziti left over from the party yesterday. It was a little crazy to go down in the basement and see all of our furniture again. Apparently Joey's sister had decided it would be nice to use our chair, couch and coffee table down there while we were gone. We have a lot of work to do to get re-situated in our apartment. Its so nice to be home, but it's not the same being here at the Olgin Farm without our precious doggie Nala. Oh how we miss her! We took a little time to check our car to see how it was. The battery needed a little juice, but it started right up and everything appeared to be fine- I guess we will see when we take it for inspection tomorrow. Well, with all that being said, we start the next stage in our life. It is amazing how the cycle of life goes. Once we were finally really comfortable with the lifestyle of touring, it was over before we knew it. Now we are on to the next stage and will be facing a whole new set of challenges. The entire trip as a whole was nothing but incredible. The good days and magical memories far outweighed any mechanical problems, bad weather or feelings of defeat. It still brings tears to my eyes thinking about how blessed we were throughout the entire year. We are so thankful for all of the support that our families, friends, and people we met along the way gave us. So many people were praying for us and for safe travels; we are so thankful that we were brought home safely. A huge thank you to everyone who made a contribution to our trip!!!! It is so great that we have so many connections all over the country now! I will occasionally post an update on the blog for anyone around the country who is wondering how things are going. But until then- always make it a priority to make your dreams into reality- accomplishing such goals will give your life a new sense of fulfillment. There is nothing more important that enjoying life. After all, you only live once-- so make the most of it!!
A good way to start off the day--- cinnamon rolls in the oven! So many yummy things to look forward to now that we will have a kitchen to use from here on out. What a crazy day getting ready for the party tomorrow. It worked out really well that we got here a little early so that the family had a little extra help with Grandma and Grandpa Stiller's spring cleaning and setting up. Not only that-- but today is Grandma Stiller's birthday, so we got to spend that with her too! While we were all working on cleaning the house, power washing the garage floor, and getting tables set up, some more of the family arrived! Aunt Johanna and Eileen (and their dog Pico and cat Luna)!!!!! More hugs and happy smiles. After a long day of cleaning, all of us went out to a wonderful fish fry dinner thanks to Grandpa. When we got there, some close family friends (practically family) were there too- it was perfect!! So, we had a nice big table of family to celebrate Grandma's birthday! The fish was delicious and the company was even better. A great day to be back, and wonderful memories! Tomorrow is the big day- we get to see so many people!!! Absolutely cannot wait!!!
It was so nice that we were inside last night. One of the best parts about that is that when we wake up indoors someplace, we have a warm place to eat our breakfast and don't have to worry about finding a place to eat where it's warm. After having our bowls of cereal, we got everything all packed up for one of the last times. It's hard to believe that this will all be over soon. Father Dan stopped by this morning when he got to the office to see how we were. He made a comment of "you are going to ride in this kind of weather?" Of course we were! We are so close to home now and we've been in a lot worse weather than this. It was a little chilly of course, the wind was still blowing (in our direction thankfully), and there was a little bit of misty rain/snow, but nothing was sticking. It was definitely a rideable day! From where we left, we had about 70-80 miles to go to get to Joe's Grandparent's house in Eden. The original plan was to get there tomorrow since we are a day ahead of schedule for the party on Saturday, but at one point during this morning's ride Joey brought up the idea that we should just try to get there tonight because Joe's Mom and sister were going to be there later on in the evening. I wasn't really ready for this- especially since I had been mentally preparing myself for that moment of pulling into their driveway and having it be over. Of course, I know how Joey is, so I should have known that he was going to want to get home even earlier. As we rode along route 5, there were some pretty views of Lake Erie- quite different than the views we saw when we rode in on our last trip during summertime. Like most of the roads that we had ridden down on past trips, there were parts that were exactly as we remembered them while other parts that we didn't really remember at all. We rode by all of the vineyards and up and down a few rolling hills (for some reason we remembered it being almost completely flat-oops). After about 15 miles, we made it to the oh so important last border. Once we crossed that border, we would be in New York, and all of our travels would be behind us. Those last few moments in Pennsylvania will be the last time for a very long time that we will be in a state other than New York. It was a big deal. As we pulled up to the border, we had to take a picture with the PA sign (since we missed it on the way into the state) before crossing over. When the time came, we crossed over and took our last state picture- one of our triumphant return to our home state. My feelings were very mixed. It was almost like we were just taking "another state picture," but at the same time I realized that we REALLY were actually almost done and back to where we started. Surprisingly, I didn't have any tears like I normally do. I think I was just taking it all in. I thought back to different parts of the past 13 months, from the day that we left, to my favorite places, some of the people that we had met, right down to the best and worst times too. It's so overwhelming now that I look back on the whole thing. I find that during the trip, we just got caught up in the segment of the trip we were on and didn't think of it as a whole as much, just for that reason alone because it was overwhelming thinking of it as a whole. Although touring is what I love, it is still a little amazing to me that I have done such a tour, especially when I think of myself when I was in high school not knowing what my life would hold for me. This is definitely not what I had ever imagined. It's better!!!! Just like it always does when you get close to home, the miles seemed to drag by today. There was a lot going through my head, so I was surprised that the miles didn't fly by. Our plan was to eat lunch in Dunkirk, but by 20 miles into the ride, I was feeling really hungry. Joey picked on me a little because it was so soon into the ride, but then 5 miles later, he was saying the same thing. It was pretty funny. Knowing that we weren't going to be very happy campers waiting all the way til we got to Dunkirk to eat, we decided we would eat earlier. We rolled into the little town of Barcelona. There was the lighthouse- just as I remembered and the little convenience store. Joey asked if I wanted to just eat here. Definitely! At first I didn't realized there was a little restaurant/cafe around the side of the building, it was perfect. There special was Pizza Burgers and fries!!! I had a pizza burger towards the beginning of the trip in Illinois and it was amazing. So, we both ordered one of them. I also got a hot chocolate that just hit the spot. A very yummy lunch for what would end up being our last lunch on the road. I called home to my grandpa to tell him that we were in NY. I called home on quite a few of the borders, but this would be the last call for that. There are so many "lasts" today. When we headed out for the afternoon ride, we had about 17 miles to go to get to Dunkirk/ Fredonia. We passed by Lake Erie State Park where we camped the last night of our 2010 tour before reaching Dunkirk. We stopped for a quick break there, but just as we were about to leave, realized Joey had a flat tire on his front wheel. Of course we couldn't just make it home before having any more flats! When he fixed it, he found another one of those little pesky pieces of wire from the truck tires. Those always give us slow leaks, which is why it probably took so long for us to realize he had a flat. About 5 miles further down the road, I got a flat, but this was no slow leaker. Joey was waiting for me at the top of a little hill and I was just hoping that it would make it until I got there. Somehow it did. Just 1000 feet down the road was a parking area. Since it made it that far, we decided to get to the parking area so we could be off the road to change it. The culprit this time was salt. It didn't help that the back tire that is on there had 10,000 + miles on it and is very worn, but then again, NY is salt happy in the winter time and the shoulders are covered, so it was bound to happen at some point. I feel bad because poor Joey has to fix them and freeze his fingers while I get to keep my hands in my warm gloves. What would I do without him? Before we knew it, we were in Silver Creek and climbing the pretty steep hill we remember from last time. The amazing thing was that the entire ride up the hill, all that we could smell was cinnamon rolls!!!! We couldn't figure out where the smell was coming from and never did. But after that, all we wanted was cinnamon rolls! A few miles later we were crossing the bridge into Erie County!!! We figured our way to go the back way to Joe's Grandparents and knew we were less that 10 miles away. I guess we were getting there tonight!! We crossed back over the I-90 and Joe noticed that his back tire was getting soft. Not sure if it needed changing, he just put air in it hoping it would make it all the way to our last destination. The last few miles went by really quickly. When I saw the welcome to Eden sign it was almost surreal. Hard to explain those emotions really. To make the moment even more "special," that tire that lost some air, was officially flat. So it was official- 3 flat tires on the last real day of riding, of course! We ended up stopping in the church parking lot (the same church that Joe's parents were married at!) to get off the road so he could fix the tire. As strange as it is, I got thinking about how crazy it was that we were there in THAT church's parking lot, fixing a flat tire at the end of an unimaginable journey. Once the last flat tire was fixed, we got back on the bikes and rode up the hill to Grandma and Grandpa Stiller's. Poor Joey all of a sudden started to feel completely exhausted and struggled a bit up the hill-- which is completely unlike him. I wonder if it had anything to do with the idea that the trip was only a few pedal strokes away from being over. It was pretty overwhelming. We made it to the top of the hill and turned onto Kulp Road. Shortly after making the turn, we had to take a quick break because Joey was feeling dizzy. It's so sad that he was feeling so exhausted!. From there we only had a mile or two left- then we rounded the corner and saw Grandma and Grandpa Stiller's house. That brought new meaning to the idea that the end of the trip was in sight. We pulled in that driveway, I unclipped for the last time, and the tears began to flow. I just couldn't help it. It was so overwhelming thinking about all the places we had been, and how we always talked about- "when we get home," and now it was the reality. Although I was excited for things after the trip, I was also very upset that the trip was over. We had the most incredible year- it's hard for others to understand just how wonderful and gratifying it really was (except for the "not working part"-- everyone gets that part!). Touring is what we love- for a never ending list of reasons; it is going to be such a long time before we are going to get to do anything like this again- but someday! The moment of sadness was turned around by laughter. While I held Joe's bike, he went and knocked on the door. From inside, we heard Grandma yell to Grandpa-- "Frank.... get the phone!!" Joe and I couldn't stop laughing- they are just the cutest old couple ever!! I couldn't wait to hug them! Shortly after, we heard Lillian barking. She pointed them in the right direction and they came to the door. They were so excited to see us and likewise. We got our long awaited hugs and then rolled our bikes inside. Joey went in right away, but I was too overwhelmed and "needed to cry some more" to get it out of me. Pulling in that driveway was something I thought about for quite a long time. I wondered how I would feel- but had an inkling that it would be similar to this- completely overwhelmed. Once I was "better" I headed inside and were greeted by Lilian and Seneca waiting at the top of the stairs in the kitchen. I was so happy to see them, but then got sad again since our beautiful Nala was not their waiting for us like she should have been. I don't know if we will ever get over the fact that she passed away at such a young age- while we were gone!! Grandma and Grandpa asked all about our trip and we enjoyed some goulash for dinner. We had a chance to share the video we made while we were in Wheeling, WV with them- they were definitely surprised at some of the pictures of places we had been and things we had seen. It was a very enjoyable evening of sharing stories and just being in their company. Around 8:30, Joe's Mom, Sister Lizzy and her boyfriend Tristan arrived at Grandma and Grandpa's. It was so nice to finally meet Tristan, as they have been together since April. Seeing Mom and Elizabeth was so nice too, although not quite as emotional as seeing Grandma and Grandpa Stiller since we had seen the family in Florida about a month ago. I cannot wait until Saturday to see everyone else!!! Even though we were supposed to roll in for the party on Saturday, it worked out just fine that we got here when we did. So, over the next couple of days, we will close this chapter in our lives and set out to write the next. A new kind of adventure will begin- that of being back in the work force, keeping up with our home, and spending time with family and friends.
It took us awhile to get out of our sleeping bags again this morning. It's kind of funny that it still takes us so long to get out of them when it's cold out. Guess it's not something that you can just "get used to." I got out and got our cereal and milk off our bikes and quickly got back into our tent. We were having breakfast in our sleeping bags this morning! After we ate, since we were cold again, we both snuggled up inside our sleeping bags again and laid there until we felt warm. Eventually, we got everything all packed away. As I was packing, I was thinking that there aren't too many times left that we will have to pack our bikes. It has become such a routine; what will we do when we don't have to pack, unpack, repack, etc. all the time!?!? By the time we got on the road it was already almost 10 am. It's a good thing that we don't have a ton of miles to do! In fact, we should have less than 40 to go to get into the city of Erie! I know that once we get there, we will really feel like we are almost home! And that is exactly how it was! After riding into the cold wind (and of course more snowflakes), we climbed up and down a bunch more hills- but as like yesterday, they kept getting smaller and more gradual each time. Eventually, we made it to the top of a hill near a little river or creek. I was feeling really hungry, so we stopped for a quick snack. As we were standing there- Joey said "Listen, do you hear that?" It was the sound of the interstate in the distance-- we were almost to the 90!!! We knew we were getting close now! Sure enough, a mile or so down the road, and there it was- Interstate 90! The last time we crossed this was probably somewhere in Washington state. We've probably crossed almost every major interstate in the country by now. Two more miles after that, we made it to route 20. We took a break in the Burger King on the corner to warm up since by that time we were both frozen. We sat there for quite a while and eventually got the nerve up to go back out in the cold. The good news was that we only had about 10 miles to go to get to Erie and the wind was now with us!!! That helped a lot because with the wind at our back, we were able to move right along and didn't feel nearly as cold as when it is blowing right in our face. Thank goodness for that. Since we knew we would have a little bit of a shorter ride today, we planned on going to the library for a while and decided that once we saw a McDonald's where we could use the internet to figure out where one was that we would do that. So, sure enough, we did exactly that once we found a McDonald's. We found out that the library was just around the corner from the Smuggler's Wharf restaurant that we have been planning to go to since before we left on the trip (we also went to this restaurant towards the end of our NY-FL and back tour in 2010.) It was perfect. Again, it took us a while to get back outside, but after we did we had less than 6 miles left to go before we would be back inside where it was warm. As we were going through town, we saw a couple funny signs. One saying "Aggressive Drivers, High Crash Area," which was so comforting. The day we left Pittsburgh we saw a similar sign- " Beware of Aggressive Drivers." We couldn't believe it when we saw that one that day, but to see another one about aggressive drivers today made it even funnier. We've never seen a signs like that before! The other sign that we saw today read "Buckle up next million miles," which I particularly liked. Once we found State St. everything looked familiar. The ride through downtown was one that I remember doing- although it was really hot last time we rode through there. We found the library without any problem at all. After parking our bikes, Joey said that since he was just going to use the tablet that he would sit in the lobby area at the table so that he could see the bikes so we didn't have to worry about them. So, I headed in to find a computer. The funny thing is that these libraries are all different- and their guest policy is too. This is probably only the second library that I've been to in the whole country where you had to pay to use the computers- it's only a buck for 90 minutes, so it's not bad, but I was still surprised. I got all set up on the computer, started uploading pictures and signed on to start updating the website. It was all taking a long time- this library happened to have slow computers where others have speedy ones- it's so hit and miss. I think I had been there about 15 minutes when something totally unexpected happened. A sweet little voice whispered in my ear and said "Will you hurry up, I'm getting really hungry." I turned around and saw my Mommy standing there next to me and my Grammy right next to her!!!!!!!! I couldn't believe it! What an amazing surprise! I of course started to cry right away because I hadn't seen them in so long- my mom since the day that we left last March, and my Grammy since we left Vancouver, BC back in September. All I wanted to do was hug them. Grammy told me that Joey had called her a week or so ago and asked if "She was going to surprise us in Erie." She had surprised us near Pittsburgh at the end of the last trip and so he was hoping she would again this trip. I of course had no clue this was going on. In fact looking back on it- there wasn't one thing that was suspicious at all. He is very good at keeping secrets and "acting cool." After a couple minutes, Joey came walking upstairs to where we and had a big smile on his face. It was then that he explained that yesterday at lunch when Grammy called his phone by "accident" that she was really calling because he had sent her a text saying we would be a day early-- and here I was thinking that Grammy was going crazy for "calling for no reason" after I had just talked to her about 20 minutes earlier. It was just so funny-- no wonder Joey started laughing so hard yesterday when I explained the conversation! Being super excited of course, I signed off as quickly as I could, which wasn't all that quick because the computer didn't want to go quick, and we headed downstairs. As we were walking, they told me that the plan was to just surprise us at the Smuggler's Wharf restaurant. Joey had called Grammy while he was downstairs in the lobby to see where they were. Joey told them that since the library was so close to the restaurant that they should just come over there. It was then that they realized they were already so close. They were in front of the Museum that was attached to the library- and didn't even know it. Sure enough when they looked over, they saw the bikes and the rest is history. How funny! I guess it worked out perfectly. So, we jumped on our bikes and headed around the corner to the restaurant. Mommy, Grammy, Chis and Riley dog passed by on the way there-- had they surprised us at the restaurant like planned, they would have got me good too because they were driving my Mom's car- which she got sometime while we were gone so I would have never recognized it. It was so nice to see Riley dog, too! Apparently he knew that it was us or that something was going on, because Mom said that he never barks at cyclists- but he barked at us! It was so neat to go back to that restaurant now because it will help us bring the trip to a close- especially since the rest of the ride from here to Grandma and Grandpa Stiller's house will be the same as at the end of the 2010 trip. I am so glad that my Mom, Grammy, and Chis got to share this with us- it definitely made it all the more special!!! Dinner of course was amazing- Joey got his usual bacon cheeseburger, I got a strip steak, fries and a salad, Grammy and Mom got Prime Rib, and Chris got a chicken sandwhich. SO much yummy food! Joey also got a beer- Molson Canadian, like he used to drink whenever he was home before we left. He made a comment something like "wow, this really isn't that great of a beer." After touring the whole country and trying a whole bunch of beers, microbrews, and home brews along the way, he knows his beers! Crazy how that worked. We had a great time catching up and just being around family. The joke of the dinner was that at some point we mentioned how we were 4 miles away from Mars (the town) a couple days ago. My Mom said that whenever she tells people that we've biked all over to Alaska and everywhere, they think she's crazy, or at least we're crazy. The joke was that all she needed to say after explaining it was "Yeah, just the other day they were only 4 miles from Mars!" We couldn't stop laughing! I am so glad that I didn't have to wait all the way until Saturday to see them! Now I really feel like we are close to home! When the time came for all of us to get back on the road, we said our goodbyes and were on our way. Somehow (probably because of the tailwind) we made it pretty far down the road and had turned onto the road we knew we needed to follow (we remember getting a little lost last time we were here!). Somehow, I think they missed that turn and passed us a little bit after that. We caught back up to them at a stop light for one last adios. That sure did make my day! I love when my family surprises me! Shortly after we parted ways again, it started snowing again pretty hard. The big white fluffy lake effect snow flakes were back! We moved along pretty good and since we were excited it went by really quickly. After about 5 miles, we started looking for overhangs that we might be able to camp under. We saw a sign for a church just down the road, so we headed that way. There were a whole bunch of cars in the parking lot, but when we peaked our head in the door it looked like they were rehearsing for an Easter play. So, we decided to keep going. Around the corner, we found another church. We didn't see any overhang, but couldn't see around the back of the church, so we decided to stop and ask (since there were a few cars in the parking lot) if they had anything that would work. The Priest saw us pull up on our bikes through his office window and gave us a friendly wave. We went inside the office to talk to him and ask if there were any overhangs or places to pop our tent for the night. He thought for a minute and then told us to go around the back to where the little courtyard was and that he would meet us back here. When we got around to the back, he was there holding one of the doors open. He said to bring our bikes right in. We were in the nursery. It was then that he said that we were welcome to sleep in there if that would be better than sleeping outside!!! There were even two recliners- we were definitely going to be more comfortable in here!! Father Dan said he might see us in the morning and bid us a good night. I can't believe we were inside. Today couldn't have gotten any better!!! So, for the rest of the evening, I typed blogs, Joey talked on the phone and we relaxed in the recliners (eating some purple bunny Peeps that Grammy gave us!). By the time we were done riding today, we managed to have 46.98 miles and ended just outside of the main part of Erie in an area called Lawrence Park. We still say to each other a few times a day that "I can't believe we are going to be home in a couple days and right back to where we were before we left on the trip." It turns out that we are going to get to Grandma and Grandpa Stiller's earlier than we thought- on Thursday afternoon instead of Saturday afternoon, but that will be alright because all of Joey's family will already be there, so we will get to spend the rest of the day with them before everyone else comes for the get together on Saturday. It is going to be a very fun weekend!!
Since we stayed up watching movies last night, we both slept in til about 8:30 this morning. We headed downstairs to go to the continental breakfast and were very presently surprised- not only did they have waffles, but they had strawberries and whipped cream to go on top! We used to have that all the time when we were in college as it was one of our favorite things. Needless to say, we both had some waffles with strawberries and whipped cream, along with a whole bunch of other things from hot cocoa to fruit and a bagel. As they were going to be closing breakfast soon, I took a couple yogurts to go, my carton of chocolate milk and a couple bananas, and my cold cereal with me so that I could eat it later. We got packed up and when 10 am rolled around, departed from our cozy room to meet Lisa down in the lobby. Although it was snowing when we first woke up, we were happy to see that it had stopped by the time we left the hotel. She took us back to the church where we got our bikes all packed. There, we also had a chance to meet Pastor Joel. It was a very relaxing morning and the roads looked nice and clear today- not anything like they looked like yesterday. After saying our goodbyes and thanks agains to Lisa and the Pastor, we headed out down the road. Both Joey and I were still so surprised at what an amazing day we had yesterday and of all the nice people we met here. The hills weren't as bad today. Although my knees were hurting a bit the night that we got to Butler, they are feeling better today. It seemed like the further we went the smaller the hills got. After a while we made it into the town of Slippery Rock and then eventually crossed interstate 79 again. By that time it really flattened out quite a bit, at least until we got closer to the town of Mercer. The funny thing is that we rode through Mercer on our last tour, entering from a different direction than today. We went to this place called "Pizza Joe's" and had their buffet, which only happens one day a week- on Tuesday. Guess what today was... Tuesday! With that being said, we were going to have pizza for lunch. By the time we got there, we were both super hungry. The place was just as I remembered it. Since it was already after 2 when we got there, no one else was there eating, so they made us our own pizza with whatever we wanted on it- for us it's always pepperoni and mushrooms. They also made some cinnamon pizza for dessert. Everything was delicious. We had fun talking to the girls that worked there because when they asked where we had ridden to, we told them and also explained how we came here on our last trip too. They thought that was pretty neat. While we were there, I was able to call home and talk to everyone. A little while later, Joey's phone rang and it was my Grandma. I asked why she just didn't call my phone, but she said mine is usually dead- which is true, and it was a force of habit. When I asked what she needed, she said "nothing." There was a long pause and then she said "Well, I was trying to get a hold of your Mom and I couldn't." I told her that I would text her question to her so she could get it when she wasn't busy. When she hung up, Joey asked what she said. I explained how the conversation went and he started laughing pretty hard. It was pretty funny. For some reason we thought Grammy was just being crazy or something for "calling for nothing" at first. It was funny to say the least. After we were stuffed to the brim we headed out again. It is nice knowing that we won't have to worry about dinner tonight since we had buffet for lunch, and a late lunch at that. There were bits and pieces of the ride that I remembered. We passed by route 62, which will eventually go straight into Buffalo and passed through a little town that looked familiar. After going through the town, we passed a fireman's park that was all empty. I remember last tour that we went by there and they were having their field days that day. There were rides and venders, people all over, and cars lining the road for about a mile in each direction. Not this time, it was very quiet. The first 8 miles or so of this afternoon's ride were really windy, a headwind of course. It slowed us down quite a bit and made it feel like we were never going to get to the town of Meadville like we wanted to. But after that 8 miles, the wind seemed to die down a bit, but we rode into a cloud of white. More big white fluffy snow! It lasted for a mile or two and then disappeared. The ride was pretty hilly, which we didn't remember at all. For some reason we were thinking that it was flatter after Mercer, but that was not the case. Eventually, we rolled into the area at the top of the hill near Meadville. That area I did remember quite well. We saw a McDonald's and decided to head there for a quick break and to look up where there might be some churches in the nearby area. We were definitely going to need a carport or pavilion to camp under tonight! There was two ways that we could go to get to Erie- through Meadville itself on 19, or down 98, which would probably have a lot less traffic. We found out that there was a church less than 2 miles down 98, which was our preferred route. Using Google maps street view, we saw that it had a big carport and we knew we'd be able to get out of the snow there. So, that's where we headed. At that point it was almost dark, but still light enough that we didn't need our headlights yet. It was a very quick ride down to the church as most of it was downhill. It started to snow again as we were on the downhill; snowflakes were hitting us in the eyes. When we got to the church, it was a perfect little carport. Unfortunately there was no one there to ask, but with it almost being dark already, that is where we had to go. We got set up and in our sleeping bags right away. A cold day, but overall very good, like almost every day. Of course- a "bad day" on the tour is always better than a good day at work. There is nothing to complain about in that sense! Our miles totaled 60.67 today. Tomorrow we will be in Erie!
When I woke up this morning, Joey told me that I could just go back to sleep because we were going to be there a while. The snow that was expected last night and today had definitely come! There was nothing but grass when we went to bed, but when I looked outside, I saw a bunch of snow- 6-8 inches and still falling!!! We couldn't believe it! So, we just laid there for a while longer since we knew the roads would be a mess. In fact, it was very quiet on the road- I guess everyone was staying put and not going out unless they absolutely had to. After a while, we each headed inside to use the restroom since the secretary was there by 9 this morning. She told us that we were more than welcome to come sleep inside if we wanted, but when Joey told me that, I had finally got all warm again in my sleeping bag and didn't want to move. Eventually, we decided to go sit in the church for a while. We brought our sleeping bags in so that they could dry a little since they had gotten wet on the outside from the condensation on the walls of the tent. We had asked the secretary if she would think it would be a problem if we camped one more night under the pavilion because with this snow today, we were most likely not going to be going anywhere. Since she said it would be fine, we just left our tent all set up. Not too long after getting inside, Lisa (the lady that we talked to last night) was there and asked if we wanted to go out for brunch with her and Natalie, another girl that went to her church. We were both excited about that, obviously and were more than happy to get the chance to know them a bit more. Joey and I left our sleeping bags in the church to dry out, and headed out with them. Just around the corner was the mall and a whole bunch of restaurants. We went to the Eat n' Park. Since it was already brunch time, I wasn't sure if I wanted breakfast or lunch. When we first woke up this morning, we each had a little donut from the ones that Joey had gotten last night, but that wasn't enough to fill us up at all. But I think, I was just feeling like lunch. I ordered pasta alfredo with chicken and broccoli, while Joey of course, got his favorite- barbeque bacon burger. Joey and I each got hot cocoa too- which was nothing but amazing. It was so much fun talking with Lisa and Natalie and sharing stories. Brunch was delicious. As we were sitting there, we found out that we had a full day for our "snow day." Natalie's mom had already offered for us to come over to their house to do laundry if we wanted to do so, but we also found out that another church member had seen Lisa's post and wanted to meet us and take us out to dinner tonight too! And the best part-is that, yet another church member, called Lisa and said that she wanted to get us a room at the Fairfield Inn tonight!! This was definitely the "BEST SNOWDAY EVER!" We couldn't believe it! After our awesome brunch, Lisa got each of us a "Smiley cookie," that the Eat n' Park restaurants are known for. From there, we headed back to the church, got what we needed to wash and got our bikes put in the church. We headed over to Natalie's house, met her mother Janette and their little Scottie dog Gus. Right away, we got our laundry going. We had some time to relax and talk with the ladies. Joey and I, and Natalie too, watched the video we had put together of the pictures that we have so far. There are a few pictures out of order and a couple things to edit, but for the most part, it's pretty good, especially for the amount of time that we did it in. Later on, Natalie made us some yummy hot coca. It was nice to be relaxing indoors, especially since it was still snowing like crazy. A little while later, Janette drove us down the street to the hotel we had reservations at. At first, Chrissy (the lady organizing the hotel) was worried that we would have to go to the Fairfield Inn in the next town because the one here in Butler was booked, but something must have opened up because we ended up with a room there! It worked out perfectly! Right away when I walked in, I knew it was going to be an awesome hotel because there were cookies in the lobby! Love that! The room was awesome too- a nice big bathroom, and even a little "living room area" fit with a full stereo- and two tv's! We both took our showers and got settled in. At 6, Lisa, Tricia, and Erika (one of her daughters, who is also friends with Natalie) met us at the hotel. We were very excited to go out to dinner with Tricia and Erika. But before that, the 5 of us made a quick stop at the mall where Chrissy was with her kids seeing the Easter bunny. She really wanted to meet us and we of course wanted to do the same. It was so awesome that we got to meet her and thank her in person for the hotel room. It still amazes me that complete strangers have reached out to us and been so kind. You would think that after all the nice people that we've met, that it wouldn't amaze me any more, but somehow, any time that something like this happens, it is still such a surprise and such a wonderful thing. The 5 of us made a quick stop at the church so that Joey and I could grab our bathing suits for the hotel and then Tricia, Erika, and the two of us were off to find someplace for dinner. They asked what we were in the mood for and of course we are one of the least picky people ever, it didn't matter to us at all. Erika asked if we liked Chinese- of course!! So, that's where we went! It was the neatest little "old fashioned" style Chinese place where they serve everything on a big plate with a little plate to eat from. The best part is that it was nice and quiet in there, so it was very relaxing. We had a great time talking- Erika really enjoys photography and is of course on the yearbook staff (she is a senior in high school, just like Natalie), so she and I had a lot to talk about just because of that. The food was amazing. Although the food on the buffets is usually really good, there is just something about it coming out of the kitchen fresh on a plate just like that- it was amazing. For the first time probably ever, I didn't order my usual (chicken and broccoli). Instead, I ordered sweet and sour chicken, my new favorite. After we were done eating, the 4 of us sat there talking for quite a while, we were just having too much fun. The ladies dropped us back off at the hotel and we ended up just relaxing and watching a couple movies for the night. Although we had planned on going swimming, we were too full and by that time just felt like being lazy. It was a very enjoyable evening though, especially since we watched 2 movies that we had never seen before. Both of us were still surprised that we had a "snow day" from riding, but even the schools were closed today, so we knew it was bad enough (although not like the kind of snow they close school for in Wartburg, TN!!). Tomorrow the roads should be better and we will be on our way again. An awesome day--Thanks everyone at Trinity Lutheran Church!!
It was a nice morning waking up in the warmth. Since we aren't in too much of a rush, having more than enough time to get home the day we want to, we slept in a little. By the time we were up and moving, and got everything all packed, it was after 9. Unfortunately we didn't have a chance to see Dan and Patricia again this morning, since they enjoyed their Sunday morning to sleep in too. We were on the road by about 9:30 and followed the same route out as we did coming up to their house. Although it was nice to start the day off with quite a bit of downhill, the only bad part was that we didn't have any time to warm up our bodies by riding a bit- so it was a pretty chilly ride down. After getting back to the river, we followed the river trail all the way to downtown. We decided to ride around there a little bit just to "see what there was to see," which of course wasn't too much. We had planned on finding a grocery store or a little cafe for breakfast. Mile after mile, our tummies grew hungrier. We didn't find any cafes, well I should say we found one- but it was 10-15 bucks a plate, just for breakfast! Needless to say, we didn't go there! Eventually, after about 9 miles (of mostly flat ground along the river, thank goodness!), we found a grocery store. We climbed up the hill and got some cereal and milk, even though by that time it was almost 11am. Next mission was to find someplace inside that we could eat it. We rode for a few more miles, crossed a bridge over the river and continued heading north. A couple miles later, we came into the valley town of Etna, still looking for a place to eat our cereal and milk indoors. We weren't having any luck, but we did see an "Eat n' Park" restaurant and decided to just go there. Our milk was not going to go bad since it was so cold out and we figured we could just have it for dinner later. This place reminded me of a Denny's stye restaurant, but it was actually better. When we were being seated, we saw a buffet bar-- when we asked about it, we found out that it was a Sunday Brunch buffet. We had definitely come to the right place!! Everything from fruit and bacon, pancakes and home fries, to chicken, mashed potatoes and salad! It was perfect. Joey and I each got a nice big cup of hot cocoa loaded with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate. Everything hit the spot! Both of us are so glad that we decided to go there, especially since we were nice and warm while we were eating. After filling our bellies, we continued on through the valley, gradually climbing for quite a few miles before the grade started to increase. There were a few steep spots, but nothing as bad as yesterday. Just a lot of uphill climbing. I felt like that's all that we did today, slowly climbed up and up. It was in the upper 30s, low 40s for most of the day, which is always the worst for days with a lot of climbing because we have so much warm gear on to stay warm that we sweat a lot on the way up and freeze like crazy on the way down. Having the face masks on is a must, but that also makes it harder to breath on the way up, not to mention they get soaked after breathing through them for a while. The miles just dragged by today. After all the climbing we've done since we left Wheeling, we are just feeling worn out, mostly because we had so much time off and only did a few miles each day-- but it didn't make much sense to go for a ride and freeze our butts off if we weren't going anywhere. The town we kept looking at getting to initially was Butler, after what seemed like forever we saw a sign that said Butler 16 miles. Since brunch, we had only gone 10 miles!!! Ugghhh... it was going to be a very long day. What seemed like hours and hours later, we made it to Butler. It started to get colder out by the time we got there around 4:15. As we continued following on Hwy 8, we went through the little downtown section of the city and then we saw where our road went-- up another HUGE hill. Already exhausted from the constant long hills that we've been going through, neither of us were very excited. Joey really wanted to make it to the next town, which was about 16 miles further down the road. Once we started climbing the hill, we could feel every last ounce of energy being drained out of us. It's been quite a while since either of us have felt this exhausted. I even beat Joey up to the top of the hill, not by much but I still did- which never happens. After that hill, we were both just drained. I just couldn't believe it. At that point, we weren't sure if we would actually make it to the next town or not. Either way, we were both ready to be done for the day, even if we didn't have as many miles as we would have liked. I have a feeling the cold weather takes it out of us a little faster, which doesn't help. So, with that being said, we kept our eyes out for a church with an overhang and cars in the parking lot. We passed by a couple, but no luck. Then, just as we were about to head out of town, we found a church with a huge pavilion full of picnic tables. We road around towards it, and sure enough there was a car there! We parked and rang the doorbell. The door was unlocked, so we went inside where it was warm. We did a quick look around, but didn't find anyone. After our "hello's" weren't answered, we figured the person who owned the car would be coming back shortly, so we just sat on the floor inside the door and waited. Since we were hungry enough for dinner by that time, we had some of our cereal and milk in the nice warm church. We waited and waited with no luck of seeing anyone. There was however a calendar of events in the hall by the door that said there was a meeting here tonight at 7, so we figured SOMEONE had to be coming here within the next hour or so. While we waited, I just sat and typed blogs Both of us were ready to just fall asleep on the spot, I don't understand how we are just THIS tired! About 20 to 7, sure enough, a car pulled in the driveway. A lady was here for a meeting. When we introduced ourselves and asked if we could set up the tent under the pavilion for the night, she said it shouldn't be a problem but that she would call the pastor just in case. The weird thing was that she had no clue whose car was parked there by the door or why the door had been unlocked- she said maybe it was just meant to be that it was unlocked. After a while, the pastor called her back and gave her the all clear for us to camp under the pavilion! That was great news because that way we didn't have to worry about waking up and finding our tent and our bikes covered with snow (since they are expecting 4-6 feet in the next 24 hours, so they say). The lady said that their meeting would go til about 8:30 and that we were welcome to sit inside where it was warm until then! We got to change inside where it was warm, brush our teeth inside where it was warm, and were all ready to set up or tent quick and get in it right away when the time came. While I was typing away, Joey walked over to the grocery store to get some more shaving cream for himself, and a packet of index cards so I could make the last of our makeshift business cards. I would have said the heck with it since the trip is almost over, but whenever we talk to people, they seem so interested in what we are doing and excited when I share the website with them. So, I will make a few more just to get us to the end of the week. When 8:30 rolled around, we headed down to the pavilion and got everything all set up. Hand warmers, check. Jumbo clips to hold the tent door closed, check. Water bottles in the tent so they don't freeze, check... we crawled into our sleeping bags right away and were happy that the open wifi network from the church reached all the way down to the pavilion. Maybe we will try to watch a movie on Netflix!?!! We rode a long 43.10 miles today. Getting closer to home with every peddle stroke!
It was a REALLY cold night last night- almost like we were back in Oklahoma or Texas. Neither of us slept very good last night and woke up pretty tired. We had plans to get up as early as we could so that we might have a chance to make it to the "Viking Biking" ride in Pittsburgh that our hosts for tonight told us about. But, with being so sleepy and it being really cold out, we ended up not being able to push ourselves to get up until around 8:30. We packed up and headed off to find a gas station or somewhere we could by milk and sit at some tables inside. It didn't take us too long to find one, and we were just so happy that it had a table inside! We finished off the last bit of Honey Bunches of Oats that we had bough while we were in Wheeling, and since we were still a little hungry, each got a little donut from the donut case there. A nice start to the morning. It's so weird to think about how in a week, we will no longer have to eat at gas station tables or look for a place to sleep every night. Going back to "being normal" is definitely going to be an adjustment from this lifestyle we've been living on the road. As John in Wheeling said- "we chose to be homeless for a year," although I don't really care for the word homeless. It's not like we have nothing at all. We have a tent, and we could afford a hotel if we absolutely needed it and we have everything we need to cook and travel along, not to mention we do have a home, we just aren't living there at the moment, but that will all change soon. After breakfast, we got our warm gear back on and hit the road, going in the wrong direction at first- I don't know what we were thinking. Brain fart! That's ok, that happens once in a while, no one is perfect. Once we finally got going the right way, it was probably around 10:30. We had more climbing to do. Our legs were both pretty sore from all of the climbing we did yesterday. Again- hill after hill, and the ones in town were pretty steep and long. Once we found the road that would take us most of the way to Pittsburgh, the hills got a little less steep, but longer in general. At one point a car went by us with a couple young teenagers in the back. When they went by they yelled "Helloooo" and a whole bunch of other stuff we couldn't understand. It is funny because people beep and honk at us all the time- sometimes friendly with thumbs up, and other times angrily because we are "in their way." But these kids were funny as they were all waving out the back window at us. We caught up to them at a light, and they were still looking out the window. Joey put his hand out for high fives as we rode by and they were more than happy to get them. When they passed us again, they all yelled "Byyyyeee!!" It was too funny! The traffic, ALL DAY, was horrible. Just a constant stream of traffic. SOOO many cars. I don't know why we don't do something about that. The closer we got to Pittsburgh, the worse it got, obviously. Any time there is more than 100,000 people in a given area, cars don't seem to be the most ideal way to travel any more. For about 5 miles we were riding with the same group of cars. They would pass us, get stopped by a light, and we would catch right back up to them- and it was hilly, so we couldn't go that fast. Just bumper to bumper traffic in most places, kind of ridiculous. When the cars were going the same speed as us on the bikes in a hilly area like that, it just doesn't seem like it makes much sense. As we were getting close, we knew a couple roads that we would take after getting off of route 19 to get into the city so that we didn't have to go through any of the many tunnels that are frequent when entering from the south. We passed by a bike shop and Joey decided to go in and see if they had any free bike maps of the city- sure enough they did. They also told him a way that would be less traffic than the way we were planning on going. Either way though- we had to go up a HUGE hill, which we figured would be coming since we knew that we were getting close to the river. Boy was it steep! The road zig zagged a little on the way up and there were a couple sections that had to be at 20% grade. It was tough to say the least! We just kept going up and up, looking for Brownsville Rd, which ran along the top of the ridge. Our legs were burning and our lungs had that burn that you get when you are really working hard. Luckily, the sun was shining, so we didn't have to wear our face masks or heavy gloves anymore- that was SO helpful! I never thought I'd be so happy to finally get to Brownsville road. Wffeeewww- that was steep. It reminded us of being back in San Francisco or Seattle. As we were riding along the top of Brownsville road, we had some small rolling hills, but nothing at all as strenuous as what we had done. The view was spectacular- houses blanketed all the surrounding hills. As we were riding up there, it was already close to 1pm. We knew that we had missed the Viking ride. A bit disappointing, but there was nothing we could do about it- except maybe leave Wheeling earlier yesterday and started closer to Pittsburgh today. We had a nice long downhill down to the river. On the way down, we got a good view of downtown Pittsburgh and the river. We didn't have any trouble at all finding where we needed to go. Almost right away, we found an Aldi's in the middle of the city. We decided to stop there to get some pasta for lunch before we were off to find REI and the park where the Viking Bikers would be meeting for the potluck lunch. REI was just a block away from the grocery store. I was so excited to FINALLY be able to return my camp pillow. The great thing about REI is they have that awesome return policy- where you can return anything anytime for any reason. I had bought that pillow sometime at the end of October or the beginning of November and it stopped holding air by the end of December- something malfunctioned with the valve. Anyways- I carried that pillow that didn't work since Oklahoma--3,000 miles ago! We haven't seen an REI in forever and that is part of the reason that we decided to ride to Pittsburgh. So, I was able to finally get the useless pillow off my hands and had almost 30 bucks back in my pocket! Mission accomplished. From there, again- we had a really easy time finding the park that our hosts Dan and Patricia told us about. At first we weren't sure where they would be meeting in the park, but that question was very quickly answered when we saw a bunch of people on bikes dressed up as Vikings. It was too funny. They had just finished up with their ride and were about to head over for lunch. A fun group of people. As we were riding over to where everyone was meeting, a couple said "oh, this must be our people!" We had found our hosts for the night! So, for the next hour or so, we relaxed by the river and chatted with people there. Although we had felt nice and warm earlier, the wind was chilly and once we were not moving our bodies cooled right down. Dan and Patricia said that there was more than enough food to go around at the pot luck and that we were welcome to join them for that- so we will save our pasta for later. Although everything was delicious- the best thing was probably the vegetarian chilli. It was nice and hot with a little kick. For a while, we all stood over by the grill to keep warm while we snacked. Although we were sad we missed the ride, we were glad that we at least got to share that experience with them. Since we were all cold, the 4 of us headed out to go to Dan and Tricia's apartment where it was nice and warm. We took the trail to the "Hot Steel Bridge," which was just amazing. There was a full wide path for bikes and pedestrians on the side of the bridge! We had a great view of downtown in the middle of the bridge too. After getting to the other side of the river, we continued on for a short while on the path and then turned to head up to where their apartment was. They warned us that we had a "pretty gnarly hill to climb to get there," and that it was pretty long. It was indeed very long but not nearly as bad as I was anticipating, or at least it wasn't as bad as the ride up to Brownsville Road! After our tired legs made it to the top, we got to their house- they were pretty much right on top and had an awesome view of the river and the area nearby. We got our bikes put in the basement and then headed up to their apartment. They had the best view in the whole house because they were on the very top apartment in a super cute apartment. We got to stay in the "hobbit cave," which was a tiny little room shaped like a triangle (one of the pointy parts of the roof). For the rest of the night, we just relaxed, which is all we wanted to do. We both felt like we could just fall asleep at any moment after last night. We each got a nice hot shower and enjoyed learning a little bit about home brewing since Dan and Tricia were working on brewing a new batch of beer. They had an awesome little fridge in their living room that they had drilled holes in for taps for the two home brews they had ready. So neat! Joey got to try both their current beers (batch # 49 and #50 of the "babelon brewing") a Mestizo Mexican Chocolate Stout and "Tallywhacker III." Joey of course liked the chocolate one best. Joey and I had fun talking with them and watching a little basketball and Jeopardy. For dinner, since neither of us felt like riding down the hill and back up again to go to the grocery store to get stuff to grill, we all just had our own thing. Joey and I ate our pasta and cheese and were quite happy with that. Another awesome, but tough day, to add to the story. Our miles only totaled 36.97, which was much less than we though we had to ride to get to Pittsburgh from where we were this morning!