Back to being a Dad

I have been here in East Islip, Long Island with Luca for a week now. It has been so great to be with him and we have easily picked up where we left off. He is doing an amazing job taking care of himself, self regulating, speaking his mind.

We have a nice balance going between seeing friends, family, outings, barbecues…and downtime. Luca loves the pool and spends a lot of time swimming. He gets along famously with his cousins and I love how they connect even though we live on opposite coasts.

For me personally, spending time at home with my parents and my sister is a lot of fun. Margaret lives two towns over and we see them almost every day. We went to the Skyzone Trampoline Park, had a sleepover, many pool parties and lots of pizza. It’s harder to see my brother as he lives in Westchester, but we all managed to go up there yesterday which was nice.

Luca and I drove to Purchase College beforehand to go to the Neuberger Art Museum. I proposed the idea of a Luca/ Papa outing to see a favorite de Kooning painting and he was all for it.

I have taken him to many museums and he seems to really enjoy looking at art, almost as much as me. One of my favorite things in life is looking at paintings on walls of museums and galleries.

The Neuberger is a small museum with a great collection of mid century American Art, a few Europeans and some African Art. I went there in the mid 90s to see de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, Giacometti, small but important paintings by each. “Marilyn Monroe” 1954 by de Kooning is a personal favorite from his “woman” series.

Luca and I had the whole museum to ourselves and it only cost $5 for me, free for Luca. His favorite in the main gallery was Pollock. I impressed him by identifying artists without looking at the labels next to their pictures. I explained how Helen Frankenthaler for example, has a very recognizable style.

There was a special show on Alex Katz called “Brand-New and Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s”. I don’t normally care for Alex Katz but I realized I loved his work from the late fifties. I find the portraits he is known for too slick and flat. These were rougher, more painterly, a nice surprise for me.

The perfect amount of time for Luca in a museum is about an hour, and this museum is just right for that. During that hour, we looked at art, discussed it, admired, critiqued. He didn’t ask to tell me about one of his comics or role play some science fiction characters during our visit. Just me and my boy soaking in some culture, pretty awesome.

In order to test my body for going back to work, I worked on a project to get Mom and Dad’s outdoor shower draining better. I removed the bluestone floor, dug out two wheelbarrows worth of dirt and weeds. Then I lined the bottom with six bags of river stones for drainage. After that I constructed a wood platform to stand on made out of cedar 2 x 4s and decking. Looks good and it works do far! It felt good to do some real work.

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Back to being a Dad

Two Days Later

Last night was the first night I actually slept solidly in 43 days. During my ride I slept very restlessly, I think because my body was so jacked up from riding all day. Maybe it’s because I reunited with Luca yesterday at JFK. Either way, it felt good.

Yesterday morning my sister Margaret and her son Marcus came to my parents house. My sister’s brother in law had my bike and gear at his Aluminum Machine Shop in Wyandanch. We drove out there and met Raul (Margaret’s husband) and Johnny at the shop and got a tour. They make aluminum frames for stretch ceilings that get installed all over the country.

Currently they are working on the ceilings at American Airlines Corporate headquarters in Texas, the metal frames designed to look like a giant turbine. Amazing work they are doing and I was incredibly impressed by the operation.

After that I did a little retail therapy at Zumiez for shorts that fit my skinnier body after losing some weight. I also started wearing sneakers again for the first time since June 29th. I am a sneaker fiend, always Adidas, and wearing shower shoes or bike shoes for 41 days was interesting. My generous sister treated me to the new kicks.

We went back to East Islip and went swimming and then had lunch. Later in the afternoon I had a massage (Mom and Dad’s treat) and that was very relaxing. Upon my return home, Mom, Dad and I had a ravioli dinner. Dad made me his custom meatballs which I really appreciate since he is a vegetarian.

Soon it was time to get Luca and my in laws and nephew from the airport. As requested, I picked up pizza slices for Luca and off I went.

Luca was absolutely beaming when we spotted each other and our reunion was incredible. To hug my dude felt so good, after we did our secret handshake of course.

We dropped Bob, Edie, and Aidan off in Wantagh for an incredibly quick visit with my wife’s cousins and then headed to my sister’s for an equally quick visit with her family. Finally we arrived at 12 E. Madison St. and settled in.

Luca is doing great and had a good night sleep. We went in the pool this morning and had one of our great adventures as “Shwazz and Dr. Nosewater”. I’m Dr. Nosewater. So good to be with my main man. Now I can’t wait to see Catherine.

Two Days Later

Day 41: Edison, NJ to Strawberry Fields, Central Park, NYC (45.7 miles)

My hotel last night was basically an Indian Palace, well, an enormous Indian banquet hall with a 15 foot high statue and fountains, it was wild. Based on the Indian restaurant and people staying at the hotel, I believe I was the only non Indian, definitely the only cyclist. There was a big event going on, cool to see everybody decked out in their cultural outfits.

This morning I woke up excited and eager to get out of Jersey (no offense). The first ten miles were busy and ugly. My friend from college, Adrian (the one who has his own town in Minnesota, blog post Day 22) rode out from Manhattan to meet me on my route which put us at a nice park in Elizabeth, NJ. It was great to see my excellent and old friend and we chatted awhile in the shade. We continued a bit on the road until we found Dunkin Donuts and had a pitstop. I was in major need of coffee and a bagel.

We rode about 30 miles together until we arrived at the George Washington Bridge. My brother Paul, brother in law Raul, and his brother John were there to meet us. Now we were five heading over the GWB into NY. I am so pleased John and Raul who don’t bicycle all that much, decided to be part of the ride in. Of course it was extra special to have my fratello, my brother Paul there with me.

We stopped in the middle for my selfie with the “Welcome to New York” sign. I was over the moon at this point, so proud and amazed I was actually in NY! A little further over the bridge we stopped near a spot where Adrian had put my stickers. A kind stranger took our photo.

I couldn’t wait to get down to Central Park and before I knew it we were rolling on Park drive with all the tourists on rented bikes. I talked to Luca at this point and his excitement was palpable over the phone. He really understood what a major moment this was. Catherine told me later he proudly explained to the clerks at Safeway how I had ridden my bike across the country. One of the clerks knew me from the newspaper article and donated!

Nothing could have prepared me for the welcome at Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon Memorial. I rolled up to a huge group of family and friends, all hooting and hollering and all wearing Mikestro Industries “Biking For Autism” shirts. My sister and my parents outdid themselves with an amazing reception. Margaret had her friend’s company print all the shirts and Mom and Dad paid for them. It was quite a site, the sea of blue.

I took over the Imagine circle from the European tourists and enjoyed the moment of triumph. The sense of pride and accomplishment I felt is like nothing I’ve felt before. The first one to greet me was my Dad, who I know loves me as much as I love my Luca. I got my promised hug from my amazing Mom and proceeded to take it all in. Even the guy selling water was caught up in the moment. He gave me a hug and a bottle of water.

I greeted my Aunts and Uncles, niece and nephews, family friends. My dear friends Dan and Katy Falkman, their daughters Charlotte, Ellie and Amelia, my dear friend Desiree and her son Miika. My college buddy Steve Pashley! My amazing artist friend Dale Zinkowski. Cousin Billy, Aunt Margaret, Uncle Billy, Aunt Grace, Zulma, Jordan and Zahara, Zulma’s mother, Anthony, Marcus, and Lily, too many to mention everybody! It was just incredible.

We hung out on the grass for quite some time, chatting, eating, documenting. It was the perfect ending to an incredible journey. Soon, myself, my sister’s family and our friend Katie headed down to Penn Station after John and Zulma were kind enough to take all my gear in their car. We timed it perfectly, a 4:52 Express train to Babylon. And just enough time for me to buy a whole pizza pie.

I had two and a half slices and shared the rest. Upon arriving at my sister’s house, I met Coco, their new Cockapoo and Lily made me a beautiful plate of orange slices, strawberries and icecream.

Margaret then took me to Mom and Dad’s where I took an outdoor shower and jumped in the pool. Then I had a chicken parmigiana sandwich.

Thanks to everybody for donating, supporting and following along on this life changing adventure. I am humbled and my heart is full. I will continue to write, especially about Luca’s arrival tomorrow!

Day 41: Edison, NJ to Strawberry Fields, Central Park, NYC (45.7 miles)

Day 40: Glen Mills, PA to Edison, NJ (107.7 miles)

I had a good night sleep at the Brewer household and Una made me eggs, toast and coffee early this morning. I chatted with her and Paul and then hit the road around 6:45.

My route for the first 15 miles was pretty urban and I rode right through Chester, PA! Thanks Google for sending me through that lovely part of town. She made up for it by sending me through the John Heintz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, “America’s First Urban Refuge”.

Unfortunately, after that I pretty much rode through Philadelphia, so that answers Una’s question about my route. It wasn’t good! Luckily I can ride like a bike messenger when I have to.

Eventually I was on the Delaware Creek Trail which took me most of the way to the Delaware River. I crossed into New Joisey not far from where Washington crossed the Delaware. Once in Jersey, I rode 5 miles to Grounds For Sculpture, an outdoor sculpture park in Hamilton. My old friend from East Islip is the Executive Director there so I wanted to see him and the grounds.

We drove around in a golf cart for a quick tour and then had lunch. It is an amazing place, I’ll have to go back someday. They are lucky to have someone like Gary there, he is incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He is a very talented artist in his own right.

My next stop was Princeton, ten miles north. I rode the Raritan Creek Trail most of the way. Did I mention how hot and muggy it was today? Brutal, I was absolutely drenched in sweat. Perfect way to show up for lunch number two with my Aunt Trisha and Uncle Al.

I got off the trail and rode through the campus to get to Palmer Square where we met. I’ve never been to Princeton and it’s stunning. The buildings are old and stone and the grounds are immaculate. Aunt Trisha, Uncle Al and I had a nice lunch and great conversation. It was very fun to see them on the tail end of my journey.

The remaining 30 miles to Edison were hard because I was hot and tired. I did enjoy the parts on the creek trail and there was some nice rural roads in there. New Jersey surprised me a little about fifteen miles south of Edison, lovely quiet roads with fields and trees. Then it progressed into a total clustercuss as I got closer to the hotel.

The hotel is run by Indian people so I ate in the Indian Restaurant. The decor was quite something, stuffed lions and everything!

I can’t really believe I’ll be in Central Park tomorrow, 41 days after I pedaled away from Port Townsend. I am very proud of what I’ve done and humbled by the experience and the people following along. It has been one of the best challenges I have ever taken on. It’s like George McFly said, “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

Day 40: Glen Mills, PA to Edison, NJ (107.7 miles)

Day 39: Lancaster, PA to Glen Mills, PA (55.4 miles)

When I woke up today I knew I had a relatively short day so I lingered at the hotel. I also knew that John from KISM radio in Seattle would be putting me on the air at 6:10 PST to talk about my ride. He contacted me yesterday after reading the article about me in the Peninsula Daily News.

I had breakfast and tried to relax. It was already hot and humid. I made some notes for the radio call and patiently waited. John called right on time and the on air phone conversation went incredibly well. I was so pleased with how it turned out and my amazing sister recorded the audio and posted it to Facebook for me.

My water bottles have mold growing in the bottoms, so I decided to buy new ones. I went to Lancaster Bike Shop and talked with Adam, a young employee there who goes to Temple University. When I told him I was riding cross country, he told me he planned to do it next summer during the Race Across America. He checked out my bike and the setup and we chatted about different aspects of the trek. Cool guy, I’m sure he’ll do it.

When I was leaving, an Amish guy zoomed by on a large wheeled push scooter. I’ve seen a few of them around but I wanted a picture so I caught up to him and he stopped because his front tire was flat. I chatted with him a bit and he let me take his photo. Then I suggested he go to the bike shop to get his flat fixed. Hopefully he did.

I headed through the main drag of Lancaster and then East toward Amish country. There is indeed a town called Intercourse and I went there, or through it. It was brutally hot and humid and I had a headache.

This section of road was filled with tourists gawking at the Amish. It didn’t seem right to me. They are just trying to live their lives, people treat it as a human zoo. Soon I was through Intercourse and on quieter roads, beautiful roads, rolling and rural.

After stopping for drinks and pouring water on my head, I started feeling better. The last 30 miles went very quickly and with a few exceptions, I was on nice, small roads. I was surprised to come out of the woods right into Wyeth Country…Chadds Ford. I always wanted to come here so I went into the museum gift shop with the a/c cranking.

I had seen the wonderful Wyeth exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum this past winter so I opted to save the $18 admission fee and bought some postcards. Very soon thereafter I arrived at my former babysitter Una’s house. I was greeted by her son Jared and daughter Julia. The youngest daughter was at Great Adventure.

They made me feel right at home and I had coffee and snacks, took a shower. I relaxed until Una came home, she is a Pediatrician. We figured it’s been 35 years or so and I was always Mikey to her back then. It was so great to see her after all this time.

Una made sure I replenished lost calories and made me steak, baked potato, salad, and pasta. It was lovely eating dinner together and telling them about Luca. Later Una took me to get ride food for tomorrow and a new charging cable for my phone.

When her husband Paul came home, we had a nice time chatting about my ride and eating ice cream and brownies. Paul is an administrator for a dermatology office and also a cyclist. Super nice people and a lovely family. Una was my absolute favorite babysitter of all time and she is just as wonderful as I remember.

Day 39: Lancaster, PA to Glen Mills, PA (55.4 miles)

Day 38: Mexico, PA To Lancaster, PA (88.4 miles)

Camping wasn’t bad, they had a pool which was nice. Had a good swim last night. The young Amish in open buggies went by my site in great numbers yesterday at dusk. A guy and a girl in each, maybe they were going to a social or something. Wonder if they already did their Rumspringa. Check out the documentary called “The Devil’s Playground”.

I slept okay until I had a dream my bike was stolen. So I woke around 5:30 and started breaking down my camp. I love how all that stuff packs so small. I headed to the Mexico Market around 6:45 to get coffee and breakfast. I was meeting Bill who I met yesterday at 7.

He showed up with his daughter Rachel and we headed out. It was fun riding and chatting with them. Their father/ daughter relationship is very sweet and they bike together quite often. Bill is 70 and a very strong rider.

We rode together for about 35 miles. Bill’s wife Linda came to pick them up but first gave me a lift up the road to get past a nasty bit of highway. Really wonderful people.

Once on my own I navigated a route over to the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail. On the way there I rode right by Three Mile Island which was quite an ominous site. Can’t imagine living that close to it.

Once on the River Trail, I saw lots of evidence of recent flooding and rode through one area up to my cranks. I got very lucky again with timing and weather. A couple of weeks ago and I would have paddled, not peddled through Pennsylvania.

The trail was nice because lots of it was shaded. It was very hot and humid today and I rode the final 15 miles as fast as I could. No more mountains so I made it to Lancaster in good time.

Day 38: Mexico, PA To Lancaster, PA (88.4 miles)

Day 37: Ebensburg, Pa to Mexico, PA (109.4 miles)

Back to an early start today, left at 6 a.m. and hit up Dunkin Donuts. It was foggy this morning and I was on Hwy 22 which was not heavily trafficked on a Sunday. There was significant descending which was incredibly fun, 45 mph.

My first stop was Hollidaysburg which was old, historic and beautiful, nice grand homes and a charming Main St. I sat in front of the Civil War Memorial and got mustache envy. Soon I continued down the road and got back on 22. There were hills and some significant climbs. It started getting warm and muggy.

I stopped at Nick’s Diner for a late breakfast and more coffee. My waitress Michelle was very kind and we chatted about Autism and my long ride. When it came time to pay, Michelle said it was on the house as their contribution. Pretty rad.

Just before Nick’s, I came upon two state penitentiaries in Huntingdon. It was a shock and I never felt more free. The second one I passed was housed in a beautiful old complex, I daresay historical except with razor wire everywhere! Reminded me of Shawshank Redemption and that occupied my mind for awhile. “All they found of him was a set of muddy prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near ground down to the nub.”

I stayed on the main roads for about fifty miles and then I started thinking about backroads. I plotted a Google Maps course to Mifflintown for a bicycle and off I went. I found out much later from a local in Mifflintown, that Google took me on the shortest route, which happened to be the hardest route. In retrospect I should have stayed on the main roads.

Things got interesting when I did an insanely steep, long climb over Black Log Mountain. It was so humid, I was drenched. I actually pushed my bike rather than ride it for about a half mile. It was a good decision, my climbing legs were shot. It’s called “cracking” in cycling. I cracked.

The descent down Black Log was amazing so I was happy for a moment. Then I got on Black Log Valley Rd. Ugh, up and down for miles until I had a left turn coming up. When I got to the left, a road called Pine Ridge (ridge means up) was gravel and went straight up. This time I walked 1.3 miles.

I learned even more about myself today than I had already on this trip. Mostly, adapt and overcome. Never give up. So pushing my bike was the answer today. When I got to the top I descended a few miles and then was told to turn right. It turns out this whole time I was in the Tuscarora State Forest. I think Tuscarora is Indian for “you’re screwed”.

The next five miles I rode on what felt like a dried up river bed. After that I was going down, but on miles and miles of nasty, nasty gravel. How I didn’t puncture is a small miracle. When a beautiful creek appeared I pulled over and submerged my head, it was amazing. Just what I needed.

The gravel up and downs continued for 8 more miles I believe until I finally hit pavement. It never felt so good. It was hilly as all get out but at least I was nearing the end.

When I got to Mifflintown I stopped at Burger King, unfortunately, but on this trip I’ve had to make temporary changes to my usual eating policies. A table of four asked where I was riding from and they all were excited, especially the man, Bill, who is also a cyclist when I told them and why.

They invited me to sit with them, so I did and had a great time. When I told Bill about Black Log Mountain he couldn’t believe it. He was the one who said I could have gone a slightly longer, paved route. Oh well. Bill was there with his wife Linda and their friends, Pat and Shirley. Lovely people. I learned about them and their 9 year old great granddaughter who survived cancer. They gave me $40 in donations.

I am camping tonight and invited Bill to stop by which he did. We had a nice chat and set a plan for the morning where he’ll ride a bit with me. So the Buttonwood Campground where I’m staying is in Mexico, PA, go figure.


Day 37: Ebensburg, Pa to Mexico, PA (109.4 miles)