Leaving Chicago, Going Home

Right up until I started packing–about an hour before we started riding–I was ready to leave Chicago. Sure, I knew I would miss Sarah, friends, cooking, and sleeping in a bed, but I also wanted to finish what I had started two months earlier.

Actually leaving Chicago for the final four weeks of our trip was hard–much harder than I expected–and in the subsequent weeks that we’ve been back on the road I’ve tried to understand why. There were the obvious reasons; those I mentioned earlier. There was also the shift in routine; the day to day of bike touring has some regularity, but it can be stressful, it’s rarely comfortable (putting on dirty bibshorts, anyone?), and it takes time to adapt.

More than anything, even after two weeks of rest I don’t think I fully reset. When we arrived at home I was broken in more ways than one. The tendinitis in my knee was so aggravated I physically couldn’t ride more than a mile. My legs were feeling the slow onset of long-term fatigue. I was constantly stressed about whether we’d make it to Chicago.

At the time we left these factors still worried me. I didn’t want to return to the burnt out stress of northern Wisconsin, and I didn’t want to strand myself a second time in a situation that I couldn’t easily get out of. Why would my second shot at touring turn out better than the first? Still, I had Sarah to push me out the door, Rory to accompany me and to hold me accountable, and family waiting on the East Coast. So I left anyway, despite my inhibitions.

This final third of this trip has been gratifying, but different ways than the first two thirds. The riding is less interesting (though New York has been nothing but gorgeous) and the scenery less striking. Instead, we’ve encountered night after night of welcoming hosts, some from warm showers, some through mutual friends, and still others who are strangers. In Cleveland we stayed with Jay and Daniela, friends of friends through collegiate racing. In Madison we stayed with Tom, who pulled over his van at the end of his work day to offer us a place to stay. In Ripley we stayed with Amy and Mike, and Buffalo we stayed with Leslie and Dwight, all of whom treated us as family. In Middletown we spent dinner and breakfast on Joe and Barb’s boat, with their friends Tommy and Suzette.

As we move east, we’re starting to meet family and friends, which makes traveling even easier. Though we haven’t quite made it to New England, we only have about nine days of riding left. The barn is in sight, but plans for a next trip are already percolating.

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