August 7, 1999 - Day 57 - Providence, Rhode Island to Plymouth, Massachusetts
51.3 miles - 14.7 mph average speed - 33.9 mph max speed
And 3938 Route 99 miles from San Francisco, California to Plymouth, Massachusetts
TRIP OVER!! And what a day it was.
When the camera disappeared yesterday, among other things I thought, "Well, that's it for pictures". But Lois brought hers and when we met up later that day (August 6) in eastern Connecticut, she and I began to take pictures with her 35mm camera. (This film was taken to a processing center upon our return to Naperville where they transferred the pictures to disk, and so the pictures you will see below are taken with her camera. This is one reason it has taken so long to get this entry on line.)
End of the day, August 6
Welcome to Rhode Island
It was Friday afternoon, the 6th, then when I rolled into the 15th of the 16 states on the route. Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams as a colony where religious freedom was welcomed, and also was the first colony to establish the unusual practice of separation of church and state. The idea stuck. If you string everything I've just said about Rhode Island together end to end, you will have the actual width of the state (our smallest).
Providence as Rome?
It's about 25 miles across Rhode Island to reach Providence at its eastern edge. Is it just me or does this section of the historic downtown area bear some resemblance to the Roman Forum?
It's funny how these things work out, but I'm so thankful Lois caught up with me today because there was not a motel room to be had in Providence on this Friday night. Nothing big going on - just the crowded east coast of the U.S. We searched for about two hours in the car before finding something out by the airport. If I had had to attempt this on bike at dusk after riding over a hundred miles...
Our intention was to get up pretty early so that I could get to Plymouth by mid-afternoon. But a phone call from Rev. T. Michael Rock (DGN's Vince Walsh-Rock's brother)took us delightfully off course. We drove into Providence to meet him and his wife for breakfast at a lovely downtown restaurant. We also got a quick tour of the beautiful Congregational Church T. Michael pastors. (Again, why we didn't take a picture of the Rocks, I don't know. Blackout. Sorry Vince.)
And so, it was on the road from West Providence by, oh, noon-ish. Hey, why break a tradition!
I saw my first seagulls. The Atlantic is near.
Meet Donna and her son (Rod?? I'm sorry, but if I wrote it down, I can't find it.). Donna found the Route 99 website from a mention in Chuck Woodbury's quirky 'Out West' newspaper (see my favorite links in the 'Bio' page) and has followed the trip as it has crept ever closer to her home near the finish line.
Donna emailed me that she would try to find me en route today on Rte. 44. I had stopped in East Providence at a sweet little ice cream stand and had just ordered a root beer float when a male voice behind said, "I'm picking that up." I turned around to see Donna and her son. They figured it was me from the bike. They KNEW it was me from the root beer float.
We sat and chatted for a half hour or so. I knew I was in the East when Donna's son used the word 'Wicked!' Yes!! "Good Will Hunting" land. I MUST be getting close to Bahston.
Seriously, Donna has been a wonderful encourager via email all the way across the country, and it was so good to meet her in person. She slipped something into my money bag, and handed me an envelope to open later. (It contained a check for Steve and Carol, another for Progressive, and a third check from her mother. I know these contributions came from the heart because I know Donna is just recently employed after having gone months without finding work. Thank you so much.)
The 16th and final state
Shortly after saying goodbye to the Macrays, I entered Massachusetts, the 16th and final state of the trip. I pulled the American flag I had been flying on the back of my bike since Loveland, Colorado (July 3) and stuck it on the front of my bike bag. It's the home stretch now.
I REALLY knew I was in the East when I saw...
What do they call it - - McLob?
I couldn't stop. (I wasn't really tempted.) I had told Lois I would meet up with her in Taunton around 3:00. Donna had driven ahead to tell her I would be about an hour late.
Jason Gallagher of Taunton, Massachusetts
Lois had gone on ahead and was sitting in a park reading and catching some rays. Jason rode up on a bike, sort of circled around once, then stopped and asked if she was waiting to have her picture taken or something. (Hmmmmm...)
Lois explained that she was waiting for her husband (good move, Lo). When I did arrive, Jason biked by and stopped to say hello. He's a great guy, works as a distributing manager for the Boston Globe, and likes biking. What we both liked about him was his friendly smile and that great Boston accent. Nothing quite like it.
I kidded him about hitting on my wife. You'll notice I'm giving him the "Graham Death Grip" there.
It was great just riding into a town and having ice-cold drinks and Lois waiting. Wow!
After Taunton, Rte. 44 opened up into a beautiful road with 6 foot paved shoulder. I noticed that the soil was turning sandy and the trees were turning 'piney'. I could see the ghosts of Pilgrims and Pequots. Oh, and one more thing...
One last hurdle
It figures. I ignored this sign. I was within 25 miles of my final destination and any detour would have taken a lot more time, but it bugs me that I had to worry about how I would handle the traffic stop while I should have been thinking all kinds of other thoughts at this point in the trip.
Summarizes the entire East Coast, doesn't it?
Lois drove ahead into Plymouth, parked the car (pahked the cah), unloaded her bike and rode back to meet up with me. We met just about 10 miles west of Plymouth.
It was about five miles from Plymouth that we saw this sign. I don't think there's another place in the country that would use quite that language to say the same thing.
Real excitement now
And then the reality of this whole thing began to crash in on me. This was actually, really Plymouth, Massachusetts, that dot on the map I had been headed for not just since June 6, but since I first designated it as the terminus of the route.
I have a huge map of the route with its 3900 mile line stretching across the entire back wall of my classroom at Downers North. You don't know how many times I would find myself bored during one of my lectures, and stare back at that wall and think about Plymouth, Massachusetts.
And wonder what this moment would be like.
And then it really started happening fast. Rte. 44 began to drop through a densely wooded area, and I knew now that this was the only downhill of the trip for which there would be no corresponding climb.
We coasted down right under Rte. 3, the coastal highway. I'd never been on this road, but the bike led the way.
First view of the Atlantic. Tears were welling up. I grabbed the American flag and held it high in a clenched fist. We coasted down and across the bayfront road, into the parking lot of the dockside restaurants, between the restaurants, flag held high. Tourists everywhere. Still coasting. There's a dock. Still coasting. Right out onto the dock. Still coasting. Left turn out to the very end of the dock.
Lois pulled in right behind me. We got off our bikes and embraced in a long hug.
And then it happened. I felt Lois stiffen. She said, "My bike!!!" We turned, and in slow motion now, the bike fell over the side of the dock, whanged off the commercial fishing boat below and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
We were frozen in horror. It was like watching Leonardo DiCaprio's face sink below the waves until there was...nothing.
Every part of the mood changed instantly. This was horrible. Lois loved that bike and was beside herself. In about two seconds she realized that her wallet was in the handlebar bag. In another two seconds I noticed that the handlebar bag had dislodged from the bike and was half-floating, soon to sink, under the dock.
I jumped down onto the fishing boat, looked around, grabbed a spar and snagged the handlebar bag. Wallet saved.
Bike still on ocean bottom. How deep? End of a commercial fishing pier, relatively low tide. Ten feet, fifteen feet, twenty five feet?? Who knows? Lois wanted to dive in. From the boat deck I could see the water just filled with jelly fish. I don't think I've ever told Lois I would prohibit her from doing something, but I did tell her I would do everything within my power to keep her from diving in. She didn't. (Whew!)
But what to do? I looked around on the boat deck for something that might work to try to drag the bottom. I climbed back up on the dock and walked down to a couple of other boats to see if I could find somebody who knew something. Nope.
Peter and Denise Conant (and little Conant-to-be)
Enter our Good Samaritans of the day. Of the trip.
Peter and Denise own a boat. They are Plymouth residents, and had walked down to the waterfront because Peter had wanted to go out and do some fishing. But the Atlantic was running too heavy, so they took a walk instead.
They came out on the dock because they saw Lois lying on her stomach, looking down into the water, and figured something was wrong.
And Peter knew just what to do. He jumped down into the boat with me and found a plow anchor. We tied about 25 feet of nylon rope to it. He crawled out onto the horizontal beams under the pier.
And began to fish. We told him about where we thought the bike was, and he "dropped anchor". The current was tricky, pulling the plow toward shore as soon as it submerged, and he had to cast several times.
But not many. He felt the tug on about the fourth cast, but lost it. On the next cast, he got it. Lois was above him holding the line in case it slipped. I was in the boat below him, waiting to see the bike reappear. Denise was pregnant.
This was not the time for picture-taking, so you'll have to imagine how sweet it was to see that bike re-surface. The anchor had caught just barely on the front tire rim. I reached down out of the boat as soon as it broke water. Got it!
This is a plow anchor
Lois took this picture moments after the bike was back on the dock.
She had been feeling terrible about "spoiling" the emotion of the end of the journey. But look what we got.
I told my students before leaving that any time you put yourself out into nature the lows are lower and the highs are higher than anything we experience in the safe shells more and more people tell us we belong in.
I had no idea how perfectly that would be illustrated. The lowest of lows and the highest of highs, all within minutes. And no drugs or alcohol involved.
Out of the briny deep
And there she sits, dripping seaweed and salt water.
Peter and Denise, we think you have a lucky little one in the oven there. We can't thank you enough. The feelings brought on by your act of kindness far surpassed any of the other emotions of an already emotional day.
And in some way they were the most fitting end to the last day of this life-affirming trip.
Now... on with the formalities!!! With gusto!!!
Front wheel in the Atlantic
After rinsing Lois's bike off, it was over to a nearby boat ramp to put the front wheel into the Atlantic Ocean. (See June 6 journal for the corresponding 'back wheel' ceremony in San Francisco.)
As I was rolling the bike down the ramp, I heard a voice call out from among the many people hanging around the jetties, "HEY! Get that bike away from the water!"
It was Peter Conant.
Pacific and Atlantic meet
I emptied half of my little bottle of Pacific Ocean water into the Atlantic. I had carried it across the continent in my rear pannier.
And I filled the rest of the bottle up with Atlantic Ocean water, which will be a keepsake.
And then it was off to Plymouth Rock itself, about a quarter mile south.
For two months I had moved east across the great expanse of this continent, in general encountering older and older European-based settlement the farther I travelled.
California is celebrating the 150th year since the discovery of gold in 1849. And so on.
And this is as old as it gets. Only Jamestown, Virginia (1607) would have bragging rights in terms of earliest known English settlement.
My birthplace (Berkeley, Calif.) to the nation's birthplace. My sister Peggy, the family historian, says that my mother's Hall family ancestors arrived on the second ship after the 'Mayflower' (the 'GoodSpeed'??).
What would the Puritans say?
Since we had saved the bike, we had the bottle of cheap spraying champagne that Lois was carrying in the handlebar bag. (The bottle of expensive drinking champagne was saved for later.)
I shook it up really well, and man, that cork headed for the stratosphere!!
I've never done this in my life, and probably won't ever do it again, but I can sure say this:
IT WAS FUN!!!!!
It was beginning to get dark. We had already called my cousin Parky and her husband, Stan, up in Wellesley, about three times during the day to say, "One more hour". They were very patient.
I found a public rest room and changed out of my Atlantic-and-champagne-soaked clothes.
Plymouth Harbor at dusk, August 7, 1999
With one final look at Plymouth Harbor, we loaded the bikes (two of them!) into the van and headed north on Rte. 3 toward Wellesley.
And what a sweet reception awaited us.
Parky (Parker) is my first cousin. My middle name is that of her father, Wallace, my father's brother. I used to hate that name when I was a kid, but have grown to be very proud of it the more I learn of my uncle. He was the head of the mathematics department at Garden City High School.
After holding the table for more than three hours, we sat down at about 10:00 p.m. to that most traditional of all New England dinners, lobster and sweetcorn on the cob. And champagne. The lobsters were swimming in the kitchen sink when we arrived. Stan got the pot boiling, and we all agreed they were the tastiest we had ever had.
We ate by candlelight and silver in the most gracious of New England dining rooms with the most gracious of New England hosts. We finished eating somewhere around 1:00 a.m. and dragged ourselves to bed.
A sweet ending to a sweet day that ended a sweet journey.
When I began to "ride" this story back in June, I had a fair idea of the twists and turns of the road, but no idea of the twists and turns of the plot. The theme of the Good Samaritan emerged slowly but surely as the trip unfolded, culminating in Peter and Denise's aid today in our time of greatest need.
I will write closing thoughts in an 'epilogue' that will follow within a day or two. There are more pictures to show (family members and "wrap-up" pictures), and there is one more remarkable piece of the story to tell: the return of the digital camera.
There is no way that I could have scripted the story of the return of the camera. Somehow, it just fits, doesn't it? When I received the call from Mike Wayne, our assistant principal, that it had been found and returned, I was shocked but not surprised. That may sound contradictory, but that's exactly how it was.
Details to come.
Previous Day (8/6 With Pictures) Epilogue