CANTON WOMAN FINISHES CROSS COUNTRY BIKE RIDE
By Marci Silverman
It’s April 30, the last day of my 3,100-mile trek from California to Florida to raise money for Parkinson’s. I’m at a fire station in St. Augustine, waiting for the rest of our group to arrive—we’re riding together, with a police escort, to the finish at Anastasia State Park and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s hard for me to believe, but in just a few short miles, my two-month journey will be coming to an end.
By that final day I was mostly ready to be finished. In fact, had I not been with the tour group, I probably would have lengthened my days to cover the last two weeks in half the time. On the other hand, if more of the riding was like what I experienced in Central Texas—they call it Hill Country—I might have been interested in going a little longer.
The Hill Country rides were among the best of the trip: climbing and descending on quiet country roads; beautiful, blooming wildflowers amid a dozen shades of green; friendly people and delicious food where you’d least expect it. It all made the occasional winds and bone-jarring chipseal easier to put up with. I call a perfect day on the bike a “this is why we ride” day. Hill Country was full of those.
I had a couple of other memorable experiences in Texas. The first was on my way from La Grange to Navasota, when a woman I’d never met before pulled over and said, “Are you Marci?” It turned out to be my boyfriend’s aunt, Claire Weaver, who was driving to Texas from Virginia with her husband. She’d gotten hold of the route from Michael and driven it in reverse, stopping every woman on a bicycle she saw until she found me. As I completed the day’s ride, I found out Claire had also made signs and put them up at the side of the road—first one, then another…five in all, with slogans like “We’re proud of you, Marci.”
The next day was a rest day, and another “this is why we ride” day even though my bike didn’t leave the hotel room. Michael flew in and took me and Lois to have lunch with his family, including his two uncles living with Parkinson’s to whom I dedicated my trip. Bob and Shawn are brothers. Shawn has been living with the disease for seven years; Bob for almost 20. And while both seem to manage pretty well, I couldn’t really imagine them riding a bicycle across the country. I felt fortunate to be able to do it for them.
Traveling through East Texas (it seemed like the Lone Star State would never end) and into Louisiana, my spirits dimmed a bit. I spent entire days on straight, poorly kept roads, trying to stay focused by playing mind games. Fresh-cooked crawfish at the side of the road and two TV news stories on my ride helped keep my spirits up. I also raced a thunderstorm into Lafayette and beat it by seconds—that was interesting. (As it turned out, I managed to avoid getting rained on for almost the entire trip.)
But through Mississippi, Alabama and into Florida, the miles blurred. One day I covered more than 90 miles by 1 p.m., thanks to flat roads and tailwinds. Two days later I had 15 miles of rolling hills, then a headwind the rest of the day. As the tour wound down those last few weeks, I grew increasingly eager to be in my own apartment, to sleep in my own bed.
And yet throughout the whole last ride—the final route meeting the evening before, the last breakfast, the last rest stop before we assembled at that firehouse in St. Augustine—my anxiousness to finish was tempered with disbelief that I was actually about to finish it. It felt more than a little anticlimactic. Maybe I needed something more to look forward to: Most of the other women in the group had friends and family meeting them at the finish, but I did not.
I was in the final group of women pulling into Anastasia State Park. We rolled through a traffic circle toward the beach, and I saw a familiar blue shirt.
“That looks like Michael’s shirt,” I said to Lois. I looked away, then back again. I couldn’t believe it. “Hey, Lois,” I said. “Michael’s here.”
He had come to Florida to surprise me at the finish. I was completely surprised but very happy to see his face. The day couldn’t get any better. Or so I thought.
The women of the Southern Tier crossing of 2009 had completed their journey, and I was among them. With two weeks’ notice, I had ridden every single one of the 3,086 miles and suffered little more than a few flat tires and some very sore muscles. And in only two months, I had raised more than $15,000 for the Davis Phinney Foundation to support Parkinson’s research and quality-of-life initiatives.
We celebrated the end of our adventure by dipping our tires in the Atlantic. We took lots of pictures. A few of us also took a quick swim in the ocean. So I was tired but happy, relieved but inspired, and soaking wet when Michael asked me to marry him.