Thursday, July 30, 2009

ACS Ride 2009

Ready for another photo-fest? I just can't help myself.

Right after I started working at the software company, I got recruited to ride in the American Cancer Society's annual Bike-A-Thon. It's a 60-something mile bike ride; starting at the Ben Franklin Bridge, and ending at the Buena Vista Campground, in Buena, NJ. Our CEO is really into supporting organizations such as this; we hold blood drives every 56 days, regularly ship boxes of stuff to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and a bunch of employees and their friends/spouses ride in the Cancer Ride each year. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

When I lived in California, I picked up mountain biking. How could I not, the firetrails that the original repack crew invented it on were at the end of my street. However, mountain biking and road riding are two completely different animals.

That first ACS ride was the first time that I rode more than 30 miles in one day, that day, I rode over 60. On a mountain bike. In a crowd of mostly road-riders.

Since I didn't die that first time out, I decided to do it again and see if I could beat my time of approximately 8 hours. Yes, 8. The same time most of us spend working each day, Monday through Friday. Except I wasn't getting paid. I was paying to ride, and raising money to support the American Cancer Society and their research.

Being that I've got about a 100% chance of developing skin cancer (it comes with the fair skin and the hair and the poor SPF choices we had when I was a kid), I figure that it's definitely a cause I can get behind.

So, glutton for punishment that I am, I signed up for a second Tour de Agony.

On the appointed day, at the appointed time, The Rocket Scientist and I made our way down to the starting point.

The trusty Focus, with my tank strapped to the back.
The Rocket Scientist, artfully applying sunscreen. Yes, he's wearing only spandex. Wipe the drool off your keyboard, ladies. :)
Part of our crew, out front of the Mint, awaiting the start.
We're helmeted and ready to go. Hard to believe that it's 6 AM.
There are a LOT of people riding for the ACS.
Heading up the bridge, look who's there to cheer us on our way:
There's The Rocket Scientist.
Incidentally, this ride (last year) was where we met. I wound up riding by myself, after one of my girlfriends from work backed out. Shortly after clearing the bridge, this guy rode up next to me and started talking to me. I had no idea who he was, but since he was wearing the same jersey as me (company provided), I figured that he had to be OK. He didn't leave my side the entire ride. I kept telling him to go ahead, but he wouldn't. He'd ride ahead of me and then turn around and come back to where I was. I figure that he rode another 20 miles or so, on top of what we were already doing. I found out his name at the end. He is now my work-husband, and the rest is history.

Off we go, up the Ben Franklin Bridge. This will be the biggest hill we face today. Thank God it comes at the beginning.
My crotch-shot:
Coming off the bridge, it always jams up while everyone sorts themselves out and sets their pace. Luckily, there weren't any crashes.
This year, we had an added element. A local motorcycle club, The Centurions, were riding along with us, running interference. There were a lot of times that I wished I was on one of THOSE bikes, instead of mine.
A bit of a back up at a traffic light:
We made it to the first rest stop - about 12 miles in, feeling pretty good.
The Centurions were there to make sure that we were protected while riding. They also stopped whenever a cyclist had trouble, to block them from traffic, as most of the roads we ride on are not closed.
Ah, mile 20, now we're getting somewhere.
This ride is so well supported, it's unbelievable. There are roving, mobile bike shops all over the course, to assist any rider who has a mechanical problem. The bike shops in the area sponsor it, and I am grateful for them. I have yet to have a malfunction, but in the event I ever do, I know it won't be long until I get some help. They also set up tents at each rest stop, if you have an issue that isn't serious enough to cause you to stop on the course, they'll take care of you when you roll in.
A typical rest stop - they're loaded with food and fresh water.
There he is again, resplendent in his spandex:
We even had our very own roadblocks:
The ACS posts signs all along the route. This was one of my favorites:
21 miles in. 40-something to go. Seems like a LONG way. I guess it is.
Our guardian angels:
Mile 36, somewhere in the neighborhood of halfway there.
We passed a lot of really pretty sights - all those little white spots you see on the pond are water lilies. They were beautiful.
Mile 40. I know those '5 Miles to Rest Stop' signs should be encouraging, but really, the 5 miles always feels more like 10.
Someone was nice enough to offer up their front yard as a rest stop.
Mile 53. At this point, I'm ready to die. They say that the last 10 miles or so are the worst. They. Don't. Lie.
But, I'm still smiling!
Aw, pretty lake. What I would give to be sitting on it's edge, with a beer in my hand, and not on these two wheels of death on this godforsaken road.
Ah, it's nice to be in the shade. My feet still hurt, though. So do my knees. And my ass.

By the way, where is The Rocket Scientist?
There he is! He's still smiling too. Christ, are we DONE yet?
What does that mile marker say? 63 miles? Excellent, we're almost there. I seem to remember this ride being about 64 miles. Getting off of this bike is going to feel SO GOOD....
Wait, WAIT. What? OMFG, we still have 2 miles to go? Kill myself now. I just want to die. Really, it would hurt less. I'm sure of it.
Towards the end, along the last 2 miles of searing pain, there are signs memorializing those who have succumbed to the horrible disease we are riding against. Gary Papa was a well-loved local news anchor who passed away after battling cancer a few weeks before the Bike-A-Thon. It was heartwarming to see his sign.
Oh my God - is that a finish line? Please say it is.
Yay! We're done! When you come though the arch, there are all sorts of people there cheering for you, clapping and generally making you feel fantastic about riding all that way. Like I said, it's a fabulously supported event.
Our tent, we weren't the last of our group to finish, unlike last year. In fact, we beat last year's time by an hour. Go us!
The end-of-the-ride area. We grabbed some lunch, put our bikes on a truck, and boarded a bus back to the bridge where we started. It only took an hour or so to get back to Philly, a much more pleasant ride (aside from the grouch I had to sit next to), with comfy seats and air conditioning.
Two very tired, very sweaty, very satsfied riders:
And we're still smiling. How about that?

Friday, July 24, 2009

July 4th in the Cradle of Liberty - Part 3 (the end)

I think I have figured out how to keep from ripping out my hair when posting pictures. I must simply upload all the pictures I want to post before I start writing anything. This way, I can avoid the annoying-as-hell reformatting that I have to do when I try to upload as I go. One day, I will be good (or at least better) at this. Anyway.

Now we have arrived at the day we've all been waiting for - the 4th of July.

We (and 50 or so other people) started out the special day by having breakfast with one of Philadelphia's most well-loved former residents, Benjamin Franklin. There are several 'Bens' in and around the city, who go around giving talks and presentations and such. The most famous Ben, the one who married the woman who plays Betsy Ross, unfortunately, suffered a stroke at the end of June. He appears to be recovering nicely, so we'll hope to see him out and about very soon.

We had a great Ben for our breakfast. He looked to be a younger Ben. All I can say is, if you find yourself in Philly on a Saturday morning, you have to do this. It was wonderful. When we made the reservation online, I remarked that we'd be the only people there with no kids in tow and how it would probably be geared toward children, blah, blah, blah.
It really wasn't.

When you first get there, you get a name tag and your party has their picture taken with Ben on the balcony of the Visitor Center, overlooking Independence Mall (the photo is included in the price of breakfast - woot!). Once everyone gets through the buffet and back to their tables, Ben starts his presentation. He talked about where he grew up, his family and how he came to be one of the elder statesmen at the time when our country was being formed. It. Was. Riveting. Ben talked for about an hour and then opened up the floor for some questions. We had an ex-history teacher next to us at our table and he asked a very pointed question and Ben was spot on with his answer. It was like this guy was channeling the real Ben. He really knew his stuff. One of the kids asked about his reputation as a 'ladies man', and Ben answered that he wanted to respect the ladies whose company he kept and would limit his remarks to say that they shared some very enjoyable times.

This guy was good.

With full bellies, we wandered out to Market Street to wait for the start of the parade. I love me some parade.This guy:was right where you see him in this picture for a half hour or so and then I walked away to get a closer look at the parade. He disappeared shortly after that, then mysteriously came back and was all creepy and stuff for a while longer. Freakshow. What you have to understand is that this photo was not taken near the curb. It was taken by the entrance to the Visitor Center. As you can see in the picture above this one. In the wide-freaking open. Weirdos gravitate toward me - I don't know why. Must be the red hair.

The parade started. There were military units from the different branches:
The guy in the hat. He saluted every American Flag that went by. I didn't notice it when I was taking the pictures, only when I downloaded them. I believe that the front of his hat identified him as a Vietnam Veteran. That is dedication, and I heartily respect it. Good on you hat-guy. And thanks for your service.

We also had Mummers. Mmmmm-mmmmm Mummers. I don't know what a parade in Philly would be like without them. Get your strut on. My grandfather always did. Youse guys that ain't from Philly don't know what youse are missing. Aight?
Notice: no flag, no salute. :) Rock on hat-guy.

Fire trucks! I always get excited by the fire trucks. There were a lot of them in this parade too. Yay me.
And the obligatory photo of us. One thing I've been noticing over and over is that my teeth are going crooked again. My parents paid an arm and a leg and I spent the better part of 3 years in braces. WTF? May be time to investigate some Invisalign to restore those pearly whites to their former straight fabulousness.

After the parade, we had some time to explore before our next scheduled event. As an aside, I am one of those people who love to plan. I don't want to wait until I get there and then find out that we can't do this thing that we really wanted to because we needed to make a reservation 4 weeks ago. When we go on vacation, I make dinner reservations months in advance. I just like to know where at least one meal a day is going to come from. Luckily, GeekBoy is happy to go along with my OCD scheduling, as long as I leave enough time for us to wander about and maybe find some cool stuff that's not on the menu.

On our way back around the Liberty Bell Pavilion, I noticed a field of hostas! Hi guys!
We strolled over to the Mint to have a look around. However, we could not get in because no cameras or camera phones are allowed in the Mint. At all. Not like they have a spot right inside the door where you can leave them for the duration of your visit. If you have any sort of a camera on your person, you are not allowed in. That's a great policy. Especially on July 4th weekend. When every man, woman and child has a camera of some sort on them. And chances are, their car (or hotel) is nowhere near where they are at that moment, so there is no stashing it for a bit while they visit the Mint. This was the only sore spot for me during our weekend with regard to the different sites and visiting them.

So here's the Mint.
After we were turned away from the Mint, we noticed that Christ Church Cemetery was directly across the street. There are many prominent Philadelphians buried in this cemetery, including one Benjamin Franklin. GeekBoy and I wandered on over to have a look.

We paid the $2 to enter and had a nice walk through the burial ground. We, of course, visited Ben's grave:All those little dark spots you see on it are pennies. Apparently the story goes that if you flip a penny onto his grave and it lands face-up, you will have good luck. I wanted to flip a penny, GeekBoy thought it was disrespectful - no penny for me. He's always spoiling my good times.

The cemetery was very peaceful and a nice, quiet respite from the antics taking place all over the Mall. But, we had to get over to where our next activity was taking place - the DUCK TOUR!Ahhhhh - quack-quack. I love the Ducks. Geek and I went on them in Boston in May and I was absolutely delighted with our ride. I think one of the keys is getting a good driver. For this tour, we had Tony:
Tony was a doll. He was high energy and a blast, playing great music to go along with all the sights we were seeing on our tour. We saw:

Ed Rendell, our current Governor and former Mayor of Philadelphia. I love Ed, Ed is THE MAN. He's such a down-to-earth person, and a 'Philly Guy' at that. I may not always agree with him politically, but he truly loves Pennsylvania and Philadelphia in particular. The Merchants Exchange
The Library Company (the very first lending library, founded by Ben in 1731)
Franklin Court
The Irish Memorial Then we splashed into the Delaware River, right at the base of the - can you guess? - the Ben Franklin Bridge!We got to see where Will Smith bought his mom a loft
And Penn's Landing, and the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, and a whole host of other sights that I didn't take pictures of.

Quack! The best part was that they gave everyone the quackers, rather than making you buy them if you wanted one. In Boston, if you wanted a quacker, you had to fork over $4 or $5 for them. Thus, not much quacking going on on the Duck in Beantown. In Philly, however, we were encouraged to 'quack-attack' throughout the tour. Since I didn't realize that quackers were included, I brought mine from the Boston Ducks and then bought a pink one in support of breast cancer and now I have 3 quackers.
Yet another recommendation from me. Ride the Ducks. You won't be disappointed. Especially if you can get Tony.

From the Ducks, we headed on down to Penn's Landing, where GeekBoy wanted to participate in the all you can eat ice cream festival that was going on throughout the weekend. We got there at 4 (it ended at 5) and the line leading to the tent was hundreds of people long. GeekBoy walked over to the tent to see what the dealio was and reported back that the tent was packed wall to wall with ice-cream eaters. Um, sorry. That's what you get for not letting me flip that penny. There isn't enough $5 all I can eat ice cream in this world, or any other, to get me to go in that tent willingly. So we relaxed and enjoyed the landing for a while.
Once we felt refreshed and revitalized, GeekBoy and I strolled on over to the City Tavern, for some good eats.
There were some actors out front chilling out so we took our picture with them. We're pretty sure that they'd been partaking of the grog - judging from how animated and chatty they were with us.
Notice that I am in flip-flops. And wearing all my beads and a quacker (I had 2 more stashed in my bag). Klassy. The were the only shoes that I had with me that touched the fewest parts of my feet. I was so much more comfortable on the 4th than the previous two days.

The City Tavern is where the Founding Fathers would retire each day, to drink and eat and discuss the days' events that took place during the Continental Congress. The Tavern even serves beers that are brewed from the recipes of some of our Founding Fathers. GeekBoy and I sampled them, and those guys definitely knew what they were doing; God did invent beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy. Amen to that Ben, Amen.

The servers are dressed in period costume and you get your drinks in pewter glassware, and sometimes there is a harpsichord player in the lounge area. It's neat.

This guy came in partway through our meal and chatted with guests and sang a bit. Of course he had a drinky-drink in his hand.Once we finished our meal, we walked back to Independence Hall to see if we could get into the Liberty Bell. We were in luck, the line was not long and moved quickly. There was quite a crowd around the bell so I could only get a few shots.And then there was this guy:I think he was tired of his girlfriend (wife?!) making him pose in front of everything for her pictures. I don't really blame him all that much, they seemed like nice people. I just wonder if he ever thought his sort of 'boobie shot' would be posted on someone's blog. You go buddy, I hate posing in front of all sorts of shit for every picture too.

From here, we sauntered back to the hotel to rest up before the BIG. FIREWORKS. EXTRAVAGANZA. on the (say it with me) Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Sheryl Crow was putting on a concert as well as The Roots, before the works were to go off. Once we got back to our room, I was dreading having to go back out, and especially not looking forward to fighting our way down the parkway in a mass of......ugh, people. So I turned on the news coverage of the event while GeekBoy took a nap to see when it looked like we should head out. I had no interest in seing the musical acts. Maybe if it was Duran Duran, or if Daniel Craig was going to step out on stage in that bathing suit from Casino Royale, I'd go. But Sheryl Crow and The Roots just aren't enough for me.

The longer I sat, the less I wanted to go back out. Luckily GeekBoy had gotten his fireworks on once already this summer, at my works' annual picnic. So he wasn't hell bent on going to the parkway either. But he still wanted to see him some pyrotechnics. He checked to see if we could get up to the roof of our hotel, but the door was locked. So then he started looking out the window of our room to see if there was any other place that would serve as a good spot to watch from. Which is when I saw it.

Remember at the beginning when I told you that our hotel room overlooked New Jersey? Well, NJ is, for the most part, completely flat. From the window of our room, we could see all of the municipal fireworks shows going on all over Jersey. It was miles and miles of fireworks. As far as the eye could see. GeekBoy was in absolute heaven. The bonus was that we could sort of see the fireworks going off over the parkway too - oh SNAP! Two and a half hours we sat in the window, watching fireworks. It was perfect.

On Sunday, we packed up all our things and headed out of the city. On our way out, we stopped in at the White Dog Cafe for brunch. LOVE the White Dog. They use organic, local ingredients in their dishes and the food is fabulous. The owners also ran a store next door to the cafe, called the Black Cat - which sold all kind of artisan items, a lot of them with kittehs on them (of course!). Unfortunately, with the current economy, the Black Cat is no longer with us and closed its doors after 20 years at the end of June. Big bummer for me - I really liked their stuff. This is where I got the parking ticket. Bastard meter maid.

Then we went home and got engaged. :)