We made it!!! Thanks a million for everyone's support! If you would still like to join us in support of young adults with cancer and First Descents, please visit my page to make a donation. http://teamfd.firstdescents.org/2010/fd/hughes/

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

If all goes according to schedule, I should reach Bar Harbor, Maine and the Atlantic shore sometime TOMORROW! So, enjoy a random collection of stories from the journey (starting with a few and adding more as I think of them).

Oh, the places you'll go...
A super sweet waitress was intrigued by this whole biking across the country thing and had a million questions for us. After we had paid, she approached us and said "I just have one more questions, if you don't mind. Where do you go to the bathroom...do you just go at every wayside restroom (aka rest area)?" Bahahaha. "Well, yes and no. I go at wayside restrooms and gas stations, in cornfields, behind hay bails, trees, and guard rails (as a last resort)." Yep, just marking my territory. :)

Driving Awards
The Best Drivers Award goes to the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire! Very much appreciated. It was a pleasure traveling with you. The Worst Drivers Award goes to the state of Michigan. Sorry, guys. It is legal to move over (even just a little bit) when you pass a cyclist. Better luck next time. On the professional side, the Best Driving Award goes to our US Postal Service drivers. They are coureous and friendly. Solid performance! And the worst or scariest groups are the logging truck and oil truck drivers. Seriously, people. Is is possible to get splinters from a passing log truck?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last State!!!

We are officially in Maine! maine, MAINE! For anybody that completely failed US geography, Maine is a coastal state and the LAST STATE before the sweet sight of the Atlantic Ocean. I was hoping Maine would feel like a giant victory lap, but there is still over 200 miles of work to be completed. And the backroads of Maine are STEEP, Jiminy Cricket!

I honestly don't even know how to prepare for the end...will I laugh, will I cry, will I jump up and down with excitement? At this point, I am excited to complete this enormous personal challenge and excited for what the future holds. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to embark upon the venture and all the life lessons learned along the way. It has been one crazy adventure after the next--the good with the bad, the ups with the downs, the laughter alongside the tears. Here's to the last state in this solo, supported cross-country bike ride! Cheers!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Appalachian Mountains

Thanks to every cyclist familiar with this route for warning me that New Hampshire contained some of the steepest climbs of the entire journey. GREAT...because I am still not a climber. Was biking across the plains and "rolling" hills supposed to somehow prepare me to spend miles upon miles climbing a MOUNTAIN? Well thanks to everyone for putting the fear in me and thanks to the past 2 months of training, becuase I just DOMINATED the last climb in the Appalachian Mountians. BAM! Adirondacks of New York...check. Green Mountains of Vermont...check. White Mountains of New Hampshireof ...check, check, check. It's all downhill from here, right?

Monday, October 18, 2010

They're Back

Headwind and hills...stopped riding as it started raining.
Nor'easter--day off
Nor'easter--day off
Headwind, rain, and mountains.
Headwind and mountains.

This is the weather/terrain combinations of the past five days. And this is the first nor'easter of the season. Aren't we just the luckiest bunch of wayward travelers? It was after a few days of similar dreariness that I may have posted that this (the bike ride) was the hardest thing I have ever done. Well, today, I officially revert that statement. I can't say as though this is the HARDEST thing I have every done...but I will confirm that this is one intense emotional rollercoaster.

Let's have Jesuit consolation/desolation reflection moment...
Sunshine brings me consolation.
Clouds and rain bring me desolation.
Tailwind brings me consolation.
Headwind brings me desolation.
Riding over a snowy mountain pass brings me some very cold hands and feet...over the pass (consolation), frozen phalanges (desolation).

Well, apparently my current limit of tolerance to rain and wind is four days. Yep, today was the fifth...riding uphill into very cold northern headwind. After twenty-five miles of riding with legs full of lead (or sand, hmmm, maybe I do believe in the Sandman), I reached the limit again...though this time with much more poise and class. Mom pulled over next to me, rolled down her window, and with one look and one statement, she knew...I was frustrated, exhausted, and deflated. Any guess on the one statement? "Mom, the tears are back." And I rode on.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Two comments about Vermont...

Home of Vermont White Cheddar Cheese and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream...mmm...this state can be very proud of its dairy farmers.

Home by preference of poet Robert Frost. Way back in the days of 5th grade, I chose Robert Frost as the subject for my 5th Grade English Fair project. Well, today, I am in his home by preference state, passing through his hometown, and chosing between two roads in a yellow wood. How ironical! Still recited mostly from memory...with a check for clarification.

The Road Not Taken
By: Robert Frost

Two road diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
But be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A message from Ellen

A Day in the Journey...

Four years ago, two girls walk into a bike shop, mention they are going to ride from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington D.C., and oh yeah, they need bikes too. M&E express maiden voyage.

Today one of those girls is turning that ambition up a couple notches. I'm talking about a solo supported bike ride across the United States. Some may say she's crazy, some would say she's an inspiration. I'd say she's amazing!

I've known Mary for four years, and in those four years, she has brought out some of the best qualities in me. Mary is the friend that everyone wants to have. She has the capability of helping you find and live your passion. As a physical therapist, Mary also strives to bring out the best in her patients through her creativity combined with a smile or a joke.

Is it any surprise that this cross country trek isn't only about Mary? (There's something about Mary...) NO! This journey is also about young adults living with or survivors of cancer. Those that have followed Mary know that with each pedal stroke she is fighting for people in our age bracket to have the opportunity to set their worries aside and conquer fears of extreme outdoor sports thanks to First Descents.

This past weekend right outside Niagara Falls, the M&E express was in full force once again. I joined Mary for a weekend of great weather, great conversation and great riding. Century ride day/night one well into the cold night along the Erie Canal (thanks Mama Hughes for choosing a B&B for a warm evening!) P.S. I believe that may have been the first successful century ride for the M&E express. Day 2 included a beautiful day along Lake Ontario camping at the shore in Fair Haven, NY. Onward to Day 3...ending in Fulton, NY. Here my parents met us at the end of my journey with Mary. First impressions are everything, Mary I'm glad you wore spandex :)

I leave this weekend with great memories, as Team Hughes continues on to conquer the end of the trail...less than 600 miles to go!

You have my endless support!

Monday, October 11, 2010

More Visitors!

Ellen Wilson, a friend from the Pittsburgh days, came to join the journey for the weekend! A riding buddy! Yippee! Thanks, Ella, for coming to play and the friendly competition.

It was four years ago this summer that Ellen and I bought our first adult bikes and set out to ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC via a rails to trails bike path. Ha, we didn’t know what we were getting into and it was one “hot mess” of a trip from beginning to end—including camping in the mountains with a sheet (no sleeping bags, only a sheet), a sprained wrist from an unfortunately hilarious wipeout, showering with a garden hose in a parking lot, etc. But we survived and still laugh about how naïve and ridiculous we were.

Well, back then we may have been naïve. Now, we are just bull-headed and competitive. Hmmm, I can’t say as though one is better than the other. Ellen arrived on Friday night and looking at the map, we decided we would be completing a century on Saturday. Thank goodness for the rest day on Friday or my body would have nothing to do with another century. But anyways, we had 15-20 miles to ride to a bike path and then would be riding on a bike path for 85 miles. 85 miles of a bike path! Easy ride, easy century, done and done. Ehhh, WRONG! The clerk at the gas station told a big, fat lie when he said the trail was newly paved and in great condition…ehhh, wrong again. The bike path wasn’t paved at all…it was a dirt path. Yes, 85 miles of dirt on road bikes. Debbie Downer, but doable.

Overall, it was an enjoyable day…warm and sunny with a gentle headwind. Did I mention that we are now bull-headed and competitive? Yes. Well, we didn’t start riding until noon or a little later and admittedly should have called it quits when the sun went down…but we said we were going to complete a century…so, headlights on and the ride continued into the dark. When we finally completed the century, it was pitch black and 41 degrees. Yep, we were frfrfrfrozen in shorts and short sleeves. Crazy girls...someday we will learn our lesson.

The next two days proved to be fabulous riding days. Her parent met us on the third day to pick her up and return her to the "real" world. Quote of Monday morning...(Mary)"hey, Ellen, have I ever met your parents?"...(Ellen) "Nope, first impressions are everything"..."(Mary) "Well, in that case, I better wear spandex." hehe

It was wonderful to have a companion on the journey. I am quite sure that the ridiculousness of Mary and Ellen has yet to come into full fruition. Here’s to the future and to making wiser decisions!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Niagara Falls

Another day off! Niagara Falls!!! Mom has been looking forward to this moment for the past 60(ish) years and 3,400 miles. She was here at the age of 4, but who remembers family vacation from when you were 4 years old? Anyway, this is the one destination on the journey that Mom was looking forward to and it is very exciting to share this moment with her. :) We spent a night and a morning on the Canadian side, then crossed to the American side for the afternoon. It still takes my breath away…so beautiful! Thanks for sharing this journey with me, Mom!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ontario, Canada

It's a place to live,
And a place to grow,

Yes, we are in Canada. This is no longer a cross-country journey, but a cross-continental journey. Sounds impressive, huh?!? Because we opted for the longer route up and over the northern part of Lake Michigan, it really only makes sense that we would stay on the northern shores of Lake Erie. And, Ontario seems a bit more interesting than the Indiana/Ohio combination. Did you know that because of the lake effect from Lake Erie, the southernmost part of Ontario has similar climate to the Carolinas? Must admit I was a bit surprised when I say tobacco fields growing and smoke houses. Only later to learn that they also have magnolia trees and fields of tomatoes, brussel sprouts, peppers, potatoes...pretty much, you name it, they grow it. And a million thank yous for the innumerable wind breaks to block the Lake Erie winds...it made for much calmer riding conditions. :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

1000 TO GO for First Descents

1000 miles to go! Only 1000 miles left to the Atlantic Ocean. Well, I guess it is all a matter of perspective “only 1000 miles to go” or “geez, still 1000 miles.” Irregardless, 3200 miles logged thus far and 1000 miles remaining in this cross-country journey. Phew!

To publicly answer the most commonly asked question, “So, do you have cancer?” Nope. I do not have cancer. I am not a cancer warrior or survivor. So, why First Descents? Why young adults with cancer? Why outdoor adventure therapy?
-Because I am a young adult.
-Because I am a health care provider.
-Because I live and breathe and love the outdoors.
-Because I believe that resistance and challenges and new experiences lead to personal growth.
-Because companionship and friendship make the journey bearable, memorable, and enjoyable.

For all these reasons and a million more, I decided to ride across the country for First Descents. One of the greatest things I appreciate about First Descents is that they refer to camp as "outdoor adventure therapy." As a physical therapist, it is no wonder that I support other forms of "therapy." But it isn't that simple. When I think about First Descents, I think about my patients and the life lessons they have bestowed upon me. I think about the struggles we have overcome, the tears we have shed, the immeasureable amounts of laughter, the walks, the talks, the hugs. I am truly blessed everyday.

Over the course of my career, I have worked in settings spanning from the ICU to the professional sports arena. Yet, irregardless of the setting, the focus of therapy is on restoring "quality of life," considering that "quality of life" is a growing spectrum or a moving continuum. If you too believe that we are continually growing, changing, and evolving, then so is our definition of "quality of life." Thus it seems extremely natural for me to support an organization that challenges young adults to push their limits, to challenge themselves, to expand their continuum for "quality of life." I ride for First Descents in support of their mission and philosophy and in appreciation for the positive impact they have on the health care system through personal empowerment and advocacy. Additionally, I ride for my patients who continually bless and strengthen my life. It is in their honor that I wear the breast cancer bandana/scarf and carry an Irish Blessing prayer card--thanks, guys, you know who you are!

An Irish Blessing

May God grant you always...
A sunbeam to warm you,
A moonbeam to charm you,
A sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you.
Laughter to cheer you.
Faithful friends near you.
And whenever you pray,
Heaven to hear you.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Chicago Weekend

Cross-country bike ride TIMEOUT! We are off to Chicago for the weekend for a friend’s wedding. Biking will resume on Monday morning after a brief re-entry into the “real” world. As of today, we have 1,040 miles to go to the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, sometime on Monday, we will cross the 1,000 miles to go mark. How exciting!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Get Lost

Michigan. Done and done. Thank goodness! There is not one road in Michigan that follows a straight path (or at least not one that we have seen) resulting in a million directions and turns to make it across the state. Well, not all roads are signed and some roads change names and for whatever number of reasons, we found ourselves lost a handful of times. Somehow, we made it from Washington through Wisconsin without any difficulty, but managed to get lost in Michigan five times. So, thankfully we have made it to the Michigan/Canada border together. Amidst the chaos, my friend emailed me an insert from one of our favorite reflections. This reflection is one small section from the reflection book provided to the physical therapy group in the Dominican Republic in 2009 composed by Father Patrick Malone. Thanks, Fr. Pat, you are such an inspiration!

"So get out of your zone; go where you are uncomfortable; get lost. It is there you may learn. What is certain is that you will fail. You may discover that others do not notice your sacrifice; they may not care about your wildest dreams, your crushing disappointments. That is as it should be; the point of going is to discover your strongest resolve, your most honest prayer, your deepest sense of gratitude. It is here we discover our desire to love without bounds, to be generous without reason, to be courageous without self-preservation. Here, and only here, where we do not feel safe or protected, we risk getting rid of the timidity, self-absorption, and the overly frequent self-judgments that have enclosed us."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Thank goodness for sunshine!!! Everything is much better now that the sun has decided to come out and play. This is no longer the hardest thing I have ever done…this is soo much fun! And yes, I may have an ounce of ADHD…ooh, shiny penny, ooh, sunshine…the crazy cloudy, dreary, rainy, gloomy days are a thing of the past. My thoughts and feelings are best described in a (should’ve been made for TV movie) ultra-cheesy 1995 blockbuster, “The Brady Bunch Movie.”
“I think I’ll go for a walk outside now
The summer sun’s callin my name
(I hear ya now)
I just can’t stay inside all day
I gotta get out get me some of those rays
Everybody’s smilin
Sunshine day
Everybody’s laughin
Sunshine day
Everybody seems so happy today
It's a sunshine day."

Currently, we are up to three days of sunshine and more is on the way. AND it was in the 70s today for the first time since Montana. WOW!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Honest Truth

This is hard! This is really hard! This is officially the hardest thing I have ever done in my life!!!

After this week, I am mentally exhausted and homesick. Having my sister here was super awesome, but it did make me homesick...for my family (all but Mom, of course), for my friends, for a bed, for a nice shower, for the certainty of a warm place to be every night, for jeans and fleece and scarves instead of spandex. Okay, not so much the last one. We all secretly love spandex. But don't go crazy, America...spandex is a privilege, not a right. Haha!

I digress...ah yes, this week could be classified as complete mental breakdown week. At this point, me completing a cross-country bike trip is no longer a question of physical strength, power, and/or endurance. It is entirely a mental game. It's convincing myself to get out of a warm sleeping bag, wearily trudge to the bathroom, don another round of oh-so-flattering spandex, pack up camp (by this point, I am frozen), get on my bike, and pedal teetering the line between pedaling fast enough to warm-up, but not too fast to freeze in the wind.

You may have guessed by now...the most mentally exhausting portion of this journey is the weather. Did you know that literally EVERY town we have stayed in since Cut Bank, MT is having an "unseasonably" cold or wet or cold and wet week/summer/year? Take that combined with the tropical storms changing the wind patterns and I am having an "unseasonably" difficult ride. In the past eight days (since the halfway point), we have had two days of sunshine with temps in the 60s and six days of clouds, rain, and temps in the low 50s. Three days ago, I took a forced rest break due to rain...and by rain, I mean 6.5-7 inches in 24 hours in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! It is insane or shall we say "unseasonable."

At least amidst the mental exhaustion/mental breakdown, I am still riding well. I am currently in St. Ignace, MI and will be crossing from the Upper Peninsula to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan first thing in the morning. We detoured to Mackinac Island this morning for breakfast, sightseeing, and SHOPPING! Yea for end of season sales on winter apparel when in the rest of the country it isn't even winter yet!!! Shopping makes me happy! :) New coats make me happy too! Sunshine will make me even happier...come on Mother Nature, we are all cheering for you!

My favorite quote of today from Mackinac Island: One surry driver (aka horse drawn carriage driver) said to another surry driver, "Have you ever considered peeing yourself just to warm up?" Yep, that pretty much captures the attitude towards the "unseasonably" cold, damp air.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Yep! This week, we had visitors! My sister (Diane) and nephews (Joseph, Andrew, and Thomas) came to visit. They arrived on Saturday evening (yay!) and left this afternoon (tear!).

It was so wonderful to have visitors! We stayed at a really nice KOA kampground for two days...so, while I was off biking...they were jumping on the jumping pillow, playing miniature golf, and playing on the playground (yes, I was a bit jealous). But at the end of the day, it was a treat to come back to a camp of stories and excitement about the days activities and then back to the jumping pillow we would go...your legs can never be too tired for the jumping pillow. Haha. For the next two nights, we stayed with friends of theirs at a YMCA camp. Oh my goodness, a huge thank you to the Grover family. You have no idea how amazing it is to be indoors and in a bed for two nights in a row. Ahhh, a little taste of heaven right there! The food was fantastic and served around a real table with real plates and silverware. Welcome back to normalcy! Then, the nights rounded out with a game of UNO or Yahtzee. Great times!

Thanks a million to my sister and her boys for joining us on this journey. Matt, we missed you! I think my sister has a new found appreciation for the seemingly endless challenges of this adventure. And while we warned her, my sister was rudely awakened to the world of camping in the cold. Have fun in Denver next week where it is going to be 85 degrees...you didn't need to rub it in!

Friday, September 17, 2010

First Descents on ESPN.com

Hey everyone--

Thanks a million for everyone's support and encouragement to date. For those of you who are new to the scene, I am currently biking across the country as a means to increase awareness about the problem that is young adult cancer and to support the cause that is First Descents.

Anywho, ESPN.com just rocked an article about First Descents. Thought I would pass it along for your reading enjoyment and to further your understanding about an organization that means so much to so many. Happy Reading! http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/thelife/news/story?id=5543425 (if you can't get the link to open, right click on it and open in a new tab or new window. Sorry, it is being temperamental.)

To learn more about First Descents, visit their webpage at http://www.firstdescents.org
To donate to First Descents, visit my fundraising page at: http://teamfd.firstdescents.org/2010/fd/hughes/mary/

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Happy Halfway Across the United States Hump Day!

Happy Wednesday! Happy hump day! Happy halfway across the United States hump day!

Current biking progress:
Pacific Coast: check
Cascade Mountains: check
Sonora Desert: check
Foothills of the Rockies: check
Rocky Mountains: check
The Northern Great Plains: check
Part of the Midwest: check
Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota: check, check, check, check, check

Yep, that pretty much describes it. I am near the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. Yesterday during the ride across eastern Minnesota, I officially crossed the halfway point of this journey. I am halfway across the United States of America! One minute it feels like it is going by so quickly and the next it seems like it has been an eternity. Did you really ever stop to think how far 4000+ miles is? If there wasn't joy and beauty to counter the pain and laughter to counter the tears, 4000 miles would be an unbearably long way. But the joy is in the journey!

Mother Nature has been totally PMSing for the past 2 weeks and it is about time she pulled herself together. I think she was crying tears of joy for my halfway day, but to me it just felt like cold rain. Boo! However, it did lead to an entire day of laughter. Being ever-optimistic, I departed this morning in bike shorts, a short sleeve jersey, and a windbreaker. Ha! That was the first mistake. After three miles, I was soaking wet and freezing. Good thing mom had randomly stopped on the side of the road six miles outside of town, because I was frfrfrfreezing. The first picture was when I still looked like a normal cyclist. But by the time I added enough layers to be both warm and dry, I looked like a circus clown on a bicycle (insert next picture). Haha! Happy halfway across the United States hump day!

From here we are heading north (brrr!) through Wisconsin to the Northern Pennisula of Michigan with a minor detour to Mackinaw Island. From there, heading southeast across Michigan to the Canadian side of Lake Erie. eh, Canada! Then, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Bam!

Okay, picture to come later. This internet connection is slow as molasses. Sorry!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ode to the Winds of North Dakota

Ode to the Winds of North Dakota

You push, I push back.
You lean, I lean back.
You push harder, I push back.
You lean harder, I lean back.
You slap me across the face, I turn the other cheek.
You push, you lean, you slap, you shove.
You scream, you shout, you howl, you yell.

You push me around.
You throw me off course.
You stop me dead in my tracks.
You lean on me when I’m not strong.
You scream so loud, I can’t hear myself think.
And though you nearly tip me over
And though you bring me to tears
So long as every pedal stroke results in forward progression,
I will not surrender. I will not retreat. I will prevail.

Dear Winds of North Dakota,
This is not a threat. This is simply a self-reminder. But headwind for the past five out of six riding days is ridiculous. I walked into the gas station, restaurant, movie store, service station (you know the type) and everyone stared at me as if I were insane. Well, they might be right. You are driving me to INSANITY! Okay, maybe that is a bit dramatic. But really, why must you be such a bully—pushing and shoving and screaming and now spitting (rain). Do I get a swirly tomorrow? Great! Looking forward to it.
Until tomorrow,

Pictures coming soon!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Cinco Consecutive Century Challenge

One correction from a previous post from "Day Four: the Day of Firsts." I was NOT the biker who crashed in the gravel (everyone, knock on wood RIGHT NOW!). The boy from a teenage couple popped his tire and crashed in the gravel, scraping up his leg pretty bad. Mom--The Good Samaritan--stopped to help, picked him up, put his bike on the car, drove him down to the country store, and helped him clean out his wounds. Good work, Mom!

Anyways, I know I have been uber slow at blogging lately. Sorry! But I do have a good reason.

From a previous post, you know that I completed my first ever century while crossing the Continental Divide. Being a wee-bit competitive, I decided that it would be feasible--though a challenge--to complete three consecutive centuries. Well, in the matter of about a day, three turned into five, which became the Cinco Consecutive Century Challenge. Who do I think I am? She-ra? Wonder woman? Somebody who is actually in great physical shape? Ha, not by a long shot...but I am allowed to dream and set impossible goals.

Well, kids. "It's possible! For the world is full of zanies and fools who don't believe in sensible rule, and don't believe what sensible people say. And because these daft and dewey eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes impossible things are happening every day. It's possible!" Name that Disney movie...1...2...3...Cinderella.

It's possible! I completed the Cinco Consecutive Century Challenge! Five century rides (100 miles) in the past five days. Bam!

Century 1: Awesome tailwind. Good start!
Century 2: Mild tailwind...still a good thing.
Century 3: Wicked crosswind. Doable, but a struggle. It's a good thing the day started with Latin dancing on the side of the highway (not kidding) to loosen up the Latin hips because today was all about holding onto the handlebars and keeping my hips loose. I got a side cramp after 75 miles because apparently my obliques aren't strong enough to do a side crunch ALL DAY! Left Montana, entered North Dakota!
Century 4: Awesome breakfast, awesome ride!
Century 5: Headwind, headwind, relentless headwind. Pain, tears, exhaustion. First ever ride after sundown. Beautiful, peaceful, amazing. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight. My wish came true...I FINISHED!

Happy Labor Day Weekend!


Single tree in the middle of a field. Why? Is this a metaphor for life?

The road less traveled

Worst road conditions...tax dollars hard at work

Welcome to North Dakota!

Funniest sign! It was posted in the women's restroom, hence the gentlemen part is crossed out.

Geographical Center of North America and opening weekend of college football. Go Hawkeyes!

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I distinctly remember the moment in physical therapy school, when my partner and I stumbled upon a theory for our final medical ethics/ethics education project: "Ethics is uncertainty." So simple, but one of those "ah-ha" life moments. Since that day and since that time that simple statement sets off a train of thoughts...ethics is uncertainty; medical ethical conflicts and dilemmas are not black and white, not right and wrong, not yes and no; medical ethics is grey; so the role of our educational system is not to teach us right from wrong; it is to teach us how to think, to process, to negotiate uncertainty--that's a huge responsibility. But life is no different. Life is uncertainty.
For some reason, I have been thinking a lot about uncertainty lately. The only thing certain about this journey is that "for every up, there is a down." Literally, not figuratively. I started at the Pacific Ocean and am ending at the Atlantic Ocean. Sea level equals sea level by my calculations. Thus, for every up, there must be a down. But outside of that, nothing else is certain. For every headwind, there isn't a promised tailwind. For every rough road, there isn't a newly paved road. For every good there isn't a bad and for every bad there isn't a good. Life is not fair. Each day is an unknown slate of uncertainty. Life is uncertainty.
Today, I rode 42 miles...not too impressive as a single statistic. But today, I rode 42 miles in the rain with temperatures in the mid-40s into 30-40mph diagonal headwind/crosswind. Sounds slightly miserable? At times, yes. But ultimately, I have a choice which days to ride and which days not to ride. I made the choice to ride today. And today, amidst the uncertainty, the teachings and wisdoms of my life teachers came flooding back--from my family to my friends to my co-workers, teachers, patients to complete strangers. To have a passion is to accept the denial that comes with it. There is more to be learned in losing than winning. Bad days remind us to be gracious and appreciative of the good ones. Hughes' don't quit. :) Everyday should contain laughter and tears. Take each day as you find it, but don't leave it that way. Okay, I will stop. Just saying that while the riding conditions were slightly miserable, the overall experience was worth the journey--thanks to my life teachers who have taught be how to negotiate uncertainty.

This evening, we had dinner with and are staying with Lindsay and Jacob Lorang. Lindsay is a great college friend from the good ol' days of Creighton University. (#1 school in the Midwest AGAIN! Go Bluejays!). It was so amazingly wonderful to catch up, have homecooked meals, and a warm, dry place on a cold, dreary night. Linds, the very best of luck on your next life endeavors! You are so ambitious! And happy tuna fishing...haha...400 lbs of tuna.

Random thought of today: You don't go into the ring to fight Mother Nature as if to win or lose, because you will inevitably lose. Mother Nature is relentless. And Mother Nature in Central Montana can be a real vixen. You go into the ring with Mother Nature to define yourself, to reconnect with your sense of humanity, to reinforce humility, to respect.

Lindsay and Mary--rise and shine!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Montana Rest and Relaxation

After successfully crossing the Cascade Mountains, as well as, the Rocky Mountains, I think it is time for a little bit of rest and relaxation. And low and behold, we are at Glacier National Park and it’s my birthday! Double whammy!

Glacier National Park is beautiful! Super beautiful! We drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road, read ALL of the signs (Mom’s choice), had lunch by Lake McDonald, wandered around the Visitor’s Center and shops, and went for a nice hike near Logan’s Pass. It was a wonderful way to spend a few days of R&R!

Glacier National Park was one of four pre-planned side excursions of the cross-country journey, also including Mackinaw Island (Michigan), Niagara Falls (New York), and Acadia National Park (Maine). But an unexpected blessing of these two days was meeting, dining, and staying with Chuck and Jinny Ludden—parents of Brad Ludden, founder of First Descents. They were such gracious and welcoming hosts to virtual strangers. There are really are no words to describe how wonderful, fabulous, adventurous, down-to-earth, and hospitable they are and how welcome they made us feel. “I learned that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou) THANK YOU immensely for being a part of this journey and for opening your hearts and your home to us! Also, a huge thank you for your assistance in arranging for new bike tires and an oil change. And finally yet importantly, thanks for the birthday cake. I know, right?!? Homemade birthday cake with candles and singing…who are these people? Awesome birthday in a beautiful place with wonderful people! Perfect!

So, before leaving Kalispell, MT, we hit up the bike shop for new bike tires (cross your fingers for no more flats) and got an oil change. At Toyota, we met Chris McKenzie—friend of the Luddens and FD supporter—who managed to squeeze us in and hook us up. Thanks, buddy, and best of luck in the mountain bike ride/race this weekend! Okay, I think Kalispell breeds great people and/or somehow attracts the nicest people. Chris has a bit of an advantage…he married a girl from Iowa. That’s a no brainer. :) But seriously, after talking for like 20-30 minutes, I was ready to pack my bags and move to Montana—the biking, the skiing, the hiking, the golf, the mountains/rivers/lakes, the weather, the people. From an oil change to the drawing board of life…Happy 29th Birthday! Thanks everyone…until we meet again!

Glacier National Park

Lake McDonald

Mom and Mary hiking

Mom and Mary hiking--Hidden Lake in the background

Birthday Cake!!! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you...

Chuck (Grasshopper), Jinny (Mama Ludden), and Mary

Monday, August 23, 2010

Continental Divide and Century

It was a much better day...in fact, A GREAT DAY! Sooo STOKED!

After a good nights sleep and one helluva GAME ON pep talk, today started out much better. Well, it really started out again on Highway 93 (which is still an awful road), but I was in a much better frame of mind. Truthfully, the initial 9-mile Highway 93 stretch of my ride today isn't even accounted for in my daily statistics. I spent 9 miles on 93 before turning onto a county road. For those 9 miles, I was too busy concentrating on not dying that I didn't even notice that the computer on my bike (odometer, speedometer, time, and cadence) wasn't working. I finally readjusted the sensor after turning onto the county road. So, VAMOOSH 9 tedious miles gone!

Today's ride started on a wonderful county road still covered with thick, morning fog. As the sun burned through the fog, I enjoyed the greatest 10-mile bike ride of my life. The road wound past beautiful ranches with lush, green pastures and the mountains emerged in the background. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the moment...I was at peace. Something about the moment took me back to the campo of La Guama in the Dominican Republic and I randomly started singing a Dominican song about drinking coffee in the campo. mmm Dominican coffee on a brisk morning. Who doesn't sing in Spanish while riding across the country?

After a zen-like 10 miles, it was back to the reality of this ride. The day included one more stint on Highway 93, back country roads through deep woods (and more singing in Spanish. Bew...bew, bew, bew, bew. Hey CDC girls!), a gravel road (two thumbs down), and Highway 2 from here to eternity. Long story short, it was a great day for riding and I was in the right mindset. After actually looking at a map, I realized I was quickly approaching the Continental Divide and had a route decision to make. From West Glacier there are two options for crossing the Continental Divide. Option 1: through Glacier National Park and over Logan Pass. Option 2: around Glacier National Park and over Marias Pass. Due to bicycle riding time restrictions in Glacier National Park and a lot of one lane, pilot car construction on the east and westside of Logan Pass, we opted for option 2.

and KaZAM, after a good nights sleep and one helluva GAME ON pep talk, it was a great day for riding. After 60 computer miles (69 total), I started dreaming of crossing to Continental Divide TODAY. I had started the day with one expectation...to cover at least 70 miles. And now that I had looked at the map and already almost covered 70 miles, I made up my mind that I would be crossing the Continental Divide TODAY. And not just that, but I would be completing my first ever century ride (100 miles) as well. And well, I can't be content with a straight 100 miles because I NEED to see the 100.00 mark on my computer, which means I have just set me goal for a 109 mile (thanks a lot, Highway 93). Mind you, I set this goal 30 miles before the Continental Divide, 30 miles before the mountain pass, prior to any significant elevation change. What am I thinking? Well, now is not the time to start second guessing myself. GAME ON!

Good news! The road to Marias Pass was in good condition and had a manageable grade of elevation. Phew! Because by this time, it was really a race against daylight. For the first 70 miles of my day, I was toodling along aiming to have a good 70-mile ride. Then to decide to add another 30-40 miles including a climb to the Continental Divide...haha...well, it was about time I started moving a little bit faster. As I started climbing, I felt awful, then great, then depleted, then great again...such a rollercoaster. But I DID IT!!! I reached the Continental Divide at 98 miles into my first century! After an 11 mile pedaling descent, I reached the town of West Glacier and my computer finally read 100.01 (109 total)! Woot woot! It was a GREAT DAY!

Planning on an easy 50-mile victory lap tomorrow...then a few days off my bike to enjoy Glacier National Park and my birthday! Que WOW, I am almost 29!

The view from the breakfast table. Yep, looks like a great day for a bike ride!

Cheese! Crossing the Countinental Divide...it's all downhill to the Mississippi River from here!

At 98 miles into my first century. haha, drama pic. I actually feel GREAT!

100.01 miles! Woot Woot!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Frustration Station

I would love to paint the picture that this whole journey is sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. But at the end of today, I am super frustrated. I haven't had a good riding day in the past 4 days and it is getting a bit old. A million things have happened. We were in a hotel 4 nights ago, so I was on the computer all morning. I didn't get on my bike until after 11am, then almost immediately crossed the ID/MT border and crossed into the mountain time zone. Poof! Another hour gone. With the late start, I only rode (forward) for 50 miles including a long stop for huckelberry pie and ice cream and a backtrack (through construction) because I lost my maps. Three days ago, I started late once again due to mechanical issues. I was riding like a rockstar for the first 50 miles and then started cramping. No good! Well, I will call it cramping, but is was a weird cramping and stabbing pain in my right side moving across my back and stomach then up my right chest and neck. So weird! Anyways, after advancing only 5 miles in the course of an hour between stops for stretching and walking and curling up into the fetal position, I called it a day. Yesterday, I had another good riding day along the beautiful Koocanusa Lake but stopped early to set up camp and clean up for church. Today was the pinnacle of frustration. I hit the road at a decent hour heading in the direction of Whitefish, MT. Whitefish was about 50 miles from my departure site and after the disgraceful daily average over the past three days, I was hoping to make it further than 50 miles. But low and behold, I didn't even make it to Whitefish. OMG! Approaching Whitefish from the West, I was traveling on highway 93, which has less than optimal road conditions (no shoulders, broken concrete, chia cracks, and moderate to heavy traffic). Though I vowed that I would not complain about road conditions (with the good comes the bad), I will say that I have traveled on gravel roads more conducive to road bikes than Highway 93. Anyways, riding on poor road conditions on a busy highway, dripping in rain, eating the road spray from RVs, shuttering from a few close calls with cars, and politely reminding those cars that they are idiots...it was time to call it a day. Safety first! But I only rode 33 miles today...ahhh!

After one more failure of a day, I am a bit frustrated. One or two of these days wouldn't even phase me. But I have only covered 195 miles in 4 days. Really?!? That is an average of less than 50 miles per day. I was doing better than this in the mountains! What is my deal? Is it mental? Is it physical? Are my expectations too high? Yes, yes, and no. I know I am not focused like I know I can be and need to be to get more mileage out of every ride. I am definitely exhausted. I am starting to feel lethargic between 40 and 50 miles, which is way too early. And I am crazy emotional about nothing, another sign of exhaustion or crazy hormones. My bet is on exhaustion!
Something needs to change STAT! I still have a long way to go, so I am trying to keep a level head and not FREAK OUT! It's a bit early for a major change in the game plan, I still have months ahead of me. MONTHS!!!

After a nap, a hearty dinner, a good nights sleep, and one helluva GAME ON pep talk, tomorrow WILL be a better day...or something may need to change. I honestly haven't even looked at a map to know where I am or what is in store for tomorrow...but it WILL be a better day. At this point, I will be content with a 70-miler. Wait! Am I entering the Northern Rockies tomorrow? Well, too late, a 70-miler it is. GAME ON!

Welcome to Montana!

Kootenai Falls

Koochanusa Lake..Montana is one beautiful place (pictures don't do justice)

Sign at the laundromat...Really Montana?!?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Word of the Day

Word of the Day: GUMPTION.

I was talking to a store owner somewhere in the middle of the Cascades...just one of a million random conversations to date on this journey. The conversation started on the topic of weather, when he said,"it's a beautiful day out there. Make sure you get out an enjoy the sunshine." And I replied, "for sure. I think I am going to go for a little bike ride." And he responded with, "where do you think you are going to ride? It's all up a mountain from here?" And so on and so forth with me describing that yes, I would be climbing that mountain and the next and the next heading East and ultimately crossing the country. At this point, most people respond with "wow" or "you're crazy" or "what inspired you to do that" or "you must be in great shape" (haha, I wish!) or "I couldn't spend that long on a bike seat (or something referring to saddle pains)." But this guy had a different response, catching me a bit off guard. He said: "Wow, you have a lot more gumption than the rest of us." hmmm, gumption. What a great word! Word of the day and word of the trip!

Gumption quotes:
1. "Anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone who hasn't can never know what it is. So there is no need of defining it." --Lucy Maud Montgomery
2. "A person filled with gumption doesn't sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He's at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what's up the track and meeting it when it comes. That's gumption." --Robert Pirsig

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Biking Progress

The journey thus far has taken me from the ocean shores in Anacortes, WA through the Skagit River Valley, up and over the North Cascade Mountains (apparently through a short stint of desert...according to one of the locals), and finally into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I have ridden for 9 out of 10 days and crossed the state of Washington. I expected that this journey would start out much slower than I am accustomed to due to the mountains and my not-so-diligent training as the summer progressed. :) In the mountains, I will guesstimate that I averaged 50-55 miles per day and since leaving the mountains about 70-75 miles per day for the past 2 days. So far, my body is holding up very well (again a bit surprising, due to the lack of training). Most of the information I read about others crossing the country warned me of severe saddle pain for the first 1-3 weeks. Well, a week and a half has passed and I am doing much better than expected. Road surfaces are variable rainging from super smooth concrete/cement to less than optimal new blacktop with freshly oiled loose gravel. It is usually the road surfaces that determine how frequently I am getting off my bike for "pressure relief" of my hands, feet, and seat. Otherwise, we are off to a great start. Crossed the WA/ID state line today and should cross the ID/MT state line tomorrow. Happy trails!

A breakfast shout out to my girls in Tillamook--the land of cheese, trees, and ocean breeze

Welcome to Idaho!

Pend Oreille Lake (pronounced pond-a-ray)

Bike path along the Pend Oreille Lake

Monday, August 16, 2010


One side effect of this journey thus far is a renewal that America is full of really, really nice people. The beauty of camping is that you inevitably start talking to you neighbor or someone in the bathroom or wherever...something we would be missing if we were hoteling it across the country. People are generally courteous about moving over on the roadways to "give me 3 feet." A county sheriff stopped at the junction of 2 highways to make sure I got across the intersection safely. Really?! Thank you, very nice people for looking out for your neighbors. One irony of the whole situation is that we literally had the same neighbors for 3 nights in a row. It takes until about mid-day for us to make a plan for the evening...depending on weather, road conditions, elevation, etc. Anyways, there is one in a million chance that we would meet the same people (who are driving from place to place) at any of the hundreds of campgrounds in this neck of the woods. But I guess I could say that these are the one in a million type of people. Just wanted to send a shout out to them for their friendship and participation in this journey. Cheers to Bill and Robin...until we meet again!

Our neighbors: Bill and Robin

Kettle Falls: Who is the one grouch? Hahaha

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Deep Thoughts by Mary Hughes

My sister informed me today of a conversation she had with one of my college friends regarding this journey. His initial reaction was seriously, what could you possibly think about for all that time? Or even if you resorted to music, you would have to start back in the 1950s to find enough material to last that long. Well, then I started thinking. I have been on the bike for 7 days and really don't know what I have been thinking about. This is my conclusion...

The average human being only uses 10% of their available brain power. And while I can walk and chew gum, I can't pedal and think, so I must use about 7% of my available brain power. Done. Deep thoughts by Mary Hughes.

No. In all seriousness, a recurrent train of thought goes something like this. I am utterly amazed at the art of bicycling and the evolution of this journey. Bicycling is a non-invasive, efficient form of transportation that still allows you to sense and experience your surroundings. On my second day of riding, I was overcome with a sense of gratitude for this experience, because it is such a unique way to explore the country. The rush of gratitude came when I compared myself to the cars that were passing me. While they were moving faster, they could only visually enjoy the scenery. Then I thought, hmmm maybe I do understand why people enjoy riding motorcycles because they can enjoy the scenery without the confines of a car. Then a motorcycle vroomed by and ruined that train of thought. But with bicycling, as with many other sports, I am able to experience my surroundings with all my senses. I see the tall trees and the shadows the clouds form on the mountainside. I smell the pine trees, the fresh cut hay, the coffee shops, the rotting carcasses (yes, with good comes bad). I hear the rushing water of the mountain streams, the approaching cars, the chirping birds, the hum of the powerlines. I feel the wind against my face and the changing road surfaces. I am sure I am tasting more than I realize, but thankfully, I haven't tasted any bugs yet. :) I am continuously inundated with sensory overload. So because I am only capable of using 7% of my brain power, I really don't have much room for thinking with all this sensing. And ultimately, it is my awareness of my senses and my reactions to the sensory feedback that are keeping me safe on the road. Happy and safe pedaling!

Today's challenge: How far can I travel without pedaling? Speed must remain above 10 miles per hour. Result: 12.7 miles.

Sherman Pass: The highest mountain pass in the state of Washington

Sign at the top of Sherman Pass: "As You Share In The Journey: It's All Downhill From Here"

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Theme Song

Why do we get songs stuck in our heads? And where do they come from?

I can honestly say that I haven't heard music in about a week. So, where the song that got stuck in my head today came from, I have no idea except that it fit the situation perfectly!

Today's ride began with 30 miles of flat terrain with a dreadful headwind, followed by a 26 mile climb to Wauconda Pass, and a descent to camp. Temperatures were in the high 90s without shade or a cloud in sight. It was soo hot. I was totally dehydrated by the end of the day, but calculated that I had consumed more than 3 gallons of fluid during the ride. Crazy!

Today's theme song began as just another song that got stuck in my head, another mantra with a good pedaling beat. But given the weather and the terrain, it quickly turned into the theme song for the day. Brought to you by Rodney Adkins...
"If you're going through hell
Keep on going, don't slow down
If you're scared, don't show it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you're there."

Hoping for a more positive theme song tomorrow!

Today's random challenge: Trying to cross a metal cattle grate with a road bike and road bike shoes. Bahahaha! Way harder than it seems.

Looking down the road I just climbed

Today's terrain...looks like I might have some shade from the trees in the distance.

Wauconda Pass

Cattle grate. Bahahaha!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perserverance and Determination

The primary focus of today was the climb to Loup Loup Pass...the third mountain pass in a series of 5. So far, the climbs have been 40 miles and 5 miles. Today's climb is 7-10 miles and I am looking forward to a 26 mile and 15 mile climb in the next two days. Being a Midwesterner, I am not a climber, would never claim to be a climber, and was really dreading the long climbs at the beginning of the journey. Prior to the trip, I thought of the Cascades and the Rockies as a mere passage to the plains and rolling hills of the Midwest. But as the reality of the situation unfolds, I am still not a climber and would never pretend to be, but I am rather enjoying the challenge and the rewards hiding in the Cascades and hopefully the Rockies.

I found myself laughing today at the life lessons that are best captured in children's storybooks. And twentysome years later, they are probably more relevant than they were when I was five. The two stories that I thought about today were "The Little Engine That Could" and "The Tortoise and The Hare." Both with the resounding themes of perserverance and determination.

Climbing has become an amazing test of my mental capabilities and a reassessment of my expectations. I get frustrated climbing because I expect to pedal and move quickly and efficiently on a bicycle. But in my first mountain climbs ever, I am learning to tone down the perfectionist in me. The first few attempts at anything aren't about perfection. There about taking each new opportunity as a chance to learn and to grow and hopefully to become better. It's about having the perserverance and the determination to finish what you started and ultimately proving to yourself that you can. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. I thought I could!

Rock on the shoulder near the summit of Loup Loup Pass. Amen.

Loup Loup Pass...brrr

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day Four: The Day of Firsts

As most of you know, I am from the Midwest...as in the land of rolling hills and plains. I spent my "Spring training" in the Dominican Republic (without a bike) and in eastern Nebraska (the plains). My final week of training was RAGBRAI (the bike ride across Iowa) and this year, the course was exceptionally flat. I say "exceptionally" because it is definitely the exception to find a flat-ish route across Iowa, because Iowa is NOT FLAT! However, today was the first day I have ever crossed a mountain pass via bicycle!

Today's firsts...
1. Crossing my first mountain pass on my bicycle. Make that 2 mountain passes today!
2. Which lead to my first mountain descent on a bicycle. Thanks to George--"the crazy guy on a bike"--who heeded the warning of gravel on the second turn of the descent.
3. So, Mom received her first Good Samaritan Award of the trip for picking up a broken down and injured bicyclist who lost control and crashed in the gravel.
4. Yesterday, I had my first flat tire of the trip. Today, I had my second. :( Okay that wasn't really a first of today but close.
5. Last, but certainly not least. I had my first shower in 3 days! Yeah! Thanks to 5 years in the Dominican Republic for my moderate efficiency with bucket showers, but really just be thankful that these pictures are not scratch "n" sniff. :)

Warning: This is the beginning of full body spandex pictures. Proceed cautiously!

Skagit River

Entering the North Cascades

Changing my first flat tire :(

Gorge Lake

Spray-painted on the shoulder...approaching Rainy Pass. This one's for Corrie!

Rainy Pass (#1)

Washington Pass (#2)

Washington Pass Overlook. Yep, I climbed the road behind me.

My second flat tire :(

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Plan/Logistics

Everyone has a million questions about the logistics of this journey, so here is the lowdown.

Biking: Yes, this is a given. It's a bike ride across the entire United States (and a few portions of Canada). The plan is to average 400-500 miles of biking per week resulting in a 9-11 week journey. At this rate, there is still time to play and enjoy the country.

Lodging: The majority of nights we will be tent camping with the occasional stay with friends, family, and hotels. That being said, I do and will have limited access to Internet, so my apologies for the delay in blog posts.

Food/water: We are preparing most of our meals over a fire or a camping stove. Lunch is served picnic-style in a city park, campground, or somewhere random on the side of the road. I do carry ample food with me as well as 2 water bottles and a camelback.

Communication: This is evolving and will continue to evolve. Depending on the terrain and the weather conditions determines how often I plan to meet my mom (aka support vehicle). We have cell phones as well as long range walkie talkies. In the mountains, we plan to meet frequently because no form of communication is effective and the availability of alternate food and water can be scarce. On the plains, we will probably only be meeting for lunch.

Finances: My mom and I are funding our own way, so all donations go directly to First Descents.

I hope this answers your questions and a bit of insight into the next 3 months of our lives! Feel free to ask any more questions that may still be burning.

Eating lunch on the side of the highway

Home is where you park it

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 1: Dipping in the Pacific Ocean

Day 1! There are seriously so many emotions happening at this very moment, I am not really sure what to do...jump up and down with excitement, vomit from nervousness, or simply bow my head in graditude for the opportunity. It's Day 1! It's finally here!

Similar to the RAGBRAI (the bike ride across Iowa) experience, I will be traveling from one body of water to another. Except instead of the Missouri River to the Mississippi, I will be traveling from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and thus the journey must begin with the christening of my back tire in the Pacific Ocean. Thanks First Descents for the picture-worthy new jersey. :)

Today's riding plan was more about logistics than it was about actually riding. I only rode about 25 miles in the late afternoon while trying to figure out the best ways to communicate with my mom (the support vehicle) and how the ACA maps work in reality. Over the course of the next few months, I am planning to primarily follow the ACA Northern Tier Route with the addition of the Great Lakes loop.

Happy Trails!

Tire Dipping in the Pacific Ocean

Anacortes, WA: The Beginning...