I started riding my bike like most suburban teens and took my first long trip with my friend Karl when we were 16, riding 250 miles in five days to the end of Long Island, camping along the way. Since then, I have always been a big bicycling person. After college, I led a couple of biking trips for teens for one of the hosteling groups, and then to get to grad school I rode my bike across Canada for a summer-long course of about 2500 miles. After grad school I was working in DC and led the effort to get bikes on board the subway trains there. So I wasn’t just a rider, but a biking advocate.
In my late 40s, I decided to take up bike charity fundraising, and started doing a series of annual rides. My first ones were to benefit AIDS research and went from NYC to Boston. I later did rides to benefit diabetes, cancer and MS research, and thanks to many of you, was able to be one of the top fundraisers for my rides.
My sister Carrie’s experience though with riding was completely different. She didn’t touch a bike until after she turned 55. “I figured I survived breast cancer, I might as well tackle a bike.” So she taught herself to ride, got a pretty new bike and signed up for the 24 Baltimore ride and started a team with me and another couple. Carrie and I had done several multi-day breast cancer walking events over the years in different cities. We try to find an event that has some meaning to us, challenging and exciting. One year we did one of the Avon walks in Philadelphia: it was so cold and rainy that we had to be evacuated from our campground to a local high school, where we spent the night sleeping on the floor. At least it was warm and dry.
When we signed up for the 24 ride, I didn’t realize that it would be such a benefit for helping Carrie learn how to be a better bike rider. She had limited experience using gears, for example, and tackling hills. Since she got her bike, she has fallen several times and cracked a few ribs. I am amazed that after these experiences she would want to get anywhere near a bike. But that is the kind of person she is.
This photo of us then represents something very unusual: both of us on bikes, going through the “finish” line on one of our laps. After doing so many of these events with and without her, it is the first time we have been together on two wheels.
The structure of the 24 ride is doing a tight 2+ mile loop over and over again. While it can get tedious, it turned out to be just the right thing for a beginner such as Carrie. This is because she got to try out her gearing and her climbing strategy over the series of laps. Many of the other riders saw that she was a newbie and gave her lots of encouragement, and it was fun to be on my bike with her throughout the day. No, we didn’t go all 24 hours, but we still did more than 25 miles around the course.
I was very proud of her prowess, and how much she enjoyed the event. And glad that we got to do this together too.
With the wall-to-wall 911 coverage this week, I wanted to take a moment to go back in time to that fateful day ten years ago. Back then, I had just released my second book on home networking and was about to embark on a series of book tours to promote it. The tour never happened. I was living on Long Island and that morning I was out on a bike ride to the end of the peninsula that had a view of the Manhattan skyline. I didn’t know that I was seeing the collapse of the buildings from my vantage point 25 miles away. I lost two acquaintances that day; one a fireman that I had done several charity bike rides with, the other on the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. It took me months to visit the site, and I posted this entry in March 2002. I thought you might want to read what I had written then:
I went down to the former World Trade Center site this week, for the first time since 9/11. It was a dark and stormy night, with an almost surreal atmosphere of ground fog and occasional rain showers. A utility pipe venting steam into the street nearby added to the almost movie-set-like feeling around the dark and deserted streets.
I have been reluctant to return here, an area that I visited often on business and tourist reasons throughout my tenure as a New Yorker. The twin towers were a favorite destination for my family for showing off the city to out of town guests, as well as a place for me to go to power breakfasts for various computer industry events.
I have been back in the neighborhood several times since the disaster, not as a tourist but as a volunteer to help prepare meals for the construction and police crews working there. And while many friends of mine went to see the site in the days after the disaster, I couldn’t bring myself to go. I didn’t want to see what had happened. After losing one friend, Tom Kelly, I didn’t want to approach the area without some further reflection and respect for all of those who perished. It was enough for me to view the skyline from afar, and note the gap, like some extracted tooth from my child’s smile.
But this week I was ready to see what things looked like, and pay my respects. I had dinner with a friend of mine who lives in Battery Park on a high floor, with huge picture windows facing the site. He and his wife watched the buildings crumble that day, and they offered me to come to their apartment and see the view for myself. Until this week, I wasn’t really ready to take them up on their offer.
But once I got to their place, I was glad I came. The foggy evening highlighted the twin searchlight banks that have been setup as a memorial a few blocks away from where the actual towers were located. Their lights cast an eerie glow around the neighborhood, and from above it seemed like you were looking down onto the tops of the towers themselves — the same square patterns of the buildings external skins have been reproduced in the lights. It is a fitting tribute to the people who lost their lives that day, to the strength and determination of the people of this country, and to two huge buildings that are gone forever.
Ironically, their apartment building stands on the landfill that was removed from the original construction site to build the trade center complex many years ago. The site and nearby streets were all under the Hudson River waterline, and to get down to the actual bedrock to build the site required creating this huge “bathtub” retaining wall to keep the water out. The wall is all that remains of that effort, and it is a massive task to ensure its structural integrity, now that the buildings and vast underground complex have been removed.
From my friends’ apartment, you could see the movement of the construction vehicles as workers continue to excavate the site, and they are still working round the clock. There was just one area left — the area of the compressed south tower. The rest was a big hole, reminiscent of the Tyco crater scene in the movie “2001,” lit up with its own array of lights. Like the movie, we are still searching for answers to why this happened. Instead of an alien life, we have other humans who were so determined to harm thousands of us.
I still have lots of complex feelings about the events around 9/11, and I am still sorting them out — as I am sure, you are too. Looking at the lights, I remembered my friend’s Tom’s contribution, and honor his memory and his fellow firefighters and the many others who didn’t make it that day.
When I was a 20-something, I had to get across country to start grad school and decided to make it a summer-long solo journey on my bicycle. I had a blast, pedaled about 2500 miles in 10 weeks and met some great people. As many of you, I continue to ride for recreation and in support of various causes to this day.Now two 20-somethings have done a more modern version: one of them riding (or whatever you call it) on a Segway (the other in a sag wagon, as we call the support vehicle that trails behind) going from Seattle to Boston.They did a film which you can watch on YouTube here.
What they (as did I) find incredible is how friendly people were that they meet along the way. The 10 mph guys (which is about how fast both a Segway and a bike travels) meet up with Llama farmers in Wyoming, bikers (the kind with tattoos) and plenty of people who offered their homes and a meal, almost getting arrested in Illinois and then getting a Segway escort by the Chicago Police. They try out Philly cheesesteaks, drive through torrential rains, have their backer pull out of the project somewhere in Ohio, and appear on stage with Michael Moore.
The 90 minute film is a hoot. It also shows you how when you slow things down, you get to see more and meet more people. I still have many memories from my cross-country trip, including getting a ticket for riding on the freeway outside of Seattle, having my wheel respoked in about an hour by a 16-year old in an Oregon bike shop, riding across the Golden Gate Bridge, sleeping on the beach on Vancouver Island and trying unsuccessfully stay in the Petaluma jail because I had tasted too much wine and didn’t want to ride any further (the cops told me to pitch my tent in a nearby park).