“Teamwork makes the dream work.” —Bang Gae
If you’ve followed along on the journey, I’d like to begin by saying, “Thank you! You don’t know how much it means to me!” Then you know the mixed feelings I’ve had about this day. I tried to sit down to tell you yesterday, and nothing came out.
The thoughts were there swirling in my head, locked behind a subconscious attempt to make it last a tiny bit longer. The time has come. I know it’s time because the day blessed me with so many amazing and overwhelming experiences that time will never be left behind or surpassed.
Way Number One
When I received a message telling me he was on his way, it was 5 am, still dark, and he was riding almost 50 miles to meet me on the trail where I left off. Stephen Katuska is a financial analyst and lives a few towns over from the ferry depot in Bridgeport, CT, where I was going with his wife and two young daughters.
We had never met in real life before that morning. Stephen is a member of Eat DIRT, the prolific Zwift DIRT subteam I’ve mentioned before, and our paths have crossed virtually on a few occasions. Within moments it was clear that he had been taking the journey virtually alongside me and was as genuinely excited as I was anxious. I also got the sense that the slim 6’4″ powerhouse would’ve pulled me across the country if given a chance. I’m not surprised that he has multiple mountain bike victories among his many athletic successes.
Due to the circumstances, Steve wasn’t going to be able to share in the proper Schwenk Tank experience, and I felt terrible. He shrugged it off after accepting a donut from Kristin, and his only request was to be involved in placing one of the DIRT Dad Fundo stickers that popped up prominently across the country. We didn’t want it to go this way.
With only a half mile left in our ride, I heard the unsatisfying gurgle of a tubeless tire puncture and saw the spray across the road. The two-inch gash was catastrophic, and it was on a side street in busy Bridgeport where the sticker would go, and we would have to say our goodbyes. Again I felt horrible, but Steve knew I had a ferry to catch.
Way Number Two
Steve and I were hugging it out one last time when an SUV pulled up, and a man came bounding around the driver’s side. I’m sure Bridgeport is, or was, a nice place at one time, but now it didn’t seem to be, and I was a bit on guard until I heard him say, “Are you, Chris Schwenker?”
Mike Mikolay is a member of my former in-real-life cycling team, and like Steve, our paths crossed virtually, but we’d never met until now. We did have a few chat conversations over the cycling app Strava during my journey, and I felt Mike’s support throughout the trip.
It was amazing, overwhelming, and a thrill I’ll never forget. I left Mike and Steve to do what fellow cyclists do when one is in need and took off for the ferry.
Way Number Three
It was a curse growing up. I was born on a boat to a family that made its living on the water. We had a waterfront house on an island, and I suffered from a deathly case of seasickness.
The ferry ride was fine. What’s more, when I stood up to walk back to the car deck to disembark, my legs weren’t barking at me. There wasn’t that mid-ride rest stiffness or cement block “why did I stop” sensation. I had no explanation.
Way Number Four
The ferry staff wouldn’t let me ride off the boat, so we pulled over at the exit line, I jumped out for my bike, and when I turned, they were all there. It wasn’t the first time they’d been there for me.
Kris Saether, Craig Fleischer, and Owen O’Connor helped make it happen when I told them I wanted to win the Union Vale (previously known as the Pawling Mountain) Road Race. They picked me up during the group ride collapsing incident that eventually led to my hemochromatosis diagnosis.
The diminutive figure to the left, Annette Racaniello, has had an immeasurable impact on my life. Our friendship began out of mutual respect for how we ran our practices and flourished into much more. She guided me to the other side when hemochromatosis threatened to take my life in a way only another endurance athlete could.
Annette is an accomplished marathoner and wife of an ultramarathoner. Besides being the only doctor who gets and understands that I make most decisions based on how it will affect my cycling performance, she is also one of my best friends and confidants.
Annette closed her practice, and the guys took off from work to be there. I can’t begin to express the overwhelming gratitude. My embrace with Annette was brief, and so was the resumption of the ride home.
Way Number Five
When I tell you that Port Jefferson, NY, is one of the busiest Main Streets on Long Island, it isn’t an exaggeration. Somehow Uncle Rudy managed to drive through New York city, circle the village, and find TWO spots to park the Schwenk Tank just in time to jump out as we rode by.
It would be much less remarkable to consider if you knew him. It was the definition of an Uncle Rudy thing to do, and I was overwhelmed. I had to stop and let him know.
Way Number Six
In another turn of events, I can’t explain, I finally had a true tailwind. The ride felt effortless, and the almost thirty miles included telling many tales of the trip. We were cruising along when I heard the characteristic chime of a cowbell and then, out of the corner of my eye, a sign that read, “Go Chris!”
A positive test and undeniable symptoms kept Thomas Houghton from riding with us, but it didn’t stop him from sharing the experience. I circled back to tell him how much it meant.
Way Number Seven
The adrenaline-fueled pace was brisk and put us well ahead of the traffic stuck behind an accident scene. It wasn’t until later that I found out my brief stop to thank Thomas gave Kristin a few moments to get things in place—unbeknownst to me.
When I turned the final corner of the mile-long driveway leading to my final destination, I was awestruck with humility. Confetti flew, and “Eye of the Tiger” rang out as I tried to keep it together. Close to thirty of my family, friends, neighbors, and even a local newspaper reporter and photographer were there to give me the welcome of a lifetime.
It all came pouring out as I grabbed my crew, Kristin and Uncle Rudy, and tried to let them know how thankful I was. As a team, we fulfilled my dream, and that’s something I will never be able to repay. All I had to do was ride my bike.
Way Number Eight
My body underwent many changes as the consecutive days of hours in the saddle began to take their toll. In jest, I mentioned that my quads had been sore for 57 days. It was no joke.
My ankles swelled, and I struggled to buckle my cycling shoes. I was stiff as a board, except in my core, which felt like a deflated balloon. I’m not going to revisit the traumatic saddle sore scenario and the leg jumping thing while I slept was more frequent.
It began to take longer and longer each morning to regulate my breathing. My warm-up became a luke-warm middle by the time my lungs caught up with my legs.
Yet today, it felt like the first day of the eager adventure. I was worried about the ferry layover, fueling, and hydration in the extreme late afternoon humid heat. No worries. I felt like I could ride forever. My bike didn’t agree.
Way Number Nine
The chain dropped for the final time as I rolled in. I couldn’t finesse it back on this time with a caring push of the pedals. It wedged in the bottom bracket, not to be ignored.
When you think, it’s amazing that my equipment held up so well. There were a few issues that we worked through, but I didn’t lose any significant time to mechanicals.
In addition, the weather was only a minor factor, and despite a few mini-mental breakdowns, my mind and body held up surprisingly well. What’s more, we finished two days ahead of schedule.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t ride down the walkway to the beach behind my house to wet my front wheel in the Long Island Sound, so we settled for some pictures and took a dip ourselves.
Way Number Ten
It was all so amazing and overwhelming, even for the big guy. I can’t justify in words my gratitude for my bike and all the loved ones who made my dream of exploring the country on it a reality, including everyone who cared enough to follow along and show their support and extend their generosity.
It’s going to take a while for it to all sink in. I’m not the guy riding my bike across the country anymore, but we are the ones who went across the country as a team and had the experience of a lifetime. 3,873 miles. Thank you.
About the DIRT Dad Fundo Pledge for Day Fifty-Eight—Annette Racaniello
Here is what one of my best friends, Annette, had to say—”I am proud to watch one of my best friends on so many levels accomplish a phenomenal fear of endurance. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. As your personal physician, I know just how hard you have worked to achieve this goal. I know you are mentally, physically, and emotionally ready to accomplish this daunting but achievable feat.
Enjoy your journey and cherish your health and well-being. I am with you for every step of your incredible journey.
God bless you, and keep it up. Savor all of the experiences as you pedal to your goal. With love to you and your family.”
Amount Raised to Date—$10,962
Thank you, Annette!
Next stop, a bit of rest!
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site. In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, http://www.TheDIRTDadFund.com. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.