GUEST BLOG—PETE FAWCETT

I met Steph and his team Thursday evening (June 28) in Alachua and participated in three days of
riding before seeing Mark cross the finish line of his epic journey on Sunday, July 1. The first morning
of my trip (Friday), I remember watching Mark walk 20 yards across the hotel parking lot towards his
recumbent bike. I remember thinking to myself “how can a person who can barely walk across the
parking lot possibly ride a bike across the country?” Over the next three days, I found my answer: sheer
determination. That Friday morning, I also witnessed a meeting between Mark and a young boy named
Luke, who has never been able to walk because of a spinal cord disease. Steph has been an inspiration
to so many people, but seeing him raise that boy’s spirits was certainly a highlight of my trip. Later that
day, we came to an impasse where the road we were traveling was completely flooded by tropical storm
Debby. The only way to stay the course was by boat and we didn’t have one, so Mark’s team quickly
found an alternate route. That alternate route would, of course, take Steph out of his way, forcing
him to pedal additional miles that he didn’t count on traveling. This obstacle was one of many that
he found along the way, but he faced it with complete resolve and without voicing a single complaint.
Traveling with Mark was like being part of a rock star’s entourage. Everyone was there because of
their connection to Mark. The trip was a great way for me to reconnect with some old friends and to
make new ones (friends I hope to see again somewhere down the road). The trip also reminded me
that biking is a terrific way to see America. A number of memories come to mind, but one in particular
I found especially amusing. We were riding through St. Augustine in the scorching heat (high 90s) with
two police escorts on motorcycles. An old man was standing on the sidewalk watching the caravan
go by and, despite the heat, he was wearing a long-sleeved sweatshirt that had the words “Romney
and Palin: 2012” written on the front. When he saw Margaret ride by, he shouted out in his southern
drawl, “I see we have some Palin power here!” What a slice of America. Thanks again, Steph, for the
inspiration and the memories. And thanks again to your family and crew for helping make this event
possible. See you down the road.

the last day

we went to bed excited with the prospect of finishing, it has been a long trip. lincoln was ready to go as usual, the rest of us were hearding cats. the morning was perfect, we even had a tailwind. we all drove out to the start, everything was ready, the last of sunblock applied and link and maria braced me up for the last time. wayne our leader for the last few days made a route adjustment and with a 2 motorcycle police escort we began rolling. the pace was easy, single file, i spoke with my friends paul, peter and margaret as they took turns behind me. we made a left at a1a and began the last 5 miles to the finish in the state park.
the police escort was great as we sailed through intersections, as we got closer, i rode as hard as i could.
it was as free as i have felt in a long time. we sailed into the parking lot, i saw our rv, my dad, my in laws and complete strangers supporting our group. my friend paul pushed me up the sand to where tents were set up and we celebrated the challenge. it was over.
there are many people to thank but i start with my wife who without her support i never would have been able to do the challenge. maria who watched me like her own child as we hit so many issues. lincoln baker who never meet a problem he couldn’t solve. he always had my back, he is one of the worlds greatest wingman. i am lucky to have him lead our team. my thanks to you all for following us and supporting the RIC.
be well,
steph

My road trip with the Stephan Challenge by Maria Estonilo

When Mark first mentioned to me about his cross-country challenge, I seriously doubted myself whether or not I was up for the challenge myself. For one, I have never biked even in my own neighborhood, let alone cross-country. Though Mark made it clear that I would not have to ride the bike, the thought of a cross-country road trip seemed daunting for me.  It does not help that I have never been away from my family for more than a week, and this project required at least 70 days away from them.  That said, it was a surprise to see myself on April 13, 2012 as part of Mark’s crew with the distinction of being the least outdoorsy person in the team. For these reasons, Mark’s Stephan Challenge necessarily became Maria’s Challenge as well.  The challenge to contribute for the benefit of the team even by the simple act of getting up excited for another day of road trip, came with a wealth of discoveries that I would never have learned if I were not doing this Stephan Challenge.

First, Stephan Challenge made me appreciate the full extent of Mark’s fighting spirit. This is a man who tries to keep things under wraps so he does not call attention to himself.  Sometimes to a fault he would keep to himself discomforts he is experiencing. We are about to conclude this challenge and already I congratulate Mark for over-coming the challenges handed to him.  Of course, his victory came not without toll on his body.  With aching bones, sore muscles, blisters and all, Mark’s triumph gives us the argument that no flesh can be that weak if the spirit is that strong. I am honored to have worked for you especially on this once-in-a lifetime endeavor.

Second, this undertaking made me realize the wonders of what moral support can do. Mark is very lucky to have friends who are very supportive of him. The stream of visitors who cheered and helped Mark and the rest of us in every way make this cross-country less of a hurdle but more like am unforgettable road trip, at least for me. I would not have made it as well without Margaret’s constant assurance that she is there to help me or see if I need anything.  Mark is very lucky to have a wife who has great eye for detail. She can anticipate problems that may arise before anyone else does.

Because I did not know what to expect from this project, I was of course shocked to find myself enjoying working with very interesting people who are Mark’s friends. I am grateful to Alex for being patient with me when he taught me how to drive the RV. Visiting crew like Russ, Melissa, Johnny, Antonio, Aggie, and Shane- you guys are great!  Thanks also to the lovely man Paul Pomfret. I also enjoyed Dale Pellitier tale of cross-country biking circa 1979. Thank you by the way for cleaning the RV in Louisiana. Chuck and Lynn Gibbons, thanks a lot for all the goodies.  Many thanks also to Courtney whom I enjoyed immensely her company especially during lunches. Of course I should thank Katy for constantly borrowing my helmet, thus emphasizing the importance of wearing one. I don’t think I would be here doing this “essay” if not for that helmet that saved my neck from that close shave in Texas.

Finally, I like to thank someone for reminding me not to take myself seriously, to laugh at myself. This barrel of man has the infectious child-like attitude of finding what could be funny with the world. Yes I am talking to you, Lincoln Baker. I thank you for inspiring me to work harder and for all the laughter I enjoyed for almost 75 days. We even made ourselves as Mr. & Mrs . Beckman just to make our tandem work. I will miss you all…..!

MARIA

 

only 21 miles to go!

what a great day! hot and sunny for sure but a few surprise riders, kevin mcguire, greg robitie landed this morning and caught us. last nght scott rosen and mike mikinney jumped in.
we lost casey, jim and howard this morning, great having them.
the morning part of the ride was mainly bike path, 17 miles of wide open pavement, we covered 27 miles before lunch under the shade. the afternoon wa hot and we were exposed to the sun, no shade, it was taking a toll. my foot was killing me so we pulled the plug at 47 miles. again my sincere thanks to wayne for his leading our group.
we got to our hotel and a number of early riders were back to help us finish, the beer was flowing.
should be last day of riding, but our challenge and support of the RIC continue, thank you.
be well,
steph

Bonnel Blog by Tom Bonnel

I RODE THE BIKE BECAUSE I LOVE THE MAN

Being a hero, even an accidental one, doesn’t mean you are not afraid or don’t have questions or do not doubt, it means you do it anyway.

Thanks, Steph, for dragging my fat ass along for the ride.

Be well, Be safe, and stay
STEPHSTRONG

p.s. Kudos to Margaret for keeping the homefires banked.

two days in florida almost done

yesterday was a great day, we had the bonnel’s riding point and putting pressure for a big mileage day. our weather has changed, for the hot and sunny from the massive rain storms of debbie. we were lucky that our route has not been disrupted, many roads in the area are closed. the bonnel’s kept the path clear and we rolled to 52 miles. the highlight of the day was coming to the hotel and seeing a group of Chicago friends and my wife Margaret and son barrett, it was an awesome surprise.

Luke and Steph ready to ride!

Another hot morning greeted us and we lost tom in the morning and the bonnel’s miday. we had the great pleasure of connecting with a young 5 year old named luke who has a spinal cord injury, he has learned to ride a bike and wanted to ride his trike with us, we rolled together for a block, he is my inspiration.

wayne from the local gainesville cycling club lead us today, it was great to have his local knowledge as we did have a road closed and were forced to detour. the issue today was heat but everyone stayed hydrated and we pushed another 50. we stand with 65 left, it appears to be a sunday finish, weather looks solid.
thank you for your support of the RIC.

be well,
steph

The Day Started with Debbie, by Alain LeCoque

As I told Katy, I’m not much for writing blog posts, but I couldn’t resist after biking with Steph Tuesday. Just felt lucky to have been a part of it.

Day started with showers...

Steph’s good friends from home Don Miller and Greg Van Schaak were with John Bailey and I,  preparing to join Steph’s A Team — Katy, Lincoln, Alex and Maria (Steph’s support system) for the day. Steph had had a hard day prior, cycling 10 hours in driving rain, remnants of tropical storm Debbie. Bails and I were a bit nervous, but prepared for another round from Debbie today. Ready to grit our teeth and pedal for 10 hours or so. We figured if Steph can ride 2800 miles+ miles across 90% of the country  then we  could suck it up and handle 50 in the rain. We started a bit late, and as we headed out the rain began to soften and slow.

early morn debbie

We had some tough riding early along some pretty busy highways and up some tough hills. Steph wasn’t fazed by any of it. He just kept pedaling and pedaling. His determination and guts are incredible.By lunch time, the sky had cleared and the sun was starting to peak out from the clouds. For lunch we had a fantastic fruit and sandwich buffet and joked that with the sun coming out, it was clear that even Debbie was no match for Steph–he had taken her best punches and driven her off.

Got a fast start after lunch. Did 10 miles quickly and then came upon a great bike trail created from an old railroad line. The trail was beautiful, shaded and really serene–smooth sailing, except for a brief moment when a  water moccasin popped out right in front of Katy.  With the road noise now pretty much gone, we could really alk as we biked. As we trucked along with Steph, it was great to get to know his good buddies Don, Greg and Ed Chesterton, who had joined us late morning, as well as more about Katy, the SC documentary filmmaker, and Lincoln, the expedition coordinator. Lincoln and Katy are old, good friends from Missoula, Montana and just great people. They both have jobs most of us can only dream about traveling the world creating stories for and about people’s lives. We all shared some of our favorite  stories as well, of our times with Steph. Stories from college days 30+ years ago all the way to now.

At the end of this trail, and with Steph’s foot abscess acting up, we called it a day and headed to the Hampton Inn.  Once we checked in, we headed out to the parking lot and RV for a post ride tailgate. Spent the next 2 hours sharing beers and even more stories of Steph, our families and friends. A couple more of Steph’s friends, Tom Gorman and Tim Shanahan arrived and joined us. Alex, the “Solution”, from Chicago and Brazil, a vital part of Steph’s team, joined us as well.

Great fun with great people.  A bit later, after his post ride shower and massage, Steph showed up and we headed across the lot for dinner. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but we had the entire place to ourselves, which made us all a bit nervous. The food turned out fine and the wine and beers were even better. More stories, more laughs. Amazing how by the end of the nite, all these people who were strangers 12-14 hours ago, felt a bit like family. Steph had brought us all together.

Tough saying good bye to everyone Wednesday morning,  but it was a sunny, beautiful day and Steph was ready to ride.

-Alain

Alain on the trail... steph an his riders approach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading to the Barn by Greg Van Schaak

Like a hungry horse heading home after a long day on the range, Steph’s focus and determination are peaking.  It is a cool thing to witness.  Here are a few more things I witnessed since Monday morning:  all news coverage is focused on tropical storm Debbie, which is centered upon the riding team. Don Miller and I meet at ORD for 7AM flight to the storm center in Tallahassee. Game on.  We land in raging rain and somehow find Steph, Mead and Scott plowing through this crazy storm.  WTF??! So of course Don and I suit up in the RV and hop on a bike and are immediately drenched.  Three hours later the odometer reads the magic number and my fingers look 123 years old. Done for the day. Tuesday morning is delayed a bit while Maria drains Steph’s foot (apparently the stuff looked like a blueberry smoothly, which is now off the drink list forever).  Then we run into the Weather Channel Storm Chasers in the lobby (not a good sign when your about to ride for 8 hours).  They looked at us sideways and said that we would have “issues” on our ride.  Steph asked for the definition of “issues”.  Apparently issues to normal people are not issues to Steph. Duh. Soon we find the most “colorful” parts of the city and pass three (3) “correctional facilities”. Not sure why Lincoln hates us. I guess he forgave us in the afternoon when we rode 16 miles on the coolest path through a forest.  Major flooding on both sides of the path and we saw several homes that must have been Eddy’s in the movie Vacation. Great Day.  The following morning I became acutely aware of that special place located exactly between Bun 1 and Bun 2 which hurt like hell. Lincoln handed me the Butt Butter (chamois cream) and the application was administered by the only person still around me. Me. (Lincoln, rubber gloves are a good idea next time). We had a fantastic summer day ride along 98. Ed Chestnut and I took off to airport after 40 miles and wished the rest well.

I am thankful that I was able to be a small witness to this excellent adventure and I am awed at Team Steph and the real joy that occurs every day – rain or shine.
Thanks Steph, we are indeed well.

Greg

Greg, Mark, and Don pre-ride

2 days under our belt

yesterday morning we sat in lobby of hotel with the guys from the weather channel, it was ugly. we were going to get a late start given the conditions, but we were not sure what roads were passable. there was a break on radar in the area we wanted to go, so we loaded up and headed out. we unloaded and started out in a downpour. a couple of new riders were in, john bailey and alain leque, friends from college. the headwinds and hills were still rough but the rain was letting up and we had lunch outside. we finished the day on a 16 mile bike path which was really cool. we picked up ed chestnut along the way as well as tom gorman, an old ski buddy, tim shannon joined us for dinner.
today was as close to perfect as we have had, cool, sunny, flat, good shoulder. we lost john and alain at breakfast, greg and ed late afternoon and don early evening. we were joined by mike mercuri, his buddy marchak and their sons, they helped us finish off the day, 51 miles done.
my foot is issue but we change the dressing regularly, we have another sore brewing and we are padding and sending photos back to RIC. hope this old body hangs in there.
i am guessing 165 miles to go, could push and be done sat. but have not had a rest day in weeks, going to be sun. or mon. assuming all hangs in.
thank you for supporting our challange and the RIC.
be well,
steph

Amoeba or well-orchestrated ballet? By Kathy Bell

I was incredibly happy and honored to join the Stephan challenge for a day and a half of riding through eastern Louisiana last weekend.  How do I describe the experience.  I kept thinking of an amoeba which seems to effortlessly extend itself, projecting arms forward and moving toward a goal.  Or was it like a well-orchestrated ballet where each participant has his or her role and, when performed together, produces a thing of beauty.  No doubt, whichever analogy is more accurate, Lincoln is the brains, and Mark (Steph) is the heart of the operation.  Together, they propel the group forward in a way that is really wonderful to behold.  Highlight of the trip:  getting to meet a great group of people.  If one looked at the combined accomplishments and credentials of the group of riders, it would look terribly daunting on paper, but the group was down to earth, warm and a joy to ride, eat and visit with!

Mark is nearing the end of the journey, and is sure to accomplish his goal in the next couple of weeks.  I would encourage anyone who hasn’t ridden yet to take just a day and do it.  The logistics WILL work out, and you WILL NOT regret it!  I guarantee it!

Kathy