Evie and Norma reflect on the flat land, friends in S.C. and fire ants

  • Norma crossing over a high rise bridge.

    Norma crossing over a high rise bridge. Courtesy Evie Weber

  • Diane McKinnery, pointing out all the hazards on Route 17.

    Diane McKinnery, pointing out all the hazards on Route 17. Courtesy Evie Weber

  • Approaching the musical FDR bridge in New York.

    Approaching the musical FDR bridge in New York. Courtesy Evie Weber

  • Evie and Norma discussing their trip with about 25 people.

    Evie and Norma discussing their trip with about 25 people. Courtesy Evie Weber

Published: 11/2/2009 12:01 AM

Evie Weber of Arlington Heights and her sister, Norma Witherbee, are familiar to Daily Herald readers who followed their bicycle travels on the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Underground Railroad. On Aug. 19, the sisters (Norma, 76, and Evie, 72) embarked on another adventure, the 2,700 miles from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Miami.

Our travelers are nearing the end of their journey. Enjoy this, their latest dispatch from the "M&M" ride.

Flat, flat, flat! Ever since we cycled out of Norfolk, Va., the roads have been as flat as a pancake. After having ridden through some very hilly sections of our country, we rejoiced over these long, unending roads with nary a small rise in them.

Virginia, flat. North Carolina flat. South Carolina, flat. Georgia, flat. Good grief, give me a hill already. I would have never have thought in a million years that I miss riding hills. Not monster hills. Just hills. Norma and I mount our bikes in the morning and 50 miles later all we have done is pedal.

What's wrong with that? Look at it this way, Get on an stationary bike and let your legs go around in circles for the next 5 hours. NO COASTING. That's what we're lacking. On the down side of a hill we can at least get a break from cycling.

The only time we get to coast is when we cross over rivers, harbors or inlets via bridges, of which there are many on the East coast. We have crossed bridges of varying sizes, shapes and degrees of safety for bicyclists. Wooden bridges, bridges with metal grates (not fun with a fully loaded bike), flat bridges, high rise bridges and draw bridges.

Norma and I were standing on a bridge taking photographs when in our subconscious we were slightly aware of bells and whistles going off.

Duh! The draw bridge was going up and we were on it! The bridge tender emerged from his hut waving his hat frantically and no doubt was uttering a few *#@%! at us.

In Poughkeepsie, N.Y. we were faced with having to cross the Franklin Delano Roosevelt suspension bridge. As we approached the middle of the bridge, rhythmic metallic sounds replaced the hum of our tires.

Sounds from hammers, rubber mallets and drum sticks being struck against the steel beams, railings, cables, girders, suspender ropes, trusses and spindles all coming together to form bridge music.

With just a push of a button we had access to a whole suite of songs composed by Joseph Bertolozzi. Norma and I leaned our bikes against the railings and danced. What fun, two seniors jumping and kicking like teenagers and laughing our fool heads off. After we composed ourselves, that's when we noticed the sign announcing that we were on "live video cam" being shown world wide via the Internet!

Our biggest disappointment in cycling the Atlantic Coast is the limited views of the ocean. Thanks to all the developers, our scenery was looking at high rise condos, hotels, houses and towns. As we cycled past this cement jungle, if we were quick enough, we could occasionally catch a glimpse of the sun sparkling off the waves and if we stopped, we might be able to hear the distant roar of the ocean.

Norma and I now realize how fortunate we are living in the Midwest. Thanks to our forefathers, Chicago's lakefront has been preserved for generations to come. We have great views, wonderful beaches and bike paths for all the public to enjoy, not for just those fortunate few who could afford it.

What hasn't been fun is all of the traffic we have encountered on this journey. Unlike the wide open spaces we've traveled on our western journeys, the Eastern Seaboard is very congested. On the West coast of our country we only had three states to bicycle though, out East, we've bicycled in 13 of the 15 states - New Jersey and Maryland being the only two we did not experience.

The selection of roads available to us on this trek are minimal. For Daily Herald readers who reside in the Northwest suburbs, you most likely are familiar with Rand Road. Imagine yourselves starting out from Arlington Heights and bicycling to the Wisconsin border on Route 12. High traffic with very minimal shoulders, if any. Get the picture?

After a while the sound of traffic becomes mesmerizing, like listening to the ocean waves. It is easy to become sucked into the constant din of traffic noise. We had to continually stay alert and never let our guard down or we could be easily be flattened like a pancake!

When we were riding in South Caroline we were once treated to a quiet two-lane country road, or so we thought, until the logging and dump trucks found us. Within the span of one mile Norma counted 17 big trucks that had the audacity to be on "our road!"

Just to spice up our lives a wee bit, Norma stopped her bicycle by the side of the road and immediately did the "fire dance!" She had stepped into a nest of fire ants.

There is another form of flat that we have no use for. FLAT TIRES. We sure have had our share of them. Four days in a row Norma had a slow leak on her rear tire. We changed and patched her inner tubes. We carefully inspected the tire and rim tape for intruders but to no avail as every morning she would have a soft tire.

Until one morning, while running my fingers around the inside of her steel belted tire I discovered a very small break in the belting. A minute piece of wire would intermittently expose itself. I took a dollar bill, folded it into fours and with the help of duct tape, applied it to the offending bugger. It's been good as new ever since.

One of the requirements of being a senior is complaining. On this journey we sure have had a lot to complain about. Traffic, roads, getting lost, the high cost of camping, sand fleas, mosquitoes, cockroaches big enough to put saddles on and now fire ants.

On the other hand, one of the many benefits of being a senior is having friends who have retired to Hilton Head and Bluffton, S.C. - friends who insisted that we spend some R & R with them, and we never turn down free!

Norma's former partner in real estate, Joan, along with her husband Dr. Jim Eggers, now live in Hilton Head. They were so excited about us coming to visit them, they bought a bike rack for their car and came to pick us up.

For the next six days we became fat and sassy, enjoying great food, walks along the beaches, soft beds, great restaurants, tours of Beaufort and Savanna and alligators.

Yes, we can now add alligators to our growing list of complaints. Joan and Jim have a resident alligator who likes to sun itself on their back lawn!

Diane McKinnery has been a long time "exercise buddy" of mine dating back to the early 80s. Three mornings a week we would meet at Recreation Park in Arlington Heights, to work out and then go for breakfast. Now you know where our priorities are, and they haven't changed.

She and her husband, Bill, have since retired to Bluffton, S.C. When we arrived she announced that they were having a cocktail party that evening. They had invited about 25 of their friends and neighbors over so they could meet us.

During the course of the evening, Norma and I were encouraged to hold an impromptu discussion on our adventures. Being the hams we are, we were delighted to be in the limelight. We never know how we can inspire folks to "Get off their duffs and Just Do It!" Perhaps not to the extent of what we do, but just get moving. The old saying holds true, "If you don't use it, you'll lose it!"

When it was time for us to hit the road again, Diane became frantic: "I didn't sleep good last night. I was trying to figure out how I could get a pickup truck so we could drive you to Florida. The roads around here are not safe."

What they did though, was transport us to the southern edge of Savanna so we could avoid having to bicycle over another high rise bridge, dropping us off onto route 17. When Diane viewed the condition of the road we were to travel her concerns heightened. "You cannot ride that road," she insisted. "It's too narrow and look at all the truck traffic!"

With hugs, kisses and a final wave goodbye, Norma and I bicycled off, down the long, flat busy, road. The state of Georgia was now to be our host for the next three days.

We loved Georgia. Their roads were very bicycle friendly and the adventures waiting for us were some of the best.

Until the next time, Happy Trails.