I am sorry Mom.

My mom, Margaret Mary Dalton Streisel

My mom was an artist, a hard worker, a welder during world war II, a great cook and a lover of life. She was born to a very poor family somewhere in the Ozark Mountains on December 12, 1923.  At birth she was accompanied by her twin sister who passed away two months after her birth. Apparently, Mom was not given much chance of survival either but she defied the doctors and lived until she was 86 years old. This past Thursday I attended her funeral along with my two younger sisters and various other friends and family. Just like when she was born, Mom fought death. For the last seven years she has lived in a care facility. She suffered from dementia which realistically, took her from us five years ago. My youngest sister lived near her in Texas and visited her on a regular basis and kept me informed on how she was doing. It was harder on her, witnessing on a daily basis the decline of such a vibrant woman. Occasionally in the last five years, Mom would show signs of remembering the people in her life but we never knew for sure.

Five years ago my dad passed away. Then and now, I remember the words of so many people; “This is the only time we get together, at funerals.”  I believe this is true for many families. We drop everything, travel long distances, find money for travel that was not there before and migrate to a common point to grieve with family and loved ones. Although this is a necessary part of life, it seems that we should attempt to spend more time with the people who are close to us while they are alive. Once  loved ones pass, we can no longer tell them the many thoughts that have run through our mind or share a funny story from the past. The door has been shut. Communication is over.  Maybe that is why we have birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, to help us reunite with the people we are close to.

With the hustle bustle of modern life it is becoming more difficult to reunite with family and friends. The fabric of the family is being stretched to the point where you can see through the material. Little League ballgames and soccer practices have encroached onto the family’s playing field. We move about from one activity to the next like mindless icons in a video game. This way of life cannot sustain itself for much longer. I am sure that some philosopher has said that as the family goes, so goes the society.

So, I will say, “Mom, sorry that I did not spend more time with you or visit more regularly. Sorry that we did not have lunch together on occasion or go to the zoo for an afternoon. I had plenty of excuses of which mean very little now that you have passed. I love you mom…”

On the road again…

I drove the Shenandoah Cross Country team to Carlisle Pa on Saturday. The weather was fantastic with more teams than I could count in attendance. Coach Marrocco had worked the team hard the previous week so his expectation were for the team to gain some valuable experience. Anyway, the team did well. After the meet, I took this great picture I wanted to share with you.

Coaches new stretch

Coach Stewart, classy guy

Coach Bill Stewart

Even though I enjoy sports, particularly playing them, I would have to say I am only marginally knowledgeable about them. I watch occasional football and basketball which is usually WVU and often times I fall asleep unless the game is particularly exciting. I did coach for most of my teaching career, which included volleyball, track, basketball and high school soccer. One principle that I held close for all my coaching was the image that I attempted to demonstrate to my players and parents. That principle was respect for all players, parents and officials involved! I never treated the officials with disrespect. I always treated my players and their parents with the greatest respect.

I remember the night almost 40 years ago when the University of Maryland was having a mens basketball game in Cole Field house on the Maryland campus. It was a standard nail bitter typical of all ACC game back then. The opposing team was at the foul line. The Maryland crowd began to make noise, which was generally a no-no during foul shooting. The noise continued to increase until it was almost deafening. From that day on no one ever shoot a foul shot in silence at the Maryland campus. The idea quickly spread to all other campuses. Soon it became OK to also berate the officials or the coaches. Coaches have always been known to work the officials but with these new rules, the line between what was acceptable and unacceptable became fuzzy. In today’s world of sports it is not unusual to see players berating officials, coaches yelling at their players, fans yelling at everyone and general abuse of our fellow human beings.

There has been a lot of discussion on the coaching techniques or tactics of Coach Stewart and I have to admit that  he made some decisions that I, in my limited scope of things, might question, but the man is classy!   He treats everyone around him with respect. That includes players, officials and fans. Regardless whether he wins as many games as some other big name coaches, I have to believe that the young men he coaches will be better members of society from his tutelage. No doubt, we all love to win and most of us will strive great amounts to end up on top but I believe we underrate losing. I feel that I learned much more in losing situations then winning.  Losing forces us to reevaluate ourselves, analyze our goals, accept that life in the end is a short-term agreement and generally makes us a little more humble, which can’t be bad.

Coach Stewart, keep up the good work and stick by your principles in the face of the crazies who are all around you. I just wish other coaches had the insight, courage and understanding of what a coach represents and how they should behave in front of their fans and players.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,   “Men are respectable only as they respect”

It’s a long way from Augusta to Cape Breton.

Our welcome sign. Notice Cabot Trail on top.

That’s Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and it is almost 1500 miles from our home in Augusta, West Virginia.  After arriving in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, which took nine hours of driving at 70 mph on the Canadian Highway, we wondered if we were crazy to drive this far to see Nova Soctia, and to make matters worst, ride a bike around Cabot Trail. We settled into our hotel and made one final check to be sure we loaded the bike bags with all the things one might need on a six-day bike trip. We both fell asleep quickly.

Sue and I getting ready to begin our journey

The morning greeted us with a dreary day, low hanging clouds and all the warnings of rain. At 8:00 am we began to attach the gear to the bike. Apparently, someone nearby decided to wash his car because immediately after boarding the bike, it started raining. We dismounted the bike and took out our rain gear and prepared to ride in the rain. One of the highlights of this very rainy day was this beautiful field of sunflowers which stretched out forever.

The highlight of the day
Vincent Van Vogh would love these

After four long hours and 40 miles of mountains and rain, ranging from downpours to drizzle, we arrived at our first stop, Margaree Harbor . Wet and cold, we checked in, made our way to our room, found a washer and dryer and attempted to clean our road weary clothes.

The next morning the sun was trying to peek through the clouds and the weather report was encouraging. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast at the motel and returned to our room to pack.

Margaree Harbor looking out to the ocean from our room

While we were preparing to get on the road I noticed some activity going on down at the foot of the drive. There, a man was getting ready to ride a 1800  big-wheel bike that appeared to be made of wood.  I walked down to see it up close and met Gordon, Adam and Gloria. Gordon was preparing the bike for a ride.

Gordons 1830 big wheel bike

I introduced myself to the group and marveled at the old bike. Gordon then informed me that he built the bike. I was even more impressed when he informed us he would be making the same trip Sue and I were making. Gordon was accompanied by Adam on a single-speed mountain bike and Gordon’s wife, Gloria in the support car. We then learned that they would be staying at the same motel that night in Pleasant Bay so we made plans to meet for lunch in Cheticamp at the Tim Horton restaurant. Lunch was informative because we found out we would begin what most referred to as the mountainous part of the trip.

Sue taking a picture of the mountains and the engine

This was the first time we were treated to the awesome scenery of Cape Breton.

Looking back at Cheticamp. Pictures can not do it justice.
More scenery towards Cheticamp

The mountains were choppy with many climbs and descents.  A few times we were forced to walk our bike due to the steep hills. Our destination for the day was Pleasant Bay and after climbing French’s Mountain we were ready for a break. We stayed at the Mountain View Motel in Pleasant Bay which was a nice clean place with a good place to eat. After a night’s sleep we ate breakfast and began to make our way to the base of North Mountain. There is no way we could have prepared for this mountain. The main part of the climb was rated at 15% for over 5 miles! There were places where pushing the bike was a chore! Our calves were getting tight and our water supply was getting low as we made our way to the top. On reaching the top we began a very fast descent. At one point my bike computer clocked us at 49 mph! That is faster than I can go on my single bike. At the top of the mountain we spotted our first and only moose.

Our only moose sighting

When we arrived at Cape North, it took us a while to find our room in what was called the Oakwood Manor B&B. It was a beautiful old home situated in front of at least 50 acres of wild blueberry. The problem with the place was that it was two miles from the nearest restaurant which posed a few logistical problems, but we endured. After a fantastic breakfast at the Oakwood we loaded up our gear and rejoined the Cabot Trail for the next leg of our journey to Ingonish on the eastern shore of Cape Breton. There is an alternate route which hugs the shoreline and avoids South Mountain. Guess which route we took?

The alternate route around South Mountain offered some great views of the ocean
Sue took this great picture

Having avoided South Mountain we made our way to Ingonish where we stayed at the Rocky Bay Cottages with a spectacular view of the Ingonish Harbor and bay.

Dropping off a short mountain into New Haven

Since we had not seen a whale during our many hours of riding along the ocean, we decided to take a Zodiac tour to see the whales. A Zodiac is a large rubber boat with two 100 hp motors somehow attached to it. With ten other paying customers we headed out into what became four-foot swells and sometimes violent slaps against the water. For almost two hours we endured everything Neptune could throw at a 20 foot Zodiac and managed to get back to land without ever seeing a whale, except for two spouts about 200 yards away. Beaten and tired from the boat trip, we mounted our bike and began our 34 mile trek towards Wreck Cove. In our way was the legendary Old Smoky Mountain which was not nearly as tough as the previous mountains but there was a long climb to the top. Sue and I decided that we were going to beat this mountain, so we geared down, put our heads down and trudged up the four mile climb till we reached the top. At the top was a glorious place to stop and view the ocean. The trip down was scary as we rode the brakes through the hair-pin turns down a 15% grade. Tandem bikes do not slow down as quickly as normal bikes; in fact, you can burn up your brakes if you are not careful.

Our cute little cottage at the Maven Gypsy

Christine, the owner of the Maven Gypsy, said she had seen a moose the previous morning in front of our cottage. He never came back to see us! Devon, Christine’s husband, made us a great dinner and breakfast. After preparing the bike for our last leg, I mounted the bike and assumed Sue had done the same. I started down the front yard to the road and then headed off to Baddeck. I was a bit surprised when I turned around to find an empty seat behind me. Farther back was Sue walking down the driveway wondering where I was going. I turned the bike around and with my head held low went back to get her. With Sue back on her seat, we began our last leg of our great adventure, 45 miles to where our car waited for us in Baddeck. The first 20 miles were great with rolling hills and great views. On our way we saw a small old church with the words, “Gaelic Singers Hall” written on it.

The Gaelic Singers Hall

Sue asked to stop and so we went inside and met a wonderful man who was  working on a project to re-energize the Gaelic language. He showed us videos and the old table that they used to work the hand-made wool blankets and talked about the history of the Gaelic language as well.

The gathering table where they beat the wool and sang Gaelic songs

It was one of those wonderful surprises that you could never plan on. We said our goodbyes and continued our journey to the car. We had to ride across a narrow body of water by small ferry near a town called Englishtown.  After crossing by ferry,  Cape Breton decided to test our resolve one last time. The remaining 24 miles of our trip were composed of long, gradually sloping hills with a non-stop headwind of about 15 mph.

Small ferry across maybe 150 yards

Around 4:00 pm we arrived at our car and unloaded the bike to prepare for the 26 hour drive home, but not without one last picture of Cape Breton.

Our last photo on Cape BretonSue and I had a wonderful and challenging time on our journey to Nova Scotia. Sue has already informed me that we need to return but without the bike and fly into Halifax and rent a car. For many years I have heard how beautiful Nova Scotia is and now I can say they are correct. It is truly one of the most spectacular places on our planet. I am not sure I would recommend riding a bike to see it but seeing it, but seeing it should be on every-one’s bucket list.