Biking Normandy … With the Army Rangers

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Colleville-s-Mer, France – “This is sacred ground.”

These words echoed through my memory as we stood in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, surrounded by 9,387 marble crosses and Jewish stars on acres and acres of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen.

“This is sacred ground” is what former Army Ranger Sid Salomon told me back on June 6, 1999 as we stood in front of the gravesite of Henry “Steve” Golas. “This is why I come here,” Salomon said. “I find their graves and throw them a salute.”

Norm11It’s 18 years later, and I’m back on this sacred piece of soil, standing in Section J, Row 6, in front of the gravesite of Golas. It didn’t seem appropriate to throw him a salute, as I never served in the military. But I paid my respects, and thought about Golas and Salomon (who passed away in 2004), and all the other Rangers I met when I covered their reunion trip to Normandy for the newspaper I worked for at the time.

Salomon was a 1st lieutenant in C Company of the Army Ranger 2ndBattalion on D-Day and Golas was first sergeant for the entire Ranger 2ndbattalion. They landed together, about a mile west of the American Cemetery at dawn on D-Day on the beach at Pointe et raz de la Percee.

“(Golas) was gunned down as soon as he got off the boat,” said Salomon, who was wounded seconds after he jumped out of the landing craft. “Although we had the best training, it’s not skill that I’m here. It’s luck. Sgt. Golas was just as well trained as I was, but he wasn’t as lucky.”

Normandy is where history was made, where the largest military invasion in the history took place, and tens of thousands of Allied soldiers helped turn the tide of World War II.

Norm13My recent trip, Susan, was my fourth to Normandy, and the third by bicycle. Cars and tour buses are the preferred mode of transportation for the vast majority of the tourists who travel to the Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword invasion beaches to try and make sense of and feel a connection to an event that happened more than 80 years ago, and still shapes our modern world.

These days, more and more people are peddling their way to Arromanches (the port the British built on D-Day), to the American Cemetery and on to Point du Hoc, the famous – and steep – cliffs that members of the Ranger D, E and F companies scaled while under heavy fire from the entrenched Germans up above. There are travel companies that organize and lead cycling tours, or, you can rent a bike and do it on your own, which was our preference.

Normandy is rural and rustic, filled with apple orchards, grazing cows (they say the butter here is the best in all of France), tiny villages, old-stone churches and scores of World War II memorials and museums. The bike routes are well marked, the roads are mostly quiet and there’s more of a connection to the land, the people and the history of this region when you pedal through it at a leisurely pace.

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Home base for our Normandy bike trip was Bayeux, a fairly large city that’s close to most of the major invasion sights. Bayeux has an amazing cathedral and is the home of the Tapisserie de Bayeux, a 70-meter long tapestry that’s about 1,000 years old and tells the story of another nearby invasion that changed the world: The 1066 conquest of Normandy by William the Conqueror.

The Bayeux train station is a little south of the center of town. Soon after we walked to the Hotel Le Bayeux, a van from LocVelo pulled up with our rental bikes: A Cannondale for me; a Specialized for Susan. They were very-nice, all-carbon bikes. Actually, they were very-nice bikes several years and scores of renters ago. The original components had been replaced, perhaps several times, and weren’t as nice as the original parts.

bikesOh well, what are you gonna do?

Ride them, of course.

A lot has changed, biking-wise, since my first Normandy bike tour. There are several places to rent bikes in Bayeux; the tourist office passes out copies of La Calvados a Velo, a series of 13 maps of the area; and there are lots of signs for cyclists: a green, stick-figure guy on a bike to guide you to all the beaches, towns and cemeteries.

We went on day trips from Bayeux to many of the World War II sites. And whenever we rode, and whatever D-Day sites we saw, I thought of my Ranger friends.

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Normandy is dotted with cemeteries, a reminder of the human toll of D-Day. There’s a British Cemetery in Bayeux, the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-s-Mer, and a German Cemetery just outside the little town of La Combe.

At the visitor’s center of the American Cemetery, you can punch in the name of a solider and the computer will tell you where he’s buried. We did this to find the gravesite of Golas.

My favorite Normandy bike ride began with a train ride, from Bayeux to Carentan. There was a “special” car at the back of the train for velos (bikes) with hooks to hang your bike on. From Carentan, I headed east, to the German Cemetery, and then on to the coast and Pointe du Hoc.

Norm15This is where the big German guns were located, ensconced in thick concrete bunkers. Somehow, some way, the Rangers had to climb the cliffs and knock out these guns. It was an impossible mission – and yet, they did it.

“There was a machine gun on our right flank we couldn’t locate,” Frank South, a Ranger medic, told me back in 1999. “We suffered a lot of casualties from that monster. And there were grenades, we called them potato mashers, because they looked like potato mashers, coming down from the top.”

South died in 2013.

The burnt-out German bunkers remain atop Pointe du Hoc, as do the huge craters from the all the bombs that were dropped in the days leading up to D-Day. You can stand at the edge of the cliffs and look down – and wonder how some of the Rangers made it to the top, dodging and ducking bullets and potato mashers.

From Pointe du Hoc, I followed the coast eastward, and stopped at Pointe et raz de la Percee, where Salomon and C Company landed. A and B companies landed nearby, a little to the east in Vierville.

“As we ran up the beach a mortar shell fell right behind me and killed or wounded most of my mortar section,” Salomon said. “The blast knocked me face first into the sand and there was shrapnel in my back.”

Of the 37 men on the landing craft under Salomon’s command, only nine made it to the top of the cliffs, and seven were wounded.

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks was the captain of C Company of the Ranger 2ndBattalion. Yep, Salomon’s company. A few days after D-Day, Salomon was promoted to captain of B Company.

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Ed O’Connor was in A Company.

“As soon as the ramp went down, guys were getting hit with machine gun fire,” he said. “I jumped off to the left, we were trained never to jump straight off, and the guys were falling down all around me.”

O’Connor raced across the beach and took aim at where the German fire was coming from.

“She didn’t work!” he said. “All that training and my M1 didn’t work. I looked at her and the stock was splintered. A German had put one right on my chest and my gun saved my life.”

O’Connor passed away in 2006.

I don’t think any of the Rangers I met back in 1999 are still alive. But their stories, heroics and memories live on and are preserved all along the coast of Normandy.

Here’s the link to my eBook Biking Normandy, which has a lot more details on the riding … and the Rangers.

I’ve also written eBooks on Biking the Loire and Biking Provence.

My 31 Days (of Riding) in May

I rode my bike every day in May, a total of 1,070 miles. Along the way, I learned a lot about myself and the world around me. Here goes…

**The porta-potties along the Olentangy multi-use path are extra disgusting on Monday mornings. And super-ultra-disgusting on the Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend.

**You go through a lot of laundry when you ride every day: Bike stuff and “regular” clothes. We may need a new washing machine if I keep up this pace.

pants**It seems that bike shorts can wear out, and the butt balm some of us apply on our butts before a ride (to prevent chafing) may actually dissolve lycra threads. I discovered this when Susan said: “I can see your butt through your bike shorts!”

“What?” I answered.

Susan: “The threads are worn away and I can see your butt. Everyone can see your butt.”

“I don’t think I understand your point. What’s the problem?”

Actually, I understood her point and reluctantly, very reluctantly, threw out the offending pair of bike shorts. After the ride.

**May started out with 1.7 days of spring-like weather. And then it immediately became summer. And, I just read in the Dispatch that this May was the hottest May ever.

**Kind bars melt when you put them in the back pocket of your bike jersey and turn into a gooey mess. Larabars do not.

**I also seem to melt a bit after a long ride on a 90-degree day. This makes my post-ride yoga routine a sweaty mess for me, the yoga mat and the floor around my yoga mat. And then, my post-ride, post-yoga shower doesn’t seem to “stick” and I’m sweating before I can get dressed.

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

**May is gosling-birth month and lots of lots of baby geese spring up along the path. Along with lots and lots of very protective goose moms. I’ve learned the four stages of Mother Goose Rage:

1.They open their mouths, I mean beaks, and malevolently stare at you. Sometimes they wag their tongues.

2.They open their beaks, stare malevolently and start honking maniacally.

3.Open beak, honk … and start frantically flapping their wings. If you see this, get the hell out of there ASAP because…

4.Open beak, honk, flap wings … and then they fly at you like a 40-pound dive bomber comprised of beak and feathers.

Number four has only happened to me once, and it was quite frightening.

**It seems that a slightly higher percentage of cyclists have become more friendly, courteous and calm while riding on the paths … and I credit my previous post.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

**There are a lot of pop-up thunderstorms in May. Over the years, I’ve learned that if you stuff your sopping-wet bike shoes full of wadded up newspaper, they’ll be dry and ready to go the next morning. See, yet another reason to subscribe to the Dispatch.

**All this riding has made the T cells in my immune system super, duper strong. Here’s why.

**It’s a lot easier to apply sunscreen before you put on your bike jersey. But I never remember.

pulll**I’ve always dreamed that one day … somehow, someway … I’d get paid for riding my bike. Come on, you’ve dreamed of this too. And now it’s happened! I earned $66.26 in May from my Pelotonia PULL app. It gives riders 6 cents for every mile we ride. OK, I don’t actually get the money. Even better, it goes to fund cancer research at the James.

 

Cyclist-on-Cyclist Crime & Carnage!

OK, we’re finally into the bike-riding portion of this blog … and I’m going to start with an anti-cyclist rant…

I’ve been riding the Olentangy multi-use path a lot lately, and have noticed that way too many of my fellow cyclists do a lot of rude, dumb and downright dangerous things out there. You know: All the things we hate and fear from the drivers or cars and trucks when we ride on the road.

Here are some of the dangerous/dumb things I see bikers doing, and how I respond…

Too fast:At about 5:30 p.m., the path starts to get busy and crowded as people get home from work, and lots of hammerheads try to get in a long workout in a short amount of time. To do so, they ride fast, really fast, 20 miles per hour. Sometimes faster when they have a tailwind.

This is too fast. And too dangerous. Slow down. The path is a multi-use path, not a bike path and there are walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, parents pushing strollers. If you want to go fast, really fast, go fast on the road where the speed limit is 25 mph or more. The speed limit on the path is 15. OK, I admit it: I sometimes go a little faster. It’s hard not to. But only when there’s nobody around me. And then I slow down when I pass people.

Response:I’ve started holding up my hand and saying “slow down” when people fly by me in the other direction. Especially when I know there are a bunch of people around the bend. I don’t like being a traffic cop when I’m out on a ride, but perhaps cyclists should educate and police one another. But in a polite way. If not us, then whom?

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Too close:Don’t you hate it when you’re out on the road and the car behind you squeezes through a too-narrow, fear-inducing space between you and the car coming in the other direction? Of course you do. That’s why there’s now a 3-foot passing law in Ohio. So, why do you do it on your bike? On the path?

I’ve seen this happen way too often: I’m riding down the path, and a walker/jogger or two are coming in the other direction, and someone on a bike tries to squeeze between them and me as he passes them. I’ve even seen, on more than one occasion, a cyclist do this and squeeze past someone pushing a baby stroller. Are you kidding me?

Response:I politely, but firmly, say: “Don’t do that.” And try not to startle the innocent walkers.

Can’t see … don’t pass:I’ve even seen some cyclists do the above (Too close) around a blind corner. Not only have I seen it, I’ve almost been hit by them. Are you stupid? Actually, your actions have already established the fact that you’re stupid. The only question is: How stupid are you?

Response:The same as Too close, but even firmer.

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On Your Left:I’m shocked by how many cyclists don’t say “on your left” or ring a bell when they pass someone. That’s just rude. And startling to the people they pass. Try this some day: Walk down the path for a mile or two and notice how many cyclists say “on your left” as they pass. It’s maybe 50 percent. And notice how intimidating it can be when one of them – or a group of them – flies by you unannounced.

Response:When someone on a bike passes me and fails to say “on your left,” I say it to them: “On your left.” Maybe it will subconsciously sink in and they’ll start saying it. Or maybe not.

One more thing:No matter how right you are, and how wrong and dangerous the other person/cyclist is: People don’t like being told what to do. It’s just the way it is in our modern society. So, never yell or scream at people. No matter how much adrenaline the near-crash experience just created in your body. Be polite. And don’t get in an argument. I learned a long time ago as a newspaper reporter: You can’t argue with an idiot. Just say what you’re gonna say, say it politely, and keep riding.

Anything else? Fill us in on the other annoying and dangerous things cyclists do out there on the paths.

 Also, you may want to read my previous post about how regular cycling is like the Fountain of Youth. Click here…

 

It Was 20 Years Ago Today: The Seinfeld Chronicles

Where were you on May 14, 1998, the day the final episode of Seinfeld aired? I was in New York, hanging out with Al Yaganeh and several hundred other Seinfeld fanatics. Here’s my column that ran a few days later…

IMG_7653Before I tell you all about the Soup Nazi and my crab bisque and chicken chili, I have an important message for anyone contemplating a bus trip from Doylestown to Manhattan: There’s no bathroom in the 8:45 a.m. TransBridge bus.

And the ride takes 2 hours and 35 minutes!

I felt like Jerry and George in the parking garage episode. Uromysitisis!

We finally arrived at the Port Authority, where there’s a bathroom. Then it was a short walk over to Al Yagenah’s Soup Kitchen International on 55thand Eighth, where I took my place in the long – and getting longer – line that would eventually stretch all the way around the block.

It was the day the final episode of Seinfeld was set to run and all of New York was in a Jerry, George, Kramer, Elaine and Soup Nazi frenzy. “He’s real, he’s really real,” shouted an annoying guy ahead of me in line. I felt like Jerry in any of the episodes with Bania.

The annoying guy was right.

The Soup Nazi and his soup are real, and he was inside his little shop preparing crab bisque, chicken chili, lentil, mulligatawny, veal goulash, chicken broccoli, gazpacho and borscht. I felt like Jerry and George in the Soup Nazi episode, which, BTW, was where most of us learned what an armoire is. Right?pexels-photo-209540.jpeg

Melissa and Anne, two New Yorkers and regulars here at the famous soup shop, were in front of me in line … and gave me a quick education.

“I’m worried,” Melissa said of all the media types, which included scores of reporters (including me) and a crew from the Home Shopping Network. “He could get mad at everything and not even open. He’s done that before.”

“He has to open,” I said confidently. “He’s selling his canned soup on the Home Shopping Network tonight and isn’t about to toss aside thousands of dollars.”

“He’s totally sold out,” Anne said.

“That’s OK, as long as the soup is still good,” Melissa said.

A second later, a guy in an old Volvo stalled right in front of us. As he tried again and again to start his car, Melissa, Anne and I laughed and made fun of him. I felt like Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine in the final episode (after I watched it later that day). We did not get arrested.

After waiting for more than an hour, I was finally at the front of the line.

I was nervous, afraid to offend the infamous Soup Nazi and have him shout “No soup for you” at me. And so, in a firm voice that belied my nervousness, I said, “small crab bisque, small chicken chili, p-p-please,” handed the Soup Nazi a $20 and got back $5 (that’s right, $15 for two small soups) and quickly moved all the way over to the left and waited for my soup.

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He never even looked at me. But he gave me bread. And fruit. Sorry George.

Clutching my bounty, I headed to nearby Central Park, where I found a seat on a bench and opened my crab bisque. Holy crap, Jerry was right. This stuff really does make your knees go weak. It was chock full of succulent crab meat and the broth was seasoned to perfection.

The chicken chili was equally magnificent.

The people in the park stared as I kept mumbling, over and over, “Oh my God, this soup is so good.”

Next stop was the Museum of Television & Radio, which was continuously showing the pilot episode all day. And, as all you Seinfeldexperts know, back then it was called The Seinfeld Chronicles.

It cost $6 to get into the museum, which meant I paid $6 to watch a Seinfeldrerun. Oh well. As I walked into the theater, to watch the pilot, a guy in a postal uniform walked out. I swear, this is true.

“Newman!” I shouted.

It wasn’t.

I hadn’t seen the pilot in years, and it was quite interesting. George had a lot more hair, Kramer had a lot less hair, and he had a dog. Jerry was pretty much the same. Elaine wasn’t in it.

Then it was time for the long bus ride home.

And, guess what?

Yep, no bathroom. And I was full of soup.

My T Cells Are Bigger & Better Than Your T Cells (Unless You’re a Cyclist)

I love cycling: The challenge, the adventure, the sense of freedom and accomplishment.

Little did I know, all the way back in 1990, when I began cycling, that it would boost the T cells in my immune system and give me the muscles of a much-younger person. Cycling is like the fountain of youth … on wheels.

lastChapterThen again, deep down, at the cellular level, maybe my body knew all this scientific stuff and passed along endless DNA strands filled with subliminal messages to my brain that encouraged me to ride, ride and ride some more. Riding is addictive, maybe this is why.

So, a couple of recent studies from British scientists have shown that cycling is chock full of healthy benefits that slow down the aging process. For example, the first study concluded the “the relationship between human aging and physiological function is highly individualistic and modified by inactivity.”

Huh, what?

What this means is: Inactivity (you know, couch-potato tendencies) is bad. Very, very bad. And activity is very, very good.

The study looked at 125 British long-time cyclists (84 men and 41 women) who were 55 to 79 and rode 400 or more miles a month. Here’s what they found, according to a New York Times article: “The cyclists proved to have reflexes, memories, balance and metabolic profiles that more closely resembled those of 30-year-olds than of the sedentary older group.”

OK, that’s just one test. For the science to be real, it has to be duplicated in subsequent tests.

Test number two biopsied muscle tissue from the same 125 cyclists and found: “…that there is little evidence of age-related changes in the properties of VL muscle across the age range studied. By contrast, some of these muscle characteristics were correlated with in vivo physiological indices.”

I know: Why can’t scientists write in simple English?

What they mean is: The older cyclists they studied had muscles that were larger, stronger and more supple than older people who were physically inactive. The muscles of the older cyclists were like those of 30-year-olds.

steve&JustinAnd, the cyclists led much happier lives than the non-cyclists!

I made up this last part. It wasn’t in the studies. But, based on my own studies of hundreds of cyclists over the past couple of decades, I’m pretty sure this is true. Any day that includes a bike ride is a good day, is something pretty much all cyclists think. And say.

Another study drew blood from the older cyclists and found that their thymus glands produced more T cells than inactive people of a similar age. I know from my work at the James Cancer Hospital that T cells are one of the immune system’s most powerful weapons. They detect foreign bodies in the body, flock to them and wipe them out. The more T cells you have, the healthier your immune system will be. The older British cyclists had similar numbers of T cells as people a heck of a lot younger.

Check out this video from one of the scientists who did the studies. Not sure if she’s a cyclist, but she knows what she’s talking about.

So, in conclusion: Ride more if you already ride; start riding if you don’t already ride.