Thursday, September 9, 2010

Epilogue: 9 September 2010: Leap and the Net Will Appear.

A month back on solid ground and as suggested by fellow rider Sarah I am participating in a commemorative "jersey day". I am pictured in a storage unit full of books that I am sorting for online sales as well as for a weekend book sale to benefit our UU church in Belfast.

I have been immersed in ride photos that I took as well as the 4000 plus taken by Mike Munk. The benefit of passing time has given me the perspective I need to pare the lot down to a manageable size. Neither my friends nor the local groups for whom I am doing presentations want to sit through hours of pictures and with distance I am able to distinguish the really splendid from those that can perish in obscurity. Waves of delight and nostalgia wash over me as I go through the pics-- exhaustion, tedium and demoralization don't show up at all. Every turn and bend in the road looks enticing, the open plains are enchanting and the hills look far less formidable than they did when I started toiling up them weeks ago.

Negative impressions? Our nation is seeing tough times and will continue to do so for years. The factory farming of beef and hogs is appalling as is the dominance of corn and soybeans-- most of which go to feed the cattle and hogs. The careless disregard of resources bothered me a great deal-- there were never ways to recycle drink bottles or newspapers, water is being sucked out of the rivers to irrigate otherwise arid lands, the towns have been drained of their vibrancy while around cities one finds with miles of parking lots and huge stores, the convenience stores and restaurants are flooded with cheap and unhealthy food and the evidence of our addiction to oil is most discouraging.

Leaving aside the big picture, however, there was plenty of bliss-- the lovely early mornings, the sweet silent freedom of two wheels, the superb scenery of the West, and the quiet beauty of the high desert. There was the supportive care of the "A Team" , the best group of t staff conceivable and there were the other riders-- fifty days in which fifty strangers became friends. People we saw morning and evening and in passing throughout the day-- fifty people who came together to share the crazy dream of cycling from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It wasn't all gorgeous and it wasn't all fun, but it was all part of the whole and I, at least, drew much support from the strength of the group.

In the weeks before the ride many people questioned whether such a trip made sense and John and I were both plagued with self-doubt. We didn't let our worries paralyze us-- we trained, made arrangements to get ourselves and our bikes out to Oregon and stifled the sinking feelings that attacked us in the middle of the night. Day followed day and one morning we found ourselves cycling out of the hotel parking lot in Astoria and heading east. How did I make it?

I leapt and the net did appear.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 50: Manchester to Rye, NH

Drank a drop too much wine last night at the banquet so got up feeling just slightly off kilter but I drank lots of orange juice and came around very quickly. Not sad to think that it was the last of 54 nights in a hotel but choked up several times during the ride as I realized that it really was coming to an end. My spells of sadness receded every time we hit another hill-- and there were plenty of them even though the ride was relatively short (about 58 miles with only 2500 feet of climbing). Sort of amazing that the hills never seemed to get easy despite the many that I managed to drag myself up. Next week I will try some of my local hills and see if they give me less trouble than they did when I was training.

I was in good time for a traditional last group gathering at "Me and Ollie's", a bakery and coffee shop in Exeter and knowing that we had only about 12 miles to ride left us all relaxed and convivial. When we reluctantly broke up for the final leg to the middle school in Rye where we would convene for the final bit of the ride, we were all torn between happy and sad. By the time we got to Rye it was hot and humid but we suffered through a group picture session, endured the waiting while the police escort was organized and had the inevitable very last minute flat (not mine, thank goodness) which was fixed in just a couple of minutes by Jim, our fabulous mechanic.

The honor of riding first on the way to the beach fell to the four slowest riders-- me, Ian, Helen and Ellen-- so we were right behind the van. Being first I couldn't get any sense of what we looked like but with someone else driving Mike crouched in the open back door of the van and took pictures. It was a nice slow trip with the police ahead of us and stopping traffic as we came onto Route 1 to Wallis Sands State Park and then in a moment it was all over. Like many others John and I were greeted by friends and family. Cyclists went down onto the beach-- on such a hot day crowded with regular beach people-- dipped their bikes and took pictures. The time for tearful farewells and hugs was pretty much at an end for those of us not staying at the hotel another night. We gathered our luggage from the truck and went out to lunch with my friend Liz, my sisters Tamar and Kate, and my daughter Margaret. My sister Sybil and her significant other Peter had been at the beach to greet us but left before lunch because Peter was setting off on his own adventure-- a drive to Alaska. Got home to Northport at about 6:30 and had an ecstatic reunion with Dog Darby and a lovely evening settling in to being home!

Day 49: Brattleboro, VT to Manchester, NH

After my glorious day of cycling to Brattleboro and my dinner with friends and family, this day turned into something of an ordeal. Perhaps worried about a ride with 5600 feet of climbing (yesterday was only 5000), perhaps because of the iced espresso I had yesterday, I had a restless and wakeful night and got up feeling less than cheery. In addition, I was reluctant to leave early because the N.H. line was only a mile from the hotel and I wanted to get a picture with John. All things considered it was not a good start to the day.

One nice thing that happened was that our friends Rich and Loranne Block came out to meet us at the first SAG, mile 36. It happened to be on Route 9 in Antrim, only a short distance from where they live. Sadly, I couldn't relax and chat for long because I was so panicked about the ride ahead. It was one hilly ride. Nan said "whoever designed this route had a cruel, cruel heart". The nice thing was that the route took us off the beaten track and through several small N.H. villages. There may have been a couple of hills in that part of the state that Mike didn't manage to get in but not many. Up, down, up down and until finally at mile 79 we reached the motel in Manchester. I thought I was completely ridden out but when John told me there was a Dairy Queen and when I remembered that my days of eating ice cream were coming to an end, I managed a little extra riding .

That evening was our final banquet and a riotous time was had by all. The group has been together many hours a day for many days and managed to find a lot of laughs in our shared feat of endurance. Everyone got an award-- for me and John it was "couple who arrived furthest apart". In Mike's speech he "honored" me by saying that if he had seen ten people on the street and had to choose which one could ride a bicycle across the country it sure would not have been Dereka! One more day to the beach!

Day 48: Latham, NY to Brattleboro, Vermont

Before I met John I lived in Troy and worked at Russell Sage College-- that was 1974-1979. Nothing about the area was familiar to me as I rode in and I began to doubt my memory but a few miles out of the motel in Latham we turned onto 19th Street in Watervliet and everything clicked into place. Ahead of me I could see the bridge across the Hudson and the buildings of Troy. I was riding with Nan who swooped over onto the sidewalk to get across the river and that turned out to be a great move. The sidewalk funneled us away from the tunnel that goes under the Russell Sage campus and I knew exactly where to turn to make a nostalgic side trip past my old apartment on Second Street and get us back on route uphill out of the city.

We followed Route 2 east, a route I drove many times while I was living in the area. At mile 12.6, however, we were routed on to Route 278, a gorgeous road with less traffic and one I had never taken. The riding was splendid and even though I knew I was not yet in Vermont, it sure felt like Vermont to me. At mile 32 we turned east on Route 7 toward the Vermont line and Bennington. Then followed the challenge of the day-- a ten mile climb. I felt great and found the climb very doable. We were rewarded with a great descent into Wilmington-- fast but not frightening. John waited for me there so we had a coffee and pastry break and started climbing again up Hogback Mountain.

The first time I ever went downhill skiing was at Hogback-- I was a teenager and did not know how to ski and it was something of a disaster; the kind you laugh about even at the time. The ski place is no more-- crumbling buildings overgrown with vegetation and the remains of an old lift sagging against the hillside. Made me realize that many many years have passed! From the top we had a "100 mile view" before more fun and fast downhill into Brattleboro.

In Brattleboro we were delighted to meet up with our daughter Eliza and her husband Michael, my stepmother Babs, my niece Viney and her husband Francisco, my old high school friend Don Sluter and a genealogy pal Joann Nichols. We all had dinner together and you will understand why my blog has not appeared until four days later.

Friday, August 6, 2010

This sign gave us a laugh

Day 47: Little Falls to Latham, New York

After my somewhat ho hum reaction to yesterday's ride I was thrilled to find myself in bicycle fantasy land today. The humidity broke and the morning was lovely. We left Little Falls on Route 5S East and climbed for some time to a ridge that afforded lovely views north into the Mohawk River Valley. While the climbing was demanding, the scenic reward was bountiful and the descent lots of fun-- fast but not scary. I spent the whole ride thinking that east or west, east is best (and simultaneously remembering that nearly everyone thinks their homeland is superior to all others). Just miles and miles of lovely green, pastoral landscape-- also an immense Target warehouse in Amsterdam and the massive G.E. campus in Schenectady with rolling lawns and manicured loveliness. Then as the icing on the cake, we were routed on to a bike path at mile 49 and rode it until mile 71. Just three miles of the real world and we were at the hotel-- nice and early about 2:00.

Day 46: Liverpool to Little Falls, New York

One of the frequent debates among riders is whether it is better to be hot or wet. Most prefer hot but I definitely prefer wet. Today we had the opportunity to be both.

Heavy rain started at about mile 11 and lasted until mile 45-- more than two hours for most of us. Once it stopped, the route turned into a long steamy sauna that lasted until we hit Little Falls at mile 78.

Not much else to say about the ride. I was reminded of a teeshirt that read: Eat, Sleep, Pedal, Repeat. The lack of much to look at set me to reflecting on why I did the ride and why anyone does the ride. We haven't seen spectacular scenery since South Dakota and that was a long way back. We haven't had particularly interesting rides since Minnesota and Wisconsin and they seem a long way back as well. It seems to come down to physical challenge and the satisfaction of having ridden from Point A to Point B.

In the meantime most of us have fallen in love with the group. Think how seldom it is that one spends 50 days with 50 strangers engaged in a common enterprise. We look forward to the ride being over but are sad on that account as well.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 45: Henrietta to Liverpool, NY

A long hot humid day with redeeming features -- the best of these being twenty miles on the Erie Canal bike path. It was still cool when we started there at mile 6 and it was an idyllic ride through a couple of canalside villages and along the shady path beside the water.

From the canal we were routed on to Route 31, a state highway with a fair amount of traffic but a very smooth and wide shoulder, excellent for biking. We rode 54 miles on this road-- a very long way in my mind because I am happier with lots of twists and turns-- but we had a tailwind much of the time and the miles passed as they always seem to. John and I had a nice lunch in Weedsport and were refreshed for the last 25 miles of the ride. Our leisurely break made us the last to arrive at the hotel but only by a very few minutes. In any case, we rode the whole 95 miles in a bit more than seven hours.

The lovely treat at the end of the day was the arrival of sister Tamar who altered her route from Pittsburgh to Vermont to include a stop in Liverpool. She had dinner with us and will stay here in the hotel tonight.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 44: Niagara Falls to Henrietta, New York

The picture is actually from two days ago when we crossed the Rainbow Bridge into the U.S. We had our sixth and last rest day in Niagara Falls. As I mentioned before, John was sensible and avoided the touristy stuff. Believing that it was my first and last trip to NF, I decided that I ought to have a part in the madness.

Luckily, along with another rider, I went early to board the Maid of the Mist and was able to get on without a long wait and without being packed in as tightly as one is on the later boats. The falls are astonishingly marvelous and riding on the "Maid" was a thrilling experience-- right up into the madly churning water and clouds of spray. The other two things we did-- all three requiring the uniquely awful NF disposable raincoats, aren't worth spending keystrokes on, but I was glad I did them (once!)

In my last post I voiced the hope that New York would be more varied and interesting than the terrain we have been riding and sadly that was not the case today. We spent about ten miles getting out of industrial sprawl. After that things got a bit better but it says something about the ride that I took not one picture. It was very humid and I rode fast-- mostly with John. He had a flat at mile 77 and I stood by to be supportive while he changed the tire. At mile 80 we stopped at McDonalds where I had an inedible chicken wrap and he had a barely edible chicken sandwich and we vowed never to go there again. Almost immediately after that stop we missed the right hand turn to the motel-- rode up a long hill, down the other side, realized that something was wrong and had to ride back up and down the hill again and finally, at mile 85, reached our home for the night, Motel 8.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 42: Brantford, Ontario to Niagara Falls, NY

High jinks on the road today. It was a great ride-- actually it was like two wonderful pieces of homemade bread with a thin layer of something dull like lard in the middle but it is the good parts that I will remember.

I started out riding with Nan (she took this picture) and I immediately fixed my bike computer so that I could see only mph, not mileage. I can always tell about where I am by the cue sheet but that is not like watching miles crawl by on the odometer. Nan is a great talker and I have been known to say a thing or two myself, so the road flew by underneath us. We did turn into the wind at about mile 31 and rode 18 miles on a road with narrow shoulder and high traffic but at mile 50 we were off that and things got much nicer.

After days and days of what I yesterday called sorn and coybeans, and days and days of "checkerboard" riding (turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left), it is just possible that we have left that behind. Suddenly we were in New England type terrain-- uphills, downhills, shaded parts of the road, curves. Just lovely. It lasted a only a few miles before we had to begin beating our way through heavy traffic into Niagara Falls, but it was enough to give me hope that we will see more such riding in New York.

Niagara Falls is a strange and marvelous contrast of gorgeous and ghastly. The falls themselves are breathtaking-- I was reminded of my first looking at the Grand Canyon. The area around the falls, both sides, is a hideous howling nightmare of buildings, roads, traffic and tourists. We looked down at the people packed on "The Maid of the Mist" and John decided that he could give it a miss but I am going to go with some of the other riders and do all the tourist things.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 41: London to Brantford, Ontario

A different crop than we have been seeing-- tobacco! Also lots and lots of ginseng.

My watchword for the ride today was serenity. The weather was cool and cloudy, the ride 66 miles. We had a late load at 8:30, giving us the chance to sleep until 6:00-- they do this when the ride is short because otherwise the fast riders get to the new hotel way before the rooms are ready.

My resolution to be serene was tested slightly when we had a 2.5 mile detour but I managed to keep a grip on myself by changing the bike computer to something other than mileage and just navigating by the cue sheet.

What we have seen in two days of riding through Ontario-- all farming country-- appears to be a thriving economy. We have seen not one instance of the kind of rural poverty we see so much of in Maine-- and saw everywhere when we were in North Carolina earlier this year. Every farm is beautifully maintained and neat, neat, neat. The houses and lawns are all manicured to the nth degree. Whereas "pre-manufactured" homes were everywhere in the American west, there are none in this part of Ontario.

Brantford is a depressed community, however. When we biked in to town we saw that a major demolition project was underway with gigantic heaps of rubble lining the street. Googling, I learned that the city expropriated 41 pre-1870 buildings on the south side of the main street, threw out all of the tenants, and is now in the process of demolition. There is no plan for what will replace the buildings. Lots of controversy about this "renewal" project.

Met John late in the ride and had a nice lunch-- with less than ten miles left to the hotel. Altogether a pleasant and uneventful ride.

Day 40: Port Huron, MI to London, ONT, Canada

This bike ride reminded me of one definition of marriage: a long dull meal with dessert at the beginning.

All excited and mildly nervous, we started the day by massing just outside the entrance to the Bluewater Bridge between the U.S. and Canada. Traffic across the bridge was stopped and we were escorted across as a group. Eerily quiet with no other traffic pounding by, we climbed up one side and sailed down the other-- riding in a group for the first time.

At Canadian Customs the official talked to Mike, then simply asked the group if we had any weapons. Upon our chorused "no", he said "Welcome to Canada" and we rode on through. Perhaps one minute, max. One of our Canadian riders then led us on a little tour through the parks of Sarnia and to a viewpoint under the bridge-- all of us bright and cheerful.

This little gadabout took us off the cue sheet, however, and as we worked our way back to the official route we encountered two detours around road construction. Adrift in a long stream of bikes without the comfort of the cue sheet markers and watching the mileage pile up, I began to feel decidedly less bouncy. The nagging disquiet turned to pure discouragement when we finally got back on track and I realized we were 7.5 miles ahead of the cues. That shouldn't seem like much, especially as we have ridden nearly 3000 miles, but on an 80 mile day it seemed like more than I could bear. The road "Churchill Line" was straight as an arrow, high traffic, almost no shoulder and back in the ubiquitous corn and beans. Uggghhhhh! And not even any roadkill to count. I pondered-- are there fewer animals? smarter animals? kinder drivers? Or is just that someone picks up the carcasses?

Eventually we got off the high traffic road and onto some smaller and nicer ones and I began to count my blessings instead of cursing the mileage. The road conditions were good, the winds mostly helpful and the temperature pleasant. We had a good lunch with ice cream in the town of Delaware and with about 20 miles left to ride I pedaled into London with a happy heart.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day 39: Birch Run to Port Huron, Michigan

Although I had a fitful sleep last night, it was a very good day's ride. It was just under 90 miles and I made it to the hotel by 2:20. I had a bit of a head start because I left before luggage load and John saw that my bags got onto the truck. I was at mile 12.17 before the first rider caught up with me.

The humidity was low today and I belatedly realized how awful yesterday was in contrast. Clear skies and pleasant winds contributed a lot to the ride. Both John and I agree, however, that the part of Michigan we have ridden through is the least interesting terrain we have encountered. The far west was very scenic, the high desert was exotic and all new, the wheat fields of South Dakota more beautiful than expected and Minnesota and Wisconsin both lovely. Michigan, not so much. I call the picture above "Life Among the Soybeans".

I was reduced to counting road kill twice today. On one 13 mile leg I counted 36 corpses and although I haven't actually counted previously, it is certain that we have passed hundreds of dead animals including snakes, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, turtles, deer, mice, possum, etc. I have been surprised by the number of dead birds on the road ever since we left Astoria. I don't recall birds being killed with such frequency in New England.

One thing that didn't surprise me is the number of gloves along the roadside. There has not been a single day that I did not see five or more gloves and this was true when we went to Florida in 2009 and North Carolina this year. One can only surmise that they are forgotten on car hoods and roofs until swept off by the wind.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 38:Mt. Pleasant to Birch Run, Michigan

Despite my long sleep, I started the day in a foul temper. I didn't want to see one more moldering roadkill carcass or feedlot cow or field of corn, and I was knee deep in all of those things. Fortunately John, knowing that I was out of sorts, found a nice bakery in Alma and waited there for me. I couldn't face food but had a cranberry juice and an iced coffee and felt a bit better.

Off we started again and soon came across Ian, another one of the slower riders. I am always happy to see Ian because my reputation as "the little engine that could" and the "energizer bunny", means that I cannot complain, bitch or whine publicly. Ian knows the truth, however, and being able to complain cheers me up. So we rode the rest of the relatively short day together and got in to the motel at 2:30 with smiles on our faces.

John has just read in the paper that a "possibly" record size hailstone fell in South Dakota last Friday. It was 8 inches in diameter. Glad we missed that one!

Day 37: Ludington, Wisconsin to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

I wish I could say that 115 miles flew by but it surely did not. You say 115 miles? I thought it was 113?? One of the hard truths I have learned is that the mileage is almost always longer than the official total. When the route sheet is being made, the person riding (or driving) the route resets their odometer at every turn. Each time this is done they lose a few hundredths of a mile. Ergo, we gain mileage in tiny amounts at every turn. Some rides early in the trip were all on one road-- no turns. Yesterday we had 28 turns in the route and gained at every one of them.

An idiosyncrasy of the area yesterday-- we rode on "14 Mile Road", then "12 Mile Road", then "19 Mile Road", then another "14 Mile Road". All different roads in different towns. All seemed long and tedious. The saving grace of the ride is that we had ice cream in Lake Isabella at mile 98. Then, possibly seeing that I was nearing the end of my rope, a very nice rider named Mark rode the last miles to the motel with me and kept me entertained with slightly risque jokes.

I have been having problems with my hands so bought new gloves in Ludington-- these served only to make matters much worse. The long ride together with the time change (yes! we are now back in Eastern time), the heat and the gloves reduced me to a quivering pulp. We had yet another dreadful buffet dinner (bad food and plenty of it!) and I was curled up in bed with ice on my hands at 6:15. I struggled to stay awake and lasted 15 minutes, then slept for the next 12 hours! I think the accumulated wear and tear is getting to me. This morning other people have had to do the following things for me-- open a bottle of juice, peel a banana and tear open a sugar packet. There is no strength left in my fingers-- I can still (barely) initial by my name (we have to do it at most meals and at all SAG stops) but I cannot write my full name at all. As John said a few days ago "this incessant bicycling has to stop". Fortunately I can use the keyboard and shift the bike.

On the bright side: I have done the last of seven 100+ mile rides and don't expect ever to do another. The longest ride we have left is officially 93 miles.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 35: Fond du Lac to Manitowoc, Wisconsin

A gorgeous day for bicycling. We started out riding through the Lakeside Park in Fond du Lac, a city on Lake Winnebago. Then a couple of miles on a bike path-- lots of wild flowers. At about mile five we started a moderate climb to the town of St. Peter and were up on a ridge where traditional dairy farms and wind farms dominated the landscape. There were dozens of windmills. To me they are beautiful things-- all twirling away gracefully-- but I understand that people who live near them have real concerns, particularly about the noise they create at night.

The ride was reasonably short-- 58 miles (I neglected to note that we rode 85 miles yesterday). John took the first shower and I was serenely ridding myself of sunscreen, bike grease and general dirt in my shower, when the front desk called and offered an immediate shuttle to the laundromat. Thus John hustled off while I got to relax and do nothing.

Our hotel is what Mike Munk describes as "out on the concrete" and although there are stores of almost all descriptions there is none where I can find a new book to read. Glumly contemplating whether to do yet another sudoku puzzle, I fell asleep at 7:00 and slept until 6:00 this morning. Very little riding today because of the ferry ride across Lake Michigan so we will have a nice slow morning and I am hopeful that I can find a book before we get on the ship at noon. It is the S.S. Badger and we are told that it is huge-- can carry 200 vehicles.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 34: Wisconsin Dells to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Today we have a special treat; a guest blogger-- Mr. John Langhans!

We woke up to rain beating on our window but by the time we were dressed and out the door it stopped. The ride was from Wisconsin Dells to Fond du Lac. It was relatively cool (high about 80) and the scenery was beautiful. Much of the ride was on secondary roads with rolling hills and farms. At mile 45 in the town of Princeton the American Legion had a bratfest and I stopped and ate a bratwurst with sauerkraut. We rode on a bike path for 7 miles to the outskirts of Fond du Lac and the rode 3 miles into the center of town to our hotel - and old fashioned 7 story hotel.

Back to the original blogger, Dereka. John, as usual, has focused on the food, but I also thought it was a lovely ride. Who knew that Minnesota and Wisconsin were such nice states? I am thoroughly indoctrinated with the idea that Vermont and Maine are the only truly beautiful states in the country but this trip is changing that idea a bit. (The West was gorgeous but not liveable-- I could see myself in Wisconsin). There was still a few remnants of corn and soybeans but also some nice dairy farms-- including ones that were signposted "BGH Free Farms" and I was pleased to see cows wandering in green grassy fields and not destined for the slaughterhouse. As a newly minted vegetarian I had to forgo the bratwurst but I had a truly splendid ear of sweet corn and some decent potato salad and the people at the American Legion were excited-- "this is the first vegetarian meal we have ever served!".

We had our second SAG in the town of Ripon-- "birthplace of the Republican Party" but we were interested in it more because our dear friends attended Ripon College. Not that we could actually see the campus-- as always on this trip there was no time for sidetrips--but we did see the Ripon College sign.

Both John and I choose the bike path option over the busy state highway 23 and we were glad we did. The picture shows you what it was like-- simply dirt with a grass center but it was charming and quiet-- except for the thrill and trill of birdsong. This was one ride where the last few miles were as pleasant as the first few. I was sorry for the ride to end.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 33: La Crosse to Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Today was all about the Elroy Sparta Trail, said to be one of first rail to trail conversions in the U.S. We picked it up at mile 27 and rode the whole length, ending at mile 61. There are three tunnels on the route-- all pitch black. The first one is about 3/4 mile long and the next two a bit shorter. We had to walk the bikes and use flashlights to guide our way. The picture was taken from inside the first tunnel as we were going out.

The road surface was dirt but reasonably well packed and although our pace was somewhat slowed the trail was beautiful and enjoyable. I was still a bit cranky about the added distance but we had a good lunch midway along and things were perking up. In the restaurant we met Mike Munk, the "big boss" on the staff and he told us we were the "back end" but it looked like that wasn't bothering us. I told him that I was rebelling and he asked "against what?" I said I was sick of rushing every day and he gave me a quizzical look and said "You've been rushing?" We both got a good laugh out of that.

A friend asked me what I think about along the ride. So many things go through my mind that I can never think later what they were. This afternoon was different. I didn't want to stay long at the second SAG. John was going to the bathroom so I said that I would get going and he could catch up with me. I rode a mile or two and expected him at any moment but he did not appear. I rode five miles, ten miles, fifteen miles-- no John. At every turn I was looking back and expecting to see him. My imagination began to work. He had had a heart attack in the bathroom, he had taken a wrong turn, a sting he had gotten earlier in the day had put him into shock, he had fallen. Why hadn't the white van passed me? Surely it was because they were dealing with John's medical emergency. Should I go back? That made no sense. I rode on, the various scenarios playing out in my mind. Finally, at the 25th mile past the SAG, there he was alive and well. Where had he been? He just hung around the SAG eating and drinking. Arrrggghhhh!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 32: Rochester to La Crosse Wisconsin

The day started on the dark side with bucketing rain and high winds. I was drenched through within minutes-- gloves and shoes squelching away as I rode. The weather improved about mile 28 and we had a really lovely ride along Route 30 East-- still corn and soybeans but the land had become more intricately contoured-- more climbing, of course, but nice vistas.

At mile 53 we picked up a piece of the Root River bike trail and stayed on it for about 13 miles. A really nice trail and a relief not to be constantly thinking about car traffic. It did start to rain again but rather pleasantly. Sadly, when we got back to regular roads we were facing a bad climb. It had all the elements I hate-- very steep, very long (one mile), pretty late into the ride (mile 72) and suddenly very hot and humid. Thinking-- too old, too fat, too steep, too hot, too tired I alternately rode and walked until I managed to get to the top. The climb had a great reward, however. We then rode along a beautiful ridge road and had a wonderful long descent down to the Wisconsin state line and soon after that, the Mississippi River.

Several people sagged today or took bumps-- we are getting tired having done 290 miles in three days. Now, it turns out that the tomorrow's ride-- billed as 75 miles-- is actually 90. I am pretty annoyed as are others. I suppose my attitude will be more positive in the morning. We lost another rider today-- the woman who was the faster even than the thoroughbreds-- she is leaving for medical reasons and says she hopes to join us again in a few days.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

That glowing look of health after an invigorating ride...

plus an interesting example of helmet hair.

Day 31: Mankato to Rochester, Minnesota

The fairy godmother must have been elsewhere this morning because we were very short of magical bicycle dust on the 102 mile trip today. The route was hillier (2400 feet of climbing compared to 1000 feet yesterday) and much hotter. I again rode with John and it took us 8 hours 21 minutes of riding time-- nearly two hours longer than yesterday, for the same mileage.

The ride was all about corn and soybeans-- what the heck do they do with all those soybeans? I saw a Burma Shave type set of signs: Ever wonder/where your food comes from/take a look around/the corn and soybean growers of Dodge County. As John said "we have to get out of Dodge" but when we did, it turned out that the next county was all about the same two things.

My first day as an official vegetarian was not a total success. I ordered a "ranch" grilled chicken at Micky D's and it turned out to be stuffed with bacon. John suggested that I postpone the start of my idealism but I just pulled the bacon out and gave it a heave. Live and learn.

I was more successful with a pack of three slavering, barking, snarling dogs who clearly wanted to tear me limb from limb. Since I was toiling up a very steep hill at the time I knew I couldn't outride them so I got off my bike, summoned my most authoritative alpha voice and said "Bad Dogs" and all three quickly slunk away looking very abashed.

During the first days of our ride people were supremely uninterested in what we were doing but now that we are in Minnesota lots of people want to know where we are going and why and how many miles we ride and where we started and etc. Drivers are much more considerate and patient as well. Interesting.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 30: Worthington to Mankato, Minnesota

The day began somewhat comically. Because the mileage was high, luggage load was scheduled for 5:45 and breakfast, at a Perkins, at 6:00. As always I was early in line for load and one of the first few into the restaurant. There were six of us at the table. Our waitress appeared and it quickly became clear that she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. The other tables filled up. We sat there. The other riders got coffee and juice. We sat there. The other riders got their meals. We sat there, by now alternately fuming and giggling. Finally the manager appeared to apologize. The server was at fault-- no explanation. Finally we got our food but all of us nervous nellies, wanting to be first on the road, turned out to be last.

Despite this setback, my fairy godmother sprinkled magic bicycle dust on me this morning. I flew through my 102 miles in 6.5 hours of riding time and with a personal best average time of 15.6 miles per hour.

Honestly, I think the success of the day had to do with factors other than my riding-- the terrain was easy, the winds helpful, the temperature cool (until the very end) and the roads mostly in good condition. Because of these things I rode with John most of the day and having completed 64 miles by 11:05 am!!! we stopped in a town called St. James for a nice lunch.

I took no pictures at all, so the endless field of corn is from yesterday. We are beginning to see some houses nicely nestled in shade trees instead of baking under a merciless sun-- also more "real" houses and more prosperous looking farms. The stench of factory farmed pigs is just awful, however. Seeing the feedlots, the pig houses and the stockyards in Sioux Falls has brought me finally to the decision to be a more serious vegetarian. I will continue to eat chicken, fish and Charlie Herrick venison but no more beef or pork.

Off to Rochester tomorrow. Another 100 miles but if it goes anywhere nearly as well as today's ride I will have a cheerful report.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 29: Sioux Falls SD to Worthington MN

The day started in Sioux Falls with a light rain that grew heavier but never became a downpour. We spent some miles on a very pretty bike path that went along the river-- made me realize that Sioux Falls is not only parking lots and stores. The actual falls were about nine miles into the route and we were on regular roads after that point.

We crossed the line into our fifth state, Minnesota, at about mile 25 and I must say thus far Minnesota looks about like South Dakota-- lots of corn and soybeans. The ride was over easy terrain with some slight difficulty caused by headwinds for most of the 70 mile route. The rain let up about mile 30, however, and things warmed up but never got really hot.

I am sad to report the departure of Phillip, like me one of the slowpokes. His sister and brother-in-law came to visit him in SF and the temptation to let them whisk him away was too great to resist. Phillip had mixed feelings about the ride from the first and lacked whatever drive it is that keeps me pedaling day after day. He is a lovely guy and we will all miss him.

I, on the other hand, am facing two 100+ mile days in a row. I am trying to get myself psyched up but it is always hard at night when I am tired. Time to have a little read (Giants of the Earth) and get a good long restorative sleep.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 27: Mitchell to Sioux Falls, South Dakota

South Dakota has an interesting way of memorializing roadside fatalities. The first time I saw a sign like this I thought it was a general piece of advice. Then I noticed that the 'think' signs were in peculiar locations, in multiples and some decorated. When I looked more closely I saw that they say "X marks the spot" and on the bottom it says "Why Die". They have no names or dates. I have seen dozens of them in my trip across the state.

Soybeans, corn, cattle, soybeans, corn, soybeans, corn, cattle...that was pretty much the picture for our 72 mile ride to Sioux Falls yesterday. The exception was a gigantic Cargill collection facility on the railroad in Emery, 24 miles into the ride. From miles away the silos looked like skyscrapers rising out of the plains. When we arrived we saw lines of trucks waiting to unload wheat-- but there was no wheat being harvested anywhere along the ride. We surmised that it must be a huge centralized collection site.

The other element of the ride was heat and humidity-- the kind of ride I have been dreading but since the ride was so relatively short I did manage to get through it. As I have mentioned, I pour water through the holes in my helmet and down the front and back of my jersey and it evaporates and has a cooling effect as I ride along. We can afford to be profligate with water because the staff vans are waiting for us every few miles with ample supplies.

We had dinner at the "Royal Fork"; one of the all you can eat places that I really hate because there are no holds barred. Most of them have too much mediocre food; this one had too much reasonably decent food and since I had had no lunch, I was famished. Lunch is often unavailable along the rides-- then you reach the hotel mid-afternoon and it makes no sense to eat a meal when dinner starts at 5:00.

Now we are at our rest day-- in a vast sprawl of hotels, malls, chain restaurants and parking lots. Our bikes have had a good cleaning and I am about to walk over to the mall and get a haircut.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 26: Chamberlain to Mitchell, South Dakota

Relatively short ride of 72 miles today and I spent it talking with another rider so saw virtually nothing of the scenery. Not that there was anything very remarkable to see-- we are in the breadbasket and that pretty much means fields and silos. I did notice two huge combines coming down the road directly at us but we squeaked by them without mishap.

It is clear that we are entering into more populated country. There were four convenience stores along the 70 mile route-- in recent days we have gone well over fifty miles without finding any place to buy a cold drink. The vans are always around with plenty of ice water but I am fighting off leg cramps so like to drink orange or grapefruit juice.

The big thing in Mitchell is the Corn Palace-- "the world's only Corn Palace" as a matter of fact. So after we got into the room and cleaned up, it was back on the bikes to ride downtown. Honestly, it was so hot that I really couldn't appreciate the CP, but it is an interesting attraction. First created in 1892, the building is annually decorated with murals and motifs made with various colors of corn and other "crop art".

The photo is of my "Keen" feet. I am wearing Keen biking sandals with no socks.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Car with Grasshoppers

Day 25: Pierre to Chamberlain, South Dakota

Halfway Day! Unbelievable. I am wearing the white shirt to keep the sun off my arms-- even with sunscreen I am getting heat blisters that break and ooze. It can readily been seen, however, that the skin and bones thing just isn't happening. Go figure. It is happening to John, of course, who eats about twice what I do.

I was blissed out for all 84 miles of the ride today-- so relieved that I got through yesterday, I guess. The morning was gorgeous as always but the riding was reasonably easy and I never crumped out even when it got hot. I have learned to pour water through the holes in my helmet, then down the back and front of my jersey and that evaporates as I ride keeping me very comfortable. We had two long and tough hills at the end of the day, but long like a mile each not like some of the multi-mile climbs we suffered through earlier, so I was able to take them in stride. I completed the ride in 7 hours.

Day 24: Update

What can one say about riding 117 miles through South Dakota? Lots of wheat, lots of cattle, a lot more beautiful than I had imagined.

The first 56 miles went by easily-- lots of "rollers" but nothing daunting. A nice strong wind from the north and since we were heading east the wind just cooled us off. At mile 56 Route 14 took a turn to the north and the s**t hit the fan. Suddenly we were struggling against a strong and pretty steady gale of wind that held our speed down to less than 10 mph. We had 21 miles to go before turning east again.

Most riders work in pacelines, particularly when the going is hard, but for me the stress of staying in a paceline is worse than the stress of going it alone. John had waited for me at the turn and we both headed into the wind with about six other riders. I stayed with them for a few miles but soon gave up and carried on alone. In the meantime the grasshopper experience we encountered the day before entered a new and more ghastly phase. There were many more of them-- so many dead on the road that it was discolored with their bodies but millions more still alive. Each time they hopped the strong wind picked them up and whipped them around so that my body and bike were pelted with grasshoppers. One even hit me square on the nose, but my worst fear, that one would get into my mouth, was never realized.

When we turned east again at mile 77 I was so pleased to be out of the headwind that the remaining 40 miles didn't look so bad. I rode in to Pierre after 9.5 hours of riding-- two hours faster than I did the 117 miles to John Day in Oregon. When we crossed the Missouri River into Pierre we changed time zones again so suddenly it was dinner time and immediately to bed.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day24: Wall to Pierre, South Dakota

I made it 117 hard hard miles but I am too tired to blog. Will try to catch up tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 23: Rapid City to Wall, South Dakota

We had a late start today because it was a relatively short ride of 57 miles. Spent 10 miles beating our way out of Rapid City until we got to Route 1416-- this was a great road on which we stayed for about 25 miles-- a two lane road with a 65 mph speed limit but almost no traffic. Way out in the country with rolling up and down terrain and a nice cross breeze that kept me cool.

The landscape was fertile and green, not flat but no distinctive features. It was the kind of road that you could see rolling miles ahead and there was something glorious about being out there in the wide open spaces.

Things got a little less glorious when I had to get on I-90-- the first few miles had a very narrow shoulder and the traffic was heavy. We had 20 miles to go and yes, I had yet another flat! As the one yesterday it was a piece of wire from truck tire debris-- they are impossible to see so it is just a matter of luck whether you avoid them or not. This time it was the back tire-- harder to change but eventually, with the help of another rider, it was done and I was back on the road.

A road absolutely littered with grasshoppers-- thousands of dead ones and thousands of live ones feasting on the dead ones. In the beginning I tried to avoid hitting them but pretty soon I gave up and just rode on. When we got into Wall we saw some cars whose grills were clogged and coated with dead grasshoppers. Really gruesome. I didn't have the stomach to take a picture. And then there was Wall Drug-- we all went down and wandered around the place along with lots of other tourists-- their book store was pretty reasonable so I bought "Giants of the Earth" and Ian Frazier's book "Great Plains".

5:15 am load tomorrow morning in preparation for a long and hot ride-- 117 miles to Pierre. Yes, tonight I am beginning to wonder what in heck I am doing out here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 22: Hot Springs to Rapid City SD

This day-- the day we rode through some of the most beautiful country ever, the day we saw a buffalo right by the road, the day we rode past the Crazy Horse Memorial and into Mount Rushmore-- on this day I dropped my camera into the toilet. Actually Margaret's camera to be precise-- sorry Margaret! The camera is kaput but it turns out that we could get the pictures from the card.

When we left Hot Springs about 6:30 the beautiful scenery was blighted by a rash of billboards but soon we got into the Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is one of the few remaining examples of mixed grass prairie and it was simply gorgeous. There were signs warning of large animals on the road and signs warning visitors that buffalo could be dangerous but seemingly no buffalo actually in sight. Then down a hill and around the corner there he was-- a huge animal right by the road who appeared to be eating dirt. I learned later that some animals need minerals they get from the ground.

Somewhere along the road I picked up a wire from truck tire debris. I pulled it out and all seemed well but at mile 36 when I was stopped for my first look at the Crazy Horse Memorial and my tire came up flat. While I have been shown how to change a flat, I have never actually had to do it but Nan who was riding nearby very competently did it for me. That was my third flat and now I have had one of each-- a hotel flat, a SAG flat and a road flat.

The ride was gorgeous but there was a huge amount of climbing and what with the delays, the sightseeing and the heat, I began to have a bad feeling about the twenty miles of riding that would remain after we got to Keystone, the town right below Rushmore. Keystone was at mile 54 and was followed by a daunting three mile climb. Should I ride or SAG? I had a heat rash on one arm, my left knee was creaking with each rotation, I was exhausted...but I decided to ride on. Just then Mike offered me the perfect compromise-- a bump up to the top of the climb and no one ever needed to know the difference but truth in blogging prevails-- so my ride today was 72.5 instead of 74.5!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 21: Lusk Wyoming to Hot Springs SD

Today started as an idyll and ended as something of an ordeal but as always I recovered quickly thanks to a shower, DQ, dinner and a beer.

We left Lusk just before 6:30 am, headed north on Routes 18 and 85. Within a couple of miles all sign of civilization was behind us but instead of miles of sagebrush and desert, we were riding in huge open grasslands. Soon it got even better with landscape as you see in the picture. Things continued swimmingly until the routes diverged at mile 46 and we headed east on Route 18. What followed was 22 miles of nothing but grass-- the road undulating out ahead of me (I was in the riding alone phase by that time) getting hotter, and starting to feel a little less jaunty. One welcome break did come at mile 56 where we entered South Dakota, our fourth state. The mechanic van was waiting there to take pictures of us stragglers-- the peleton gets places together but the last 8-10 of us are mostly riding alone, so have no picture takers.

The second SAG was at mile 68 and it was a couple of miles after that that my troubles began. We started a four mile climb at that point-- a climb that wasn't actually too bad for me and I put a good deal of distance between myself and the last three riders. At the descent, however, I encountered a terrific head wind-- a wind that I had to fight for the remaining 15 miles of the ride, including another climb of about a mile. Nothing to do, however, except to keep plowing on and eventually I rolled in-- nearly 94 miles with 7 hours and 50 minutes on the bike.

One learns a lot about wind riding this way-- when it is behind you, you barely feel it but it pushes you faster and you are duped into thinking that your riding is getting stronger. The downside is that a tailwind is not at all cooling. A headwind saps your energy in direct correlation to how strong it is, but it is always cooling-- so there is a silver lining of sorts. I would have traded for a little less wind and a little more heat.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 20: Casper to Lusk, Wyoming

Rested with a full day off in Casper, we had an early start this morning to get going on our 107 mile ride to Lusk. It was another nearly empty day on the prairie. The only town of any size was Douglas where the liquor store had a sign that read "Drive Thru Rear Window". Otherwise there were only a couple of seemingly uninhabited places including one where the sign post said "Lost Springs - Population 1". Lusk is somewhat more thriving and is interesting because it was once a stagecoach stop on the route between Cheyenne and Deadwood.

The second weekend in July is a hot time in Lusk. For more than fifty years locals have staged a pageant reenacting an important local event involving conflict with Indians, "The Legend of Rawhide". A young man on a wagon train passing through Lusk had vowed to shoot the first Indian he saw. When a group of friendly Indians approached he shot and killed an Indian maiden. This angered the Indians who called for reinforcements and prepared for revenge. The shooter then offered himself as a sacrifice to save the others and was skinned alive. Sounds like a miss to me and way past my bedtime.

The ride was essentially pleasant and I am getting quite casual about riding 100 miles or more. The temperatures were reasonable, the shoulders not always cracked and debris strewn and the winds were helpful. We had about 15 miles on Interstate 25 (where the old road was swallowed up) and toward the end of the ride a couple of spectacular thunderstorms off to the north-- not close enough to make me nervous. I pulled in to the motel in Lusk after 8 hours and 10 minutes of riding time.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 18: Riverton to Casper

And grim determination did get me through-- the longest bike ride I have ever done and the longest I will ever do-- 120 miles! You see to the right two representative pictures of the route-- suffice it to say that had I taken a picture every mile they would have looked about the same. Sometimes the road curved a bit to the right, sometimes it curved a bit to the left, but basically it was a whole lot of nothing.

I did see live wildlife for the first time-- both deer and antelope (have seen several dead deer by the roadside on previous days) and we did go by a very spectacular area called "Hell's Half Acre" that is like a mini Grand Canyon (and is actually about 350 acres) but otherwise it was just a ride across the plains. I kept telling myself that being an old lady whizzing through at about 13 miles per hour was better than trudging along in a cloud of dust behind a team of oxen and a Conestoga wagon. With this and other mental games the miles did go by.

For the first half of the ride the road was a smooth surface with a rumble strip and a rough shoulder. Wyoming law explicitly states that bicycles must be to the right of the rumble strip. Since the rumble strip is in segments about 25 feet long with a 6-8 smooth space separating each segment, I spent a good deal of time whizzing out onto the smooth part until I heard a car behind me, then dashing in to the shoulder till the traffic had passed, then returning to the smooth road surface. Then, suddenly everything changed. The road was rough and the shoulder was smooth so my game was over.

When I got to mile 98 and saw yet endless miles of road ahead of me I was desperate enough to do the most forbidden thing of all-- turn on my iPod. I knew that three riders and the staff riding sweep were behind me, that one of the vans was waiting for those three people and the other van had passed me and gone on to Casper. Being fairly certain that I would not get busted, I listened to 12 miles worth of Keith Jarrett's "Koln Concert" and it was enough to get me past the incipient mental breakdown

I am beginning to feel like a remarkable phenomenon among the group-- something like a pet dog who begins spouting Shakespeare. The others seem so pleased and proud that I actually finish each ride. I must have looked a very unlikely candidate when we began this adventure.

Now I am clean, fed, watered (with alcohol) and thrilled about a rest day tomorrow. John and I are going to go to the Historical Trails Interpretive Center; happily within walking distance.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 17: Dubois to Riverton Wyoming

Started slow this morning because the group breakfast was two miles back in the wrong direction and we didn't want to add 4 miles to an 80 mile day. Went instead to a local cafe that took longer but was a nicer way to start the day.

Got on the road about 7:30 and rode until about 2:00 when I reached the Dairy Queen just short of the hotel. The ice cream served as reward and lunch. The ride was reasonably comfortable with good temperatures and headwinds only about the last 10 miles.

Took my second tumble off the bike quite early in the day when my route sheet blew off. I hit the brakes forgetting that I was clipped in and over I went. As the first time only minimal damage done to me and none to the bicycle. When will I learn?

120 miles tomorrow, however-- our very longest day. Feeling grimly determined at the moment-- let's hope that grim determination will get me through the course.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 16: Jackson Hole to Dubois Wyoming

Just to prove that John is really on this trip with me-- here we are in Teton National Park having left Jackson Hole on our way east.

Putting on my laid back, no stress persona this morning, we chose the later full breakfast option at "The Bunnery" in Jackson Hole-- the other option was instant oatmeal and weak coffee at the hotel. Only nine of 50 riders were willing to give up this much of a lead but we had a truly great breakfast and if any of you are in JH I recommend it. Delicious and healthful.

Once up from the table we had a beautiful ride through the Teton National Park with the mountain range to our left for many scenic miles. Leaving the park about mile 32, we were on route 26 east and headed up to the Continental Divide at Togwotee Pass. We anticipated a big photo op when we reached the CD but for all of us it happened in the van! Actually for some it was on a flat bed trailer operated by Wyoming DOT-- they are doing major road construction that required a 14 mile shuttle! So much for EFI. Ask me if you don't know the acronym. It is too rude to include. So our 88 mile ride turned into a 74 mile ride but we paid a very heavy price for the lift-- the 24 miles after the shuttle ended were into a hellish headwind that kept us struggling even downhill into Dubois.

The locals told us that the early settlers wanted to name this town "Neversweat" because it is always cold here but decorum won out and the town was named for the first postmaster. Jackson Hole was pretty cold as well-- there were two adjacent temperature displays as we left town-- the first said 43 degrees and the second 47 but either way it was cold.

Highlight of the trip other than the scenery. We met a young man riding a unicycle and learned that he had started in Yorktown Virginia and was headed to Astoria Oregon, then down the Pacific Coast. He was carrying a very small backpack with his gear. I have pictures and will post them when we have a rest day in Casper.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 15: Idaho Falls to Jackson Hole,Wyoming

Let's put it this way: after 92 miles and eleven hours, with coke in one shoe and pee in the other, and with a left boob flecked with melted chocolate, I pulled into the hotel third from last but alive and well and even slightly cheerful. About the chocolate? I have discovered that keeping various items like chap stick and kleenex in my capacious bosom makes for easy access but when you push the concept a little further and use the storage space for cookies and half eaten Balance bars, the results are not so nice.

The good things about today? Most spectacularly the scenery. Drop dead, movie screen, picture postcard, big beautiful coffee table book gorgeous. Also, we are now in our third state having ridden from the Pacific Ocean all the way through Oregon and Idaho. Also we passed the 1000 mile mark somewhere before mile 20 this morning.

The bad things? It was hard. Really. Really. Hard. I have no idea why they say that the 117 mile day is hardest because it surely is not. This day had two hard climbs and the second, and much harder one, started about mile 78 when us slowpokes were darn tired. It was the steepest grade of the trip and at an altitude high enough to leave us gasping for breath. Truth in blogging? I walked about two miles, perhaps more, and I had company doing it. It has been a long time since I walked up any hill but this one was outside the limits of my endurance. We all assured each other that walking made it much easier to focus on the wonderful scenery!

Usually a climb is followed by a rewarding descent but the five miles down from Teton Pass were steep, steep, steep and just one scary hairpin turn after another. We were all cautioned to take it very slowly, to stop at the pullouts, not to let our brakes get overheated and etc. Not a relaxing descent.

Just one climb tomorrow and that will take us over the Continental Divide. Another 88 miles into Dubois. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 14: Pocatello to Idaho Falls

A riding day with no challenges and no flaws. The temperature was perfect, the wind at our backs, the route very attractive. I rode with Phillip the entire 66 mile route and we took it slow and easy. The route zigged and zagged on farm roads past huge potato fields and wheat fields and in many cases we were near the Snake River-- running very high and fast. This was the 4th of July so we all wore our America by Bicycle jerseys. We stopped to eat at a place called "Frontier Pie". We sat in a booth that had a fake covered wagon top. The waitress inquired what we were doing "special for the holiday" and we told her about our ride. "That's a joke, right?" she said.
Unfortunately it doesn't seem very funny to me at the moment because I am facing a huge challenge tomorrow. A long 91 mile ride and two very long hard climbs. When we did the 117 mile ride on Day 5, the staff described it as the hardest day of the ride but suddenly that ride is history and Day 15, the ride from Idaho Falls to Jackson Wyoming is the hardest. Makes me wonder how many "hardest" days we will have...

In any case I am among the favored dozen riders being offered an early luggage load. The regular load is at 6:00 but the slowpokes are being allowed to load at 5:15, before breakfast at 5:30. Check in again to see how I do. Wondering why I don't mention John? He is now riding with the fastest group and is always miles ahead of me. Even he is anxious about tomorrow, however.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 13: Burley to Pocatello ID

This day started out glorious and stayed that way almost to the point where it ended with a thud. We rode for miles through the landscape pictured above-- open cattle range, no traffic, a completely straight road. It looks a bit grim but it felt wonderful to be flying through such vast open spaces. My riding was great through the first seventy miles of the day-- faster than I have been able to go in the past in cool temps with yet another tailwind.

A highlight of the day was a stop at "Register Rock", an oasis along the Oregon Trail where the pioneers could camp, rest and refresh themselves and their livestock for the miles ahead. Many of them took the opportunity to carve their names or initials on a large rock, now surrounded by a fence but still very interesting.

Things began to feel a little less rosy when the staff flagged us down with the info that there was a four mile mistake in the cue sheet-- that is to say we had to ride four miles longer. I try to keep in mind that the journey is what matters, not the destination. Nevertheless, I almost always end the day by wishing that the hotel was a few miles closer, not a few miles further away. Four miles added to an 82 mile ride is enough to make me whine and curse. Just about the same time, I began to feel cramping in my left leg. This was minor at first but by the time I dragged my sorry self to the hotel, I was in lots of pain and had trouble walking.

I researched bicycle cramps on the internet and talked to the staff and it seems that a combination of factors contributed to the problem. It was cool and I therefore didn't drink as much as I should have, the bananas have gotten very ripe and I have been skipping them and I was riding harder than I have on other days. We have a reasonably short day tomorrow-- 65 miles and I will take steps to see that I do not repeat the cramping experience.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day12: Twin Falls to Burley

An unusual roadside shrine and a reminder to be very careful and aware when on a bicycle.

This was one of our shortest days of the whole trip and we were favored with a strong tail wind to push us along. Because the ride was so short they scheduled luggage load for 8:30 and we had a very leisurely morning. Just as I was ready to get on the road, however, I discovered that I had what they call a "hotel flat". This time it was a thorn called a "goat head". So now I am up to two flats-- one SAG flat and one hotel flat.

There were two optional side trips today-- the first to Shoshone Falls and the second to Twin Falls, both in the Snake River Gorge. John and I opted for the first one only using the theory that if you've seen one falls you've seen them all! In each case, of course, seeing the falls meant riding down to the bottom of the gorge and riding back up again. Once seemed like plenty. Shoshone is called the "Niagara of the West" and it was really spectacular. The route trended up but with nearly unnoticeable grades. For most of the way we were on"frontage" roads-- that is roads that run right next to interstate 84. While there was little traffic, there was plenty of traffic noise from the vehicles on the interstate. And today, for almost the first time, I rode for several miles with Philip, the librarian from San Diego. We chatted away and were at the hotel in jig time. The excursion added about four miles to my ride and a wrong turn added another couple but I still got in at 1:00 and 44 miles of riding.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 11: Mountain Home to Twin Falls Idaho

We left Mountain Home at 6:00 this morning, just getting light. Now that we are in the Mountain Time Zone we go to bed while there is still lots of light and get up in the dark. With 97 miles to ride, everyone was glad of an early start. As usual, the morning was lovely and cool and the scenery was gorgeous. We had gotten a glimpse of the Snake River a couple of days ago but today we saw lots of it. For several miles the river, the railroad track, "Old Route 30" and the interstate swooped and curved through the landscape in parallel lines.

Things started to get a little hotter and a little tougher at the 50 mile mark in the town of Bliss (population 275). Although our 117 mile day last week was very tough there were many miles of downhill. I count on downhill as a way to rest my butt and hands and there was very little rest for me today. The route generally trended up, although at a gentle grade, but it was pedal, pedal, pedal with no break. Then, as our leader Mike Munk later said, I got "caught in a seam". With five riders way behind me and everyone else way ahead, I didn't see a support van for about thirty miles. One van was ahead and one was behind and realizing that, they sent a fast staff rider to catch me and give me a nice full bottle of cold water. Badly needed.

At mile 95.7 I finally reached the bridge over the Snake River that is famous as the site of Evel Knieval's attempt to jump a motorcycle across the gorge. The big take off ramp built for the stunt is still visible up river from the bridge. I was fortunate to arrive just when several people were preparing to leap off the bridge with parachutes-- I believe I saw seven jumps, all beautiful and successful. Nerve wracking, nevertheless. From the bridge it was just a couple of miles to the hotel so I am now clean, cool, calm and collected and looking forward to a very SHORT day tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 10: Boise to Mountain Home

Although why this town is named Mountain Home I cannot fathom because it seems that the closest mountain isn't very close. Our ride today was a total blast. It started out on a nice bike path along the Boise River-- a delightfully cool morning with lots of runners, bikers and dog walkers on the path. At mile 13.5 we hopped onto interstate 84 and had a great 10 mile run with a tail wind to the first SAG. There I had what they call a "SAG flat"-- a flat tire that happens right at the SAG stop. Since the mechanic is always sitting right there, they had me back up and riding in about three minutes. Flats are very common when riding on the interstate because the truck tire debris includes tiny wires that are impossible to see but lethal if you pick one up.

From there we got onto unnumbered routes that essentially followed the interstate east but with little traffic. Sadly several dead snakes as always out here. They come out onto the road for the warmth and get hit with great frequency. I have seen three that were identifiable as rattlers but most are too squished to get any idea.

I had worried that I wouldn't like the wide open terrain-- variously called high desert, plain or prairie, but it felt just wonderful to be out there riding in the wide open spaces with endless vistas in every direction. Clearly I wouldn't have loved it so much if I had been riding into a headwind but we got a wind assist all through the ride and I pulled into the hotel at mile 53, not even slightly tired. Let's hope I feel half as good when I finish tomorrow's 97 mile ride to Twin Falls.

SAG officially stands for Support and Gear but unofficially it is the place you get to just when your energy is sagging. Stopping at the SAG is mandatory on this trip and there is a very precise routine that we are asked to follow: sign in with gloves on, remove gloves, blow nose (optional, but strangely we all do it even though no-one is sick), clean hands with a wet wipe, and disinfect hands with gel. Only then can we get water, peanuts, cookies, etc. We have at least one SAG every day, usually two and on the long days, three. In between, the vans drive back and forth along the route and we can stop them for water or other assistance by patting the top of the head. Although the riders get strung out along many miles of the route, the two vans and the big box truck always know where everyone is, particularly the stragglers. Two of the slower riders left us (as planned) in Boise and we gained no new riders so there are fewer of us tortoises but the route was so great today that I flew in pretty much with everyone else. The fast riders are called "thoroughbreds" but if there is a special name for the rest of us, everyone has been kind enough not to mention it in front of me.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 8: Ontario Oregon to Boise Idaho

Turns out that our last night in Oregon was less than a mile from the Idaho state line. We crossed it within minutes of setting out. I really enjoyed the morning ride-- it was on unnumbered farm roads, very little traffic, lots of interesting irrigation schemes, crops and etc. The whole city of Ontario smelled strongly of onions in the morning-- onions being one of their chief crops. Lots of good rolling hills, no bad climbs. Stupidly I took a tumble at mile 36.8 but other than being chagrined and getting a couple minor scrapes, no harm was done. The day really started to heat up, however, and I began to lose my zip. John was riding with me today and although I could keep up with him in the morning I didn't do well as it got hotter. It was 94 when we pulled into the hotel about 2:30 and by 4:00 it was 100. Good thing I wasn't out there any longer. Very hot tomorrow but we have a rest day-- Hurrah! and by Wednesday when we hit the road again it is promised to be cooler. Total mileage in the first eight days of riding is 612.

Day 7: Baker City to Ontario

Fortunately there is a great part to each ride and today was no exception. Temps starting to heat up a bit but I am using the neck cooler thing that Friendship Quilters made for soldiers in Iraq and I periodically pour water through the holes in my helmet so I am managing reasonably well. Our ride started on "old" route 30 in Baker City; "new" route 30 runs contiguously with interstate 84. This is another location where route 30 was an evolution of the Oregon Trail.It was essentially a downhill ride at a wonderfully moderate grade that permitted very fast cycling with no need to brake or worry. Old route 30, the interstate and the railroad track were running all in parallel. Eventually there was no more of the old road and we had to ride on the interstate itself-- this was not bad at all because the shoulder was wide and we were still whizzing along at a good pace.

We left 84 at Huntington and headed south on 201 to Ontario. This is where we began to follow the Snake River, interesting initially just because one has always read of pioneers following the Snake but soon the valley widened out considerably and we lost sight of the river entirely. The last 25 miles was, dare I say it, pretty uninteresting. Through an agricultural area irrigated by the Snake and tributaries-- flat, hot and tedious. The final three miles to the hotel was even worse-- lots of traffic, lights, bad pavement, turns, and urban sprawl at its worst. Oh well, I tell myself-- must take the rough with the smooth, the bitter with the sweet, the thorn with the rose.
Went into a new time zone yesterday. Now we are only two hours behind New England. Today we ride only 60 miles into Boise. Tomorrow is a much needed rest day. Both John and I will try two pairs of shorts today and I will wear two pairs of gloves. John has bruises on his "sit" bones, I won't give the details about my "private" parts and my hands are very unhappy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 6: John Day to Baker City

Today was another very hard day with 80 miles of riding and 4650 feet of climbing; only 350 less than yesterday. Simply by contrast, however, it seemed relatively easy. There were three long climbs, the first being the worst one but the first is made easier by cooler temperatures and being more rested. We were still on route 26, a road that essentially follows the Oregon Trail. And who knew that the scenery is Oregon is so spectacular? I suppose all of those who have been here, but I certainly had no idea. In six days we have passed through a land of incredible contrasts. The Pacific Coast seems much like Maine, the Portland area was beautiful because of the Columbia River, the Cascades were deep dark forest and towering snow covered peaks, the high desert was like the American Southwest and today we rode through Brokeback Mountain type scenery-- sparsely treed hillsides with green fertile meadows and a lovely rushing river beside the road. At mile 28 we left Route 26 and turned north on Route 7, a perfectly gorgeous road with much less traffic than 26-- that took us all the way to Baker City. Except for a headwind the last 10 miles, the trip seemed comfortable. I made it in 9.5 hours of riding.

More on Day 5:

Day 5 with 117 miles of riding and 5000 feet of climbing is supposed to be the hardest day of the trip. Unfortunately it comes pretty early on and was very stress making for many in the group-- John and I were among those who had never done a century (100 miles); in fact for both of us our longest day ever was the 75 miles we rode on Day 2. After "Route Rap" we went right to bed (at 8:30) but I found it hard to sleep. We got up at 4:15 and I was on the road by 5:45. The staff suggested that those who thought the route too long should sag to the first rest stop at mile 29.5 but I preferred to start out with the possibility that I might make the whole thing. The day followed the usual dynamic. I start early, driven on by fear of being the slowest. After a few miles the other riders begin to pass me. That goes on for perhaps an hour. Eventually I am behind all the fast ones and ahead of the very few who are slower than I am. On this day, however, four of the slowest had chosen to sag so there were fewer slow boats left. There were two huge climbs and two very long descents with a long moderate climb for the last 36 miles. I eventually ended up third from last and was terrified that those behind me would give up and I would be out there alone (not really alone, of course, because the staff was driving back and forth along the route constantly to make sure we had water and were otherwise okay). John was long gone, needless to say, and made it the whole way two hours ahead of me. My original goal was to get to 100 miles and then see if I could keep going. At 102 Jeff stopped with a van and gave me water and although I was in floods of tears, he said the two behind me were still riding so I decided to go on. At 108 miles Jim was waiting with the other van so I got more water and he said that since I only had a few miles to go and there was a slight tail wind, I should try it. I caught up with Philip, a librarian from California, who is also one of the slower riders and we talked each other in the rest of the way. I nearly fell over faint when I got off the bike but was okay within a few minutes. I had other problems like sore hands, cold shower, really tacky hotel but toppled into bed about 7:30 without even undressing or brushing my teeth and slept well until 5:00 am this morning. The entire route was on 26 east.