August 14, 2006

Welcome to my blog

This blog is an eclectic road journal, my account, with pictures and video, of the 30th Anniversary Cross-Country bike trip organized by Adventure Cycling. Forty-one riders started in Seattle on June 22, 2006, and ended in Washington, DC, on August 8. Along the way, we rode through gloriously scenic mountains, made new friends, and experienced directly how vast and diverse our country really is. Sadly, we also had tragedy when one of our group was killed in a car accident, and faced brutally difficult riding in record high temperatures in parts of South Dakota. I wrote the blog so that I could keep track of the long days we spent on our bikes. As someone who turned 70 last January, I wanted to show that older persons can still engage in vigorous activities. And as a retired professional journlist, I wrote the daily accounts for fun and because I had another opportunity to tell good stories. I hope readers will have as much fun reading this journal as I had writing it.

Start from the first entry

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August 09, 2006

Coverage of the final arrival

Click here for the article

Click here to read the pre-ride coverage

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August 08, 2006

End of the long, long road

One happy group of adventure cyclists.

  • 3,300 miles later, here they are!
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    August 06, 2006

    What Dr. Dave has Learned

    On a seven-week bicycle trip across the United States, we all learned a lot about ourselves, our situations, and our colleagues. Here's what our homespun Texas philosopher, cattle man, rodeo rider, and family doctor David Ramsey says he learned.

    David Ramsey, a wiseman on two wheels.

    The smoother the pavement, the shorter the distance you'll be on it.

    Don't try to talk during climbs, especially to women, unless you want to be embarrassed.

    In July, nothing ever really dries out in the Midwest.

    When you live out of a dufflebag, the things you really need are always on the bottom.

    Age is a relatively minor feature compared to mindset.

    Physical appearances have little to do with physical abilities.

    You don't have to have ice in your water when you are really thirsty.

    Real friends help you even when you say you don't need it.

    First impressions of people are often wrong, though not always.

    Things hurt a lot worse when you focus on them.

    You can go to sleep while sweating profusely.

    Awfully big projects can be accomplished by just daily working at the goal.

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    The Toughest Day

    Day 46, August 5
    Bedford, PA, to Gettysburg, PA
    100 miles
    Cumulative: 3234

    Today's ride, by common consent, was the toughest of the entire cross-country trip. "Nothing else came close," said Peter Maron, one of the stronger riders in our group. The hills were very long and steep -- and there were very many of them. Isabel Zsohar's GPS showed that everyone climbed about 7200 feet during the day. You would think that after seven weeks of riding that everyone would be in excellent physical condition, and they are. But even strong riders complained of stiffness and sore muscles after the grueling ride. I decided that the route was not designed for recumbent bikes ridden by older people and rode the luggage truck. Earl Wooten, 68, accompanied me. Martin Berndt, 73, upheld the honor of the three geezers on the trip by riding the entire distance. As far as I can figure, most of the male riders on this trip are in their 40s and 50s, with a couple in their early 60s. Then there's a big jump in years to Earl, Martin and me.

    Three tough old salts: Bill Cook, Martin Berndt and Earl Wooten.

    We're almost to the end of this enormous journey. In a sense, it seems like just yesterday when we left Seattle. At the same time, it's sometimes hard to remember what the early sections of the ride were like since so much has happened since. We've travelled 3300 miles, experienced tragedy along the way, suffered through record heat waves, and climbed hills that totalled 18 miles of vertical ascent. We've ridden in glorious cool mornings with fog in the valleys, seen spectacular scenery, and we've watched a romance blossom. I've spun my cranks about 1.5 million times. Despite some rough spots along the way, the ride for me has been a satisfying experience, demonstrating to myself that I can still do strenuous physical activities. It's been a way like no other to see how gigantic and diverse our nation really is. It's been a chance to get to know a group of fascinating people who are very different in most respects except for their love of biking. I can honestly say that at no point on the trip did I ever say to myself, I wish I'd stayed home. As Rachel Ginsburg put it, "It's been a bad novel that I had to read to the end. I couldn't put it down." I have not lost my enthusiasm for bike touring. For the future, though, I think I'll leave the old tent at home and check into motels along the way.

    Doing this blog has been a special pleasure. It's been fun to write a little after being away from the game for several years, and it's rewarding to hear favorable comments from those who've read it. It's also been a real pain to get the stuff written after a long day on the bike when you are so tired that you can barely stay awake. And it's been hard to find Internet connections along the way. In the rural west, you get a blank stare if you ask if wi-fi is available. "What's that?" Often I had to revert to dial-up telephone connections to get through. I've sat in restaurant booths and church basements with my IBM T41 laptop plugged into a telephone line. One camp operator declined to let me into her combination home and office (OK, it was a double-wide) to use her phone, but she did run a phone cable out her kitchen window so I could connect on her porch. At one elementary school the kindly principal unplugged his laptop so I could tap into his high-speed line.

    I've located wireless connections that just happened to be available when I needed them and logged on to some unknown person's system to transmit. I've sat in Starbucks and other coffee places for hours on layover days so I could use their wireless systems. (Right now, I'm in The Spot coffee house and bookstore in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.)

    I sent text directly to the blog software. Pictures and video were another matter. Sometimes I delayed posting an item until I could shoot a picture or get one from another rider. I edited stills in Adobe Photoshop and then sent them by email to Seamus O'Connor, the able summer intern in McClatchy Newspapers' Washington bureau who kept the blog running every day. I processed the video on my computer with Adobe's Premier Pro editor, but transmitting it required a high-speed connection. Video files were uploaded it to a server in Germany designed for sharing long files. Seamus picked the video files off the German server and mounted them on the blog. Most of the video, by the way, was shot with a simple Sony digital point-and-shoot camera at the high-resolution setting and edited in Premier Pro. A couple of longer files were shot with a small digital video camera.

    On Tuesday, after two short, 50-mile days, we'll be in Washington. We'll enter the city as a group for a final photo shoot in front of the Lincoln Memorial. We plan to arrive at the memorial right at noon. Than we'll pick up our luggage and go our separate ways. It will have been a great run.

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    Bikes Then and Now

    To the untrained eye, bikes today aren't much different from their counterparts of thirty years ago. Closer examination, however, shows significant differences from the vehicles ridden during BikeCentennial when thousands pedaled across the continent to celebrate the nation's 200th anniversary.

    Frame materials, for example, have changed dramatically. In 1976, everyone rode a bike with a steel frame. Steel is still an excellent choice for a touring bike, but now some riders mount bikes made of lightweight aluminum, and a few are constructed of super-expensive carbon fiber or titanium.

    Drive trains have changed, too. In 1976, most bikes had ten speeds. The cassette in back had five cogs while the cranks mounted two chainrings. Now most upscale bikes have nine cogs on the cassette on the rear wheel and two or three chainrings in front, giving up to 27 speeds to choose from. With nine cogs in the same space that used to have five, the chain has to be made much narrower in order to fit.

    Shoes and pedals are entirely different. Thirty years ago, riders fastened their shoes to the pedals with leather straps. Now bike shoes have special cleats on the soles that mate to fancy pedals. When a rider starts off, he or she snaps the shoes to the pedals, locking them together. To release, a rider simply twitches a heel out.

    Back then, helmets were not an issue. No one wore them. Now they are required on most major organized rides. When one of our riders was hit by a car, his helmet was split in the accident. He escaped serious injury. Without a helmet, he probably would have suffered a major head injury.

    In 1976, no one had a speedometer on a bike. A few may have had an odometer that advanced as a pin on the bike wheel hit the odometer unit every revolution. Now everyone has an electronic computer that keeps track of distance by noting every time a magnet on the wheel passes a sensor. A good computer will show speed, distance, average speed, elapsed time, and, in some cases, the revolutions per minute of the crank.

    More advanced GPS units are available, too. They track at least three satellites in space in order to calculate the bike's position on the earth, usually within about 15 feet. A simple GPS unit can also calculate altitude, speed, and project time, bearing, and distance to a point down the road. More expensive models show your progress across a map of the area. My simple GPS unit weighs two ounces and cost less than $140.

    Larry Black, owner of Mt. Airy Bicycles in Maryland, an expert in bike history, says that in years past when a rider wanted to know how hard he or she was working, they'd figure out heart rate by placing a finger on an artery on the neck and count pulses over a certain period of time. Now some riders wear a chest strap that radios heartbeats to a monitor on the handlebars. The heart rate monitor can be a useful safety device. During the very hot days riding in South Dakota, my heart rate shot up more than 20 beats a minute over my usual pace, a sure sign that I was becoming dehydrated.

    Most long-distance riders still carry water bottles, but now they can also drink from hydration bladders such as a Camelback. My bladder is in a bag attached the the back of my seat. A hose from the bladder clips to my jersey. When I want to drink, I bite the mouthpiece and suck. The device is extremely convenient.

    Of course, there were no recumbent bikes in 1976, either. Some things, however, don't change. You still have to pedal hard to make it all the way across the nation.

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    UAL Flight 93 Memorial

    Day 45, August 4
    Confluence, PA to Bedford, PA
    81 miles
    Cumulative: 3134

    We started today's ride with a 30-mile run on the same trail we rode yesterday. The difference was, today it was raining, a nice cool gentle rain that soaked the limestone trail. Splash from our wheels covered all of us and our bikes with a coating of fine gray mud. By late morning, though, the sun was out and we climbed more of Pennsylvania's steep hills.

    At the 56-mile mark, we stopped at the temporary memorial to UAL 93, which tragically crashed there in a field. Then most of the riders continued on to climb to the summit of the Allegheny Mountains, 2906 feet high. Then they plunged down a long 9-per-cent grade on US 30 that allowed high speeds for the very brave. Several riders topped 40 mph, but Jack Turner assumed a racer's tuck, drafted a pickup truck down the early part of the descent, then slipped past the truck. When he finally slowed down at the bottom, his computer said he'd hit 65.7 mph. Jack, in his late 50s, does know what he's doing on a bike. Though he has a doctorate in pschology and wrote software for major electronic firms including IBM and Siemens, for the past several years up to last year, he worked as a mechanic for one of the major teams during the Tour de France.

    The memorial to the victims of United flight 93.

    Our campground in Bedford is a block from the big Cannondale bike factory. Ron Marks stopped in to ask if someone could look at his bike's drive train after the muddy ride. Though he's riding a competitor's bike, a Co-Motion, the Cannondale crew stripped off the chain, washed it in solvent, cleaned the derailleur and cassette, lubricated everything, and checked all the bike's adjustments. They refused to accept any money. That's what you call good PR.

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    A long cool trail

    Day 44, August 3
    Washington, PA to Confluence, PA
    90 Miles
    Cumulative: 3053

    Today's weather was hot, and the hills were very steep. For the first time on the cross-country ride, I had to walk my bike up a hill. But once we reached the 37-mile mark, we turned onto a lovely trail that took us to the end of the day. The trail was through a forested area along the beautiful Youghiogheny river filled with kayakers, rafters, and fishermen. We had a cool ride.

    Pennsylvania's Youghiogheny River.

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    August 02, 2006

    Martin's Big Birthday

    When our oldest rider, Martin Berndt, turned 73 on July 29, the celebration lasted all day. He awoke to find his bicycle decorated with a Happy Birthday banner and a balloon tied to the seat. Hillary Capers presented him with a Superman button.

    Martin's real surprise came after the day's ride. After the end of the day's map meeting, Martin was called to come forward. Ride leader Ryan Kaplan announced that Martin's daughter Martha had been contacting him by mail and phone to make a special celebration. She had shipped a case of Argentine Malbec wine to Missoula, and it had been in the luggage truck ever since. She had also coordinated with a local caterer to make a four-layer cake. When Martin tried to blow the candles out, he couldn't. They were the kind that relight after a blow.

    Happy Birthday, Martin! Good luck with those candles...

    The card from his two daughters, son, and son-in-law read:
    "Having you as our Daddy has brought us all so much happiness! We are so blessed! We are all so happy to see you still able to enjoy your life and your health. May your health and happiness continue to bless you for many more years."

    Martin was thrilled. "That birthway was memorable," he beamed. "I'll remember it to my dying day."

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    Travelling with Children

    Many of us have terrible memories of travelling with children. Yet there are three parents on the trip with their daughters, and one mother rode with her son in Montana for a brief two days. Remarkably, both parents and offspring seem to be doing very well together. Of course, the kids are not really children. Hillary Capers, who is travelling with her father, is 34 years old, Jorie Messman is 22, and Lindsay Selin is a mature 18.

    Jorie and Roger Messman.

    Jorie and her father, Roger, 55, have been riding together for several years. They started with week-long RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Ride Around Iowa). Last summer, Jorie, her father, and her brother did a self-supported ride across the country. After that long trip, Jorie says, "I feel so much closer to my Dad." Looking ahead, she says, "I hope I can get my kids to do this with me someday. I've learned more on these last two summer rides than in my four years of college." She expects to follow her mother, who teaches fifth grade, and her father, who teaches high school math. 

    Judy and Lindsay Selin.

    Judy Selin, 45, says that "we always wanted to ride cross country as a family." After all, she and her husband Stephen met while leading bike tours, and they made many shorter rides over the years with Lindsay and her younger sister. But when Lindsay graduated from high school in June, "we realized we'd missed the opportunity to do it all together." The others were booked up for the summer, and Lindsay said that if they didn't go this year "I'll never get to do it" with her mother. Judy agreed to leave the others behind and go. Lindsay will attend Middlebury College in Vermont in the fall. She's an accomplished viola player who has soloed with the Vermont Young Orchestra.

    Hillary and Bud.

    When Hillary decided she wanted to ride cross-country, she asked her father, Edward (but who goes by Bud) to go along. "There are not a lot of things you can do with a parent," she says. Bud. 62, was not convinced. "I said I wasn't interested," he says, but his wife persuaded him to make the effort. "I've been married 37 years," he says, "and I know very well how to say, 'yes, dear.'" As it turned out, Hillary and rider Matthew Stobbart have become close friends on the trip. Bud and Hillary have invited Matt to spend ten days with their family in New Jersey after the trip is over to become better acquainted.

    Monica Leo's son Seth, 25, who works in Griggs, Idaho, joined his mother for two days of riding in Montana. Monica says the most magical moment in the trip came one morning when she was following Seth through a beautiful river valley framed by mountains. Suddenly, she recalls, he raised his arms to the sky in an expression of pure joy. She, near tears, wanted to capture the moment with her camera, and she asked Seth to recreate the scene. But when she was ready with her camera, he rode ahead, stood up on his bike, yanked his pants down, and mooned his mother. "That's Seth," she shrugged. Kids, after all, will be kids.

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    A 4H Day

    Day 43, August 1
    New Waterford, OH, to Washington, PA
    65 miles
    Cumulative: 2963

    Today's ride was short and brutal. An exhausted Max Corley said "it was a 4H day, it had it all: hot, humid, headwinds, and hilly." There were lots of coal trucks on the narrow roads. I  studied the topographic map and decided to ride the luggage truck.

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    My big growl

    Day 42, July 31
    Burton, OH, to New Waterford, OH
    67 Miles
    Cumulative: 2898

    After a good layover day in Burton, we had a short ride to New Waterford. On the way, I had my first encounter with a dog. I was rolling through Amish country when a large dog rocketed toward me, aiming for my spinning feet. When he got within about four feet I uttered the loudest, most vicious growl I could muster. The dog looked like he'd been shot. His eyes widened, and he veered away.

    We arrived at a little town about 7 miles from our destination a little after noon. Several of us spent the afternoon reading and snoozing in the public library.

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    July 31, 2006

    Day 40, July 30

    Day 40, July 30
    Sandusky, OH, to Burton, OH
    90 miles
    Cumulative: 2831

    Traversing Cleveland

    Today was a hot, difficult, but entirely rewarding ride that took us straight through downtown Cleveland and on to some extremely steep hills as we approached the delightful village of Burton, where we spent our next-to-last layover day. We rode early in the morning along the shore of Lake Eire, stopping for water and goodies at Lake View Park. Then we headed toward Cleveland.

    Some worried about riding through the big city. Since it was Sunday morning, however, we faced almost no traffic, and we were able to experience the heart of the metropolis with no difficulties. High points included the Cleveland Browns stadium right on the water's edge and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a big glass structure just up the street. As we headed east along the shore we found many fishermen who reported good luck catching white bass. Then we climbed the bluffs east of downtown, where we found enormous homes from the early 20th century lining Fairmont Boulevard. They make current McMansions look downright flimsy and tacky.

    The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    As we continued east, we encountered serious hills. They were short but extremely steep. I have an little inclinometer on my bike. I stopped to measure the grade of the hill that seemed the steepest. It was 14 per cent. I ground up the sharpest slopes in my lowest gear at barely 3.5 miles per hour. So far, I haven't had to walk up a hill on this trip. It was hard work in the 90-degree heat and high humidity, and we all had to drink water continuously as we sweated profusely.

    Catching a breath at a lakeside waterstop.

    At the last water stop of the day, along a suburban road east of Cleveland, a delightful gentleman, Stan Klatka, who is 77, opened the bathrooms in his home to riders and filled their water jugs. Then he revealed his hidden talent: He can yodel. He consented to demonstrate his skill for my camera.

  • Yodel-lay-hee-hoo!
  • Finally, we reached the Geauga County fairgrounds, our layover site. The county fair advertises itself as Ohio's oldest. It must also be one of the best. The buildings and grounds are meticulously tended. And the village a few blocks down the road has more good restaurants than we can sample.

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    The delightful Rust twins

    Amy and Lib Rust... or is it Lib and Amy?

    The participants in our cross-country adventure are a lively, friendly, fascinating lot. We have a sufficient supply of lawyers (seven), two medical doctors, several teachers and others ranging from a heavy truck designer to a Presbyterian pastor with a fine tenor singing voice. In this group, the Rust twins rank high on everyone's favorite riders list.

    Elizabeth ("Lib") and Amy, 47, are identical. Each teaches kindergarten in Edmonds, Washington, just north of Seattle. They live together. They have the same phone number and email address. They dress alike or at least similarly. They have the same new Rodriguez custom touring bikes with S&S couplers. They ride together, their pedals moving in unison. Amy usually is in front because, she says, Lib is faster and would otherwise run ahead. They finish each other's sentences. And both are seriously competitive athletes. They bike, hike, swim and run, and in the winter they both teach cross-country and downhill skiing. Friends are trying to recruit them to play soccer, but they confess they're not too good at ball sports.

    The twins are from a family of six children. They date their love of long-distance biking to 1976 when they and their parents rode the first leg of Bikecentennial from the Oregon coast to Prineville, Oregon.

    "We're the only ones of our family who went with our parents," Amy says. "The others stayed home." Ever since, she says, she and her sister have biked all over the U.S. and Europe. Their four siblings don't bike at all. Their parents, now 79 and 77, however, still enjoy riding their bikes regularly.

    Which twin likes the cross-country ride better? "We like it the same," Amy says, adding, "Lib has more guts." In the brutal heat of South Dakota's Badlands, Amy stopped three-quarters of the way to the end of the day's ride while Lib rode the entire distance. Of course, Amy had a good reason: She was recovering from a dislocated shoulder suffered a few days earlier on a water slide at a park along the way.

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    July 29, 2006

    Flying before the wind

    Day 39, July 29
    Napoleon, OH, to Sandusky, OH
    87 miles
    Cumulative: 2741 miles

    Today was a bicyclist's dream: Smooth roads, virtually no traffic and a brisk tailwind. We flew east along narrow farm-to-market roads. With tall cornstalks often lining both sides of the road, it sometimes seemed that we were riding down a long green gully. We all enjoy going fast with the help of the wind. "I feel so much more fit," explained one rider. I set my fastest rolling average speed of the trip today, nearly 15 mph. That's fast for me, slow for many of my fellow riders.

    Mid-morning, we stopped en route at Grounds for Thought, a combination coffee bar and bookstore in downtown Bowling Green, OH. The French Roast coffee was wonderfully tasty, so different from the thin, insipid brew found in most Midwestern eateries. And 10 miles from the end of the ride, several of us enjoyed huge milkshakes at Otto's Pizza and Ice Cream.

    We're overnighting in Sandusky, a city of 27,000 on the shore of Lake Eire between Toledo and Cleveland. It's one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ohio, largely because of Cedar Point, a world-famous amusement park with 16, count 'em, 16 roller coasters. Some of them were among the largest, fastest and otherwise best in the world at the time they were built. The Top Thrill Dragster, for example, accelerates from a dead stop to 120 miles per hour in just four seconds. My friend Slim in Santa Cruz, California, a serious coaster buff, will be disappointed when he learns that I declined to spend my evening riding the thrill machines.

    Tomorrow, we ride through Cleveland.

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    Saving the kittens

    Day 37, July 28
    Kendellville, IN, to Napoleon, OH
    74 miles
    Cumulative: 2654  miles

    Into Ohio, without much pomp and circumstance.

    We entered our tenth state, Ohio, early this morning. With the torrential downpour, swarms of mosquitoes, swampy campground, bad roads and the accident, Elizabeth Preston was so disgusted by her stay in Indiana that she acted out her feelings. She stood on the Ohio side of the line and spat back into Indiana. The ride was short by our current standards, only 74 miles, the terrain was almost flat, the sky was overcast and we had a little tailwind. That combined to give me the highest average rolling speed, 14 mph, of any day so far. We're camped in the Henry County fairgrounds. Many have their tents and other belongings out in the sun to dry after last night's deluge.

    The big story of the day is how some lucky kittens were saved. While Hillary Capers and Monica Leo were riding together, they spotted five young kittens by the roadside. They were emaciated, and Hillary immediately dug through her pack to find something for them to eat. They devoured her offering and begged for more. When Hillary proposed loading them into her pannier to bring them to the camp this evening, Monica decided it was time to act.

    Monica dialed 911 and explained the situation. The emergency operator, an understanding soul, said the Humane Society was the proper agency to deal with the problem and switched Monica to their number. The Humane Society responded quickly, and soon someone came to the scene. Monica reported that the lady from the Humane Society said the kittens had clearly been around people and probably had been dumped by the roadside.

    The story had a happy ending. The Humane Society representative said the kittens appeared to be easily adoptable. Some lucky families will enjoy new pets, and the kittens didn't come to camp.

    Who wouldn't love such wonderful animals?

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    July 27, 2006

    A better day

    Day 36, July 27
    LaPorte, IN, to Kendallville, IN
    88 miles
    Cumulative: 2580 miles

    Today was very different from yesterday. It was a great improvement. We had cool weather with overcast skies, slightly rolling, picturesque rural roads, and a shorter route. I was well-rested after taking yesterday off, and that was a big improvement.

    When we reached our camp in a public park in Kendallville, we were attacked by mosquitoes. That persuaded several of us to seek shelter in a nearby Best Western motel. As the motel dwellers ate dinner at Appleby's, the skies opened up. We were sorry for our colleagues who were eating in a park pavilion in a rainstorm.

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    Day 35, July 26
    Coal City, IL, to LaPorte, IN
    110 miles
    Cumulative: 2492 miles

    Today was a bad day. The second half of a very long ride was on roads with traffic so dense that many riders were frightened, it rained part of the day, and, worse of all, two riders were slightly injured in an accident with a car.

    Near the Illinois-Indiana border, a car driven by a young woman struck the rear of a rider's bicycle. The impact threw him into the air, and he hit and smashed the windshield of the car that struck him, then fell onto the highway pavement. His helmet was fractured. His bike struck another rider, dumping that person into the highway ditch. A neighbor rushed out to stop traffic and others called an ambulance. The car driver reportedly was extremely distraught and sorry at causing the accident. "I didn't see you," she repeated over and over again.

    Both riders were taken to a local hospital. They had a certain amount of road rash. One may have cracked or broken a tail bone. After a battery of tests, they were released in the evening.

    The bike that was hit may also have survived. The rear wheel and the sturdy rear rack took the force of the accident. The frame appeared to be intact and repairable. Both riders plan to continue their trip.

    The riders were adamant that their names not be released even though family members had been notified. Ride leader Ryan Kaplan all but ordered ride bloggers not to mention their names. In all cases where there is injury or death, news agencies historically have withheld names of those involved until families could be notified. My note about the death of Phil Smith early in the ride did not include his name as his family had not yet been told of his death.

    But once victims' families are notified, there's a different issue to consider. Anyone reading this blog and other accounts who has a friend or relative on the ride will wonder and worry whether he or she was the victim or victims. The injured folks will preserve their privacy but in so doing may cause fright and worry for friends and relatives of all the other riders.

    Roads with traffic so heavy that riders are concerned about their safety has become a major issue. Adventure Cycling borrowed this cross-country route from the American Lung Association of Washington state, which has run it several times to reward people who raise a certain amount of funds. Our riders have persuaded Adventure Cycling staff to move the route in several places to less-traveled highways, and this process apparently will continue through the end of the ride next month.

    Yesterday, one rider dropped out. She said she rides her bicycle for fun, but this ride was no longer fun, so she's leaving. We are all very sorry to see her go. I'm still having fun, though the pace is tiring. Today I decided not to ride so I could get some rest.

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    July 26, 2006

    Detour around Chicago

    Day 34, July 25
    Belvidere, IL, to Coal City, IL
    104 miles
    Cumulative: 2382 miles

    Today was a long, warm day in which we headed south through Illinois farmland. We were avoiding Chicago by going west of the metropolitan area. Tomorrow we'll be far enough south of the city that we can turn eastward into Indiana. We can all sense that we're on the home stretch.

    Early in the morning when the sun is still low in the sky, it's fun to watch my shadow dance along the roadside ditch. During one shadow show, I shot a little video clip.

  • Bill's constant companion
  • Later in the morning, I watched Matt Stobbart, our English rider, assist his new friend Hillary to go faster. Matt is single and 36, Hillary is single and 34 and the two appear to enjoy each others' company. The problem is, Matt is one of the faster riders on the tour while Hillary is definitely one of the slowest. When they ride together, Matt holds out his right arm and pushes his partner along. I shot a little video of how they do it, and you can see it here.

  • Get by with a little help from a friend
  • By the end of the day, I was exhausted from the long ride. Yesterday I rode 96 miles, and today 104. Tomorrow will be even longer.

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    July 24, 2006

    Lost in Illinois

    Day 33, July 24
    Madison, WI, to Belvidere, IL
    83 miles
    Cumulative: 2278

    Nearly everyone agreed that Madison was our best layover day so far. It's a university town, full of good restaurants and pubs within walking distance of our air-conditioned dorm. Many of us had family visiting to cheer us on. Elizabeth Preston's father, step-mother, and good friend were there. Dave Ramsey's sister and brother-in-law came in from Texas. John Fischer's wife, and my wife, flew in. Amy Lauterbach's parents and sister drove up from Evanston, Illinois. I suspect there were others I didn't learn about.

    Ann and I spent the day touring Frank Lloyd Wright's residence, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, less than an hour's drive from Madison. The tour guides were superb, the buildings were fascinating, and we learned a great deal about the eccentric, prolific architect and his working philosophies. Others toured the Trek bicycle factory and scored handsome Trek shirts.

    Today we crossed into Illinois, our eighth state so far. The ride today for nearly everyone was 83 miles. For me, it was about 96 miles, thanks to misreading the cue sheet and heading south of our destination city, Belvidere. I finally worked my way back to the center of town and stopped at the City Hall where a helpful lady in the building permits department drew me a map to the camp where we're staying.

    Into Illinois, state number eight with five more to go.

    Tomorrow and the next day we are charging south around Chicago in Illinois and on into Indiana. Each day is 103 miles.

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    July 23, 2006

    America's Dairyland

    Day 32, July 22
    Viroqua, WI, to Madison, WI
    104 miles
    Cumulative: 2195 miles

    After yesterday's tough hills, we feared that today would be more of the same, only longer and harder. We found the hills, all right, but the ride was, to my taste, the most beautiful so far. The weather was cool and glorious, and the hills were just as high as before, but not so steep. The early-morning valley floors were shrouded in fog, the hilltops in brilliant sun, giving the landscape a wonderfully surreal look.

    We passed by one dairy farm after another, each one carefully tended and surrounded by fields of hay and corn. The corn is cut green and the entire plant, ears, stalks, and leaves, are cut up into small pieces and stored in tall silos next to the cow barns. In the winter, this sileage is fed to the cows. Wisconsin produces 15 per cent of the nation's milk supply and a lot of its cheese, which is why locals call themselves "cheeseheads." At my younger son's graduation ceremony for the Stanford Graduate School of Business several years ago, every gradate wore a mortarboard except for one proud Wisconsin resident who sported a headpiece shaped like a large wedge of cheese.

    As we passed each farm with its cows, usually black-and-white Holsteins, behind fences near the road contentedly chewing their cud, Judy Corley called to the animals. "Bill," pleaded Max Corley, "please don't put in your blog that my high-priced Washington lawyer sister moos at cows, not just one, but every cow we pass. Our family would be embarrassed." Judy says she doesn't care what anyone thinks, she enjoys talking to the cows. "One of them answered me," she says.

    Not everyone enjoyed the farms. As Martin Berndt passed by one of them, two dogs raced out. One bit him on the leg, drawing a torrent of blood. We're hoping Martin's bite doesn't become infected.

    I have to confess that I didn't ride the full route today. At the 50-mile mark I hitched a ride to Madison with one of the crew. I wanted to get to the city as quickly as possible. My wonderful wife, Ann, was meeting me for the layover day in Madison. The five weeks we've been apart during this ride is the longest separation of our 39 years of marriage.

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    Driftless in Wisconsin

    Day 31, July 21
    Winona, MN, to Viroqua, WI
    67 miles
    Cumulative: 2091

    One state closer to the finish!

    Minnesota's claim to the steepest hills on the cross-country ride was short-lived. Wisconsin wins, hands down. Today was a short-mileage day but, we were warned, it would be a very full day. It was that, and more. The the hills on the final 20 miles of the ride were long, steep, and, for me at least, exhausting.

    We had entered the "driftless" region, an area that the glaciers of the last ice age inexplicably skipped. When the last glaciers in Wisconsin melted about 10,000 years ago, they left a smooth, scoured landscape everywhere except in what is now the southwest part of the state. This area was left rough, unglaciated, driftless, and the steep hills are what challenged us. We climbed to 1200 feet and then plunged straight down to 700 feet, over and over. Climbing 500 feet is not usually a big deal. But when the grade is severe, it's tough.

    We crossed into Wisconsin in the morning, and, of course, took pictures at the Welcome to Wisconsin sign. Then we rode into a time warp. Suddenly, it was the 1800s. We passed through an area populated by Amish farmers. They had cut their grain, tied the stalks into bundles by hand, and stacked the bundles into shocks to await threshing. My back hurt when I saw how hard the farmers had to work to bring in a small crop. It's truly amazing to realize that these good folks deliberately work hard and stay poor because of their beliefs when they can see prosperous, highly mechanized farmers all around them.

    As we neared our destination, Viroqua, we learned that we're also in a major organic agricultural area. We passed by a creamery in Chaseburg operated by the Organic Valley cooperative, the largest organic coop in the nation with sales last year of $245 million. Founded in 1988, Organic Valley now has more than 800 member farms.

    When we finally reached Viroqua we dined at the Driftless Cafe.

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    July 20, 2006

    Minnesota's steep hills

    Day 30, July 20
    Owatonna, MN, to Winona, MN
    93 miles
    Cumulative: 2024 miles

    Today's ride demonstrated conclusively to everyone that there are steeper places to bike than the Rocky Mountains. One of them is Minnesota. Of course, the climbs are not as long, but they are definitely steeper. Toward the end of a long day, we descended 500 feet on fast winding roads into Whitewater State Park 25 miles east of Rochester, home of the famed Mayo Clinics. It was a wonderful run, several miles of fast coasting. The problem, of course, is that we then had to climb out of the park, several miles of slogging uphill.

    Finally we reached Winona, a port on the mighty Mississippi River. A long line of trucks were waiting to dump grain. It is sent by conveyor across the highway into a waiting barge, soon to head downriver.

    Tonight I have a special treat. I'm going to dinner with my Minnesota cousin Dick Bowden and his wife Carol and with Quentin Robley and his wife Glorie Ann. I did my first-ever week-long bike trip with Dick and Quent 11 years ago, CANDISC, Cycling Around North Dakota in Sakakawea Country. "We didn't know we were creating a monster," Dick says.

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    Escaping the Storm

    Day 29, July 19
    New Ulm, MN, to Owatonna, MN
    95 miles
    Cumulative: 1931

    Dark storm clouds over St. Peter, Minn., as seen from Waldo's Coffee Company.

  • A storm warning from a Man in Blue

  • The view from Bill's bike
  • It was still early in the morning, and we entered St. Peter, MN, just 30 miles into the day's ride. We stopped at a little park near the center of the pretty town where the Adventure Cycling crew had established a rest and water stop. We no sooner had filled our water bottles when a Sergeant Jerry Yusta of the town police force rushed up to warn us that a severe thunderstorm was headed our way at 40 miles per hour and we should take cover immediately. He offered to shelter us up at police headquarters up the street. We opted instead for Waldo's Coffee Company two blocks away, which is something like Starbucks, only much better.

    By the time we reached Waldo's the northern sky had turned blacker than any sky I'd ever seen before during the day. The street lights flickered on. The good folks at Waldos allowed us to park our bikes inside, and we reciprocated by hauling in all their outside furniture so it wouldn't be blown away. A coffee customer with a laptop showed us the radar display of the coming storm. It was huge and very impressive.

    The storm hit the town like a hammer. Within 15 minutes the gutters outside the cozy coffee shop were overflowing. We were cool and dry, enjoying the best coffee of the trip. The pastries were also excellent. I bought two helpings of lefse, a Norwegian delicacy that I remember from my preschool days. A Norwegian neighbor lady made it, and I always showed up for a handout. It's a potato pancake made very thin, cooked on a griddle, sprinkled lightly with sugar, and rolled up.

    Our colleagues elsewhere took shelter whereever they could. Jack Turner, a  fast rider who was ahead of the rest of us, found an open church. A kindly lady there made him a pot of coffee and served him cookies. Others ducked into farm machinery sheds with open doors. One group pulled up at a house where the owner was bringing in her bird feeder. They asked if they could stand under her tree. She said yes, then opened up her garage for their shelter.

    After two hours of stuffing ourselves, the storm had passed and we continued on our way. The long ride included 20 miles of the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail. It's a paved path lined with dense brush and tall trees. It was delightful, like riding through a long green tunnel.

    It was raining again when I reached Owatonna. But we didn't have to pitch our tents in the rain. We camped inside the building that yearly houses the county fair beer garden. In the middle of the night, there was another big, noisy storm, but were safe and dry.

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    July 19, 2006

    New Ulm's Glockenspiel

    Downtown New Ulm, Minnesota, where we spent a layover day today, is clean and neat as a pin. Unusually for a small midwestern town, the main street, actually Minnesota Street, is thriving. Near the downtown is a 45-foot-tall glockenspiel, similar to those found in Germany. At noon, the bells ring, a sliding door opens, and a group of mechanical people representing local history emerge and perform. I've included some short video clips to give you an idea of how it works.

  • A traditional German glockenspiel
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    July 18, 2006

    Riding for the Birds

    Amy Lauterbach, fellow rider and lover of all things feathered.

    Every morning before dawn, one of our riders, Amy Lauterbach, slips out of camp and starts down the road as soon as it's safe to ride. The 47-year-old Californian is an ardent birder, and, she says, "the best time for birding is in the early morning. The birds do their dawn chorus." During the heat of the day, she says, they usually hunker down to bathe and preen.

    As she pedals, she looks and listens. So far on this trip she's identified 106 different birds. Usually she can identify individual birds by sight from her bike, but sometimes she only hears a call. She couldn't see the Great Horned Owl one morning, for example, but she heard its unmistakeable loud hoots.

    Amy's modest about her skill as a birder. Compared to the most devoted birders who keep precise life lists of birds they've spotted, "I'm way below average," she says, though she certainly seems like an expert to me. On this trip, she's added one new bird to her life list, a Sage Grouse. And for only the second time she's spotted an Upland Sandpiper. Most sandpipers live around water--you can see them running along ocean beaches--but the Upland Sandpiper is common to relatively arid areas like those we passed through in Montana and South Dakota.

    When not birding, hiking, or biking, Amy became an expert in another field. For the past 11 years she helped develop Intuit's Quickbooks, the ubiquitous program used by millions of tiny businesses to keep track of their cash and customers. 

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    A little bit of Germany

    Day 27, July 17
    Tyler, MN, to New Ulm, MN
    90 miles
    Cumulative: 1836 miles

    Today, in response to a request from Norm Kocol to move the ride off busy U.S. Highway 14, Adventure Cycling sent us slightly north along wonderful county roads with almost no traffic, past perfectly manicured farms growing corn and soybeans, in lovely weather. The temperature high was 84 degrees, absolutely normal for this time of year. Tonight, we could even see cool 50s, a relief after burning South Dakota.

    The roads in much of the Midwest run along the borders of sections, mile-square blocks of land containing 640 acres. This meant that when we were going east, we were heading exactly 090 degrees on my GPS unit. When we turned north, for example, we were going exactly north, 360 degrees. From the air, you can see the sections distinctly, marked by the roads that separate them.

    We're staying for a layover day in New Ulm, a city of 13,500 with a strong German heritage. It's named after Ulm, the principal city of the Province of Wittemberg, Germany. We're on the campus of Martin Luther College, a school with 800 students formed in 1995 by combining two older colleges. Its mission is to prepare prospective Lutheran pastors for advanced seminary training.

    Tomorrow, we plan to make up for Tyler by visiting the historic Schell's Brewery. George Head has organized a special tour and tasting, and it appears that nearly everyone is planning to attend.

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    Welcome to Minnesota

    Day 26, July 16
    De Smet, SD, to Tyler, MN
    78 miles
    Cumulative: 1776

    Minnesota, home to 10,000 lakes - and now 40 more bikers.

    As we pedaled east today, we could see the terrain change: We were moving from the burning, arid west toward the cooler, wetter Midwest. There were more trees along the way, the farms became more lush, and we could feel a touch of humidity in the air. The temperature was more bearable, too. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported that South Dakota heat records going back 70 years were shattered yesterday. The mercury hit 117 in Pierre and 109 in Huron. Let's see, 70 years ago was 1936, the year I was born. We were living not far north of here in Lisbon, North Dakota. My mother told me--many times, I recall--that it was so hot that summer that she kept me, an infant of six months, in the cool basement of our little house during the day.

    In Brookings, Robb Rasmussen opened his large, well-stocked Sioux River Bicycles and Fitness shop for us, even though it was Sunday morning. His adjacent Lodge Coffee Shop that features super-premium ice cream from the dairy department at South Dakota State University dished out free super-premium double-dip cones of the bicyclist's preferred road fuel. Delicious!

    At the 62-mile point of our ride we crossed the border into Minnesota. The state provided a lovely roadside rest stop. We took pictures with the Welcome to Minnesota sign. Passing motorists, seeing our parked bikes, tooted a welcome.

    A quick group check-in along the way.

    Off in the distance, we could see a new agricultural crop: electricity. More than 300 giant wind turbines, each swinging three slow-turning blades nearly 80 feet long, stand 257 feet high along Buffalo Ridge. Farmers lease a small plot of land to the turbine owner. The tall towers don't have much effect on their farming operations, they say.

  • Video: Alternative energy sources
  • In Tyler, we stayed at the Danebod Folk School. Danish immigrants built the school and church in the 1880s. The school, devoted to Danish heritage, is still host to groups who come to sing folk songs and dance traditional steps. Many of us camped in the lecture hall which had a most welcome, untraditional, air conditioning system.

    As the ride to Tyler was relatively short, many arrived in Tyler early in the afternoon. We looked forward to sampling a glass or two of Danish beer. Alas, Tyler is a dry town, and we had to settle for rhubard pie and more ice cream.

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    July 15, 2006

    We're half way to Washington

    Day 25, July 15
    Miller, SD, to De Smet, SD
    77 miles
    Cumulative: 1697

    Today as we passed through the center of Huron, SD, we completed half our adventure. Somehow it doesn't seem possible. Only yesterday we were ready to start; now we're already halfway home. Except for the brutal heat and wind of the last few days, and the tragic accident, it's been a great trip. We came together as strangers; now we're almost family.

    Peter fixes a flat during a rest stop.

    Since the weather forecast was for temperatures above 100 degrees and south winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour, most of us started about 5:30, before the sun was up. Breakfast was moved up to 5:15 so we could eat before we left. The early hours were relatively easy, except for a lack of shoulders and the big trucks with which we shared the single lane. Unlike Montana's truck drivers, the drivers here were as accommodating as they could be. Fortunately, we soon had a shoulder to ride on.

    By mid-day, the heat was unrelenting, and the cross winds so strong they sometimes blew our bikes a couple of feet sideways. After lunch in Huron, where leader Ryan Kaplan provided ice cream for dessert, we pedaled from convenience store to convenience store where we cooled off and consumed great quantities of Gatorade before pushing off to the next stop. Local farmers were using the stores as well to dodge the heat. At one, there was a lively card game at a table in front of the cash register.

    Tonight we are in De Smet, a pretty little town where Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of  Little House on the Prairie and related books of historical fiction, lived for many years. In town one of her stories is being presented as a pageant. Local people say that tourism is second only to agriculture as a pillar of the economy.

    Earl reclines in his new "deluxe" chair during a rest stop.

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    July 14, 2006

    Flying Eastward

    Day 24, July 14
    Pierre, SD, to Miller, SD
    73 miles
    Cumulative: 1621

    This was a short, fast day. We headed east on U.S. 14 with a delightful tail wind. That meant that nearly everyone reached Miller, lovely little town with tree-shaded streets, shortly after noon. We camped in Miller High School, and we can sleep inside, if we wish, rather than setting up our tents. I chose to set up in the band room because the floor was carpeted and, mostly, because the room is nicely air conditioned.

    It's still hot. The temperature at mid-afternoon is 99 degrees, and 106 is forecast for tomorrow. Unfortunately, the forecast also calls for south winds at 20 to 30 miles per hour--the same crosswind conditions that nearly defeated us earlier.

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