Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 28, 2016

Epilogue: A look back, some ink, and the road ahead

Day 0 of the new era
Destination: Unknown.
Mileage needed to get there: Whatever it takes.

Us and Tetons

By a long way, the best picture from this trip. Tetons. Sweetie by my side. Camera, as always, hanging off her shoulder.

The great thing about “completing” a personal goal/ambition/challenge? Um, completing it.

The terrible thing about it? Contemplating what comes next.

It’s been only a couple of days since I completed this 3,672-mile cross-country bike ride, but I’m already starting to obsess about all kinds of “what nexts.” Jobs. Money. Places to live. Finding time to add new adventures into the equation. Finding the money to make those new adventures happen. Trying not to worry about all those things. Stressing out because my effort to avoid those anxiety-inducing thoughts is causing its own stress. You know, the usual. Life.

During the two-plus months of this journey, my wife, Melody Gilbert, and I have been able to step outside of our regular lives and seize the day on all kinds of levels. We had plenty to occupy our thoughts. Weather. Road conditions. Bike repair. Flat tires. Trying to live out of a small Nissan Altima for going on three months. Where to set up on a nightly basis. Campground. Warm Showers. Cheap motel. What to eat. Who to talk to. Who NOT to talk to.

messy car

The messy car always kept things interesting.

When you have that much on your plate, the day-to-day worries about money and the big questions of our existence kind of fade away to nothingness. It might be the reason so many people, who get a taste of this kind of escapism, never return to regular life. But that’s a thought to ponder for another day.

I wanted to talk about the tattoo. Those of you who are friends of ours on social media have already seen the tattoo. It started out as an idea that ended up as a calf full of ink when it was all said and done. I never saw myself as a “tattoo guy,” but I have to say: I’m tickled about this thing. I feel good about completing this journey and I feel good about permanently marking it as a thing I can tell stories about to the theoretical grandkids someday.

“Grandpa, what is that thing on the back of your leg?”
“Welllllll, let me tell you a little story.”

Someday, maybe.

The guy who did the work, Curtis Adams at Bewitched Tattoo in Rehoboth Beach, was great. At first, he said he couldn’t fit me into his schedule. I could have waited until we returned to Chicago to get it done, but Melody and I both felt a sense of urgency about getting it done as soon as possible. It felt right to get it done in the place where this trip ended.

After asking Curtis about tattoos, timing, price, etc., we were getting ready to leave the shop when Melody said: “You sure you can’t find a way to squeeze him in?”

Curtis checked his schedule a little more and noted there were a couple of appointments the next day that could be a little shaky; young people who seemed a little jittery about making and keeping appointments. He said he’d check with them and get back to me. When he called later that night to tell me an appointment had cleared, I said “let’s do this.” We had talked a little about what I was thinking. I wanted the outline of the U.S. And a line that approximated the route I had ridden.

I wanted something else to make it feel special but I didn’t know what. In my email to Curtis, I sent him a picture that my daughter, Jenna, had taken of me holding up my bike after I had triumphantly dipped my front tire into the Atlantic. That was it.

Jennas pic of finish

The image that Jenna captured that was then reproduced — forever — on my calf.

When we showed up at the shop the next day, Curtis showed me the idea he had roughed out. He had sketched a silhouette of me raising the bike in the air and he proposed having “me” standing atop of U.S. map with this bike. I liked the idea, but have to admit. I wasn’t sure. Never mind the creeping doubts, though. “Let’s do this.”

I had approached this bike ride the same way, and it’s pretty much how I’ve approached everything in my life. Make a decision. Put yourself in a position to succeed by planning, organizing and anticipating all the potential road blocks. Then plow ahead, sorting out the issues when they come up. I laid down on the table, put the fate of my left calf in Curtis’ capable hands, and let him do his thing.

I’m super happy with the result. But the coolest part of my visit happened just before I climbed onto the table. As Curtis was getting set up for my session, he was talking to a couple of Army recruiters who work in the area. One was contemplating a sleeve of tats for his arm. His buddy was providing support. As we were hanging out, I mentioned my upcoming (and first) tattoo and the bike ride I had just completed.

Army recruiters

These two gentlemen were excited about the bike trip — and the tattoo.

The guys were excited about the trip. Staff Sgt. Qujuan Baptiste, (the fellow pictured on the left above), first asked if Melody was my daughter (to her eternal delight). That was certainly a compliment to her, but perhaps a dig at me and my old-man gray hair. But he was psyched that someone, um, a little older could do something like this. It was a reminder to him, he said, that you can always set goals and achieve them throughout your lifetime. He said it inspired him. I was humbled. These guys, Sgt. Baptiste and his pal Staff Sgt. John Montalvo, were salt of the earth. Good men. I could tell from even this short conversation that they’re good representatives of our nation. They inspire me, and their kind words touched me. On that high note, I fairly leaped onto the table and Curtis went to work. And when he was done, this was the result.

The outdoor tat pic

As Melody said afterward: “I didn’t think you’d get a tattoo that big?” … My reply: “Go big, or go home.”

While preparing this entry, I tracked down Sgt. Baptiste to make sure I got his and his buddy’s names spelled properly (journalism). He told me he went home that night and talked to his wife about the ride.

He said they were going out this weekend to buy bikes.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 21, 2016

Day 66: That’s all, folks!

Days 66
Destination: The Atlantic Ocean (Rehoboth Beach, Delaware)
Sunday’s mileage: 50. Total: 3,672 (or so — that’s the total on the T-shirts, so …)

Beach lift

Done.

I’ll write more in the next day or two — once I’ve absorbed this whole thing. I want to dig through the blog, look back on this journey, share some of the highs and lows for those of you who haven’t had the chance to read each and every post. But I want to at least acknowledge one thing: It’s all over! I did this thing.

As I was sitting here, contemplating how to put this into words, this is what I’ve come up with.

I’m an incredibly lucky guy. I had an idea. I talked it over with Melody. We decided to tackle it together. And in the space of just a little over two months, we did it. I didn’t get injured. I didn’t get hit by a truck. My wife still likes me. And I got to arrive at my destination after this most excellent adventure to cheers from strangers at the Delaware shore.

On top of that, our daughter Jenna got up early this morning in New York, traveled by train to Wilmington, rented a car and drove another two hours so she could be here for the finale. That was lovely and it felt so good.

My cousin, Sally, who has been a source of constant encouragement and an incredibly uplifting presence, joined me for the final day of riding. It was nice to have her on the road with me. As we rolled into Rehoboth, she started to sing the theme to “Rocky.” Ba-bah-batabum-bata-bum-bump-bum …

watermelon!

Sally (left) and I were especially excited about the watermelon. Well, Sally appears excited, I appear in deep thought on the healing properties of cold watermelon.

And, as always, Melody was there at the finish, cameras in hand, willing assistants at the ready, volunteer cheering squad hanging out. Everyone at the main beach seemed to know I was coming. It was crazy. If you’re planning a grand entrance, you want Melody doing the advance work. As I posed for pictures on the beach, first one young lady delivered a baggie full of cold and refreshing watermelon pieces — yum! Then a young boy stopped by to deliver some chilled apples. I dipped the front tire in the ocean. I posed on a mini red carpet that Melody had procured (of course!). Then we made our way to the boardwalk and helped ourselves to some Kohr Brothers ice cream. Pie will have to wait.

Sharing this ride on the blog has been a privilege. Thank you for being a part of the journey. I’ll keep writing in this space in the days to come. And in the weeks and months that follow, I’ll try to come up with a new way to remain “on the move.”

the three of us

Not only did Jenna deliver T-shirts, she designed them, too. “Will (Bike) for (Pie).” It was great to have a little family time at the finish line.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 20, 2016

Days 61-65: Almost done! All the feels.

Days 61-65
Destination: Denton, Md.
Three-day riding mileage: 145. Total: 3,604

Washington monument

On Friday, I rode through D.C. and on to Annapolis and near the Bay Bridge. Lots of images on the GoPro, but this is one that Melody took before I headed out.

Tomorrow is it. I ride from Denton to the Delaware shore — Bethany Beach, to be specific. It’ll be a 60-mile ride, give or take. That’ll leave me just shy of 3,700 miles — and then it’ll be over. Just. Like. That.

 

I’ve tried really hard during these past 65 days to avoid thinking about “the last day.” Even though the destination is what this has been about. When I set out on June 13, after dipping my bike’s rear tire into the chilly Pacific Ocean at Winchester Bay, Oregon, I knew this would be a long ride. If I started thinking about “how I’d feel” on the last day I don’t think I would have made it. The trick was taking this in small chunks. Days at a time. Then states. Then 500 or then 1,000 miles. Each day, building on the previous one. Step by step.

Then Melody asked me this morning, with the camera running, how I’m going to feel when I finally — at long last — reach the shore. And I choked. Well, I choked up. Because I finally allowed myself to think about how goddamned amazing this trip has been. Tears welled up in my eyes as I tried to envision those last pedal strokes before I pick up my bike and charge across the sand to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s going to feel good.

I’m going to be proud of myself. I can allow myself that much. But I’m so happy that I got to share this with Melody, keeper of the 55andalive page and so much more. She’s been an indomitable spirit throughout this whole thing. So many people have told me how lucky I am to be married to such an amazing woman. But I know that. I’ve known it all along. Almost 30 years now and she continues to sizzle with life and energy and passion for whatever comes her way. Without her, there’s no me. Without her, this ride might not happen. Without her, there’s no guarantee I finish, even if I had managed to start. She’s that important to this endeavor. It has been a true team effort.

Melody motor lodge kiss

In case there was any doubt: Melody is, indeed, No. 1.

I won’t list, chapter and verse, all that she’s done. She’s done it all. I just did the biking part. But when we’re old and gray (or older and, at least for my part, grayer), this will join the many highlights of the life I’ve been lucky enough to share with this woman.

 

Anyway, when she asked me how I’ll feel tomorrow afternoon when this is all over, I think I managed to gurgle out something approximating this: I’m going to feel proud. I’m going to feel happy. I’m going to feel relief. I worry there are parts of my body that will never be the same. Two fingers on my right hand have been numb for more than a week. My neck is a little sore and fatigued (I blame the GoPro helmet-mounted camera). And my, um, under-carriage might need days of soaking in salt water to begin to approach healing. Beyond that, though, I feel pretty good. My legs feel great. My feet haven’t gotten sore from the pedal clips. I sleep great every night and wake up eager to chase the day when it dawns. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel at this point, but I have to admit that I feel better than I thought I’d feel.

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I have lost about 18 pounds (confirmed by two different scales). Aw, hell, let’s call it 20. Considering how poorly I’ve eaten (the pie and ice cream, for one, but there has been plenty more — and worse for me than that, I’m sure), I’m a little surprised by this. I’d guess my cholesterol might have spiked a little, but hopefully I can work on that in the weeks to come. I’m going to have to wean myself off the eating habits I’ve picked up these past few months. But that’s OK. It’s on to the next challenge anyway. Maybe I’ll make it a healthy-eating challenge.

I’m a little nervous about what comes next. I need to immediately start looking for work. I’ve made some early inquiries in various quarters about that. I’ll keep plugging away. If you know of anyone who’s hiring, let me know. We’ll be happy to relocate from Chicago if that’s what it takes. I don’t think we can afford to do freelance anymore. I need a job-job for any number of reasons. I’m sure my dad will celebrate reading that last sentence. He’s been urging me to get a “real job” certainly since before this bike ride, but I think I can safely say his protestations have been going on for a few years now. Hi, Dad.

Knowing, however, that I have that amazing Melody at my side, though, fills me with confidence and calm as we head toward a new adventure — whatever that might be.

Oh, and I’m buying a new bike. A Surly Long-Haul Trucker. First, if I’m going to do any more touring, and I plan to, I don’t think I’ll be lucky enough to have Melody around to tote my stuff for me. I’ll be on my own, so I need a workhorse bike, one that can carry a heavy load. So, what you may ask, is on my agenda for the future? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’m thinking about riding around Lake Michigan with a bunch of people next summer. I’ve talked to a few people about this already. It’s only 1,000 miles or so. Who’s up?

***
And, as always, please keep checking in on Melody’s witty posts, beautiful photos and some short videos at 55andalive.com. Once we get off this mad ride, I’d expect Melody will finally find the time to start break down all the hours of video we’ve been accumulating this summer. Another big lift by the master storyteller.

 

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 15, 2016

Days 57-60: Grinding — and more pie-pounding — to the finish

Day 57-60
Destination: Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.
Four-day mileage: 275. Total: 3,459

Mark facing east

I’ve kept my eyes focused eastward this whole trip.

Guys, I’ve been too tired to write these past few days. … Trail riding is much more difficult than road riding, it turns out.

 

I knew that, of course. But at the end of a long journey, it’s hard to appreciate the beauty and amazing convenience of riding trails all the way from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. I haven’t made it to D.C. just yet. That happens Tuesday (tomorrow). We stopped today 59 miles short of D.C. — in Harper’s Ferry. But I’ve ridden for four days on these trails and have alternately loved it and loathed it.

First the love.

 

Mark and Sally

Cousin Sally: Hero!

Day 57: My cousin Sally Byrne is the hero of these past four days. She not only volunteered to help secure a bike for me to ride on the trails, she delivered it to me in Pittsburgh (she lives outside of Baltimore). She drove for four hours, had breakfast with us, rode with me for 30 miles and then (thanks to Melody), was delivered back to her car where she trekked back to Baltimore. That’s family for you. The best kind of family.

 

The Great Allegheny Passage trail was beautiful and wonderfully maintained. There were plenty of places to stop for food or water. And the crushed limestone path was almost as good as pavement. I managed 60 or so miles the first day and then Melody and I set up in the … wait for it … Melody Motor Lodge in Connellsville, PA. We just had to stay there!

Melody motor lodge kiss

Of course, we had to stay at the Melody Motor Lodge.

Day 58: The next day, I woke up and pushed as hard as I could to get as far down the line as possible. Turns out, the gradual grade leading to my next destination — Frostburg, PA., was hard. It was about 60-65 miles of a slight incline. Maybe 2 percent. Maybe 3. I’m not 100 percent certain. But going slightly uphill for 6 hours or more takes its toll. It was hot, too, but that wasn’t the problem. Maybe the fact that I’ve been riding so long, that’s what got to me. Yeah, let’s go with that.

Anyway, I made it to Frostburg after a joyous 10 miles of downhill grade. We spent the night at a cool little historic hotel — Hotel Gunther — and sauntered across the street to the Princess restaurant, a local landmark. We ate dinner at a booth just a few seats away from where Harry and Bessy Truman sat on a visit to the restaurant many years ago. It’s a great spot — check it out if you’re riding the path. It’s family-owned since 1939.

Pie from Princess restaurant

The Princess Restaurant did pie right. It’s almost as if they knew I was coming!

Day 59: After a 15-mile sprint to Cumberland, Md., it was on to the C&O Canal Towpath — and a whole new level of pain. There is a profound difference, it turns out, between a crushed limestone path (GAP) and one that is alternately gravel, dirt, mud, and rock strewn with tree branches and water-filled potholes (C&O). But pain be damned, I was determined to push through whatever I needed to go the distance. My goal was to travel about 75 miles to Hancock.

I met Melody for lunch about 35 miles into the journey, in Old Town. I was beat up. My wrists were sore. My back was sore. I was hungry and I was thirsty. Old Town had, I think, one small diner but we were directed to the Fire Department, where they were hosting a Sunday “dinner.” The feast was the kind you’d find in many small communities across the country. It was billed as a fund-raiser for the volunteer fire department and there was a relatively small turnout. But the food was great — salmon cakes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, plus a small fruit plate, and dessert. If you read this blog, you know which way I went for dessert: that’s right, pie!

Princess and the pie

The stop at the Old Town firehouse fund-raiser dinner was a success, thanks to pie delivered by Ariana, a superstar in her own right.

Fueled up, I carried on down the trail — mud-splattered, body aching but the memory of a cherry cream pie lodged in the pleasure centers of my brain.

Day 60: On to Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. Another 60 miles in the books and so close to D.C. (only 59 miles away) that I can almost taste it. I know that I said at the top that I’ve loathed part of this trail, and that’s true. It’s rough. It’s hard on my body after two months of riding. But it is truly a gift for the area. I mean, I’m riding along the Potomac River and the C&O Canal. It’s deeply shaded, so even on a hot day like today (Monday), with heat advisory warnings being sounded, I was able to plod along until I got to this little historic spot.

And just after I loaded up the bike and we headed to one more hotel stay (yeah, we’ve kind of packed it in on the camping front), the skies opened up, lightning flashed and the rain pored down. But we’re high and dry and ready for tomorrow. D.C., here we come.

After arriving in D.C., we’ll take a couple of days off before making the final push to the Delaware shore (I’ll bike that on Saturday and Sunday). But it’s almost over. I’ll try to spend some times in the coming days thinking about that a bit more, but as I have during this entire trip, I’ll try to take it all in stride. One pedal stroke at a time until I can stride across the sandy beach and dip a tire into the ocean. Can’t wait.

wide shot canal trail

Heading east — always east — on the C&O Canal Towpath. Looks benign here, but looks can be deceiving.

 

 

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 11, 2016

Days 55-56: Food, a fall, and a visit to Pittsburgh

Day 55
Destination: Steubenville, Ohio
Wednesday’s mileage: 67. Total: 3,134

Sometimes the only thing that distinguishes one day from the next at this late stage is the food. Sloppy Joe’s at the Jewett Restaurant hit the spot in a number of ways. First, I was hungry. Second, there was rain all around. Just after I sat down for a quick bite, the skies opened up and I enjoyed the show while safely and comfortably ensconced in this little gem of a place in Jewett.

Jewett restaurant

I went with the $5 Sloppy Joe lunch special and it didn’t disappoint. I also was warned about the dangers of Steubenville before departing. Said my server’s grandfather, the husband of the Jewett Restaurant’s owner: “Why don’t you just stay here?”

Another thing that locks a day into your memory bank? A fall. Yeah, I fell. It wasn’t tragic or fantastic in any way. I was slogging up a steep hill in eastern Ohio (it’s hilly out here). The cords from my headphones (yeah, yeah — I know, I’m supposed to be paying attention. But I like to listen to books on the long rides) got tangled in my aerobar. As I tried to extricate myself, I steered — at low speed — off the narrow road. As I tried to correct, I lost what little speed I was carrying. Because my shoes have clips that are locked into the pedals, I tried to “clip out.” But because I was now basically stopped, I panicked and tipped over. It was more slow-motion fall than crash, but I’m sure the details of it will grow more harrowing the older I get.

Anyway, I skinned my elbow but otherwise came away unscathed. An older couple in a car coming up the hill behind me slowed down, a look of concern on both of their faces. I waved at them, assuring them I was OK. Pride injured. Body OK. And I carried on.

Beyond that, the day was all about grinding my way to the border of Ohio and West Virginia. I did that. Good enough.

Day 56
Destination: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Thursday’s mileage: 50. Total: 3,184

I crossed over two state lines today. The first hurdle was the Market Street Bridge over the Ohio River. That path took me from Ohio to West Virginia.

Market Street Bridge

I might look a little dazed, but I’m not confused. I crossed TWO state lines today, going from Ohio to West Virginia and then on to Pennsylvania.

After scaling the hills on West Virginia side for a while, I glided down into Colliers and then onto the Panhandle bike trail, which runs alongside Harmon Creek and then on into Pittsburgh. It was great to be off the busy and narrow-shouldered roadways of this part of the country, even though a good section of the trail was crushed limestone (not a perfect surface for my skinny-tired road bike).

Once I cleared the trail and headed into Pittsburgh proper, I was back on roads and back climbing hills. It was slow going and the heat and humidity were oppressive. But I rolled into town, located one of the many Pittsburgh bike trails and found my way to our destination — a beautiful old mansion that has been turned into a hotel. It’s called The Mansions on Fifth. We got a good deal, and at the end of the day, Melody definitely deserves a night like this. Me? Yeah, I think I deserve it, too.

Mansions on FIfth

It’s a beautiful old stone mansion turned into a nice little hotel. Very sweet spot.

***
For more on our trip, please check out the 55andalive website that Melody maintains. It includes her musings about the trip, which are often quite different from my own. And also lots of great photos and some videos, too.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 9, 2016

Days 53-54: Break time; 3K time; radio time; and pie porn!

Day 53
Destination: Wooster, Ohio
Monday’s mileage: 67. Total: 3,017

Firefighters in bucyrus.

The boys of Bucyrus. Some “emergencies” are more significant than others, but those guys got the save of the day as far as I was concerned.

After two and a half states of pretty flat riding, I rediscovered hill country here in eastern Ohio. But what was most notable about Monday was that I crossed the 3,000-mile threshold. That means we’re close. Real close. More about that in a second.

I had a great early ride, in spite of the continual headwinds I’ve been facing, but I had a “nature call” as I eased my way through the quaint little town of Bucyrus. Just as that was happening, I came upon a firehouse. Because my brother’s a firefighter and because I know firefighters are the best people in the world, I pulled up.

“Um, I’m riding my bike across the country,” I said. “But I’m having a little bathroom emergency. Can you help me out.”

I added that my brother is a firefighter … but even before I finished that sentence, they showed me the way to the closest bathroom. That emergency averted, I visited with the fellows for the better part of a half hour before I said goodbye. Of course, because I sometimes just want to hang out without whipping out a camera and notebook, I didn’t capture the moment.

After I left  Bucyrus, I texted Melody and told her of my great discovery. “Did you shoot video?” she texted back.

“Um, no.”

“Did you take a picture?” she wondered.

“Uh, no,” I admitted. “I was just hanging out, talking to the guys. I didn’t think about it until I was leaving.” Hopeless. I’m hopeless. You can ask Melody.

Luckily, when she started off that morning, she decided to go fix my mistake. She headed to the firehouse in Bucyrus and did what I should have done. And one of the things she learned in her conversation with those same firefighters: Bucyrus is the bratwurst capital of the world. Who knew?

Coney Island wide shot

The stop in Mansfield (3,000 miles!) was filled with good cheer, good food, and lovely people.

A short while later, I was pedaling for Mansfield where I would meet Melody for lunch. Unbeknownst to me, Melody had arrived early, made a sign heralding my 3,000th mile, and when I walked into the Coney Island Inn restaurant, the place erupted in cheers. A nice guy stopped to chat and he even picked up our check. Man, people are nice. I gave him my card and asked him to stay in touch. If he’s reading this, please send me a note and give me your contact info. I at least need to say a proper thanks!! (You can watch a video from that moment right here.)

We topped off the day with ice cream at the Mifflin Dairy Bar and that was about it. It seemed like a pretty uneventful day until I started writing.

Day 54
Destination: Dover, Ohio
Tuesday’s mileage: 50. Total: 3,067

laughing radio shot

We had a blast during our little radio spot at WJER in Dover, Ohio.

We had one thing on the docket for today: To get to Dover and spend a little time chatting with the WJER morning show host, Anita, and the station’s newswoman, Jennifer.

It was a 50 mile ride through some truly daunting hills, some with a 10-12 percent grade. But I did what I had to do — and arrived just in time to squeeze in a few minutes before the noon news and a few minutes after.

We took off for a quick lunch at Dee’s restaurant, a local institution it turns out. And you know what that means? Pie is what that means. Pie made by Dee her own self. Yup, it happened again.

As my friend Dave Braunger warned me earlier this summer: “When you finish this ride, you have to stop eating.”

It’s going to be hard. I’ve become somewhat addicted to the pie-infused lunch stop. But I guess, once I get back, I’ll have to hit the gym and avoid pies. Damn it! Why is life so cruel?

But for now … mmmmmmm, pie!

Pie in Dover

All that was left after the lunch rush was cherry pie. That’ll do.

 

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 7, 2016

Days 51-52: Farewell friendly Indiana; hello Ohio

Day 51
Destination: Van Wert, Ohio
Saturday’s mileage: 60. Total: 2,875

Larry and Mark at Spokesmen

Larry pronounced my bike fit for the rest of the journey; then he sent us to Johnny’s.

Our last experience in Indiana was our sweetest. I needed to stop at a bike shop in Huntington and connected with Larry Buzzard at the Spokesmen Cycling. It was a great stop for a number of reasons.

First, Larry gave my bike a quick cleanup/lube. He’s got a beautiful little indy shop (check it out if you’re in that neighborhood) and I’m always happy to throw business to those guys. Second, he had a nice selection of air pumps and I needed a new one. Sold! Third, because I had to wait for the shop to open, I had a late start, so I asked Larry where to have breakfast/lunch. He pointed out the door. “Right next door,” he said.

Melody and I walked out of Larry’s shop and walked back in time — in so many ways. Johnny’s restaurant has been around for nearly 70 years and it’s unique. A one-time drive in, it’s just a diner in the round. Built by the owner, Johnny Davis, after he returned to the U.S. after World War II, it serves a classic diner menu. But the food is great. The service is friendly. And if you’re lucky enough to get there, make sure to sit at the horseshoe-shaped bar and visit with the locals.

diner pano

Sam was moving during this pano attempt, but I was only too happy to accept the banana bread gift from Jim while Doug enjoyed his coffee.

In our short time at Johnny’s, we met Jim, who gave us one of the two banana-raspberry bread loafs he had intended to share with the waitstaff. We met Doug. And Johnny’s two sons, who stopped by to grab some food. We met Tonya, a server who was gathering addresses and phone numbers of regulars so she could invite them to her upcoming wedding. We met Raymonda (Sam) who told us about her engagement, which happened just the night before. We met Tonya’s son, who was working to earn enough money to fix his car. We met a local professor and his wife, who on their way out the door, bought us an order of Johnny’s famous cinnamon buns. It goes without saying, we had a great time and Johnny’s will leave a lingering good feeling in our bones about Indiana.

Later in the day, I crossed into Ohio and a little while after that I was greeted in tiny Scott, Ohio, by a mom and her twin daughters. My day was done and it was sweet one in so many ways.

greeting committee Scott, Ohio

My mini-greeting committee in Scott, Ohio.

Day 52
Destination: Upper Sandusky, Ohio
Sunday’s mileage: 75. Total: 2,950

We’re in grind mode, now. I’m closing in on 3,000 miles (which I’ll get to tomorrow), somewhere between Mansfield and Mifflin, Ohio, I think.

Today I deviated a bit from my planned route. I was looking at a map last night and noticed that we were close to the Lincoln Highway. A little research later and I decided to ride today all the way to Upper Sandusky on this historic route. There wasn’t a ton about this ride that was notable, but it was cool to ride on what was the first transcontinental highway in U.S. history. So there was that.

Otherwise, I just plowed forward — into the wind — and kept my legs moving. It looks like I might make it to Pittsburgh a little ahead of schedule, and I’ll keep pushing on down the road from there. I’ve really enjoyed this ride, but I’m eager to put that front tire into the Atlantic Ocean. Let the countdown begin.

 

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 5, 2016

Days 49-50: A new state, another flat, and soon another new state

A couple of quick updates from Indiana. The people have been kind and sweet. I’ve never had so many people wave to me from their cars and trucks. Whether coming toward me (the one- or two-finger way from the steering wheel) or once past me with a quick wave from inside the car — or out the car window or sunroof. I feel very welcome here so it’s a shame our stay isn’t longer. But the journey continues and Indiana is but a bump in the road from Oregon to Delaware. A bump we’ll roll over sometime tomorrow (Saturday). Here’s how the past two days have unfolded:s

Day 49
Destination: Rensselaer, Ind.
Thursday’s mileage: 58. Total: 2,713

More heat. More headwinds. More progress. We cleared the Illinois-Indiana border. The road was so insignificant, however — and old farm road — that there was no “welcome to Indiana” sign. So Melody made one and we took a little picture at a convenience store near the border in the town of Brook. Good enough.

Indiana pic in convenience store-23

No sign at the border? No problem for Melody, who just made one to commemorate our crossing into our seventh state.

Then it was on to Rensselaer, just over Hwy. 65. If you’ve driven south — to Nashville or Florida — from almost anywhere in the Upper Midwest, you’ve rolled through Indiana on I-65. I was happy to hole up in Rensselaer because I was expecting a tailwind on Friday morning. I just wanted a good night’s sleep.

Day 50
Destination: Huntington, Ind.
Friday’s mileage: 102. Total: 2,815

Just as I had hoped, the day broke cloudy with a strong westerly wind. I was so excited to get on the bike that I forgot to take many snacks for the road. No problem.

About 40 miles into the ride, I stopped and snacked on some sports drink and peanuts. Another 25 miles down the road, Melody met me for lunch in Denver, Ind., where we endured a smoking-friendly bar that also included a visit from a pest/bug-control guy who sprayed in the place — bathrooms, kitchen?, seating area — while we waited for our food. Oh, well. As I said, we endured.

another flat

This is a bit of a “yard sale” bike tube change. I don’t profess to be organized, but I do get the job done.

Soon, however, I was back on the road and heading for Huntington. I wasn’t sure exactly how are away I was, but I was hoping for a century ride today. My plan was almost foiled by my eighth — that’s right EIGHTH — flat tire. I hit something hard on the road at mile 99. I called Melody to let her know I’d be delayed by a few minutes. She volunteered to come pick me up, but there’s no way I was going to let that happen at mile 99. So I made a quick repair — as I’ve said previously, I’m getting better and better at these tube changes — and was soon back on my way.

Might need to make a bike shop stop to replenish my CO2 supply, but we’ll be heading into Ohio tomorrow sometime. The East Coast keeps getting closer and closer!

***
As always, keep checking out Melody’s musings and extra photos and videos at our website, 55andalive.com.

Also, if you want to hear me yammering about the ride, keep checking the archives of the KFJC Sports Middle guys. We’ve had some nice chats this summer. A few more to go before I’m done.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 3, 2016

Days 47-48: Reconnection and hot reflection

People, I’m tired and sore and overheated so I’m going to keep these two updates short. Also, please tune in, if you can to KFJC radio in the Bay Area tonight (and on the internet, of course) at 8:30 p.m. CDT, if you want to hear me babble for 15-20 minutes about the RAGBRAI and the rest of this crazy journey with the fellows from Sports Middle. You can also follow that link to their archives where you’ll be able to listen to tonight’s show — and previous appearances.

Day 47
Destination: Wenona, Ill.
Tuesday’s mileage: 65 miles. Total: 2,580

Pierre and Roger

Me, Pierre and Roger at the end of our ride on Tuesday. At least at the end of my part of the ride.

Sometimes, you get a visit from an old friend. Sometimes you run into new friends on the road. That’s what happened Tuesday.

 

I was 40 miles into my ride and I was getting a little peckish. I rolled into Henry, Ill., asked for the best place to grab breakfast, and was directed to the Rio Vista Grill, a sweet little family restaurant right on the Illinois River.

There I was, munching on my pancakes and sausage and guzzling a big glass of chocolate milk, and in walks two guys I ran across in Oregon, more than a month ago. Pierre Rouzier, a doctor from Massachusetts who’s spreading the gospel of youth fitness with his book “Henry Gets Moving,” and his riding buddy Roger Grette.

I had met those two by chance back in Oregon and we rode together for a short time. But random connections and friendships spring up in odd ways out here on the road. They invited me to join them for breakfast (along with a young couple with three kids who had just attended a library reading of Pierre’s book). We chatted a while and then we jumped on our bikes and rode east.

I traveled another 25 miles. Pierre and Roger, who started their day’s ride in Henry, continued on. I’d be surprised if our paths don’t cross again in the coming days. But you never know. But it was nice to reconnect, if only for a short time.

Day 48
Destination: Ashkun, Ill.
Wednesday’s mileage: 75 miles. Total: 2,655

Today was one of those grinding days. But even on a rough day that ended after 75 miles in temps that hit triple digits, according to one local thermometer, there were some lovely moments.

The day broke foggy and warm. It threw a soft, fuzzy blanket over the corn and soybean fields I was riding past. The early-morning sun looked like it would burn that haze off soon enough, but I enjoyed the gauzy view while I had it.

foggy beginnings

My view of the hazy morning and Melody’s view (below) as I ride away.

Foggy morning

The joys of that part of the ride quickly gave way to searing hot sunshine and massive humidity as I rode through the cornfields of central Illinois. I don’t mind the heat. I don’t mind the humidity even. But what’s been killing me for the past three days is the wind. I’m pushing right into a steady wind from the east/southeast, meaning it’s a struggle all day long.

I was talking to Pierre and Roger about this on Tuesday. When you’re on a bike, you’d much rather climb hills or even mountains rather than face a constant headwind. That was never more true than today.

Historic gas station

Cool vintage Standard Oil gas station in Odell, Ill., on Route 66.

Route 66

Our old friend Yoram was on Route 66 the other day. I just wanted to let him know I found a section of it, too.

I rode 40 miles. I had a great lunch stop in Odell. Then I struggled — MIGHTILY — for the final 35 miles as wind and heat kicked my tail. By the end, I was out of water, out of gas and my body was screaming at me from more than a few places (most notably my knees and my, um, under-parts).

But, tomorrow is another day. And tomorrow I head into Indiana and soon thereafter I’ll be tackling the great state of Ohio. Here I come!

103 degrees

Yup, 103 degrees at the end of my ride. I was so, so done by 3:30 after almost eight hours in the saddle. AC feels pretty good right now.

 

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 1, 2016

Day 46: A wonderful surprise visit

Day 46
Destination: Kewanee, Ill.
Monday’s mileage: 55 miles. Total: 2,515

Mark and Kurt

Kurt Young Binter and me, after the ride. He’s the skinny one on the left.

It’s hard to define what it means to be a “good friend.” Here’s one manifestation of it.

Kurt Young Binter, a dear friend since high school and the best man at my wedding 30 years ago, woke up at his home in Milwaukee at 3 a.m. today. He threw his bike into the back of his car. He drove 3 and a half hours into the heart of Illinois. He parked and rode his bike to intercept me while I was chugging along into a steady headwind on my way to Kewanee.

Kurt arranged this surprise with Melody, who had helped pull this scheme together. The surprise was perfect; my shock was real. You can see evidence of it from a slideshow Melody threw together on the 55andalive facebook page. Melody will post the video on our website later today (hopefully), and you’ll want to see this one. (As it turns out, it’s more time-consuming to produce a video than it is to write a story. Who knew!?)

Here’s how it went down. I was chugging along, 30 miles into my ride and grinding away into a decent headwind when I rounded a turn and happened upon a befuddled looking guy on a bike. He was looking at his cellphone, feigning confusion and seemingly lost.

I slowed down, plucked the earbuds from my ears and asked if this “stranger” needed a hand.

“Yeah, do you know where Cambridge is?”
“Yeah, it’s up this way,” I said.
“This way?” he said haltingly, helplessly it seemed.
“Yeah, this way. East,” I said.
“Do you mind if I ride with you there?” he asked.

By this time, you’d think I’d recognize my good friend. But the context was all wrong. Why would someone I know show up on some random country road in the middle of the cornfields of this part of Illinois?

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “No problem. What are you up to?”
“Oh, I’m just looking for a friend,” he said, taking off his sunglasses, hoping I might then finally recognize him.

When he did this, I finally did “get” the joke. And when that happens, I almost always descend into a flurry of profanity and howls of laughter. I apologize in advance if my language offends you. But this is how it went down.

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “Fucking Kurt Binter.”

We laughed. We hugged. His actions before I recognized him started to snap into focus.

“I was wondering what the fuck you were doing pointing that camera at me while I was answering your questions,” I said (this is a rough transcription of what I think I said. The video will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.)

Mark and Kurt riding

Friends don’t let friends ride all the way across the country by themselves, it turns out.

We rode into Cambridge. We had some lunch. And we rode another 15 miles or so (25 miles together along the rolling hills of west-central Illinois) before Kurt needed to roll back to his car, throw his bike in the back and head for Milwaukee.

Some days of this tremendous bicycling journey across the country have been a real gift. This is one of them. After a week of sharing the road with family, friends and 15,000 others during RAGBRAI, I was back to solo riding — until Kurt came along to carry me forward just a little bit closer to the finish line.

This is how friendship revealed itself today.

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