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

Day 20-21: Peaking, eating pie, resting (and writing lots of words)

Day 20 (and Day 21, REST)
Destination:
Dubois, Wyoming
Saturday’s mileage: 40 miles. Total: 1,110

pie shot from Dubois

Two of my favorite things; well, three actually. Pie (underneath a mound of ice cream, with coffee and a beer chaser. I’m gonna weigh 300 pounds when this trip is over.

I’ve ridden hard for 19 out of 20 days, so when I reached Dubois, a cute little town on the edge of a couple of national forests and a few miles beyond the Continental Divide, Melody and I decided to take a day off today (Sunday, July 3).

I’m feeling great, frankly, and am either on schedule or a little ahead of schedule for reaching Iowa and the RAGBRAI on July 23. But it seemed like as good a time as any to settle in for an extra day and night of rest.

Melody needed the day as much as I did. She’s been working hard to keep me fed and hydrated while documenting the trip and meeting people and shooting photos/video and keeping the car on the road and the cooler filled with ice (and beer, of course). All I’ve had to do is ride the bike. I think I’ve said this before, but I’m very VERY lucky to have such a caring and loving and supportive support “vehicle.”

 

So with this extra day, Melody reorganized all of our stuff (we’ve been on the road for nearly a month because of the drive out west and the long weekend in San Francisco before we started the trip). And I … well, I rested. We went to the grocery store to stock up on supplies. Starting tomorrow, we’re going through some areas of Wyoming that are pretty wide open. We wanted to make sure we’d have what we’d need in the event we ended up stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Speaking of riding: I had another great day of climbing on Saturday. I made two more big ascents, one to about 8,500 feet and then back down about 1,000 feet before climbing to 9,500-plus at the Continental Divide. It wasn’t nearly as hard as the climb over Teton Pass, which was ridiculously steep for a longer time. But it’s the highest peak I’ll cover, so I did a little victory dance and Melody took a great picture.

Atop Continental Divide

My first bike hoist: It seemed fitting at the highest point of this cross-country ride.

We also passed a sign that warned of “Bears on the Road.” I didn’t see any, but I was on high alert — especially in light of news Melody mentioned to me about a bear attack in Glacier National Park (which was on an off-road trail, so it wasn’t exactly similar). Still, I was wary — just not wary enough to bring along bear spray. Need to save that for camping.

One of my friends asked about biking at higher elevations. I haven’t really noticed any real problems with that. We’ve been hovering around 5,000-7,000 feet for the past week-plus, I think, so I must be acclimated. I feel great because the air is so crisp and dry. Even when it’s hot out, I don’t notice myself being soaked with sweat.

The next two days will be long ones – 90 miles plus both days. That’ll take us into Casper and by then, we’ll be at around 5,000 feet (we’re at about 7,000 feet in Dubois). After that, I think we just keep heading downhill until I’m soaking in the heat and humidity of Iowa during the RAGBRAI.

Bears on road

The sign says: “Bears on road.” I’m posing with some “bear spray” but I didn’t take it on the bike. I’m not (too) worried. We’ll keep the spray for any unfortunate campground encounters.

Since I’m off, I get to write a little longer. A few other random thoughts follow about this trip.

The ride itself has been a gift for a lot of reasons. We’ve seen parts of the country that we have never visited. It’s such a huge country and there’s just soooo much to see. I’m eager to go back, start in a different spot and do it again, to be honest. One reason for that: the people.

When Melody and I relocated from Bulgaria in the summer of 2015, we moved to Chicago. It was a new city for us; a vibrant and wonderful place. The biggest challenge, however, has been finding “our people.” We left great friends in Minnesota, where I worked as a newspaper editor and Melody as an educator and filmmaker. We raised our daughter, Jenna, there and enjoyed 20 wonderful years in the Twin Cities. We loved the Balkans and the incredible people we met during our four years teaching at the American University in Bulgaria. But moving to a major U.S. city without jobs and with few friends, aside from Melody’s best friend from college and her husband, we knew it’d be a challenge to connect.

I guess I didn’t realize how big of a social component my work relationships were until I didn’t have work relationships. Throw in the vastness of a major city, the somewhat oddly isolating lifestyle of “condo living,” and it brings into sharp focus our driving need for meaningful human contact.

Melody said the other day that we’ve probably had more interesting and meaningful conversations with people in the first three weeks of this trip than we have had in over a full year in Chicago. Is it us? Maybe, but we’re not shy people. We’re not afraid to meet and talk to people. But Chicago is a working city. Folks have jobs. They’re on the go. It’s the kind of place where unless you make plans, you don’t have plans.

The beauty of this trip is that it has taken that go-go lifestyle and turned it sideways. We’re still on the go, moving to a new locale almost every day, but we’re meeting new people everywhere and they’re awesome. Maybe part of it is the biking. I rode with Yoram (one of the most joyful people I’ve ever come across) for two-plus days and we formed a meaningful bond that I hope continues for years to come. But we’ve also had time to slow down and just visit with folks.

We have shared warm and lovely conversations with complete strangers. We chatted with Cowboy Jim at Lava Mountain Lodge, who was easy with a laugh and shared stories of his days as a jockey at Arlington Park and many other tracks.

Mark and Cowboy Jim

It’s possible Cowboy Jim has never stood this close to someone wearing lycra, but he seemed OK with it.

Last night, we were seated at a table next to a lovely couple (Shirley and Jeff) who used to live in Marshall, Minn., but who have relocated to Sheridan, Wyoming. They ride a Harley trike motorcycle, have a great sense of adventure, and they laughed at all my lame attempts at humor. We met a guy in a campground, Antonio, with whom I shared a rich and touching 20-minute conversation that will stay with me for years. And we had a great evening around a campfire outside of Jackson with a Canadian artist and mountain biker. Random meetings with random people. All of them unforced and so memorable.

motorcycle couple

Our new friends and their beautiful ride. After they roared off, I think I talked Melody into a cross-country ride on one of these bad boys. Could be fun.

One of the reasons I chose the route we’ve been on, frankly, is so Melody and I can meet and talk to people who often are excluded from the “national conversation.” They have fears about their safety — from bears, sure, but from strangers, too. They revel in the outdoors. They cherish their communities. They’re proud of the craftsmanship of the people around them — whether it’s the pie-maker in Dubois (who is a marvel, let me tell you) — or the bike mechanic in Hailey, Idaho. We look forward to meeting more of these folks along the way. During our exceedingly short stay in Jackson, Wyoming, we both felt the draw of the beautiful place but also how it’s been built into a little “fake paradise” in the midst of the breathtakingly beautiful Tetons. People spending $300 a night for a Super 8 hotel room feels wrong, but that’s what the market will bear.

We’ve been more than happy with our $12 campground in Curtis Canyon or the small and quaint roadside motels, campgrounds and the occasional lovely home stay offered through generous Warm Showers hosts.

One thing that seems to be happening to both of us is a reordering of what “feels right” for our next move, whenever or wherever that might come. It seems certain that the next move will take us to a smaller, more intimate place that is a little closer to nature and a little further removed from all the great conveniences – and annoyances – of big city life. … Or maybe not. Life is a mystery, after all. And we’re taking it one day at a time. No sense getting too far ahead of ourselves.

Us and Tetons

This was such a great picture, I had to “run it back.” I mean, if there’s an image for this trip, this is the one.

 

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Responses

  1. Mark, Thanks for allowing us to live vicariously through you and your journey ! I love the stories of your adventure! While i am very jealous πŸ™‚ , I salute you and Melody for living life to the fullest. I can attest that country folks are the real deal. I know my neighbors at our three ranches, which the closest is 2 miles away more than my neighbors 10 meters away in Austin.Godspeed my friend!

    • Thanks for sharing and, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you hear about us? Just curious about how/why people are following along.

      • Madison high school and your Facebook account. πŸ™‚

      • Oh. My. God. … Social media is amazing. That was a loooonnnnnggggg time ago, huh?

    • If the spirit moves you, please donate to support Mark and Melody’s adventure β€” a fund started by friends for friends. Go to: http://GoFundMe.com/55andAlive

  2. That photo of you with Cowboy Jim is priceless! I think it highlights exactly the phenomenon you describe of how these random encounters during our travels can sometimes yield unexpectedly deep and meaningful connections. I’ve experienced this too and attribute it to my heightened sense of curiosity and openness when I’m traveling β€” which, when combined with someone else’s “you’re not from around here, are ya?” inquisitiveness just kind of naturally leads to telling each other our life stories. Anyway. It’s wonderful to see that you’re eating a balanced diet (ha ha!) and to hear that the trip has been so fulfilling. Thank you for sharing it so generously with the rest of us.

    • If the spirit moves you, please donate to support Mark and Melody’s adventure β€” a fund started by friends for friends. Go to: http://GoFundMe.com/55andAlive

      • I already have, Ken β€” and I probably will again. πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  3. This just warms my heart. So happy for both of you.
    Safe journey!!!!

  4. So happy that we are here to experience this journey with you and Melody. Wonderful post about the interesting “folks” you have the opportunity to meet and get to know. And the sights! Ride safely.


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