Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | July 13, 2016

Day 31: Ride on …

Day 31
Destination: Atkinson, Neb.
Wednesday’s mileage: 72. Total: 1,752

I’ve gone past the first month. I’ve hit the halfway point and beyond. I’m closing in on Iowa (we’ll be there Friday, I believe). So it seems as good a time as any to reflect on this ride.

I don’t want to speak with any sense of finality because there are so many more miles yet to ride. But the journey to this point has exceeded my expectations.


Just after dipping my rear tire in the Pacific, I decided it was insane but I might as well go ahead and try and ride across the country.

When Melody and I drove up to the Pacific Coast at Winchester Bay, Oregon, on June 13, for the first time since I started planning the ride, I grasped the enormity of it. It’s not as if I was doing something no one else had done, but this far exceeded anything I had attempted.

I had ridden RAGBRAI – the annual bike ride across Iowa – twice. I had gone on long mountain bike rides in Bulgaria with a friend, Bill Clark, and had regularly gone biking for 2, 3, 4 hours at a time. I’ve done 40-, 50-, 60-mile rides on numerous occasions. I rode about 2,000 miles last summer, mostly around Chicago. But I hadn’t ridden long stretches for days and days on end. I hadn’t crossed any state other than Iowa. I had never “toured” on a bike. But I was determined. I figured, why try something smaller? Might as well go all out. See if I can do it.

So after trudging across the wide beach at Winchester Bay, I jumped on my bike and rode. And rode. And rode.

Cascades sign

A most beautiful ride.

I’ve climbed the Cascades in the rain. I’ve climbed Teton Pass. I crossed the Continental Divide at 9,500 feet. I’ve done a couple of 100-mile rides. I’ve had a few difficult days, but far, far more wonderful days. I’m suffering a bit right now with some “saddle sores” that may stay with me for the rest of the ride. Oh, well.

I’ve had a few roadblocks along the way. I’ve visited six bike shops for various things – tuneups, a new chain, a new shifter cable, and a couple of cleanings (from mud and sludge of all sorts). I suffered through five flat tires (so far), but I’m getting pretty fast at changing them. My chain has flopped off mid-shift a couple of times, but I’ve been able to fix that easily. I’m no bike mechanic, but I can do enough to keep me on the road.

One of the most challenging aspects of the trip, though, is being on the move – every day (or nearly so). We’ve stayed at relatively cheap, but comfortable motels. We’ve camped some (I’m typing this from a city park in Atkinson – and just this minute a guy, Carl Cook, stopped over and dropped off some free wood to burn in a fire pit next to our campsite… just because). We’ve been lucky enough to have a handful of hosts through the Warm Showers website. But it’s not easy pulling up stakes every day, packing our small car and heading off to a new destination.

M and M

My sweetie, Melody Gilbert, has been a hero on this trip.

No doubt, it’s harder for Melody, who has been packing and unpacking the car, keeping the cooler filled with ice and food, checking out potential camping or motel sites in towns ahead, and spying spots where we can stop for a picnic lunch or, more importantly, a piece of pie. She’s made countless peanut butter and honey sandwiches (awesome power food for the road), and she’s been amazing at spying the best local beers (almost exclusively IPAs) along the route we’ve traveled.

As we close in on Iowa (and the RAGBRAI June 23-30), I’m looking forward to riding with people for a change. I’ll have our daughter, Jenna; her boyfriend Alex; my cousins Mike and Sally, and Sally’s daughter, Shannon; and Jenna’s good friend Dana and her dad, Greg; and about 10,000-15,000 others, including my new riding buddy from Chicago Dave Reitan and his gang of pals. It’ll be awesome to be with a “team.”

But I’ve cherished the solitude of riding alone. I chose this route because I wanted to find the clearest path to Iowa, and because I wanted to chart a course that was mostly my own. I have run across a few others who are biking across the country, including a huge group that I passed today heading west, from Providence, R.I., to Washington State. Earlier in the ride, I traveled for two days with a great guy from Israel, Yoram Ephraim. Since then? I have seen only a handful of riders – and all of them were heading west. I haven’t seen anyone going my way. And that’s fine.

I like feeling that I can ride as far or as fast as I want and I can stop when I want. I don’t need to negotiate with another bike rider, just with Melody. And she’s been the best partner/support a fella could as for. She’s sacrificed a ton to make sure I’m OK, and it wouldn’t be nearly as meaningful if she weren’t around to share in the pleasure and the pain of it all.

We’ve had great conversations about “what comes next” in our lives. We’ve shared the positives and negatives of life in Chicago, a great city but also a bit lonely for us. Neither of us has found any professional footing there and that’s been difficult. And beyond that, our daughter is in New York and many more good friends are scattered throughout the world – in the Twin Cities, in D.C., in New York, in Massachusetts, in Bulgaria, in Kosovo, in Estonia, in Amsterdam, etc., etc., etc. But we have precious few in Chicago and that’s been a challenge.

So we’ve done a lot of talking and a lot of soul searching while trying to figure out our lives. There’s a lot of time to think on a cross-country bike ride, it turns out. And very few answers. I guess we will keep pedaling on. One day at a time. Until we figure it out, though I’d guess it’s pretty certain we’re not going to figure anything out. Life doesn’t really work that way, does it. It just kind of happens. Like each and every day of this bike ride.

Nebraska route

Very close to Iowa now. … Moving on.








  1. You two amaze me with your support for each other. That is very special.
    Can’t wait to join you in Iowa and share a pert of your journey and hear 1st hand of your odyssey
    Safe travels.

  2. We are so happy that we have been able to follow your travels day-by-day, always looking forward to the next adventure. Knowing that Melody is there is a comfort. She is a trooper to be taking care of all the things that keep you going. Now, on to Iowa and then beyond- to the other half of the trip.
    Ride safely.

  3. Go Mark and Melody! You’ve accomplished a lot already, and it’s been fun following you on this ride. Good luck with the miles ahead.

  4. Mark, here is the phone number for a friend of mine in Omaha at the KAT radio station. They won the Country Music Awards station of the year and morning show of the year. It’s a huge station. His name is Steve Lundy and I worked with him in Omaha! He would like to talk to you 402-561-2132.

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