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

Day 32: Pain, gravel, and frickin’ birds

Day 32
Destination: Osmond, Neb.
Thursday’s mileage: 77. Total: 1,829

Ugh. I’m glad that’s over. (Luckily, we’ve gotten a decent rainstorm this morning so I’m holed up in a roadside motel and writing. It was a good night NOT to camp.)

and a cloud of dust

The car throws up a little cloud. The trucks do better.

The miles are starting to add up and so is the pain. Today, my thighs ache. My wrists ache. My neck aches. My feet ache. And worst of all, I’ve developed a couple of unfortunate, um, boils in the most inconvenient of places. Add to that some heat, a few hills, about 10 miles of gravel-strewn roads because of a poorly timed (for me) construction project, and dive-bombing birds (red-winged blackbirds maybe?) and you get a sense of my day.


It’s not all beautiful sights and lovely people. Sometimes it’s just a grind. But I’ve got a plan.

I’m ahead of schedule by several days. That’s good. It’ll allow me to take a few days off while I wait for the beginning of the RAGBRAI. Because we’ve got the time — and we’re relatively close to our old stomping grounds in Minnesota, we’re going to spin up there, do some visiting, some laundry, and for me, some healing before returning to Sioux City, IA, next week Tuesday, probably.

The plan then will be to ride the 100 or so miles to the Omaha area, await the arrival of our daughter and her boyfriend and my cousins and friends who are also riding the RAGBRAI and spending a week spinning through the corn of Iowa with 10,000-15,000 other riders. It’ll be nice to share the road with bikers rather than truckers.

Now, back to Thursday. We broke camp (that sounds cool to say) in the morning and I set off eastward out of Atkinson, Neb. The road was fine and while I was among cars and trucks on Hwy. 20, the shoulder was wide and relatively forgiving. So I pedaled. But I started to feel discomfort almost immediately. The friction of the past month and the rough roads had finally caught up to me. I was constantly shifting in my seat to get comfortable. I was adjusting my bike shorts, trying to find a bit of padding to cover the affected area. It really didn’t matter what I did. The pain was constant. So I put it out of my head as best I could and just kept going.


I will not soon forget Hwy 20’s road construction project.

A couple of hours later, I hit the first stretch of road construction. I transitioned from smooth, country highway to gravel road in an instant. Apparently, a state highway construction project had reached my area and after laying down fresh tar, they covered it with a thick layer of gravel. It was as if I had gone from road to off-road cycling in an instant. And it wasn’t pleasant. Add to that, the fact that there were no lines on the highway, I was being passed by big trucks going both directions and kicking up huge clouds of dust and pebble shrapnel and the occasional “ungraded” pile of stones and it was an obstacle course I won’t soon forget.


Green Gables cherry pie

I’m never going to lose weight on this trip. Cherry pie at Green Gables, a great find by Melody.

After a quick lunch stop at a sweet little spot Melody discovered (and, of course, another piece of pie), we headed off and soon I was in another construction zone. More gravel, more trucks, more stone bruises followed. After 40 minutes of that, I finally emerged to a smooth(ish) road and I continued on.

Mind you, I was still feeling all the pains mentioned above. It was just multiplied because I was 60 miles into a 77-mile ride. But soon the final challenge appeared. Birds. Those damned birds.

I heard them before I saw them. I was passing a series of agricultural land — lots of cornfields now that we’re in the eastern part of the state. The chirping was loud and constant. But I thought, oh, that’s nice. Birds chirping to usher me to my destination. That’s when I noticed my shadow. And their shadows.

dive bombing birds

It might not look ominous from this picture, but that speck over my head is one of the menacing birds.

See, because it was late afternoon and I was riding east, I could see my shadow on the road. And what at first seemed like a benign bit of bird bleeting turned ominous when I saw bird shadows intermingling with my own biking shadow. Turns out, these birds didn’t seem to appreciate my work in their realm. Many, many of them hovered over me — from what I could tell from the shadows. And occasionally they’d dive down toward me (and my shadow). I don’t know rightly how close they came. I didn’t stay around to find out, but it felt close. And constant. They never reached my helmet, but they freaked me out. I pedaled harder than I had all day to try and get out of their “house.” Soon I was pulling into Osmond and the sanctuary of a roadside motel room. I never left the room after that. I hope those birds forget I was ever there. I promise to never return.

A few related links:
Melody and I were interviewed for an article in the Douglas, Wyo., Budget. It’s a really interesting and well-crafted story. I was impressed by the quality of the story, the photos and the fellow we met in Douglas, Phill Harnden. Check out the story and photos here.

Our little project was also mentioned in my alma mater’s alumni newsletter. You can  read about it here.

I’ve been a guest on a long-running (27 years) radio show out of the Bay Area, Sports Middle with Kevin O’Dante and Gus Lignos. We’ve talked a lot about the trip and they guys seem keenly interested in what we’ve been up to. It’s fun chatter. If you want to listen, at least a couple of the shows (June 30 and July 14 — not sure what happened to the July 7 episode) are archived here. My spot starts about halfway through the show — about the 30-minute mark.

And, as always, check out our 55andalive website for more photos, Melody’s musings and video (more coming all the time, if Melody gets a chance to take a break from taking care of me).



  1. Between the dust and the rocks and the boils and the plague of birds, this post sounds like a chapter from the Book of Job! Yikes. But I’m glad you’ll be able to take a few days to kick back and chill in Minnesota, Mark — and I hereby officially offer my laundry and spare bedroom facilities, or anything else you and Melody need.

    • Heather, thanks for the offer! We’ve got a spot to lay our heads, it appears. But we’re thinking of going to Sea Salt on Sunday afternoon and just hanging out there, thinking those who want to could drop by and hang out. Would love to see you if you’re free. We’ll throw out details on Facebook at some point.

  2. Reading and watching with awe. You’ll be the guy standing up at Sea Salt this Sunday afternoon? Can’t wait to bike by to say hello.

  3. Hey, if you don’t want to drive all the way up to Minnesota, you can crash at my place in Ames. I’ll be in Grand Marais through mid-RAGBRAI and you’d have the place to yourselves except for one night when a grad student is there to hang a show. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll let the neighbor who has a key know to give you the keys.

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