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.







  1. I hope Sgt. Baptiste reads this post. And then I hope we can read his posts about HIS biking! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us. It is still breath-taking to me that you and Melody accomplished this adventure and arrived at the Atlantic Ocean safely.

  2. I admit it: It was bittersweet to read this post. I’m happy and relieved you’ve completed your ride safely, of course. But I’m also a little bit sad it’s over — though I suspect that will fade in good time as the stories from the road start pouring out. Well, no matter what, YOU DID IT and now you have the ink to prove it. 🙂 Congratulations, amigo!

  3. I love the fact of reciprocating inspirations. You never know how your actions/ words will impact another, but hopefully, always for the positive.

  4. Awesome. Love the tattoo, love the story. As always, thanks for taking the time to chronicle. I’m sure the ordinary worries feel sort of extraordinary at the moment. But, when you have doubts, you can always just look at your calf. I’d say that was a very smart investment!

  5. Great story and great tattoo, Mark! As always, thanks for taking the time to chronicle. I’m guessing the worries of ordinary life are feeling sort of extraordinary right now. But, when you have doubts, all you have to do is look at your calf. I’d say that was a pretty smart investment.

  6. Congrats Uncle Mark!!! The stories you shared this summer were a pleasure to read and I look forward to hearing about your future adventures. I was pretty surprised about the tattoo but it turned out great!! Good luck to you and Aunt Melody with whatever the future holds for you.

  7. So awesome, Mark! You guys heading back to Chicago, then? I’ve GOT to get down there for a visit one day soon. Trying to see about making an event in L.A. in Oct., though. Your biking story was very inspiring. Let’s keep pushing forward, my friend! 😀 best, Mike

  8. […] I’m back on my bike regularly. Nothing nearly as intense as last summer’s cross-country trek. But I’m enjoying it. Melody and I even took a spin to Sunday brunch with our friends Dan and […]

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