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.

 

 

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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.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | July 31, 2016

Days 37-45: Lots of riding, no writing

Days 37-45
Destination: Crossing Iowa
Miles ridden: 475 miles. Total: 2,460

jenna hug

Sweat wasn’t the only salt water being shed right here. Tears of joy, relief and the sadness of parting after such a great week were also in play for father and daughter.

When we started to list the highlights and lowlights from our week biking across Iowa in the 2016 RAGBRAI, my first instinct was to focus on the fact that we’d spent a week without many of the usual comforts of home.

 

We started this part of the trip more than a week ago. I was joined for the 420 or so miles of biking over the rolling hills of southern Iowa by my daughter, her boyfriend, one of her friends and her dad, and my cousins Mike, Sally and Shannon. We all rode. We all got sore. We griped a little about the hills, the camping conditions, and the challenges of grinding out miles, day after day after day. But we also reveled in the experience. Our group rode the miles. Grinded out the hills. We ate, drank and slept RAGBRAI for a week. And that’s not all.

When you share a camp with 1,000 other cyclists, you share more than the space. You compete for food. You compete for quiet. You compete for shade. And you endure a week of porta-potties. And let me tell you this: When there are 1,000 people in camp (the case for our particular charter company), the 12-20 porta-potties just doesn’t cut it. So, yeah, there were lots of stories that dealt with bodily functions. That just goes with the territory.

Here’s the mileage for the week:
Saturday, July 23: I rode 35 miles, arriving in Glenwood, Iowa, the starting point of this year’s ride. I was greeted by my cousin Mike, our chief organizational officer for this group. He was a rock, from beginning to end. He made everything easier than it otherwise would have been. Soon after we all arrived in camp, we were in downtown Glenwood VFW Hall, enjoying air conditioning and $1 Bud Lights.

Team ragbrai 2016

Our “team” in Pork Belly Ventures camp.

Sunday: 55 miles (it was supposed to be about 50 miles, but because we got lost coming into town — I’ll take the blame for that — we ended up riding five more miles than we were supposed to.) If this would have happened any other day, I would have faced the wrath of my teammates. Instead, everyone was in good humor and soon we were shifting into post-ride mode.
Monday: 75 miles of rolling hills. Always rolling. The day featured, according to the organizers, 4,000 feet of climbing. Someone we talked to, who had a computer during the various climbs said it was close to 5,000 feet. I believe that guy. It was a long and hard day. Jenna had never ridden more than the 55 miles we had ridden on Sunday. We were doing fine until we stopped for a beer at the Iowa Craft Beer Garden about 12-15 miles from town. That was a mistake. Well, at least for Jenna. She struggled all the way home and the hills were hellish late in the ride. There was a lot of silent suffering going on, but we made it in. That’s really all that counts on some of these days.
Tuesday: 58 miles and again lots of climbing — almost 4,000 vertical feet, according to the RAGBRAI website. It was a long day with many stops for food and drink. I rode with Jenna’s boyfriend, Alex, and we blasted up one hill after another. As we entered the host town that night, we passed a sign for a spaghetti dinner. We looked at each other and immediately knew we were going to be stopping. “Spaghetti dinner, that sounds pretty good,” I said to Alex. As we approached, two little girls screamed. “Spaghetti! Spaghetti! If you don’t stop, you’ll make us dance.” And then they danced. We stopped. We did not regret having two dinners that night. Having 3, 4, 5 full meals a day just seems right when you’re riding like this.Everyone made it to camp and no one had trouble falling asleep.
Wednesday: 65 miles. Still more hills. But we had figured out by now that this was just going to be a week-long spin class led by a masochistic leader. Competition for Butt Butter was fierce, but that and the beer took the edge off. Spirits were high. It seemed like we had crossed some sort of threshold. Jenna and her friend Dana wondered aloud if they might like to do this again next year.

Jenna montage

Sharing RAGBRAI with Jenna.

Thursday: 51 miles. It was a nice day, but still more hills and the grind of the week of camping and the ongoing discomfort of long days in the saddle began to take its toll. The mood swings from one day to the next were dramatic. “I think I’m over it,” Jenna said. “I’d be fine if this ended right now.”
Friday: 68 miles. Our group, at least some of us, got a second wind today. The ride was long, but the hills heading east were gentle and we rode under clouds most of the day with a steady tailwind. It was, by far, the best riding day of the week. Just spectacular. Jenna and I rode together all day. She had a big smile as we rolled into camp. We were almost done. The weariness of Thursday gave way to melancholy that this great ride was coming to an end. Like I said, mood swings. One highlight: As Jenna and I were cruising just a few miles from finishing, we passed the Iowa Corn Growers association tent. They were offering free corn. And free T-shirts. And free beer koozies. “We haven’t had corn yet,” Jenna said by way of encouragement. So we stopped. I had two ears of “peaches and cream” corn. They were just a little slice of heaven.

Screen grab alex jenna mark

Crossing the RAGBRAI “finish line” with Jenna and Alex on my right flank.

Saturday: 50 miles (plus about 20 more for me) This was a sweet ride. Tail winds. Mostly flat (only about 1,300 feet of climbing). I rode with Jenna, her boyfriend Alex, Jenna’s friend Dana and her dad Greg the whole day. Everyone felt strong today. We rolled into Muscatine on the waves of emotion and relief and the cheers of locals. We had done it! The sweetest words we heard all day? A woman near the peak of one final hill climb, said “That’s it! It’s all downhill from here!!” I glanced over at my daughter, caught her big smile and knew we had made it. The finish line for the rest of them. And a bittersweet parting for me, as I had more riding to do. Always a little more riding.
Sunday: A day of rest. I needed a little healing day today. That and we needed to do laundry and reorganize after a week of choas that included just shoving all of our stuff in various bags.

 

Mississippi arrival

Me with Greg Svendsen, Dana Svendsen, Alex Brandwein and Jenna Wollemann. Awesome group of riders who made the trek across Iowa a treat that I won’t ever forget. Thanks, guys!

Some of the highlights.
* Free beer and lemonade as we arrived into camp. Every day. The best way to end any ride.
* The food. Always the food. Mr. Pork Chop. Tender Toms Turkey. Beekman’s root beer floats. Amish pies and home-made ice cream. The Iowa Craft Beer tent and their humongous hot dogs. Farm Boys (now Farm Kids because of some sort of trademark infringement from some California company) breakfast. And one pancake and breakfast sausage place that just knocked my socks off. Oh, and free corn on the cob from the Iowa Corn Growers Association. So, so good.
* Nights sitting around our campsite before and after dinner and swapping stories from the day with our crew and other riders. So much laughter.
* A week without cellphone and wifi service (thanks, AT&T). I mean, it was weird to be so completely disconnected, but it was a gift, too.
* An hour-long deep tissue massage I got on the last night. After a month and a half on the road, it really hit the spot.
* The emotional goodbye from Jenna as she and Alex headed for the bus back to Omaha and their flight back to NYC while I took off for the bridge over the Mississippi to continue my ride across the country. So sweet.

***

And finally, another word about my saintly spouse, who continues to travel the same path as I do but is putting in a completely different — and in many cases, more difficult effort — to navigate this coast-to-coast trip. Melody negotiated with our charter company to produce some promotional videos for their website. But she also decided to stay “in camp” with me and the rest of the gang. That meant sleeping in tents for the week on an air mattress that had suffered a few puncture wounds (which meant it would turn into a little bit of a “bouncy house” by the morning. If either of us got up, the mattress would deflate underneath the other, leaving that person on the ground while the air went to other parts of the mattress. It’s perhaps inelegantly explained, but let’s just say it wasn’t comfortable. Ever. So as much as I needed Sunday as a day of rest, I think Melody needed it more. It’s been a rough stretch to be “my support.” I hope she can hang on a few weeks longer.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | July 22, 2016

Days 35-36: Resting up then pigging out

Days 35-36
Destination: The road to RAGBRAI
Thursday’s mileage: 50. Total: 1,985

Super 8 in Iowa

An early-morning Super 8 start (Yay, air conditioning!) and now it’s time for RAGBRAI. Here we go!

It’s hot out here, so after grinding for another 50 miles in the near-100 degree heat on Thursday, Melody and I holed up in a hotel in Omaha (AC!) while we waited for the start of RAGBRAI. Saturday morning, I’ll head off for a 35-mile (or so) trip to Glenwood, Iowa, where I’ll meet up with our awesome team — Sally’s Folly — which is named in honor of my cousin Sally Byrne, who’s making her third appearance in the corn.

My cousin Mike Henderson has been our team leader. He’s been the point person dealing with all the particulars about this ride. And he’s doing his seventh or eighth (I think) RAGBRAI. He says it’s also his last, as he turns 70 this year. The man is a bike riding monster, though. He’ll be out there riding until his wheels don’t spin anymore.

Sally’s daughter Shannon will be back for her second run and she’ll be joined by our daughter, Jenna, her boyfriend, Alex, Jenna’s friend Dana and her dad, Greg. I’m sure we’ll have a great time, even though it’s going to be a little steamy, especially at the start. Melody will get to take a break from dealing with me, but she’s adding video-making duties for our charter company, Pork Belly Ventures, to her list of tasks this week. The woman loves to tell stories and I’m sure she’ll find plenty this week.

As I mentioned in the last post, it’ll be a little tricky to blog while we’re biking and camping across Iowa. We’ll certainly do some social media stuff on Facebook, Instagram, etc., but blogging might have to wait for a week or so. The trip across Iowa, though, is special. If you’re a biker, I highly recommend putting this on your to-do list at some point in the future. The people of Iowa are sweethearts and sharing the road with 10,000-15,000 other bike riders is a spectacle you don’t see every day.

I’m sure I’ll be eating plenty of pie, so keep an eye peeled for that on our social media channels. But pie will not be the only thing I eat. I’m expecting to go big on Mr. Pork Chop, root beer floats, sweet corn, and lots and lots of chocolate milk. As my good buddy David Braunger once told me during my first RAGBRAI: “If you lose weight during the RAGBRAI, you’re doing it wrong.” I’m all about doing things the right way, so gluttony it is.

***
Oh, and one more thing: I’ll cross the 2,000-mile threshold when I arrive in Glenwood tomorrow morning. I think I’m pretty well trained for this cross-Iowa ride.

 

 

 

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

Day 34: Early start, heat and more radio play

Day 34
Destination: Onawa, Iowa
Wednesday’s mileage: 53. Total: 1,935

I woke up today at 4:30 a.m. to try and beat the heat. That worked (though the heat has trapped us in a Super 8 in Onawa). What didn’t work was thinking an early start would help me beat the wind. That did NOT happen. The wind won today.

Iowa-20

That’s some EARLY morning sunlight over the Missouri River. Welcome to Iowa!

But I accomplished one thing: I arrived in Iowa, crossing the bridge over the Missouri River and heading into Sioux City. That’s when I turned south and felt the full force of that wind. I maade it to Onawa, kind of a halfway point on the way to the beginning of RAGBRAI, but that was as far as I got.

A note about RAGBRAI and this blog. During the entirety of the event (which begins Sunday), it’s really hard to break out a computer and write. First, we’re camping every night (power/connectability issues). Second, I’m with a charter company — Pork Belly Ventures — that sets up camp, feeds us, and moves our gear each night. Because of that, I’ll be leaving stuff locked up and away from the tent so blogging might be a little tricky most of the time because, well, no computer! It’s also such a social journey across this state (10,000-15,000 bike riders all on the road together!), that meeting new people, swapping bike stories with friends and family, and avoiding the day-to-day comings and goings of the world take priority. So, in short, starting Sunday, you might get a week-long break from my musings. But once I return, you’ll get all of the Iowa dope and then more as we head into Illinois, Indiana and Ohio on our way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Of course, because Melody will be continuing to shoot photos along the way while documenting my journey and the spectacle that is RAGBRAI, you should keep a close eye on our social media channels and the 55andalive.com website for any updates.

A quick note about today’s ride. It was hot, but I finished early enough to miss the worst of it. The best part about today was that I checked off my fourth state (Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska). I left Jackson, Neb., this morning and within an hour crossed into Iowa. So that’s four down and another seven states (and Washington, D.C.) to go.

***

More radio tonight
I’ll be joining the fellas at “Sports Middle” in the Bay Area for another guest spot on their weekly sports radio chat show. My spot comes up around 8:30 p.m. CDT, so check it out if you’re interested. The archives for a couple of my past appearances (June 30 and July 14) are also there (the archives generally go up the next day).

 

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