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

Bittersweet beginnings

no peds on GG Bridge

My last ride before the XC trek took me across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Oregon trails come next, starting, well, today.

I’m riding my bike across the country.  If you’ve been reading along, you know that already. The journey starts today (Monday, June 13) near Winchester Bay, Ore. Beyond that, though, Melody is joining me on this trek to provide support – and to bring her considerable storytelling skills into (mostly) rural America to spark a conversation about what makes us tick. How do we find joy in our lives? When should we chase a dream? What makes us feel alive?

Maybe, during this 11-week (or so), 3,200-mile journey we’ll learn a few other things. Why do we hate? Who should we trust? How much more can we take?

I could offer a theory or two, but it won’t mean spit. To answer these questions, we need to talk to people to find out what’s going on in their lives, in their families, in their hearts and souls.

Listen, I’m sick of reading about mass murders. I’m tired of hate-mongering and  fear-mongering. I’m angry that the political and economic elites pit poor folks against working folks. I’m desperately sad that we succumb so easily to that manipulation. But I’m also tired of the same old people spinning the same old bullshit. Thoughts and prayers. Angry diatribes. And yet day after day, week after week, year after year, the story remains the same.

Why? Well to me it’s clear: Nothing changes because we’re expendable. Those who need us to be their cannon fodder always win in the end. And we always lose when we play their game. So I’m changing the game. At least for this summer. I’m climbing on my bike. I’m going to pedal. And Melody and I are going to talk to people. We’ll share those stories on our website or on a barstool somewhere near you (preferable).

And those stories will be true; they’ll be real. This summer, we’ll sweat, we’ll laugh, we’ll cry and we’ll listen. What comes after that? Who knows? But first things first; I’m climbing on that bike tomorrow and I’m going to ride as fast as my chubby little legs can propel me. If we’re passing by a neighborhood near you, come along for the wide.



Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | June 7, 2016

Here we go

This will be short(er than usual. I think.). We’re pulling away from Chicago sometime in the next hour or so. We’re not the best with early starts, so we’re waiting out the early-morning rush hour and soon heading to I-80 for the LONG drive to San Francisco.

We loaded the car last night ..

Loading up

I can say, with some surprise, that all of this — and MORE — fits into a 2012 Nissan Altima. Who knew?

Melody will post more pics today, which I’m sure will end up on various social media channels, including her instagram page.

I’ll load up my NEW bike (well, new frame anyway — a good picture of the broken frame is below) … If you read previous entries, you’ll understand. But the new frame was great, took it out for a long ride on Sunday and it’s tip-top. So good to go.

busted bike frame

We’ve got about 32 hours of driving until we reach San Francisco, where Melody is screening “The Summer Help” on Saturday and Sunday (send your SF friends!).

So, Nebraska tonight. Salt Lake City, perhaps, on Wednesday. Lake Tahoe, maybe, on Thursday. And San Fran on Friday. We spend the weekend there and head up to Oregon. The bike ride starts Monday with the ceremonial dipping of the rear tire in the Pacific Ocean. Then off we go.

You can keep following the ride here. But we’ve also started a website that will house all aspects of the journey, the ride, the people we meet along the way, words, photos, video. Check it out and follow along.

And one final note. Our dear friend Ken Carpenter started this “gofundme” site for us. We had no idea he was planning this, but we are grateful for the support and will do our best to spend some of the money wisely — and the rest on beer. (JK) Please, too, send Ken good thoughts (and prayers if you’ve got ’em) as he battles cancer. He’s one tough SOB with a heart of gold.

See you on the road!

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | June 2, 2016

A quick update on the “bike situation”

My new favorite bike shop guy Troy from Mox Multisport was able to connect with the good people at Felt and they warrantied my fractured bike. Amazing. This is not a new bike, but a quality manufacturer stands behind its product and they stepped up big time. It goes without saying that I am now a Felt customer for life. This is huge for me.

As I write this, Troy is in the process of disassembling my old and broken bike and reassembling the really solid components on this new frame. It’s a Felt Z85 aluminum frame with carbon fiber fork. Bike geeks can check out the details here.


Now, I don’t get out of this thing free and clear, but I am able to avoid buying a completely new rig. I was given the option of using the frame that was coming from Felt to trade up to a new all carbon fiber bike. … I’ll probably be kicking myself sometime down the road for not being able to pull the trigger on that particular transaction, but budgets are budgets and we’re trying not to run ourselves any further into the ground. So, I’m on the hook for shipping and the labor to put the new bike together. Wanted to mention, too, that I’ll be buying all my future bikes and bike gear from Mox Multisport. These guys are making it happen! We’ll be on the road to the West Coast on Tuesday as planned

I did spring for new shoes and clips, as the ones I had been using were coming apart at the seams. And I think the new, wider clip will provide some comfort in the three months of hard riding ahead. But that’s the update on the bike front. I’m a happy camper today.


Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | June 1, 2016

Nobody said this would be easy

That’s the kind of headline you’d expect to read after the first week or so of this cross-country ride. But it works for the prelude, too. (By the way, we’ve built a website to document the ride. You can see it here.)

Less than two weeks ago, I suffered a mechanical failure when the left-side pedal (crank) mysteriously separated from the bike (though remained fastened to my foot, thanks to the toe clips).

busted crank

The remnants of a well-traveled crankset. New one was awesome — and expensive.

That threw me for a loop. After a little finagling for a ride (see photo — thanks, Amidei!!), I was driven to a bike shop 25 miles from home (but, luckily, just a few miles from the breakdown and just around the corner from Amidei’s house).


If you’re in Lake Forest, Ill., please visit this guy. He’s a saint with a green thumb.

The fellas at the Trek shop were great. The original crank set was shot. I opted to “trade up” with a new crank at considerable expense. This came about 3-4 weeks after I replaced the rear wheel, which had suffered a fatal crack. That happened a couple of months before a complete tuneup, where I replaced the chain and had the bike in tip-top condition. Or so I thought. (This is kind of a reverse chronology. Sorry if it’s confusing.)

Anyway, back to today. A few rides after I got the new crankset, I noticed a “clicking” sound on the downstroke whenever I was peddling hard. It was more annoying than anything, but it seemed like something I should get “checked out” before we headed out to Oregon. Since we’re leaving Tuesday (June 7) to drive to San Francisco (for a film festival) and then up to Oregon on June 12/13, it seemed like NOW would be a good time to get it checked out.

Welllllll … let’s just say it’s a good thing I stopped by my friends at Trek Highland Park. They’re not Felt (my bike brand) dealers, but I figured they were good to me before so I would stop back in and see if they could troubleshoot for me. Turns out, that “clicking” sound was easy to diagnose. Broken frame. Total loss. Panic. Fear. Loathing. And a few moments of relief that I didn’t “learn” of the broken frame while racing downhill in the Cascades or something. Yikes.

broken frame

It’s hard to see, but the frame broke right at the weld, just above that copper-colored thing-a-ma-bob here. Remarkably, it didn’t come apart during the past few outings, including Sunday’s 50-mile ride in Northern Wisconsin. Could have been ugly.

Where does that leave me? Well, bike-less for today. And tomorrow. But my Trek friends located a great Felt dealer, so I raced downtown and brought the bike in to Mox Multisport. Troy took a quick look and helped me sort through the options. He said as long as I had the original receipt, it’s possible Felt will come through with a new frame. Great bike manufacturers, both Troy and the fellas at the Trek dealership said, usually warranty for structural failures such as the one I experienced.

The receipt, though. That could be tricky. It had been a while since I bought the bike at Boehm’s in Saint Paul. I’ve had a great relationship with that bike shop for more than a decade and I was hopeful they hadn’t undergone any recent computer upgrades. I was in luck. Mike at Boehm’s located my receipt in minutes. He quickly emailed it to me and I got it into Troy’s hands, who in turn sent it on to Felt. Now we wait.

But, of course, there’s not much time to wait. I’ve got a few days before we leave. If Felt comes through, Troy said he’d piece the bike together with the many solid components off my old bike — including the $400-plus crank set and $300 rear wheel. I’ll add some new shoes and clips and a new aerobar. But at least I get to salvage something.

And, I guess, if it all turns out, I’ll be starting the ride with what will essentially be a new bike. I’ll be a little poorer, to be sure, but that’s a far sight better than hurtling off a broken bike in the mountains of Oregon.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | April 29, 2016

Maps! I give you maps!

I realized that in my earlier post I provided hyperlinks to the parts of the cross-country route that I had mapped. I then realized that my good readers might actually be too damned lazy to click hyperlinks to see those maps. So … I give you maps.

Here’s the map across Oregon:

Oregon route

From Oregon, it’s on to Idaho:

Idaho route

Then, the great state of Wyoming:

Wyoming route

Then, dear friends, I travel across northern Nebraska (from Sioux City, I’ll make my way south toward Omaha, but haven’t mapped that just yet):

Nebraska route

And then the RAGBRAI (the [Des Moines] Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). The Ragbrai map is still a little funky (if I make it bigger, I lose part of the route), so you still might want to go here if you want to see where we’re riding in Iowa:

RAGBRAI -- Iowa Route

I’ve got actual physical maps for much of the rest, so I might not build them out on my biking app. But if I do, I’ll post them later. Melody and I will also be producing daily updates (video, blog, stories of people we meet along the way, etc.) during the ride and we’ll include maps of where we are and where we’re going during the ride. It’s quite possible we’ll be doing that on a separate website, which I’ll share with you later.

Back to work.


Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | April 26, 2016

It’s all happening …

With new biking buddy Dave Reitan

Biked to Indiana and back with new biking buddy Dave Reitan, a former St. Paul guy himself.

That’s one of my favorite lines from the movie “Almost Famous.” I use it all the time, even if the people I’m with have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.

And so it is with the cross-country bike ride adventure this summer. It’s all happening.

Two months ago, when I last wrote (I know, shame on me!), I explored the “why” of this trip. The hunger to test myself physically and mentally. The desire for Melody and I to meet people along the way and talk with them about their lives, their hopes, their dreams. I’m sure we’ll meet inspiring people who are doing amazing things. And maybe, just maybe, we can spur a few people to drop everything and chase their own dreams.

We know it’s not easy. We’ve made a few frightening withdrawals from retirement funds that might lead us to sleeping on YOUR couches sometime when we’re in our 70s (we’ll start accepting invitations now). The physical challenge of doing this will be something new to me, too. But I’m doing my best to prepare. I rode 140 miles over the weekend (Friday-Sunday). And I’ve ridden almost 400 miles this month. That’s not near what I’ll be doing come June 14 (our tentative start date), but I’m satisfied with how I feel this early in the season. Riding on back-to-back-to-back days is the test and I’m happy to report that my bike seat and I are doing just fine, thanks.

Planning is another big challenge and I’ve got the route pretty much sorted out.

I’ve mapped my path from Oregon through Indiana. I’ve got a few more tweaks to get through on the final legs. I got great help getting started from a “pen pal” biking friend in Oregon, who introduced me to a great APP (Ride With GPS). He mapped Oregon and gave me suggestions for Wyoming, where he’s led tours. Here are the legs of the trip so far (I know, mountains, right? Damn!): Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming,  Nebraska (there’s a little jog from Sioux City down to Omaha not included here),  Iowa (for the RAGBRAI), Illinois and Indiana (if you’re actually checking out the links here, the Illinois through Indiana section is represented in Section 8 of this cross-country map).

When I get to Ohio, I’m using a mix of resources and then I head to Pittsburgh, where I plan to pick up the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath (weather and trail conditions permitting). From there, I’ll try to find the best path to the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps heading to Rehoboth Beach, Del., where we spent many family summer vacations. There’d be some poetry to that, I suppose.

If you know anyone along those routes, let us know. We’ve tweaked our plans in light of the fact that no one has “donated” an RV. Ha. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Oh, well, we’ve adjusted and have some other plans cooking. Probably a mix of hotel/motels, a bit of camping and (hopefully) some Warm Showers, an international network of hosts for adventuring cyclists.

So all we need now: good health, good luck with equipment, safe passage and a healthy tailwind from beginning to end. As hard as it is to believe, I’m actually starting to think that it really is all happening.

North Branch Trail, Chicago

Biking to the Chicago Botanic Garden and coming out the other side in Highland Park.



Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | February 23, 2016

Why would you do THAT?


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In my last post, I laid out the threads of a plan to bike across the U.S. this summer. That’s still happening. But before I plow ahead with planning, training and gear updates, I wanted to carve out a little space to talk about the WHY behind this new mid-life project.

In the beginning …

No, no. I’m not going to do that to you, but I have to at least set a baseline for why I’m compelled – at 55 years old – to ride a bike from coast to coast. I know I’m FAR from the first to do it, and while I don’t want to go in the way-back machine, where I’ve been certainly informs where I’m going.

I lived a pretty ordinary life for 50 years. I grew up in a loving, stable family in Milwaukee. I went to college. I got a job – many jobs, actually. I worked. I married a beautiful woman, had a great daughter, bought a house, paid my bills, saved for retirement … blah, blah, blah.

About five years ago, my satisfaction with this work-a-day life waned. It’s not that I don’t like work. I’m definitely wired for it. And I loved my job in the sports department at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. But I started to feel a pull to do something more, something different. Luckily, I’m married to a super talented and “up-for-anything” documentary filmmaker, so off we went to Eastern Europe in 2011.

Our four years as professors at the American University in Bulgaria were some of the best years of our lives. That experience proved to me the value of making big life changes. The rewards are profound. We met great people. Explored parts of the world that were unknown to us. I learned how to teach – something that scared the crap out of me at the start. Melody and I shared it all, work, travel, the ex-pat life, the joys of teaching.

And then there was the biking. I loved biking back in the U.S., commuting to work, a couple of RAGBRAI‘s. When I got to Bulgaria, I experienced mountain biking for the first time. Thrilling, frightening, wild dogs, shepherds, border guards. It had it all.

So when we returned to the U.S. in May 2015, we couldn’t just fall back into the familiar life we led over 20 years in Minnesota. That’s in part why we moved to Chicago. Yeah, it’s a great city but it has NOT been easy.

Being back is wonderful (craft beers, diners, bottomless cups of coffee) and we love where we live (with our never-ending view of Lake Michigan and 2,000 miles of biking in Summer 2015). On the other hand, we haven’t found our footing financially or socially. Work comes in fits and starts. I’m trying to carve out a life as a freelance writer/editor, with mixed success (common, I know, for those of you who have gone this route). I’ve done a ton of networking, but there is always more to do. I’m hoping a few of the many meetings I’ve had will lead to opportunity.

On the lifestyle front, let’s just say that living in a new city when you’re 50-somethings is challenging. Melody and I are sociable. We’ve met a ton of people. But breaking into the social networks of others is a challenge. We’ll get there but it’ll take a little time. After 20 years of deep and meaningful and rich friendships in Minnesota, that’s an adjustment, too.

So what does all that have to do with the bike ride? For me, it all comes down to one thing: FEELING ALIVE. I like work, but it doesn’t make my heart soar.

I know what it feels like to work, but I have no idea what my body, my mind, my heart will say when I dip my rear tire into the Pacific Ocean and begin this journey in June. I know what it feels like to go to the grocery store and make a nice dinner. But I don’t know what it feels like to bike 3,500 miles (or so) over 10-11 weeks. I know what it feels like to share the love of family and friends. But Melody and I hunger to meet new people in new places. We want to hear new stories and make a few of our own. That’s what “living” means to me right now.

We’ll make this trek together. Right now, the plan is for Melody to drive an RV (rental?) – our dream? or this? – as my support vehicle. Along the way, we’ll document what “being alive” means to us. I’ll bike. Melody will bring a video camera and together we’ll meet people and learn about what “feeling alive” means to them. We’ll stop anywhere and talk to anyone. Throughout this journey, we’ll share those stories on the web and through social media so that you can meet the people whose stories are so rarely told.

And then we’ll keep moving along. Living! And when it’s all over, we’ll have a few more bills to pay and a lot more stories to share.

And then I’ll need to find a job.

487854_10151433677236747_1770403055_n post ragbrai

After the 2012 RAGBRAI.


Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | January 10, 2016

The next adventure

In the summer of 2012, while participating in the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), I briefly met a couple of young guys who were biking across the U.S. I was intrigued. Could I do that?

To be clear, this wasn’t some fleeting impulse. I know people who watch a marathon and immediately start running. I know people who rush to the nearest jump school when a friend tries skydiving. That’s not me. I’ve watched dozens of running events. I’ve never had the faintest interest in running a marathon. My father, brother, and a few cousins have jumped out of airplanes. It’s not for me. But this biking thing has bitten me hard.

So I’ve been wondering for nearly four years, can I do this? We’re going to find out.

I’ve decided to celebrate my 55th year on Earth by biking across America. I initially told my beautiful wife of almost 30 years, Melody Gilbert, that I wanted to do this all by myself. As we discussed this further, we decided to make this a new adventure for both of us. I’m going to bike. Melody is going to drive an RV and we’re going to turn this into a film project.

We have a theme — a hook — that we think will resonate with more than a few friends and families. I’ll hold off on sharing that for now. Suffice to say, this will be a short-term — 2-3 month — project. But as we’ve shared with our students in Bulgaria, it’s got a natural story-telling hook — a beginning, middle and end. We don’t know how the story is going to turn out, but this is what you might call the “soft launch,” the beginning of this project.

Over the coming months, I’ll use this space to discuss the planning, training and challenges that will help shape this next endeavor.

For those of you who know us — or who have followed along on this blog — you know that we left our comfortable and wonderful life in Minnesota in 2011 to teach journalism (and Melody, documentary filmmaking) at the American University in Bulgaria. We spent four thrilling years in the Balkans. We made great friends. We taught incredible students from all over the world. We learned about these ancient and rich cultures. And we drank lots of beer, wine and rakia over long, relaxed meals. We laughed. We loved. We traveled. (Check out Melody’s videos and my stories on that site.) We shared our hearts and were rewarded with deep and lasting friendships that we’ll cherish forever.

But after four years (in May 2015), we made another move — to Chicago — to try U.S. big-city living. We’ve loved it so far. We’re still trying to get settled (which would include steady employment), but I don’t know how much longer I can sustain this cross-country bike ride idea. It feels like it’s now or never. So, it’s now (well, technically it’ll start sometime in June).

I’m not doing this as a fundraiser. I’m not doing this with a tour group. I’m going to map my own ride, I’m going to keep my own pace. Melody will help tell that story with video and I’m going to keep writing about it here. We’re not entirely sure what the end result will be. All we know for sure is that in the inimitable words of Izzy Mandelbaum, “It’s go time.”

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | November 10, 2015

“The Decision”

We loved to play dress up for the fancy events.

We loved to play dress up for the fancy events.

As most of you know, Melody Gilbert and I took a one-year leave of absence from our duties at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). We needed time to pursue individual projects and to spend some time thinking about what we wanted to do next. We could go back to Bulgaria. Go somewhere else. Or stay in Chicago and regroup. We’ve come to a decision.

It wasn’t easy.

I’ll just spit it out. We’re going to stay in Chicago.

Some of you might be surprised. Probably more of you are nodding your heads and saying: “I knew it.”

To be honest, YOU might have been certain we were staying – but we weren’t. Here’s why:

First, there are the students. These are amazing young people from around the Balkans, to be sure, but also from quite a bit farther away. These young men and women opened our eyes to new worlds and filled our hearts with joy and wonder with their intellect, their curiosity, and their absolute fire to live a full life. Probably the hardest part about not going back is missing out on the journey from freshman to graduating senior that they undertake. It’s a really amazing privilege to play a small role in that trip. We are so honored to have been a part of that. We hold those memories in a special place. We won’t soon forget the amazing students we met along the way. We’ll look forward to them changing the world in all kinds of ways.

Then there are the friends we made in Bulgaria. There are so many we can’t possibly name them all. OK, I’ll try — but if I left you off, don’t be offended. I’m old and forgetful. Boriana, Stefan, Pavlin, Tracy, Bistra and Kate, Mark, Ina, Georgia and Cydney, Elena, Asli, Rossen and Desi, Len and Arta, John — oh, the Tuesday Club! Our great pals from JMC Lynnette (and Mark) and Dinka and Atanas. Sonia and Dimana. Svetlana and Nick. Sahar. And Laura, er, Lauren. Sveta. Sani. Sasho and Desi. Diego and Brani. Pierangelo. My biking buddy Bill. Tsenko and Elmira (and their daughters). Stoyan. Each of these people — and so many more, including the amazing and talented AUBG faculty, staff and administration — made our transition to and life in Bulgaria an amazing amazing amazing experience.

We are settling into life in Chicago. There are lots of unanswered questions about “what comes next” for us. I’m working as a freelance writer and editor right now. Melody is finishing two movies and starting a couple of others. We’re closer to family and U.S. friends, and most importantly, our daughter (who is only one time zone away in New York instead of eight).

There’s more to come. But this is enough for now. … It’s enough for me to say it was a great ride. And as with all things, we’ll keep moving forward. Please find us in Chicago so we can grab a beer and reminisce. As my students — and my friends — know, I’m always up for a beer.

One of the many group pictures with our amazing JMC students, 2014 I think.

One of the many group pictures with our amazing JMC students, 2014 I think.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | September 6, 2015

There’s nothing easy about asking for help

The Summer Help Needs you!!

The Summer Help Needs you!!

I’ve been consumed over the past month with helping my filmmaker wife, Melody Gilbert, reach her goal on the kickstarter campaign for her newest film project, “The Summer Help.”

In other places and at other times, filmmakers are able to secure funding through grants or presales or, as happened for Melody’s previous films, by having the previous film pay for the next project. This one is different. That’s why we’ve been bombarding our friends and acquaintances with social media pleas for help to fund the final stages of this production.

Filmmaking is unlike other art forms. You need a good story. You need the skill to be able to tell that story. But you also need equipment to bring that story to life — and you need technological help to bring that art to an audience. That’s where you come in.

This kickstarter campaign will cover the costs of final production — editing, sound and color correction, legal fees, distribution costs, and some final costs associated with Melody spending the past three years shooting and editing and shepherding this thing to the finish line.

Melody, with really no team (save for me and a few others providing some emotional and technical support), has raised more than $15,000 of the $25,000 goal. Which is amazing!! But there are only four days left and Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform. If she doesn’t reach her goal, she gets nothing. So I’m appealing to you for help. If you’ve helped Melody reach that $15,000 plateau, thank you! If you can please share your passion for this project — and your confidence and support of Melody and her amazing talents — that’d be greaaaaaaat.

Melody has added a new “clip” for you to watch, in addition to the trailer and the fundraising video she made at the outset of this project. Check those out. Share them with friends. We need your help to get this baby to the finish line. Anything and everything as a contribution is welcome. We’ve had some great people surprise us with super generous contributions, but we need more. And soon. So thank you for your support for this project — and thank you for your help this week in driving that contribution total to $25,000. We can do this!

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