The Big Finish to riding across America

Day 28: the finish at Wrightsville Beach, NC: It is done! Heb 12, 1-2. It’s not about bikes, it’s about people.

Ironically, after having absolutely zero mechanicals (bike problems) riding across the USA, the same wasn’t true of my car.  As Alisa drove my Mini Cooper 700 miles from Indiana to meet me at the finish, she called to say “I’m having car trouble”.  At 10pm.  As she sat in a questionable gas station still 2 hours away.  This was not how I envisioned the ride finishing….  She called roadside assistance (for what ended up being a dead battery) and finally showed up at the hotel in Fayetteville about 130am.

June 15 dawned, and I felt a great sense of satisfaction that after years of dreaming and planning, I was about to finish the ride right on track.  I had many doubts about fatigue and who knows what else I might encounter riding across America.  My ride plan was 28 days, but it was just an estimate.  And now I was about to execute the plan in exactly 4 weeks.  Good planning, a bit of hard work, and a dose of luck made it possible.  It was quite an amazing feeling.

Not surprisingly, I had my latest start of the entire ride at 820am after the short night and fueling up for the last hundred miles on a hotel breakfast of waffles.  Alisa waited for another jumpstart as I started to ride toward the coast.  I watched her and my brother, Dan, text back and forth to find a shop in Wilmington.  Dan was such a huge help!  Plus I was watching the weather closely, with thunderstorms predicted.

The last 100 miles flowed easily- flat roads and low traffic- other than a final 10 miles dodging shoulder debris and traffic on US421 that I was prepared for- one last highway stretch.  Here is a shot of the sandy pine forests of eastern North Carolina that I rode through as I approached the Atlantic coast:

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The last hours passed quickly.  My thoughts ranged from my very first century ride in 2002 that I struggled to finish to how 100 miles was now just a leisurely ride in the country.  I reflected on the memories and experiences of the past 4 weeks:

  • The prayer and send off with my wife and SRAM-Indy teammates
  • The anticipation and nervousness as I flew to California
  • The beauty of the California coast
  • The heat and desolation of the Mojave Desert
  • The long days of climbing in the Rockies- averaging 6000ft a day for over 10 days
  • The interesting people I’d met and spent time with- from Pancho Herrera in SLO to Patsy and Kenny Smith in Mancos, CO to Pam & Shue in Kit Carson, CO to spontaneous conversations at rest areas, gas stations, and hotels
  • The seemingly endless prairie and waves of grain on the Great Plains
  • The old friends I’d reconnected with, from my former boss in California to many SRAM teammates to my Remy friends to my incredible family in Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina
  • Crossing the Mississippi and riding all day with Pat Morrissey- the longest I’d ever ridden with 1 person in my 15 years of cycling
  • The sight- for perhaps 100 miles- of perhaps my favorite mountain in the world: Pikes Peak
  • Road conditions that varied from smooth as silk asphalt to pot holes to dodging bungee cords and pieces of metal on the shoulder to interstates to 2 lane highways to shaded country roads to neighborhoods to small town streets to gravel roads to bike paths to railroad trestles to the scary traffic of the Chicago suburbs to incredible landscapes like the Grand Canyon to nervous mountain descents- the list goes on and on!
  • and so much more!

As I approached Wilmington, the clouds darkened and I attempted to time my arrival with a gap in the storms.  I made a quick stop on the outskirts of Wilmington to call Alisa- who was already waiting at the waterfront- before continuing on.  Then, not more than about 3 miles from the beach, the rain began in earnest, and I turned into a commercial building to seek shelter under an awning (far left of the Strava track):

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With a few minutes to pass, I opened my email to find that my co-workers back in Indy had gathered in a conference room to watch the finish via Quarqnet.  Which showed them that the business I had spontaneously chosen for shelter was… the Wrightsville Beach Brewery!  “Dave, finish the ride.  THEN you can have a beer!”  Too funny.

I called Pat, who was leading the gathering, to share the news of my rain delay.  They had no idea why I had stopped!  Finally, the rain slowed from a downpour to a drizzle, and I texted Pat that I was making a run for it.  I rode through showers as the beach and finish approached.  Writing about it months later, I still get goosebumps!  What a feeling it was!

But never get complacent.  Less than a mile from the finish, I had one final scary moment, perhaps the very worst of the entire ride.  As I rode across the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway and onto the barrier island and the Atlantic Ocean, I encountered metal grating on the bridge deck.  I had ridden across similar many times, but in my excitement I neglected to consider how slick it was when wet.  I fishtailed as I crossed the bridge, with cars following.  If I went down, not only could broken bones result but perhaps much worse if the cars were too close.  I managed to maintain control, get back on solid pavement, straighten up, and began to look for my wife, my brother and nephew, and the path onto the beach.

I Facetimed with the Indy office as Dan took some video- here

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as I walked onto the beach.

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Walking onto the beach with Matthew following (and carrying my shoes- thanks!)
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Dipping my front wheel- well, both wheels- in the Atlantic, 28 days after dipping the rear wheel in the Pacific.  Mission accomplished!

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What an incredible moment!  3600 miles in 28 days, and I had made it!  We took lots of pictures of course, and I did my best to savor the moment, which passed far too quickly.

Amazingly, the storms held off, and it was a surreal moment of soft light as I wanted the time to last indefinitely.  I said one final prayer of thanks just before I headed to the water’s edge, unfurled my TDSU17 banner, and relished the accomplishment.

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The distance to the beach from Fayetteville was 99.8 miles- but I added on my quick ride to the hotel to top 100 miles for the day.  We headed to Autozone to deal with the car repair before saying thanks and goodbye to Dan and Matthew.

As I uploaded my ride to Strava, I added the title above to emphasize what the ride was about: people.  I told my father-in-law, Dan, of a Scripture verse I remembered from long ago, and he helped me with it.  Hebrews 12: 1-2 reads, in part, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us, fixing our eyes on Christ.”  I still have the texts that Dan and I exchanged a few days before I finished, the last that I received from him before he passed away from cancer a few weeks later.  It is a special memory to say the least.

Then it was time for a shower, before a celebratory dinner with Alisa just a few yards from the beach access point where I had finished.

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I couldn’t have picked a more perfect ending- nor a better person to share the moment with!

It was without question, one of the best meals of my life.  To be able to share it with Alisa (we’d been married only 6 months at the time) was indescribable.

My phone blew up with congratulatory texts, Strava kudos and comments, and emails- including one from my boss that still gives me goosebumps as I reread it:

“Congrats Dave on your accomplishment!! You have inspired us to dream big, set our goals high and then work hard to attain them. Make a snow angel in the sand for us!”

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I am humbled by the comradery of all who participated virtually and who saw the spirit of why I did the ride.

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I wore this WBR armband 24/7 during the ride to remind myself of why I was doing this.

Alisa and I returned the next morning for a walk on the beach before the long drive back to Indiana.

Do you read into Alisa’s expression- this on the morning after I finished- of “don’t you even THINK about getting on this bike today!”?

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And I didn’t, nor the Saturday and Sunday following.  But Monday morning it was back to work- bike commuting as always.  How else would I get to work?!

And when I did get back to work on Monday morning, my incredible teammates greeted me by wearing their TDSU17 shirts that they had purchased (with proceeds to WBR)!  What a show of support!

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As I finished, I felt great physically.  Not only immediately afterwards but in the days following, I felt certain that I could have ridden harder and faster.  I was often asked whether I would take some time off the bike.  I honestly think that I could have turned around and ridden right back across the country.

Remember: if I can do it- anyone can!

Wrapping it all up, here is my thank you message to everyone who supported this ride.  If you’re reading this- you’re included!

Final TDSU17 stats:

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Garmin summary for TDSU17 (+2 segments- Dayton Part 1 and to the hotel on the last day- logged on my phone)
Distance: 3,601.2 miles
Time: 254 hours, 12 minutes
Average speed: 14.2mph
Maximum speed: 41.8mph- on Day 25 in the mountains of Virginia
Total ascent: 118,900 feet (22.5 miles)
# of pedal strokes: 1,029,482 (that’s right, just over 1 million!)
Longest day- distance: 180.2 miles: Minden to Gretna, Nebraska
Longest day- moving time: 13 hours, 24 minutes: Ludlow to Needles, Arizona (155 miles)
Highest average speed: Day 28: Fayetteville to Wilmington- 17.4mph
Slowest day: 11.6mph: Needles, California to Ash Fork, Arizona
Temperature range: ~80°F: 109°F in Needles, CA (Day 4) to 23°F leaving Pagosa Springs, CO (Day 10)
# of flat tires: zero
Average power: 107 watts
Calories expended riding: 96,575 (3500/day)
Clif Bars & gels consumed: lost track, approximately 15/day
Money raised: $16,558
Lives changed:
112 bikes = over 300 lives impacted

Next up: time will tell!  More coming for 2018 and beyond!!!

 

The final stretch riding across America for World Bicycle Relief

Day 24: Oak Hill, OH->Whitesville, WV; 1 more mountain day, then turn left and aim for the Atlantic!

The day started with oatmeal and coffee with Frank Homersky, then I headed towards West Virginia through the rolling farm country of southern Ohio on a beautiful, peaceful morning.

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Leaving Frank & Mary’s farm in Oak Hill, Ohio on a peaceful Sunday morning.

Without a doubt, today was when I really started thinking about the finish.  For the first time in nearly a week, I wouldn’t see friends or family today, which mentally added to the sense of entering the home stretch.  I still had mountains to climb, but they were minor compared to the Rockies: just 1 big day of climbing in the Appalachians vs. 5 in the Rockies.  Only 5 days remained to the finish if all went according to plan.  And so far- it had.

As I navigated back county roads, I encountered more unexpected gravel.  I wasn’t able to view every section of road as I planned the route, and I was frustrated with myself that I chose minimizing mileage over road quality, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

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Pretty, but slow. I was overly cautious on the gravel, as a crash could ruin my day, if not the ride.

Many descents in the hills of Ohio and West Virginia would have been a lot more fast and fun on asphalt.

I was able to get off the gravel after a few miles and enjoy 50 miles of sunny, scenic, and slightly hilly southern Ohio roads before I reached the Ohio River.

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I took a quick break here for a snack, just leaning against the guardrail while enjoying the surroundings
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Perfect riding!

Into West Virginia near Huntington-

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Across the Ohio River and into West Virginia

Once into West Virginia, however, I had to endure one of the last tough stretches of highway, a dreary 35 miles along US60 into Charleston.  A little over 2 hours of riding seemed like many more.  While I was in a mountain valley, the road was heavily commercialized with lots of traffic on a Sunday afternoon.

Once I made it through that, however, the surroundings monumentally improved.  I expected scenery, but not this much- through the Kanawa State Forest, more places I had seen driving I-77 many times, and was now finally able to see up close.

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One of my distinct memories from riding through the park roads is glancing off to my left and seeing what appeared to be a younger man down on his knee in front of a woman.  A marriage proposal in process?  Probably, but I didn’t disturb them to find out.  It was a perfect location.

I stopped periodically at convenience stores for water and Gatorade, and often got comments and questions.  One clerk took particular interest, and said he’d “friend” me on Facebook.  Fortunately I never heard from him since I decline invites unless I know someone.  It was a strange moment, and a little sad.  Here I was on this incredible adventure, and the poverty and monotony of life in the area was impossible to miss.

As I rode, the distinctive smell of coal hung in the air.  Coal is king here- even the picturesque river that I rode along is the Big Coal River.  I passed many coal mines, but stopped to take a picture of just one:

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I gauged my progress and plotted stops a day or 2 ahead, going through many small towns.  The stop I planned tonight was a motel I found via Google Maps.  I had called a couple of places, and one told me they were closed on Sunday (a motel?!)  The one I eventually found did not take reservations but assured me that they’d have a room.  Although I carried a bivvy sack for emergencies, I did not have camping gear (a last minute decision as I determined it was too bulky to carry on such a fast trip).  If I did fail to find a motel with a room, I would have been forced to continue riding until I found one (and with a portable battery pack, I could have powered lights all night if necessary).  Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

I lost cell signal but found the motel- most of the mountain towns were essentially 1 main street:

Whitesville, WV

The owner was waiting for me, watching TV.  He owned the motel with his wife, and lived a few miles away.  His accommodation was amazing- all he had to go on that I would show up was my call the day before.  I was incredulous that he was sitting there waiting, not knowing when I’d arrive- I was the only guest that night!  He even gave me a cordless phone so I could call Alisa- with no cell signal for about 50 miles in any direction.

The room, however, was honestly, horrible. It absolutely reeked of cigarette smoke. I actually woke up in the middle of the night from the stench.  As I laid in bed, I could see a couple ceiling tiles that had been replaced, and were only slightly beige.  The others were completely discolored from the cigarette smoke.

I was happy to sacrifice some sleep and get back on the road just after 430am the next morning.

 

Day 25: Whitesville, WV-> Dublin, VA; into VA, ~400 miles to go

Although the scenic roads continued, I hit more gravel- the worst stretch of the ride.

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Gravel, which was about to get much, much worse

At one point, I hit a steep hill covered in loose gravel.  I spent probably a half hour pushing my bike.  I couldn’t believe this.  I had ridden over 3000 miles, was only a few days from the end, and here I was pushing a loaded bike up a hill at about 2 miles an hour!

I kept going, of course, bolstered with the knowledge that today was the last tough day.  From here, the roads would flatten and although there would be a few more hills, I’d gradually descend- to the Atlantic Ocean!

This is beautiful country- the pictures simply don’t do it justice.  I found myself thinking I could live in the mountains of Virginia- but it’s probably too remote (and way too far from water for Alisa!)

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Rolling through the Appalachians in West Virginia and Virginia

Although the riding was scenic, I encountered many more coal mines.  West Virginia concerned me pre-ride.  While picturesque, the rugged, remote country certainly does not have a forward-thinking reputation.  Other cyclists had shared bad experiences with coal trucks on narrow mountain roads, loose dogs, and drivers with a general disrespect for cyclists- as this sign attests.

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Perfect road and gorgeous scenery- except for the attitude on the sign

My experience, however, was great with no dogs to outrun (that happened in Ohio), and most drivers passing at a safe distance.  There were just two small exceptions.  One old pick-up that passed scaringly close was crawling along about 20mph.  If it had been level road, I think I would have chased the truck down to say something.  Then I got a look at the driver, and could see that the age of the truck was rivaled only by his age!  A grandfatherly little old man.

The second experience in West Virginia was a pickup honking from behind as I descended a pot-holed stretch of road, weaving around the obstacles to avoid crashing.  Being honked at on a bike is never appreciated (it’s basically like coming up behind someone and yelling “boo!”)  In this case, the honk was straight out of Dukes of Hazzard.  Yup, the truck horn played Dixie!  You can’t make this stuff up!

Day 25 was a 130 mile day, right on my average.  What wasn’t average was the 9600 feet of climbing- the single most of the ride.  Another Christian Cycling brother and his wife had sponsored Virginia, but I missed the welcome sign as I navigated a fast descent, and didn’t realize it for a few miles.  I took a picture at the NC/Virginia border the next day, trying to make up for it (I sent pictures at state welcome signs for all state sponsors, who donated at least $250 to WBR to sponsor a particular state).

 

Day 26: Dublin, VA -> Greensboro, NC; back into NC up hills, over trestles, & thru storms (but not at the same time)

What a day this turned out to be.  Only 8 ½ hours of riding, but I hit the first rain of the entire ride.  Before that, though, an awesome scenic surprise was in store as I encountered the New River Trail.

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Trailhead for the New River Trail- which extends for 57 miles but I rode for only about 5

I started to skip it- trails tend to be meandering and slow- but turned around and wow, what I would have missed.  It’s a rail trail that includes several old trestles which have incredible views:

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1st of several old railroad trestles on the New River Trail- incredible views up high!  I had to pause for a few minutes to take it in.
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More incredible views- it looks like a lake, but is just a wide spot in the New River
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Crossing over the New River on the longest trestle I’ve ever ridden
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Definitely one of the biggest surprise views of the ride- gorgeous!

Here’s a YouTube video I took as I rode across.

I rode more scenic backroads and hills- which were steep but relatively short- and passed what has to be the smallest and remotest post office I’ve ever seen:

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A little hilltop post office- there’s not even a town here.

Crossing into NC was a section I really looked forward to.  After dozens of times driving down US52 in the Virginia mountains during trips coming home from Ohio, I got to ride it.  It was always a blast to drive down, and I couldn’t wait to experience the descent on a bike.  I was not disappointed!

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The Blue Ridge Parkway crosses US52 as I begin the long awaited descent

The 4 mile descent was one of the best of the ride.  Courteous drivers and long, sweeping curves as I descended at 30-40mph made for an exhilarating time, albeit one that ended much too quickly.  The combination of the curves and speed allowed me to ride as fast as some cars.  As the descent flattened out, I was back in North Carolina, where I grew up.  We moved here when I was 11 (I moved to Indiana when I was 25), so it’s still very much my “home state”.

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North Carolina was sponsored by Mike Wahl & his family.  Mike’s sister Eileen was a high school classmate back at Cardinal Gibbons, and he and I had connected in 2011 when we both lived in China at the same time.

Then it was into Mt. Airy, North Carolina where I scouted for a bike shop as my rear tire was low on air.  Although I carried a small frame pump, I was saving it for emergencies.  What a help the shop was- friendly assistance and no charge for air.

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Then the real challenge of the day began as thunderstorms rolled through.  I stopped a few times to check radar and scout for possible shelter ahead- which I sought twice.  The first was under trees worrying about copperhead snakes, but the second was much better, in a small town (King, NC) corner drug store where I had coffee and a snack until the storms passed.

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The storms passed but the rain continued, and I had to press on.  I ended up riding through Greensboro in a continuous rain for over 4 hours.  That’s probably the longest I’ve ever ridden in rain and with the 2 stops, my total time for the day was over 12 hours.  But only 2 more days to go!

I found a Holiday Inn Express at the last minute.  A comfortable hotel was an oasis, feeling refreshed after a long, hot shower, and made even better with the use of hotel points to save money.  But dinner was a cold sandwich and snacks from a BP station.  Nothing else was in sight, and I definitely wasn’t going out again.

 

Day 27: Greensboro-> Fayetteville, NC; tomorrow is the finish- can you believe it?!

Today was a big day.  It was not only the last long day- 140 miles- before the finish, but if I could cover 80 miles by noon, I was planning to meet friends for lunch in Raleigh.

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A common sight rolling through the Piedmont of North Carolina- beautiful country churches

The terrain gave me the feeling of being back home, but yet another surprise was in store.  As I rode into the outskirts of Chapel Hill, I came to a short stretch on Chicken Bridge Road:

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What a total shock to see this road sign!

Incredible!  I ran my first half marathon- the Chicken Bridge Run- on this very road 30 years ago as I trained for my first marathon.  That was a great enough memory, but it goes on.  The night before the run in 1986, I had stayed with a college professor I had met during Search, a Catholic teen retreat, back in high school.  That was a coincidence in and of itself.  Professor George (I doubt he’d mind, but I’m leaving his full name out to respect his privacy) wrote a book that I used on a high school English paper.  Amazingly, I still remember it, on the work of the poet, William Stafford.

Google being my friend in this case, as we drove home, I checked Facebook and then Google.  I wasn’t confident I’d find him, knowing that he had to be into his 70’s at least.  But I did find him easily, as a professor emeritus at UNC.  I shot off an email to him to share the story, and he responded the next day.  Very cool!

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We’re lobbying- in vain so far- for a 3 foot passing law in Indiana; North Carolina has a 4 foot law.  Nice!

I enjoyed familiar sights as I passed through the outskirts of Raleigh, and met a few high school classmates.  I didn’t see their text until a few miles past where they suggested to meet.  I almost kept going but turned around and was glad I did.

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With Kim, Kristi, and Julie (taking the pic) in Apex

It was definitely the best lunch of the ride!  The pasta was good too!

After the great lunch, I continued on fighting more threatening weather.  I didn’t have to stop, but ominous dark clouds kept me slightly on edge with open fields and limited places for shelter if storms developed.  I turned south from Raleigh and felt giddy with excitement as the finish neared.

I also experienced melancholy today.  I missed Alisa and my daughters, but riding across America was an incredible adventure that I hated to see end.  I was excited for the finish, but I wanted to keep going.  I daydreamed of turning around and riding back across the country, or hopping a plane to Europe and continuing to ride east.

Donations continued to come in, and I got an email with each one.  In one of the coolest stories of the ride, as I was eating dinner tonight, I posted an update on donations: TDSU17 was just 6 bikes short of 100.  I made a plea to donate and within a couple hours, a friend and former president of my last company before SRAM made it happen with a 6 bike donation.  Wow!  100 bikes funded (which increased all the way to 112 as donations continued through the finish and more).

Next up: the Big Finish

Off the Plains & into the Appalachians: Iowa to Ohio

Day 18: Columbus Jct, IA -> Dixon, IL, into Illinois with company- thanks Pat!

What a great day today was going to be!  I was looking forward to joining up with my co-worker Pat, and crossing the Mississippi River was a significant milestone too.  Not only did I get to ride with Pat, but he sponsored Day 18 as we rode through his childhood stomping grounds, the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois.

But first, I had to survive another scary stretch of road before I left Iowa.  For 5 or 6 miles along US61, I dodged heavy early morning traffic including many trucks, with zero shoulder.  In fact, due to construction, there was a couple foot drop-off right at the white line.  With no side roads to detour onto, I hung on as trucks passed inches away.  I couldn’t get off this road fast enough, and was relieved when the construction ended and a wide shoulder- returned.  Whew!  Glad I survived that.

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I think I became an expert on American road and shoulder conditions- and the variety of things that fall off cars- during this trip…

Once that section was behind me, I was soon enjoying quiet roads paralleling the Mississippi, which made for scenic riding on a beautiful, cloudless morning.  I had to stop for pictures a couple of times:

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The Mighty Mississippi River

As I planned my route for the ride across America, my gps software (ridewithgps.com) showed the steepest grade as 12%, on the climb into Oatman, Arizona.  A construction detour in Davenport led to a short, steep hill which displayed 15% on my Garmin!  Glad it was short- even with SRAM WiFli wide gearing and a 32 tooth cassette, I couldn’t do that for long with my loaded, ~50lb bike!

Today was the longest ride of Pat’s life, and it was great to share the time with him.  His wife and daughter came out to drop him off and then met us at the end.  Pat rode nearly 70 miles with me- the longest of anyone who came out.  This was the first time in a week that I’d seen someone I knew (since Colorado Springs), and 16 days since I had any ride company.

Pat and I met up on Arsenal Island in the middle of the Mississippi River, which took a little meandering to find the entrance ramp onto the bridge:

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Waiting for the drawbridge at Arsenal Island in the middle of the Mississippi to allow a barge through- with Pat waiting on the other side in Illinois
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Finally a familiar- and friendly! face- Pat Morrissey
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Ready to roll into Illinois

After ~20 scenic miles along the Mississippi, we turned east.  Pat picked a good day (for me) but a poor day (for him), as we rode into the worst headwind I faced the entire ride.  We chatted a little, but mostly rode in single file so that one of us could draft off the other.  The rolling hills of Iowa gradually leveled off into Illinois.  Both Pat and our co-worker Scott- who texted us as we rode- grew up around this area.  The roads north of the Quad Cities would have been a great place to head.  But staying on course, we headed northeast toward Chicago.

The numbers were some of the lowest of the ride- 120 miles at barely over 13mph, despite only 2000ft of climbing.  If I hadn’t ridden with Pat, today would probably have been the most mentally tough day of the ride.  We only took a couple of brief stops, one at a railroad maintenance area, so there weren’t many pictures after the Quad Cities.  We reached a Motel 8 I had chosen for the night, and he headed back to Indy.  I also took the opportunity to send my camelbak hydration pack home with Pat.  After 18 days of carrying extra water, I now had plenty of places to get water and was relieved to have that weight off my back.

Day 19: Dixon -> Chicago; Chicago= Windy City, Illinois= Windy State

The day started riding through downtown Dixon, Illinois.  Dixon’s claim to fame?  Ronald Reagan’s birthplace.  If I had more time, I might have detoured for at least a quick snapshot outside.

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The roads were peaceful and beautiful through farm country, until the outskirts of Chicago:

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Cemetaries made good rest stops.

The winds continued today which, combined with navigating into Chicago, made for another very slow day, again averaging less than 13mph despite only 2000ft of ascent.  I covered barely over 100 miles in about 10.5 hours total, including stops.  Normally I can ride 100 miles in not much over 6 hours.  Slow, slow, slow.

The route through the western suburbs into downtown Chicago was one I had found on ridewithgps- but turned treacherous with busy roads and no shoulder.  I can’t imagine why someone saved it as a cycling route.  I’m extremely comfortable riding in traffic- more than nearly anyone I know- but was forced to improvise for fear of being hit.  I navigated via Google Maps on my phone, which slowed progress as I stopped frequently to plan and check the route.

I rode through Fermi Lab and just north of Naperville- where we had lived for 5 years growing up back in the 1970s.  Then I hit a dead end in a forest preserve.  Rather than backtrack a few miles, I pushed my bike through the woods and came out on a nearby road.  Finally, purely by luck, I came upon the Prairie Path.  It made for an awesome ride, with a hard packed surface, though with lots of stops at side streets (why do cars always have the right of way?  Never bikes & pedestrians).

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The Prairie Path bike trail through the western suburbs of Chicago.

Then the Prairie Path disappeared at a bus terminal.  Finding my way into Chicago was becoming a bit of a challenge….

Luckily, I saw someone passing by on a bike and asked him about the Prairie Path.  He gave me quick and easy to follow directions into downtown on bike friendly roads- which turned out to be perfect!  Yet another small act of kindly helpfulness!

I meandered into Chicago, through a mix of questionable areas and beautiful old neighborhoods.  As I rode in, at the last minute I was offered to stay overnight at a SRAM employee’s apartment- very much appreciated!  That saved a hotel night.

Other than the stress of dealing with Chicago traffic, this was probably the easiest overall day of the ride, and one of the shortest.  I found dinner at a local Mexican place, and crashed on an air mattress- but still slept great!

 

Day 20: Chicago & SRAM HQ -> Logansport, IN; back home in Indiana with a fabulous send off from my SRAM & WBR teammates!

Today was a late start, as I left for a short ride to SRAM HQ at 8am, continuing “Tour de SRAM USA”.

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1000 West Fulton Market- where SRAM & WBR are headquartered

The stop at SRAM & WBR’s HQ was obviously another highlight of the trip.  World Bicycle Relief shares office space with SRAM, and the company is a huge supporter.  WBR was founded by one of SRAM’s co-founders, FK Day, whom I hoped to meet during my stop.  Unfortunately, he was returning from Africa so our schedules didn’t coincide.

I saw co-workers, took pictures, and then several WBR and SRAM staff joined me as I headed out of the city.  Among them were “my brother” as I call him, Matt Schweiker.

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A warm welcome at SRAM HQ, with a Buffalo bike in the foreground and Willis Tower in the background

I had goosebumps as our group navigated Chicago traffic and rode along the lakeshore.  This wasn’t just a bike ride.  It was definitely something bigger.

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What a thrill to ride with my SRAM and WBR teammates!

After about 10 miles, they had to turn back while I headed for Indiana.

Fast forward a few months to December, when I returned to Chicago (by car) for a WBR benefit event.  This time I was able to meet not only FK Day, but also 2 Buffalo Bicycle recipients- Aaron and Teddy:

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Aaron & Teddy, who were able to continue their education through the gift of a bicycle (and are now finishing high school as exchange students in the US)

 

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FK Day- founder of World Bicycle Relief

Back to the ride-

I stopped at US12 for one of the least scenic state welcome signs I encountered, which I sent to the Indy office as thanks for sponsoring Indiana.  I couldn’t wait to see everyone the next day!

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After many days of pavement (and well packed trails yesterday), I hit more gravel roads.  Unlike some of my co-workers that participate in bike races on gravel- I dislike it immensely.  At least I had chosen equipment well, with the widest tires (32mm) that my bike would fit, which made the ride tolerable.  But it did slow progress.

Speaking of tires, I have to give credit and a shout out to Hutchinson- which through SRAM contacts provided their Sector tubeless tires for the ride.  I committed that all ride donations would go directly to WBR, and the donations of food (from Clif Bar) and tires from Hutchinson helped make that possible.  Tires were a huge choice when selecting equipment.  With the range of road conditions I encountered, that could have been a major problem if I didn’t make a good choice.  Hutchinson was the right choice, and I navigated asphalt, gravel, potholes, rain, and more without worrying a bit about tires.  I didn’t touch my frame pump the entire 3600 miles of the ride!

Slow progress was a theme of the day from Chicago.  The late start, Chicago traffic, trails, gravel roads, and then an unintended detour made for a long day.  I enjoyed the Panhandle Parkway, which paralleled US35.  It provided such great riding that I stayed on it for longer than I had planned, only to realize that it headed due south while US35 gradually turned southeast.  The further I rode, the further off course I went.  To top it off, the path suddenly ended without warning and I was forced to turn around.  150 miles was the 4th longest day of the ride, and all the others started hours earlier in the morning.

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The Panhandle Parkway- roughly paralleling US35 in Indiana
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downtown Logansport just before 9pm

Today was the latest arrival of any day.  My normal routine was to reach my hotel, start electronics charging and get cleaned up before going in search of food.  Tonight I saw a Pizza Hut- a frequent dinner stop- a mile or 2 from the hotel, and stopped.  I didn’t want to have to backtrack or spend time searching for a place.  The sun had long since set by the time I finally reached a Holiday Inn Express at nearly 10pm.  But tomorrow was the ride into Indy and home!  It was hard to get to sleep with the excitement.

 

Day 21: Logansport->SRAM Indy-> Noblesville; an incredible team ride and welcoming party!

After a short night, I didn’t have any trouble getting going today.  Co-workers were joining up for the ride into Indy, and I knew it would be an exciting day, capped by sleeping in my own bed for one night.  But I had absolutely no idea how incredible it would be….

A group of about a dozen chartered a bus to meet up about 60 miles out of Indy.  Along the way, a couple of my Christian Cycling brothers also joined along.  Jason took time off work to drive out and yell encouragement (I had no idea who it was until he called!), and Pete rode along with me and my SRAM teammates.  As we rode into town, another big group on their lunch ride joined for the last few miles to SRAM-Indy.  What an experience to share with so many great people!  We chatted as we rode, and the support I felt was incredible.

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Smiles all around on a gorgeous day for a group ride!
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I’d ridden Lafayette Rd in Indy many times- but never like this!

I had visualized riding into Indy for months.  This was “Tour de SRAM” and Indy is home.  I pictured maybe a couple dozen of my closest co-workers coming out to greet me.  I was so mistaken!

As we made the turn on the drive and rode into the office, I was blown away.  The entire factory had come out!  SRAM flags blew in the wind as the pelaton parted and I found myself at the front.  Hundreds of coworkers lined the street- smiling, cheering, and giving high fives.

It is a moment I will not forget the rest of my life.

Links to a couple of videos of the moment are below.

The welcome in Indy

TDSU17 rolls into Indy

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200 of my best friends celebrate the journey across America for WBR

Before heading home, I had one more stop.  Clif Bar has a bakery just a few miles from the Zipp factory and was an enthusiastic sponsor of TDSU17.  Pete and I, along with Zipp’s awesome photographer (and Maintenance Supervisor) Joe V stopped to say thanks and take some quick photos.  The Clif group included Dave T. the general manager and several others.  After donating so much great product, to have them come out to support and offer encouragement was another unforgettable moment.

Pete then carried me all the way home to Noblesville on familiar roads- what a strange feeling after riding about 2600 miles.  I don’t think I realized it at the time, but today brought me under 1000 miles to go.

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Home for a little while, with Pete Griffin, a Christian Cycling brother and a huge supporter

The homecoming was a little anti-climatic, as we arrived about 3pm with no one home.  So instead of a rousing welcome from my wife and Jenna, the house was eerily quiet.  I immediately fell into my daily routine of charging electronics, getting cleaned up, and prepping supplies for the next day.  And eating!

 

Day 22: Noblesville->Dayton; Family & friends Day!

I wasn’t sure how this morning would go.  After 3 weeks of riding, would it be hard to leave home again?  I still had 1000 miles to ride, and how motivated would I be?  But after my favorite breakfast of oatmeal and fruit with strong coffee, I was ready to get moving.  I had plenty to look forward to today, which helped.

Today was another day of familiar faces- Pete, Jason, and Eric came out and we attempted a PR event at the Noblesville Square.  That didn’t materialize but we had a great send-off with Alisa and my Christian Cycling brothers.

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The Noblesville Square with Pete, Alisa, Jason, and Eric.
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My biggest supporter of all- what a beautiful lady I’m blessed with for a wife.

Then it was off to Pendleton on more familiar roads, on my former commuting route to see colleagues at Borg-Warner. I worked with this group for nearly 20 years under the Remy banner, and have fantastic memories.  We fought a lot of battles and traveled many roads around the US and the world, and it was great to see many of them again.

To top it off, the group took up a collection and made a generous donation to WBR in support of the ride.

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Attila Nagy (holding the banner on the left below)- a former co-worker at Remy- tracked my progress across the USA
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What a great group of true friends- the crew at Borg-Warner (formerly Remy)

Then it was into my birth state of Ohio.  I took several pictures, and endulged my wife in a few selfies.  Though I’m not a selfie person, I had no choice.  Alisa sponsored Ohio for me!

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The roads were straight and flat (read: boring), but I enjoyed one unexpected surprise: a sign for the town of “Laura”, which I immediately texted to my oldest daughter.  That was too funny after passing Punkin Center, Colorado.  I had now seen towns with names / nicknames of both my daughters.  Very cool!

My dinner and overnight stop was more family time- with Alisa’s Aunt Connie & Uncle Bob (but I think of them as mine also).  We had a delicious and filling dinner sitting on their deck and enjoying time together.

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Uncle Bob & Aunt Connie- I feel like they’ve been family for years even though I’ve known them for only about a year.

To top off the day, Alisa made a last minute decision to drive over, so I got to see her again, which was awesome of course.

Day 23 Part 1: ride with 2 lovely ladies to see my father-in-law

Today’s adversity- my Garmin would not come on.  So I started with using my iPhone.  While the Garmin issue might seem minor- it’s just data right?- it has my directions and maps, so navigation would be very difficult.  But a quick visit to Garmin’s website and a hard reset, and all was fixed.  Whew!

Today was the most poignant of the ride.  Alisa and Aunt Connie joined for the ride to see Alisa’s parents, who were in Dayton as my father-in-law Dan underwent treatment for cancer.

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Best morning of the ride? I think so!

With 130 miles to ride into the hills of southern Ohio, I had to keep the visit to only about 30 minutes, but was thankful for the time.

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Sharing a few moments and a prayer with my father-in-law Dan

Dan passed away just 5 weeks later, and the time with him while he was still coherent is a treasured memory.  We visited, laughed, took a few pictures, and prayed together before it was time to head out again.  Always miles to go.   Dan and I texted in the last days of the ride, as he helped me find just the right Bible verse to sum up the ride (see the Strava title on Day 28).

 

Day 23 Part 2: Dayton->Oak Hill, OH; Family time & into the Ohio hills

I left Dayton on its amazing bike paths heading southeast through Xenia- quite possibly the best bike path network in the country.  I rode along US35 again on paths that I had seen from a car many times.

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Bike path heading through Xenia, Ohio

My lunch stop was more family time, as my parents and sister drove 2 hours just to meet up for a Subway sandwich and a quick hi.  That meant a lot to me.

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My dad looks on as I get ready to head back out after lunch.

Then it was into the hills of southern Ohio- familiar ground that I’d driven many times.  With the family time in Indiana and Ohio slipping behind me, I reflected on times with Dan and enjoyed the scenery.

Today was a Warmshowers stop- the last of the ride- with Frank and Mary Homeresky.  They told me that they only get a couple bike tourists a year, and were extremely hospitable.  They followed my progress in the following days and texted congratulations as I finished.

This is beautiful country and I reveled in the quiet country roads heading into the foothills of the Appalachians.  The overnight accommodations were fantastic- a hunting cabin on Frank & Mary’s farm.  I enjoyed a delicious home cooked dinner and great conversation on their deck as the sun set over the hills.

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Frank & Mary’s farm in Oak Hill, Ohio
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What a great place to spend a night!

Next: Into West Virginia, Virgina, and the big finish in North Carolina!

Through the Plains: Colorado through Kansas, Nebraska, & Iowa

Day 13: Kit Carson, CO -> Colby, KS; fighting winds and boredom

The day started at The Kit Carson Inn with breakfast of homemade muffins from Pam and a short chat with Gene.  Gene had attended UNC (the University of North Carolina) and I’m an NC State grad, and he shared a story in his slow Southern drawl of a football game between our arch rival schools back while he was attending in the 1970’s.  We could have talked for much longer, but it was time to make miles.

Although I was continuing to descend out of the Rockies, it was difficult to tell.  From about 40 miles east of Colorado Springs, I dropped more than 3000ft over 150 miles into Kansas- or less than a 0.5% average grade.

The winds started as the terrain flattened onto the Plains- which begin in eastern Colorado.  Winds can be 40+ mph, which would have made cycling nearly impossible if they were crosswinds.  Fortunately,  I didn’t encounter anything nearly that bad, but the wind did add to the challenge of riding all day.

I received texts from both my co-worker Pam Baker and her husband- who sponsored Kansas- right as I crossed the state line and took pictures for them.  It was very cool that people were watching that closely!

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The Kansas-Colorado border- notice how the wind is blowing my TDSU17 banner.

Today felt like a short day, stopping after less than 8 hours of riding, but I had surprisingly few options to stay for the night in western Kansas.  I was able to find a motel in Colby, the largest town (population 5400) I passed through in 120 miles of riding today.  It was one of the worst places I stayed, but what can you expect for $45?  I could have stayed in better, but with so many nights on the road, I couldn’t justify $100+ a night for something like a Holiday Inn Express that I’d be in for only a few hours.

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Yep, it’s windy, just as expected.

I rode and rode all day, and there’s not much else to add.  My biggest challenge ended up not being wind or monotony, but dealing with saddle sores.

 

Day 14: Colby, KS -> Minden, NE; almost halfway done!

Day 14 took me through the northwest corner of Kansas and into Nebraska- more pedaling all day with little to break up the monotony.  But I was grateful at the same time- cities made for slower progress and so I was able to make good mileage every day.

As I looked at the results after the ride, I discovered that I averaged 155 miles per day in a 4 day stretch through Kansas and Nebraska.  Before the ride, I didn’t expect to have more than 1 day in the entire ride over 150 miles.

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Sunrise on the prairie- with the ever ubiquitous grain elevator

 

 

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Watching the sun rise over the prairie- love the early morning time

I also traded texts with my co-workers Jason and Michael as they drove to Emporia, Kansas, only a few hundred miles away, for the Dirty Kanzaa 200.  DK is a 200 mile, 1 day bike race- nearly all of it on gravel roads.  Insane!  I distinctly remember laughing out loud at Jason’s text back: “You are kicking ass!” (hope that doesn’t offend anyone).

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Plus there are always interesting sights no matter where you are (I love traveling in general), from grain elevators to planes on trains:

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The pile of grain looked monstrous in person

I made many short stops- such as this roadside park, which often led to spontaneous conversations.  More than one person immediately guessed that I was riding across the country.  I passed out business cards for TDSU17, but I don’t think any of them generated donations.

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I stopped for the night at Pioneer Village in Minden and got a note from Pat Morrissey- a co-worker who came here as a child and whom I’d see in a few days when I got to the Quad Cities.  The accommodations were dingy.  It’s not a good sign when a 100+ room motel has no more than 3-4 guests- but I was only there a few hours.

The winds were strong at times but manageable.  I was now well on my way to getting past the last major geographic hurdle.  The Appalachians would be a hurdle, but a much smaller one, especially coming just a few days from the end when adrenaline and the excitement of the finish would carry me over.

In this section, I also saw the first sign of Indianapolis- literally:

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Dinner was a small, local grocery store.  It actually was a great option- for about $20, I had plenty to eat (including my usual 2 desserts!), plus I could rest and eat at the same time.

By the end of the day, I had covered 160 miles for the day and 1762 miles total- just about halfway already!  As I reflect back, it was probably around here that I gradually gained confidence that- barring a crash or other unforeseen incident- I’d finish the ride, and maybe even close to the planned schedule.

Day 15: Minden -> Lincoln -> Gretna, NE; clicking away miles in Cornhusker country

My original planned stop was Warmshowers in Lincoln, but it fell through when the host’s mother passed away a few days ahead.  I had already shipped supplies (Clif bars and energy food), so I stopped to pick them up and they cheerfully filled my water bottles also.  They even offered to let me camp in their yard, but I wasn’t carrying camping gear.  The hospitality displayed even while the family was dealing with their loss was yet another small but significant act of kindness I was grateful for.

While navigating through Lincoln, I did enjoy a fantastic network of bike trails.  Lincoln was one of the larger cities that I went directly through (probably only Chicago was larger).  I could have stopped in Lincoln for a 150ish mile day but found an inexpensive Super 8 motel northeast of the city and decided to keep going.  I’m glad I did.

I only took about 25 pictures in the entire states of Kansas and Nebraska, despite ~450 miles of riding.  The view most all day long was the pretty much unchanged.  But it did get hilly in eastern Nebraska.  The Warmshowers host had given me detailed input on my route, so I could bypass a hill that local cyclists used for training.  Good advice!  A steep hill at the end of a long day would not have put a smile on my face!

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Hilly terrain (worse than it looks) near Lincoln
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One of my favorite pictures of the entire ride- a small hilltop church outside of Lincoln, near the end of a long day.

180 miles at over 15mph was the second longest ride of my life.  I realized later that the 2 highest mileage days of the ride were back to back: 340 miles in 2 days.

It was an improvised route with an improvised stop for the night that couldn’t have turned out any better.

 

Day 16: Gretna, NE -> Winterset, IA; rolling thru the Iowa hills

After a bit of a late start (740am) after 2 long days, I skirted Omaha for about 20 miles before crossing the Missouri River into Iowa- which was sponsored by my co-worker Chris Hruska and his wife Amy (Iowa natives).

The welcome sign says “Fields of Opportunity”.  Fields are right.  Fields of grass that could use mowing!

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Surprisingly (to me at least), today would turn out to be the 3rd hilliest day of the ride with 6700ft of climbing.  And hard- instead of the Rockies with long climbs where I could get into a low gear and chug away rhythmically, in Iowa it was constant up and down.  My SRAM eTap electronic drivetrain monitors all kinds of data, including battery level and shifting.  Today, I shifted over 2000 times!

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Look at the difference between Colorado and Iowa, despite a total elevation change (climbing) that was within a few hundred feet.  Completely different days!  Even with the high altitude, Colorado was much easier.

 

Iowa elevation map
Iowa elevation map- 6725ft of ascent
CO elevation
Colorado elevation map (Day 10)- 6070ft of ascent

I stopped to air up my tubeless tires at a small bike shop, just off a short section of rail-trail in the little town of Silver City:

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I had chosen Zipp’s first carbon tubeless wheels for the ride, and it was one of the best decisions I made.  I could get low on air, but still ride.  I made it through the entire ride across America on all kinds of roads with zero- zero- flat tires.  That’s unbelievable to most people (including myself).

 

Day 17: Winterset -> Columbus Jct, IA; long, lonely days are coming to an end

I seemed to encounter little rivers and streams every morning that very briefly broke up the monotony of the ride- this wasn’t the most scenic of them, but provided an excuse for a quick stop:

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Today was another sort of milestone day.  After 16 days of solo riding, I had company to look forward to in the days ahead.  In fact, after seeing friends only once (in Colorado Springs) since Day 2 , I would see or ride with friends for the next 6 straight days.  Not since the short stint with a stranger on Day 2 had I ridden with anyone else.  My co-worker Pat was joining up tomorrow, then into Chicago to meet WBR colleagues, then the ride through Indy where I knew I’d have a crew of friends to ride with, then family in Ohio.

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the rolling hills of Iowa- hillier than it looks. Up, down, up, down. All day.

I continued to receive encouraging texts on most days from friends and co-workers- here’s just one:

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That was a huge mental lift when they popped up on my Garmin as I rode.  It was like a little tailwind.  My co-worker, Scott, who sent this one also saw me stopped for a while in the middle of nowhere, and sent a note checking if I was ok.  It was just a mid-afternoon rest stop, but again a nice thought that people were keeping an eye out for me.

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A little shade is a huge pick-me-up for quick rest stops.

The hotel was another poor one- the room # written on the door in magic marker is not a sign of a high class place!  But it was clean enough, another dinner from a local grocery store, and just keep moving.

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One of the very few times I took a few minutes (literally- about 5) to play tourist- at a historic swinging bridge:

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Next up: Illinois, Indiana, and lots of familiar, friendly faces

5 days in Colorado

Day 9: Mancos -> Durango -> Pagosa Springs, CO; Day 5/7 in the mountains- hard climbing but so beautiful

Today turned out to be the shortest day of TDSU17, just 92 miles.  I considered adding a few more to get to 100, but it was a windy day, and I managed to stay focused on the ultimate goal of riding across the US- not 28 straight 100 mile days.  But I was tempted!

I only rode for 8 hours today, limited once again by available towns for stops.  After Pagosa Springs, the next town large enough to have a hotel or Warmshowers host was 50 miles away, seperated by the Continental Divide.

I enjoyed coffee and homemade granola with Kenny & Patsy Smith before I pulled myself away from Mancos.  Here’s one last picture as I climbed up to almost 8,000ft- just 7 miles into the day:

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The view is definitely worth the effort- and taking a few minutes to stop, even with many miles to go.

Today’s ride featured 3 big climbs, and the first time above 8000ft on the ride.  Here’s the elevation profile-

Day 9 elevation

Kenny warned me as I got up that it was chilly out, and he was right.  I started the morning with leg warmers for first time as the temperature dropped below 40F.  Tailwinds most of the day didn’t help much, and by day’s end, I had averaged 11.7mph- one of 3 days under 12mph.

With a shorter day, I made an impromptu detour in Durango to see the town briefly- and reserved a hotel as I sat on a bench outside the Silverton-Durango Scenic Railroad for the following night when a Warmshowers stop fell through.  I texted this picture to my Uncle Pete- a railroad enthusiast- and he quickly responded that he’s ridden it.  That would be fun!

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Durango-Silverton Railway station

The sight of this bike path is part of what motivated me to detour through Durango:

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downtown Durango

Pictures tell the story- mountain peaks and valleys, green landscape, and streams.  Late spring was a great time to be riding- not too hot and warm enough after the cool start.  The roads were so-so.  I was forced to stay on US and state highways to avoid meandering.  Backroads would certainly have been even more scenic with much less traffic- but I didn’t have time for the miles that would have added.

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A frequently seen sign through Colorado- the benefit of the work of the climb is the speed of the descent:

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My view for most of the day- beautiful mountain lakes and peaks
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Not a bad place for a quick lunch break!

My stop for the night was a Warmshowers stop with Deni and Marlin.  I arrived with no one home, but a note on the door and towels waiting.  Amazing!  Dinner included a diverse conversation with their friend Dean, a  Unitarian Minister- which he called “the most liberal of Protestant demoninations”.

 

Day 10: Pagosa Springs-> Wolf Creek Pass/Continental Divide -> Salida, CO;

My Warmshowers host was still sleeping but left me cereal for breakfast- a typical example of the hospitality and friendliness of Warmshowers.  With a long day ahead including a climb of 4000ft over the Continental Divide, I was up and riding at 520am.  This morning was easily the coldest of the ride, with temps in the mid-30’s.  That’s generally not especially cold for me, but I was freezing as I descended several hundred feet before beginning the climb.  I was anxious for sunshine and hard climbing in order to warm up.

After a quick photo stop at a waterfall at the base, I started up:

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It took about 2 ½ hours to make the 8 mile climb to Wolf Creek Pass and the Continental Divide.  By the time I reached the top, I had ridden only 30 miles in 4 ½ hours!

As I slowly rode up, a lady in a parked car at a turn off yelled encouragement to me.  When I reached the top, a runner came striding up to the car she was in (obviously his wife or girlfriend).  There’s always someone doing something more extreme- running up the Continental Divide!

The top of the Continental Divide was definitely one of the highlights of riding across America.  I met an extended family who took these pictures and we chatted about my ride.  As we finished, one of the aunts told me a story of her father fighting in WWII and coming home safely.  She said they always felt he was protected by a “guardian angel” and then gave me a medallion to pray for safety.  It was a touching moment with total strangers.

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Then it was time to head down the mountain- and I was extremely cold again with the wind on the descent.  The data tells the story- the bottom plot is cadence.  After a steady grind of 50-60rpm up the mountain for 2+ hours, I wasn’t pedaling at all for about 5-6 miles.

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Although today was a much longer day, I was desperate for “real food” and started looking for breakfast.  I hoped for a good option in South Fork, but had to continue another 15 miles and finally found The Mystic Biscuit in Del Norte.  But there were no biscuits!  That would have been great.  And on Sunday at noon, no breakfast (my favorite cycling meal).  I had to settle for salad, roast potatoes, and toast.  But I enjoyed the respite and chatted with the cook owner for a bit.  Then it was time for another 75 miles to Salida- which didn’t sound so bad, but seemed longer.

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Leaving US160, which had carried me over 350 miles through Arizona, the 4 Corners, and well into Colorado.
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Breakfast at The Mystic Biscuit.
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Del Norte, CO- with a bike lane for the entire 4 block downtown! Nice!

 

I also crossed the Rio Grande River as it headed south:

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As often happened during the ride, I received texts from friends and co-workers.  Today (Sunday afternoon), I received one from my co-worker Rex just as I stopped to take a couple pictures- so I was able to respond which I often couldn’t.

The San Luis Valley was breathtakingly beautiful- snow capped peaks all around.  Again, pictures tell the story.  I rode and rode, and absolutely reveled in the scenery:

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The 38th Parallel- which I’ve visited in Korea- so had to stop for a quick pic.
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Panoramic view of the San Luis Valley, south of Salida

 

Surprisingly, the #1 reason that people don’t finish endurance events is not conditioning or muscle fatigue.  Surveys I’ve seen show that “intestinal distress” is easily the top cause.  Although I had few problems during my ride, today I did.  I went too long without eating and took a short break on the side of the road to wolf down a Clif pouch of sweet potatoes and some applesauce.  Not a good combination….

I enjoyed a tailwind and got down in my aero bars and felt like I was making good speed for what seemed like 2-3 hours.  I was thinking that Salida, my stop for the night, had to be no more than 20 or so miles away, which always felt like a good milestone to reach each day.

Then I saw a mileage sign: 45 miles to go….  It was perhaps the single most discouraging mental moment of the ride. I often hit a point each day that I thought to myself “I’m ready to be done”.  This was that point, but still had well over 3 hours and one more mountain pass to go.

The climb to Poncha Pass was gradual but long- only 1200 ft but continuous for 25 miles, exacerbating the feeling of slow progress.

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Looks flat, but falsely so- there’s a pass to cross over those mountains

My stop was brief as I realized that I had now bicycled up to 9000ft for the 3rd time in my life- and 2nd time today!  (the 3rd was Pikes Peak in 2014).

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Warmshowers had fallen through, which probably was good as I didn’t arrive at my hotel- the Colorado Lodge- until about 8pm after 14 hours on the bike.  Dinner was a local restaurant “The Bounty” but portions weren’t “bountiful” and service was poor.  I definitely needed an all you can eat buffet.

 

Day 11: Salida to Colorado Springs, CO; SRAM stop #2- COS Development Center

Breakfast at the hotel didn’t start until 7am, so I made do with buffalo jerky purchased at a roadside stand in Arizona, Clif Oatmeal, and breakfast biscuits before starting to ride at about 615am.

I took few pictures as my phone didn’t charge- but this was one of the most beautiful stretches of the ride, through canyon country.

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Gorgeous scenery, twisty roads, and rolling hills- riding doesn’t get much (any?) better!

I kept my phone off but kept being tempted to stop for a quick photo.  Among the sites today were riding past Royal Gorge where I’d gone white water rafting a couple years ago.  I made good time and was in Canon City by 945- so I stopped at the Big Daddy Diner for a huge breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, potatoes, and French toast as I wrote out notes for the first 10 days of the ride, then found an AT&T store open on Sunday to get a new phone cable.

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Although I loved riding in the mountains, as I continued to Colorado Springs, I had to endure a tough stretch on CO115 of rolling hills gradually up to 6000+ feet with some headwind and lots of traffic.

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Oops! My route sent me onto Ft. Carson- civilians not permitted! Grab the phone and find an alternate route,

Finally I made it into “the Springs”, and was met by my co-worker Ed Herrington.  Here’s what Ed did for me:

  • Tracked my progress via my Quarq Qollector gps and texted directions when my route went askew
  • Met me at the SRAM office to take pictures as I rode in and posted them to Facebook
  • Helped me install new tires
  • Found a good place for dinner
  • Gave me a comfy bed at his house to sleep in
  • Let me do laundry

All of this on his day off (Memorial Day).  Then he fed me breakfast, plus granola for the road, drove me back to the office (the one and only time I was in a car during the ride) to get some brake engineers to inspect my brakes (sort of important on a 3000+ mile ride with well over 100,000 feet of descending), and took more pictures as I headed out of town.  All of this as he closed up his house and then left 2 days later to spend 2 months in Taiwan!  Amazing!  Thank you is so insufficient!

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With my bike and WBR’s Buffalo Bike- 112 of which were purchased through donations to TDSU17!

Pikes Peak- a beautiful sight in Colorado Springs:

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Day 12: Colorado Springs-> Kit Carson, CO; out of the Rockies & onto the Plains!

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What a tough view Ed endures when he drives to work….

I started the day at SRAM’s Colorado Springs office- on Tuesday morning after Memorial Day.  Not wanting to start much past 8am, I had a few co-workers join for pictures at the office:

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One last picture as I left Colorado Springs:

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Straightest section of the ride- 2 turns in 104 miles!:IMG_6446

The Mojave Desert, the Rocky Mountains, and wind were my 3 primary geographic obstacles- and now I’d overcome the 2nd of the 3!  The next obstacle was the Great Plains with the wind, but I also had monotony to deal with.  The longer the distance, the more mental the challenge becomes.

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2nd of today’s 2 turns

There were fewer pictures just because there wasn’t much different during the day.  But I did enjoy views over my shoulder of Pikes Peak- something I never tire of.

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One of my many quick picture stops was in Punkin Center, Colorado.  I had noticed it while route planning months earlier and texted a picture to my daughter, Jenna.  Why?  Her pet name growing up was… you guessed it, “Punkin”.

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This lonely tractor epitomized the plains states.  Not a soul in site, but well tended ground. IMG_6458

I also saw many of these 3-sided structures.  I couldn’t figure out their purpose until my Warmshowers host in Ohio educated me.  It’s a cattle shelter (from wind and snow).

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My stop for the night was in the tiny town of Kit Carson.  I was now 1600 miles and 12 days into the ride- perfectly on plan.  There were many more hotel options ahead and less certainty on the schedule the further into the ride I got, so this was the last pre-planned night.  It was also the first day with less than 2000ft of climbing.

The Kit Carson Inn is run by Pam & Shue.  Pam grew up in Indy and Shue in North Carolina, so that led to easy conversation.

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They have a special rate for cyclists ($40 per night instead of $60)- and told me of a 60 year cyclist who stayed with them the year before on his way from Key West to Anchorage.  Did I mention there’s always someone doing something more extreme?!

Today was my 5th and final night in Colorado- the most of any state during the ride.  It was an incredible feeling to have planned out the first 12 days and clicked them off to perfection, despite a few surprises.

Next up: onto the Plains of Kansas & Nebraska

Riding across America- through Arizona into Colorado

Day 5: Needles, CA -> Ash Fork, AZ; big #’s despite some self-induced adversity

Today was the earliest start of the ride- 345am!  With 160 miles planned- a distance I had only ridden twice before in my life (with far fewer hills both times)- the day had me rather intimidated in the days leading up to it.  The mileage estimate ended up being close- although I rode further on 2 later days.  Getting through today would be a huge confidence boost.

I encountered my first state welcome sign- where I planned to take photos for state sponsors.  In the dark, I couldn’t find the sign for California (sponsored by my awesome colleagues back in San Luis Obispo).  Arizona had to do.  I snapped a few photos- using my bike headlight for illumination- and watched where I stepped as I set up my bike and banner, snakes being ever present on my mind.  Notice anything missing in the photo?  Read on below….

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The long day started with a few flat miles- where I was tempted to add another 15 just to ride into Nevada (and changed my route back and forth several times as I planned it).  Without a Nevada state sponsor, I finally decided to stay focused on the end goal.  Then I began another big climb into Oatman, with a steady 3-5% grade for 1.5 hours.  Although it was cool in the early morning start, after a couple hours I reached for a drink- and immediately realized that I had left my 3 water bottles in the hotel refrigerator!  Not good.  I had about 50 oz of water in my Camelbak, so I wasn’t desperate, but this was my first adversity of the ride.  I knew there would be some.  Oatman is an old miner’s town, now a tourist stop, with nothing open until 830am.

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Wild donkeys on the road into Oatman

I couldn’t wait, so I continued to ride, and started another climb up to 3500ft at Sitgreaves Pass.

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Near the top of the climb to Sitgreaves Pass- I had just come up on the road in the background
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Almost to the top!  3000ft of climbing- before 7am!

As I staged my bike for pictures at the pass, I dropped it on a rock, dinging it up and scraping my leg.  On the toughest of days, frustration was mounting….  More adversity, 100% self-induced.

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Sitgreaves Pass- and one newly dinged up bike…

I enjoyed the descent, quickly found a bike shop on Google Maps at the next decent size town of Kingman and detoured to it.  I arrived only to find they had just 1 water bottle in stock!  But one of the funny stories of the ride came here.  I was oblivious to the fact that a donut shop was next to the bike shop.  As friends monitored my progress on my Quarq Qollector GPS tracking unit, they could see exactly where I was.  So most presumed that my stop was for a sugar hit!  So, of course, my “friends” had to post that to Facebook!

Continuing to lose time with the detour and unplanned stops, I made a spontaneous decision to ride onto I40 to try to save about 15 miles on Route 66.  That brought on yet more self-induced adversity.  The shoulder was far worse than in California, with ruts and debris.  I told myself that I had made a detailed plan with specific roads and was getting away from it.  Stick to the plan!  By the time I came to that realization, I was already several miles down I40, and couldn’t bring myself to backtrack.  Fortunately, the shoulder improved, but I40 was treacherous.  Several bridge closures narrowed the interstate to 1 lane in each direction.  I had to pick an opening in traffic, race across each bridge trying to beat overtaking traffic, then if it was too long, hold on carefully as traffic passed- sometimes only a few inches away- at 60+ mph.  I regretted my decision to take I40 but there was no way to back out.  It’s a good thing Alisa wasn’t watching this!

By the end of the day, I rode nearly 100 miles on I40- then the last 23 on Route 66 with rolling hills.  The day ended- as planned- in Ash Fork, Arizona- with 155 miles and over 9000ft of climbing.

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Long shadows at the end of the day

It was my 3rd longest ride ever and probably my most climbing ever in one day (I had similar in N Zealand several years ago but without a Garmin or accurate climbing data).  Then I had to ride about a mile- in the dark- to find dinner.  And I did find a great BBQ place.  I planned to get takeout and rest back at my hotel, but the hostess convinced me to stay and relax, even in my sweaty cycling kit.  That was a small pick-me-up for sure.  It was another small act of kindness, one of many that I experienced during this adventure.

I sat on the restaurant’s patio and went through my evening routine of reviewing the day’s route and pictures.  The Strava ride title was appropriate- adversity was definitely self-induced.  But I felt great, overcoming it all, and with a sense of satisfaction knowing that my coworkers would see the data and be- there’s no other way to say it- impressed!  Sharing accomplishments like these- with a sense of friendly competition, overcoming challenges, and offering encouragement- is what Strava is all about!

 

Day 6: Ash Fork -> Cameron, AZ; pseudo-recovery day at the Grand Canyon

After yesterday’s long day, today was shorter and one to look forward to- visiting the Grand Canyon by bike!  After a few hours of riding, I experienced a bicycling first- yawning and in need of a nap- that had never happened to me before during exercise.  So I stopped for one!  I laid down in the gravel- knowing that snakes could be laying hidden in the grass.

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Before I reached the Grand Canyon, however, 55 miles on AZ64 leading to it was absolutely one of the worst stretches of the entire ride.  I found Arizona drivers among the most dangerous to cyclists, giving little room.  The shoulder was a foot or 2 at most and sometimes only a few inches, with gravel and rumble strips.  Tour buses, cars, and RV’s sped by with inches to spare- even if there was no oncoming traffic.  It was definitely a gut-it-out stretch.

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Not the best stretch of road- and this was among the best shoulder conditions

Finally I made it safely to the Grand Canyon.  With 60 miles still to go for the day, my 3 photo stops were all very brief.  The Grand Canyon was scenic of course, but surprisingly busy in May.

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Just prior to the ride, a co-worker told me about a new website that shows an aerial view of your ride from Strava using Google Earth.  I wish I had a continuous feed from the entire ride, but one of the coolest segments was today’s at the Grand Canyon:

https://www.relive.cc/view/1004335683

As I rode, I watched my Garmin data showing my heart rate at 100-110 bpm (beats per minute) with a similar “PE” (Perceived Effort) as my normal 120-130.  I was concerned that fatigue was mounting and doubted if I could sustain the pace.  But fatigue leveled out the next few days, even with a much lower heart rate.

I had looked forward to the descent from the Grand Canyon a 3000ft drop over 30 miles.  But crosswinds and more dangerous drivers coming scaringly close slowed my pace considerably to mid-20’s mph.  At least the views were breathtakingly gorgeous, and I even varied my Clif Bar diet with some bison jerky from a roadside stand!

 

Day 7: Cameron -> Kayenta, AZ; an authentic recovery day aided by a gorgeous tailwind

You might think that I slept soundly every night, but the combination of middle of the night hunger, restless legs, and a different bed for 30 straight nights did not often lead to a good night’s sleep.  But this morning I woke up refreshed and feeling great.  My stop for the night was the Cameron Trading Post- an old Indian trading post restored and turned into a hotel and restaurant.

Although I was rested, I soon had another issue to deal with.  My iPhone was not charging and with the hotel not opening until 7, I decided to get moving.  I was heavily dependent on my phone- for taking pictures, monitoring weather, plotting route changes, finding food and water, and later in the ride, finding nightly accommodations, not to mention keeping in touch with family and posting progress updates to social media.

Not far into the day, I modified the route based solely on sight and instinct.  My planned route went onto a small gravelly side road.  The spontaneous decision was a good one this time, as the smooth pavement continued and soon met up again with my planned route.

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The lonely West
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Quiet roads early in the morning

After nearly a week on the road, I was finally able to enjoy the first real tailwind as I headed east.  As I rode, I saw a sign for Denny’s.  Normally I couldn’t care less, but have never been so excited to see one.  With only about 100 miles today, I easily had time for an hour break.  Breakfast can be a great meal for long distance cycling.  Oatmeal, pancakes, toast, eggs, and coffee were all filling and easy on the stomach.  This was my first real breakfast since Day 1 (the previous day’s breakfast was a couple Clif bars while leaning against a guardrail on I40):

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Breakfast on I-40

This section of the ride took me into Navajo and Hopi country.  A t-shirt worn by a Native American at the Denny’s read “American Original Homeland Security.  Since 1492”, with an image of “1880’s” armed Indians.  That really struck me, and made me think about the oppression that Native Americans have endured.

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A common site in the West- cattle grates- safe as long as you stay perpendicular

Today, I noticed my heart rate had stabilized- a good sign that fatigue had leveled off.

I made it 100 miles to Kayenta- another time of limited options to stop- so I took advantage of it to get some additional rest.  Confession: today I did ride 1.5 extra miles to get to 100 for the day- and try to get a picturesque shot to end the day (but failed).  I got my phone fixed (simple reset) and called Alisa- see my story from an earlier post.  Dinner was a disappointingly bland pizza at the Hampton Inn where I was staying.  Another day was done, and although I had ridden 100 miles, I was able to get some recovery with the Rocky Mountains looming.

 

Day 8: Kayenta, AZ -> 4 Corners-> Mancos, CO; long day with more climbing ahead

There is definite beauty in the desert, but I was looking forward to the end of the monotony of brown colors and lonely areas.   Today had a lot to look forward to- riding into Colorado and another Warmshowers stop after several nights of hotels and a short detour to 4 Corners, which I reached after 78 easy miles.  I made brief stops at both the 4 Corners Monument and the Colorado Welcome sign- for my Christian Cycling sponsors.  I had to improvise when I stopped at state welcome signs, using bungee cords to hold my TDSU17 sign, but at more popular areas there were always willing photographers to take pictures for me.

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As I began a slow climb over 30-40 miles into Colorado- from the lowest point of the day at the border crossing the San Juan River- the desert slowly turned from brown to green.  Although I had several days of hard climbing ahead, I love Colorado and felt rejuvenated by the spectacular scenery.

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I took another nap and rode the 57 miles from 4 Corners to Mancos, up to the highest elevation for a nightly stop on the ride- exactly 7000 feet.

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I could seee this rock formation from miles off- at the intersection with US491

As I headed out of Cortez on US160 in the late afternoon, I was in my normal rhythm riding along in my aerobars, only looking perhaps 10 feet ahead.  Suddenly, I saw a snake stretched out sunning itself on the shoulder.  With no time to react, I ran over it, striking it just behind its head.  I immediately thought “rattlesnake?”- and turned around.  Not wanting to get within 10 feet at most, I snapped a few somewhat fuzzy pictures as it coiled up, obviously not killed by my running over it.  Of all the individual stories of riding across America, this one has probably turned out to be the most popular!  I had to wait until I could show my pictures to others, who were certain they saw rattles, to confirm it was a rattlesnake.

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By the end of TDSU17, the ride synopsis became 3600 miles in 28 days, over 1 million pedal strokes- and 1 rattlesnake encounter!

I finished the climb into Mancos, for my overnight stop with Kenny and Patsy Smith.  They aren’t on Warmshowers, but I was referred to them by a Warmshowers host who was out of town.  Kenny and Patsy are an amazing couple and one of best nights of the ride- maybe the best but I don’t want to offend anyone!  They cooked a fantastic dinner of grilled burgers, fresh vegetables from their garden, and a tasty microbrew.  Through dinner and the evening, they asked about my ride and shared stories of their own adventures from rafting trips to off road bike races, and were simply a delight to spend time with (this coming from someone is definitely an introvert).

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Another sight of the day was riding past the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park- which I visited years ago.  Kenny and Patsy told me to come back with my family and they’d give me a personal tour.  I can’t wait to take them up on their offer!

I also have to repeat a story from Kenny that I included in my “what did you learn?” question on my FAQ post earlier in this blog.  Speaking of his and Patsy’s 16-day rafting trip, Kenny told me “you won’t be the same person after this trip”.  I looked at him and didn’t really understand.  He went on to say “you’ll face many different conditions, adversity and fatigue and you’ll get through them all.  You will discover that you can overcome anything”.  I thought a lot about Kenny’s comments the rest of the ride.  He was absolutely right.  I’ve always been a “can do” type of person, and pride myself on finding ways around obstacles, and consider that one of my leadership abilities.  But the ride took it to an entirely other level.  I never feel powerless, and having overcome the challenge of riding across the USA, I know that there is virtually nothing I can’t do.  It’s all a decision on whether I want to badly enough.  The same goes for you!

Like so often occurred during the ride, I hated to leave Mancos, but this wasn’t a vacation.  More climbing loomed in the next few days, including up and over the Continental Divide, but it was mentally encouraging to see the lush landscape- I simply love time in the mountains.

Next up: over the Continental Divide and into COS (Colorado Springs)

TDSU17 begins- across California

Tour de SRAM USA 2017- awesome prologue, Avila Beach to SLO office

(click the headline links to see daily route details and more photos on Strava)

TDSU17 started with a flight from Indy through Denver and San Francisco to San Luis Obispo, California.  I’d been in southern California many times, but never SLO.  I can’t say enough about my SRAM teammates in SLO.  Pancho Herrara, one of our Engineering Tech’s there, assembled my bike after I shipped it out, fixed a couple of small issues and made sure it was ready to ride, picked me up at the airport in the evening, publicized the ride with the office and local bike organizations, and arranged for a group ride to start TDSU17.    Thanks Pancho and crew!!

Coincidentally, I started the ride on National Bike to Work Day (always the 3rd Friday in May).  Pancho promoted it as the nation’s longest bike commute: California to Indianapolis!  The anticipation was building as I got up in the morning- the moment had arrived!  Before I left Indy, I posted this message to Facebook, which summarized how I felt.  The SRAM crew picked me up for a 20 minute car ride to Avila Beach- my last time in a car for weeks.  The anticipation continued to build as we arrived at the beach a little before 7am.  Here are pictures that my coworkers took as I walked out on the beach, and performed the cross-country ride ritual of dipping my rear wheel in the Pacific Ocean:

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My SRAM SLO teammates, who went out of their way to join me at the beach for the start of TDSU17!
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Karen, our HR Manager, picked Pancho and me up and took the photos.
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The official TDSU17 Start photo.

We had a leisurely ride on SLO’s bike paths into downtown, to a Bike to Work day event.  I got a chance to chat with a few people, one of whom told me that he had a buddy holed up in Colorado near where I would pass through, waiting out a winter storm that made riding impossible.  Fortunately, I had about 10 days before I’d get there, and timed my trip perfectly.  I had an impromptu TV interview at Bike to Work day event- but only a single line was included.

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Roger Cook shows off a no-handed group selfie on the SLO bikepath, as the rest of us follow him to the office.

Another few miles of riding took us to the SLO office, where I changed clothes, and worked for a few hours catching with both familiar colleagues and meeting new people, and seeing their awesome facility.  Finally, about 11am, Pancho- looking out for me- pushed me out the office and sent me on my way.  TDSU17 was truly underway!  I was a bit casual- but still had over 100 miles to ride that day.

 

Day 1, SLO > Santa Barbara, a perfect start: camaraderie, scenic, and an easy peasy 120 miles

The first day was full of beautiful scenery as headed south on CA 1 & US101.  Of the entire ride, this section ended up being one of my favorites.  I passed through agricultural fields growing lettuce, cauliflower, and other crops on many lower traffic roads.  But I also shared the road with trucks that had just picked up those crops.

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The first of many, many impromptu photo stops. Beautiful and not too hot.
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Harvesting cauliflower. Or was it lettuce?
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US101 heading into Santa Barbara- beautiful road and scenery.

As I rode on the shoulder of US101, I could see someone in the distance on a bike with packs.  I caught up quickly, and called hello as I passed.  Then I realized that the cyclist didn’t appear to speak English.  There was barely a grunt of recognition as I eventually passed 3 of what appeared to be Korean bike tourists.  Further along on 101, I came across one of my pre-ride nightmares- snakes on the highway.  Flip ahead to Day 8 for my rattlesnake encounter!  But on this day, most of the snakes were clearly dead, though a couple weren’t flat and I didn’t slow down to see if any were moving.  I knew I’d have to dodge potholes and road debris, but dodging snake carcasses wasn’t something I anticipated.

As I rode into Santa Barbara, the roads were busy, but there were plenty of bike lanes.  Jim S, who had emailed me before the ride about joining up, rode along for a few miles.  He hadn’t made hotel plans yet, and my hotel was full, so he continued on after I stopped.  I had planned on a Warmshowers stop for this first night, but a few days before the ride, that fell through.  Fortunately, I found a comfortable HI Express, and was even able to use points to stay.  Although I wanted to limit how much I spent on accommodations, having a relaxed first night as I got into the groove of riding all day, every day was a blessing in disguise.  I found a small Italian restaurant for dinner less than a block away, and enjoyed the many encouraging Facebook posts I had received.

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downtown Santa Barbara near where I stopped for the night- bustling on a Friday evening in May.

Day 2: Santa Barbara -> Lancaster; right on schedule

Day 2 started a little before 6am, leaving some ride brochures at the hotel, spreading the message of my ride and The Power of Bicycles.  I took a few minutes to get some pictures at Stearns Wharf before I headed down the coast.  This was a common theme of the ride- always quick stops for pictures, but never enough time, with about 120 miles to go for the day.

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Stearns Wharf- which I’d seen on maps and looked interested, so I rode out onto it.

This was a day of contrasts, from the Pacific Ocean into the outskirts of the Mojave Desert.  I rode along the coast for about 30 miles before turning inland and east.  Bikeways along the coast and on the highways were a pleasant surprise. Here’s a video of one.  Day 2 had some anticipation with meeting up with my old boss from my Remy days, Rick Huibregtse.  I passed his surfing spot and he caught up I headed for my first big climb of about 2000ft over 15 miles, up to 3400ft of elevation.  I got a bit off course riding with my first and only impromptu ride partner.  Chris pulled me (cycling term for leading and my drafting behind him to save energy) about 10 miles into Santa Clarita.

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Chris- my sole impromptu ride partner- who pulled up beside me on CA135 and pulled me into Santa Clarita.

By the time Rick pulled up behind me on his motorcycle- the first time I’d seen him in 6 or 7 years- I had missed my last opportunity for water, which I desperately needed 90 miles and 7 hours into the day, as temperatures neared triple digits and with 30-40 miles still to go.  Rick turned around and played water courier- I was so grateful!  It was a neat moment of the ride as we chatted for a half hour or so under a shady tree:

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Rick and my bikes along with much needed liquids

I encountered a dust devil- unfortunately too quickly for a picture (search Google Images to see one)- which was a first.  The climb into Lancaster, California up Bouquet Canyon Road (love some of the names I saw!) wasn’t bad at 3-6% with periods of shade and was a good warm-up for the days in the Rockies ahead.

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The first big climb, on Bouquet Canyon Rd- notice the 4×4’s coming down the mountain.

Rick was also good counsel in his advice to watching for snakes whenever I stopped….  Day 2 concluded with my 1st Warmshowers stay.  I met Steve Pritchett, an unassuming doctor and we had a great conversation, a tasty dinner and beer and he offered for me to do laundry, which was perfect and saved so much time.

 

Day 3: Lancaster -> Ludlow, CA; into the Mojave

Day 3 began early to beat the desert heat.  Dr. Steve got up before 4am to make coffee and feed me some cereal before I headed out.  I can’t say enough about Warmshowers and the experiences.  It’s definitely a “pay it forward” model- people opening their homes to fellow bike adventurers, with nothing but conversation in return.  I was on the bike and rolling before 5am, and enjoyed the cool desert morning- below 50F according to my Garmin but probably not quite that cool.  There were virtually no cars as I got down into the aero bars and rode smooth roads into the desert.

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Day 3 saw my first gravel and dirt roads, and I’ll admit I was bit concerned for a while.  I couldn’t scout (via Google Maps Streetview) every mile of road for my route, so I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into.  But I could see towns in the distance and with plenty of water, pushed ahead until I hit solid pavement again after maybe a dozen miles of gravel & sand.

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I crested Shadow Mtn- another climb up to 3500ft after dropping to about 2000ft in Lancaster.  One of the memories from this day was a sign for Edwards AFB- the initial landing spot for the Space Shuttles.  The day continued through Barstow and onto my first section of Interstate 40 and Route 66 to Ludlow.

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Route 66 is a well known and published bike touring route, although I didn’t encounter any other cyclists.
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First “Share the Road” sign I’ve ever seen on an interstate.

Here’s video from riding on Route 66.

This day- like many out west- was limited by available stops.  I covered almost 130 miles in 8.5 hours of riding and arrived in Ludlow by 3pm.  I could have ridden longer- except that signs on I-40 clearly stated that the next town was 50 miles away!  So this was a stop I had planned months in advance.  My accommodations for the night were the Ludlow Inn- with a “front desk” at the Chevron station next door.

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The Ludlow Inn- my stop on Day 3

No wifi meant a delayed ride posting, but for $49 can you complain?  And I was now over 500 miles into the ride and perfectly on schedule.

I met up with Jim at the Ludlow Café, which gave us our first chance to chat for long and his desire to ride across country.  His story was compelling as a 56 year old cancer survivor.  I admire his resolve, and although Jim texted me on Day 4 that he was dropping out for several reasons, he continued to follow my progress and offered encouragement right to the end of TDSU17.  I hope he accomplishes his dream some day, as I did.

 

Day 4, Ludlow->Needles, CA; hard day of heat, hills, & headwinds but thru the Mojave right on track

Day 4 began early, on the bike and rolling at 4am, on what I anticipated would be the hottest day of the ride.  Which it was, topping at 103F by day’s end at just 230pm.

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Leaving Ludlow well before dawn

After about 10 miles of slightly rolling terrain, I sort of enjoyed a long descent- nearly 20 miles!- into the Mojave Desert, down to only about 600ft above sea level.  I only sort of enjoyed it because even a 3 LED, 1200 lumen headlight didn’t let me see far enough ahead to allow speeds over 30mph.  Fortunately the asphalt was fresh and smooth, which helped.  In daylight, I’m sure I would have sustained mid-30’s mph for a half hour.

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Sunrise in the Mojave- desolate but beautiful (and best time to be riding).
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Other than the road, barely a sign of humanity in sight.

After a few sunrise pictures (see video here) in the desert, I began one of the biggest climbs of the ride, about 2500ft over 2.5 hours in the desolate Mojave.  I reached the top of the climb as the temperature rose above 80F.  As I did many times, took a break under a highway overpass for shade, before I rolled onto my next stretch of I40 which I recorded here.

After 30 miles on I40-

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Surprisingly great riding on the interstate- wide shoulders well away from traffic and smooth pavement.

I got some strange looks as I rolled into an interstate rest area- not many bikes!- which was a key stop as I refilled my water bottles and Camelbak.  From preride research, I knew that I’d have my longest stretch of the ride between available water, about 75 miles, so getting past that was a key milestone.

But after each obstacle, there was always another as I hit a tough stretch of California state highway.  A headwind limited my speed to under 10mph for an hour and half.  I knew my route would turn east and away from the worst of the wind, and for what seemed like hours I kept watching for the road to turn.  I think I was to the point of practically begging for the turn.  Where could it be?!  Finally it did, and my speed doubled to the high teens.  Despite my “it doesn’t get harder, you just go slower” mantra- which applies to hills and headwinds- going so slow is not much fun.  Winds are far worse, with gusts and unpredictability, and are mentally draining on the bike.

Another few miles on I40 brought me into Needles as the temperature went above 100F.  I found my stop for the day, a Best Western, and felt very strange laying down to rest at 230pm.  But it was a wise move, not burning myself out with many more long days ahead.  Covering 115 miles was only 10-15 below my daily average on the hottest day of the ride.  Knowing that the next morning would be another early start, I had dinner at Subway at 430pm, and enjoyed some recovery time.

Going into TDSU17, I knew I’d have many unknowns such as weather and traffic, but I felt I had 3 main geographic obstacles: the heat of the Mojave, the climbing in the Rockies, and the potential winds in the Plains.  Just 4 days into the ride, I now had 1 of those obstacles behind me!

Next up: into Arizona