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!

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