Wednesday, July 30, 2008
(photos: ferry schedule; aquatic option; entrance to Public Library in downtown Sandusky)
(photos: early morning barn view; state line - as good as it gets on a county road system; afternoon barn; court house in downtown Napoleon)
Members of the Kendallville Parks and Rec dept prepared breakfast for us at a pavilion in the campground. Pancakes were on the griddle at 6. Juice, coffee, eggs and bacon were also on the menu. Nice to have a change from our standard morning camp fare. It took awhile for everyone to show up as some watches and alarms hadn't been adjusted for the hour time change that bopped us on the head at the end of the ride yesterday.
I left camp a bit before 7. Nice rollers in the early morning air. A bit of fog for the first 20 miles - but more picturesque than concealing. Stopped in Butler for some oatmeal and coffee at a local cafe. I was halfway through my bowl when a clutch of other Riders showed up, doubling the occupancy of the place within minutes. About 5 miles outside of town, I encounted a very low-profile state-line indicator. No big Welcome To or Sorry You're Leaving signs out here on County Road 28.
In the next town of Bryan (mile 40),. I ran into Tracy and Rosie. They were snacking in the sun at the local Walgreen's. Cliff rode up within a few minutes. He mentioned word of a coffee shop that was a few blocks away - but he wanted to move on to the upcoming noted check point. However, the three of us, when hearing "coffee", had to go down the alley to investigate. A fine place it was - complete with religious undertones (poster and pamphlets). No matter. I ordered a tasty grilled sandwich and a V-8 for lunch. Rosie and Tracy went straight to the coffee. We had a great time there, and were even approached by a local retired teacher who gave us a donation to ALA after hearing about our intentions. When we re-emerged into the bright noon-day sun, we were immediately reminded of what non air-conditioned air feels like. It was hot! Putting-your-hand-in-the-clothes-dryer-at-the-end-of-the-Cottons-and-Heavy-Towels-cycle hot.
Rode on to the lunch stop check point. Not too compelled to make a sandwich - just wanted to keep going. The three of us continued over mostly flat rural roads. Arrived in Napoleon early afternoon. On our way through town, we passed a noted soft-serve ice cream establishment. Several Riders were already seated at the outdoor tables enjoying a treat. We joined them in the shade. I was getting antsy to get into camp so finished my orange slush and took off before the others. The final route segment followed the Maumee river and deposited me right at the Henry County Fairgrounds. It was still quite hot out, so I set up my tent to dry out. Grabbed my journal and rode into town to search for the local library. Found it - just within a few blocks of the eye-catching courthouse building. I asked a librarian where I might find some postcards of the area. She did some brainstorming, and then posed the question to some of her associates. Within a few minutes, calls were being made to various shops around town, the Wal-Mart, and the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber apparently had a few in stock and would stay open a few minutes past closing if needed. I thanked the search team and rode over to the CofC. Bought a few cards from the sole person in the office - a bit terse, who gave no indication of receiving the call. Rode back to camp in time for dinner. Our facilities for the evening included use of an large open-ended building. It was nice to have a enclosed eating area - however, we had company. Not many mosquitoes here - but the flies made up for them in spades. For dinner, Sharon and others grilled skewers of vegetables and some chicken. The cooler had a large bottle of white wine - a refreshing libation at the end of a hot day. The night air was heavy and just a few points cooler than during the day. Made for a restless, damp night of fitful sleep.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
(photos: find Stephanie among the sunflowers; Loretta and her helpers; Regina and her Snickerdoodle cookies)
In Lakeville (mile 47), I noticed a couple of outside of a small coffee shop to the right of a busy intersection. Saw Seattle's Best Coffee signs in the window. Bob and Kathleen had stopped and were enjoying ice cream (just 3 scoops for Bob) and a coffee drink (Kathleen). I went in, surveyed the options and ordered an espresso shake. What a great treat! The proprietress insisted that it be topped with whipped cream and drizzles of syrups. Well, if it would make YOU happy...
Rosie ordered a cold blended coffee drink - again, capped with calories. Quality refueling.
Stopped around mile 50 to make a sandwich at Mark's table - set up in a vacant lot. Didn't end up eating the pb&J until I reached camp. Too many other treats were coming up...
Around mile 61, we noticed an increased presence of Mennonite and Amish households/farms. Buggies on the road (or in driveways), work horses in small pastures, and orderly lines of simple clothing, flapping in the breeze on the clotheslines. We spied a small sign on the side of the road - Big Rider stop. Up ahead, Loretta Miller (a local Mennonite woman) along with 2 younger family members, had set up a table with homemade cookies, cold water, and ice cold milk. She was ready for us. All she asked in return was that we provide her with our names and addresses so that she could send us each a letter. "And you need to send me one back. That's all. Just one.". Gladly, just please pour me another cup of that cold milk.
Farther down the road, we noticed a sign - Spike's Woodworking. Rosie stopped to take a photo as she knows someone with that name. As soon as we pulled over, we noticed a little girl emerge for the house on the property, look at us, and run back inside. Shy one she was. But she quickly returned, running out to us with fresh snickerdoodle cookies in her hands - cookies that she had just made herself! We gratefully accepted them and asked if we could take her picture. Yes, that would be ok. Within a few minutes, Regina's entire family (2 sisters, a brother and her parents) had come out to the roadside to learn about our ride and to tell us a bit about themselves. We had a great time talking with them - and Doug and Patti rode up to see what was going on. A regular party!
Finally rolled into camp around 5 - but it was actually 6, as we had moved into another time zone.
Dinner was being prepared for us at a campsite pavilion by members of the Kendalville Park and Rec Dept. I quickly set up my tent, and went to eat dinner. Then took a shower and had a bit of leisure time in camp before it was time to crawl into the sack. A long day, but very enjoyable.
Made a few phone calls today. It was enjoyable to hear familiar voices and get caught up on family and friend news.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Managed to sleep most of the night, in spite of campground revelers and humid air. Camp breakfast included a bit of levity, probably due to the fact that we were approaching a layover day. Several rowdy Riders were compelled to make lots of noise while eating breakfast, hoping to "give back" to our noisy neighbors.
Rode out of camp with Rosie. At times met up with others along the way. Both of us looked in vain for a decent coffee stop or cafe as we pedaled along. Morning miles were spent on gently rolling hills or flats, interspersed with small towns. First water stop at mile 25 was next to a cornfield. Sharon embellished the usual snack fare with bags of Hostess Donettes! I find myself eating all SORTS of things that I would ordinarily scoff. When you are hungry, you are famished.
Rode on to town of Beecher (43) where Rosie and I went to McD's for ice water, soda, and ok, just 3 of those small chocolate chip cookies please. Lunch stop (mile 50 or so) outside of Reichert's Tavern, in the shade of some large trees. Sam joined us for the next leg, which culminated at a stop at Subway around mile 70. What started as a stop for a restroom, turned into a "it's just a 6" snack" break. Rosie and Sam decided to take their time for the final segment: I just wanted to get it over with. I took off and put my all into it - though my left quad was starting to get sore. Took a wrong turn at an intersection but realized my mistake only a mile into it. Right Turn at the T? Left Turn? It DOES make a difference.
Arrived at the designated dorm on the campus of Valparaiso University a bit before 4pm. Gladly checked into my room, set up my tent outside to air, and started to create the Layover Day Laundry pile. Re-charged appliances, and went to dinner at 6. Ate gobs of food just trying to fill the void. It's a good thing that cycling clothes are stretchy!
Managed to get onto a computer in the dorm lab and tapped the keys (doesn't that burn calories too?) until nearly 11pm.
With clean clothes (and bed sheet), review of my email, and fully juiced electronics, I could sleep well. And did.
I've had several conversations with other Riders lately about the concept of miles, and the definition of our days. Initially, the daily mileage on the cue sheet had a one-dimensional meaning: 60 miles - hmm, kind of like a training ride. Or, 100 miles - wow, I haven't done a century in a long time.
But we've come to find that our daily experience is defined by additional variables as well. The stated distance is but one factor. Others (of little or no concern to those traveling in vehicles) include:
- temperature range during the day
- wind - is it working for you or against you; does it change directions when you do?
- grade of the road - 100 miles on the level is quite different than 100 miles of rollers that remind you of ocean swells
- humidity level (including threat of rain or dramatic storms)
- road surface (the ones so far in Indiana are pitted, patched and unpredictable)
- presence (or lack) of shoulder - if no shoulder, do drivers skirt you or drive within inches of your handlebars?
- condition of shoulder (clean, or littered with broken glass, minimized by presence of a rumble strip?)
- food and drink ingested prior and during (in remote areas, this is limited to what you carry on the bike)
- unexpected problems with mechanics of bike - what IS that clicking noise?
- unanticipated problems with mechanics of rider - oh my aching kneecap
Whoever said that riding a bike was simple?
Up early for a good camp breakfast. Jim - who had scurried home for a night with his family - showed up bearing 3 boxes of fresh doughnuts. Early birds get the best ones. Packed up my tent and gear promptly, and checked around to make sure that I didn't leave anything behind. Nearly forgot my camelbak (for the 2nd day in a row). Rode out of camp with Janet, Rosie, Diana and Barb. Covered the first 30 miles of the day with them. In Malta (30), checked in at the water stop and then joined Jim and others at an adjacent cafe for some french toast. According to the meanu, loganberries were an optional addition. Yes please! But what was presented in a small cup next to the french toast was something that tasted very much like cranberry relish. Oh well. Fruit of some kind all the same.
Rode on to the lunch stop (around mile 50) with Jim, Doug, Brendan and Tony. How creative of Sharon to set up the table right next to, of all things, a cornfield. In fact, the truck was parked just off an intersection - and cornfields came to a point at all four corners. Made a sandwich to eat on the way, and left in the company of Janet, Rosie and Barb. A good part of this next section was basically flat - we were almost always bordered by fields of corn or soybeans. The sun broke through the morning haze, and it started to get hot. Our energy and sense of humor was being sorely tested. We stopped at around mile 75, under the shade of a large tree. Ate what we had, and assessed our water situation. Glad to find Nick at mile 80 with large containers of water and a laid-back attitude. Upon pulling out of that water stop, my determination was renewed. Barb mentioned that the next stop she wanted to make was our destination - where she could finally take off her bike shoes. I adopted this goal as my own and pulsed along the road. Where I found the energy (only some of it could have come from a 1/2 package of peanut M&M's which I quickly ate at a red light) is a mystery to me. The humidity in the air was like a damp towel that I couldn't shake off. But Barb and I pushed on. We finally arrived at the Coal City Area Club (weekend hangout for camp-loving locals), with Rosie and Janet close behind.
Sharon had set out some cheese and crackers, and out of the back of the truck, someone found a couple bottles of wine. Let me tell you - when you are dehydrated, you only need but one plastic cup of vino to forget the tedious aspects of the day! Dinner was prepared and served by a local catering group. They were astonished by how much, and how quickly we gobbled up pounds of pasta, and loaves of toasted garlic bread. As soon as they replenished the serving dishes, hungry Riders were lined up to empty them.
Returned to my tent to prepare for sleep. The air was very heavy and still. I retrieved a small paper plate from the back of the truck to use as a simply hand-fan. The inside of my zipped up tent felt like a steamroom. The ciciadas were VERY loud and their noise nearly drowned out the ruckas of the inhebriated campers parked just down the lane. What a day. What a night.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Left the campground around 6:30. Road construction in town created a few orientation challenges, but we made our way to the highway after obtaining new directions from a local. The morning air was wonderful as usual, and a thick fog enveloped us as we rode down into a valley. It almost felt as though a cool blanket was caressing my legs (perhaps it's time to get them waxed?). Descents and climbs over hill and dale. The fog eventually lifted to reveal blue skies. What a joy to ride in such surroundings and with such good conditions. Arrived in Richland Center around 9:30 and felt the need to refuel. Saw a couple of familiar bikes against the outside of a local cafe. Spied Tony and Brendon inside and went in to join them. A short stack and some juice were just the ticket. And I requested several glasses of ice water to fill my camelbak. Tony and Brendon departed, and other Riders came in the door within minutes. We simply used the one booth and swapped out seats. As I took off, someone else came in. Must have been an interesting sight for the other diners.
Continued out of town on Highway 14. I hadn't gone to far when I noticed a produce stand located up on the hillside of a roadside farm. I pedaled down the highway and then reconsidered. This is what the Ride is about: being There. I backtracked back to the driveway and rode up to the stand. A sweet young girl was there, more than willing to point out what was available. I asked her about the peaches. She assured me that they were ripe and quite good. I tried one at her suggestion - the juice ran down my arm faster than I could keep up with it. She charged me only 25 cents for the experience. Too good a deal. Bought and ate another. My presence was noticed by another Rider - Jim - who rode up the hill. He soon was engaged in hearing about the options from the young saleswoman...I hope that others stopped as well.
The route at this point was flat and hot. Continued on to the lunch stop check point at mile 52. Made and packed a sandwich. Jim caught up with me. And we encountered Patti at well. The three of us road together, off and on, for awhile. Pulled over to a gas station around mile 75 to eat my sandwich, and drink some cold apple juice. The remaining miles of the day seemed to take an inordinate amount of time. More hills came into play. Up and down. Drink and pant. Checking the cue sheet to make sure of the route. By this point, Patti and I were riding together. We carefully manoevered our way through Madison given the multitude of directions. It was not fun to be back among the density of cars and trucks in a suburban setting. Traffic lights - what a drag. We finally made it to Lake Farm Park. Sharon was there with the truck and all bags had been unloaded. She set out some great snacks including italian ice cups.
The campsite was in a lovely setting - and the park is only 4-5 miles (mostly on a bike path) from the heart of Madison. But a midwest park, near a lake, in the summer is the perfect combination for mosquitoes. And even at 4pm, they were ever-present, each with an appetite to match mine. Fortunately, I had made a reservation at a local Holiday Inn at Barb's suggestion. She had been riding our route with some Wisconsin friends for the past couple of days and they all had rooms at the Holiday Inn for the evening. Judy and Scott also had a vehicle for transporting me and my bags (and eventually Janet and Diana as well) to a bug-free hotel room. I left my bike at the park and jumped into their van. Wow - at check-in, I was told of complementary refreshments in the lounge, and also found a mini business center with an idling computer.
Janet and Diana got a lift over to the hotel a bit later on and all of us were glad for the break.
Several of us were talking about the concept of time, and how it changes when you are immersed in an event such as the Big Ride. Each day we eagerly collect our cue sheet and set out. Our day unfolds in miles, and is interspersed with stops - both scheduled and spontaneous. Our intention each day is to reach our destination by the end of the afternoon. We might look at a watch or clock, or might not. But time is no longer a reference point in our lives.
Most Riders are not seeking out national or local news, or referring to calendars. Sometimes it is a challenge (or even seems annoying) to try to figure out what day or date it is. Our former roles (e.g. spouse, sibling, parent, co-worker) have faded into the background. We ride. We eat. We shower. We eat. We sit and chat. And eventually we sleep. And then it starts all over again. It is what we do.
Loping across the country is our occupation.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
(photos: peacock at Schell Brewery, birdbath garden at same; general view of farmlands, Minnesota wetlands)
(photos: New Ulm at dusk as seen from the Tower at our dorm; friends Katie and Rick)
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Left town and the fog became more dense. It was truly important to be wearing bright colors in such conditions, and to have a flashing rear light. Visibility was 15 feet at best in spots and traffic, though light, was present even at 7am.
Rode with Rosie most of the day. We stopped in the small town of Tracy to take photos at a train/prairie themed roadside display. Wanted some good coffee and perhaps a short stack, but decided to move along and hope for good options in Walnut Grove, 8 miles farther down the road. (Yes, we are in Laura Ingalls Wilder land. Passed Plum Creek somewhere along here).
Pulled up at Nellie's Cafe in Walnut Grove and stepped inside to refuel. Ordered pancakes and coffee. The former was fine, and latter probably the worst on our trip so far. But the company couldn't have been better. We were joined at the table by a local fellow - Dave Bowmann - who proceeded to share personal stories and other bits with us: his birthdate, a humorous poem to share with other Riders, a poem that he had written in memory of his wife (who passed away 3 years ago), his past occupations, etc. Dave made our visit a treat. On our way out of the cafe, Rosie asked to take photos of some local guys at the counter (all of 'em scandinavians, per Dave), as well of June - our memorable waitress. A key part of this journey is taking time to chat with the locals - to better understand what's growing in the fields, what's cooking in town, and who sits at the counter. Perkins be damned.
Rode on to Lamberton, where Nick had set up the sandwich table. Slapped together the daily bread. Janet was just taking off and joined us for some afternoon miles. Bit of a headwind for the next 30 miles, but we worked together to get through to Sleepy Eye. There, Rosie opted to take a break. Janet pulled me for this last 16 miles and we finally arrived at the Martin Luther College campus just before my feet gave out. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
The weather was warm, but not too hot. Just right for setting up my tent to dry out a bit. The laundry facilities in the dorm were unavailable, so I trudged down the hill to the heart of downtown to get a couple of loads done. Even washed my very pungent non-cycling shoes. Did not bring back-up footwear so was confined to the laundromat for the better part of an hour. Returned to campus in time for a delicious dinner at the Student Union. Stir-fried chicken and vegetables. I ate an embarrasing amount of it, along with 2 bowls of chocolate pudding. And drank several glasses of cran-apple juice. Thought I would pop.
Spent the remainder of the evening plotting out my layover day - how to fit in a swim, coordinating visits from Minnesota friends/neighbors, etc.
The first evening is the best part of a layover day - especially that moment when you know that all of your clothes are clean and your appetite sated. Tomorrow will go by SOOOOO fast.