Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Childhood Car Game

Many, many years ago, I took a trip back east with my parents. The three of us, along with my great-aunt Betty spent several days in the car, driving around to historical spots. Aunt Betty taught me a game to play in the car to make the time pass. You counted the cows that you saw out of the window on your side of the car. But the minute a cemetary came into view (on your side), you "lost all of your cows" and needed to start over.

I've been thinking about that game as I've ridden past lots of examples in both categories.

Day 38 - July 29th - Napoleon to Sandusky

(photos: ferry schedule; aquatic option; entrance to Public Library in downtown Sandusky)

I was assigned to breakfast crew (along with Chad and Catie), so was up a bit earlier than usual. We worked with Sharon to set out cereal, coffee, juice, and cut up some delicious melon. In spite of extra morning tasks, I was able to leave camp with Rosie before 7. A 90 mile day was ahead.
The route was generally quite flat with some gentle rollers.
While riding down Main Street in Bowling Green, we saw Chuck motion to us from the sidewalk. He was just leaving a coffee shop! Rosie and I were more than happy to pull over, and check it out. Having a hot, tall latte in a thick glass mug can really set you up well for the balance of the day. I also ordered a chocolate chip scone - which was more like a cookie. No matter. Needed calories.
Rode on through Portage, Ballville and Fremont. Mile upon mile of corn, farm houses and out buildings, rows of soybeans. Pulled over at the lunch stop (mile 50) - a table set up adjacent to a vacant field. Mark shared with me a mention in USA Today about some recent layoffs at Starbucks. I phoned a team member to check on my status - got confirmation that my position was not affected. Whew. Change channels. Back to The Ride.

Construction work necessitated a detour - one the took us under the Turnpike in one direction, under it again on another road and back again. It was becoming a regular feature. And the wind had picked up a bit. Sometimes in our favor. But as soon as we had to take a right hand turn, it was coming at us from the side. Another turn and it was a relentless headwind. You reached the point of not caring how you were going to reach Sandusky - just wanting the wind in your favor.
Finally reconnected with the original route outside of Castalia - just a few miles from Sandusky. Rosie and I stopped at a gas station - I ate my pb&j and she bought a coke. A common routine for us around 2pm. No longer running on vapors, we were ready for the final section.
Rode into Sandusky - and found the KOA campground near the Lake. Set up my tent, and then...both of us headed into town to find the library. I also wanted to see the Lake and check out ferry options to Put-in-Bay (South Bass Island) where my dad used to vacation as a child. Rosie went into the library and I went down to the waterfront. It was after 4 by then, and I just didn't feel that there was time enough to take the 5pm ferry and get back by 7 or so, and then ride back to camp. Took some photos and joined Rosie at the library. After using up our alloted hour at the computers (cost of $1), we meandered back towards camp. Stopped at Jack's Deli out on Highway 6, for pizza and beer. Then returned to the Big Ride tent village for the night.

There is a train track less than a block away from one of the borders of this KOA campground. Trains must have rolled down that line every 20 minutes or so during the night. How can campers possibly find this restful (unless they have a train running through their backyard at home)? It is still hard for me to ignore the rumbling, the whistles, the clanging. When I mentioned my challenges with being so close to trains, Darrell quietly shared some wisdom: when your route parallels the tracks, you can be assured that it will be on a very gentle grade. A small concession to the iron goat of sleep deprivation.

Day 37 - July 29th - Kendallville IN to Napoleon OH

(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

Day 36 - July 28th - Valparaiso to Kendalville

(photos: find Stephanie among the sunflowers; Loretta and her helpers; Regina and her Snickerdoodle cookies)

Breakfast was served at the dining hall starting at 6. It was a challenge for everyone to get there, and to pack the truck after a rest day. Didn't leave campus until 7:30. It was warm (mid 70's by 8:30), a bit hazy and humid. The day's route was mostly flat with gentle rollers in some sections. Rural settings, interspersed with small towns along highways 2 and 3. Rode with Rosie most of the day. The stated distance was long (110 miles) and I just decided to make a full day of it. Our destination was a campground in a small town - so no big rush. Better to enjoy the sights along the way.
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.

Day 35 - July 27th - layover day in Valparaiso, IN

My but it was nice to get up leisurely. Went to breakfast at the Broadway Cafe (adjacent to campus) with Cliff, Bruce, Barb, Diana, and Darrell. A place similar to the original Rose's in Portland. Family restaurant, open 363 days a year, extensive menu, large portions. After breakfast, I walked to Walgreen's to pick up some more laundry soap, look for postcards (only found ones with photo of a rabbit with caption "Some Bunny in Valparaiso Loves You" - I passed), and a few lunch items (cheese sticks, V8 and crackers). Walked back to the dorm to doze and listen to music. After lunch, went to the Valpo U library. Beautiful building and wonderful facilities. Spent 3 1/2 hours reviewing photos and adding new posts. Finally emerged around 5:30 and went back to the dorm to clean off my bike. Dinner at the Broadway around 7. Clearly not much exploring on this rest day. My efforts to locate a pool had been futile. My left quad had been quite sore during the past few days. So it was probably best that I just stay within a tight radius.
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

Day 34 - July 26th - Coal City IL to Valparaiso IN

(photos: supporting the aged; view of an out building; other buildings on the property -with guess what? a cornfield in the background)

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:
  1. temperature range during the day
  2. wind - is it working for you or against you; does it change directions when you do?
  3. grade of the road - 100 miles on the level is quite different than 100 miles of rollers that remind you of ocean swells
  4. humidity level (including threat of rain or dramatic storms)
  5. road surface (the ones so far in Indiana are pitted, patched and unpredictable)
  6. presence (or lack) of shoulder - if no shoulder, do drivers skirt you or drive within inches of your handlebars?
  7. condition of shoulder (clean, or littered with broken glass, minimized by presence of a rumble strip?)
  8. food and drink ingested prior and during (in remote areas, this is limited to what you carry on the bike)
  9. unexpected problems with mechanics of bike - what IS that clicking noise?
  10. unanticipated problems with mechanics of rider - oh my aching kneecap

Whoever said that riding a bike was simple?

Day 33 - July 25th - Belvidere to Coal City

(photos: my daily pb&j doing a balancing act in a corn field; fellow Riders preparing their own sandwiches; comparing our height to that of the local crop; end of the day gabbing)

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

Expressions of Infinity

Day 32 - July 24th - Madison WI to Belvidere IL

(photos: bluebird box on fence post in blooming prairie at Lake Farm Park; house in Evansville; welcome sign in Beloit)

Woke up early at the hotel, but it didn't take long to pack. We ate the breakfast provided by the Holiday Inn and drove back to the campsite in time to grab a cue sheet. Another century day - 100 miles. The route was filled with twists and turns - the longest straight segment being just 9 miles. Outside the Madison city limits, I spied a McDonald's. Went inside to use the restroom and to pack my camelbak with ice and water. That done, I felt set for the day - or at least a big portion of it.

Reached Evansville (mile 40) and took a few photos of the well-kept homes. Nice town. Thought about a 2nd breakfast but didn't see a spot that lured me in and so decided to go on. Reached Orfordville to find that a couple of Big Rider alums (Bob and Liz) had set up a rest stop of us. Coffee, pastries, fresh fruit and other treats were spread out on several tables at a local park. Thanks for being there for us!

Rode on to Beloit, crossed the state line, and found our rest stop outside the Boys and Girls Club in South Beloit. Met up with Chuck there. The two of us packed our sandwiches and headed out. Directions on the cue sheet failed around the 80 mile mark. We asked for help from a local who was driving by and got us back on course. But we were running on vapors by this point. Lurched into Garden Prairie. Our only food option appeared to be the Prairie Pub. Parked the bikes and went inside. Nearly pitch dark (oh - maybe I should take off my sunglasses). The place was empty of customers - 'cept for us. The woman behind the bar gladly served us ice water, then sodas, then hamburgers. We had simply waited too long on this hot day of riding to take in some calories. The stop really made a difference - allowing us to get back on the road and ride at a respectable pace. Made it to the campsite - Outdoor World! - by mid-afternoon. Unfortunately, the gear truck was undergoing repairs and didn't show until 5:30.
Carlos, Sandy and Chona Frum drove all the way from Northbrook to take me to dinner. They arrived in the wake of the gear truck and kindly offered to pitch my tent while I showered. We then left Outdoor World for the expanse and dining options of greater Belvidere and Rockford. Had a fine time eating, talking about the Ride and catching up on family news. Enjoyed a treat at Culver's and all too soon it was time to say our goodbyes and for me to return to the World of the Big Ride.
Discovered laundry facilities and did a load to stretch my supply of clean clothes. Crawled into my fabric abode around 10pm, to rest up for the next day's century ride - the third of three in as many days.

Day 31 - July 23rd - Viroqua to Madison

(photos: friends along the roadside; produce seller)

Up very early due to a high-mileage day (110). Camp breakfast as usual. Sharon Cowdery arrived last night to lend her skills and talents to the crew staff. We are all delighted to have her in our midst.
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

Day 30 - July 22nd - Winona, MN to Viroqua, WI

(photos: Myers family; photo of ladder and flower in Myers' garden; Janet at the Welcome sign; view of a farm; another farm view - laundry on the line; sign for the Amish bakery; old theater sign in Viroqua)

Leisurely rising this morning: only 66 miles to go. My trip to the library yesterday afternoon turned out to have an extra benefit - I was able to show a string a Riders behind me, a shortcut out of town. We then rode for several miles near the Mississippi river, on Hwy 61; but the experience was sullied by the lanes of traffic between us (on the far shoulder) and the zooming, morning commuters. Janet and I were riding together - and ended up doing so for the entire day - with the hope that she could share some of her bird wisdom with me. This segment, near the river, was so noisy with traffic, we wouldn't have heard a bird if it had been perched on our shoulders. Finally got to exit the roar around mile 17, and wound through the pretty town of Dakota. We had been told that the Myers family had once again, set up a fabulous spread for us. They had done this favor for Big Riders for several consecutive years now. Home-baked treats, punch, coffee, and other delights - including tours of their extensive, lovingly-cared-for garden. Thank you to the Myers family for making this section of the ride so special!

Rode out of Dakota, and eventually onto a long-forgotten bike path. Though littered with twigs and rocks, it provided some birding opportunities. Saw a Cedar Waxwing. Soon after the path ended, we cruised through La Crescent (on the MN side) and over to La Crosse. The bridge into town was littered with what looked like leaf debris. Turns out that there had been a recent onslaught of mayflies! The daily paper had a photo on the front page of a car dealer sweeping the dead bugs off of the windshields of cars on his lot.

Out of La Crosse, we gravitated over to Hwy 35, adjacent to the mighty River. Much of the area had been designated as a wildlife refuge and was beautiful to view under sunny skies. Stopped in the small town of Stoddard for the lunch check point, and also found a cafe open that served decent french dip sandwiches. With this fortification, we pedaled on up into a scenic valley, and farther up to some rolling hills surrounded by farmland. Some of the farms are owned by Amish families and we saw a couple of buggies moving down the road, confirming that cue sheet note. I noticed a sign for a Country Bakery and couldn't resist. Janet and I slowly maneuvered our bikes down the gravel driveway which ended at the home of an Amish family. One of the daughters escorted us to an out-building that had shelves filled with baked goods, confections, jams, and greeting cards. Crafts hung on the walls. What a find! We made some purchases and quietly got onto our bikes, respectively riding back to the main road. I was so glad that we had stopped - even if I didn't end up buying typical bakery fare.

Eventually rode down from the ridge into the town of Viroqua. Another pleasant surprise: facing the main street into town was a modern Food Cooperative. We had to slip inside to see what they had on hand - even before getting to camp. It was as though a Puget Consumer Co-op store had been plunked down, right in the middle of rural Wisconsin! We picked up yogurt, milk, produce and other items that we had forgotten existed. Had ourselves a fine snacking moment outside the store. Then went to the Fairgrounds (a.k.a. the town's designated camping spot) to settle in. After showering, I walked back through town to the library to post some notes.

Dinner in camp. Doug's birthday. Wound down for the night.

Day 29 - July 21st - Owatonna to Winona

(photos: Rochester lemonade stand; church message; sign in the community of Eyota; a sweeping view of a cornfield; church spire in Winona)

While packing up this morning, we were treated to a wonderful pink and baby blue dawn sky. It made some of us stop in our tracks to watch the colors change. Camp breakfast was just a bit finer this morning due to the 24-hour grocery store across the street. There was yogurt, cheese sticks, and doughnut holes! Long live the Hy-Vee store! Tried out of the new press pot and it worked well.

More coffee for more Riders is always deemed a success.

Loaded the truck and left town by 7. A 90 mile day ahead. Just short of Rochester, we were feted at a special rest stop set up by Ane, Liz, Ben and Tom - Big Riders from 2007. They had quite a feast set out for us: fresh fruit galore, coffee, doughnuts, and best of all - homemade cookies! We took turns sitting in the shade under the canopy that they had set up - talking about their Ride experiences and comparing them to those that we were accumulating. Thanks Alums! I hope that some of us can do the same for the 2009 Big Riders.

After enjoying the treats at the Alum stop, I pedaled on in to Rochester. Met up with Jim, Ed and a few others. On our way through town, winding through a neighborhood, Ed spied a lemonade stand. Nearly all of us stopped to enjoy a refreshing drink. The kids were so pleased to have a crowd, and they called out to their mom to "make more"!

Though Rochester isn't an enormous city, I was more than glad to leave it (and the multitude of medical buildings and related lodging options) behind. Back to the farm for me.

Miles and miles of corn, soybeans, and more corn. Passed an ethanol plant, surrounded of course by corn fields. Some residents in Eyota had posted a sign in their yard stating their opinion about this use of corn.

At mile 55, or there abouts, I had been asked to write a message with chalk on the shoulder for upcoming Riders: Big Ride 2000 mile mark. Quite an accomplishment.

Continued on through Lewiston and Stockton and eventually reached the outskirts of Winona. Had to travel a few miles along a busy stretch of road that was peppered with fast food restaurants and the like. Per the cue sheet, took a left turn and crossed over to the island that is the core of Winona.

Had to take a somewhat circuitous route to the dorm on the West campus of Winona State. Got settled, showered and headed into town on foot in search of the library. This is almost always a good way to stretch my legs and get oriented to the town. And a chance to record the day's events.

Dinner at a dining hall adjacent to the dorm. Ate lots - chicken teriyaki and rice, more of that, salad, rice krispy bars, then a couple of bowls and cereal and glasses of milk. Mmmm.

The dorm had laundry facilities in the basement - oh joy! The one element of my past life that I have yet to shed: my role as a laundress.

Much of the road today was marred by road seams. The regularity of these ker-thump uneven junctions was quite the ker-thump annoyance. Such constant jarring ker-thump became tiresome - especially on ker-thump down-hill sections. You get to wondering how ker-thump long your wheels will put up with ker-thump such jolting. And your weary backside ker-thump feels that such treatment just adds ker-thump insult to injury. I stood up on my pedals for parts of these ker-thump segments of the route. (And I recalled the experience of posting on a trotting horse from when I took horseback riding lessons). My quads are now very strong and can put up with almost anything I ker-thump throw at them. But I could sure do without road seams.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 28 - July 20th - New Ulm to Owatonna

(photos: peacock at Schell Brewery, birdbath garden at same; general view of farmlands, Minnesota wetlands)

Packed up the dorm room and went to the Student Union for breakfast. I've been especially hungry the past few days. This morning was no different: I gobbled up some eggs, hashed browns, juice, coffee, 2 bowls of cereal and 1/2 a toasted bagel. That should fuel me until mid-morning.

Loaded bags onto the truck and headed out of town. Because yesterday's storm prevented me from taking any photos at the brewery, I decided to take a short detour to see what I could capture in the early morning light. The grounds were very quiet, populated only by a a few peacocks. Nice time to visit!

Left the birds and beer and rejoined the route.

This morning, there was dense and very, very humid fog. It made it necessary for me to wipe off my lenses every few minutes. Drops of condensation dripped from my helmet. One solitary drop swayed on the lower rim of my little helmet mirror for the longest time.

Spent the day on Highway 14 East. Rode a short time with Jim, Reuben, and Doug. Reached Mankato (mile 25) and enjoyed the route through some of the older parts of town. Nice old stone buildings. The cue sheet then noted a right turn, directly up to a ridge and along a busy road intersecting a depressingly long string of malls and assorted clusters of national chain stores and restaurants. America at its worst. For miles and miles. Toward the tail end of this 15 minute-long commercial, I spied a Caribou coffee store. Stopped in to try out their product. Enjoyed a decent latte. Watched other riders cruise by, glancing at the building. I'm sure they knew it was my bike leaning against the outside wall. Finished the cup and was glad to see that the Malling of Mankato had come to and end. The route led back to the countryside, adjacent to wetlands, and corn fields.

Reached Waseca, where a check point and lunch stop had been set up next to a public park. A ball game was in full swing (no pun intended), and I glanced across the street to see a classic view of an expansive Minnesota lake. Baseball or boating - take your pick. Made and ate my sandwich right there. Returned to the route for the concluding 15 miles into Owatonna. Rode through new, and older parts of town, skirting the downtown (and National Bank building which I only learned later was worth a detour), and eventually located our campsite on the Steele County Fairgrounds.

"Fairgrounds" is a very general description and can be interpreted in lots of ways - would we be sleeping across from the 4-H poultry barn, horse stables, grandstand? Turns out that we were assigned to a tidy little triangle of grass just outside the hockey complex. It was buffered by buildings on most side, and only a hop skip and a jump across a busy street to a large, 24-hour grocery store. Not bad.

We had been joined on the route today by Vern, an Owatonna cyclist, and Big Rider from 2007. He and his wife Karen purchased some local corn for us to enjoy at dinner, and they secured improved shower facilities than were available last year. Kudos to the two of you - thanks for making us feel so welcome!

When our group passes through a small town - especially at an hour that could be interpreted as meal time - you can see bikes parked outside a variety of establishments: gas stations (Riders probably just using restrooms), cafes, diners, espresso stands. Walk in/up, and you will know half the people there. You can ask what they've ordered or if they know what's good. It's as though your are a local!

Once we've settled into a town for the afternoon/evening, you can go into the public library and you'll probably find a Rider at a terminal. Other Riders trickle out of the grocery store. Some are at the local watering hole. We tend to permeat our destinations. And then just as quickly, move on to the next community.

Day 27 - July 19th - layover day in New Ulm

(photos: New Ulm at dusk as seen from the Tower at our dorm; friends Katie and Rick)

Layover days always fly by, and this one went exceptionally fast. Last night, I managed to figure out when/where I could go swimming. So, first-thing this morning, I trotted down the hill from MLC to Steinhauser Field House to swim some laps. They had lanes set aside for such from 7-9am. The water felt great and there were only 2 other people in the pool - one of whom was simply doing water walking. The pool was very large: lap lanes were set up on the shorter side of the rectangle.
Went back up the hill - under cloudy skies. In fact it was sprinkling at times. Walked to the main parking lot and saw a car with bike in the roof rack, drive right in. My ACA (Adventure Cycling Association) friend Marty emerged to say "Hi Liz!". He was on a road trip to the upper peninsula of Michigan (and beyond), and knew from my blog that I'd be in town on the 19th. It was a wonderful surprise to see him. At the same moment, my friend Carolyn from Mpls was already in the parking lot waiting for me to jump into her car and go to breakfast. After chatting with Marty for a few minutes, he got back into his Prius and continued on his way. Carolyn and I then drove downtown to the Ulmer Cafe for breakfast. Standard fare, but a very satisfying chunk of time to exchange personal news, talk about the ride, and also her upcoming family vacation to the east coast. Carolyn brought me a fantastic press pot from REI that her husband J had picked up per my request. It is sizable, sturdy, and I know it will be a big hit at the next camp breakfast.

We finally gave up our table after a couple of hours at the Ulmer, and drove around town looking at neighborhoods and such. We also made a stop at Walgreen's so that I could purchase some items to help with the Big Ride camp coffee operation. The new press pot deserves a protective box all its own, as well as soap and towels for cleaning it.

Carolyn dropped me back off at the dorm in time for me to meet up with Chuck and Elizabeth (friends from Mpls), who had driven down to have lunch with me. We went to the Kasierhoff and had a very good time catching up, talking about the ride, etc. At 1:30, Katie and Rick (former neighbors from 18th Ave) phoned to say that they had arrived in downtown New Ulm. They joined us at the restaurant and the 5 of us talked for awhile.

We split up, late afternoon, and Katie and Rick drove me over to the Schell brewery so that I could see this local landmark. However, the weather had different plans. A thunderstorm that had been bottled up all day - while I was busy inside various restaurants - broke open. It was an intense show - thunder, lightening, and buckets of rain that poured down and rushed through the streets. Water was several inches deep in places. Katie referred to it as a "real gully-washer". No chance to take any photos on the grounds of the brewery. But we were content to wander around the museum and passed up the hour-long tour. We left the brewery in a downpour and Rick and Katie drove me back to MLC. Before departing, they presented me with 2 wonderful gifts: a bottle of August Schell Pale Ale and an oversized pint of fresh raspberries picked from canes in their yard just that morning. And I had thought that I'd miss out on fresh raspberries all together (the fruit on my home canes having been enjoyed by family and neighbors in my absence). What a rare treat!

I walked back to my dorm room to gather my thoughts and was met by Diana who was on her way out to dinner with Barb and Janet - along with a couple of Janet's friends from Taylor's Falls. We drove to the Lamplighter in downtown, had a filling, early evening meal, and then I finally made it back to my room to decompress.
What a day.
Spent a few minutes in the evening phoning Peter (his birthday today), David, my parents, and a couple of RedSpoke contacts. Tim told me that the ride this year has nearly 100 participants and is going well. I hope to be back in the fold in '09. The Big Ride will certainly give it a new perspective.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Friendly Farm Image - bye bye from South Dakota

I really like this photo of some farmland silhouettes that I saw near the South Dakota-Minnesota border. It deserves a post all of its own!

Day 26 - July 18th - Tyler to New Ulm

Up at 5 or so. Cool morning air, with some fog on the athletic field. Camp breakfast at the truck. Riders were in a light-hearted mood, perhaps due to the upcoming layover day, or that fact that we had fewer than 90 miles (only 87) to cover.
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.