An open letter

to my Cycle America community. To jog your memories, there will be one photo from each week, none of which have appeared here before:

Dear Friends,

trailer loaded, ready to head to ride start-WA

We have now been back in our respective real worlds for longer than we were away in our circus world. We used that metaphor during the trip because it seemed apt – we rolled into a new town every night, set up our tents, and were gone in the morning before most people were up and about. We didn’t put on much of a show, but…

Einstein in Jackson, WY

It’s also timely because I spent three days of the last week in Baraboo, home of the Ringling Brothers and the Circus World Museum. It was also where, for me, the two worlds intersected. My friends, my son and his wife, and my boss all came to Baraboo when the Cycle America Circus rolled through. It was my reminder that our circus world was fleeting, that the other world beckoned. It was the best of times…

Devil’s Tower, WY

And now we’re scattered across the globe doing whatever it is we normally
do; though even that is new for some – Ally went from being a student to being a nurse during those nine weeks. Mike stayed away longer than the rest of us to ride down the west coast of the US. How’d that go, Mike?

Did anybody do a Johnny Paycheck when going back to work?

Needles Highway, SD

I miss that world. I missed the daily routine of riding already by the first Monday I was home. I had my day of rest and was ready to ride again. I’m still looking for anyone who wants to pay me to ride my bike. From the headwaters of the Mississippi to the delta seems like a good route. Who’ll drive sag?

The jersey that got us in trouble in Belgium-Northfield, MN

But I also miss all of you. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya on you. If we all lived in the same town it’s not like we’d all be hanging out every night after work (those of us who do still work) or be drinking coffee together every morning at the corner cafe (for the retired among us).

Wind farm – Pepin, WI

But we had a community for those nine weeks; a loose-knit one, perhaps, but we shared something I will never forget. We shared fun, we shared miseries, we shared deeply transforming moments.  We found out what we were made of. Some of you, who had done this before, may have had no doubts about it. But I bet most of us had moments when we weren’t really sure what we had gotten into, weren’t really sure we could do this. But we did. And we probably knew that all along but it seemed too arrogant to say out loud, just as voicing the fears seemed too insecure to say out loud.

100 miles is just a number – almost a century in Ontario

We ate some great food and some food that we may not have eaten had we not just ridden 80 miles. We saw the USA in a way that most people never will. We didn’t fly over flyover country. We didn’t cross the plains at 80 mph (~130 km/h for those of the metric persuasion), staring at the ribbon of pavement and ignoring all else. We did wake up sober in Nebraska (or close to it – Nebraska, I mean). Climbing mountain passes didn’t mean just stepping harder on the accelerator.

Cycle America International Bobsled Team – Lake Placid, NY

We did all that, and we did it together. I, for one, already think about a reunion. It’s entirely possible we will never see each other again. I know some of you are friends in real life and do hang out. The rest of us? Maybe we’d feel awkward, not knowing what to say. Maybe we’d need a long ride together with margaritas to follow. Maybe a short ride, but actually together as a group, like the brief stretches when we were together for ferry crossings or through construction zones.

End of the road, Gloucester, MA-only one way to go

And maybe doing it again in 2020 doesn’t sound crazy after all. (Don’t tell anyone here I said that!) If those of you with the wherewithal to do it again do it, I’ll meet you in Baraboo with a case of beer. Or we can find an Irish pub and Mike can show the bartenders the proper way to pull a pint of Guinness.

See you on the road!

Love,

Steve

Maybe a motor next time?
Maybe Hogwart’s next time?
maple
Home again

 

Top/bottom ten

The greatest hits and worst miseries of the tour, not necessarily in order of how good or bad they were and not necessarily ten of each:

Tour top 10:

New York week (after the first 50 miles) -Finger Lakes/wading in Lake Ontario after a cold front came through, temperature and humidity went down, tailwind all morning; up and down through the Adirondacks, beautiful day in Lake Placid. If you took away the first 50 miles and replaced them with the first 50 miles of the next week, this could be #1.867CEBD3-27F5-4014-AACC-1FC37BBC5BE8

Wisconsin week – Cannon Trail, the Great River Rd., Baraboo Bluffs/Devils Lake/Merrimac ferry, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. Great roads and no traffic all week. (Visits from family and friends put this one over the top, but it was already great.) 

The ride into Baraboo contained the single steepest climb of the entire trip ( a short stretch of Terrytown Road). 

The Sparta to Elroy Trail, while the first Rails-to-Trails conversion, has been surpassed by several others. It was actually the low point of the week. While the tunnels are a novelty, riding for 30+ miles on gravel is not my cup of tea and takes a toll on the bike. I know, gravel riding is the new thing, but I’d rather ride on pavement if given the choice. 

I’m almost reluctant to admit that the area I ride regularly was the high point, but it also assures me that I live in the right place.AA48B9A9-93D9-405F-B4A3-8637855C927A

Needles highway/Black Hills/Badlands – The Needles Highway was the single high point. This was a magical fairyland, otherworldly in its beauty. I am amazed that I never knew of this place. I could ride that road ten more times and still see new things. The area was phenomenal and the road was the best we rode in >4300 miles.   E2692CEC-A68A-498A-9B90-C0D7F1978AC7

The Badlands are also otherworldly. Different, in that they can be seen as bleak in broad daylight, but change minute-by-minute in early morning light. Like Needles Highway, I wanted to ride that same road again at sunset after riding it at sunrise. 

 

Bike path through Grand Teton National Park, climbing Teton Pass, descending to Jackson Hole and a great bike path. The path through the park kept us away from traffic and in view of the mountains. I met Santa Claus at the foot of Teton Pass, along with a group riding from Texas to Alaska. The pass was steep and tough, getting steeper as it went. Standing at the top of the pass was a feeling of accomplishment and gave a great view of the valley below. After descending to the valley we were led on a secluded path into town. The valley is well set up for bicycles, with paths connecting the towns.

 

Thompson Pass – first time over the continental divide and first big pass, descent into Thompson Falls, a town mostly owned by a single family, where we saw their bar, ice cream shop, catering service, and bus service.

Devils Tower. A campground situated right at the base of the tower. The tower itself rises out of nothing. It is not part of a mountain range but, like Ayers Rock in Australia, is just there. It is no surprise that it was used as the backdrop/centerpiece of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. 9DCB1F78-14DE-4EBC-9051-1754A42439FD

The margarita party was our first real chance to sit down as a group and just hang out together. 

Smugglers Notch. A day that started with threatening weather that never fully materialized. The pass enveloped by clouds as we ascended, never really sure how high it was, on the approach or while actually climbing it. A climb that was over before I realized it; not because it was easy (it wasn’t) but because the top was invisible until we were there. The steepest descent of the trip, made hazardous by the wet pavement so we took it slowly. 

 

Bottom 10:

Riding 105 miles in 40° rain. The camaraderie made it tolerable. A day that I would have stayed in bed had I been on my own. 

Climbing a mountain pass in a hailstorm. Another day saved by a group – the same group. As Greg told me before the trip, the 70 degree and sunny days will all blend together, but it is the days like this that will make lasting memories. 

72 mile ride that turned into 102 mile ride, the last 1/3 into a brutal headwind, finishing with a helmet splitting crash in an endless industrial waste land. The only day that I wanted the van to stop for me. I got back on the bike and rode the final ten miles, so I did ride EFI. We stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and found other riders draped over coolers and freezers. Misery loves company.

The first half of that day was actually really nice. 

Mile after mile of horrendous pavement,90+ degree heat, and endless headwinds across the Great Plains.

Mile after mile of flat and boring countryside in Michigan with bad highways and rude drivers.

Re-entering the US at Niagara Falls and riding 50 miles before getting into the countryside.

Bone jarring expansion cracks through Central Minnesota.

Hill City to Custer – uphill, bad headwind, relentless sun/heat, horrendous traffic, grooved pavement causing painful whining noise – and there was a reasonable alternative route nearby.

A few random thoughts:

  • had some great encounters with bikers (of the Harley persuasion) – both on-the-road salutes and chats at the roadside.
  • In the first week I waved to a Corvette behind me to acknowledge it and, as it passed, I saw a peace sign flashed out through the T-top.
  • A random motorcyclist flipped me the bird for no apparent reason.
  • A friendly bar owner brought watermelon out to us on a hot, dry, and windy day.
  • On another hot day I stopped in a coffee shop for an iced coffee and the air conditioning was so cold I just hung out for awhile. It was a day when I realized getting somewhere was only a small part of the plan.
  • When I walked into a brewpub, I was met by applause. Another rider had arrived before me and told our story and they knew I was part of that group.
  • Greg repeatedly referred to the Lake Michigan ferry crossing as “The shortest longest day”. We rode only 40 miles but got into camp with just enough time to pitch our tents before it got dark.
  • Somewhere out west (I think on the Tetons day) a Russian couple riding from Denver to Seattle stopped in and joined us for lunch.
  • On another day, in the middle of nowhere, I happened upon a scruffy-looking guy walking his bike in the opposite direction. I asked if he needed help. He said, “Is the next town about 4 miles ahead?” I agreed that it was. He thanked me and kept walking. (Only 4 miles from town it wasn’t really the middle of nowhere – it just seemed like it.)
  • The look of incredulity when I told some kids at a lemonade stand (on our last day) that I had ridden >4300 miles for that lemonade.

That’s it for now folks. Daily life is intruding on my writing time. I have a sewer line to clear and more. Posts will be a little more irregular after today. Maybe when my bike gets here I’ll look at the odometer and give you my total mileage. Maybe not. Numbers don’t really say what I want to say. Thanks for joining me on this journey. It’s been real.

I’m not going away entirely. As Phil Ochs said:

What planet are we on?

We started today with a gentle climb through mixed aspen, birch, and pine forest.

It doesn’t look like we’re climbing, but I need to look to make sure my tires aren’t flat and I’m not dragging a sea anchor. As our elevation approaches 6000 feet I see on the cue sheet we are about to climb 1.1 miles. I’m not sure what he thinks we’ve been doing for the last 5 1/2 miles. A half mile later it becomes clear. Before this we’ve just been going up, now we’re actually climbing. When I run out of gears, it’s obvious. (Dictated at the time; that’s why it’s in present tense.)

We rode up Needles Highway, where I overheard, “What planet are we on?” It was an otherworldly landscape. Rocky  spires rose everywhere, coming right to the edge of the road. The road itself was possibly the most beautiful pavement I have ever seen, a narrow, barely 2 lane ribbon of flawless asphalt, too narrow for trucks or RVs, just big enough for regular cars. 

I could have spent the whole day there. Someday it would be great fun to take that entire road at speed, were it closed to all other traffic. I would first want to ride it slowly at least 10 more times to enjoy the scenery.

We had to share a narrow tunnel with a family of mountain goats.8E0B6FD6-EE56-459F-BA36-1A1969357EA5EA878547-4F03-4202-AC81-A28018A9C3F8

This could have been a day trip – ride up to the Needles Highway, ride it a couple of times, get out and walk around, go back to where we started.08EA9391-C169-43B1-9CC9-6105D448E3390DA0BF2E-8EA9-42E1-A72D-56C3922F81AB

But it was only the beginning. Next up was Iron Mountain Highway. A small sign announced how may switchbacks were to come. I didn’t bother to take a picture, nor to count them.

Iron Mountain Highway also boasts “pigtail bridges”, wooden bridges that create a helix, so you ride over the bridge, then curl around and ride under it – like a freeway off ramp in miniature, and built of logs. (Difficult to see in the image below, but the road curls back under the bridge.)5FC514C7-6436-41B3-94A7-E285FE90B8A505898052-B182-437B-B3C9-22A10513209E

We climbed the mountain and had a view of Mt Rushmore. It was an up and down day, over 5000 feet of climbing, but way too much fun to be of any concern. This may have been our last foray over 6000 feet.

In Keystone we saw a rare sight – a telephone booth. Also bison grazing by the roadside.

Food deserves a mention – last night’s dinner in Custer was from a caterer in Rapid City. It included a spinach/artichoke lasagne and focaccia bread. Lunch today (from our staff) featured risotto and pesto bread. We’ll have the same caterer for the next two nights. This also gives me an excuse to show you the catering truck from Gillette; as you can see, it is rather large.F244C46B-8BBB-4AA8-B17E-84DC82C90E0C

The route into Rapid City was bad enough that the boss apologized for it. It was miserable (long climb, headwind, busy highway) but not enough to ruin the day.