[Ed Note: This was to be published on July 25, 2022. It is in my “drafts” section, which leads me to believe it was never published (and I can’t find it in the published section) – probably because I forgot to push a button. Here it is, over a month later. Happy reading!]

Our rest day is in Northfield, MN, which feels like a home away from home. My daughter went to school here and we stayed here in 2018 during the coast-to-coast ride.

When my daughter was in school and I came to visit, we always went to dinner at Chapati, an excellent Indian restaurant in the Archer House, a 19th century hotel. Alas, it burned in 2020 and is now a hole in the ground awaiting redevelopment. I was told that plans have been approved to replace it with another hotel with retail on the main floor. I don’t know if the restaurant will return.

With that option gone, I had Saturday dinner at The Ole Store, where I had an excellent polenta with a Spanish red wine and a blueberry tort for dessert. Blueberries and basil pair well together so, if I can still find fresh peaches and blueberries when this tour is over, my next peach/blueberry pie will include fresh basil.

Over dinner we shared storm stories. Some folks only saw it in the distance, some waited out lightning in a convenience store and got great photos and videos. No one saw the wind I saw, which was apparently an isolated event along the ridge I was caught on.

Breakfast Sunday was at the Brick Oven Bakery, a favorite of mine for many years for its excellent coffee, pastries, and oatmeal. I was up at 4 AM due to a series of texts from Scotland. My COVID-afflicted daughter was trying to reserve a hotel room in which to quarantine, and the credit card company didn’t want to honor the charge. Try fixing that at 4 o’clock on a Sunday morning from across an ocean.

I killed time until 6 when the café opened; but they don’t serve breakfast until 7, so I had to be content with a cortado and a pastry for the first hour.

Lunch had to be at Tanzenwald Brewing Company, where I heard live honky tonk with my Sunday afternoon beer in 2018. I stopped at the Downtown Bike Shop (where our mechanic, Anders, used to work), then at another shop in order to replace my cue sheet holder, which had been damaged in the Devil’s Tower windstorm and finished off in Saturday’s windstorm. (While the Devil’s Tower windstorm was pretty impressive, it didn’t hold a candle to the wind I faced outside of Veseli, MN on Saturday, a wind I will never forget.) [ed note: 18 hours later, on a beautiful Sunday morning, it’s hard to believe that actually happened just 20 miles from here.]

I also stopped at the Just Food Co-op, where I picked up some Just Coffee to replenish Anders’ supply – he provides us with Moka Bialetti coffee at picnic. Just Coffee is a co-operative out of Madison, WI, and provides a special blend with the Just Food Co-op label – since Anders and I both have ties to Madison and Northfield, it seemed only proper.

Between breakfast and lunch I replaced my chain and cleaned up the bike after Saturday’s excitement. That, of course, required a ride into town to make sure it shifted properly with the new chain. While I have lived without a chain master link tool for many years, I have to admit it comes in pretty handy. The Park MLP-1.2 is a keeper.

Next week we ride through Wisconsin after losing two riders and adding 11 more as well as a new mechanic. We will cross the Mississippi on highway 61 (where “God said to Abraham, ‘kill me a son’/Abe said ‘man, you must be puttin’ me on’/God said ‘no’/Abe said ‘what?’/God said ‘you can do what you want Abe but/The next time you see me comin’ you better run’/Abe said ‘where do you want this killin’ done?”/God said ‘out on highway 61’” – Highway 61 revisited – Bob Dylan), ride the Sparta to Elroy trail – the first rails-to-trails conversion in the US [don’t tell anyone but I might take an alternate route], ride through the beautiful Devil’s Lake State Park, cross Lake Wisconsin on the Merrimac Ferry, then continue on to Manitowoc where we will cross Lake Michigan on another ferry.

Featuring the great Sam Lay on drums, Mike Bloomfield on guitar, Al Kooper on keyboards, and Bob Dylan on Acme siren. I thought it was a cheap child’s toy, but the Acme version is sold as a musical instrument (and made by the maker of the Acme Thunderer – a really loud metal whistle).

You call that wind?!

Today was to be about 90 miles from Hutchinson to Northfield, MN. The forecast was for two rounds of severe weather, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. High winds, hail, up to two inches of rain, and possible tornadoes were included.

We had a briefing Friday night to talk about what to do in case of bad weather. At 4:25 AM I awoke to the sound of raindrops. I checked the forecast and it called for rain from 5-6. I didn’t want to pack up in the rain, so I pulled up the tent stakes and dragged the tent under an overhang. There were no more raindrops and by then I decided to get up anyway.

We had a great church breakfast with pancakes and hit the road. After 30 miles we stopped for coffee and pastries. The sky was darkening behind us. There was a headwind from the southeast, due to the wind circling the low pressure system to the west. The dark was chasing us. When the wind subsided, I figured the storm was catching up, so I sped up and got back into headwinds. I decided a headwind was a good thing today despite my usual strong aversion to headwinds.

I began chasing the light sky in front of me while the dark sky chased from behind. Thunder rumbled in the distance at picnic. I did not linger. There were still nearly 45 miles to go.

Lightning struck very close by, but only once. I continued to chase the light. I lost the official route, but knew that highway 19 would take me all the way to Northfield. The only disadvantage would be that I would miss the last water stop (I had plenty) and there would be no sag or mechanic service available until I got back on the route.

It got darker. The wind got stronger. It began to rain. It was still hot, so I decided the ventilation was more important than a rain jacket and kept riding. It got darker. My headlight battery died. It was a light to be seen, not to see with. It got dark enough to need a light to see with.

The rain came harder and I stopped to put on a rain jacket. I also scarfed a bar, figuring I needed all the calories I could stuff into me for the final push. I figure that when 80% of the ride is behind me, I’ve got it made. Just past that point, the crosswind became too strong to ride safely. I feared I would be pushed into traffic. I got off and walked. A few more seconds and it was no longer safe to walk. Another few seconds and I could no longer stand. I crouched at the roadside and the wind picked up my bike. I was holding it by the top tube and it was standing out horizontally away from me at shoulder height, wheels toward the highway. If I let go, it would fly away. I would likely not see it again. I held on and got as low as possible to try to keep myself from becoming airborne along with the bike.

An SUV going the other direction stopped and called to me. I assumed she was offering a ride but I could hear nothing. The tailgate opened. I could not move for fear of becoming airborne, so I remained crouched at the side of the road. The tailgate closed but the SUV remained where it was.

When the wind let up enough that I could dash across the highway, low to the ground, the SUV opened again. I stuffed the bike in the back, closed the door, and climbed in. The driver explained that she had closed the door because she feared it would be ripped from the back of the vehicle.

She said she had just taken her daughter to a friend’s house and her daughter wanted her to pick me up. She didn’t, but then came back for me.

I had completed 73 of 90 miles. She asked if she should drop me at a store in the next town or take me to my destination. I told her where I was headed and that I would accept whatever she offered. She took me to St Olaf and I had a short ride on campus to my dorm.

You knew this had to be the song for the day.
I could have been Miss Gulch.

Now we wait for everyone else to make it in and be sure we all survived.

Hutchinson, MN, or k-thunk, k-thunk

It rained lightly overnight, but seemed to go on for a long time. By morning the rainfly was wet but the ground was dry. It actually got wetter (from dew) while we were eating breakfast.

Thursday’s breakfast caterer earned extra points for providing donuts. Today’s oatmeal was thick enough to eat with a fork. Since the caterer forgot spoons, that was a good thing. There were fresh strawberries and blueberries to go on the oatmeal.

For some reason, we left at the same time and headed out of town in a large group. That was initially fun but I wanted space – I was rewarded after picnic when I saw no one for 20 miles. A few people showed up at the water stop just as I was leaving, then I saw no one again for the last 20 miles. Yesterday people were telling tales of large rides (the “Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred” in Texas and RAGBRAI in Iowa) that are so big that people are assigned to lanes in the morning based on their riding speed. The road is so crowded with many thousands of riders that you have to stay in your lane all day. They described many multi-bike crashes and ambulances all day. Not my cup of tea.

There was a bakery en route. Several people talked of how great it was. I remembered it when I got there. The most remarkable thing was that they had no idea how to use their espresso machine. A shot of espresso to them filled a 12 oz cup. An Americano was on their menu. If a shot is 12 oz, I’m afraid to know how much water goes into an Americano. I gestured to the barista how much water I wanted in my espresso. She said she could adjust her machine to do that. She asked where I was from, saying “Only the Canadians who come in here want it like that”. Despite my attempt, the double shot espresso came with at least 6 oz of water – an Americano in my book. I’d have to say it was among the three worst espressos I have ever had. The bakery was so-so. They had “crispies” on the menu – elephant ears to me. Someone asked if they were fresh and she said yes, they made them three days ago. I guess “fresh” is a relative term.

Picnic was in Olivia – “the corn capital” – of what, I don’t know. See the 2018 post for a photo of the giant ear of corn. A newspaper reporter met us – we seem to be news across Minnesota. We rode through corn, sugar beet, and soybean fields, with a few stands of mixed hardwoods.

The obnoxious expansion cracks arrived later than in 2018. Today was marked by “k-thunk, k-thunk”. At one point I timed it and we were hitting a major “k-thunk” 75 times/minute. Later it became irregular, varying from 40-80 times per minute. The scenery was so compelling that I was measuring the timing of the expansion cracks.

By the end of the day I was cranking out miles to finish – riding at >20 mph and feeling like a well-oiled machine.

We arrived in Hutchinson and I found a brewpub. It being Friday they open at 2 (3 otherwise), so after a shower and change of clothes I headed over. They had a good dozen beers on tap. A few other riders showed up, including the Texas Oilman, who said he had high hopes when Trump was elected, but he was disappointed and did not vote for him in 2020. I can’t say that D. Trump ever inspired high hopes in me, so I bit my tongue a lot during the conversation.

Google Maps is a wonder and gave me a very nice route on residential streets to the brewpub.

Tomorrow we are on to Northfield and the campus of St Olaf College (high on a hill to be closer to god). I will be wearing my Bike Fed jersey in honor of the occasion (with the Holstein cow rampant, as the St Olaf logo has the traditional lion rampant). We’ll be staying in a dorm for the weekend. Happy birthday, ERU, St Olaf Alum. Have fun storming the castle!

Dawn after the rain

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!



Maybe a motor next time?

Maybe Hogwart’s next time?

Home again