Welcome to my blog ...

Redwood City, CA, United States
I've ridden approximately 60,000 travel miles since 1985, including seven trips across the country, four of them self-contained.

Friday, September 22, 2017

I've just updated this blog after years of inactivity.  I used it while on my summer journeys up to 2011: my second time participating in the American Lung Association's Big Ride Across America.  From then until this past summer my biking was limited to shorter rides: Bike Virginia in 2012 and then, after moving to the Bay Area, just lots of day rides in California, Nevada, and Washington State.  This past summer I was able to once again bike across the country, this time as part of Bike the U.S. for M.S., benefiting multiple sclerosis. I posted almost daily on Facebook because it was a lot simpler than blogging.  Since returning I've learned how such Facebook posts can be automatically added to this blog page, so I'll try that next time . . . down the road.  Meanwhile, the Facebook posts from this past summer, as well as a collection of the photos I took, are linked to this blog in the column on the right.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Big Ride 2011 - End of the Ride Report

Hi, All,

My apologies for the delay in posting this report, and also for the desperate pleas for money from Valencia, Spain, if you were among those who received those bogus emails. On or about August 3, my gmail account was hacked into, leading to the theft of my email contacts. I honestly don't know what I did to precipitate it besides clicking on an email that by its title seemed legitimate. Once I'd opened it, I immediately deleted it; I didn't type in my password or any other information. And the repercussions were significant: I lost access to my gmail account for more than a week, making me also unable to blog or post photos since I rely on Google for both of those services. And while my gmail account has now been restored, I've lost all historical emails, both written and received, and my contact lists were all corrupted, requiring me to manually fix email addresses. Life goes on, but it is an example of how reliant we've become on Internet communication.

As for the Big Ride, it ended well. All riders who began it in Seattle on June 20th reached Washington, D.C., safely and in buoyant spirits on August 6. Altogether we traveled more than 3300 miles: the mileage on the cue sheets totaled 3350, and my total, given the extra miles sightseeing, running errands, and making occasional wrong turns, was 3,482. Gabe's total was undoubtedly about the same. He was forced to SAG at least once after a crash in Indiana, but he more than made up for it with his greater tendency to miss turns, forcing him to ride many "bonus miles" to get back on course.

Overall, Gabe's performance on the Big Ride was laudatory. Completing the journey was a major achievement; it would be for anyone of any age, but it was especially impressive for a sixteen year old. Over the course of it, he grew physically stronger, and his attitude and behavior also significantly improved. At first he'd struggled with the ride's regimentation, the summer heat requiring that we often wake before dawn, break down our tents, pack up, load our gear onto the support truck, eat breakfast, and set off by 6:30 a.m. (The earliest start was in Sheridan, Wyoming, when loading time was 5:00 a.m., so alarms were set for 4:30.) The pace was also grueling at times. We rode an average of 83 miles a day, requiring most of us to pedal for more than six hours, and on the longest days we rode more than eight hours. But by the end of the ride, Gabe was rising without complaint, packing on time, riding hard throughout the day, and becoming one of regulars who arrived first the finish. Meanwhile the long hours in the saddle seemed to have an effect also, making him more reflective. He enjoyed the companionship of other riders and often asked their advice about school and life generally; he was thinking a lot about his future. These changes were noticeable to everyone; the whole group was proud of him; and I can't help but think that the discipline of the ride and the confidence it should instill in Gabe for having finished it will serve him well in college and beyond.

Here's a recap of the ride from Indiana to the finish, including my daily stats:

Monday, July 25 - day 36 - Valparaiso to Kendallville, IN. 111 miles, 8:20 in the saddle, 13.2 avg.

A long day ... Because of computer problems I'd stayed up nearly all night blogging in Valparaiso, and after sleeping no more than two hours, I was worried at first that I'd be too exhausted to ride and would have to SAG that day (i.e., accept a ride from the support staff). Surprisingly, though, I had energy all day. I rode slow - didn't push it - and the flatness of route helped, as did the conditions: the cool, cloudy morning and then spectacular afternoon - blue sky, high in the high-80s, and really nice Amish farmland especially between Wakurusa and Waterford Mills, with lots of buggies, farm animals, barns, women and children on bikes, etc. Thus despite whatever tiredness I felt, there was nothing I would have rather been doing that day than riding; and I was fully engaged trying to photograph it all.

Scenes from the Amish area in Indiana ...

Monday is wash day ...

As it turned out, Gabe was the one who had to SAG a portion of the ride today. He crashed shortly after the first rest stop, knocking his wheel out of true and cutting open his right palm once again. The wound at first bled profusely, and it was, I believe, the third time this summer that he'd fallen and landed on the same hand. Yet he still refused to wear biking gloves, insisting that gloves felt uncomfortable. What could I say? I resisted the urge to nag him. A few hours later, he was back on the road; his wheel had been straightened and his palm wrapped in gauze. I reached Kendallville around 4:00 p.m. and went to bed early.

Tuesday, July 26 - day 37 - Kendallville, IN, to Napoleon, OH - 77 miles (including ride to motel), 14.2 avg., 5:23 in saddle, 28 max., 17,094 (+10) odo., 2648 cum. BR miles.

A great, easy day on low-traffic country roads with perfect summer weather. I'd slept well and was up at 5:20 for 6:00 a.m. breakfast. The terrain included some big rollers early, then flattened and we went through town of Butler, IN, before crossing into Ohio. The road surfaces were smoother than in Indiana, so very nice riding with some help from the wind. I rode into the Napoleon county fairgrounds around 12:30 p.m. and had the rest of the day to relax, still recovering from my virtual all-nighter in Valparaiso.

Perfect summer weather in western Ohio ...

Wednesday, July 27 - day 38 - Napoleon to Sandusky - 94 miles, 7:06 in saddle, 13.1 avg.

Another nice summer day, riding through flat farmland - endless fields of corn and soybeans. Gabe and I rode together for much of the morning; he was upset, lamenting the fact that his grandfather, suffering from dementia, was unaware of what he (Gabe) was doing this summer. His grandfather had been kind to him, and Gabe wanted to make him proud. I did my best to speak philosophically, urging Gabe to internalize his grandfather's love and to live a life that he himself can be proud of.

We all took a long morning break in Bowling Green at a coffee shop which doubled as a bookstore (used and new) on the quaint main street, and there was also a bike shop, where I purchased new Gatorskin tires, having logged nearly 6,000 miles on a pair of knobby Armadillos. Later Gabe got a flat - his fourth in two days - and I did my best to help, patching a tube for him. Later, though, the same tire flattened once again and it took our mechanic, Rich James-Jura, to find the hidden cause - a tiny piece sliver of glass wedged in the lining.

At camp I needed to do laundry and put on my new tires, so I chose to skip a trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park. Gabe went, but a bit reluctantly, saying that roller coasters tended to nauseate him. I didn't hear what rides he chose to go on, just that, after waiting on the long line with a bunch of other Big Riders to brave the biggest and scariest - the Mantis - he bailed.

Thursday, July 28 - day 39 - Sandusky to Cleveland (approx. 60 miles).

Friday was to be a day off in the small town of Burton, Ohio, where we'd be camping at the county fairgrounds - the only off-day not spent in a college dormitory; so instead of riding 90+ miles through Cleveland to reach Burton, Gabe and I decided on a more pleasant, upscale option - riding the sixty miles to downtown Cleveland, spending the night the night there, and then riding on to Burton in the morning. It was raining as we set off, and the afternoon turned hot and humid. Gabe and I stayed in a huge room in the Holiday Inn, did a little sightseeing, relaxed in the air conditioning, and went out to a nice dinner in the Warehouse District.

Gabe's and my room in the Holiday Inn in Cleveland

Friday, July 29 - day 30 - Cleveland to Burton (approx. 35 miles). Two-day totals - 98 miles, 7:25 in saddle, 13.1 avg.

An easy ride overall. It had rained in the morning but had stopped by the time we'd finished a leisurely breakfast. The temperature was cool - low to mid 70s - and the ride was nice through the area around Case Western Reserve University and past the gaudy, over-sized Cleveland Heights mansions. The hard part was riding east of Shaker Heights, on hilly, narrow roads - SR 91 and then SR 87, but a tailwind helped us on the final climbs. We reached the fairgrounds by 12:30 p.m. and had the rest of the day off. I spent it mostly reading George Elliot's Adam Bede, but I also saw a preview of an antique engine show that was opening the next day.

Amish men setting up saw (below) powered by antique engine (at left)

Pig pen near Burton fairgrounds

Saturday, July 30 - day 41 - Burton to New Waterford, OH. 62 miles, 4:51 in saddle, 13.2 avg.

Morning fog became a common occurrence ...

... adding to the mystique of the Amish horse carriages.

An easy day - hilly at first but then mostly flat as we traveled southeast, nearing Pennsylvania. We delayed our start because of the heavy morning fog, then as we set off enjoyed a big downhill to Middlefield Township, the largest Amish community in the world. We passed many horse-drawn buggies and enjoyed the nice rural riding until rest stop 1, then took a busier road - SR 45 - through Warren, OH, the hometown of Dave Grohl, the Nirvana drummer and leader of the Foo Fighters. While there were some signs of affluence in Warren - an attractive old downtown area dominated by the Trumbull County Courthouse, circa 1895 - there were even more dilapidated buildings and junk-filled front yards marking our entrance into the Rust Belt. South of Warren we passed a large steel mill belching smoke, steam, and fire, and the traffic kept up all the way to Columbiana as we passed over Interstate 80 and skirted Youngstown, Ohio. The final miles were calmer, more rural, and we stayed at a nice, quiet, wooded, private campground.

David Grohl Alley - Warren, OH

Steel mill near Warren, OH

Sunday, July 31 - day 42 - New Waterford, OH, to Washington, PA. 64 miles, 5:00 in saddle, 12.8 avg.

Morning fog in East Palestine, OH

Old-style advertising for an old-time product ...

Beautiful summer day, cool in a.m., once again with morning fog. The ride was hilly all day, beginning with some long climbs between East Palestine and Calcutta, OH. As we crossed into Pennsylvania, we had a view of nuclear reactors spewing steam in the distance. A half-hour later we passed by the reactors as we crossed over the Ohio River at Midland, PA, the first of many very depressed-looking Pennsylvania towns (according to the 2000 census, the median household income is $23,000) with ramshackle houses lined up against the road.

Nuclear reactors on the Ohio River at Midland, PA

A separate set of reactors, just upriver from those at Midland

After Midland the big hills resumed as we drew closer to the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. Past noon the day grew hotter and the hills became fatiguing, making everyone a little nervous about the hard days ahead: we'd all been warned that riding through the Appalachians is more difficult than both the Cascades and the Rockies.

Monday, August 1 - day 43 - Washington to Confluence, PA. - 94 miles. 7:19 in saddle, 12.8 avg., and we passed the 3,000-mile mark in cumulative Big Ride miles.

Mingo Creek east of Washington, PA

A good day. I was on breakfast duty, so had to set my alarm for 5:00 a.m., when it was still dark. There was heavy traffic for the first 14 miles as we passed through Washington, PA, on hilly, narrow roads, but then the route became very scenic as we took Brownlee Road into Mingo Creek County Park, which was quiet and deeply shaded. Beyond the park we rode through more Rust Belt towns first New Eagle and then Monongahela, where we crossed the Monongahela River. At this point we were deep into the mountains, and on the other side of the river there were steep climbs for the next six miles to reach West Newton and Youghiogheny River Trail, a 71-mile rail-trail that follows the Youghiogheny River and is now part of the larger Great Allegheny Passage, a system of trails that stretches from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. We rode the trail for 52 miles, from West Newton to Confluence. It's unpaved but has a smooth crushed limestone surface, and while it was uphill nearly all the way, the gradient never exceeded two or three percent. I reached the campground across the river from the town of Confluence at 3:15, set up my tent quickly because of the threat of rain, jumped in the river for a quick, freezing dip, and then rode into town to do my laundry before dinner.

Coal barge on the Monongahela River, passing by Monongahela, PA

Auto graveyard near West Newton, PA

Riding on the Youghiogheny River trail ...

... for 52 easy miles (a nice respite from the mountains)

Tuesday, August 2 - day 44 - Confluence to Bedford, PA - 86 miles (with added miles due to wrong turn; should have been 76 ...). 7:18 in saddle, 11.8 avg.

A good, hard, challenging day. The morning was cool and very foggy. Rather than spending it back on the Youghiogheny River Trail, I opted with a handful of others for the alternative route up and over Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania. (Gabe took the trail route.) The hardest part was the first half-mile on Mt. Davis Road, where the gradient was 14 percent. After that the climbing was easier, and the road was quiet as I passed attractive farms, barns and fields half-hidden in the fog. The fog thickened on the final ascent to reach the summit of Mt. Davis (elev. 3213), and loose gravel made that last climb especially difficult: to avoid the thick gravel I rode mostly on the center line, listening for cars (luckily there were none), the visibility reduced to just a few yards. After a steep descent, the fog lifted and I passed some attractive Amish farms, haystacks arranged in sheaves, before and after the town of Summit Mills on the road east to Meyersdale.

Amish farm near Summit Mills, PA

Haystacks, the traditional way ...

A friendly Amish cow ...

Due to a wrong turn after lunch as I was riding out of Berlin, I wound up riding an extra ten miles before getting back on route in the town of Shanksville, near the United Flight 93 crash site on September 11, 2001. I had visited the temporary memorial at the crash site five years ago and was critical then of its haphazard nature: there was no formal tribute to the heroism of those passengers, just a series of written notes and small stone markers created by private groups and individuals. Where was the Congressional will to make a more permanent memorial, I had wondered? On this visit, however, I had a much more favorable impression: a more permanent memorial is in fact being built, with phase 1 slated for completion in time for next month's tenth anniversary. The overall plans for the memorial struck me as extremely moving, so thoughtful in design that it will be almost unbearably poignant, keeping alive the full horror of that day. I don't have any photos to show of it – just the one I took of the privately funded Flight 93 Memorial Chapel, which exists some miles away – but I recommend you look up the design on the Internet: http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Off-route, west of Shanksville, PA

Privately funded Flight 93 Memorial chapel, near Shanksville, PA

After Shanksville, more serious climbing followed, as we rode east on the Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) up and over Bald Knob Summit, elevation 2906 ft., crossing the Allegheny mountain range. Then after the long, winding descent – a ten-percent grade for more than six miles – there was more climbing to reach the day's end at Bedford. We stayed at Friendship Village, a private campground equipped with both a pool and mini-golf course. Gabe and I played, and I kept him in his place, beating him soundly.

Wednesday, August 3 - day 45 - Bedford to Gettysburg - 105 miles, 12.0 avg., 8:45 in saddle.

Pennsylvania farm near Gapsville, PA

A very long, hard day – the longest day in the saddle of the whole trip – referred to on the Big Ride as the "Final Exam." It had rained overnight, and the rain's intensity picked up in morning, just as I woke. I packed up in a drizzle, and for most of the morning the rain remained light, with harder rain coming in only short spurts, keeping the temperature cool throughout the day. The first half of the ride featured a lot of very steep climbing, requiring me to use my lowest gearing. I've always enjoyed the work of climbing on a bicycle, so I settled into a slow, steady pace, enjoying the cool dampness amid the rural surroundings – quiet roads, deep forest, and sections of attractive farms.

Then halfway through the morning, I ran into Gabe; he was riding the other way, thinking he'd missed a turn (he hadn't). From there we rode together for the rest of the day. I was impressed with his strength and endurance: he easily kept pace with me. And while initially he was complaining (sighing and groaning on uphills, saying he just wanted day to be over), his attitude improved when we rode through a particularly beautiful section of deep woods from the town of Burnt Cabins to Cowans Gap State Park. After lunch the ride was decidedly less scenic; after one big descent we were finally out of the mountains and in rolling terrain for the fifty remaining miles, riding mostly on U.S. 30 and amid thick traffic in Chambersburg. But we sped along together and we were one of the first riders to finish, reaching Gettysburg at 4:00 p.m.

Thursday and Friday, August 4 & 5 - days 46 & 47 - Off-day in Gettysburg and then Gettysburg to Poolesville, MD - 69 miles, 4:55 in saddle, 13.8 avg.

For me the off-day was pretty disastrous, as I tried to deal with my gmail account problem all day long, with little progress, meaning I had no access to email and couldn't work on my blog. I finished reading Adam Bede and then in the afternoon rode through the Gettysburg National Military Park, stopping at the Visitor's Center to visit the museum and see the Cyclorama (a 360-degree diorama of the battle, the 1884 painting enhanced with lights, sound, and authentic artifacts such as cannons in the foreground). In the evening I saw the documentary "Buck" at the beautifully restored Majestic Theater ("the grandest small-town theater in America") and found it compelling, full of good precepts for living life with compassion.

North Carolina Memorial in Gettysburg National Military Park

Detail from Cyclorama at Gettysburg Visitor Center (the cannon is real)

The ride to Poolesville was uneventful – some sections of busy roads, especially as we passed through the city of Frederick, Maryland, mixed with some nicer, rural sections – deep woods, cornfields, horse farms, and upscale homes. Gabe and I rode together from the lunch stop on, and once again we were among the first riders to reach the finish. I spent the afternoon at the Poolesville town pool, taking dips and working on my end-of-the ride tan. Then dinner was a celebration for all the Big Riders at a local restaurant.

Gabe easing his way to the finish ...

Saturday, August 6 - Big Ride finale, Poolesville to D.C. 38 miles, 3:03 in saddle, 12.2 avg.

A pretty, hilly ride early - large horse farms especially. Then River Road (along the Potomac) became urban, crossing the Beltway, and led to Capitol Crescent Trail into downtown. The trail was congested with runners, walkers, and other cyclists, but it was easy riding, downhill all the way. Reaching downtown D.C., I rode straight to the State Plaza Hotel, where Gabe's parents were staying. I showered and changed, then walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House, for a lunch at the Old Post Office Pavilion and final goodbyes, although if I'd had my choice, we would have just turned around and biked back to Seattle.

End of the ride (some of us wished it wasn't ...)

Final thoughts about the Big Ride:

(1) I have to thank Gabe. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't have participated, and it was great to ride the Big Ride again.

(2) Thanks also once again to all of Gabe's and my sponsors, with special thanks to Steve and Alice Lewent for all their assistance, financial and otherwise.

(3) The weather made the ride great. Even though I was repeating the same route as five years before, the differences in weather made it all seem new. And the weather was excellent, notwithstanding all the rain: it was much, much cooler than in '06, with daily high temperatures in the 70s and mid-80s, only reaching low-90s two or three times. (In '06 the daily highs consistently reached the 90s, and there were many days – nearly a dozen – that reached triple digits.) It made the riding far more pleasant and the landscapes rich with green.

(4) Thanks to ALA Ride Director Bridgett Herzog for all of the upgrades compared to '06 – major improvements in food and accommodations. I especially appreciated the variety created by the number of hot, catered breakfasts we received (in '06 we had simply had cereal every day) and the daily lunch table set up by the support staff (i.e., Ride leader Charlton DuRant), whereas in '06 we made our pb&j's at breakfast and rode with them until we got hungry. Also, while most of the accommodations (campgrounds, high schools, college dorms) were the same, whenever there was a change, it was for the better. In particular, the added dorm stays in Valparaiso, Indiana (instead of what had been one of the worst campgrounds in '06), and for two nights in Gettysburg were major upgrades, creating more equity among the riders (in '06, those who could afford it bailed out in both places, opting for motels).

(5) Thanks especially to the support staff – Charlton, Lynn, and Rich. They worked their butts off and did an amazing job every day keeping us happy, well-fed, and safe.

Top Ten Things I Miss Now That the Big Ride Is Over:

10) Second and third (guiltless) helpings at meal time.
9) Daily peanut butter and jelly (more accurately, thanks to Lynn - almond butter with raspberry jam on fresh whole wheat bread).
8) Waking up with the sole purpose and responsibility of riding my bicycle for six to eight hours.
7) Spending most of the day outdoors, rain or shine.
6) As I travel through my days, not having Lynn there at check points asking me how I'm feeling and whether I need anything to help me along.
5) Moments of extreme joy – riding along on the open road, body energized, mind quiet, soaking in the surroundings …
4) The camaraderie among fellow Big Riders, with particular nods to Kathleen, E.A., Kat, Jim, Sarah, and Kasey & Brandon: thanks for all the good times and laughter.
3) Kathleen's smile (see below). If only I could bottle it.
2) After nights and nights of tenting, the luxury of a motel.
1) Let's face it, just about everything.


Big Rider Kathleen Kroll and the smile that never quit

Gabe and I in D.C., moments before I headed off for a Big Ride '06 fifth reunion in Michigan ...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Greetings from Valparaiso, IN

Hi, All,
Week 5 of the Big Ride was the most challenging yet. Until we reached New Ulm, Minnesota, we'd been having a relatively easy time of it weather-wise, with cool temperatures, minimal rain, and difficult but not spirit-breaking South Dakota winds. Beginning in Minnesota, though, our luck began to change. As most of you are undoubtedly aware, a severe heat wave swept across the Midwest and is now on the East Coast. We managed to miss the worst of it, as for us the temperatures never reached triple-digits, but beginning in New Ulm because of exceedingly high humidity the heat index made the weather oppressive. Slower riders especially suffered as the heat index climbed all afternoon; and sleeping outside became nearly impossible, as nights were airless and temperatures barely dipped below 80. After four days we reached Madison, Wisconsin, where we had an enjoyable day off, and the weather finally broke, becoming noticeably cooler and less humid. In the three days since then, though, we've been plagued by rain and have been riding through downpours, getting soaked to the skin. The good news is that group morale has remained high. The four weeks of riding leading up to this week strenghtened us all physically and mentally. People came up with creative solutions for dealing with the heat, finding ways to sleep in air conditioning. And now with all the rain, we've found the wet conditions preferable to the heat we'd experienced, so we're soggy but content. [The photo above, by the way, is of a roadside attraction we passed today - before the rain - on old Route 66: the Gemini Giant standing beside the Launching Pad Restaurant in Wilmington, IL.]

Exhausting as the trip has been, though, I have less time for blogging, so the best I can do is to offer a quick rundown of the past week. Here's the day-by-day account:

Sunday, July 17 (day 28) - New Ulm to Owatonna, MN. A short day - 74 miles - but with adverse winds and high heat and humidity. The temperature was 78 as we began riding at 6:30 a.m. and quickly rose through the 80s into the mid-90s. It was misty at first - a humid haze - and the riding was mostly flat and not very scenic, with much of the day spent on U.S. Highway 14. We'd been on U.S. 14 since Midland, South Dakota (i.e., for most of the past six days), but as we proceeded east, the road kept getting bigger and more trafficked; and at times on this day the road widened to a four-lane divided highway with lane-wide shoulders, thus about as dull as riding on an interstate. We passed through one big urban area - North Mankato and Mankato, MN, lying on either side of the Minnesota River, with a combined population of more than 50,000. In Owatonna we were camping at the county fairgrounds, directly across from an indoor skating center, availing us of an air conditioned lobby. The building was closing at 10:00 p.m., but the supervisor felt so bad for us that he offered his house, less than a mile away, as a place for us to sleep. About a half-dozen riders took him up on it; and our two seventeen-year-old riders, Geena and Caitlin, came up with their own solution by sleeping in the dining area of the 24-hour grocery store (a Hy-Vee) a block away. I chose to sleep in my tent without my rainfly and was rewarded with a stiff breeze that kicked up around midnight, cooling things down a lot. It was also nice and quiet.

Farmland along U.S. Hwy. 14 in Minnesota

Monday, July 18 (day 29) - 89 miles from Owatonna to Winona, MN. More of the same: high heat and humidity, too much time spent on U.S. 14, and we passed through Rochester, MN, population 106,000, home of the Mayo Clinic and St. Mary's Hospital. The riding was fast, however; the wind was southerly as we rode east, wasn't strong enough to slow us, and at times became a tailwind by angling out of the southwest. The ride also ended well with a big descent into the Mississippi River Valley and then a swin in Lake Goodview, a few miles short of Winona. The overnight stay was in a dorm on the campus of Winona State University; the rooms weren't air conditioned, though, so virtually all of us opted for the couches and floor space in the big downstairs recreation room.

Tuesday, July 19 (day 30) - Winona, MN, to Viroqua, WS - a shorter day, mileage-wise - only 77 miles - but longer than average because of the hilly terrain. We started by riding south on U.S. Highway 61 (made famous by Minnesota-native Bob Dylan's Hightway 61 Revisited album) along the Mississippi in dense morning fog, then climbed out of the valley onto the western ridge for a rest stop in Dakota, MN, and a visit with the Meyers family, who are big, long-time Big Ride supporters. We then crossed the Mississippi at LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and after riding south for about an hour, we cut southwest through some beautiful, very hilly farmland - mostly dairy farms, and many owned by the Amish, especialy in the township of Harmony, Wisconsin. The high heat increased the difficulty of the climbing, and riders staggered into the county fairgrounds looking especially worn out. Most opted to sleep at a nearby church, while again I opted to sleep outside and camp. There was a colorful sunset, and it didn't rain overnight despite some lightning in the distance; instead once again a cooling breeze arrived at midnight and lasted until morning, and I slept very well.

Morning fog south of Winona, MN

Farmland on ridge above Mississippi River valley (near Dakota, MN)

Mississippi River @ LaCrosse, WS

Amish farm (note buggy)

Arty shot, eh?

Amish farmland

Wednesday, July 20 (day 31) - Viroqua to Madison, WS - 104 miles. Another hard, hot, humid day mostly on U.S. 14 after a nuice morning spent on more scenic backroads southeast from Viroqua to Richland Center, including more Amish farms, .especially in and around the township of Liberty, WS. There was also a good photo op of barnyard animals - goats, chickens, turkeys and pot-bellied pigs - at Peck's Farm Market, a roadside attraction near Spring Green, WS. The ride into Madison was difficult - hot, hilly, heavily trafficked, and further complicated by a road closure, forcing all of us to improvise our way around it. The result was, arguably, the toughest day of the trip, but we were rewarded with a day off in Madison, with a noticeably cooler and less humid afternoon.

Photo op courtesy of Peck's Farm Martket (U.S. Hwy 14)

Wisconsin River

Farmland just west of Madison, WS

Thursday, July 21 (day 32) - I spent much of the off-day running an important errand, replacing prescription sunglasses that I'd lost in Viroqua. That evening, though, I had an amazing experience attending a Gillian Welch concert at the Capitol Theater. I don't have the time to detail how exquisite it was, but she and Dave Rawlins, her musical partner, were so good that, between his virtuoso guitar playing and her powerful, haunting voice, it seemed otherworldly, nearly beyond belief - just the two of them on stage - no accompaniment, no roadies, no warmup act, no announcer - playing alternative folk based on the rhythms and sentiments of old-time mountain music as if they were in a living room or a front porch. It was one of the finest musical performances 've ever seen. Meanwhile, Gabe got his ears pierced, so his day was equally momentous.

Friday, July 22 (day 33) - Madison, WS, to Garden Prairie, IL, 95 miles. We woke up to pouring rain, and it didn't quit for many hours, easing briefly as we rode through the town of Evansville, WS, and then resumiung until we neared the Illinois border. Once free of the heavy traffic around Madison, we rode through more Wisconsin farmland on some very rural roads, including some covered with loose gravel, slowing our progress. We crossed into Illinois via the depressed twin cities of Beloit, WS, and South Beloit, IL, but then the day brightened and we even saw some blue sky while the temperature soared twenty degrees in roughly an hour, from the low-70s to the low-90s. The high humidity again made sleeping difficult, and there was no available indoor option this night. Then overnight a major storm rolled in featuring wind gusts, flashing lightning and sky-cracking thunder. One gust broke the tension pole of my tent and I was forced to sleep the rest of the night beneath a semi-collapsed ceiling. Meanwhile it started pouring, and the rain continued all night.

Riding south of Evansville, WS, during a break in the rain ...

Ah, sunflowers!

Big Riders (from front to back) Kim, Kate M., Daria, and Stan

The Illinois border at Beloit, WS

Nearing Garden Prairie, IL (nore rare blue sky)

Big Riders Kim and Brian

Saturday, July 23 (day 34) - Garden Prairie to Coal City, IL. We woke to heavy rain, and it kept up much of the day, forcing us first to scramble while packing our tents, then to eat a cold breakfast under an overhang, and then to ride through it, soaking us within minutes. The rain kept up for the first 75 niles of what was meant to be a 106-mile ride. A bridge outtage forced us into a long detour, however, and the total mileage became 112. The riding was fast despite the rain because the terrain was flat and the wind light; when the rain finally stopped, though, and the sky brightened, a southerly wind slowed us, making the final miles extra difficult as we rode through the city of Morris and crossed the Illinois River to reach a private campground outside the town of Coal City. I arrived a little before 4:00 p.m., swam in the lake, and then took two showers - one before dinner and one before bed - as once again the temperature had jumped up into the 90s after the rain. The sun had set and I was sweating without moving a muscle.

Illinois River @ Morris, IL

Sunday, July 24 - Coal City to Valparaiso, IN - 85 miles. This day was the polar opposite of the past two. For the third night in a row, there'd been an overnight storm prefaced by wind gusts, booming thunder and lightning. This time, though, the storm had been brief, and by morning my tent was practically dry. We ate breakfast and rode the first 20 miles before the sky darkened in front of us as we headed east and lightning flashed both north and south our roadway. Once the rain started, it fell in buckets, and the wind gusts and lightning made riding untenable. Luckily as it began I was within a mile of a McDonalds situated at the intersection of Interstate 57. I pulled in there, soaking wet, to ride out the worst of the storm over a cup of coffee. Before long nearly all of the Big Riders filed in behind me, and then Charlton, our ride director, ordered us to stay as a major storm cell was passing right over us. In all the storm caused about a 45-minute delay; then we were back on the road riding through rain for the third straight day, saying good riddance to Illinois as we crossed into Indiana. The rain stopped when I was about 20 miles from Valparaiso, and our dorm stay tonight at Valparaiso University has allowed us to get our clothes washed and dried.

Waiting out the storm in McDonald's (from left to right): Kim, Jessica, Kate B., Stan, Daria ...

Bernie, Noel, James ...

Kenny, E.A., Kat, Sarah, and Gabe.

A quick word about Gabe is that he's thriving - growing stronger and stronger, physically and mentally. He, like the group as a whole, is proving his mettle.

That's all I have time for. I need sleep!