Sunday, June 30, 2013

First Bike Adventure - June 2012


Mapping it out
Tomorrow morning at dawn I will set out on my bike adventure. It consists of approximately 215 miles. Mostly county highways and roads but also a good amount of crushed gravel rail trail. Before I depart I want to make some notes as to the journey and my reasons for wanting to embark on such an adventure.

This is something I've been wanting to do for years. The idea of heading out on my road bike with everything I need (which is really very little) and sleeping under the stars appeals to me. I like living like a gypsy, if only for a couple of days. I like sightseeing on 2 wheels. It's the perfect speed. So much can be missed in a car, and it's hard to cover much ground on foot. On my bike I can enjoy the scent of a cedar swap and see the wildflowers by the side of the road in detail. I plan to stop along the way for all historical markers as well as several streams. I'll ride early in the morning and well into the evening so that during the heat of the day I can soak up some atmosphere in a small-town coffee shop if I happen across one.

My summer employment plans were derailed. At this time, due to financial constraints, my racing is on hold. Rather than be all depressed about my situation and before I just go find any minimum-wage job to get by, I want to take this adventure. I'm about to take my final semester of school and then get a real, full-time job and learn about being financially comfortable again. It's been a long time!

Making Art into a touring bike
Of course I would not want this trip to be anything but meaningful on a deeper levels. The reasons I am doing this include:
-My sister, Becky Sann, who is severely handicapped and will never know the joy of riding a bicycle.
-My childhood best friend, Coni Norton, who was murdered when we were 17. This past week my ex's girlfriend came across a letter Coni had wrote to me in high school as well as some photos of the 2 of us. Damn it, I miss her. She meant so much to me. I'm riding with her on my shoulder. I can only imagine the amazing woman she would be today.
-My battle with autoimmune disease. In 2000 I was numb from the waist down like my legs were asleep. I had a hard time walking for an entire month. I questioned whether I'd be able to function normally again. MRI showed active brain lesions. I gave myself injections to slow the "Possible Multiple Sclerosis". I believe my healthy diet and lifestyle have sent whatever it was into remission. I've only had slight symptoms at times since then. I fight back when it happens. I will not give in to it!
-Because I know that I'm physically and mentally capable. I'm certain there are others in this world who would do this if only they could. I can. And I will.
-My battle with obesity. I've come a long way. I am grateful for where I am and have my eye on where I'm going.
-I am working on learning to live in the moment.

Mmmm... bacon
Rather than dwell on the destination (which will be quite nice I'm sure) I have been relishing the planning. The mapping. The scavenger hunt for supplies to do this on next to no budget. The packing and repacking to whittle down space and weight. Figuring out how to mount the borrowed pannier rack to my bike with no rack mounting provisions - using my neighbor's "junk" stash of hose, clamps, nuts & bolts. The unknown of where I'll sleep tomorrow night. The generosity of those who are helping me make it possible: My kids who are caring for the animals. Elvis Bauman for the pannier rack. Terry Gibbs and his friend for the water filter. My neighbor, Harry, for his supplies. Ben Koenig for his awesome lighting system and a spare tire "just in case". Denise Coppock for the rice muffin recipe. Laina for her iPod for when mine runs out of battery or when I need some Florence to sing along to. Randy Wegener for his constant support and creativity, and in advance for some meat on the grill when I arrive :-) The ride will be enjoyed in the moment. The ups and downs are inevitable.
Above all I will approach this with a heart full of gratitude. For my body. For my bike. For my amazing friends. For the sunshine. For the rain.

Inspirational quotes
My bike will be decorated with inspirational/funny quotes. If you'd like to add one, shoot a message my way and I'll scribble it on tape to secure to my bike for when the going gets hard. I'll be checking in only once or twice each day due to a short-lived phone battery. My intention is to arrive in Beechwood, Wisconsin Tuesday evening before dark.

The Ride:

As described in my previous note, I decided to take a bike adventure to exceed 200 miles in 2 days. I borrowed and scavenged the equipment I would need to get it done and set out the morning of June 18th, 2012. Here are my trip notes:

4:00am: My alarm goes off. I'm sleeping halfway dressed to go. It's raining out. The tailend of a thunderstorm that was moving through and disturbing my sleep. I made a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and dates. Got everything loaded on the bike rack. Woke Laina up for a goodbye hug and a departure picture.

4:40am: Just about ready to roll. Walking the bike down the driveway because the road is all torn up yet, and I tipped my bike slightly. The whole load fell off. Got it all secured a little better. Hopped in the saddle and heard Laina holler, "Happy birthday!!". She's so funny.

A few miles down the road is a nice climb. What a way to start! On the descent I heard something hit the pavement. My stainless steel thermos of coffee. Now it has character. Got that secured better too.

50 minutes in, Just north of Enterprise on County Road G I saw a rather large animal crossing the road and I stopped. It was a decent-sized black bear. It stopped to look at me. I've never been that close to a bear in the wild before. I reached for my phone to turn it on and take a picture, because it was just standing there so beautifully. I was scared but I wasn't at the same time. Before the phone loaded up it continued across the road. Good bear. I noticed my legs trembling when I started to pedal again.

Rain clouds looked ominous, so I stopped at the gas station in Elcho to put my sleeping bag in a garbage bag and use the restroom.

Mile 47
From there I took 45 south to County Highway B. I enjoyed the scenery; a little old almost-forgotten town, a golf course, and several farms. Just west of Antigo I made another stop. This time for sardines, bacon, and rice muffins. I was about 47 miles in. The wind against me but that was my only gripe. I was making good time and physically feeling quite well. No rain yet.
In the small town of Aniwa I was supposed to find a bike trail that connected to Mountain-Bay, according to the map. I asked at the 1-pump gas station but they had never heard of it, and said no one really bikes in that area. Where the map said to get on the trail I saw just a grassy, unmowed snowmobile trail. That would not work with my road bike. I continued on back roads, some gravel and some paved. I passed "Bogus Rd." and laughed out loud. Bogus. The trail was bogus.

From there I had to take Highway 45 for a brief period of time, to N, to Bluebird Lane. When I got to 45 I stopped to put my high-visibility gear back on. Lots of traffic, lots of semis. It's a bit of a thrill, but I was happy to be done with it as soon as I could. Bluebird Lane was a bit hilly. I noticed a goldfinch flying alongside and then just in front of me for quite awhile. I've never really paid attention to their flight pattern. This one seemed to be leading my way. Pleasant little bird.

Around mile 73 I arrived at the Mountain-Bay trail, which parallels Highway 29. I was going to take an extended rest at Joe Bikeler's coffee/bike shop in Shawano. Now, I've been on some rail trails. They're typically crushed gravel and easy enough to manage on a road bike. This one had plenty of hard-packed dirt, and with the rain that had moved through in the morning I found my roadie tires pretty squirrely! Interesting ride! The payoff was shade and no traffic, so I stuck with it.

Mile 80 I came across a scenic covered bridge and stopped for photos. That was near Bowler. Found a gas station for a restroom break, banana, and cold water. Back on the trail, I was startled by an odd sound as a pair of sandhill cranes crossed in front of me, audibly upset. I stopped to let them cross. One started heading my way so I got out of there, apologizing for disturbing their home.

I came across a couple near Shawano - the only other people I saw on the trail - who were on their way from Michigan to Seattle. Their bikes were all decked out with racks and bags. I can definitely see doing that later on in my life. They informed me that the bike shop is closed on Mondays. When I got to Shawano I was at mile 103. It's been 4 years since I've done a solo century. Actually at mile 100 I did a little "Woohoo!!" in my mind. I needed a break so I hopped off the trail and went in the direction of town to find a coffee shop. There were a couple of guys working on something out in a yard so I asked them for directions. They invited me to stay and play volleyball with them that evening. Ha! I thanked them politely and stated after 100 miles I was in no condition to play volleyball.

Next stop was not the coffee shop after all. It was a small park with a shade tree - sardines, bacon, rice cakes and almond butter. Phone conversation with Randy who advised me to continue to Bonduel and find shelter there from a severe thunderstorm that was to hit in about an hour. I was pretty much sick of the rail trail and it's leg-sucking wet gravel by then but the thunder in the distance prodded me to Bonduel. I walked down a grassy hill at an overpass, hopped on my bike, and rode into town. There was a home with 3 little kids out in the yard yelling something at me. I stopped and they yelled "There's a BIG storm coming! You have to get out of the storm! The lights might even go out!" I thanked them for telling me about the storm and asked if
they knew where I might find a restaurant. The pipsqueak little boy offered their house. He was adorable :-) At that point their mom walked over and told me I'd find a restaurant just up the road. Rooster something. When I arrived there were no cars in the parking lot. It was totally a mom-and-pop kind of diner. I peeked my head in the door and asked the waitress if they would be open for awhile. She responded that yes they would and to bring my water bottles in so she could fill them up. Toni. *Awesome* waitress. I sat there and ate, drank coffee, and charged my phone while the storm passed. It was perfect. Other customers had come in the meantime and they were full of questions. Apparently it's not a common thing to do?

My conservative goal was to make it to Angelica, about 112 miles in, and find a place to spend the night. All I brought was a sleeping bag. I wanted to sleep under the stars. I knew I would not sleep much anyway but needed to shut my eyes for awhile. With Randy's help, we came up with that I could probably make it to Seymour. If I was really doing great I could make it to Freedom, around 150 miles in. That way day #2 would only be about 60 miles and I could take my time.

I was feeling pretty good after the diner. I altered my route and took Slab City Rd. I was greeted with a rather large hill, and then another. The downhill before crossing 29 was absolutely a thrill though! I felt the fatigue on the next large climb and eeked down into my granny gear. Thank goodness for triples. 7mph up those hills. Seated climbs to conserve energy. I wanted Freedom. Not Seymour.

French Rd. to Seymour. Dusk and time to put on the night gear. Thankfully my mom sells high-vis equipment so I was set. I had 2 blinking lights on the back, reflective vest, band on my ankle and band on my pack. Commuter headlight on blink setting and mega-headlight (Light & Motion Stella) from Ben Koenig. Sunset was peaceful with it's hues of pink over golden fields. Now I know where "America the Beautiful" came from. We really do live in a beautiful place. Riding after dark felt pretty incredible. The cooler temperatures perked me up. Fireflies ushered me into Freedom. I was ready to be done riding for the day. With a little guidance from Randy I found a place to throw down my sleeping bag, complete with the luxuries of a bathroom to clean up a bit. I got everything ready for the next morning, then watched stars and heat lightning while I drifted off. Note to self: pack something you can use for a pillow the next time! Between my sore body, pounding head, and not being able to get comfortable using a hat for a pillow, by 4 I was sick of tossing and turning. I was reaching for ibuprofen when my alarm went off. By 4:40 I was back in the saddle. 150 miles in. A new record for me in one day. 60 or so to go!

Morning was clear. The birds were waking up the sun. I was cruising past farm fields in the direction of pinks and yellows. Flocks of birds scattered around farm fields. One bird seemed to chase me a bit, cackling as if I'd invaded it's space. You never get that experience in a car. In fact you miss out on so much in a car. Biking, to me, is the perfect pace to see the world. I experienced the sights so much more fully. I could smell the earth and the trees. I could feel the damp air on my skin. Around 5:30 a fuschia-colored ball rose into the sky. I stopped for pictures and to just take it in.

From there the traffic was fairly heavy into Wrightstown and there was no paved shoulder. Crossing the Fox River felt like a milestone to me for some reason. It was a rush, speeding down the hill to the bridge while another cyclist was climbing up and giving the nod. Speeding over the bridge and letting the momentum carry me up the hill on the other side, almost all the way. I stood and gave a few pedal strokes to the top. A couple blocks later I was greeted with a smile and a "good morning" from an elderly man out for a walk.

Not long after I came to the Fox River Trail. More gravel. Great! I shed my reflective gear. I grabbed a bite to eat and some blackberries that were ripe along the trail. I knew I would be meeting up with someone very special - the only person I'd want riding with me on this trip. A few miles up the trail I thought I saw a rider coming my way. Sure enough. Who else could it be?? There she was! Margaret hopped off her bike and greeted me with a wonderful hug. Ah... my best friend. We visited all the way back to her house, stopping mid-hill to pet kittens near a farm. At the house I visited with her and her hubby over coffee. She fed me eggs and bacon. It was hard to leave!

Back on the bike at about 11:30am it was *hot*. The whole trip up until that point I had not felt like I was frying or anything, but I did then. The roads were not marked so several times I had to stop and verify I was on the correct route. To do so I would seek out the tiniest bits of shade from the sparse trees. It's very flat, windy, and bare. I felt very exposed and vulnerable. Sweat dripped off of me. I took several breaks to stand in shade and eat, drink, take my helmet off, whine..... I was feeling worn out on the hills, slowly going up in my granny gear. I felt like it would never end. I had anticipated 60 miles but it was looking like at least 70. The headwind was relentless. I wanted to just stop. I wanted ice. I thought about going to the Birkie with Laina. I thought about sparkling snow in the woods. I turned left on "Little Kiln Road" and found it ironic. More like "Big Kiln", thank you very much.

In New Holstein I stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break and water. The air conditioned building felt so good, I purchased some almonds and a meat stick and hung around for a bit. I knew that mentally I could finish this trip but I worried if physically it was stupid. I'm familiar with heat exhaustion. With the wind and heat I knew I was working harder than I should for such a distance. I called Randy to whine some more. He broke the rest of the trip down into 3 sections for me. I had about 21 miles left to go. So, I kept on. Stopped at the Sheboygan Marsh restaurant for a small Coke and ice water to fill my bottles. I drank some and poured some on me. I wanted to be out of the wind more than anything. I knew my next stop was about 7 more miles -
Fudgienuckles in Glenbeulah. The name is just so funny, I had to stop in. I ordered a Pepsi. Keep in mind I have not had that stuff in years. I didn't care. It tasted really good right then. The bartender asked how far I'd ridden and at that time it had been 213 miles. The people at the bar made a big fuss over how amazing that was. It felt funny to me, and kind of surreal. I didn't stick around for long - just long enough to suck down that ice-cold Pepsi and make the final 9 mile trek.

Leaving Glenbeulah the terrain starts to be beautiful again. I welcomed the hills of the Kettles because they came with trees, and shade, and wind protection. Also I knew that I'd be done shortly. That was a great motivator! At mile 220 I heard a very funny-sounding bicycle horn behind me. I turned to look (WTH?) and there was Randy, driving home from work and figuring I'd be somewhere along that stretch of Highway
A. He drove alongside me for awhile. It was such a good feeling to be almost done and have someone to share that with. I felt relatively strong. As we got to his road, he backed off and let me enjoy the last few moments solo. It was the first tailwind I'd felt for the entire trip. I know I was smiling and not just on the outside. I felt like I was flying, 24mph effortlessly, thrilled to have actually accomplished this crazy goal in my 4th week back on the bike after being injured for a long time. It was the absence of what I love that made me appreciate it more. I did it because I CAN. There is nothing like the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle. 

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