La, La, La, La, La

On PAC Tour you don’t get off-days. Every day is a biking day. But, sometimes, sometimes Mother Nature generates a fantastic tailwind on a shorter day turning the day into a play day. Cooler temperatures combined with a tailwind that converted a soft spin into 17mph meant no rush at the rest stops and plenty of time for chatting. What a fun day! I haven’t moved that quickly down the road for that much time in a very, very long time. Today I moved like a real bike! Woot!

Heck, today was so easy that even my human managed to break the cardinal rule of PAC Tour, “Thou shalt not arrive at the hotel before 3PM” by rolling in 15 minutes early. We tried to take it easy, keep it constrained, take longer at the rest stops, but when that wind carries you, you just want to play!!!!! And play, we did.

The route today was again fields and more fields of corn and soybeans and more corn and more soybeans. To add a little contrast to the view we were also in wind turbine country (hmmm….strong tailwind….wind turbines….correlation? Naw). It is amazing how cooler temperatures and a tailwind can make the same basic terrain pleasant and interesting when at 90+ and a headwind we all growled at the monotony, bikes and humans. But today we saw it as interesting. Tomorrow? Tomorrow is another day and time will tell what Mother Nature will throw at us as we roll out of Illinois and into Indiana.

Details. 100 miles 1109 feet of climbing 14 strain

Reading List Coyote America Dan Flores. This was an Audible freebie and surprisingly good. Natural history of the coyote, its migration from the west to the entire US as a urban predator.

Driftless II

Our first day in the Driftless was in Minnesota. While we did ride up one ridge, it was a gentle stair step climb and then it was one of those awesome ridge rides. After that was 42 miles on bike trail along the Root River, avoiding until the very end any lumps or bumps in the road. On our second day in the Driftless, this time in Wisconsin, Lon routed us over county highways, thus keeping the climbing to sedate gradients of no more than 8%.

So, Today? Today? May I say that today, while not as aggressive as the challenge rides so popular in this area, it was still significantly more aggressive than yesterday. Lon had us thinking another day of long, but not aggressive climbing and the initial ride was along numbered highways and county roads. But then…then…we turned onto a named street…and another…and the ups got steeper and the roads rougher…uh, oh.

As we rolled down (and up and down and up and down) County S near the second rest stop, we could see that after the rest stop we had yet another significant up….sigh….so as I told my human to eat enough, but not too much at that SAG….and then…then…we turned onto the road that would take us to the rest stop.

Ha! There before us was a wall of asphalt. If you wanted snacks, you had to climb that wall. Turn back to the gas station? Or dig deep into low gears? Up we went. Oh, now this was a Driftless climb. Someone’s GPS read 25%….I don’t think so. My front wheel never wanted to pop up so probably more like 20%. Still. Significant. Heart pounding. and leg burning for the human. But, thankfully short. And, thankfully, only one of those in 3 days of Driftless riding. We know there could have been more.

Funny thing, though, that up we had seen on County S before the break we were worried about? Felt pretty flat compared to that wall. And, shortly after tat we crossed over into Illinois and while still rolling terrain, more sedate climbs.

So, Wisconsin is completed and goes on the books as pretty terrain with rolling hills, but the worst roads so far. The highways were OK, but some of the backroads were patches of patches of patches with patched patches. Our fellow riders from Illinois say that Illinois roads will be worse and, hate to say it…after 1/2 day in Illinois they might be right. Time will tell.

Rumor has it tomorrow is a recovery ride for the Real Riders complete with a direct tailwind. So maybe my human will let me ride the whole day….I can but wish.

Details 79 miles 4583 feet of climb 14 strain

Reading List The Mocking Bird Next Door Marja Mills. Multi-year interview of Harper Lee and her sister.

Driftless Region

Oh, what a beautiful day! Today we rode from La Crosse, WI to Dodgeville through the driftless region, the area of Wisconsin (Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois) that was not flattened by glacier. While that means lots of beautiful hills, valleys, creeks and rivers that also means lots of hills on the roads, as well.

Lon was nice to us and kept us on county roads and off of any of the named roads like “Something Hollow” (which translates into..a really steep descent, a pretty flat section and then a crazy talk climb back out again). Still that does not by any means translate to flat, nor does it mean we didn’t see some steep sections; just that we didn’t see the 16-20% gradients that the backroads are “famous” for.

It is hard to imagine the human and I rode a 250K in this area before the Southern way back when. Today we were much slower, but….how can you complain about speed when the scenery is so nice? Oh, sure, maybe I’m a bit prejudiced, but I think the driftless ranks up with Whidbey Island, the river rides in Washington and Idaho, the rides in western South Dakota. OK…maybe it also has to do with so many days of hot, flat, not very interesting corn, soybeans and CAFOs that we just came out of before hitting the Minnesota driftless region. Naw….that can’t be all there is to it…

But, today, I’m back in the hotel room….and, guess what, Dear Reader? Yep….I’m once again a clothes line. Sigh….is there no place else to dry socks than my top tube?!?!?!?!?

Details 76 miles, 3888ft climb, 14.4 strain

Reading List Darwin’s Ghosts Rebecca Stott Evolution of the theory of evolution…ok, the history of evolution starting with the works of Aristotle and Arabic scholars up through Darwin.

“Do you ride trails?”

How many times do we hear this question about the trip? And how many times do we want to respond with, “Define ‘trails'” No, we’re not being snarky — well, this time….it is a serious question. Consider the interstate. Before it was the interstate, with high probability it was a highway; before it was a highway, a road; before a road, a trail. Most of the roads that connect cities were originally trails of some sort…be they animal migration routes, Native American routes, settler routes or early roads. So when we ride the interstate or road system, we are, in fact riding trails.

But…today we road bike trail. 42 contiguous miles of an absolutely gorgeous bike trail along the Root River. Shady. Cool. Wind blocking. And, best of all no traffic. No cars. No pickups. No semi-trailers. All for 42 wonderful miles. Ah….were every state so well platted as Minnesota.

Alas, although we left Minnesota on a high note, we did, indeed, leave Minnesota at the end of the day and are now in Wisconsin. Yet another state done. We’ll head into Dodgeville tomorrow and then out into Illinois the next day.

But, Dear Reader, tonight I and the other bikes are locked in a conference room. Hrrrmphh…like we have anything to conference about! While we’re stacked against tables and locked away, I hear some of the humans have great views of the Mississippi River from their rooms. But us bikes? Grrrr….I wonder where the human will dry socks and shorts tonight? At least locked up here I won’t have to suffer the indignity of being a clothes line. grumble .

Details 87 miles 1437 feet. 13.8 strain

Reading List Black Klansman Ron Stallworth We haven’t learned that much about undercover work since we road with Moots and her human. Different world.

Ain’t a Dry Heat

As is the norm, the human rolled me out to the bike racks before breakfast. Nothing unusual until we stepped out the door. Eeeeyeeeww….the my tubes were immediately covered with a fog as well as the GPS; the human’s glasses also fogged up. The other humans chuckled as we walked past, enjoying the looks on riders faces as they stepped outside for the first time of the day. Yuck. At 5:45AM it was already 77 degrees and 200% humidity. What? You cannot have 200% humidity? OK, 300%? No? OK…has humid as humid gets. Not pleasant.

Regardless, even pokey, van riding riders needed to head down the road and, really, could it stay that humid? In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. No evaporation of sweat…it either beaded up on the human or rolled off and dripped onto my tubes….yuck….knowing bike wash is coming at the end of the day is not enough to assuage the feeling of dripping, sunscreen laden sweat on my top tube. Blech.

The day had some clouds so for at least the early morning, the temperature stayed cool-ish. It could have been worse if the 90 degree temps had rolled in early. The route was, again, flat fields of corn and soybean with smaller CAFOs –no free ranging cattle here, although some of the CAFOs were pig, not cattle.

The odd thing is, the closer we get to Wisconsin, the more familiar the landscape appears. South Dakota had fields of corn and soy beans, too, but, here in Minnesota, the layout is more like Wisconsin. Taking an example, near and dear to the human’s bladder….in South Dakota the fields were contiguous and the farm equipment access areas not….uh…inducive to being discreet on the side of the road. But, here in Minnesota, like Wisconsin, large fields were divided with farm equipment roads, perfect for….well..not exactly hiding, but at least not being obvious.

But, more than that, the appearance of the buildings in the small towns are more like the small towns in Wisconsin. Gone now are the western building facades of vertical wood slats that clearly said you were in the West; now we have brick and stone and the styles more similar to those nearer to home. It shall be interesting as we travel further east to see how the image of small towns changes.

Details. 79 miles 505 feet of climbing (flat, flat farm roads). 15.5 strain

Reading List Spying on the South Tony Horowitz. Finished the book today. Well worth the 17 hours.

It’s All Relative

Humidity, that is. Today we crossed into Minnesota! Woot! The temperature today was “only” 95, but, oh, so very humid….so humid that the sweat on the humans doesn’t evaporate when travelling down the road at 17mph….humid. So, today may have been in the nineties, but we agree with the weather app that it feels like 105. Ouch.

And, today was open farmland so lots of sunshine and hot pavement under my tires. Occasionally some trees, but mostly corn, soy beans, and sometimes some cattle. So. Hot. Who’d’ve thunk we might be missing the dry 98’s of Montana already?!?!?!?

Alas, this has been a tough tour. There are still a significant number of Real Riders going for EFI (Every Fantabulous Inch) despite the heat and wind that has made EFI for this crossing an impressive feat, indeed.

But, alas, our numbers dwindle as 2 riders left in South Dakota. One to return to family (humans are, after all, pack animals even if they leave us bikes in the garage and don’t bring us into the house to be part of the pack…but I digress); the other rider left because, grrrr…his bike’s bottom bracket was poorly installed. Dear Reader, when you find your bike a good mechanic, please, please, please, appreciate that mechanic. Shower them with thanks, with beer, with cookies, with your business. Good mechanics are hard to find and, you know, us bikes really are fine machines that deserve the TLC of experienced hands. Ah, but, again, I digress.

South Dakota is now behind us. While the Eastern end of the state was flat and farmed, we really did enjoy the days in the Black Hills Forest, Custer State Park, and the Badlands. Those lands truly are gems and were worth the visit. If the cost of seeing those was miles and miles of flat farmland? Well…quite worth it. Next two days will be crossing Minnesota, looking for the Mighty Mississippi.

Details. 61 miles 692 feet of climbing (flat…flat…farmland). 12.6 strain

Reading List. Spying on the South Tony Horwitz. Modern recreation of Frederick Olmstead’s journeys through the south. Olmstead, creator of Central Park is also, by my account, the great grandfather of the Oak Leaf Trail in Milwaukee. Without his design of the Grand Necklace of Parks in Milwaukee, we wouldn’t have the greenway that became the Oak Leaf. Only 1/2-way but good book so far.

A Tale of Two PAC Tours

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom. Oh, wait, that is A Tale of Two Cities. But, today was definitely two different rides depending upon how fast you ride and whether you ride solo or in a group.

On the positive side, the temperature stayed lower today where “lower” is relative. However, to get that lower temperature, Mother Nature threw in a very, very strong headwind. It is hard to imagine any rider coming saying today was “fun”. Challenging? Brutal? Downright epically painful? Possibly. But not “fun.”

PAC Tour has time cutoffs for long days…oh, did I forgot to mention that this was a day of more than 140 miles, as well? Yes, 140+ miles and headwinds that showed that someone clearly did not talk nice to the weather gods this morning. But, I digress. Time cutoffs. Minimum time to a rest stop is 12 mph road time. This includes time spent at rest stops, time spent waiting for the human to pee on the side of the road, time spent waiting for the human to take pictures, etc. All time counts.

Today started well with light winds on a downhill. My pokey human managed to have a 16 mph road time one hour into the ride. Things were looking good; pleasant clouds looked like we wouldn’t bake as we road over South Dakota farm roads and the temperature was cool. And then a little more than an hour into the ride…..whump….the wind picked up….and not just a little. It went from barely noticeable to dangerous gusts. At one point the human and I struggled to stay upright until the winds settled in at just strong. Oh, it was going to be a long day.

But…here is where the world splits. The faster Real Riders were able to continue riding and meet the time cutoffs. While their speeds obviously dropped, they were riding above cutoff speed. They could continue, but their day would get very, very long. But, for the riders who ride on the edge of cutoffs every day? Oh, we were in trouble.

My human and I had that nice road time buffer one hour in….and by lunch, we were down under 12mph. And, we were not alone. Six of us failed to meet the cutoff and not just by a little and the gap between us and the faster riders was already more than an hour. So, we loaded into the van and headed towards town. Wisdom did prevail as we all opted to van all the way in instead of riding from the last sag.

I’ve said it before and I shall say it again…chapeau to the fast Real Riders who rode the whole day….today was tough. Chapeau!

Details 83 miles. 3478 feet of climb. 14.6 strain

Reading List

Over the Edge of the World Laurence Bergreen. Tale of Magellen’s voyage with the politics on and off the ship

Gut Giulia Enders. Mary Roach’s Gulp read better but still had interesting stories on human anatomy

Fly Over Country

Today was the first of 4 days of longer mileage over what is often referred to by Coasties as “flyover country.” Now, those people may think it is because they only see this country from the window of an airplane, but, I don’t think that is the definition and I think the phrase is really “fly country.” Egads. Stop for 3 minutes on the side of the road and every fly in a 5 mile radius descends upon you — human or bicycle, it doesn’t matter. There will be a fly.

And when the flies aren’t bothering you, the kamikaze grasshoppers and crickets are flying into my spokes. I just want to shout, “I’m too big for you to do damage. Just save yourself and me the negative karma for slicing you in two!!!!” But I don’t speak grasshopper or cricket.

Despite flies, crickets and grasshoppers, the highlight of today was the Badlands. That section of riding was worth the trip. Definitely not in the “lush green” category but, oh, so very interesting to view. Those miles flew by with so many things to see, observe and ponder.

Thankfully, the Badlands were early enough in the day because it was…..HOT….yep, just when we thought we’d gotten closer to areas of the country without super hot temperatures, the super hot temperatures arrive ahead of us. Sigh…that meant my human didn’t make the full ride. But….we got to ride the bestest part thru the Badlands. So all is good.

And….because I rode in with the luggage van I got into town well before the human. While the human was participating in, “How many riders and crew does it take to change a tire?” I got cleaned up by Edwin’s human. So very nice of him, but….alas, poor Edwin, continues to ride atop the van. Some day….some day he’ll ride again.

Details 95 miles, 1500′ of climbing (approximate…the human left the GPS on when I jumped into the van….oops). 14.9 strain

Reading List

Spirit Run Noe Alvarez. Run across North America’s native lands.

This is your Mind on Plants Michael Pollan

Not a PAC Tour Day…

….until it quite definitely was. Today was a tourist day. Starting in Custer, SD and finishing in Rapid City, we had the choice of multiple routes. The most relaxed were given an option of 40 miles to Crazy Horse and then to Mount Rushmore to join the group for the ride to Rapid City. The most aggressive of the Real Riders chose a 90 mile route with extra climbing. Those in the middle could choose 60-75 miles that took them through Custer State Park, past Mount Rushmore and into Rapid City. We chose the 60 mile option, but bypassed Mount Rushmore. So….

That meant we could take a later start in the morning. That drove my human nuts. Since we are so slow, the human has me set up and ready to hit the pavement as soon as the van is accepting gear bags. Then, the human is the first to load a bag, I get pulled off the rack and off we go as we try to get just a bit down the road before becoming last wheel. That has been the routine for every PAC Tour except Historic Towns (where we are more average). So, this morning? We’re riding a shorter route so, what do we do?!?!?!

Well….we started the day with a visit to a coffee shop. Oh, so very not PAC Tour….if you have over 100 miles to ride in a day and there are time cutoffs, a coffee shop stop is never, ever in the cards for slow riders. But today the human and I sat on the patio at the coffee shop and sipped chai feeling….well…..odd. Try as we may, the human was just itchin’ to ride so we headed into Custer State Park. What a gorgeous park. We took the short cut and skipped the wildlife viewing loop. So, instead of twisty roads with some steep climbs, we were met with one small uphill and a very, very long gentle downhill. Aaahhhh…..and because we took the short cut, we could toodle…..even bigger aaahhhhs. We even stopped at a lake, the visitor center, read road side maps and signs…..so very, very not PAC Tour.

But then, we joined up with the main route and met another rider. Time to start riding for real…and that meant climbing. OK…now it was PAC Tour again…12 miles of mostly up with a 3 mile sustained climb at the end. Yep…the party was over and it was time to be PAC Tour again. At the start we saw two herd of buffalo. Nothing like a few buffalo to force you to stop, take a break and enjoy the scenery. But the buffalo passed and it was time to face that climb. But, you know, we actually enjoyed it and we weren’t the only ones having fun. Some stopped to take pictures, passing us more than once; one of the fast bikes pretended to be a unicycle as they passed us. It was hard not to smile and have fun on that road — even the motorcyclists were chatty for a change.

But, alas, we came out of the park and into “civilization.” We skipped the option to visit Mount Rushmore as the human saw it many years ago. Besides, as we travelled up and over the ridge, in and out of the tunnels, we caught multiple views of it. And then, after lunch, there was more climbing on some smaller, quiet backroads. Overall, just an unusual day in the middle of the trip…a lazy, not very PAC Tour morning followed by enough climbing to make it a very PAC Tour day.

Details 55 miles, 3901 feet of climbing (71 feet/mile) 12.9 strain

Reading List A Most Remarkable Creature Jonathan Meiburg. A natural history essay focused around the Caracara of South America.

South Dakota

Another state boundary. We are now riding through our fifth state having crossed Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Riding through Wyoming we definitely saw a change in terrain with the land becoming greener and less desert-like as we travelled east. More important to me, however, were the Wyoming roads. Wyoming roads, when compared to Montana, had better, cleaner shoulders which meant my tires were safer from glass and tire wires….safer….not safe as a bicycle’s tires are never safe unless riding a velodrome. The human was happier in Wyoming as the drivers were nicer to us, as well. Only one close pass in nearly 3 days of riding. I was really angry with that driver because his pickup truck was pale yellow…..hrrmph….did that driver not realize we were related by paint?!?!?

Today we crossed into South Dakota after lunch and road through the Black Hills. The morning was greener than it had been, but in the afternoon? Ah…lush green grasses and trees. Every terrain has its own beauty and the grasslands and pastures of Montana and Wyoming were lovely at times, but….there is something about green grasses and trees. Yep…some days we ride to get from Point A to Point B but it is days like today that are why we ride. Ah…..

I did promise you, Dear Reader, to finally tell you when the forecast was no long hot, smoke and haze. Yay! It was none of the above. We did get rain, but mostly of the misty kind. But, by the time the ride was over, I was no longer a lovely yellow bicycle. Yuck. None of us bicycles came through the day without a layer of grime. But, you know? It just meant our humans gave us a little bit more TLC…greased our chains and washed us down top to bottom — not just our wheels. Bike wash is a mini spa for us bicycles.

Details 114 miles, 3343 feet of elevation. 14.7 strain

Reading List. The Boys in the Boat Daniel James Brown. 1936 Olympic rowing team. Should have started this one in Washington as the crew was from Washington and Coulee Dam played a role.