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2017 Road Diary

May 31, 2017

After a fabulous sendoff luncheon sponsored by Merchants Bank and Kids ‘n Kinship yesterday, we convened at John’s house at 7:30 this morning to begin our trip; but not without some last minute issues to handle first.  We are using Doug and Anni’s camper this year, but when Justin stopped to pick it up, we learned that his hitch didn’t work with the camper.  Looks like we are using Doug’s truck also!  Meanwhile, Matt and John K. carpooled, but there was no room for John’s bike.  Improvising like we are known to do, John K. jumped on his bike in his jeans and street shoes and rode the 2 miles to John’s house, bragging that he blew past another rider in full biking gear on his way over.  As we were loading, John decided to take his dog Ranger to the vet, concerned that he had suffered a stroke.  Luckily we later learned that Ranger has an ear infection and should recover nicely with a little medication!

Our former fellow rider Kyle bailed on us on Monday, and some of the riders are taking it quite personally.  I’ve heard various stories, but supposedly he’s moving today, and his wife thought he should stay home to help rather than to go gallivanting around northern Minnesota with his buddies.  Did he just learn about this move 2 days before the ride was to start?  To the further disappointment of the CEM boys, Kyle promised to smoke some pork for pulled pork sandwiches and nachos as a sendoff gift, but he got his days mixed up (“due to the holiday”??).  Apparently this is typical of Kyle’s forward thinking and planning process, so he will never be in charge of anything on the CEM.  That is if the CEM boys ever let him back after this debacle.  Yes, Kyle, you’ve been thrown under the bus…

We made the drive from Bloomington to Brainerd and were ready to start pedaling before noon.  John K., Justin and Dennis headed north on the Paul Bunyan Trail into a steady headwind, while John and Matt moved the vehicles forward to our first stop in Pequot Lakes.  Things took a bit of a downturn after our stop as we emerged from a tree-lined trail into open country with an increasing headwind, 15 mph sustained winds that made pedaling more difficult.  Also, after Dennis and John K. left the stop, Justin discovered that his tire was flat.  Certain that something was seriously wrong with the wheel, Justin, Matt and John took 4 attempts and 4 tubes to get the repair done.

With Justin finally back on the trail, we were spread out over the 18-mile stretch between Pequot Lakes and Backus, the support vehicles arriving just as Dennis and John K. arrived for a much-needed break.  Considering our current circumstances, we decided to ride out and back to complete our ride for the day.  The ride seemed to be steadily uphill into the headwind, and our legs started burning, John K. stopping to sit on a tree that was sprawled across the trail to rest and contemplate the rest of the ride.  We rode to the entrance to Chippewa National Forest before turning back, John and Justin cruising in together at the end of the day.

We arrived at our favorite campground on the lake in Akeley at 7:00, quickly set up camp and enjoyed steaks grilled by Matt.  It was a beautiful evening next to the lake, as we enjoyed the loons and other wildlife in their natural habitat.  John K. even spotted a sea otter!  Hmmm…he may need a day to recover from his delirium.  We managed to stay awake long enough for a campfire, but the exhaustion of the day quickly set in, and we all called it a night.

June 1, 2017.

Oh, what a glorious morning, clearly a Top 10 day in Minnesota.  The sun shone brightly, reflections clear on the glassy lake, birds singing in the trees.  We were tempted to grab a book and sit by the lake all day, cold beverage in hand.  Who would know???  Ok, it just wouldn’t be right.  And so we began our daily preparations.

After a few cups of coffee to get us going, Matt made a pile of French toast and some bacon for our first breakfast.  This campground is our home base for 2 nights, so today the vehicles didn’t need to move…not sure what Matt planned to do all day.  By 10:00 we were all set to go, and we posed for a quick photo in our brand new, sharp looking red and black CEM jerseys.  The aches and pains from the first day of riding were mostly faded, and we were ready to begin anew.  Despite what our media coverage states, we did not train year-round for the ride.  The four riders collectively rode less than 300 miles this spring in Minnesota, so we were paying for that a little bit this morning.

We all started westward on the Heartland Trail toward Park Rapids; however, since there were numerous options on the trails today, we all rode varying routes.  John, Dennis and John K. rode the 18 miles to Park Rapids, pausing for a photo on the red bridge in Red Bridge Park.  We could find no plaques or other information explaining the significance of the red bridge, but we surmised that it was the original wooden bridge across the water, long since replaced by a concrete and steel structure.  Justin’s in-laws live in Walker, so he turned around in Dorset (the restaurant capital of the world!!) so he could head back to Walker for a surprise visit.

Returning to Akeley for our lunch break, we learned that Matt had gone for a nice 10K run in a show of his athleticism.  Way to go Matt!  The rest of the riders continued east on the Heartland Trail, John K. and Dennis turning south on the Paul Bunyan Trail through the Chippewa National Forest.  The forest ride is one of the best in Minnesota, rivaling the west end of the Mesabi Trail for its serenity and solitude with the right amount of challenging hills for its 10-plus mile stretch.  John K. had his first ever flat tire when nearing the south end of the forest.  He was a little concerned about doing it right the first time, especially considering the problems with Justin’s tire a day earlier.  Also, it’s a little eerie on this section because it is so quiet, and he encountered no other riders the entire time.  He made the change without a hitch, however, and continued on his return ride.

Justin also made the ride through the forest before turning to Walker for that surprise visit.  It was indeed a surprise as he stopped for a brief chat before hitting the trail back toward Akeley.  John was pedaling on the Heartland Trail near Walker when he crossed paths with Justin.  John eventually made a stop at the Woodtick Theatre in Akeley, consulting with “management”.  He declined to attend the rehearsal, however, since he knew Matt was waiting with a kettle of pork nachos.  Yes, kettle…we make do with what is available on the trail.  Matt also served us mozzarella sticks before sautéing vegetables and grilling chicken for our lakeside dinner.  No mas!!

After sunset we had another campfire, although this bag of firewood was very wet and so was difficult to get burning.  Luckily Justin brought along his new toy, a battery powered 58 volt Echo 550 cfm jet fan, just for this purpose.  It took several minutes of constant fanning to get the fire burning, and we enjoyed the fire for a few more minutes before collapsing into our beds.

June 2, 2017

We awoke to another beautiful morning lakeside, a virtual repeat of yesterday’s start.  While the rest of us relaxed, Matt cooked some breakfast sausages and Justin whipped up a batch of his near-famous pancake batter.  Justin cooked griddle full after griddle full of pancakes until we could eat no more.  Breakfast is supposed to fuel our ride, not bog us down, but we also shouldn’t exercise right after eating, at least that’s what my mom told me.  One hour was somehow the magic time.  Well, luckily for us, we never get on the trail within an hour of breakfast. 

After finally getting everything and everyone ready for our departure, we took one final photo on the dock.  We pulled up stakes from our favorite campground amid discussion that we could change the routing next year to spend maybe 6 or 7 days here.  We could probably make that work!  John agreed to be Matt’s assistant support driver today, making the necessary stops at the dump station and gas station before driving ahead to meet the rest of the riders at Laporte (which we have taken to pronouncing La-por-tay). 

Our 21-miler to Laporte on the Heartland Trail and then the Paul Bunyan Trail was a nice, easy ride.  After a quick break (we really didn’t need to eat anything at this point), we were back on our bikes.  Wait…Justin had another flat tire, the front tire this time.  This change went much smoother than Day 1, with assistance from John K. and Matt.  Dennis and John were off riding somewhere by this point.

Next we pedaled a wind-aided 20 miles to Bemidji, arriving just ahead of the drivers, who were taking an inadvertent scenic tour of the lake.  While John was driving around with Matt following, he spotted a building next to the trailhead that he recognized from a year earlier.  We appreciated the timeliness of their arrival, but at the same time questioned the lack of GPS usage.  We were fairly certain that it had to do with Driver 1 talking on the phone while he was driving, which prevented him from using Google Maps.  Pure speculation at this point, but years of observation would support this conclusion.

At Bemidji, Justin exclaimed that this was the best ride he had ever done.  Wind can be very friendly at times.  Justin, John K. and John decided to drive back to La-por-tay and ride it again.  Dennis chose to continue north on the trail along Lake Bemidji to the State Park, recognizing that he would turn back into the wind for the finishing stretch.  Along their way, John K. and Justin spotted a fox, a turkey and a deer, and they were also “threatened” by a porcupine.  What does that mean exactly?  Matt pondered whether the threats were verbal, but apparently the porcupine was raising his quills and making mean faces.

The day was very warm as we rode to the end, and John K. decided to jump in the freezing waters of Lake Bemidji to celebrate the end of his ride.  He was joined by Justin and Dennis; it is an understatement to say that this polar plunge was invigorating!  Back at the trailhead we loaded and made the drive to Grand Rapids.  There we met our second leg riders, Kathy and Jack, and our new support drivers, Doug and Anni.  Matt, Justin and John K. departed for home.  We had a great time with the leg one crew!

After setting up camp on the open grounds of the Itasca County Fairgrounds, a park ranger stopped to tell us that we couldn’t camp in these sites, that there were other sites up the hill that we could use.  We told her that we didn’t notice any postings, but that we understood.  We also let it slip that we were on a charity bike ride, and was there any way we could just stay here until morning.  She considered the request briefly, said “I didn’t see you” and then drove off.  We were extremely pleased with that response, and so we enjoyed the rest of the night in our spot, including a dinner of burgers and brats on the grill.

June 3, 2017, Batman Returns!

Jack, aka Batman, has made his return appearance to the CEM900!  Doug and Zack referred to Jack as “Batman” regularly on last year’s ride, and Jack has fully embraced it, opting to wear a Batman t-shirt over his jersey for his inaugural 2017 ride!

 

Unfortunately for us, Bob Porter had to cancel his scheduled CEM ride.  Unlike Kyle, Bob had a legitimate last minute, business-related turn of events that led to the cancellation.  Hopefully Bob will be able to join us for part of the 2018 CEM.

On to the day’s events.  We had a small thunderstorm overnight, and the morning was overcast, but non-threatening, as we enjoyed our morning coffee.  Doug cooked sausage and eggs to order for us as a concerned Grand Rapids citizen pulled up, questioning why we were camped on the flat fairgrounds when we were supposed to be up the hill.  OK, we get it!  Next year we’ll remember…although John said our memories are short sometimes.

We completed our campground cleanup and then walked our bikes to the entrance to the Mesabi Trail.  After getting our trail passes and taking a few photos, John reminded Dennis to reset his bike computer, so that his average speed wouldn’t be diminished by the slow walk over, “because I know how you are” as John stated.  No denials here; Dennis’ computer was already reset.

The first section of the Mesabi is very picturesque, rolling through forested areas, alongside lakes and through numerous small towns.  We enjoyed challenging climbs and nice downhill runs as we pulled into our first stop at the baseball field in Pengilly.  Next we continued on toward Hibbing, the day becoming increasingly warm as we rode.  In Nashwauk, John made a detour when he started following the orange signs (for snowmobiles and ATV’s) rather than the bike trail signs.  A friendly resident on her 3-wheeler guided John back to the Mesabi Trail, all the while John learning of her recent medical history.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, but yet very spectacular as we made our way to the endpoint in Mountain Iron.  To our surprise, we discovered that Mountain Iron is quite the Metropolis with shopping centers, coffee shops and alas, a Dairy Queen!  Finally we were able to stop for a post-ride treat with our DQ gift cards provided by Kids ‘n Kinship staff.  We proceeded to West Two Rivers Campground, where Doug and Anni set us up with a fabulous pork chops and homemade potato salad dinner.  Doug started a campfire, fanning the flames with a cheap electric fan.  Effective, but not nearly the cool factor that Justin’s jet fan had!

We sat around the fire, listening to the Twins game on the radio.  John made root beer floats, which Anni has been anticipating ever since she signed up as a support driver!  What a great way to end Day 4 of the 2017 CEM900! 

June 4, 2017

The sky was clear as we emerged from our sleeping quarters one by one, the smell of coffee in the air.  Soon Doug started frying bacon and then made an outstanding batch of French toast, a breakfast of choice with a long history on the CEM.  We probably had French toast as many as ten times on some of the early CEM’s.  Things were simpler, and yet much more difficult, back in the day…

After breakfast, we readied ourselves and rode directly out of the campground a couple of miles back to the Mesabi Trail near Mountain Iron for the return trip to Grand Rapids.  I am sometimes asked if it is less favorable, perhaps boring, to ride the same trail two days in a row.  The answer to that is a definite no, especially when riding the opposite direction.  Although there is a certain amount of familiarity, the perspective and sights and sounds are completely different.  This seems particularly true on the Mesabi, which highlights the surrounding beauty of the iron range in such a great way!

We all pedaled at an easy pace on the first 20 plus miles to Hibbing, where we stopped for a leisurely break.  The wind was blowing, but mostly at a crosswind to us, so it didn’t really hinder us too much; also much of the trail is sheltered from the wind.  Our pace quickened a little as we rode the second stretch to Pengilly.  We encountered some intermittent light rain along the way, but it was actually quite refreshing after the hot 86 degrees of yesterday.  Doug and Anni made some fabulous steak and chicken quesadillas for our lunch stop at the Pengilly baseball field before sending us down the trail toward the finish. 

As Kathy neared the floating bridge about midway through the last section, a big brown bear stopped on the path less than ten yards in front of her.  Kathy had no time to panic or to think or to do much of anything else, but fortunately the bear saw her and ran off the trail into the woods.  She doesn’t remember if she was able to stop, but she does know that her heart was racing as she sped to catch up to John and Jack, who just happened to be waiting for her so they could take a couple of selfies.  Kathy refused to ride alone for the rest of the day.  Now that’s a frightening encounter with nature, much scarier than a couple of grown men seeing a porcupine!

Along this ride John also received very bad news.  His dog Ranger was not doing well at all and had been staying at the vet hospital for the past couple of days.  Ranger’s physical deterioration was so significant that John had no choice but to put him down.  We could all tell that John felt horrible not being there with Ranger at this time, and we did our best to console him.

After finishing our ride, we drove to Cloquet, setting up camp in the city campground near the river.  Before dinner we had a toast for Ranger and swapped dog stories around the picnic table.  Soon our dinner was ready.  The air was quite chilly outside, so we moved inside the camper for Anni’s lasagna dinner.  The aroma of the camper was like that of a little Italian restaurant as we literally devoured a big tray of lasagna with Caesar salad and bread.  What a great treat for us!  And more carbs to aid us on tomorrow’s ride.  It had been a long, tiring day, and it was getting late as we called it a night!

June 5, 2017, Kathy’s Big Adventure

Somehow nobody remembered that the USG manufacturing facility is just across the river from our campground in Cloquet.  All night long there was a constant loud humming from the operating plant, as well as trains moving in and out, blaring their whistles.  It was a minor nuisance to most of us, however, except maybe Jack, whose sleep was interrupted, and John, whose comment in the morning was “What trains?”  I honestly think John could sleep through anything!

We waited a bit for Anni’s sausage egg bake, nobody in much of a hurry to get going this morning.  Some mornings are just slower than others, and this was shaping up to be one of those mornings.  It was late morning by the time we reached the trailhead for the Munger Trail in Carlton.  John has been pumping up a slow-leaking tire for the past few days, but it was completely flat today, so he opted to change it out before riding. 

We initially rode north about a mile to the scenic bridge over the St. Louis River; this has become part of our yearly ritual.  We have all been to this site previously, but it is still an amazing view worthy of the diversion.  Doug and Anni even walked down to take in the views.  After some photos on the bridge, we headed back through Carlton and on to the south.  The wind was mostly pushing us from the north, so it was shaping up to be a great ride today.

But not so fast.  About 9 miles into the ride, Kathy’s front tire caught a large bump on the path, and she was launched from her bike into the tall grass on the side of the path, sliding on her back until her head hit a tree, stopping her completely.  Kathy was only a small distance behind John and Jack, so she crawled to the edge of the trail and yelled “John!” as loud as she could.  It looked to Kathy like they didn’t hear her, so she shakily stood and picked up her bike.  When she looked again John and Jack were riding back toward her.  John thought he had heard a faint voice crying out, so they decided to stop.  Looking back they saw that Kathy was on the ground, so they had quickly reversed course.

Other than some bruises and scrapes and cuts, Kathy seemed to be ok, but John called Doug to swing by with the RV to pick her up.  Her day of riding was over.  Doug took John’s call, pulled over to the side of the road, and walked back to the pickup to let Anni know what was going on.  When Anni saw him, she knew instantly that something had happened to Kathy…call it twin’s intuition.  They were on I35, and it took them a while to get off the freeway and back onto the county roads, but they still made it in about 15 minutes.  John had also called Dennis, who was pedaling back into the wind at a furious pace.  Kathy also called Dennis to let him know that she was alright and that he should continue to the stop at Moose Lake.  Dennis did his own concussion protocol over the phone.  Trick question:  “What day is it?”  Most of you don’t know this, but Kathy frequently does not know what day it is.  “Monday, June 5,” was the reply.  Was this a good sign or a bad one??

After this experience, our ride was fairly normal, with stops in Moose Lake and Finlayson before finishing in Hinckley.  On the ride to Hinckley, Dennis had an encounter which normally would have been fairly interesting, but which today was very anti-climactic.  A deer in the woods beside the trail bounded right in front of him as he locked on his brakes and swerved to the left.  The near-miss was within 1 – 2 yards; Dennis surely would have been on the receiving end of that collision.

After quick showers in the RV, we loaded everything and headed back toward home.  It will be an overnight stay in our own homes before taking off again for the final three days.  Jack and Kathy are done with their rides, and Doug and Anni are done with their leg as support drivers.  Thanks for the memories and for all of the assistance!

June 6, 2017

We reconvened at John’s house this morning with a brand new crew.  Most joining John and Dennis are returning riders on the CEM, including Joy, Johnny, and Jim; however, we also have a rookie, Brian Wester, our first ever Merchants Bank employee.  Welcome to the ride, newbie!  Hazing begins in a few hours.  Jay is returning again as our support driver, and Sherry is riding along for the first time ever to provide emotional support and to see how things really work on the CEM.  Or she is along to shop in scenic downtown Lanesboro while we are on our daily rides!

We made the drive to the southern part of Minnesota for our final three days on the Root River Trail, arriving on the west end of the trail in Fountain by late morning.  Jim, John, Joy, Johnny and Brian readied themselves for the first trip of the day; Dennis agreed to take a turn at the wheel of the RV to take it ahead to Lanesboro with Jay to find a campground.  John made the suggestion, stating that Dennis had probably accumulated enough miles in the first six days.  Dennis suspected it may have had more to do with John learning that this was a nice downhill ride from Fountain to Lanesboro.  Regardless of the true motivation, we agreed on the plan.

The riders had a perfect 12-mile ride to Lanesboro, where they located the city campground along the river and stopped for a not-so-quick sandwich lunch.  Johnny was more interested in fueling up on his mom’s poppyseed bread and his wife’s oatmeal cookies, which are delicious, by the way.  Oh to be young!  We finally got back on the trail by 1:30, riding back toward Fountain, but turning south on the Harmony-Preston Trail at the 5-mile mark. 

The first 12 or so miles of this trail are very pretty, crossing numerous bridges over branches of the Root River and over several creeks.  Along the way, we spotted a couple of fly fishermen wading through one of the creeks, casting as they walked.  After the scenic portion of the trail, we hit a steep climb up to a plateau and several rolling climbs through farmland on our way into Harmony.  Before reaching Harmony, Brian’s bike malfunctioned such that he could no longer shift the front sprocket to the “granny gear” level.  We reassured him that he wouldn’t need it for the mostly downhill run back to Lanesboro, and he seemed happy with that.

We reversed our course back to Lanesboro, Johnny and Dennis turning back toward Fountain for some added miles on a steady climb to the west.  Eventually we all made our way back to our campground in Lanesboro, well into the evening.  These travel days always go later with such late starts.  We knew we were getting a great payoff, however, as Jay was grilling rack upon rack of baby back ribs for us.  The ribs were outstanding as always.  After dinner, John brought out Sherry’s rhubarb pie (finally!) and served it with a couple of scoops of DQ ice cream.  Legs 1 and 2 riders, you are really missing out! 

The RV and camper are backed up within feet of the river just above the dam.  We literally have the campground to ourselves, and the quiet serenity and the white noise of the river rolling over the dam was luring everyone away to their beds one by one, and not one of us managed to stay awake past 9:30.

June 7, 2017, Like Pedaling in Concrete

This is the largest group we have ever had on the CEM, and we were actually supposed to have one more.  Jack had intended to stay on this leg, but decided to leave early since he was having some problems with his pool at home.  We didn’t really intend for the group to be this large anyway; John and Dennis just lost control of the count.  Johnny needs to move to the third leg.  Sure!  Jim needs to switch from the first to the third leg.  Sure!  Sherry is joining us in Lanesboro for the third leg.  Sure!  Thankfully Jim agreed to pitch a tent, so we would have enough sleeping accommodations.

We awoke to another beautiful morning, rapidly warming in the morning sun.  Jay made sausage and egg muffin sandwiches for breakfast, and then we all got ready, dressing in our matching 2017 jerseys.  Jim fixed Brian’s bike, so Brian could avoid a morning stop at a bike repair shop…Jim is a handy guy to have along on the ride!  Ready to ride before 10:00, we pedaled into downtown and stopped for a few photos with the Lanesboro Merchants Bank employees, who wished us well and sent us down the trail.

We rode to the east today, stopping in Rushford at the 19-mile mark for snacks with Jay and Sherry.  Then we continued on toward the end of the trail in Houston.  Leaving after the rest of the CEM team, Jim and John rode through Rushford, and Jim rode straight into freshly poured concrete on the sidewalk.  He was stuck instantly, but managed to step out and pull his bike with him without falling.  Both tires were coated with a thick layer of quickly drying concrete, so they went straight to the hardware store and grabbed a hose to spray the bike, using their fingers to wipe the thick layer off.  After the cleaning was completed, Jim fessed up to the nearby work crew, who were very understanding as they went back to re-do the surface.  The work crew probably felt a little responsible for not marking this better.  Jay went back later to take a photo so you could see just how easy it was to miss the warning signs.

Johnny and Dennis were now 12 miles ahead of John and Jim, so they decided to ride some extra miles.  Brian thought they were nuts…why would they want to do that??  It was a great day to ride, and the ride between Rushford and Houston is fabulous, one nice hill to climb near the end of the trail.  That’s why!  Plus Johnny had ridden 75 miles a day earlier, and Dennis was NOT going to let that be the high mark of the ride.

We rode back to the Lanesboro campground to complete our ride.  Jay stopped to pick up some vanilla requested by Johnny and Dennis.  The mosquitos might be virtually nonexistent here, but thick swarms of gnats have been attacking us nonstop.  We told Jay that a little vanilla behind his ears will keep the gnats away.  Jay thought he was getting set up, but he did indeed pick up the vanilla, pure vanilla, not the imitation kind.  Back in camp, Johnny, Dennis and Jay put the vanilla on, so the gnats were attacking the others.  One by one, everyone else did the same, and soon the gnats were leaving us alone.  Look, we taught Jay something he didn’t already know!!

Jay grilled chicken and warmed the leftover ribs for dinner.  Shortly after, we had rhubarb pie ala mode and root beer floats.  Joy couldn’t stay awake any later (it was 8:45 after all), and she started the steady procession to bed.  These days can really wear a person down, and we are all unashamed by the early bedtime.  One more day to go! 

June 8, 2017, It’s All Downhill From Here, Baby!

While John, Dennis and Jay were sitting around the campground this morning, Brian told us that he had a very odd experience during the night.  He awoke around 3 a.m. and had to use the facilities.  I use the term facilities loosely, since it actually consists of one porta-potty at the center of the campsites.  The campground was sparsely occupied with only a couple of other sites taken besides ours, so Brian felt fairly comfortable strolling over in the middle of the night.  Just after he settled in, someone tugged on the door and then knocked.  Brian mumbled “occupied” while he was really thinking “Are you kidding me???”  We all laughed, giving him a hard time over his very strange timing.

Later in the morning, while Brian was chatting with a fellow camper, Jim came up to the rest of us and said that he had the strangest experience during the night.  He woke up in the middle of the night and needed to use the facilities, so he walked over to the porta-potty and pulled on the door, but it was locked.  He knocked on the door, but somebody replied “occupied”, so Jim walked away, somewhat exasperated.  “What are the odds??” he exclaimed to us, as we were now completely in stitches.  We called Brian over and pieced the two stories together, enjoying a great laugh at the expense of our teammates.

After Jay fed us a huge breakfast of everything left in the refrigerator, a skillet with fried potatoes and meat and one skillet with eggs and veggies, we departed down the trail.  Today was deemed “biker’s choice”, so each rider could choose his or her own route for the day, while Jay and Sherry stayed parked in the campground all day.  We all chose to ride west (into the wind) first, Johnny, Dennis and Joy riding to Fountain, while Brian, John and Jim rode through Preston before making their return trip.

Along the trail outside of Lanesboro, Joy was stopped by a couple of cyclists who asked if she wanted to see a rattlesnake.  Of course she did!  Joy jumped off her bike and snapped a couple of pictures of the timber rattlesnake, which Jay judged to be 8 years old when he saw the picture later in the day.  Joy and Kathy got the cool wildlife sightings on this trip, bears and rattlesnakes are much better than mean porcupines and “sea otters” that look like muskrats!

 At one point, Brian and Dennis met along the trail.  Brian was cruising downhill with a boyish smile on his face as he yelled, “It’s all downhill from here, baby!!”  Yeah, well, we will see you in a few hours when you are pedaling uphill into the wind to gauge just how euphoric you look and feel!  Actually, we love the enthusiasm!  We also love the comradery as we ride.  In fact, just yesterday as Dennis was catching and passing Johnny on the hill outside of Houston, Johnny gave Dennis a familiar hand gesture, one that Dennis took to mean “way to go, Dennis”.  Dennis was hoping to encourage Johnny similarly today, but never found an opportune moment.

We all finished with a ride out to the east toward Rushford.  Although the wind was blowing quite steadily, the shelter along the trail provided great cover.  One by one we rode to the finish, and Brian did indeed still look very happy as he cruised up the homestretch.  Johnny finished another 75-miler and has set a formidable 3-day record total of 225 miles.  A couple of competitive cyclists who bypassed the 2017 CEM900 should take note that the bar has been set.  You know who you are, Kyle and Tony!  Johnny says bring it on!  We look forward to welcoming you back next year.

We finished up with fist bumps and congratulatory hugs for another job well done.  During the day we had learned that our fundraising total had exceeded our goal amount of $40,000.  Thanks to all of the riders, support drivers and contributors!  You make it all worthwhile.

We loaded up and headed for home.  But first there was the matter of the Kids ‘n Kinship-provided DQ gift cards to deal with.  We decided to stop at the DQ in Zumbrota, where we were joined by Joy’s daughter and grandkids.  What a special treat!  We finished our drive home, content that we had accomplished what we had set out to do and that the months of planning had come to fruition.

Hope to see you tomorrow for the Welcome Home Celebration at Merchants Bank in Apple Valley!