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2008 Diary

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

We have departed on our 2008 adventure so far without incident.  We returned to Marthasville, MO, the scene of last year’s domestic “disturbance”, where we anticipated coed softball games and hoped for the same cute blonde playing third base (there will be private apologies forthcoming for that comment).  Marthasville is only 38 miles from the trailhead of the Katy Trail, the starting point of our 2008 ride.  Gordy is again our support driver, and John and Dennis will be joined on the bike trail for the first four days by Jay Saterbak.  Sherry sent us on our way with pasta salad and a wonderful rhubarb pie, and Joann provided rice krispy bars which we started eating right away in the morning, so we should have plenty of energy to start riding.

We are proud to be riding for Kids ‘n Kinship, an organization that has been such a positive influence on so many lives.  We are also very thankful to all of our sponsors who have made such generous contributions.  The support has been overwhelming, and we have already exceeded our fundraising goal!

There is genuine excitement as we drive down the road today; however, we are also experiencing a collective melancholy.  Although this is the third year of the Charity Ride for Kids ‘n Kinship, this year marks a renaming of the ride to the Christian Elder Memorial 900 in memory of John’s son, who died prematurely at the age of 38 this past summer.  Christian was an avid biker, and he called us several times during the 2007 ride making a pitch to join us in 2008, because he thought we were “having way too much fun”.  He offered to write the diary (job taken), to serve as photographer (a shared responsibility), and to cook (Gordy has been irreplaceable).  Ultimately we agreed that he could ride his bike and be the videographer.

This ride is a wonderful tribute to Christian’s memory, and as our friends from Kids ‘n Kinship reminded us yesterday, “Every Second Counts”.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Morning broke with bright sunshine, a great day for a bike ride.  Since we were so close to the trailhead, we knew it would be an early start, and we were definitely excited to get going.  After a scenic but slow drive through the hilly countryside, we arrived in St. Charles.  There were absolutely no road signs or markers indicating that the Katy Trail even existed, but we found our way to the trail nonetheless. 

At this moment the “geniuses” that we are made a very flawed decision.  Despite driving past the Trailhead Brewery (a fairly significant sign that we were at the right place), we listened to the couple of bikers who told us that the trail had been extended east 15 miles to Machens.  It was way too perfect.  An additional 15 miles of trail would make the total trail 240 miles, exactly our 60 mile per day target.  It seemed odd that the Katy Trail website showed the trailhead at St. Charles, but this little detail wasn’t going to stop us…we were on a mission.

Fifteen miles on Missouri roads with an RV and trailer equates to about 45 minutes.  Upon arrival we learned that Machens is comprised of two farm houses, and surprise, no Katy Trail signs.  After driving back and forth a couple of times and grudgingly stopping for directions, we were told that the trail starts eight miles further to the east at West Alton.  Sweet!  Skepticism was setting in, but east we went.  One would think that a trailhead in such a small town would be easy to find, but no such luck.  At the bait shop John was told that although the trail starts near there, it had not been completed and was not in any condition for riding, so we should go to St. Charles.

Gordy uttered a few choice words on the way back to St. Charles, especially after we encountered a closed road (with no detour) on our shortcut back.  Dennis was also in a foul mood, but John (surprise!) and Jay were trying to put a positive spin on the whole situation.  Back in St. Charles we got on the trail at 1:15, more than three hours behind our intended start.

John and Jay started riding while Dennis backtracked a little way on the trail.  Six miles into the ride Dennis had his first flat.  The repair job didn’t go quite as well as planned, and there was some stress involved as Dennis realized that he had no cell phone and nobody coming from behind.  The tube was mostly filled with air, so he hoped the tube held until the first stop.  It held, but Gordy thought the world was turned upside down as Jay cruised into the stop first, followed by John and then Dennis several minutes later.  John found great humor in this whole experience.

The rest of the ride was scenic and full of wildlife.  We all finished our 60 miles…yes, including Jay for you skeptics.  We finished the day with huge steaks and asparagus on the grill, followed by more rhubarb pie.  There is only one piece left, and I’m thinking that the boss gets it.  Or maybe we can race for it tomorrow…

Friday, May 30, 2008, “Wind is a 4-letter word”

Gordy cooked us another great breakfast of bacon, French toast, and eggs at the ballpark in Marthasville.  As we were having our morning coffee, Jay noted that we had an easterly tailwind, a slight breeze to help us along.  When we departed at 9:30 on the trail, however, we were dealing with a definite headwind.  By the time we made our first stop at the 19 mile mark, the winds were more fitting of the northern plains (has anyone ever been to Grand Forks, ND?).  Which bonehead in this group claimed that it’s never windy in central Missouri?  Oh yeah….never mind.

We really struggled with the second 19 mile leg of the day, certain of us more than others, and our average speeds dropped like an anchor.  Luckily there were storm clouds ahead of us, so we made a decision for safety reasons to bike 22 miles back on the trail.  The decision had nothing at all to do with the wind direction, really!

Jay had been asking for a couple of days whether the trail had any tunnels.  Why do boys have such an interest in tunnels?  Anyway, we found a tunnel for Jay and snapped a couple of pictures.

Along the trail the wildlife has been abundant.  We have seen hundreds of indigo buntings, dozens of cardinals, several hawks, eagles, turtles, rabbits, snakes, lizards, and a couple of very scary Missouri River bears.  We have pictures of these enormous bears, but they look a little grainy, similar to the Big Foot videos from the seventies.  You’ll just have to trust us on this one.

At the end of the day we made our way to a campground east of Jefferson City, the starting point for Saturday’s ride.  It was still warm and muggy, and storms were nearby, but they passed by without raining on us.  The campground was very peaceful, nestled alongside the Osage River, and we enjoyed listening to the nighttime sounds of the various critters.

A couple of side notes…Jay made a brilliant comment last night that while we are traveling east to west on the trail, everybody we meet seems to be biking west to east (duh!)…We thought about stopping at a house reminiscent of the Bates Motel, but opted to speed away instead (see photo)…and finally, Happy 72nd birthday to Dennis’ mom, Audrey!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

We ran out of propane in the middle of cooking breakfast, but Gordy didn’t skip a beat as he moved to the stove inside the RV. It was another excellent meal to get us going for the day.

Saturday morning was hot and steamy as we departed on the trail at Jefferson City, but the 35 mile ride to Rocheport was the most scenic, picturesque section of the Katy Trail thus far. Most of this section was through a canopy of trees, often with the Missouri River on the left and a rock face on the right. From Rocheport we biked to Boonville, where the trail markings became slightly erratic. Each of us found his way with some hesitation, including the Boy Scout of the group. We all thought we would be crossing over a railroad expansion bridge into Boonville, but unfortunately it had not yet been restored. Instead we were diverted over a highway bridge, the Boonslick Bridge (can someone tell us what a “lick” is?).

Since Gordy had such a good spot to park and since we were planning on camping in Boonville, we decided to ride out six miles and back to finish our 60 miles for the day. Dark clouds were looming to the west as we headed southwest. Dennis made it back just as it started to rain, but John got cooled by a nice rain shower as he made his return trip (Jay opted out of this section). The lightning and heavy downpours didn’t start until a few minutes later, at which point we decided there would be neither a cookout nor stock car races tonight.

We found the best Chinese restaurant in Boonville (uh, huh), and made our way to the least maintained campground we have ever seen. Bobber’s RV Campground on beautiful Bobber’s Lake (also known as the parking lot runoff collection basin) next to Bobber’s Conoco and Bobber’s Café was overflowing with garbage, and the grass and weeds were knee high. Note for next year: get a camping directory!

Bobber's RV Campground

Bobber Lake

Saturday night was movie night, Sean Connery as James Bond in “Thunderball”, a classic from 1965. We all received a surge in our testosterone levels, which is good because Sunday will be a busy day…

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What a wonderful day for a bike ride!  We started out at Pilot Grove, and due to the heat made frequent stops with Gordy along the trail.  We stopped at Clifton City, Sedalia, Green Ridge, Windsor, and Calhoun before culminating our four days on the Katy Trail at Clinton.

Besides the scenery along the Katy Trail, the scents were also very pleasurable:  flowers, shrubs, fresh-mown hay, the natural aroma of the wooded areas.  Occasionally there were nasty odors, too, such as skunks or rotting animal flesh, but nothing quite as bad as our ride through the town of Sedalia.  In case you think you have bad neighbors, at least you don’t live next door to Simons Trash Service, apparently a trash dump in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  So much for zoning regulations…we are still trying to forget that stench.

During the last section we reached the high elevation point of the Katy Trail, a towering 955 feet.  We’re not sure why they even bother to mark it, but we took advantage of the photo op anyway.

Along the way we passed through towns named Gore, Edwards and Clinton, but no Obama or McCain, although there was a McBaine.  Jay wants everyone to know that he rode the full mileage of the Katy Trail, more than 225 miles.  John and Dennis have over 240 miles logged, so they are on schedule.  Upon arrival in Clinton, Jay’s mom picked him up in her 1991 VW Bus with no air conditioning…luckily it was only 98 degrees.  Congratulations to Jay for a very successful ride!

We laundered our dirty clothes, ate a very respectable Mexican restaurant, and started on our long drive to Iowa.  Although we had some challenges on the drive, most notably a 10-foot wide section of roadway over a bridge that John squeezed the RV through unscathed, we arrived for an overnight stay at the Wal-Mart parking lot in Maryville, MO.  Tomorrow we will start on a new trail in Iowa with more adventures forthcoming.

Monday, June 2, 2008, “Perseverance”

We were so happy to have accomplished so much on Sunday to put ourselves in great position for today’s ride; alas, things do not always go as planned. The Wal-Mart accommodations were sufficient, and the price was right, but when we awoke, the RV generator wouldn’t start. This meant no coffee for John and Dennis, which is NOT a good way to begin the day. After searching online and making a few phone calls, we opted to make a 2 hour drive to Omaha, NE to get the generator fixed. We filled the gas tank, filled our thermos with coffee from McDonald’s (it’ll do in a pinch, but it’s no Starbucks), picked up some more ice and O’Doul’s, and hit the road.

After a couple of hours at Cummins Diesel in Omaha, the generator problem was diagnosed, but they needed to order a part to be delivered on Tuesday. It was now mid-afternoon, and we knew it would be impossible to get in a full ride. We decided to drive out to Imogene, IA to bike 35 miles back to Council Bluffs on the Wabash Trace Trail. Our day had to get better as we were greeted in Imogene by a large “lucky” shamrock.

Today’s ride officially began at 3:47. By 3:49 we thought this must be some kind of cruel joke. At first it felt like we were biking in quicksand, and then things got worse. The Wabash Trace Trail is a trail in name only. I would generously call it a dirt road with tall weeds and lots of “debris” and washed out areas. Beware any road crossing, which may have a one-foot drop, and watch out for the transitions to the bridges, some of which actually exist. At least someone marked the hazardous sinkhole by shoving a tree branch into it and sticking a couple of little orange flags next to it. Perhaps we should send Lari, our safety consultant from OECS, to inspect this “trail”.

We tried to enjoy the scenery along the trail: a couple of deer, indigo buntings, cardinals, blue jays, wrens, red-winged black birds, and a large hawk circling overhead. Or maybe it was a vulture waiting for my impending and untimely demise; I didn’t really have time to look up that long. Did I mention that the bridge planks were rotting and curled? At one point the trail went up a farm driveway and disappeared down a grass path into a grove of trees…this trail may have last been maintained when Jimmy Carter was president (1977-1980 for those of you who are not history buffs).

Thirteen miles and a short eternity later we emerged safely into a clearing to see Gordy and the RV. At this pace we’ll be back in Apple Valley by August. Throwing in the towel seemed like a good option, but John grabbed a map and found a county highway for us to ride 18 miles north toward Council Bluffs. We drove to the new location, packed away our trail bikes and switched to our road bikes. What a joy! We took off like we were shot out of cannons and made very quick work of this section.

We drove back to the Cummins parking lot, which thankfully had full RV hookups. We were finally able to dine on food from the grill, cheeseburgers and veggies, at 10:00. This was perhaps the best meal on the trip thus far, although a slice of rhubarb pie would have definitely topped it off (a not so subtle hint for Sherry). And now we wait for our part to be delivered…

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

And wait…and wait…and wait.  By 1:00 we learn that the part was not shipped as promised, so we will have to wait another day.  The Elder-Jones superintendents and project managers have the misfortune of dealing with missed delivery dates on a regular basis and somehow manage to improvise and get their jobs done on time, so a couple of self-proclaimed intellects like us should be able to do the same…perhaps. 

While discussing our plight with the Cummins service department, John learned that Omaha has a great city trail system.  They printed some maps for us, and we took off down the road in search of a trailhead.  John made a bold and masterful dash across three lanes of traffic when he spotted a Starbucks.  Our coffee was free for some mysterious reason.  Sometimes other items are free as well, but unfortunately for Sherry we don’t always have room to haul them back.

We could find no trailhead parking at the marked location, and inquiries at the gas station were fruitless.  On our search we almost got stuck on a one-way road into Offutt Air Force Base, but John was able to back the RV out before they checked our credentials.  After much meandering we finally found a parking spot next to the trail, and we started pedaling just after 3:00.

The trails were excellent, 6-8 feet wide smooth concrete.  A strong wind was blowing, but we had equal amounts of headwind and tailwind.  On one 10-mile section into the wind, John drafted behind a large man with huge, powerful legs at a pace of 17 mph.  He claimed it was an exhilarating experience, like a Miata running behind a Mack truck.  On the last 9-mile section Dennis was passed by a solo rider.  That was enough incentive to get his speed in excess of 25 mph, and he ultimately chased the guy down and passed him back after a friendly exchange.

We finished our 60 miles shortly after 8:00, and headed out to the Cummins parking lot for steaks and baked potatoes on the grill.  There is a cool breeze, and sleep will come easily in the trailer tonight.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008, “Storm Racers”

The breeze was blowing through our trailer all night long, and by the time Gordy dropped us off at the trail in Omaha at noon, the flags were whipping fiercely in the wind.  Despite the wind, it was a very good day for a ride.  The trails mostly run on top of an earthen levee alongside a small river named the Papio, so they have some very scenic areas.  At the trailhead in Bellevue, we came across a bike monument of sorts…it must be considered art.

While we were biking Gordy learned that the part for the generator did not make the fix.  They pulled the generator out and discovered that the rotor was bad.  We arranged for the new rotor to be delivered to the Cummins shop in Des Moines, so we could start making some progress back toward Minnesota.

We finished our 60 miles with a short run in a light rain.  After showers we stopped at Borders to pick up an RV campground directory and went to Red Robin for burgers.  Just as we left the restaurant, the warning sirens sounded.  Now the real story begins.  The clouds were black and seemed to be moving in all directions, lightning was flashing constantly, and the sound of the sirens was piercing the night air.  Logical people might seek shelter, but we jumped in the RV and decided to get the heck out of there.  We tuned in the TV and learned that there was “tornadic activity” southwest of Omaha and moving our direction. 

The Omaha meteorologists were as hyper and as helpful as our local Minneapolis meteorologists, warning that these super cells were as dangerous as the most devastating storms they had seen in years.  We took a very reasoned approach that if the storms were to the southwest, we would go northeast.  Apparently the Omaha weather guys didn’t really care about the storms to the northeast, since they would have no effect on their primary viewing area.  We watched the storm cells closing in on us from all directions on accuweather.com as we pulled into a rest area and hunkered down between two semis. 

Thirty minutes later the “severe” weather passed.  It was all rather anti-climatic and mundane…no tornados, no high winds, no hail, just lightning and rain.  We continued up I80 a few miles until we saw a campground sign.  The signs were spaced so that we would start questioning whether we should be proceeding down this winding road with the RV and trailer.  We finally found the RV campground, and John backed the trailer and RV into a space in pitch-black conditions while Gordy and Dennis tried to direct.  It was quite an impressive feat, but John has become prone to saying that he “can do so many things”, a line he borrowed from his grandson, Nolan.

Ok, the parking job was less than perfect, but we could at last get some needed sleep.  It is nearly midnight again; somehow we need to get on a better schedule.

Thursday, June 5, 2008, “A Mighty Wind”

Storm systems were moving through the Midwest again today.  They were being helped along by a 25-30 mph wind from the south.  Days like these we are very happy with the mobility the RV provides.  Our plans to ride east toward Des Moines were dashed by the danger created by such vicious crosswinds.  We certainly weren’t going to bike south into that kind of headwind for 60 miles.  We had only one viable option, so north we headed.

We found a county road near our campsite about 10 miles south of Interstate 80, and we started pedaling.  It seemed a certainty that we would get rained on, since we were surrounded by rain clouds.  Somehow we managed to avoid rain all day long as we rode in a pocket of light cloud cover.  Although the wind was giving us a definite push, today was not without some challenge and work as the road was rolling up and down through the hilly Iowa countryside.  Both of us hit speeds over 40 mph on various occasions on the long downhill runs.  Speeds like that on a bike are very exhilarating, but also very intense as the brain and eyes focus, watching for debris or potholes that could result in a very bad ending.

Dennis stopped for a photo at a mailbox painted bright red with a McCormick Farmall tractor.  Growing up on the farm his family had a Farmall tractor, so this was a nostalgic moment.  Ok…moment over; it’s time to finish the ride.  This was by far our fastest ride of the trip.  Dennis finished the 61 miles in under 3 hours and John was done in less than 3-1/2 hours.  We then made the 2-hour drive to Des Moines to drop the RV at Cummins for another attempt at repairing the generator.

We were greeted at Cummins by Dennis’ girlfriend, Kathy, who just so happened to be carrying a fresh rhubarb pie in her car.  Thanks Sherry and Kathy for taking such good care of us!  Friday is our one day off from riding, so keep your fingers crossed that the generator gets fixed.  Maybe we can finally find a baseball game.

Friday, June 6, 2008

After dropping off the RV at Cummins Thursday night, hotel rooms became a necessity for the first time.  Unfortunately, Des Moines was hosting the World Pork Expo and rooms were very hard to come by (is this some kind of joke?).  John and Gordy drove all the way to Ames before they could find available rooms while Dennis already had a room in downtown Des Moines (he is such a planner).  Thunderstorms rolled through Des Moines during the night, so it was good to not be in the RV ~ we just can’t seem to get away from these storms.

Laundry day comes so much faster when you are responsible for washing your own clothes.  Once that task was accomplished the most important item for our day off was getting the generator fixed.  After a little scuttlebutt, John was assured by the service manager that the generator would be fixed today.  By late afternoon the generator was finally running again, so we were back in business for the rest of the trip!

John and Gordy found a KOA just west of Des Moines, and they set up camp for the night.  Dennis took advantage of one more night in a hotel room with a huge bed and air conditioning.  He also took advantage of the opportunity to sightsee in downtown Des Moines.  Downtown is a very nice area with outdoor activities increasing as the afternoon became evening.  Interestingly, there was a giant cow in front of the state capitol building, although we would have expected a pig…hmmm, that’s odd.

Tomorrow we get back on the bikes…enough lollygagging already.

Saturday, June 07, 2008, “Awash in Iowa” or “The Rainmakers”

The mighty wind continued to howl across Iowa today.  Thankfully, it was blowing mostly to the north, the direction we were biking.  Somehow I have the feeling that if the wind were blowing 30mph to the south, we would have ridden southward.  It’s very good to have mobility.

We rode a very fast first 20 miles on county roads, completing it in less than an hour.  At Redfield we jumped on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, a paved and concrete surface which ran an additional 35 miles north.  The trail was very well-maintained and ran through numerous small towns with populations listed in the hundreds.  On our trail map the populations of a couple of the towns were listed as “tiny”.  The only real drawback was that almost every mile there was a gravel road crossing the trail, so we had to use extra caution and come to a near stop as we crossed.

To get our 60 miles for the day we had to make up five miles by turning back into the headwind.  We wouldn’t have wanted to do that all day long!  We ultimately cruised into the metropolis of Jefferson, population 4,626.  The Jefferson Station trailhead provided many opportunities for photos, including a tank and a giant mural.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t put all of the pictures on the diary, due to space limitations of course.

Once again thunderstorms were brewing on the horizon to the northwest as we headed south to the nearest campground.  We found a spot at Springbrook State Park, grilled chicken and asparagus for dinner, ate a huge piece of fresh rhubarb pie with Dairy Queen ice cream (yum!), and settled in for the night.  The storms were on their way again, and flash flood watches were covering the entire state. 

Sunday, June 8, 2008, “That’ll Green Things Up”

The rain came in a complete deluge at about 4:00 a.m.  The tin can of a trailer we sleep in doesn’t do much to muffle the noise, but we managed to sleep until 8:00 anyway.  It was still raining, and the creek running through our campground was nearly over the road.  Many roads in central Iowa were closed due to flash flooding, including a section of Interstate 35.  After cooking omelets and bacon on the RV stove, we decided to venture a short distance back to the Raccoon River Valley Trail in the hope that we wouldn’t come across any closed roads.

Raccoon River

It was inevitable that there would be standing water and tree branches down on the trail, so we switched back to our trail bikes for the day.  The gravel and mud crossings on the trail were much worse, and we were very happy with our decision to go with the wide-tired bikes.  Even with these bikes we both walked through one particularly muddy crossing.  This created a new problem as the mud plugged the cleats on our shoes, and it became increasingly difficult to snap the shoes in and, more importantly, out of the pedals.

Des Moines River over its banks

We ventured 15 miles south of the RV and then heard the rumble of thunder.  Thinking that we may have over-extended ourselves in these conditions, we made our way back with more large black clouds to the west.  It was sprinkling most of the way, and the RV was a very welcome sight.  Except for the fact that John hit a 6-inch deep “puddle” on the trail at full speed, we were mostly just muddy and damp.  John changed into dry clothes, although Dennis was questioning the logic of this move…

Another storm moved through as we waited in the RV, and then we headed north toward Jefferson.  Along this stretch of trail John watched in amazement as he saw a deer moving toward the trail on a collision course with Dennis.  The deer reached the trail a few feet behind Dennis, and abruptly pivoted back into the field.  I’m thinking that a collision between a deer and a biker would not turn out very well for the biker.  Dennis never even heard the deer, and John commented that the deer must have really been moving quietly.  For what it’s worth, I bet the deer was thinking, “Holy crap, that dude on the bike was sure moving quietly!”

A little further down the trail a buck came up onto the trail between Dennis and John and stared both ways down the trail.  I wonder if he was looking for the guy who scared his sweetheart.  All day long the trail was surrounded with rabbits, squirrels, deer and numerous varieties of birds, so much so that we started to think that we were a couple of Dr. Doolittle’s.  Luckily, though, none of the animals talked to us.

We finished our 60 miles by 6:30, showered, and drove a short distance to a state park campground.  After burgers on the grill, we commenced our second movie night, another James Bond classic, “Diamonds Are Forever”, starring Sean Connery.  And yes, we managed to save room for more rhubarb pie with DQ ice cream.

Monday, June 9, 2008, “Sunshine at Last”

After a very healthy breakfast of bacon with eggs and French toast cooked in bacon grease (Gordy could definitely cook at Mickey’s Diner), we started pedaling north on a county road known as “Stagecoach Road”.  The real story of the day was water.  Residents of the small towns were pumping water out of their basements, farm fields looked more like lakes, and every creek and river was swelled over its banks.  There were even whitecaps on some of the newly-formed lakes, so yes, we were contending with wind again.  However, the sun was finally shining again, a first in quite a few days.

The wind was blowing out of the west as we moved north, so it didn’t hamper us too much.  John was chased by a farm dog, our first chasing on this year’s ride, but alas, the dog was a black lab who was probably more interested in being petted than in doing any harm.  John and Dennis were also pursued by territorial red-winged blackbirds, whose angry chirping as they loomed overhead was comical but also a bit ominous.  I found myself thinking a little about Alfred Hitchcock’s “Birds”.

At one point our road merged with a state highway with heavy traffic, most notably numerous trucks hauling in both directions.  Gordy waited for us, and we loaded the bikes in the trailer in the name of safety.  One county road we attempted was closed, presumably due to flooding.  We ultimately found another county road heading east and made a fast finish of our 60 miles as we rolled into Dows, Iowa, a town with some serious building structural issues.

We camped at an Iowa State Park for the third straight night, Beed’s Lake State Park between Ames and Mason City.  These state parks have been beautiful, peaceful and very well-maintained.  Beed’s Lake is formed by a dammed river, the feature of which is a 25-foot waterfall.  One of the locals told us that she has never seen so much water moving over the falls, another indication of the amount of rain in the area.  We snapped a few photos of the falls and of the lake near sunset ~ what a picturesque evening!

Dennis has relinquished the keypad to me (John) so I can pass a special greeting to Dante and all our friends at Kids’N Kinship.  Greetings also to our friends at Merchants Bank.  We are proud to be riding in honor of Christian Elder, and we are pleased to be riding for the benefit of Kids’N Kinship.  Casey Elder has been continuing to track donations as we ride; donations which currently stand at $25,230.  We greet all our friends, and thank you for your support.

Dennis, Gordy and I also send our special greetings and love to our families.  Thank you for giving us fifteen special days, seeing new sights and experiencing new adventures every day that we pedal.  Sherry, you get a special medal for taking care of little “items” that the dogs leave behind on the lawn; I’m wondering if you will want me to take that job back when I return?

We hope to see many of you when we return on Saturday.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008, “Where’s Gordy?”

Remember a few days back when John changed biking clothes during the middle of the ride, and Gordy and Dennis questioned this decision? Well, guess who was out of clean bike shorts this morning? Instead of heading out on the road, we drove from our campsite to Hampton a couple of miles away to launder our filthy clothes. Actually, it didn’t create an issue, because today was a laundry day regardless, but it’s still fun to chide the boss.

We made this an efficient stop as John picked up groceries at Fareway Foods while Gordy and Dennis hung out at the laundromat. With all of the necessary tasks completed, we drove to the Three Rivers Trail in Bradgate. We started our ride at 1:00, and the ride on the crushed limestone trail was very slow as we finished our 28 miles after 4:00. It was another scenic ride, however, so both of us took time to enjoy the views. Near the end of this section, we encountered a walker along the trail. It had been quite a while since we had a picture of both of us biking together on a trail, so we asked the walker if he would take our picture. He responded rather abruptly that he “is not a camera guy”. Alrighty then…

With still 32 miles to cover and the day slipping away, Gordy dropped us off at a county road south of Clear Lake State Park, where we planned to camp for the night. John followed Dennis straight north as the county roads changed, while the original road curved to the east. Unfortunately, Gordy took the curve to the east. He waited at the turn to the state park, and the bikers kept going until it was obvious that we were on different routes. Cell phones are a very good thing, and we were very happy to have coverage. After a few minutes of determining the best course, we decided to meet at the entrance to the campground. Another crisis averted, albeit at 7:30 p.m.

It was another late dinner, but those cheeseburgers on the grill were outstanding. We finished the night with strawberry shortcake (not even close to the rhubarb pie) and “From Russia With Love” starring Sean Connery. We have given up all hope of seeing a baseball game or dirt track races, but the James Bond movies are increasing our testosterone levels daily.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008, “Technological Dependence”

We awoke to an overcast sky, but the morning seemed calm enough.  There was no time for a big breakfast, since we were on a mission.  Our internet connection had been down for two full days, and Mason City seemed to be as good a place as any to get a connection.  Still no luck.  While John drove around Mason City looking for a Starbucks, Dennis tried troubleshooting first with Cindy, our office IT manager, and then with a Sprint technician.  After an hour the technician, who was very helpful, determined that he could not repair our wireless card remotely, so we would need to get to a service center, none of which were near our area.

Plan B: somebody in this city must have high speed cable or DSL internet connection.  We stopped at numerous hotels and motels, but they all were wireless, including the rundown dump that was selling night crawlers in the front parking lot.  One hotel employee suggested the public library and gave us directions.  After driving back through the city, we arrived to find the library closed.  Many businesses, including restaurants, in Mason City were closed due to the water supply being shut off as a result of flooding at the water treatment facility.  We were exasperated…why would the library need water to remain open?

Not to be deterred, John suggested a stop at Radio Shack.  Along the way he spotted a tiny computer repair shop, so we stopped.  After explaining our dilemma, the repair guy plugged us in to his high speed cable internet connection, and we were able to send daily diaries and pictures from the past two days.  The past couple of days have shown us just how dependent we are on cell phones and the internet on this trip.

Next we drove to our starting spot west of Mason City.  By now the wind was whipping fiercely out of the south, which was very welcome news to a couple of behind schedule bikers heading north.  The rain clouds were looming in all directions, so giving consideration to the road and weather conditions, we both switched to our trail bikes with wider, better-gripping tires.  Even with these bikes and several miles of brutal crosswinds as we occasionally jogged east and west along the northbound route, we finished in record time.  John’s pace for the day was 20.0 mph, and Dennis averaged 23.3 mph.  We avoided rain during the whole ride, but finished in a tornado watch.

At approximately 3:00 we crossed the border into Minnesota…we are nearly home.  The crossing was rather unceremonious; we had no “Welcome to Minnesota” signs, no marching bands, no cheerleaders, just a change in the road surface.  We have now logged 775 miles on our bikes with two full days plus a half-day to go.

We finished the day within five miles of Fairmont, MN, and we headed to the home of Dennis’ sister Susan and her husband, Keith, for a dinner of fresh crappies, chicken on the grill and plenty of fixings.  Storms moved through again and more storms appear to be on their way, but we will still sleep in the RV and trailer parked in the driveway.  It’s kind of like camping out as a kid, because if we get scared, we can always go back inside the house.

New Merchants Bank Branch Location

Thursday, June 12, 2008, “Welcome to Minnesota!”

Our Jay Saterbak "Captain America" pose in Susan's driveway.

There were storms again overnight, but we slept great out in the RV and trailer anyway.  We started the morning with another French toast, bacon and egg breakfast in the driveway, said our good-byes and drove out to our starting point.  Our county road outside of Fairmont was in great shape until we came to the “road closed” sign.  Two construction workers, who were operating a backhoe and a dozer, stopped working for a few minutes while they allowed us to walk our bikes through the torn up road.  We waved to Gordy and hoped he would find his way along the detour to the same spot.

We continued to ride along state and county highways through Lake Crystal and over to Rapidan, the trail head to the Red Jacket Trail into Mankato.  This was a very scenic 6-mile stretch, including some young ladies working on their suntans on a bridge.  Once we got into Mankato the trail markings ended.  We meandered through Mankato and could see the Riverfront Trail, but couldn’t get to it because of, you guessed it, road construction.  We finally found the trail and finished with 65 miles by the time we found Gordy in Mankato.

John stumping for votes in Rapidan.

John on Riverfront Drive in Mankato

A campsite was reserved for us at the Minneopa State Park west of Mankato, but not without initially dealing with some government bureaucracy.  The state has a central phone number for reserving campsites, but will not reserve a sight within 24 hours.  Furthermore, the reservation agent would not disclose the number of unreserved electric sites, which was important to us since this campground has only eight such sites.  You can’t make this stuff up.  We called directly to the park ranger, however, and he took care of us.

We met John’s brother, Joe, and nephew, Sam, for steaks, veggies and squash on the grill.  The meal was incredible!  We are definitely back in Minnesota as swarms of the state bird, the mosquito, were attacking us.  Luckily, we found a can of Deep Woods Off to mostly keep them away.

Joe headed back to the Cities, but left Sam with us to ride the final day and a half.  We indoctrinated Sam into the evening rituals of James Bond (“Never Say Never Again”) and root beer floats with Dairy Queen ice cream.  We are only 60 miles short of 900!

Friday, June 13, 2008, “Sam Rides Tubeless”

It was a day of “lasts” as we knew it would be.  We slept at the campground in the RV and trailer for the last time on this year’s ride.  We had our last big breakfast of steak and eggs, bacon, and French toast on the grill with coffee and juice.  After all of the calories Sam consumed in twelve hours, he was anxious to get out on his bike with us to burn some off.  In Mankato we prepared for our last 60-mile ride.

Last big breakfast of the 2008 ride.

We again had chosen a trail ride for safety and scenery reasons, this time the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail, an asphalt surface running between Mankato and Faribault.  The wind was providing some assistance (ok, a lot of assistance) as we rode the trail.  We stopped in Waterville and sliced into our last watermelon, which Gordy had just picked up.  It was delicious!  On the trail again we rode through the Sakatah State Park, the most enjoyable section of the ride. 

Approximately five miles before reaching Faribault, Sam got a flat tire.  Interestingly, he had no spare tube with him.  John and Dennis looked at each other, shook their heads, and muttered “rookie” under their breaths.  Dennis had a spare tube, but it was not the right type for Sam’s bike.  Surely John had a spare tube; after all he had been biking across three states carrying a large backpack, and he is always such a prepared guy.  What else would he need to carry with him?  Whatever he’s hauling, apparently it is NOT spare tubes.  John and Dennis biked ahead to find Gordy, jumped in the RV and headed back to save Sam.

Sam repairing his tube.

After the repair was completed, we agreed to meet in Northfield.  Unfortunately, Highway 3 was closed, so we needed to find an alternate route.  We wound our way through downtown Faribault and found our way onto County Road 20.  It was a scenic and hilly route, but with other roads closed, CR20 was much busier than we would have liked.  It was by far the most dangerous part of the ride.

We persevered through this section and cruised into the outskirts of Northfield.  After many long but enjoyable days, we broke through the 900 mile mark and raised our bikes up in celebration!

John & Dennis celebrate the finish of this year's ride.

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