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2009 Diary

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May 27, 2009, On the Road Again

After months of preparation and anticipation, we once again loaded up the RV and trailer and started down the highway, this time en route to Deadwood, SD. Although the ride is still 900 miles, John will be the only rider to do the full length; he will be joined in the first 300 mile segment by Bob Benda and Dennis Hill, the second 300 mile segment by Jay Saterbak and the final leg by Bob Porter and Justin Elder. Gordy Clough is our support driver for the fourth year.

We once again are grateful to have Merchants Bank as our title sponsor and major contributor to this fundraiser. We are also thankful to all of our other contributors who have already helped us to raise more than $22,000, with more pledges coming each day. It is very overwhelming to have such a response in the current economic environment! John, Dante, and Kids ‘n Kinship have received a great deal of publicity from the local papers and TV stations, which has triggered interest in individuals becoming mentors for Kids ‘n Kinship. This is the ultimate goal of our ride, and having fun along the way is a bonus for us.

We were on our way out of the Cities before 9:00, and thanks to Bob, we made quick work of our drive to Rapid City. If NASCAR ever starts an RV series, Bob will have a new career. Our stay at the KOA was very peaceful: brats on the grill, a couple of cold beverages, a little story telling from past trips, and yes, some of Sherry’s fresh rhubarb pie. The trip has officially begun. It was a perfect night for sleeping with a definite chill in the air. After we have one of Gordy’s bacon, eggs and French toast breakfasts, we will be ready to start our ride on the George Mickelson Trail.

May 28, 2009, Where’s Gordy?

The short answer is Hill City. Unfortunately, the riders were in Mystic. But more on that later.

We were on the trail at Deadwood by 9:30, the earliest first day start in the 4-year history of the ride. The first 16-mile leg was almost all uphill, but we had been assured that no climb was greater than 4 degrees. Apparently no climb was less than 4 degrees either. After riding uphill for 8 miles, Dennis was encouraged to stop for a break at a scenic overlook by a trio of attractive hikers. It was the best tribute to Christian that Dennis could come up with…we know he would have done the same. Dennis agreed not to rat out Lisa, Sheila and Dionne for playing hooky on an in-service day, but promises aren’t worth much relative to a good story.

When we arrived at the first stop at the 2-hour mark, we knew we were in for a long day. After a quick break, we took off on a mostly downhill 18-mile stretch to Mystic. Well, that’s what the riders did anyway. Gordy missed a turn on an unmarked gravel road, and found a trailhead in Hill City. When John, Bob and Dennis arrived in Mystic, the parking lot was empty. We had no cell coverage on any of our three phone services, so we had no way to reach Gordy. We debated the scenarios. Did he have an accident? Was he lost? Was he in the wrong location? Was there a problem with the RV? After more than an hour, we decided that John and Bob would start for Hill City at 3:00, and Dennis would wait another 30 minutes and follow behind. At 3:17 (not that I was watching the clock) Gordy pulled into the Mystic parking lot. He explained that he had been waiting in Hill City before realizing he was in the wrong spot. Dennis and Gordy both headed for Hill City, and the potential crisis had been averted.

The final leg from Hill City to Mountain trailhead was a 10.5-mile steady climb, a brutal way to finish the day. We were all completely leg-weary by the finish. We each pedaled at least 5-1/2 hours, and it was a very slow pace. On the plus side, the scenery was spectacular, the most amazing views we have seen…cliffs, mountains, streams, rock formations, and yes, tunnels. It was also a beautiful day with total sunshine.

We found a campground outside of Custer and fired up the grill. Unfortunately, the burger patties were frozen together like a block of ice. Bob threatened to skip dinner and fill up on chips and wine, but Gordy eventually got the burgers cooking. Note to selves: take the steak out of the freezer in the morning. We were all too exhausted for dessert and were in bed by 9:00. It’s an exciting life on the road.

May 29, 2009, We’re Gonna Kick This Trail

After feeling that the trail had whipped us on day 1 with over 3,000 feet of climbing, John resorted to saying, “Yesterday the trail kicked us; today we kick it back”. Nobody else thought it was such a good idea to be so bold, but we were set for a 50-mile mostly downhill ride on the trail. We truly believed a great day was in the works.

We arrived at the Mountain trailhead by 10:00 and started preparing to ride only to discover that John had a flat. Was this a bad omen? We chose to believe it was good fortune that he got the flat here and not on the trail. We pedaled a few miles, John still talking about kicking the trail, and stopped for a quick photo. John discovered that he had another flat, so out came a spare tube and CO2 cartridge.

The change completed, we proceeded less than two miles into Custer, where Dennis got a flat. While we were changing the tube, John discovered that his camera was missing. He headed back to the previous spot to search, but couldn’t find it (because it was in his backpack the whole time). While riding back, John told himself not to be superstitious…the misfortune was not the result of his “kick the trail” comments. Just as he said “we are going to kick this trail” one more time to himself, he swallowed a bug that he claims to be the size of a hummingbird. For Sherry’s sake, I hope he isn’t always prone to this type of exaggeration.

Dennis was changing flat number two when John got back to Custer (pinched tube on the first change). Bob was finished with the foolishness and had left his two tubes and moved forward. John and Dennis rode another three miles, and Dennis got another flat. He was using wrong-sized tubes by now, and they weren’t working very well. We changed into the last tube available, and Dennis took off down the trail. Another 3 miles down the trail the tire was flat again with a slow leak. John had one last CO2 cartridge, so they mimicked an Indy car pit stop. Dennis sat on the bike while John pumped the CO2, and Dennis took off as fast as he could ride the remaining four miles. Riding 20-25 mph down the trail, the tire went flat 100 yards short of the RV.

Our supplies were drastically depleted; the toll equal to 6 tubes and 6 CO2 cartridges. In one 15-mile stretch of trail we had used more tubes than on the three previous rides combined. We were way behind schedule for the day. Team player Bob had long since abandoned John and Dennis, but there was really nothing he could do anyway. Dennis resorted to carrying a large air pump in his backpack for the rest of the day so as not to further tempt fate. Yes, he looked like a complete dork, but he sure felt better.

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful. The scenery on the south half of the trail was much different than the north half, but no less spectacular. It was much more open with tree-covered hillsides, mines, rolling prairie (reminiscent of “Open Range”), fabulous rock formations, and fertile valleys. Even the poor start and the wind could do nothing to dampen our spirits. The trailhead was a mile from the end of the trail, which seemed odd…

We finished with a 10-mile stretch of highway and headed to a KOA, where Gordy grilled some huge steaks and asparagus.

May 30, 2009, On the Highway

We all decided early that nobody was kicking anything today; we were just going to ride. After fueling up on the standard bacon, eggs, coffee, juice and French toast (it never gets old), we only had to drive a couple of miles to our starting point, Highway 385 south out of Hot Springs, SD. It was our first full day on the road, so we all switched to our road bikes. After a couple of days of slogging through the crushed limestone and loose gravel trail on cyclo-cross and hybrid bikes, it was a great feeling to get on the open road.

Bob, perhaps stung by the “team player” comment yesterday, graciously agreed to ride with John behind Dennis, who currently holds no CO2 cartridges to repair a flat. They followed at a safe distance all day long, for which Dennis will be eternally grateful.

The terrain consisted of rolling hills, and there was a slight cooling headwind. The shoulder on 385 in South Dakota was perfect for riding, a five-foot wide, smooth surface with no debris such as broken glass and loose gravel. Traffic was moderate and the drivers considerate, so we felt very safe. Along the way we paused at Oelrichs, SD for a photo op. Apparently Oelrichs fancies itself as a cattle ranching / rodeo community and has the monument to prove it. If I had chosen art over accounting, even I could have designed something like this.

Our 30-mile half-way point was the Nebraska border. Nebraska is the self-proclaimed “Home of Arbor Day”. Huh…I thought everybody has Arbor Day. It may have helped their cause if we could have spotted a single tree anywhere on the horizon, but, alas, there was none to be found.

The shoulder on 385 in Nebraska left something to be desired. Although it was still wide enough and clear of debris, it was lined with 1-2 inch expansion joint cracks the whole way to Chadron. Near Chadron we turned onto Highway 20, which John was told is the best bike road in all of Nebraska. Perhaps 15 years ago. The first couple of miles was borderline treacherous. The surface improved east of Chadron, but the expansion joints here were worse than on 385. This, coupled with a now howling headwind, made the last 14-mile stretch a real tester.

We finished by mid-afternoon, thoroughly worn by three days of hard riding. We stopped for groceries and supplies, chief among them duct tape for repairing the RV cap vent. We hired Westwood Contractors to do the work. At Chadron State Park we ate burgers, chips and a pile of veggies and debated whether to watch a James Bond flick. We finished with a root beer float and opted for bed instead. Maybe tomorrow we can stay up late enough for a movie night.

May 31, 2009, The Wind, a Skunk and a Movie (No Bull)

Chadron State Park was very peaceful and scenic, and we slept great again. The weather thus far has been perfect: warm and mostly sunny during the day and cool at night. One night in the Black Hills was down into the 40’s, and otherwise it’s been dropping into the 50’s, which is great for sleeping. After completing the morning chores and another tasty breakfast (we really mixed things up by scrambling the eggs this morning), we headed back to Highway 20 east of Chadron.

We had been cursing the Nebraska state official who had told John what a great biking road this was. By the end of the first 15-mile stretch, we were taking it back. The shoulder surface was new and smooth with very small cracks, which was much preferable. We passed the Fur Museum, but since fur has become so passé, we rolled right past. It wasn’t even worthy of a photo op.

John and Bob, however, did stop by a bull statue for photos – how apropos! I have no further comment on that topic, because I value my job. Today was looking to be smooth sailing on the road with a slight tailwind, even as the surface reverted to its previous condition. We rolled relatively easily through the first 45 miles even with a few challenging hills along the way. John and Bob were first in line for an audition for a musical in Rushville, but I don’t think they got the parts.

Once again, the Nebraska winds played a trick on us for our final leg. How does the wind do a complete directional change while we are taking a lunch break? The final 15 miles again sapped our remaining energy as we biked into a strong headwind that seemingly came out of nowhere just to taunt us. We all finished, a little bit weary, but feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Gordy chatted up a deputy sheriff along the road at our final stop. He recommended that we camp at the Cody, NE City Park. For $5 we had all of the amenities needed. As we prepared for dinner, a skunk smell wafted into the park. Shortly thereafter the Public Works Director for Cody showed up to make sure we had enough toilet paper, and he informed us that he had just shot a skunk. Seriously…

After a dinner of chicken on the grill, we finally were able to watch a movie, Sean Connery as James Bond in “Dr. No”. The movie ran well past 9:30, and Bond inspired us. We are definitely living on the edge.

June 1, 2009, Taking Advantage of Our Mobility

We awoke to a very nice, but breezy morning in Cody. Since we had driven 30 miles ahead of our previous day’s ending location, we rode back to the west toward Merriman on Highway 20. This decision had nothing to do with the wind blowing out of the east; ok, maybe it had everything to do with the wind, but after four days of hard riding, we were ready for some assistance. The roadway consisted of rolling hills and a gentle climb, so the ride was not altogether without effort, but relatively speaking, it was quite enjoyable.

We loaded the bikes at Merriman and drove east to Valentine. Along the way, John stopped for an official wind direction reading (throwing grass in the air) to confirm that we were making the right call. We jumped on the bikes in Valentine and road west, away from a storm that was brewing. The next 30 miles were literally a breeze. Bob and Dennis cheered their successful completion of 300 miles with John and Gordy.

Jay Saterbak caught up to us on Highway 20, and we all drove to find a campground in Valentine. Gordy had taken out a 4-pack of steaks, but now we had five guys to feed. Bob suggested that we take out a couple of brats for Jay, but ultimately we decided 7 pounds of steak could feed all five of us.

We found a private campground north of Valentine inappropriately named Fishberry. There were neither fish nor berries anywhere in sight. It should have been named Highplain or as we found out later, Moth Haven. By the time dinner was over, both the RV and trailer were infested with dozens of moths. Bob suggested that we had picked up the moths in Cody, where we had seen a few, and that they had remained hidden from us all day. Uh-huh. We spent an hour exterminating and decided it was time for lights out. John and Dennis could hear the moths continuing to bomb the trailer…it was kind of eerie, actually.

Bob and Dennis leave for their respective homes in the morning. It has been a great week with plenty of effort and a lot of laughs. John, Jay and Gordy take over from here, and soon they should be on the Cowboy Trail headed toward Norfolk.

June 2, 2009, The Behan Strategy….Again

The sixth day of our ride began with the addition of Jay Saterbak and the departures of both Dennis and Bob. Dennis has now put me (John) in charge of the daily log. He left big shoes to fill in this department. One difference that you will notice in our writing style is that, unlike Dennis, I only exaggerate in instances where it is necessary to make a good story.

Before entering the day’s log, I want to again thank everyone for supporting our ride with both financial donations and time commitments to our effort. This is Casey Elder’s fourth year of heading up all of our communications, website activity and tracking of all donations. Likewise, Gordy Clough has served as our support driver for four years. Media Relations has committed time this year to getting us exposure on TV, radio and newspapers and Merchants Bank has generously sponsored the Christian Elder Memorial 900 for four years. Thank you!

Rita Younger from Kids ’n Kinship emailed that a 14 year old boy, after 18 months still waiting for a mentor, heard about our ride and asked her “why would they do all that, just for us?” Knowing that it is a great cause, a wonderful organization, and that we are appreciated by that young man, makes the pedaling a joy…..even uphill.

We had another Gordy breakfast---French toast, bacon and steak--- before we said our “goodbyes” to Dennis and Bob. Thank you to everyone at Westwood Contractors for letting us have Bob with us for five days…..I’m assuming you all want him back. Dennis always sets a high standard for endurance and speed. We enjoyed five days and 300 miles on the trails and highways together……much of it extremely challenging with wind, hills and gravel. Never-the-less, we appreciated the scenery through the Black Hills, and enjoyed our time together.

Day six began chilly with a strong north wind blowing. We employed a strategy Tom Behan referred to on our first “900” as “taking advantage of our mobility.” Rather than ride east on Highway 20 and on to the Cowboy Trail as planned, we headed due south, with the wind at our backs, from Valentine to Thedford.

Before riding, John restocked his backpack with new tubes and CO 2 cartridges upon which he found a more than ripe banana. Jay thought it was probably left over from last year’s ride.

The route was mainly rolling hills, and the road had a few rough spots, but was mainly smooth to ride on. With the wind at our backs, even the uphill runs were comparatively comfortable to handle, and we finished in good time, averaging 17.3 mph for the day, by far John’s best speed.

Jay’s first day on the road included finding one deer antler---which he proudly carried to the next rest stop. Jay has been hunting deer in Wisconsin for years, and this may be as close as he’ll come to bringing (part of) one home. He also encountered a cattle hauling rig which came by from the opposite direction, and as it passed, covered him with a warm, yellow mist---and it wasn’t rain. Probably payback for the big steaks we had on the grill the night before.

Done riding by 3:30 we loaded up the Mother Ship and headed back to Valentine where Gordy and John faced the always daunting task of laundry at the Its Home Laundromat, a name which didn’t really fit. If it had been "Home” Sherry would be helping John with whites, colors, sorting, folding and all the complications of laundry.

We returned to the Fishberry Campground, for a brats ’n beans dinner followed by the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice.” Fortunately for us, the moths we endured the night before only lived once….the infestation did not return. John made root beer floats and the 900 team rooted Sean Connery on to another successful mission.

Day seven began with another Gordy breakfast, while John and Jay tried to contemplate wind direction and routing. The team could really use a compass, thermometer and windsock before riding next year.

June 3, 2009, Cold, Wet and Still in Valentine

When the CEM 900 team woke up, they were greeted to a very cold, cloudy day with rain lurking on all quadrants. The wind was again unfavorable to the planned route, so Gordy drove the Mother Ship east to Bassett, Nebraska, the spot the riders would otherwise be finishing at.

John and Jay thought they were starting out on the Cowboy Trail at Basset, only to discover they were actually on a short county fairgrounds driveway. After a minor redirect, they got on the trail, quickly finding it to be a soft surface that would slow them down by at least 5 mph compared to riding the shoulder of Highway 20---a nice six foot wide asphalt surface running only 50 feet from the trail. Not surprisingly, the riders never saw a biker using the trail.

John put on his only cold weather riding jacket as well as full fingered gloves. Captain America (Jay) rode the first 33 miles in his short sleeved riding jersey---something James Bond wouldn’t even think of doing. Even he eventually gave in to the elements and put on his yellow riding slicker.

The day remained cold with a tail wind from the east and a slight drizzle much of the ride. Even with full fingered gloves, John’s fingers were numb and his feet were cold long before finishing. Fortunately, the Highway 20 shoulder was smooth and flat enabling the riders to average 15.5 mph and finish in just less than four hours. The Mother Ship, and its hot shower, never looked more welcoming than it did at the end of the 60 mile ride.

Jay must have been hoping for a hot bath.

John stopped to check out a possible new car for Sherry.

After stopping at the Valentine IGA for groceries, the team returned for a third night to the Fishberry Campground where Gordy prepared burgers, beans and salad, after which they watched the 1964 James Bond movie “Goldfinger” and enjoyed root beer floats.

Watching the area forecasts, Jay observed that scattered thunderstorms are possible along the planned CEM 900 route through next Monday, meaning that more route changes could be in store for the team.

June 4, 2009, A South Wind, Broken Spokes and Goodbye Nebraska

The CEM 900 team woke to a cool, rainy morning…..and a south wind.  Not what they were hoping for when looking to ride southeast.  They committed themselves to driving about 120 miles east of Valentine, to a point they would have been at had they not ridden two days in different downwind directions, before beginning the day’s ride.  That meant driving two hours east to O’Niell before launching the bikes.

Gordy’s breakfast was a ham, cheese and green pepper omelet with breakfast sausage, a rare departure from his French Toast and bacon day starters.  With full stomachs, and a final farewell to the Fishberry Campsite, the team began their trip to O’Neill for the start of the day’s ride.

When arriving at O’Neill, John tossed a spray of grass aloft, Jay watched the direction it was blown, and looking at his Boy Scout compass, declared that again a new route would be in store for the team……..they’d head due north, eventually crossing into South Dakota on Highway 281.


The bikes were pulled out of the trailer, tires were filled with air, chains were lubed and departure was eminent, when Jay discovered that several spokes were broken on his bike---a real dilemma with no bike shops in the area.  The problem was resolved by setting up   John’s second bike, “Rocket,” to fit Jay, as well as transferring the clip-on pedals from one bike to the other.  As he was checking its fit, Jay commented that Rocket was an appropriate name for a bike ridden by Captain America….and he soon enjoyed the way the Bianchi Axis rolled down the highway. 

A remarkable weather change occurred between Valentine and O’Neill, with the sun coming out and the temperature warming up nicely, and a light breeze continued from the south.  The ride north out of Nebraska varied from flat, to rolling and from modest climbs to challenging.  Jay took advantage of the down hill runs while John’s advantage was on the climbs.  Despite a one o’clock start, they crossed the Ft. Randall Dam and rolled into the Vacation Haven RV park in Pickstown, SD at six o’clock, ready to tie into Gordy’s dinner of brats, beans and veggies on the grill.

Gordy, Jay and John finished the day with another James Bond thriller, “Diamonds are Forever,” (John stated is sounded like a Sherry movie) and the traditional root beer floats.

With 480 miles completed, John is looking forward to two more days of riding with Jay, followed by a rest day on Sunday, before riding the final five days with Bob Porter.  Justin Elder was also scheduled to ride part of the final leg, but an important business opportunity has come up creating a conflict.  Justin has contacted his donor group, informing them that he will begin riding his sixty mile legs this Saturday on the Cannon Trail.  The CEM 900 team will be looking forward to Justin’s initiation to the ride next year.

Tomorrow the team ride again.....based on where the wind blows.

June 5, 2009, Blown out of Woonsocket, a Broken Seat, and Back to the 50’s

John checked in with his friend, Dave Goodermont, while taking a break today…..and he wants to give a special greeting to Dave’s mother, Ruth.  She and Dave have both supported the CEM 900 since its inception four years ago.  Additionally, Ruth must have the patience of Job, as she tirelessly tries to keep Dave in check…..an impossible task for any mother.

After (what else) a French toast, bacon and eggs breakfast, Jay and Gordy observed as John through grass in the air……and it was blown straight south.  The 900 Boys loaded up and drove to Woonsocket, SD---another course deviation---to take advantage of the north wind.

As they departed Vacation Haven RV Park, they wondered at how often the names don’t adequately describe the establishment.  Dennis reported how the Fishberry Campground had neither fish nor berrys.  Well, Vacation Haven was not a suitable place to vacation, and most reasonable people would not think of it as any kind of haven.  No toilets, no laundry, no showers, no trees, sparse grass and less picnic tables than campsites.  Plus, the 900 Boys space had already been rented to someone else for the season, of which they were informed about after completely settling in.  “No problem,” the park owner told them as the season holders weren’t there.  Guess he double dipped on their space.

As they prepared to ride out of Woonsocket, Jay, having become so pleased with his increased pedaling speed on John’s bike Rocket, in true Captain America style donned a cape which briskly flew behind him.  Superman would have marveled.

John, knowing how much Jay is enamored with Rocket, has offered to sell him the bike for $2500.  Jay, however, is holding out to pay $3200 because he wants to claim ownership of an expense bike…….go figure!

With the wind at their backs John and Jay flew south on pancake flat county roads.  Near midpoint in the ride John, only 100 feet from Gordy and the Mother Ship, experienced a near catastrophe when the seat broke clean off the seat post of his bike.  It will be left to the readers imagination to comprehend the potential excruciating and awkward position John could have been in had he not quickly stood up on the pedals.  As John coasted  to the motorhome, Gordy, somewhat taken back, said “where the hell’s your seat.”

After reviewing the possible solutions to the seat problem, only one emerged as practical---to borrow the seat from Jay’s broken bike.  The replacement seat was substantially wider than the seat on John’s bike, and sported an “air cushioned” suspension built into the post.  Putting it on John’s Bianchi Giro touring bike, would be somewhat like installing a John Deere tractor seat in a Miata.  But install it they did, and John rode the final 30 miles in both comfort and speed, finishing the day with a 60 mile average of 18.2 mph.

As John and Jay rode into the final stop to meet Gordy at the finish, they felt as if they rode back in time.  Gordy, was visiting with his new friend, Larry next to his pristine 1939 Ford which was at a completely restored 50’s era gas station.  Larry brought the 900 Boys inside to see a soda shop complete with and Elvis Presley juke box, counter with stools, and old completely restored vending machines.  In the back were more vintage cars.

Larry let them park the Mother Ship in his parking lot so they could shower up before heading for their evening destination, the KOA campground in Mitchell, SD, home of the world’s only corn palace.

June 6, 2009, Cold Rain, 600 miles Down, and Back to the 50’s Part II

Saturday morning the 900 Boys were greeted with pouring rain and mid 40’s temperatures, forcing Gordy off the grill and into motor home kitchen to fix a ham and cheese omelet breakfast.  With such bad weather facing them, the morning was spent doing laundry and general clean up, but by noon the rain had all but stopped, a wind check once again indicated it was blowing from the east, and the Mother Ship headed for Humboldt, SD to begin the Day 10 ride.

At one o’clock the riders were off, a bit cold, experiencing a light mist, but with a brisk east wind blowing them back to Mitchell. With a replacement yet to be delivered, John was again riding with the “air cushioned” seat borrowed from Jay.  Riding on a remote country road is different from city riding; ducks, pheasants and other game birds periodically fly out of the ditches, deer and, further west, antelope occasionally give the riders a wary eye, the riders can hear the breeze and the sounds of birds chattering, and tall grass and wild flowers continuously adorn the ribbon of road.  Of course, there are less pleasant characteristics, such as spraying skunks, dead critters, protective dogs and various aromas associated with farm country. 

As the riders cruised the wet country road 38, they encountered a stretch that was coated with a light film of cow manure.  In the dry, the situation would not be significant, but under damp conditions, on touring bikes with no fenders, the tire spray created an unusual blend of texture and aroma.  Before getting back on Rocket after one stop, Jay had to pick the residue of a cow pie from his clip-on riding shoes.  Oh, for the country life………….

As the riders rolled through Salem, SD, John gave a salute in honor of a long serving, dedicated Elder-Jones employee, Al Gorath who passed away about ten years ago.

When John and Jay passed the 40 mile mark, warmed from the exertion on the pedals, and encouraged by a 19.0 mph wind aided pace, John heard a “bang” and the rear of his bike began to fishtale.  Having become rather proficient at fixing flat bike tires (49 and counting), the breakdown was viewed as a minor setback.  However, once the new tube was inserted, ready for a blast of CO 2, it became evident that the valve stem on the new tube was installed tighter than the lid on a pickle jar.  Neither John nor Jay could turn it.  They checked another spare tube from the same manufacture to discover the same iron tight valve stem.  Fortunately, John had one other tube (different make), that got the 900 Boys back on the road.

As they rolled out the last few miles, John began to appreciate the significance of the fact that he was about to log his 600th mile.  And that another transition was about to take place---just as when Dennis and Bob made their exit after 300 miles---Jay was about to finish his tour, making room for Bob Porter to accompany John to the finish.  Along with Gordy, John and Jay have enjoyed a typical Christian Elder 900 experience of great times, challenges, and accomplishments---several that could only be achieved by a true Captain America.

Feeling a bit beaten down by weather, John checked in with Justin to see how his make up ride on the Cannon Trail went.  Justin reported, “Really rough.”  He endured cold rain for his complete ride.  John asked if he had ever more enjoyed a warm shower.  “I didn’t shower,” he replied, “I called Sara five minutes from home and told her to fill the Jacuzzi!”

John and Jay returned to the Mother Ship only to share another Back to the 50’s experience with Gordy.  This time, Gordy had met a husband wife team that were proudly showing him their newly aquired 1953 Studebaker coup.  Gordy was reminiscing a time when his buddy had a 53’ Stude with a cheater Cadillac engine that could beat everything at the drag strip…….but that’s another whole story!

The 900 Boys had a late dinner---grilled burgers and sweet corn---followed by root beer floats and the James Bond classic, “Never Say Never.”

June 7, 2009, A Day of Rest...

Following ten consecutive days, and 600 miles of pedaling, there was no action on the bikes Sunday.  Instead the 900 Boys said their farewells to Jay, who finished his 300 mile leg yesterday, and welcomed Bob Porter to ride the final 300 mile leg with John.  Yesterday Bob left the 100 degree heat of Phoenix to join the team in Mitchell, SD where it was upper 40’s, with pouring rain and lighting.

Rather than detail the days events of filling the RV with propane, seeing the Corn Palace, getting groceries and cleaning bikes, John thought a better use of today’s log would be to present a few pictures not previously shown taken during the first 600 miles of the ride.

One event of note occurred just after dinner tonight.  A couple knocked on the RV door, with checkbook in hand looking for John.  They introduced themselves as Donald and Jeannine Bergquist from Lakeville, friends of Carol Elstad, the operating manager of Bening Devopment, a company owned by John and Joe Elder.  Carol had told them all about the ride, they had intended to donate, and tonight they did just that……300 miles from home!  They were pulling a small tent trailer behind their motorcycle on a trip west.  Jeannine, a former classmate, indicated Carol caused quite a bit of trouble in high school. 

John sends a special appreciation to all the 900 Boys, Gordy, Dennis, Bob, Jay, Bob---and Justin riding separate trails--- along with their families for committing the time and energy it takes to participate in a 900 mile ride.  Families are often overlooked as participants, but they too often have to help cover for chores at home, or be understanding about events that must be skipped while the riders are training or away.  Thanks also to Tom Behan and Ken Dean for riding the first 900 and helping create what has become an annual event.

Below are a few pictures that illustrate better than words the first 600 miles of this year’s Merchants Bank Christian Elder Memorial 900.

June 8, 2009, Another Cold Start… and a Spectacular Finish

Following a cold night filled with rain and lightening, the 900 Boys woke to cold, clouds and wind…..but no rain.  Bob Porter, in from Phoenix to ride the final 300 miles with John, asked “Are we going to ride today?”  Informed that the ride was on, he stated “They cancel school in Phoenix on days like this!”

The night before, Bob took top bunk and John the lower in the 900 trailer.  With rain pelting the metal roof all night, Bob reported it sometimes came down with enough force that the noise drowned out John’s snoring.

Monday morning Gordy introduced Bob to a 900 Boys breakfast after which new Minnesota friends Don and Jeannine Bergquist cruised by with their Gold Wing motorcycle---complete with heated handle grips and tent trailer in tow--- to say goodbye before departing for the west coast.

John informed Bob that the morning rides usually began around ten am.  At eight thirty Bob stepped into the motor home, in full riding gear and helmet on.  “No rush, he said, I’m just set whenever you are.” 

The 900 Boys set a new record for morning launch time---9:15 am.  At 9:15.01 am John’s bike "Green Girl" blew a rear tire.  Riders track a variety of biking elements.  John knew a biker who diligently tracked over 6000 miles of riding each year; he met another along a bike trail in Arizona that tracked how often he was hit by cars (3).  John tracks flats, and this flat was significant; he hit the half century mark with flat number 50.  He’s thinking of bronzing the blown tube and mounting it like hunters do with their conquests in the field.  Not wanting to delay an anxious-to-ride Bob, John simply put Green Girl back in the trailer and took Rocket out for the day.  The 900 Boys were back on the road at 9:20.

Though Bob is new to biking, he took to the road like a duck to water.  Having run thirteen major marathons, and run rim to rim of the Grand Canyon, Bob was off like a shot, and had plenty of endurance to go, and go…….and go. His problem was stopping.  New to clip-on pedals, Bob came flying in to finish the 60 mile run, exhilarated with his first significant ride, only to forget to clip out of the pedals before stopping.  The result was a sliding in sideways finish far more spectacular than any the 900 Boys have seen to date.

When checking in with his office today, John had a new prospect for the 2010 ride.  John thought Tim Schenk was planning to join the riders, “No, he said, I want to go along as Gordy’s assistant.”

With a steady northwest wind behind them, John and Bob rode into Baltic, SD, greeted by an offering of blue sky and a hope for nicer weather to come.  They parked the Mother Ship at City Park Campgrounds in Watertown, SD, had steaks, and veggies with fresh dinner rolls……and as usual, topped it all off with root beer floats.

Tomorrow the 900 Boys will roll out of South Dakota and into John’s home state of Minnesota about mid ride.  They will stop at the family farm to visit Chistian’s Pond, like the CEM 900, a tribute to Christian Elder’s memory, before continuing their journey home; a journey now 660 miles less distant than when it began.

June 9, 2009, A Cool Breeze, the Chrusher, and Woodtick Riders...

The 900 Boys woke up to (what else?) a cool, cloudy day with threatening rain…..but little wind---a first!  Commenting on another cold morning, Bob borrowed a Mark Twain quip when he said, “The coldest winter day I ever experienced was during the summer in South Dakota.” They enjoyed another of Gordy’s breakfasts then packed up to depart the most beautiful campsite stayed at this trip, the City Park Campground in Watertown, SD, a lakeside park with large trees and perfectly manicured grass. 

Another first---Starbucks!  John enjoyed his first Grande coffee with cream from Starbucks since departing Minnesota two weeks ago. 

John and Bob started riding just south of La Bolt, SD and within an hour were crossing into Minnesota.  John and Gordy stopped at the Welcome to Minnesota sign to honor the milestone.  While stopped, the first car by stopped and the driver asked “Is everything okay?”  Minnesota nice.  The riders have noted how accommodating and courteous people have been everywhere they have traveled, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota.  Often when Gordy has stopped along the road to wait for his riders, cars have pulled up to see if help was needed.  And the riders have appreciated that almost all cars approaching from behind have moved over as far as possible when passing by.

The 900 Boys rode into Madison, MN, and then turned north heading up Hwy 75 towards the farm owned by John and Joe Elder.  Once there they walked down to Christian’s Pond in the north field.  Several pheasants jumped out of prairie grass, a lone duck flew out of the pond, and a snow white egret remained on the shoreline, keeping an eye on the three visitors.  In the center of the pond is a small island with a tree planted in Christian’s memory, beside which stood a post and birdhouse relocated from his home in Charlotte.

After a lunch break at the farm, the bikes were packed, and the team drove back to Madison to resume riding.  On the way out of town, they stopped to check out another Back to the 50’s experience---a completely restored Skelly gas station.  John and Bob carefully laid their bikes against the roadside curb and joined Gordy at the station.  At the same time, a mammoth size cement truck swerved towards the curb, while slamming on the brakes with no regard for the bikes.  John and Bob ran around the truck to view what they thought would be crushed two wheelers, to find the truck had missed running the bikes over by about a foot.  They were about to let the driver have a piece of their minds, only to discover that he was as big as his truck.  Instead, they gave him a 900 Boys glare that certainly must have caused him great fear.

Back on the road John and Bob detected new stowaway passengers…..numerous wood ticks that had found their way up the riders legs when they had walked the farm fields.  Back in the motor home, Gordy was experiencing little critters crawling on the back of his neck.  Before long, the three had dumped about a dozen ticks along the Hwy 40 roadside.

Long after the last tick was disposed of the 900 Boys felt the sensation of tiny, brown, blood sucking bugs creeping along their skin.

Gordy cooked up burgers, beans and salad while John repaired flat number five-oh on Green Girl.  Before bed they did a final wood tick check, then had………you guessed it, a root beer float.

With 720 miles down, the riders will leave Montevideo tomorrow morning with only 180 miles separating them from home, and their Saturday destination, Merchants Bank in Apple Valley.

June 10, 2009, Headwind, Held Together with Cardboard, and Bob Falls….Again.

The beauty of City Park in Watertown was almost matched at the Montevideo City Park, the team’s first night back in Minnesota.  Following an all night rain, morning arrived cloudy and cool, but free of moisture.  While Gordy cooked up breakfast, John spent some time visiting with a biker they had seen that day, now staying at the same camp ground. His name was Ryan, a young biker riding from Denver to Florida pulling a small trailer containing his one man tent and a stove.  Ryan joined the 900 Boys for breakfast, and told them about his plans to attempt to bike across the country, coast to coast, in six and one half days riding in fifteen minute relays with three other riders---supported by a motor home, two would sleep while two would tag off riding.  The relay would run continuous day and night. The cross country team isn’t completely formed yet, but, as impressed as Ryan was with the 900 Boys, he didn’t attempt to draft them onto his record run.

When patching flat number fifty, John found a small hole in the sidewall of the tire on Green Girl.  The team has plenty of spare tubes, but no tires.  John’s solution was to wedge a small piece of cardboard between the tire and tube.  The unusual combination of tire, tube and cardboard held for 51 miles……but, the boys are riding 60 miles each day.  With nine miles to go, John parked Green Girl in the trailer and once again finished a day’s ride on Rocket, a bike also beginning to act up with problems in the derailleur.

John and Bob began riding east out of Watson on County Road 13, a road that is smooth and level, free of significant traffic and perfect for biking.  Even riding into a light easterly headwind didn’t deter them from enjoying pedaling the open country road.

As Bob approached a four way stop on Hwy 13, he hit the brakes, but---just as he did yesterday---he forgot to snap out of his clip-on pedals, the result being another spill on the pavement.  A passing pickup truck stopped with the driver quickly checking on Bob.  He had hit his head on the pavement, but being an attorney, there was nothing in that part of his anatomy that could be hurt.

Shaking off the fall, Bob again joined John as they turned south on County Road 6 riding to the 60 mile mark just north of Redwood Falls.  Riding near the finish, they pondered the odds of having seen three “capitals” in less than twenty four hours.  Yesterday, they were in Madison, the Lutefisk Capital of the World; this morning they began riding out of Watson, Goose Capital of the USA; and they were scheduled to go through, but missed, Olivia, the Corn Capital of the US.  And just a few days ago the team had seen the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, and dubbed Cody, NE the Moth Capital of the Universe (an unofficial title bestowed by the 900 Boys).

They again found a beautiful facility, the Redwood Falls Municipal Park, and parked the Mother Ship adjacent to the Redwood River.  Gordy cooked rib eye steaks and potatoes on the grill, followed later with root beer floats.

John finished the day fixing the flat on Green Girl, this time applying two layers of cardboard……..which he claims will easily hold up for 60 miles.  Maybe.

The 900 Boys will grow by one tomorrow when Dennis rejoins the team for the final 120 miles to the finish.

June 11, 2009, Where’s Bob?

Dennis got an early ride to Redwood Falls with his girlfriend, Kathy, just in time for the final breakfast on the 2009 ride.  Gordy did not disappoint as we all chowed down on the remaining bacon, ham and French toast.  John named Kathy “Honorary 900 Boy”, a title with which she was unimpressed.

We hit the road for our final day in the Mother Ship.  On the way to our starting point we stopped at a market for a few groceries.  John grabbed two watermelons (not sure how we can eat both of those in one day), and Bob picked up a loaf of fresh French bread and apples.  Dennis quickly learned that French bread would be our food for the day.  Jay claims to have left a fully-stocked RV a mere four days earlier, but there was very little to be found.  Peanut butter and jelly, it would be.

The sun was finally shining on the 900 Boys, a perfect day for riding.  Just as we were getting on our bikes to leave from Bird Island, John received a call from a reporter and conducted a phone interview.  The publicity for Kids ‘n Kinship this year has been wonderful, even if we were all antsy to get pedaling.

The first 20 miles clicked by easily on nice county roads through the peaceful countryside.  Our next stretch of highway included a single zigzag, but otherwise was bearing east.  Dennis, Gordy and John all zigzagged, but apparently Bob only zigged.  We had told Bob that there was a jog in the road, but apparently that is not a universal term.  John was able to reach him once via cell phone, and Bob said he was in Sibley at a convenience store along County Road 3.  Upon reviewing the map, we could find no Sibley, except Sibley County, and the Mother Ship was on County Road 3 with no Bob in sight.  Unable to reach Bob on his cell phone, we began a process of deductive reasoning and determined that Bob must have continued south (with a healthy tail wind, by the way) into Gibbons.  And that’s where we found him.  Next year we are going to need a map reading course and 2-way radios…Verizon, we can’t hear you now!

The rest of the day was smooth sailing along county roads headed back toward the Twin Cities.  We finished our 60 miles, loaded the bikes and drove for home.  John and Gordy had been on the road for 16 days and were anxious to get home.

June 12, 2009, The Final Sixty Miles…..an Urban Ride.

After a night back with their families, the 900 Boys gave Gordy a well deserved day off by routing the last 60 miles of the ride in town, eliminating the need for the Mother Ship and Gordy’s assistance.  Starting from John’s driveway, they ran a lap around the Hyland Park trail in Bloomington, followed by side roads to Hopkins where they took trails to Minneapolis, around the lakes, then back to Hopkins to take a limestone trail through Eden Prairie, Chaska, and Shakopee before crossing the river back into Bloomington and back to John’s.

Along the way, they followed a route around the Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles that Christian rode with John following the 2007 Big Sky 900.  They stopped only once, at the 31 mile mark for sandwiches and smoothies at the Hopkins Depot.  While there Bob met a lady biker looking for assistance---her front brakes weren’t working.  John took his biker’s mini tool kit out of his backpack and made quick work of the repair.  Even Captain America would have been proud.

The riders noticed that for whatever reason, Dennis picked up the pace as they rode towards Chaska---faster and faster he rode as they neared the southwestern community.  Could it have anything to do with the home location of his good friend Kathy?

As they rode through a wooded area approaching Shakopee, Bob spotted an inchworm hanging from a tree branch overhanging the riding path.  Apparently the smoothie wasn’t enough nourishment for Bob as he attempted to eat the little critter.  Dennis and John informed Bob that inchworm consumption was not appropriate on a charity ride, so Bob let the little bug work his way back up the ribbon of silk.

As they rolled the final miles John thought about the past fifteen days on the road--- tough climbs on gravel trails though the Black Hills with Bob Benda and Dennis; the cold, sometimes wet days crossing Nebraska with Captain America, Jay; and the final leg finishing off South Dakota and the prairies of western Minnesota with Bob.  Each leg offered different challenges.  But consistent through out the ride, was Gordy’s support, great companionship amongst the 900 Boys, along with caring and concerned people along the way.

The riders felt the spirit of  Christian Elder as they pedaled, and knew he would be proud of their effort.  They also felt a sense of appreciation to everyone who supported the ride, particularly their title sponsor, Merchants Bank.  And they felt a sense of accomplishment, that they not only covered 900 miles, but they helped support Kids’N Kinship.

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