Don's Bike Across America
Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
June 19 to August 7, 2006
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Don’s Blog: July 12: Capitol City Meltdown

 
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Perusing the trek riding schedule in the weeks and months leading up to the ride, there were several day’s distances that nearly jumped off the page. Of the eight rides longer than 100 miles, there were four of 115 or more. Anyone who has gone that distance will tell you it is significantly longer than a century, although it may not appear so on paper. If you are covering ground at 15 miles per hour, it is a full hour or more of riding at that sustained effort. I mean, when your reach mile 70, it is much more comforting to know you have 30 miles remaining, and not 50. That arithmetic would become particularly poignant as this day’s ride of 117 mils progressed.

Balancing my concerns with these long days of riding was the fact that I had been finishing most rides much closer to the front of the pack than the back. Thus, if the majority of the group could complete the distance in a timely fashion, I should be able to do so as well.

In addition to the 117 miles we would be covering on this day, the weather forecast was ominous at best: temperatures well over 100 degrees F and winds out of the south and east (direct head and cross winds) at 25 to 30 miles per hour.

One strategy for possibly mitigating tough conditions such as these is to start as early as possible, to get down the road before the temperature soars and the wind rages. Ted, Steven and I decided to get breakfast the night before and eat in our rooms, so we could get going shortly after 5:00 a.m. By 5:20, just as the sun was coming up on the horizon, we were on our way.

Not for long however, as for the second day in a row a flat tire ground us to a halt. This time it was Steven, and it kept us stationary for more than an hour, as the tour van had to be called to locate a new tire in the size that would fit Steven’s bike. That early riding weather was slipping away as we were on the side of the road. In addition, the entire field of riders passed us by. By the time we got rolling again, it was already broiling hot. At the first two sag stops, people looked tired and exhausted, with still more than half the ride left to complete.

Despite the beastly weather, I was feeling relatively decent. Ted and Steven were also in good shape as we made the turn at mile 77 for the final 39 miles into the head and crosswind, which was positively howling across the open plain. We attempted to set up and execute a diagonal pace line, but it was only marginally successful. Sustaining a 10-mile-per hour speed was taking all the energy we could muster, and the temperature had risen to a broiling 105 degrees.

At the 83-mile sag stop it was evident how much of a toll the conditions were taking. Several riders sat there with vacant stares, their electrolytes depleted and their rides finished for the day. Back on the road, the sag van drove by, full of riders who had dropped out, their bikes loaded on top of the van.

We doggedly continued, chipping away at the miles, but was it ever tough. Even on the downhills we had to work hard to overcome the wind. As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, all three of us had adopted an “EFI” approach to the ride, meaning we were committed covering “every (expletive deleted) inch” of the distance from coast to coast. Without a doubt, this was proving to be the most daunting challenge of the entire trek this far. Truly, every inch was proving tough.

Ted began to slip back during the final 20 miles, his body depleted. Steven and I tried to help by blocking the wind, but we too were fading fast. It was a fight all the way to the finish, as the winds seemed even stronger as we approached the city of Pierre. Finally we crossed the bridge over the Missouri River and into town. Ted made a direct beeline to the Dairy Queen to replenish his completely depleted body. Young Steven inhaled a huge caloric intake in the blissfully air conditioned store, and Ted and I were not far behind. It had taken us a full 10 and half hours to cover the 117 miles, including the stop for the flat tire.

As it turned out, the majority of the riders were forced to abandon the ride and take the van to the finish. Two were taken to the emergency room for IVs. One rider commented to Steven that his “EFI” mantra was nothing more than “macho bull****” and that if we were only suffering through the distance to say we completed it, instead of for enjoyment, then it was pointless. As we sat exhausted in the Dairy Queen, I looked at Steven and said “Score one for macho bull***.”

Pierre

With fewer than 14,000 residents, Pierre (pronounced “Peer”) is the second smallest capitol city, ahead of only Montpelier, Vermont. Founded in 1880 on the Missouri River opposite Fort Pierre, Pierre has been the state capital since 1889. It is also famous for its memorial hall.

Given our late arrival, I did not have much of a chance to look around town. It seemed very quiet, truly out in the middle of nowhere. A bike path next to the river seemed scenic. One thing I can tell you about Pierre: the hottest-ever temperature ever on July 12 was recorded in the year 2006.