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 16: On the 28th Day, We Rested

 
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Well, here we are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, just a few miles from the inviting Minnesota border. After the past eight days of cycling through some of the hottest weather this region has ever seen, we are mercifully enjoying a rest day, appropriately on a Sunday. This is our third rest day; each one seems more and more precious and anticipated. Along with the high temperatures have come strong winds; they are blowing up from the south and have barely let up for the past week. How much longer can this weather continue? We all hope not very much longer.

Without a ride scheduled, and with some extra time today, I thought it might be a good time to reflect upon the trek so far.

For the most part, the trek has met and even exceeded my expectations, in terms of the actual cycling. Having not gone beyond seven days and 500 miles before in a long trek, I was quite concerned with how my body would react to seven consecutive weeks of that mileage. Would an overuse muscle or tendon injury prove too much to overcome? Would the fatigue be overwhelming? So far, the answers to those two questions have been no, thankfully. Sure I have had a lot of aches and pains, and sometimes the physical and mental fatigue has been significant, but neither so much that I have not been able to complete each day’s ride. I can only hope my good fortune holds out for three more weeks.

Another pleasant surprise has been the speed I have been able to maintain. After averaging about 16 miles per hour on the first day, I thought I would never see that kind of speed again on the trip. But on some days I have been able to average more than 17, even on some of the century plus rides. Of course, that has usually been with the help of a favorable wind.

As expected, we have cycled through a lot of wide open space, especially in the plains states. Cycling through open fields and prairies for hours on end provides a true appreciation for just how much land remains untouched my modern society. Before the ride, a friend commented, “Now you will get to experience all of those miles of nothing you see from the airplane when flying from coast to coast.” Boy, was he ever right about that!

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Not surprisingly, eating has been a major focus of the riders, me included. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks during the ride─consuming food and liquids is always close at hand, it seems. Like most, I have increased my intake considerably during the ride. I had hoped to try to take in high performance sports drinks and food during the rides, but have not been able to do so, mostly for logistical reasons. I would have to carry it all with me, not a practical solution. So I rely upon what they have at the sag stops. Mostly I nibble on cheese and peanut butter crackers and other salty food, along with Gatorade. If I never drink another bottle of blue watermelon Gatorade after this trip it will be all right with me.

The regular meals have been a mixed bag. Breakfast is usually all right, although I mostly stick to the pancakes, scrambled eggs, or waffles. I have not had a decent bagel since I left Boston a month ago. The dinners have been mediocre at best. The hotel buffets like to offer pasta, mostly bland, and we have hit every kind of buffet restaurant en route, it seems. One highlight was the catered barbecue chicken cookout we had in Blackfoot, Idaho. For the most part there is always something I can eat to get me though. Along with my riding buddies Steven and Ted, I usually have a light lunch after each ride. Those are good, since we can order from the menu, unlike at dinner, when the choices are very limited. We stop at Dairy Queen sometimes, great refreshment on a hot day, of which we have had many.

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Another area in which I have become well-versed is in the various forms of lodging we have experienced during the trek. For the most part we stay in Super 8, Comfort Inn, or Best Western, with an occasional stay at a local independent motel. Since my last name begins with “A” and they almost always assign the rooms alphabetically, I am usually on the first floor, near the lobby. That is good for transporting luggage (a short trip, no stairs) and for the wireless Internet connection (close to the satellite), but bad for noise, since someone is almost always in the room on the floor above me and you can hear them walking back and forth. The walls of these hotels can also be thin and the closing of the spring loaded doors reverberates throughout the building, making it tough to get decent rest at times.

Another plus from having a name at the top of the alphabet is that my room is often one of the first ones ready, even if I finish the ride by noon or 1:00 p.m. It is not a lot of fun to be hot, sweaty, and sticky and not be able to clean up. You can go to the pool if they have one, or you can simply go to get something to eat, still hot and sweaty. Sitting there in sticky bike shorts takes some getting used to, however.

Rooms with a refrigerator are nice, but not really necessary. Ditto on the microwave. A strong spray from the shower is a real plus, as it soothes an aching body after a hard day on the road. Most air conditioners have been pretty good, although the units that cycle on and off can interrupt sleep, so in those situations I put the fan on at night. It has been so hot though, that sometimes you need the AC to keep the room from getting uncomfortable.

In the drive-up style motels, in which the door to the room opens directly to the outside, one needs to be careful not to invite flies and other flying insects into the room. They can be pesky guests and quickly overstay their welcome. They seem to like to hover near the computer screen, not a good thing.

Like the food, the lodging has been a mix of the good and bad, but it has never been that bad that I have not been able to deal with the problems. Heck, if you are tired enough, almost anything will be acceptable.

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The ride has been pretty well supported by the staff. I came into this adventure with very low expectations, as far as how much support I could expect from the staff. All I really wanted was to have my bags transported each day and to have a room ready at the end of the day’s ride. The staff has done that and much more; in fact, at times I feel they have been a little too overprotective of us while out cycling. They have also made an effort to offer social and cultural opportunities for us in various locations, trying to bring the group together. All of that helps during a long stretch of time spent with a group of folks you had never met before beginning the trek.

On the downside of the ledger, some members of the staff have seemed at times distant and unapproachable. That is not a good thing when you feel you need something from them. We all go through up and down moods, and that is going to be true of the staff as well. But replying to simple “hello” would not seem too much to ask. In addition, they have not scouted out the following day’s routes all that well (perhaps because they are to busy with other tasks) and have given out some misinformation, which has created some hassles for the riders. But all in all, the ride has been very well supported.

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The other riders in the group have been great. It took a few days for everyone to get to know each other’s name, but we have grown much closer than I thought might happen in just four weeks. Of course, you tend to gravitate toward those with whom you share common interests, but I have found that you can almost always have a nice conversation with anyone in the group at a meal time. Everyone can feel free to sit with anyone in the group during the breakfasts and dinners; it is a nice, relaxed atmosphere in that way. On thing we all have in common is the shared experience of cycling across the country, so that, along with the weather, is a good conversation starter. It is a diverse group of riders: men and women from all kinds of backgrounds, from all parts of the U.S. and world, and ranging in age from 14 to 69. Thus, it has been interesting to get to know them all. There are several members of the group I look forward to keeping in touch with after the ride is completed.

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That is about it for now from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I must say I will not be too disappointed to leave this state on Monday, as we head for Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. Before the trip I had a notion that South Dakota would present the most difficult challenges of the trek, and that has proven to be true to this point in the ride. God bless anyone that lives here; to do so you need to come from pretty tough stock.