Don's Bike Across America
Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
June 19 to August 7, 2006

Don's Blog: July 7: A Gift from the (Wind) Gods

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Hallelujah─a day off from riding! If that seems a strange thing to say, given that I willingly signed on for this adventure, well, so be it. But after more than 120 miles yesterday, our ninth straight day of cycling since we left Boise, Idaho, it was a relief to know I did not have to get up today and do it all over again. The respite will be brief here in Casper, Wyoming (the home of the sitting vice president of the United States), however. We will be back at it tomorrow, another triple-digit day, working our way toward the eastern border of Wyoming.

Backtracking a couple of days, we completed a fairly routine 79 miles on Wednesday, from Dubois to Riverton, the home of Central Wyoming University and not much else. By the time the group had congregated at the Comfort Inn at the far edge of town, everyone seemed pretty drained and tired.

A few hours later however, most had regrouped and were in better spirits as we assembled for dinner, a buffet at the Golden Corral, a place I had never even heard of before this bike trek, but which we have now visited a few times. Buffets have been a staple of our trip, as the dinners move along more quickly than when being waited on, and offer a wide variety of choices for those picky about selection. Some members of the group make a concerted effort to eat healthfully, while others make only a cursory attempt at a balanced dinner and move quickly to the dessert table. As with most things, I fall somewhere in the middle of the nutritional spectrum.

The mood at the group meeting and later was apprehensive and little edgy, as at 120 miles, we were looking at our longest ride of the trek so far on Thursday. Given such a long distance, some of the riders felt it might take the greater part of the day to finish off the distance, so they sought to start as early as possible. The staff arranged for a 5:00 a.m. luggage loading time, followed by breakfast and the start of the ride. Amazingly, a few of the riders ate before the luggage loading and were off on the trek shortly after 5:00, with daylight still a good half-hour away. Talk about getting after it early!

In fact, one aspect of our group that has positively amazed me is the universal punctuality of the group members. To a rider, when an event is scheduled─a dinner, a meeting, a ride─everyone (and I mean everyone) makes the appointed time. Anyone who knows me knows I am punctual to a fault. I arrive at parties and dinners far too early to be fashionable and spend a lot of time waiting past the arranged meeting time for others to show up. However, among this group I feel almost like a laggard. At one dinner last week, scheduled for 5:00 p.m., I strolled into the banquet room at 5:02 and found I was the last of the 60 to show up and that every seat had already been taken. (They set up another table.) The motto for this group is certainly not “better late than never,” but rather “better be there on time.”

In any case, we received a gift from the weather gods on Thursday’s ride, as the winds were fairly calm early on, and when they did kick in mid-morning, they were prevailing at our backs. Steven, Ted, and I were all smiles at this good fortune. After the first sag stop at 35 miles, we cranked it up to nearly 20 miles per hour for the next 60 miles, reaching the final sag at 91 miles well before noon. The final 30 proved little tougher, as the direction of the wind turned sideways; the wicked cross winds blowing across the open plains offered us an idea of what it might have been like had we faced them as headwinds all day. As it was, the cross winds made it tough for me to hold a comfortable bike position, resulting in a tight IT band on my left leg and once again, the upper back and neck tightness on my right side. I think the spasm I have in that area going to take weeks to relax when the trek is finally completed.

The road from Riverton to Casper was desolate and empty, save for the occasional ramshackle house and grazing cattle. We saw plenty of jackrabbits and prairie dogs, but sadly, most of them were no longer among the living, having been flattened on the road by oncoming traffic. I did finally learn what the high shrill sound I had been hearing for the past few days was: prairie dogs calling to other members of their clan. It sounds much like the call a large bird makes when circling overhead in search of prey.

The one historical location we passed was “Hell’s Half Acre,” a deep canyon where Indians from centuries past used to push buffalo off the cliff’s edge, and then walk down to retrieve the animal for food and clothing. I suppose the lesson for wildlife is to stay clear of this area!

We happily completed the ride by 1:30 p.m., and being the overachievers we are, Steven, Ted, and I set out to complete a “double metric century,” (124.4 miles) for which we would be awarded a certificate of completion by the league of long distance cycling. Only a handful of our group did the double metric, but it seemed like kind of a cool thing to do, so we did. Truthfully, part of the extra mileage was comprised of a trip to the area Dairy Queen for milkshakes ;-). I plan to enjoy the day off as much as I can, if doing laundry and cleaning my bike can be construed as enjoyment. I’ll check in again from Lusk, our last stop in Wyoming before we reach South Dakota.