Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Highway to Hell

Day 22. Wall to Pierre South Dakota. On a ride like this, there are days that challenge you mentally and there are days that challenge you physically. Today was a day that challenged both those parts of my psyche. It also challenged my cycling soul. At least 20 miles in the middle of it did anyway. The Highway to Hell part.

It's hard to convey how tough this cycling is for an amateur like me. I am learning how to ride in a paceline (my fellow paceliners would give me a grade of D if they were marking me). I am learning to climb mountains that are so far out of my league that I can't believe I've actually gone over them. I am riding consecutive days and mileage amounts that are off the chart from the perspective of my training history. It's a tough grind to go out there day after day and cycle the amount we're doing. If it weren't for the fellow riders, the scenery, and the sense of accomplishment, this wouldn't necessarily be fun for me. But fulfilling this lifetime dream is really driving me forward in ways I did not anticipate. And seeing the country this way is remarkable.

Take today for instance. Our route today took us from Wall to Pierre (pronounced "Peer" by the locals, not "Pee-air") South Dakota and covered 195 prairie miles. The day started for me at 4:45AM and we had breakfast at 5:15. It started to sprinkle, which seemed a bit ominous at 6AM. Soon we were on the road. The scenery was more of the same magnificent Dances With Wolves stuff (apparently scenes for this movie were also shot locally around Pierre as well as Wall). Twice already on this trip we've ridden this kind of mileage. One of those days we had a fair bit of climbing, but we had tailwinds.

Today, for 20 miles at least, we had headwinds. Now, to be fair, the other 95 miles we had reasonable tailwinds. However the headwinds today were fierce. As my loyal readers know, normally I put my Garmin riding stats at the bottom of the blog post. Today, take a look at them here using the player button and the full screen option:

Take a close look at how my speed and heart rate changes from mile 57 to 77. You can also see at mile 57, we turned north for 20 miles into the fiercest headwind any of us have ever ridden into for any length of time. That kind of wind literally knocks you backwards or, in some cases sideways. Three of us were riding and we caught up to Katie who was singing the entire Boyz 2 Men songbook to herself to keep from getting delirious (what do you mean keep from getting delirious – it sounds like she was delirious already!). To give you a sense for how the wind kills you on a ride like this, consider that it took us less than 3 hours to ride the first 57 miles today. It then took 2 and a half hours to ride the 20 miles into the wind. Soul-testing is the only way to describe it. But we slugged through and, for today, prevailed. I asked Jeff (one of the ABB staff) how today compared to what he'd seen in these parts, and he told me this was the worst wind conditions he's seen out here. Ever.

Now check out video of us riding into the wind today:

As you can see from the Garmin map, we did eventually turn right at the 77th mile and the wind became much more helpful. Having said that, 195 kms is not easy, even when you have favorable winds. It is, simply put, a long way to go on a bike. When I stopped at a gas station for a Gatorade, the guy behind the register thought I was joking when I told him we were riding from Wall to Pierre today. I told him this was just 1 of 45 legs across the country, and his mouth gaped in disbelief. We get that reaction everywhere. People think our daily rides are crazy, let alone the idea of crossing the country.

The other factor today was the grasshoppers. Grasshoppers were everywhere today as they were yesterday. They jump all over the place. On you, hitting you in the arms, face, mouth, legs – everywhere. Just like a sci-fi movie "The Invasion of the Grasshoppers". Yuch. But all was good when we hit the hotel. Waiting for us was a tub of ice cold beer. Wow, what a great way to end the day.

I wish I truly understood why I always wanted to do this. I wonder if I'll ever find out. Perhaps not. I don't think I'm any closer to the answer (if there even is one) today than I was over 3 weeks ago when we started out from Astoria. I'm starting to think there is no answer. Maybe that's the answer after all.

As we cross the halfway point tomorrow (at around mile 25), it's hard not to reflect on how far we've come and how far we still have to go. We did have a couple more milestones today though. We crossed our second time zone (see the picture of the hard-to-read green sign that was on the bridge to Pierre today). We are on Central time now, only an hour behind home. We also crossed the mighty Missouri River today. The Missouri, also known as the Big Muddy, is one of the famed rivers in American history (that's me standing in front of it above – I don't know why it is in here twice, but there you go). It is the river that inspired the fiction of Mark Twain and it was the central river of discovery for early frontiersmen in the early 1800's.

It's on to the metropolis known as Chamberlain tomorrow and then the Corn Palace in Mitchell South Dakota on Friday. Then Sioux Falls Saturday, where we'll also have a rest day Sunday. We're thinking about finding a minor league baseball game to go to in Sioux Falls. That would be nice to do. You know, something non-cycling. There are still a lot of miles to ride, starting tomorrow.

I am tired right now and I need sleep. Badly.

FYI – the DQ Blizzard count is up including the one I ate in Wall after I posted yesterday's blog:

4 Snickers
9 Blizzards (had the Mint Oreo Blizzard today – just so-so)
4 milk shakes

Now on to today's mail:

Esther from Toronto writes: "Gee Mark, you seem really into that babe in the blue hat! Good thing there's a drug store nearby." Now, now Esther. Don't go spreading false rumors. I understand the Duchess reads this blog religiously, as much as once or twice a month.

This is Joe's blog:

Trip journal and photos by our tour leader Mike Munk:

This link is Jeff's blog:

This link is Baltimore Mark's blog:

And this is Katie's blog:

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