Day 33-34: Across the Mississippi and too tired to blog

The last four days have been really difficult; our average mileage is now closer to 100 miles a day (today was 107); for three days the heat was close to unbearable; today it was cooler but we were slammed by headwinds.   I’m not supposed to winge; after all, I decided to do this.   But as someone said today — I’m enjoying the trip, but today stopped being fun.

How often do we sign up for something really important and tough, and enjoy every minute of the journey?   I suspect not too often.   If this were a 7 day bike trip I might get lucky and have perfect weather, but on a 52 day trip it is inevitable there are going to be tough days.   It is part of the experience, part of the challenge.   Pro golfers sometimes don’t make the cut; pro soccer/football players sometimes miss a crucial penalty kick.

I travelled today with the “big group” — by the last 20 miles half of us (including me) were starting to get disoriented by exhaustion.   About 8 miles before the end we stopped at a Subway, had sandwiches and cold drinks, regrouped, and finished the day.

Ride Summary Day 33 (Kirksville MO to Quincy IL).   90.4 miles, 3219 feet of climbing.   Started with rain, then hot, then a very sudden and heavy thunderstorm.   We sought shelter in a coffee shop just as I discovered a flat.   Tube was defective, so had to change it twice.

Ride summary Day 34 (Quincy IL to Springfield IL).   106 miles, 2380 feet of climbing.   Nice temperatures, ubt a steady and increasing headwind meant we only did 12-13 mph moving (normal now is 16-18).  9.5 hours in the saddle.

Day 31-32: Oppressive Heat Dome Engulfs East Coast   I don’t make this stuff up.    Not sure why they said “East Coast” other than it is the Washington Post.   We are in the middle of the “red area” over Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, etc.

While I couldn’t train for the hills or the altitude, I have reasonable training for the “hot stuff.”   Today I rode for only 5.5 hours, and drank 7 water bottles (each is probably 16 ounces).   The first six had electrolytes; the last one was pure cold water.   My goal was to get in by 12:30 in order to avoid the hottest part of the day.  I made it with at least 5 minutes to spare.

At dinner last night the main TV feed was highlights from the US “Special Olympics.”   It was incredibly  motivating to see these kids and adults give everything they had to compete in these games.   I also thought about how many thousands of volunteers it must have taken to put on these games, and the joy it must have given them to provide such special moments for the athletes.   I had trouble feeling sorry for myself and my knee problems when I looked at the handicaps these athletes were overcoming.

My dad (seconded by my sister) has asked if I could run through a “typical day.”   Every day is actually very similar — getting ready, riding, post-ride recovery, socializing.   Since I am writing on Tuesday afternoon, I’ll run through yesterday afternoon / today:

Yesterday’s post ride.   Didn’t get to Chillicothe until 2:30.

2:30-4:00.   Ate lunch at Applebee’s and watched England squeeze by Columbia in penalty kicks.   Split some quesadillas and an oriental salad with Father John.   I had two strawberry lemonades; he had two beers.

4:00 – 5:00.    Took a shower; cleaned up; did my Compex “post training” routine for 25 minutes (This is something Tony May put me onto — using electro-stimulation to vigorously massage the muscles, reducing lactic acid and beginning the recovery process).   It’s a bit science fiction but I’ll grasp at any straw.

5:00-5:30.   Route rap.   Attended a mandatory meeting with the full group to go through the next day’s ride.   We run through all of the potential navigation and safety issues for the next day (e.g. narrow bridges, bad shoulders, where there is heavy traffic, where we have to do left turns across traffic).

5:30 – 6:00   Read a little bit — Financial Times, Apple newsfeed.   Did my words with friends

6:00-8:00.   Went to dinner with John.  There was a group dinner at the “Golden Corral” which has a reputation for food that is below mediocre.   What we found was probably no better —  I had a Reuben sandwich.   We split some potato skins.  I had this shockingly overcooked peas and carrot mix that I forced down.   They had no other vegetables.

8:00-8:30.   I did not have the energy to blog.   I replied to a few messages, made sure all of my items needing recharging were charging, did a final clean up and went to bed.

Pre-bike preparation:

5:00  alarm

5:00-5:15.   Basic cleanup, get the butt ready and suntan lotion — antibiotic cream, Band-Aid, chamois butter, apply suntan lotion (everywhere but above eyes — it is agonizingly painful to have suntan lotion mixed with sweat drip into the eyes)

5:15 – 5:45.   Stretch.   I’ve had to adjust my routine to slowly build to the really tough ones — my legs are so sore when I wake up that I can barely walk.   So jumping right into tough stretches would be beyond my capability.   I turn on Spotify, set the timer at 35 minutes, and then do the same stretching every morning.

  • 2 minutes “cat / cow”
  • 3 minutes “downward dog” — 1 minute both legs, 1 minute each leg alone
  • 4 minutes lunge (with back knee on the ground) — 2 min each side
  • 2 minutes reclining butterfly
  • 4 minutes spine twist (lie down, bring knees to 90 degrees, and then bring them down on one side, with arms extended straight out).   2 minutes each side.   Usually get a mild “crack” as the vertebrae loosen up
  • 4 minutes “wind removing pose” — 2 minutes each side.   Basically lie down with legs straight out.   Bring one leg in towards the armpit on the same side, place your hands on the upper shin, and pull in.   Stretches the quads.   This is the second toughest one for me given my right knee is sore
  • 4 minutes hamstring stretch (2 each leg).     Sit with legs out in a v.  Bring in one leg to touch the hamstring of the other leg.   Stretch over the extended leg with both hands on the foot (or further up).   Should feel the stretch in both legs
  • 2-3 minutes back stretch.   I don’t know how to describe this.   You start by lying down, then bring your legs straight up into the air in a shoulder stand.   Then you carefully drop both legs back until you touch the ground with your toes (I do this very slowly — it might take me almost the whole two minutes to touch the ground some days).
  • 2 minutes Virasana.   This is basically kneeling.   I put a pillow or a folded towel behind my knees to soften the stretch.   It’s too painful to sit up straight, so I often put my elbows and head on the ground and gingerly apply pressure to my  knees.   This is the most important stretch for me, but I count the seconds.   It takes me 15-20 seconds to straighten out my right leg after
  • 4 minutes pigeon (2 minutes L/R).   Hard to describe this one.
  • 3 minutes neck stretching.   1 minute each up/down, L/R and then having my ears go down to the shoulders, alternating left right.   I do this very slowly, breathing methodically, and listening to my arthritis crackle
  • 1 minute — 20 pushups.   OK, not technically stretching, but it wakes me up

5:45 – 6:00.   Lay out the clothes I will wear for the day and then start packing.   Check that bike tires are fully inflated (we have all experienced a “hotel flat” where the tire goes flat overnight and needs to be replaced)

6:00 – 6:20.   Breakfast.   Every hotel now has a free breakfast.   Despite staying at independent hotels, Holiday Inns, Comfort Inns, Drury Inns and Best Westerns, they all of 3-4 kinds of cereal, ready to heat sausage, scrambled eggs or omelets, biscuits and sausage gravy, yogurt, oatmeal packets, basic breads for toasting and waffle irons.   It’s predictable, it’s not bad.   But it ain’t home.

  • Today I had raisin bran, peach yogurt, some scrambled eggs with salsa, one sausage patty and coffee

6:20 – 6:45.   Finish packing and dressing.

  • I have one bag for all of my clothes and one bag that has several “organizing bags” — my backpack (for computers, chargers and office stuff), medical bag (Band-Aids, supplements, prescription drugs, aspirin and ibuprofen, skin creams), food bag (I generally carry some fruit and nuts), protein supplements (when I don’t have time for lunch I make a “shake”), bike tools and spares bag, cleaning bag (dish soap, laundry soap), Compex
  • I apply a second coat of suntan lotion over my knees and on my face, the two places that get the most sun

6:45-6:50.   Normally I arrive 5 minutes before loading to pump up my tires, but I was slow this morning.   We turn in our two bags, sign the document that we are loaded, and head off, all in 5-10 minutes.   Generally the fast group leaves first, then the main group.

6:50-12:30.   Ride.   I had two 15 minute “SAG” breaks today

  • SAG 1 I refilled both bottles, had half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 3 fig newtons, some blueberries, a banana and a cold Starbucks mocha I bought at the gas station to “pay for the porcelain” (it is considered good manners to buy something if you use their toilet facilities).
  • SAG 2 I refilled both bottles, had some fig newtons, another half PBJ
  • Midway between SAG 2 / finish I refilled both bottles with plain cold water (at this stage I’m finishing a bottle every 10 miles)

12:30- 12:45.   Check in (lucky today — room was ready).

12:45-1:30.   Get cleaned up, unpack, sit in a chair and stare at the ceiling to catch my breath

1:30- 2:45.    Eat lunch.   I didn’t see anyone around (today people were quite spread out — winds tend to bring people into groups; hills tend to fragment the groups) so I walked to Diner 54, only about a 10 minute walk away

  • Today I had 2 strawberry pancakes, 2 eggs over easy, a massive fruit salad with cottage cheese and raisin toast, chocolate milk, cold water.

2:45 – 3:45.   Write blog.   I can do this if I don’t do anything social.

Today’s image.   Dan Swanson took this picture as I crested one of the roller coaster hills in Missouri.   If it looks straight down it kinda felt like it too.   Some of these hills had 11-12+ grades.   Thanks Dan.

Song of the Day.   God bless America, by the Boston Police (2018).   Happy 4th of July.

Ride Summary Day 31 (Saint Joseph MO to Chillicothe MO):   Rode through Amish territory.   Hard day: 90.4 miles, 3461 feet of climbing, very hot, wind against us for more than half of the day.   I struggled a bit to keep up with the main group — I blame my blood pressure medicine.   Got a flat at the 65.5 mile SAG stop (#2) — the big group was leaving so Jean repaired my tire while I cooled off in the shade, and then I rode the last 26 miles on my own.

Ride Summary Day 32 (Chillicothe MO to Kirksville MO):   I decided not to take my beta blocker until after the ride.   My cardiologist had mentioned it was better not to take them when I am dehydrated, and it is inevitable to get dehydrated in this heat.   Felt a ton better — started with the main group, and then realized they were falling behind, so I decided to ride on my own.   Ended up catching the “fast group” and then riding mainly on my own after that.   I guess I upset the fast group because a couple of them ended up riding past me (they are DEFINITELY better riders), but the group did not stay intact.

Coach Chuck Koeppen

Challenge and Failure.   John Garman sent a long blog from a runner who completed what seems like a completely crazy 60 hour race at the end  of winter (The Barkley Marathon).   At the end the runner, Gary Robbins, writes the following:

You can’t put yourself out there without expecting to fall flat on your face from time to time, sometimes literally. Life is not easy and pursuing the limitations of who you are will certainly be wrought with unforeseen challenges, but as long as you keep your head up and keep pushing onward towards your truth, towards your belief in who you can be, you will learn to enjoy and cherish the journey, to find positives where others only see negatives…even if you end up reaching your ultimate goal a little later than you may have expected to. Even if you find yourself at that destination a few years further along than your planned arrival time. 

From <>

I’m increasingly conscious that so much of success in life has to do with experiencing failure, standing up again, dusting yourself off, and trying again.   Of course, sometimes it is equally difficult to handle success, but most of us are more afraid of failure.   I also like the point about finding positives when others see negatives — this resonates with my post on the “perfect ride.”

Chuck Koeppen.   I had a wonderful surprise today –my old cross country (running) coach has been following my cross-country blog.   He took issue with my claim that I never made varsity; he distinctly remembered having a wooden plaque made for the “varsity ladder.”   It is true that I think at one point I slipped through to the ladder (must have been a Spanish flu rolling through Carmel High School); one of my friends grabbed the plaque at a dinner commemorating Coach Koeppen’s accomplishments on his retirement and it has somehow found its way to my office at work — one of my prized possessions.   That he could remember this is beyond my ability to comprehend.   It has been 38 years.

Coach Koeppen was one of the most amazing coaches and teachers that I ever came across.   I don’t know where to start — probably at the simplest level — he was a fierce competitor.   He wanted to win, badly.   He had a deep sense of how to build young runners physically and mentally so that they reached their personal potential and peaked for the all-important State Championship.   In the seven years before I left the team the team won the Men’s State Championship every year.   Just to be clear, I never was a runner in the State Championship.   But I cheered wildly from the sidelines.

He expected total commitment to the team and to the goal of winning.   We had one week off after track season and two weeks off after cross-country.   Much of the summer was “two a day practices” — longer runs in the morning to build endurance, endless circuits on a 1-1.2 km woods run, track or football practice field to build speed.

Coach Koeppen ran in every practice we had.   Not a jog; he ran with the front-runners.   I don’t ever remember him standing on the sidelines.  He knew who was giving versus slacking; who was keeping up versus falling behind.   He knew whether people were straining or holding back.   He wasn’t screaming “go faster”; he was simply in the action, leading from the front.

We had routines and traditions that gave us a sense of belonging to something bigger than just a sports team.   Every summer we spent a week at a state park undertaking some of the most difficult training of the year.   It was the first key race to determine who was varsity and who was reserve for the starting inter-school race.   We travelled in the back of open pickups and slept in canvas tents.   It was hard work and fun.

He also got to know each team member as an individual, and would grab them for a pep talk if their morale was flagging, or cut them to pieces if they violated a key rule or were sandbagging.   We had strict curfews and it was definitely a “no drinking / no smoking or you are out” environment (except for one exception which I think he eternally regretted — RZ).

I think coach Koeppen would be staggered by how many lessons I took from his coaching style.   But most of all I learned what it takes to win.   And as I wrote earlier, that even when you do everything you think you can, sometimes it is not enough.

Day 29 Ride Summary  (Topeka KS to Saint Joseph’s Missouri).   Well, we have crossed into another state — Missouri.   89.2 miles, 3714 feet of climbing.   The terrain is different here — more of a roller coaster than a long ascent (some days we climbed for 5 straight hours).   Everyone was flagging by the end of the day — we needed a rest day.



Day 27-28 Eisenhower country

Yesterday’s highlight was visiting the Dwight Eisenhower Library and Museum in Abilene Kansas.   One could not ask for a greater contrast between our current leader and Eisenhower — a true war hero, a person who consulted widely before making key decisions, a person who understood the art of compromise and detested war.   He was not perfect, and I felt a little short-changed by the museum, which presented a fairly simplistic overview of his role in a number of key events in the decades before I was born — Operation Torch (the successful campaign in North Africa), Supreme Commander of the European Theater, setting up NATO, setting the parameters for the Cold War, ending the Korean war, the beginning of the civil rights movement, etc.   He was a man for the times.

Probably the most interesting part of the visit was a “tour” of his boyhood home.   6 brothers (a 7th died when young) in a small house.   Oldest had his own room; the rest shared one room (Dwight was #3).   The kids had to work hard.   They had chores for cleaning, cooking and taking care of the garden; sets of 2 boys rotated through.   On Sundays two boys left church early to prepare Sunday dinner.   The boys were not allowed in the “parlor”.   They had to enter the house by the back door.   Etc.   While it is easy to focus on policy and tactics with a President, my gut sense is that character is equally important.   You see where I’m headed.

People in Kansas have been so friendly; the drivers observe a “10-foot rule” meaning they usually move over a lane even though we are riding on the shoulder (or the edge of the road if there is no shoulder).

I am trying to keep in a very positive frame of mind, but the data would suggest my fitness is not getting better — with new batteries in my Infocrank, I can confirm my L/R balance was 64/36 today.   We had probably the toughest day today for the remainder of the trip — 108 miles, 4,700 feet of climbing, very high heat — so I know I can finish.   But it’s definitely a bit tough to get that knee functioning every day.

We had one person collapse from heat stroke today — he will I am sure try to be back on the bike tomorrow or Tuesday (Monday is a rest day).   He’s a tough nut, but the heat and sun and climbing today was going to claim at least one victim.

My cousin, her son and his wife took me to dinner tonight — a really nice break from our meat and potatoes diet.   Actually, some of the biggest highlights of the trip have been the visits I’ve had with my sister, the Stringhams and now my cousin.   Friends and Family still trump.

Image.   Unusual post box in rural Kansas.

Day 27 ride summary (McPherson to Abilene, Kansas).   64.2 miles, 795 feet of climbing.   Heavy tailwind while we went north — as high as 25 miles per hour.   Easiest day yet.   I rode with the large group.

Day 28 ride summary (Abilene to Topeka, Kansas).   107.5 miles, 4700 feet of climbing.   Tough day — distance, climbing and heat.   We stayed in a group, but the winds were mainly crosswinds, so not much benefit in drafting.   Roads were a bit rough.   Climbing is different than in the mountains — rolling hills; sometimes a bit steep.


Day 26: Halfway there!

There are different ways to measure “halfway there.”   By distance we won’t be there until tomorrow at some point in the ride.   By climbing we were probably there a couple of days ago.   By days, it is today.   26 days complete, 26 to go.

I revisited my reasons for doing this for some mid-term reflection.

  • I am not sure I can do it.   Isn’t that the nature of a real challenge?   Am I in good enough physical condition?   Will I get hit by a truck?   Do I have the mental stamina when I’m climbing 8,000 feet in a hard, cold rain? 8 100 mile plus days?   Are there any people in that part of Nevada?  In the end, the most important reason is to take on a challenge where I am not sure I can succeed.   I believe I can do this, but the obstacles have been greater than I expected.   I knew my right knee was my “Achilles tendon”;  I should not have started the trip without the lower gearing.   It has been a very long time since I had to plug away, without respite, for 52 days straight.   Weather and other conditions are unpredictable.
  • To raise awareness of the UWCSEA scholar program and begin raising money for a new endowed scholarship.   Every one of these kids has a story; most have come from very difficult situations.   To give them the gift of a UWCSEA IB education is life-changing.  $125,501 has been committed — WOW!   I’m very humbled by that level of support for the UWCSEA scholarship program.   From this money alone one hopeful kid from somewhere in the world will graduate UWCSEA with an IB and a different life trajectory.   I think about these kids just about every day I ride, and how lucky I have been to have this opportunity.   Thank you.
  • To have another great memory.  My transition from high school to college was marked by a bicycle trip from Mexico to Canada on the California coast.   It was one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken — two good friends, a map of the Pacific Coast Highway (route 101) and a rusty old bike that broke at least 5 spokes on the trip.   There are many great memories, although none quite yet match Steve Reynolds attempting to tear gas John Garman and me as we raided his food stash out of desperation on a night with no dinner option.   The cartridge was a dud.
  • To mark a transition to in my working life.   My father hiked the Appalachian trail when he turned 55; I turned 55 this year.   He retired that year;  I need to think about the next stage at Bain — focusing full time on being a coach and mentor to the next generation rather than taking the hills from the front.  Most of the people I am riding with are retired; some have no interest in returning to work; some long for the meaning that comes from the continuing challenges and sense of accomplishment work can provide.   I feel very fortunate my employer provides the flexibility to work below full-time.
  • To see America.   I have lived in Asia now for 27 years;   it feels important to reconnect with the US that I only hold now as images — San Francisco, the Sierra Madres, the Utah and Nevada desert, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, Indianapolis, the Appalachian Mountains, the New Hampshire coast.    Definitely fulfilling this goal.   At “handlebar level.”
  • To put my knee injury behind me.   After I shattered my patella (kneecap) in college, I never thought I could do a long bike trip again.   I tried training for a triathlon and had to give up — I haven’t run since.   Overcoming that injury is a major hurdle.   Not clear I will succeed at this one.   As Father John queried, “when ARE you going to have that knee replaced?”
  • To re-learn what it takes to achieve a tough physical challenge.  Tackling a tough physical goal that requires a very different kind of discipline and approach to achievement.   I have never been a great athlete — I was on a team led by a terrific coach (Chuck Koeppen) that won 7 straight Indiana state championships in cross country running.   But let’s be clear, I never made it to varsity.   It was a really important experience to know my best was not good enough.  What I am relearning is that setting the goal is 25% of the challenge, but preparation is as important as execution.   My biggest regret is not doing a week “trial” about a year ago to really wrap my head around what this would take.   But I did 80% of what is ideal, and that should be enough.
  • To become a better cyclist.   On my last race (the D2R2 in Massachusetts/ Vermont/ New York), which was a 145 kilometer mountain race (some trail, some dirt road, some paved road  with almost 10,000 feet of climbing) I barely made it, and my old cycling mates couldn’t believe how pathetic my condition was.   I had to walk part of several hills.   Definitely seeing improvement here — in physical condition, in technique, in equipment, in mindset.  
  • To make some new friends.  Many people ask “who are you riding with?”   The honest answer is I don’t know.   I just found a group on the internet that organizes tours and signed up.   They seem very professional.   About 12 people are going.   Definitely.   And very different people than I am used to spending time with.   Our organizers have commented that this is one of the most cohesive groups they have worked with.   There is significant interaction between all members of the group.
  • To not fall off of my bicycle.  Literally and metaphorically, so far so good.

Day 26 Ride Summary (Great Bend KS to McPherson KS:    I listened to five songs with “halfway” in the title or lyrics, and the winner is Sheryl Crow’s Halfway There   (2017).

Song of the Day:    I listened to five songs with “halfway” in the title or lyrics, and the winner is Sheryl Crow’s Halfway There.   (2017).



Day 24-25 Cruising across Kansas

Favorable winds have meant spirits are high after two days of low mileage / wonderful tailwinds.   My knee is feeling better although not yet normal.   My butt wound is steadily clearing up — it’s a combination of many, many things that would be too much detail for most of you.

I hope you can see the windmills in the pictures — there were hundreds of them, it seems.   99% seemed to be twirling.

The area where Dodge City was settled has a sad and bloody history; it is hard to describe it as anything other than genocide.   Hunters were paid for Bison skins — the goal being to wipe out the American Bison and deprive the Native Americans of their traditional food source.   At the same time wars were waged between the local tribes and the US Army.

After the area, which is along the “Santa Fe Trail,” became more settled, the railroads started to expand westward to this territory.   Dodge City was the “end of the line” for the trains at a point; cowboys from as far away as Texas would drive their herds to Dodge City, where they would be auctioned, slaughtered and shipped East.   Dodge City was in many people’s imagination “the Wild, Wild West;” the show “Gunsmoke” is set in Dodge City.

I was curious what kind of calories I am consuming.   I put yesterday into a spreadsheet; I was expecting between 4,000 – 5,000 calories a day; what do you know?   We were in Dodge City, so Father John and I tried to find the best steak house in Dodge and were hoping to order a Tomahawk.   After passing tens of thousands of head of cattle on their way to slaughter, some had lost their appetite for beef (either pity or because of the smell), but John and I both had plenty of appetite.


Breakfast Yoplait Yoghurt 90
  Cinnamon Spice Oatmeal 160
  Raisin Bran with 2% milk 230
  Coffee 2
SAG 1 1/2 peanut butter jelly on whole wheat bread 145
  Scoop of “gorp” (raisins, nuts, M&M’s, other 150
  Small apple 55
  Grapes 30
  Pineapple 50
Snack Strawberry milkshake 400
Lunch 4 blueberry pancakes 600
  2 eggs over easy 175
Snack 1/2 cup cashews 320
  1 pound cherries 270
Dinner loaded quesadilla 400
  12 oz ribeye 800
  mashed potatos 120
  corn 70
  2 lemonades 380

I qualified for the senior discount at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP); yes, it was a day of reckoning.   Yesterday I was too hungry to accept only 2 pancakes, but the day before I had chirpily demanded my $1.50 discount on the senior portion.

I’m the second youngest in my group of 11; somehow I expected to be in the middle but 52 days is a long time for most working folks.   Only the four youngest (53, 55, 56) are still working; the others are all retired.   Actually, there is one guy  from Belorussia that is of unknown age and avocation.   He might be younger than me.   He never rides with the group and if he joins us for dinner seems to have urgent calls in Russian at every meal.   The median age is probably about 59 or 60 — hey Michael, you could do this!   Or I hear there are trips across Canada.   You might have to stay at a few farmhouses across the great expanse, but what a trip that would be!

Tomorrow we will be halfway!

Day 24 ride summary (Garden City to Dodge City, Kansas).   50.7 miles, 600 feet of climbing.   Nice tailwind.   Easiest day yet.   I rode mainly with Carl at the start and then joined the larger group.   They had a couple of flats but I now have been spared for over a week.

Day 25 ride summary (Dodge City to Great Bend, Kansas).   84.2 miles, 411 feet of climbing.   Very flat terrain.   Moderate tailwind, but with the nice road conditions it was as easy as yesterday.   What a relief to have a couple of days of “spinning.”   There are now two main groups, the “fast group” (3 people) and the “main group” (7 people).   One person always rides on his own.


Day 22-23 Small Town America

As we begin our wander across Eastern Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, it has already hit us how different communities seem to be “prosperous,” “struggling,” or “dying” only a few miles apart.   We’ve gone through towns in the last few days that half of the houses are abandoned, many of the hotels, restaurants, gas stations and strip malls are boarded up and collapsing; we’ve also been in towns that look spruced up, with new high schools, attractive main streets and trendy new bars and coffee shops.

Unlike a place like Singapore, when a dying industry is replaced by a prospering one — shop houses that once housed mobile phone distributors now have tutoring outlets; a components factory is replaced by a drone software startup — in small town America the loss of a local factory or mine or chicken processing facility can just mean death to the town.   Pueblo was affected by the shutdown of the steel mills; in this part of Kansas there seem to be a lot of jobs associated with agriculture, meat processing, natural gas pipelines, etc.   It’s a lens into “Trump’s America” — when people have to leave their communities to pursue employment they may just give up.   Or the elderly watch the young drift to the larger cities and see their communities die.   It doesn’t seem fair to them, even though the forces driving it are simply part of a growing, dynamic, more service-oriented, globalizing economy.

These towns don’t feel “dangerous”, but they are as depressing as a ghetto in Manila or India.   There is just no life in them.   You can sense the lack of opportunity and the rot of desperation.

Day 22 Ride:   Very, very tough.   One look at the group and you would have seen pure exhaustion.   121 miles / 1170 feet of climbing into a mix of crosswinds and head winds.   Forced to work in a pace line.   Rained for two hours — a cold, relatively heavy rain that wasn’t in the forecast.   Almost 10 hours on the bicycle.   Ended with the worst meal of the trip — a local American food place where the steak looked (and tasted) like shoe leather and when one person ordered macaroni and cheese it was Kraft — not even remotely “home made.”   The brown gravy was threatening.

Day 23 Ride:   A perfect day; 12/12.   102 miles with a wonderful tailwind, sunny but cool temperatures, nice shoulders on the road, only 971 feet of climbing (which is 10 feet per mile).   I was able to spin at a high cadence (ignore the data on Strava — first I always forget to turn it off during breaks and I think I need to change the batteries — there is NO WAY my L/R balance is 67/33.     I couldn’t bear another American meal (Golden Corral — a relatively low end American buffet) so Father John and I headed for Vietnamese food.   Between us we ate three appetizers and three main courses.

Day 20-21 Goodbye Rockies and Hello Great Plains

A 94.4 mile day is nothing to be sniffed at, but the descent was greater than the ascent, and we knew we had a rest day at the end.   So with the exception of the massive thunderclouds to the north west of us, the journey was fairly uneventful.   We said goodbye to 10 people in Pueblo; our group shrinks to 11 for the final push across the USA.   All should be there by the end.

Pueblo has become one of the centers of Colorado’s marijuana industry.   It’s quite a shock coming from Singapore and seeing grass weed pot cannabis openly grown, sold and consumed.   There are no restrictions here other than you need to be 21 years of age.   The dispensary near our Pueblo hotel is probably 15,000 square feet, and has a much larger greenhouse adjacent to the property.   The one in the picture is a small (but busy) place in front of a church.

I talked to a couple of Uber drivers as I went to and from lunches and Walmart; when I asked each the question what is Pueblo known for they said “steel and pot.”   Apparently the steel industry has had major ups and downs as mills expand and contract, open and close.   I overheard a conversation at lunch by someone who seemed connected with the cannabis industry that “marijuana prices have fallen from $2000 / pound to $800 in just a couple of years.   One of the Uber drivers had set up a small farm but now couldn’t make ends meet so was supplementing his income with Uber driving.

I haven’t been into one of the dispensaries yet, but our group is fascinated by them.   Chocolates, brownies, gummy bears, extracts, glass jars of weed like an old-fashioned country store.

The Uber drivers I spoke to all seemed non-plussed about the legalization of marijuana — 2 of the 3 said it causes less problems than alcohol, and most seemed to think “of course people can become dependent on it, but they can become dependent on other things as well.”   Debate about marijuana has far less emotion attached to it than debate about gun control.

I had a couple of dinners with Father John over the last two days.   He is going on a 6 month half-world sailing trip after this bike ride is over.   Doesn’t feel that appealing to me; I guess everyone’s bucket list is different.  22 people on a 70 foot boat crashing through waves and not getting enough sleep?

Ride Summary.   Nice steady decent for about 50 miles, interrupted by one big climb and then a shift from mountains to prairie.   94 miles, 2515 feet of climbing.    L/R balance still 60-40, but felt stronger Friday.

Day 19: The Continental Divide and Father John

I probably had two key concerns about this trip — would I be able to conquer the Rockies and could my knee handle 52 days of riding with 5 breaks?   The first has been answered.   It was another great day weather wise.  The summit was not an anticlimax; it just felt terrific to climb for 41 straight miles, the last 10 being almost 3500 feet, and reaching the top.   The first 31 were just lovely, riding next to the Gunnison River pretty much to its source.   The last 10 were tough — relentless up, sometimes 5, sometimes up to 8 or 9% grades.   After 10,000 feet, I could really feel the altitude and lack of oxygen.   Most of the time the road had no guardrail, and it looked straight down.   We all made it.

In the picture with me is one of the most popular members of the group, affectionately now known as Father John.   John lost 76 pounds in the run-up to the trip (from December to May).   He has taken off two years to have adventures, and lives life with quite a gusto.

His method was to go three times to a fitness camp in Spain run by a former boxer (3 weeks each visit).   He said it is 5-6 hours of exercise and 1000 calories a day.   You lose about a pound a day.   He’s still not the lightest guy on the trip, but he can zip up hills while chatting away.

So back to one of my key objectives for the blog (as opposed to the trip) — it is to motivate each of my subscribers to pick a big goal and really go for it.   Something that you will look back on 30,40,50 years from now and say “that was a real highlight in my life”.

Ride Summary:   Gunnison Colorado to Salida Colorado.   63.6 miles, 4345 vertical feet of climbing.   Temperature still relatively low, but that is about to end — looks like it will be in the high 90’s/30’s once we hit Kansas.   My butt is getting better but my right  knee is still quite stiff — my L/R balance was 60-40 today.   So my left leg is contributing 50% more than my right.   I’m going to try taking  ~4 Advil a day for the next few days and see if that helps (I’ve been taking 2 every other day; trying to avoid too much medication).   At this stage I don’t think I have much choice.

Song of the Day.   It has to be “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough.”   Marvin Gaye 1967.   The average is getting worse.

Day 18: Heckuva climb and peach pie

Today was a spectacular day.   Beautiful weather, tailwind, unbelievable scenery.   After one pretty tough climb and before the next one we popped into this little country store that specializes in pie.   She makes 10-12 a day, and then as they sell out the pieces they have a little whiteboard that shows what remains.   Most of the pies were already sold out by 10:00 am.   I will say the peach pie was as good as my Mom’s, which is saying a lot.

One thing I am struck by in the poorer parts of the US is the lack of entrepreneurship.   Here was this lady cooking 10 pies a day.   8 pieces per pie, 4.50/ piece, $36 per pie, $360 in income/ day.   Plus coffee and all the other things they sell there.   That’s a decent income.   But there is so little of this kind of activity.   It’s all a malaise.

The climbing all took place in the first 33 miles; most of the second half was in some beautiful canyons and around a reservoir (that was drying out — down by at least 15 meters (my guess) from peak).   It’s sad to see these effects of global warming.

About half of the group will drop off in two days, so we go from 21 to 11 (these only wanted to go from San Francisco to the far side of the Rockies).   It’s nice to have different groups to hang out with and ride with; it will be a real change in pace with only 11 of us.

Tomorrow we cross the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass — 11,312 feet.   We were told that today is tougher than tomorrow; I certainly hope that is the case!    I didn’t have to stop on the rides up today, so I guess I’ve got a few more red blood cells than before.

Ride Summary.   Today was 63.6 miles, 5829 feet of climbing.   We are off the interstates, so the inclines tend to be a bit steeper.   I did use my lowest gear several times; thank goodness for the cartridge / derailleur shift in Salt Lake City.   I tried to keep my cadence above 88; my coach and Tony May both felt it would help with the sore right knee.   60-40 balance today; yesterday was 56-44.   We will have gone 20 days with only 1 rest day — probably a bit too tough on this old man’s knee.

Song of the day.   I had two suggestions today — Rocky Mountain High by John Denver, and the Colorado Song by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.   I’m afraid if I picked either of those Steve would give up his subscription, so I’m going to wait until Pueblo to do a one week retrospective.