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Day 30: 112.5 miles from Worthington, MN → Mankato, MN

Minnesota looks more like home than anyplace we’ve been, with lots of agricultural fields and trees in between, although it’s less hilly than home.

Today’s schedule: When the alarm went off at 5 AM, I made a cup of coffee, took it back to bed, stared at the wall for 15 minutes, checked email for another 15 min, and then got dressed in my riding clothes. Scott, my roommate, had already left for breakfast. After organizing my things a bit, I went downstairs for breakfast myself and returned to pack my bags in time to load them in the trailer by 6:30 AM. Once the bags were loaded, we all checked the air pressure in our tires and set out for the day’s ride. It was a long ride (112 miles), which took about 6 hours and 20 minutes of pedaling, averaging about 17.6 mph. (I mention the average speed because it’s so much faster than any ride we do at home in our hilly terrain. I’ve never ridden 50 or 100 miles at home faster than about 15 mph.) There were three SAG (supply and gear) stops today along the route, one roughly every 30 miles, where we got “road food” such as bananas, peanut butter, corn chips, fig newtons, Gatorade, and water to keep us fueled and hydrated. We finally reached the hotel at about 2:30 PM after which we showered, did some laundry, cleaned bikes, and met with the entire group (about 30 riders and six America by Bicycle staffers) about tomorrow’s schedule and route. After the meeting, we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner—I sat with five other riders—and then I went to a store for some supplies and a sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch. Finally, I returned to the hotel to work on this blog and other odds and ends in preparation for tomorrow, which will include another 100-mile ride across Minnesota. Lights out will be about 9:30 PM. We have one more full day in Minnesota before we cross into Wisconsin.

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We shared the hotel in Worthington, MN, with attendees at a corn convention, fitting because there is so much corn here in MN. There was a monstrous John Deere combine in the parking lot that harvests and shells 12 rows of corn in a single pass.

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The roads today were flat.

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We passed a wind farm with 100s of these gigantic wind turbines. The turbines towered over fields of corn, and together they evoked thoughts of renewable energy, as the corn is used in part to make ethanol for adding to gasoline.

Day 29: 70.5 miles from Sioux Falls, SD → Worthington, MN

We left South Dakota and crossed into Minnesota at about mile 25 today and saw A LOT of corn and soybeans on the way to Worthington, MN.

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Crossing into Minnesota

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Mornings can be the best time of day to ride, as the winds and roads are quieter and the riding peaceful. Today we rode the first several miles on this nice bike path to the falls.

Day 28: Rest day in Sioux Falls, SD

Matt, John, and I took a shuttle to downtown Sioux Falls and visited Falls Park, site of the famous waterfalls for which the town is named. Early settlers used and sold the very hard, red quartzite bedrock as building material, and the falls provided energy for a large mill.

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Me, Matt, and John with part of the falls in the background.

Day 27: 71 miles from Mitchell, SD → Sioux Falls, SD

We started late today (9:30 AM) because of a strong storm in Mitchell and then rode directly into a 15-20 mph headwind from the east. At home, we’d never ride on such days, but today Scott, Matt, John, and I formed a 4-person paceline and pushed on, changing leaders every mile, allowing us to average about 10 mph at first. Other groups did more-or-less the same. On some days with headwinds, one is tempted to fight the winds, as we did on Day 13, just trying to reach the goal as quickly as possible. The wind would have won that game instantly today, though, so we just turned the pedals as we could, grateful for any progress at all. After almost three hours, we had made it to the first SAG stop 32 miles from Mitchell. At that point, the wind decreased noticeably, allowing us to move faster, and it later even turned in our favor, allowing us to finish the 71 miles in about six hours.

In the last part of the ride, Bud rode with us and noticed a little wobble in my rear wheel, and it turns out the wheel was cracked, requiring it to be replaced. Fortunately another rider Rob had an old rear wheel to spare, so the mechanic Rob put it on my bike, and I’m ready to roll again. Thanks Rob and Rob!

Tomorrow is a rest day in Sioux Falls. Phew.

Day 26: 71 miles from Chamberlain, SD → Mitchell, SD

Ann left this morning for Davenport, IA, where she’ll spend a few days with family before returning home. We took a nice—but hot—walk along the Missouri river after dinner last evening. I’m going to miss her!

Today’s ride was fast (18.5 mph) because of a nice tailwind all day and fun because Matt and I rode together and had a long, pleasant conversation. Matt’s great. Many days, by contrast, the wind or road noise don’t allow much conversation.

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A view of the bridge over the Missouri River as seen from our walk in Chamberlain in the evening.

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A selfie in the park where we walked. That’s the river in the background.

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A SAG stop on the way to Mitchell. This is a really nice group I’m riding with. I’m told the average age (of about 30 riders) is 62, one year younger than me.

Day 25: 73 miles from Murdo, SD → Chamberlain, SD

Today we rolled through more grassland in central South Dakota with a moderate headwind making it tougher. We crossed the halfway point (in miles) for the entire trip and also the Missouri River. Further, we are now in the Central Time zone. Today's scenery was mostly familiar, but I saw a tree full of now-empty great blue heron nests with a single bird flying around, as the young had evidently fledged.

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This photo was actually from yesterday, but my math shows that we reached the halfway point of the trip (about 1,850 miles) today, not yesterday. That’s me, Matt, and Scott.

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Great blue heron rookery. There are few trees in this area, and the herons seem to have found the single tree of any good size within miles.

Day 24: 100 miles from Wall, SD → Murdo, SD

This was a nice long ride through Badlands National Park, which was spectacular, and then the rolling prairie of central South Dakota. The sedimentary rock formations of the Badlands were laid down in layers over about 50 million years (roughly 75-25 million years ago) when the land was under water. The dinosaurs were around at the beginning of this time (until 65 million years ago), so dinosaur fossils might be found in the lowest layers. The land has been eroding away, yielding the spectacular hills, over only the last 500,000 years. The exposed rock is surprisingly soft, and it will erode away more-or-less completely in another 500,000 years. (Oops, sorry, I just slipped into professor mode there for a second.) The photos below are all from the Badlands.

Day 23: 58 miles from Rapid City, SD → Wall, SD

This was a spin through the rolling grasslands of west-central SD except for a 9-mile climb toward the end, which was challenging. As I rolled along, I thought often that I was lucky to experience such scenery, which was beautiful even if not spectacular. I continue to enjoy Ann’s company at the end of the day, which I’ll have for just two more days. Tomorrow should be great, with a ride through Badlands National Park.

I’m also ready to weigh in on whether Teddy Roosevelt belongs among the four presidents depicted on Mt. Rushmore, but I’ll save that for someday soon.

Day 22: 74 miles from Hot Springs, WY → Rapid City, SD

This was a nice, mainly northward ride up from the grasslands into the Black Hills and to Mount Rushmore National Monument on the way to Rapid City. It started with a steady 36-mile climb, but somehow that seems do-able these days. I rode mostly with Scott and Matt, which was enjoyable as usual. Ann and I will have dinner on our own this evening, which will be a nice change from the big group dinners, even though the group is great. We’ve covered over 1,600 miles so far, which is over 40% of the total distance of the trip. The time and the miles have flown by.

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Day 21: 93 miles from Lusk, WY → Hot Springs, SD

Today’s ride was a perfect one through the rolling grasslands in Eastern Wyoming and into the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The scenery was great, and the ride was long enough to be challenging and not too hilly or windy. The Black Hills are called that because of the pine trees on the hills, which make the hills look black from a distance.

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The required photo in front of the Welcome to South Dakota sign

Day 20: 107 miles from Casper, WY → Lusk, WY

Today’s ride was a tough one because of headwinds and some miles of climbing, and I was glad to get off the bike at the end. The scenery included mainly grassland with occasional livestock and antelope. Tomorrow we cross into South Dakota.

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A typical view from the road riding across eastern Wyoming.

Day 19: Rest day in Casper, wY: On Josh Wesner, hospice, and this bike ride

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There’s a connection between the Josh Wesner Memorial Scholarship and St. Luke’s Hospice, the two causes I'm supporting.

When I knew Josh, he lived intensely and wholeheartedly, as if every moment counted. This was true when he first walked into my freshman biology class with the help of a cane and a slight speech abnormality, both from a car accident, and it remained true until he eventually succumbed to Hodgkin's lymphoma. What I found and still find inspiring about Josh is that he lived joyfully and fully In the face of what seemed to be terrible circumstances. I imagine he thought, “There is something great about being alive, and I am not going to miss it.” And indeed he did not.

Hospice patients and their families often resemble Josh in this way. Most of us would consider their circumstances to be among the most difficult we face: their lives or the lives of loved ones will probably soon end. But like Josh, they live joyfully. “There is something great about being alive, and I am not going to miss it.” A hospice patient I have been visiting and who has been bed-bound for months is a joy to be around. He is always fully present, is often self-deprecatingly funny, laughs and smiles a lot, and expresses love easily and often, as do his wife and family. Their lives are admirable and enviable exactly as they are.

I think Josh Wesner and hospice patients and their families are models for how to live, and I take inspiration from their courage and their love of life.

Day 18: 121 miles from Riverton, WY → Casper, WY

Today’s ride was my longest one-day ride ever, but it was relatively fast (18.9 mph, on average) and easy on flat roads with light to moderate tailwinds. (Did I just call a 121-mile ride fast and easy? You can smack me next time you see me.) The landscape was sagebrush scrub that gave way to grassland as we moved eastward. Ann spent the day sightseeing around Riverton and joined us for dinner in Casper.

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Selfie of Ann and me having a drink with other riders before dinner in Casper.

Day 17: 79.5 miles from Dubois, WY → Riverton, WY

This ride was a cruise averaging 18.1 mph through beautiful country. I fear that readers will tire of the spectacular scenery, but here are a few photos anyway. Also, I thought during the ride today about what unites Josh Wesner, St. Luke’s Hospice, and this bike trip, and I look forward to sharing those thoughts here soon. For now, though, I’m really excited that Ann will be joining me here in Riverton in an hour or two! She will be sightseeing during the days and meeting me at the next town in the evenings for the next week. Just can’t wait!

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I like sagebrush…

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and landscapes with it.

Day 16: 53 miles from Jackson, WY → Dubois, WY

Today’s was a great ride, even though it started with a 30-mile northward shuttle ride through Grand Teton National Park because commercial cycling operations are not allowed there. We then climbed about 2800 feet over 16 miles to the Continental Divide. Along the way, we had some spectacular views of the Tetons and the surrounding mountain landscape. From the Divide, we flew down to Dubois, losing roughly 2600 feet of elevation over a rollicking 30-mile descent, with a tailwind. Woohoo

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The Tetons from a point along the climb to the Coneinental Divide.

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Day 15: 92 miles from Idaho Falls, ID → Jackson, WY

Today we crossed the 1000-mile mark for the entire trip early in the day and then the Wyoming border at about 70 miles. The ride culminated in a 14-mile climb of increasing steepness up to Teton Pass at 8,431 feet, which overlooks Jackson to the east. Along the way, we encountered a strong thunderstorm from which three of us took shelter in the wood shop of a local fireman. The climb to the pass was definitely challenging, but in my memory the Day 6 ride was harder despite the statistics.

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Two states and 1000 miles down

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We could see the thunderstorm coming from the west.

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Crossing into Wyoming partway up the mountain.

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Selfie from the top of Teton Pass overlooking Jackson, with mountains in the distance.

Day 14: 67 miles from Pocatello, ID → Idaho Falls, ID

Today’s ride was an easy one on good roads, a “rolling rest day”—I certainly never thought I’d think of 67 miles as rest!—that allowed us to recover from yesterday and prepare for tomorrow’s big climb over the Teton Pass into Jackson, WY. It’ll be 90 miles with more than 6100 feet of climbing up to the pass. I’ve been looking forward to this climb with concern for several days; I guess we’ll soon see how hard it really is. The photos make up a miscellaneous collection from the last 24 hours.

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A few of the great folks I’ve been hanging around with either during or between rides: Dan, Joe, Scott, Matt, John.

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A typical view from today’s ride through irrigated farmland. It’s a little wetter here, as grass pastures grow without irrigation.

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Falls in the Snake River in the town of Idaho Falls where we’re staying.

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After the ride today, we watched a replay of the Women’s World Cup final, Netherlands v. USA. Scott (left) and I are Americans, of course, Kees (middle) is Dutch, and Matt (right) is English. The USA won 2:0 in a good match.

Day 13: 86 miles from Burley, ID → Pocatello, ID

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The star today was the 10 mph headwind during the first 50 miles. That combined with rough oil-and-chip road surfaces made for a tough ride, and most of us were happy to get off the bikes at the end. The terrain was mostly irrigated agricultural land, like yesterday, or arid grassland with scattered sagebrush.

Day 12: 42 miles from Twin Falls, ID → Burley, ID

Today was an easy ride through the farmlands of south central Idaho with a stop to view Shoshone Falls, sometimes called the Niagara of the West. The water for irrigating the farmlands, which would otherwise be too dry for farming, comes from runoff from the nearby mountains, on which we could still see some snow.

Day 11: 97 miles from Mountain Home, ID → Twin Falls, ID

Today’s ride was great, the best for me so far. It was long and challenging but do-able. The morning was cool, the landscape beautiful, and the riding peaceful. It was one of those rides for which what I wrote after the Day 1 ride applies: “In many moments of such a ride, it’s simply enough in every way just to be there.” Moreover, at a SAG stop at mile 60 I was delighted to meet up with a former student (photos below) who had responded to an email I sent to KU’s biology alumni for the fundraiser. We eventually discovered that she lives a few blocks from a planned stop on our route and arranged to meet! Finally, there were also some spectacular views along the way.

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Cassie Skinner Mavencamp (holding her adorable daughter Ginny) graduated from KU in 2006 and is now statewide data administrator for the Bureau of Land Management, a job she likes a lot. Cassie wrote the following about the Biology Department at KU: “One of my favorite things about the biology program at KU was the faculty's dedication to their students. I never felt second tier to graduate students or administration. Your ride for Josh Wesner is a testament to this feeling.”

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Cassie’s lovely family: Fritz, Cassie, and the twins Ginny and Gus.