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Cross Country USA: South Dakota to Wisconsin

Days 21-29: Rapid City, SD -> Madison, WI. 2,497 total miles and 104,452 ft of total elevation.

Day 21: Rapid City, South Dakota How is it that we are steadfastly heading east and yet spent the entire day enveloped in merciless heat with ferocious, whipping, unrelenting head winds. Doubling one’s efforts results in regular pacing. That was the only way to make forward progress on this day of 113 miles, 4,000 feet and a tardy start to the morning in Rapid City. With 9 days until our next day off we have five century plus days with lesser days scattered amidst them. Silk wanted to be a meteorologist when he was a sapling. His answer: southeast winds.

Two colleagues were down and out during the night. The guides were on the move sorting out how to help them while getting the rest of us on the road. Their bikes were put in the mini van, their stay extended at the Alex Johnson. It was disconcerting to watch two strong cyclists’s trip derail. The guides will be all about getting them back into our fold as soon as they are mended up. Silk, Sandy and I set forth in the golden sun knowing that the day was destined to be a scorcher. We rode strong, with brief stops at every offered rest stop. For all the liquids we were consuming it was instructive to realize how our bodies were absorbing all of it all day long.

Riding into and through Badlands National Park was the star attraction today. The shimmering heat in the broiling sun accompanied by swirling non-stop headwinds meant I had one one eye on the timeless awe-inducing buttes and pinnacles, expanses of space and the clay’s arresting colors. My central governor eye was focused on drinking enough and wondering what the road temperature was. Silk suggested we stop at the Badlands visitor center for relief and we crumpled off the bikes and staggered inside for bottles of lemonade, Gatorade and Powerade which we guzzled straightaway. Found out later: it was 97 degrees with road temperature 109 degrees.

My take on being fresh off a rest day: my body has fully adapted to what I am asking of it. I trained at a certain level and am now feeling my body leap to perform at a far higher level than I ever trained at. Sun arms, insulated water bottles and the will to engage? Fired up, ready to go. Tomorrow will be just as demanding.

Day 22: Kadoka, South Dakota This is the day that spanked me. Red sky in morning, cyclists take warning. It was a furnace of a day. Just when I thought it couldn’t get hotter, it did. Just when I thought it couldn’t get windier, it was. Biting swirling headwinds finished out the day of crossing body winds both head, mid-body and tail.

Working to breathe, sweat, replenish with drinking and keeping hands and feet from going numb in seething heat was a challenging task. It was a long day of dead straight miles, rolling hills that never got easier, building heat and vexing winds that destroyed any sense of rhythm and flow on the bike. It was a brutal day that sapped energy, fun and joyfulness. The first thing every athlete learns is you can’t control the weather so you focus on what you can control which is your reaction to what amounts to a challenging day in which to perform.

Given the challenges, the complaining was negligible. The mask of fatigue, wear and tear and downright physical breakdown was evident on so many faces. The guides were superb about having ice and cold drinks plus as much water as we needed. Watermelon slices and even ice cream bars were on offer by Rae at the added extra 104 mile rest stop. As the heat and winds built the rest stops were more and more businesslike. No chatter and joking around today. It was a frightfully long day which included losing an hour as we crossed over into central time.

Silk pulled me in today. Battered by the heat and wind by mile 50, I was all about having my head down and keeping Silk close so I could stay the course. 115 miles later we rolled into the Arrowwood Resort after a wee bit over 9 hours in the saddle. All I cared about was getting indoors and into the air conditioning with a shower to follow. It was a hard long day on the bike today. I’m glad I made it in.

Day 23: Oacoma, South Dakota “Let everything happen to you, Beauty and terror, Just keep going, No feeling is final.” – Rainer Maria Rilke.

A new day ahead. All around me I heard, “I made it through yesterday, I can make it through anything” in some iteration or another. There was a lightness to our entire group this morning. To think we’ve been on the road for three weeks perplexes — somehow this day slips past and then another and another and before we know it we are headed to Mitchell, SD. Silk and I remind each other every morning: “Savor the day.” We do, we do. The elasticity of time shows itself over and over.

Today was prima facie evidence of how getting through a day that seems impossible can bring oneself to another experience entirely. The collective mood of one day ago was of flinty determination amid difficult circumstances that pushed and pulled at us all day. The endless rolling hills that required toiling into a direct headwind, the near to 100 degree temperatures, the repetitive landscape not unlike that of the Coyote and the Roadrunner background scenes and the sheer distance of 115 miles on a day that felt challenging merely standing still and breathing amidst the wind and heat.

Not that anyone was whinging. Didn’t have to even open one’s mouth to do that — the somewhat hellish circumstances created an equality of experience. We all knew how tough it was and the only choice we had was to keep pushing into it. Which we did. Watching the others get on their bikes meant I could do it, too. Watching Ron roll in for lunch with no more shade on the side of the trailer as I was shoving off….I saluted him and kept going. He raised a hand back at me. Our gestures spoke volumes. The guides are masterful at not framing the day for us, allowing us to push into the day and experience the Real all on our own.

Today’s 75 miles and the landscapes we traveled through gave us more to marvel at. Six of us rode together taking turns at the front keeping the pace between 15 and 17 mph. Fast enough to feel we were moving, not so fast that we were pushing and straining. Our easy camaraderie flowed and the miles slipped by happily. Upbeat small conversations sprinkled between us.

This road while flatter with no real hills to speak of had more to it than yesterday’s desolation. Kestrels and killdeer were wheeling all around. Black crickets leaped on the road. The peculiarly large grasshoppers of the Dakotas sprung high, their arthropod selves brushing my shins all morning. Gentle reminders that I am always traveling through some creature’s habitat. Two wheeled proximity is finest kind.

The fresh early light, the lack of heat and the aftereffects of yesterday still reverberating, we happily and freely stuck together through van stops 1 and 2 and we rolled into lunch more or less together. The heat built as the afternoon got going but by then we were all safely ensconced in the Comfort Inn in Mitchell with some of us porpoising in the indoor swimming pool. By 1:30 pm it was 100 degrees outside. Whoa!

A sweet day for the P2P contingent. We are individually strong and collectively powerful. Looking around at my fellow two-wheeled travelers leaves me pondering what it is to want to do something no matter what happens.

Day 25: Sioux Falls, South Dakota Seventh state. There was a spritely feeling this morning as our stalwart comrades emerged from the Holiday Inn into the early autumn feel of a crisp bright morning. Seems everyone had dug into their secondary bags that had ridden for days unopened in the luggage trailer.

I saw helmet covers, tights, shoe covers, shoe booties, and other new layers of kit that hadn’t yet seen the light of day. Cyclists come in several flavors: those who stay bare-legged until tights become a necessity and those who don tights the moment it gets below 65. Those who go full monty winter wear when autumn starts singing and those who patch together arm warmers, a vest, a light jacket and a beanie to create enough warmth but not so much that one starts sweating Twinkies the moment exertion becomes real.

Put me in the patching together category. I had to grin at Sandy when I saw her because her distinctive orange helmet was now covered in a neon helmet topper. She had on tights, shoe covers, and three top layers including her now grown son’s long ago childhood black fuzzy vest.
Silk and I were bare-legged. At mile stop 21 Sandy shed a few things but it took until mile stop 44 that her helmet cover came off. “Let your head breathe a bit Sandy,” Guide Brian implored. Brian is of the “Be bold, go cold” contingent and I am right there with him.

It was not an elevation day, it was a distance day. The only way to face 126 miles is to get going and let the road unfold. Silk was quick to announce, “100 miles to go!” when we’d covered 26 miles. My announcing comes in the form of when distance covered and distance yet to go are exactly the same. These low elevation days mean lots and lots of pedaling, not so much downhill fun and a chance to examine how one chunks the miles. Some century-plus days I’m all about every 25 miles. If the weather is taxing (like 23 days in a row of mid- 90’s temperatures, century-plus distances and vexing winds) then I’m an every 10 miles kinda gal.

Today I didn’t chunk the distance at all. Perhaps because the Minnesota sign beckoned, the air was light, the night time rain clouds had cleared away leaving freshly washed roads and skies. The sun worked its way out and I felt capable. All day the cornfields were magnificent silent totems as we wheeled by.

Fanny Management Report Update: Scoring myself as an A-. Obviously I’m a long way from being a Coppertone baby model but with nothing much to cope with these days life is good.

Five superb experienced guides in one place standing still — what? As the days tick by we are all the more in awe of how much we depend upon them and their derring do. Their organization, logistical planning, meal planning and providing plus their bike mechanical and tire changing skills keep us on the road and in good repair. We are endlessly grateful and appreciative. We tell them that, too!

Day 27: Austin, Minnesota When does a 117 mile day feel more like an 80 mile day? When we get to cycle the Root River Trail, a 40-mile shady, peaceful verdant bike path that left us glowing and beaming.

Other highlights:

Four of our group were heroes today helping to right an over-turned Amish buggy driven by some youngsters. The horse startled and bolted off the road into an adjacent field. Our colleagues helped sort out the tangled harness and got the buggy and children back in business.

At the 105 mile mark we had completed a mile high climb up onto a bluff which revealed itself to be an agricultural Shangri-La. Storybook fields, the most bounteous apple orchards I’ve ever seen, hops and flowers resplendent. It was stunning. We were so high up and everything was falling away to the sides all around us. Otherworldly.

Spirits were high as we wound our way to the Mississippi River and La Crosse. We crossed the border into WI and fun ensued at the impressive state line Wisconsin sign. Crossing the Mississippi River held me in thrall. To think I’d pedaled all the way to the Mississippi. Couldn’t quite wrap my brain around it in the moment.

Day 28: Lacrosse, Wisconsin Leaving the Charmant Hotel’s lap of comfort and luxury our robust and sparky trio set off into the fog at 7:17 this morning. It took some intricate urban riding and derring do until we were safely out of La Crosse and headed for the heart of the Driftless region of WI. An unglaciated unspoiled area filled with diversity. Forested slopes give way to dramatic valleys and with limestone bluffs that have been carved for years by sparkling streams. A large Amish community thrives here and as we whirred through we got to see glimpses of Amish farm life.

Outdoor porches loaded with drying clothes hung in perfect order: the trousers and leggings, shirts and pillowcases, colorful kitchen tea towels. So many farms with clotheslines it appeared Tuesday was laundry day. Barefoot bonneted women mowing lawns with push mowers. Horse-drawn plows with squeaking leather harnesses. Fields laden with pumpkins, squashes and greens.

We came upon four barefooted children walking along the side of the road. Two boys and two girls silently carrying Igloo lunch containers, with straw hats and trousers (boys) and bonnets with long dresses (girls). They gave us the exact same look as we spun past and saw our smiles: shy smiles, wide eyes and not a peep. Sandy and I exchanged smiles. Their innocence struck us both.

Today was another regular 100+ mile, 5000 feet of elevation day. Silk and I were familiar with the sharp long climbs and the endless serpentine descents, great tar and scenery. We rode in the local 120 mile Horribly Hilly a few years back. It took awhile for the fog to dissipate. The morning moisture collected on my black wool arm warmers and looked like spider web etchings.

One thing I will never become inured to is the amount of carnage along the road. My heart is soft and I feel the sharp recognition of the destroyed bodies of skunks, ‘possums, raccoons, foxes, deer, cats and too many bundles of feathered creatures. Today a fox lay as if sleeping and a small white with orange cat punctured the early morning miles. I was quiet for awhile after seeing the kitty. It was right in front of someone’s house. Didn’t they see her?

It felt a long day. I don’t know why some days the miles slip by and other days it feels like I am stuck in the 60’s. It’s surely not the company. Silk and Sandy are superb and alluring cycling companions. The silent miles, the conversational miles, the philosophical miles, the story-telling miles and the observational miles are what knit our hours together. The lead changes are organic, the features we silently point out, our admiration of glossy cows and forever views capture all three of us in similar ways. Sandy will say, “I’m so in love with this valley” while I am pointing out a raptor and Silk is agog at the sparkling streams. We’ve mastered the art of each riding our own ride while riding in proximity.

As the day wears on we are more silent than conversational and we are bound by the same task: getting to the end and finishing with verve and safety. The effort of climbing becomes a task shared and we push each other on in small helpful ways. When I was losing steam today, Sandy pushed Silk up the last few hills and I urged her on to give him a run for his money. She is gritty and resilient. Silk always seems to find another gear. Tomorrow we have a 54 mile punchy hills with considerable climbing route into Madison where the Hotel Indigo is waiting to host our third rest day. We are riding the crest of excellent sunny weather and are thankful for it.

Recap of the last ten days of riding miles since we departed Rapid City: 113, 115, 76, 73, 126, 80, 117, 104 with 54 tomorrow.

Day 29: Spring Green, Wisconsin Today was a serious riding day but not because of distance with that measly 55 miles on the docket. It was the Driftless showing her might. Exhilarating descents are followed by, you guessed it, climbs and hills that make 9 consecutive day cycling legs bark and howl. Our ailing colleagues are back to full strength and in the fold on their saddles. As one of them said to me, “It’s the unexpected things that are so challenging to deal with.”

Our day started in a dense humid air fog. The day cleared to warm sunshine and had us rolling into Madison with cicadas humming. In between we wheeled through farmland, past horse farms and on beckoning winding and twisting narrow country roads. There were plenty of ponies, chickens and goats along the way to go with cows and horses. With 15 miles to go we were still seeing such things until soon enough the first Volvo, then BMW and then Mercedes went by. Madison and Rest Day 3 weren’t that far away.

We were happy to have guides Brent and Rae rolling with us. They had their own cat and mouse going on up the hills and it was smile-inducing cheering them on. Young legs!

Twenty one cyclists strong we arrived in Madison to a welcoming array of friendly Trek folks (including Tania Burke!) who were ready with a picnic on the grounds of the illustrious Capitol. The food was excellent and the grassy setting was appealing. After the foodies we had one more mile to the Hotel Indigo. Let Rest Day 3 begin!

Stay tuned for more from Lynn.

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