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Cross Country USA: Wisconsin to New York

Days 31-40: Madison, WI -> Cazenovia, NY. 3,368 total miles and 134,138 ft of total elevation.

Day 31: Milwaukee, Wisconsin Our rest day was blissful and busy. Massages, bike shop strolling and ice cream hunting happened. A sparky social hour and dinner the night before with a number of family members and friends thrown in added to the high spirits. We were sent on our way this morning from Hotel Indigo by an exuberant band of whooping and cheering Trek employees ringing cowbells, holding signs and exhorting us as we lit out to Milwaukee.

Whodathunk storied Milwaukee would have such an extensive cycling network of paths, trails and byways. We arrived via a continuing spiderweb of bike paths: the New Berlin, the Hank Aaron and so on. Make no mistake these were urban trails, some more than others. Still, we enjoyed river crossings on well-constructed wooden bridges, shady leafy sections, turtles and frogs on the paths along with glimpses of sand hill cranes and blue herons. It was a wildlife corridor to be thankful for.

Soon enough we were amidst a whirlwind of an intersection which happily had a bike-activated light to guide us over to the bridge and around the rotary to the Iron Horse, a converted warehouse which is now a boutique hotel. I wish I could remember who it was that confessed they didn’t realize “Iron Horse” referred to motorcycles. With 21 sparky alert cyclists and 5 sharp guides humor abounds.

This was a near to 90 mile day but it sure didn’t feel like it. The elevation was pancake-y, Tania Burke joined us for a bunch of miles and we cycled through Sandy’s small hometown. We were cheered through by her family and friends with signs (GO SANDY!) and cowbells. Her high school principal was there, too!

In the morning we will ride 3 miles to catch the noon ferry to Muskegon, don cycling kit and race the daylight (we will lose an hour) 35 miles to Holland, MI. A logistics day.

I was awake past my bedtime looking at a map of the USA. Absorbing the truth that my heart, lungs, legs, will power and a spritely group of comrades has combined to carry me so fluently and ably. Our dynamic committed group feels invincible. All day long our underlying motivation is “Over, under, through or around.” We roll into small towns and byways, take their measure or stop for lunch leaving nary a trace and we silently inexorably move on pointing east. Silk told me last night he was thinking of Memphis, wanting to see her. His comment was like a dart, reminding me of the sharpness of longing for home.

Day 32: Muskegon, Michigan Today was all about moving 21 cyclists, 21 bikes, and a minivan onto a ferry and over to Muskegon, MI. The two Trek Travel vans pulling the picnic trailer and the luggage trailer had to take the long way around because the vans are too tall for the ferry. We were ushered onto the ferry before the cars and instructed to secure our steeds with long straps. Working together we collected straps and got the bikes secured to each other and to various tie downs on both ferry side walls. We climbed the stairs, staked out our spots and settled in. Brent and Brian came around handing out lunches. The thrumming engines worked their magic and I zonked out for an hour or so.

Our arrival in MI came without a welcome sign so Guide Rae made a sign for us and we all took pics with it prior to setting off.

A clutch of us were prepped and ready to rumble immediately upon landing so off we went and it was a rollicking pace line for 36 miles. Pat, Sandy, Mike, Silk, Ian and I were moving in concert and with vigah. Mike guided us through a particularly byzantine intersection as we pedaled and flew. Being able to ride with Pat is always a treat. She lives at high altitude in Montana and her powerful piston legs set the tempo for any groups she’s in. We blazed through our allotted miles with palpable synergy. Hair on fire!

We blasted into the Holiday Inn Express in Holland, got out of our cycling shoes and within 15 minutes were eating a delicious dinner with all sorts of pastas ordered in by the guides. Next thing we knew it was dark. Tomorrow will come fast and we have a 90 mile day to Marshall. So kit needs to be organized, showers taken and here’s hoping our bodies unwind enough to allow sleep.

Day 33: Holland, Michigan Today was all Michigan all the time. Surprisingly different in mood, tone and feel than WI (these fly-over states sneak up on ya). We rode through small towns, past many open fields and on narrow inviting roads. We passed lakes, lots of pontoon boats, multiple small drinking establishments with the Pabst Blue Ribbon sign and even more lakes. It was mostly flat with a few rollers and plenty of scenery. An untaxing 90 miles. That’s really saying something. I’m not sure what but there it is.

The roads in MI are configured on the map as a whole bunch of squares. Our route had us on an overall zig-zag schematic all day. A sub-set of our cohort joined into a group on Strava during the many months of training prior to our P2P start. Seeing what others were doing was a motivator for Silk and he would duly report to me, “Cyclist X has done 100 miles and followed it up with 80 the next day.” Gah! It kept us on our toes. One of those Strava-ites was Sandy who lives in Michigan and rides routes that are all zigzags and squares and Silk noted it, “This Michigan Sandy rode 100 miles in a square!” We didn’t know if the person was a girl Sandy or a boy Sandy. Now we know.

Day 34: Marshall, Michigan Thunderstorms rocked the Marshall Holiday Inn Express during the night. I woke at 3:30 to rain lashing the windows. The inky dark was foreboding and I scurried back to bed. By 6 am the sky was clearing, it was warm and the wet roads were drying out. The sun would shine upon us once again. Having heard tell of the June/July P2P and of previous P2P trips of years past, I know we are having a seriously superb run of sun and warmth. South Dakota was a test of mighty proportion (all that heat and sun on top of big miles and elevation) but we’ve not had to deal with horrible winds and whipping rainstorms. Everyone’s bag has kit for rainy and forbidding temperatures but so far we are basking in the excellent cycling conditions.

Today was another zig zag day as we wound our way down to Toledo. Once again because of the low elevation day and so much pure flat riding, the 120 miles was painless. Lots of hours in the saddle to be sure leavened by plenty of appealing scenery, an 8 mile stint on a verdant bike path and low traffic roads. A huge bullfrog was leaping across the road (all that rain last night brought out the amphibians) and she managed one giant last leap to land in the grass just before I started to feint to the left to avoid her. Yeah!

Today we crossed into OH. Unfortunately it was on a road surrounded by cornfields and farmhouses and other than the tar improving immensely, there was no sign. Bummer. Guide Rae (who grew up in OH) decorated a cake for us at lunch which was better than any road sign.

Our relentless march toward the east. It feels less momentous than our time in the west, less dramatic habitats, more people, closer foliage and spaces. Still getting used to riding in the shade of huge oaks and even the fact there is actually shade on the roads. I marvel at the truth that just by pedaling I’ve moved from the Pacific Ocean and the expansive mountainous west now to Michigan. This truth both staggers and makes sense. One constant: the smiles we get from other outdoor humans when we cycle past with a wave and a greeting. I never tire of it.

We are smack in the geography of nowhere outside of Rossford, OH. Safe, fed and showered (plus porpoising time in the pool and laundry done, too) with 120 miles in our legs. It’s a classic P2P end of day feeling: tired, satisfied and eager for tomorrow’s adventure. But not quite yet.

Day 36: Oberlin, Ohio It had rained in the night so we were starting out on a freshly washed day. Pink morning clouds saw us leaving the Hotel Oberlin. While I eavesdropped on Guide Brian as he gave his always-precise morning instruction to the Early Birds and C group, it struck me that we start and end each day in a parking lot. It’s the in-between that romances.

For 9 years I divided my time between Portland, OR and Craftsbury, VT. Driving east across the country in May and west on the return in November on the northern route with my dog Towhee. We’d take our time while seeking camping, running, hiking and swimming places. I never gave OH a second thought.

Today reminded me that every state has beautiful places if one cares enough to go find them. Ohio sang all day: humming crickets, chittering kingfishers, killdeer calling their plaintive notes. Never heard and seen so many. Best cycling soundtrack a girl could wish for.

Rolling hills kept me focused and all the tidy Dutch-style barns caught my eye. It was sunny and toasty with a trifle of humidity. An 80 mile day and I had to find my climbing legs so I focused on using my glutes as we swept up and down, up and down the rolling hills.

Our route today had its tight spots. My Domane steed actually stopped shifting on the rear chain ring because the wires shook loose. Guide Brent was spit spot when I pulled into the rest stop at mile 71. He diagnosed the issue, pushed the wires back into place and I was ready to take it to the final hills of the day chasing Silk and Sandy in to the Punderson Manor Lodge.

Silk decided to be a telly presenter and he narrated out loud as Sandy and I whipped it up over the last mile on the narrow winding road into the Punderson. Floating behind us he broadcast our final push, “It’s Jennings upping the ante now but look at Blix! She’s over her rough patch and determined to outlast Jennings who’s having none of it. Blix sneaks a look to the left! Jennings relentlessly still on her shoulder and Blix makes one last push going to the legs hoping to shake Jennings loose. She does it! She does it! Blix takes the top of the podium!”

Never knew Sandy or I could laugh so hard while pedaling a bike at top speed.

Day 37: Newbury, Ohio Today’s 63 miles are in line with our previous two days of 80 and 86 miles. We all knew what was waiting for us after today: three consecutive century days with prodigious elevation. So…pro tip: stay where your feet are.

As we pushed off from Punderson State Park and our Manor Inn lodging autumn was in the air. The bright September equinox sunshine swept my poor night of sleep away and I was ready to launch 20 minutes early. I amused myself by sitting on the front stone porch watching every one attend to their last details so they could launch and ride with their group. The snap in the air had us all in a bouncy mood. Autumn leaves were swirling in the breeze with the Inn’s flag flapping and snapping.

Watching people figure out what combination of things to wear is fascinating. Wearing too much means sweating, overheating and then riding in wet or damp clothing. Not fun when in the saddle for hours. Happily the van stops allow for clothing changes with a laundry basket at the ready to collect what we jettison.

My motto (borrowed from Guides Brian and Rae), “Be bold, go cold.” I wear enough but am chilly to start and will be chilly until a few miles have passed and my heating system kicks in and/or I’ve begun climbing. Can’t bear to be overdressed. Can’t bear to be cold. Self diagnosis? Classic endurance athlete.

It was retina-stimulating appealing day of gorgeous Amish countryside scenery, scant cars and serious glimpses into Amish every-day lives. Buttery sunshine. Energetic winds. Scarlet and orange leaves flying. Saw a woman in head covering and long blue dress mowing the lawn with a reel push mower in bare feet. Two overall-wearing boys with straw hats picking pumpkins and squashes with their similarly-dressed father. A two horse-drawn plow turning over sod in a huge field. The only sound a small rhythmic twang from some part of the harness.

Clothesline art was on display at many farmhouses; endless lines of perfectly hung clothes sorted by type and color. On one porch, ten house dresses hanging in a range of blues, greens, pinks and creams. I took not a photo and wished I could have. So many tidy door yards, gardens, clotheslines, buggies, sheep, cows and horses in rich pastures. All idyllic with an orderliness and sense of peace pervading.

The miles swept by until Sandy, Silk and I found ourselves under glaring dark skies traversing the Pymatuning Reservoir. The crossing was both alluring and forbidding. It had been awhile since we’d seen so much water. The temps were dropping, the angry winds whisking us across with white caps surging. The water was black and roiling. There was a reward: the PA sign on our side of the narrow no-shoulder road and the OH sign across the way. This was our chance! We leaned our steeds along the guard rail and ran across the road for the OH sign and then caught the PA sign. A new state!

We tried to out-ride the coming drops to no avail. The last 7 miles it began to get serious. The sky blackened and the drops were coming down hard. During my elite racing days this was a thing: the first competitor who mentioned the weather was not going to win. True to form with Sandy and Silk: it started to rain and we stopped so Sandy could put on her jacket (Silk and I had none to put on) and then we rolled. Not a word spoken. Upon arrival sweeping into the Meadville Holiday Inn Express portico: we three whooped and yelled. WE DID IT! YEAH!

Hoping my Sidi leather shoes dry out. We’ve accumulated a nice stash of newspaper by now which comes in handy for such things. If not, I have a new reserve pair that has been riding along in my bag in the luggage trailer.

Fist bumps all the way around. Another day. Another route. Another state. Rain or not. We were indomitable.

Day 38: Meadville, Pennsylvania It was a crystalline autumn day that called out loud. Autumn thrills me. The snap in the air. Knowing that the resplendent leaves we admire are in the process of dying makes their beauty reverberate all the more. It’s the time of year when so many young runners test their racing skills on cross country courses. On this day of cycling, the golden rods were the stars. Their massing, their yellow so shining, bees and butterflies swarming their golden tops. It’s no weed — a member of the aster family — I consider it as alluring as any lupine or daisy. We were surrounded by it most of the day until we started up into the Allegheny Forest leaving the Kinzua Dam behind.

A 3 mile climb was ahead and the clutch of colleagues in front announced their presence with their brilliant blinking tail lights and array of jacket colors. I could make out Greg. Sus and Maura in the way off. By this point in the journey, it’s easy to identify our mates by their kit and I could spy Pat a half mile ahead. Her bright yellow jacket and her identifying signature of strong pumping legs moving with alacrity gave me a beacon to chase. Between us was Silk. As I moved up Silk called to me, “2.5 miles to go Jennings!”

Toiling onward I came even with Pat who used her precious breath to say, “You go Girlie” so I did. I could hear Silk’s rhythmic breathing behind me and I knew he was getting after it, too. “Here we go,” I thought.

Near the top I was stopped by a stick that got caught in my front fork at the top of the tire. Silk whisked past. I extricated the stick and tore off after him. There was about a half mile to go to the van and I chased him all the way until we roared in to Guide Brian’s shady spot side-by-side. Smiles a mile wide. It’s never a race. Been there and done that. It’s always fun to set up a pursuit like this knowing with full knowledge that it’s all about my pursuit of myself.

Everyone completed the route into Bradford knowing two more days of the same distance awaited. The knowledge that there’s only one week left has everyone fired up. Both because we are nearing the end of this endeavor and because we want it to go on forever.

Our five buoyant guides. Indefatigable, competent, professional and always willing. They are our stars.

Day 39: Bradford, Pennsylvania Our 7:45 start was as nippy as the day before but with the promise of sunnier skies and less wind. The only change I made in kit was a heavier beanie under my helmet. With the promise of crossing into New York at mile 26, I was inhabiting the focused mind set “Century 2 with 1 more to go.”

Silk, Sandy and I were joined by Guide Blake. He rides a spanking new bright red high end concept Trek and it has a particularly loud sewing machine freewheel sound. A sound I consistently like and one of the reasons I like my gravel bike. He is fast and nimble. He and I paired up at the front and before many miles had slipped past we were climbing a mile-long winding road and Blake was telling me about how Megan got started guiding with Trek. He had me laughing out loud as we climbed — cruel!

Megan was waiting for us at mile 17 for our first rest stop in a gravel pull-out in the cold. No sun there yet. Blake took off to catch the C group who was some miles ahead, we stopped briefly and left just as quickly. When warmed up, standing around is not appealing and our usual in and out at rest stops remains our prevailing mode all the more so when it’s 44 degrees.

Within 30 seconds I realized: my bike would not shift gears. The electronic shifting was dead. I called out to Sandy, “Can’t shift. Turning back. Tell Silk. Keep going. See you at lunch!”

Just like that my 100 mile day turned into something else entirely.

There was no charger in the mini-van with Megan. If there had been, she’d have whipped it out, plugged it into my bike, tucked it into the little bento box treat carrier on my bike and I’d have been good to go. Instead she called Brent who was stationed at the 37 mile rest stop, asked him if he had the charger in his van (he did) and they concocted the plan of meeting in the middle so he could hand it off to her in the mini-van.

Before I got in the mini van I looked Megan in the eye and said, “I’m not getting in unless you return me to this exact spot.” She smiled big time and said, “Of course!” She knew and I knew riding every single mile of this junket was on my mind.

We drove 10 miles on the twisting back roads, crossed into NY, met Brent, he ran across the road to hand her the charger, we turned around and zoomed back to the 17 mile mark rest stop. Guide Brian who was riding sag showed up and together they got my bike reassembled. I’d not taken my helmet off and was back on the bike with Brian accompanying me within 5 minutes. By now I was probably 45 minutes behind Silk and Sandy.

Brian is not only exceptionally fast and strong on the bike, he’s a tire changing and mechanical issue solving whiz He told me he would be my domestique and together we ramped up the speed and powered along with only one stop for the Welcome to New York sign. Riding in his slip stream, I snuck glances at my watch: we were moving at 22, 23 and 24 mph until we reached the 37 mile rest stop with Brent. Brian stopped to refill his bottle, I flew onward. It took him 10 miles to catch me.

Over hill and dale we rode like that — as fast as possible. I knew my day was going to have an entirely different flavor but there was no other way to get caught up to the group. Rampaging the final miles, we blasted into lunch at the 56 mile mark as Silk and Sandy were preparing to leave. Made it!!

Needless to say the remaining miles of my day were not pretty. Sandy and Silk towed my carcass until Silk told Sandy to go on ahead. The last 10 miles Silk patiently pulled me in to Corning. I was empty on the hills and luckily the last 25 miles of our ride had a net downhill profile. It was a stunning autumn day loaded with views and changing leaves. Confession: I rode much of the day with my head down.

Century 2 of 3 in a row? Done.

Guide Brian? My hero!

Day 40: Corning, New York
First feature of this day of cycling: rain.
Second feature: hills.
Third feature: third century in a row.
Fourth feature: tenth day of cycling since our rest day in Madison, WI.

This quartet of circumstances was exactly what all the months of training were for. Psychological training accompanies physical training. I trained when I didn’t necessarily want to and when the weather wasn’t what I wanted. Training happened on perfect days and on imperfect days.

The real dilemma of the morning was what combination of cycling kit to wear. Getting wet no matter the gear is one essential truth of cycling, running and sculling. Ideally one creates enough heat to counteract wet feet and hands. The very best rain gear (as any runner, cyclist, nordic skier, hiker or sculler knows) never really keeps one dry. Sweating complicates the whole system. So one does the best one can and then sallies forth regardless. Got to wear enough but not too much because climbing means getting heated up. A long day to be in cold wet base layers. I chose Rapha tights and a Showers Pass rain jacket along with a helmet cover. Zipping and unzipping the jacket were my means of temperature control to keep sweating to a minimum.

No pictures taken today. The push to cover the miles mattered more. We started out in pouring rain, enjoyed short respites of no rain and a taunting brightening sky, had a few sprinkles here and there and then just bruised skies. Not a breath of wind all day and plenty of wide open scenery and quiet roads leading us to Cazenovia. Plenty of time to think, take stock, contemplate and marvel at how we’ve pulled together to get where we are.

Our traveling band sweeps in and out of towns doing not much more than trying to find ice cream and sleeping in a hotel (Sandy and Pat did go to the SPAM museum in Austin, MN). Far from our homes and our daily routines, we are the right-sized group to enjoy each other’s company and build community while also easily adhering to routines and organizing principles that make our days flow. Unexpectedly we’ve built community doing laundry. We had another organizing principle which came from Bruce, the fastest and strongest rider of the 21 of us. His buoyant nature combined with his GoPro helped create a fantastic daily routine.

With 26 phones and 26 pairs of eyes, there were lots of photos taken and shared every day on What’s App. it was a veritable feast at the end of the day and I’m not the only one that would lie in bed at night reliving the day via photo. Bruce rode with a Go Pro and each evening he would post a 60-second video of our day complete with music on What’s App. He’d use his own video and photos and then use many of the photos we shared via the app. On the rare lean day when we were so focused on riding we didn’t stop for photos (Day 24 I’m looking at you) he implored us, “I need photos, send anything.” We all obliged by sending photos of our beloved cats and dogs.

This rainy day was a day to allow my thoughts to curl into the fact that we had a mere week left. It was a day to stay where my feet were and to appreciate how far we’ve come. I couldn’t help but start to wonder what it would feel like to be finished. Would it feel like a long dream?

Minutes after getting off our bikes in Cazenovia at the Brewster Inn, soaked and cold, Megan was handing out spanking hot tomato soup and the most delectable hand-made grilled cheese sandwiches off the camping stove in the picnic trailer.

Ian was a goner, “Cheese toasties!” he said in his inimitable British accent. None of us could answer, our mouths were too full.

Rest Day 4 coming right up! Recap of the last ten days of riding miles since we departed Madison, WI: 89, 40, 92, 120, 86, 79, 63, 101, 101, 100.

Stay tuned for more from Lynn.

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