Sunday, September 28, 2008


And it’s done! Yesterday I completed the ride, biking 52 miles to Des Moines. The weather was warm and full of the fall. Fittingly, there was a final set of challenges. There was a moderate afternoon wind from the west. I biked on Hwy 163 to Monroe, with busy traffic and no paved shoulder. Then I discovered there are many hills west of Monroe through Runnels. Finally, I took a wrong turn into Runnels and another in south east Des Moines.

Today seemed so familiar. The biking felt routine. I can't say I felt jubilant or exuberant, yet today was a celebration and a deep profound feeling of joy. With great satisfaction, I spent time reviewing the tour and all the events that have occurred. And it was as though the angels appeared one last time. They seemed to be present for the time it took too climb one hill. It was as though they were on fire or made of burnished bronze. I questioned the significance of the visage and received no answer.

I biked 3,873 miles over 49 days averaging 79 miles a day.
I have feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, completion and joy. I truly have a renewed spirit. I have learned and grown. Have I changed in any fundamental way? I don’t think so, but I have been enriched by the experience and deepened as a person. I had wanted to do this right after college, but instead I happily married. I’m very glad I needed to wait as I shared the experience with Mary. And now that I’m older the experience has been richer. I’ll write more about that some time later.

Having had the opportunity for the ride has been a privilege. Physically, I started in good health. Then my broken bones healed in such a way that they didn’t cause pain and didn’t preclude completing it. Vocationally, I had the full support of Pine Rest leadership and all the Iowa staff, and was able to take the days needed. Finally, I had the full support of my wife, children, family and friends.

I have truly been blessed.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Home at Last

And we’re finally home. There are quite a few hills between Marengo and Pella and we pushed into a gentle westerly breeze, so it truly was a leg burning, lung busting day. I thought this would be an uneventful 68 miles. By now I should know better. I must be a slow learner

The most dangerous roads of the entire trip were within 10 miles of Pella. Close to Peoria, IA, on the road from New Sharon, there is a stretch of asphalt with a crack in the middle of the lane about 200 feet long. It was once tarred, but the tar has dried and it too is cracked. Water has eroded the crack so that it’s now 2-3 inches wide and goes through to the gravel below. Although I was leading, I didn’t notice it as my mind was beginning to wander thinking about home and work. Ron pointed it out to and commented on its dangerousness. I agreed. Then a water eroded sink hole suddenly loomed directly in front of me. Without thinking or warning Ron, I swerved to the left, hitting the side of his front tire with my rear tire. Ron briefly lost control and ran off the road. Fortunately he recovered without flipping off or falling over. Many years ago, I did wipe him out. He’s forgiven me he hasn’t forgotten it. He still teases me. After this incident I said he better stop biking with me because the next time I might kill him.

And then we got Pella. Just east of Vermeer Mfg, we ran the four way stop sign with the flashing red light. Immediately we were pulled over by a Marion County Deputy Sheriff. His lights were flashing. We didn’t se him so he used his siren to get our attention. As he came walking toward us, I prepared to explain that I was just so eager to get home after a 3,800 mile ride and after all I checked both ways before running the light. He met us with a big grin. Apparently the staff at the Pella Clinic called the Sheriff requesting he help play a practical joke on us. He thought it was a great idea and this was the outcome. Now the deputy, Matt B, wanted to return the favor so we developed a story. He called the clinic, saying he’d found us but he startled us with the siren causing us to run into each other and crash. One of us said his collar bone hurt and the EMTs were taking us to the ER to get checked out. Then he asked if there was somebody who could come get our bikes. They almost fell for it. It was great fun. What goes around comes around.

Probably Saturday, I'll complete the last 50 miles to Des Moines. I'm really looking forward to it. I compare it to last last day of the Tour de France; celebratory and largely symbolic.

The days are shorter. I saw soy beans being harvested. Milkweed pods are drying and opening. I’ve seen (and avoided) lots of fuzzy caterpillars on the road. It’s time to be home. It’s great to be home.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

RAGBRAI Traditions

For whatever reason, both MapQuest and Google Maps failed to give accurate distances on what became a short but windy 58 mile day. We left at sunrise to avoid most of the wind. As you can see from the picture of pond algae the wind was strong enough to push it all to the north end. Most of the day we went west or south. Oh well. In terms of the weather, for long distance biking, it’s best to say “It is what it is.”

Probably because we’re back in Iowa, several of the days’ activities seemed associated with RAGBRAI traditions. The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa is a week long ride across the state of about 10,000 people. I’ve completed five of them. I’ve included a picture Ron and Mary are taking our version of a sag stop. On RAGBRAI, this would be in a town. We would have purchased food from a local vendor before returning to our support vehicle to swap stories of the morning. There’s a picture of me walking out of a corn field, another RAGBRAI tradition practiced by many. Finally, we had a couple miles of gravel. This seems to happen at least once a year on RAGBRAI. For the Renewing Spirits Bicycle Tour, this means I’ve ridden on Interstate highway, four lane roads, and two lane roads and now gravel.

Tomorrow will be about 67 miles home on familiar roads. Oddly, it doesn’t feel like the end of a journey. This is probably due to being home twice already, once after the accident and again just four weeks ago. It’s as though I should stop in, take care of a few things, and leave for yet another section of the ride.

Paradoxically, I can’t wait for tomorrow morning. I think I’ll be like a horse headed to the barn. I’ll gladly let Ron draft off me the whole way. Rain is coming this evening. The weather radar shows a narrow but intense red band north to south across the entire state. Tomorrow the temperature is to be in the mid to upper seventies with little to no wind, perfect conditions for a leg burning, lung busting finish.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Just Plain Fun

From Savannah, IL to Anamosa IA, today was 69 miles of just plain fun. Anamosa has a state penitentiary and we should have been locked up because this much fun should be criminal. Yesterday we learned the bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Savannah was closed for repairs. Mary needed to make a 40 mile detour. Ron and I crossed on the “ferry” you see in the picture. The “ferry” clearly doesn’t meet the United States Coast Guard criteria. The operator markets the service as “voluntary” for a suggested $3.00 “donation.” Even so, he once had a sign on the pontoon boat suggesting the donation. The Coast Guard learned about it and told him to remove it.

My repaired, valiant, but wounded rear wheel finally gave out today. Ever since hitting a sink hole while leaving Wyoming, the rim has had a small flat spot. On smooth roads I could feel it like a mild bump. Some rough roads in Wisconsin and again this morning caused a few spokes to loosen and it started to wobble from side to side. It went bump, bump, wobble, wobble. Like the old Corvair, it was no longer safe at any speed. So I replaced it with Marty’s rear wheel. What an improvement. I was reluctant to make the change as his gear cluster is tighter which means climbing hills is harder. Fortunately the hills in Iowa aren’t as steep as the hills in Wisconsin. Also, today we had a little assistance from the wind. All in all this meant today was just plain fun. We went racing up the hills and roaring down them. They couldn’t slow us down. After the challenging hills of Wisconsin, it felt as though we conquered them at least for a day.

It’s a little difficult to comprehend we’ll be home in two days. It feels surreal. I need to and want to return to work first thing Thursday morning. On Saturday I plan to complete the last 55 or so miles to Des Moines. Then comes jury duty and who knows what else. Mary too will return to a full schedule. I want to spend some time discerning the significance of the ride, but we’ll both be pulled into a vortex of important activities that will limit the opportunity for reflection. I’m grateful that Mary and I both have blogs as journals and hundreds of pictures. For now, I’m going to savor the days that are left and return fully and wholeheartedly to my grounded life.


Of today’s 86 miles, the first 75 were hills. Up and down. Up and down. There were many beautiful vistas winding along the tops of ridges between valleys. After starting near Dodgeville we passed through Mineral Point, Darlington, Shulsburg, Galena and Hanover IL before ending at the Mississippi Palisades State Park near Savannah.

More significant than the ride were the memories associated with this region. After graduate school, my first employment 28 years ago was in Darlington. I was the Lafayette County Coordinator of Services for Developmentally Disabled Adults or some such title. The building in which I worked no longer exists and neither does the agency which has been absorbed by some others. It wasn’t a good job. But this is where we adopted our daughter, Rachel. A co-worker connected us to her birth mom and the rest is history. We lived in Darlington just 18 months before I joined Pine Rest. It’s as though God put us there to adopt Rachel and then opened another door. Mary and I both remarked on the many core memories and formative experiences we have connected to the town and area. God was good to us then as he continues to be now.

The ride from Galena to Savannah is also full of memories, but they aren’t as important, just fun. These are bicycling related. The Tour of the Mississippi River Valley (TOMRV) is an annual two day ride in June that goes from Davenport to Dubuque and back again. It uses different roads each way so the first day is 104 miles and the second day is 86. I’ve ridden it 12 or 13 times along with about 1,300 of my closest friends. Actually, I’ve ridden it with Don, Ron, Mary and my nephew Dustin. Tonight’s camp site is a SAG stop on TOMRV. I’m strongly considering riding it again next summer, so if any of you want to join me for a strenuous, picturesque ride along and up and down the bluffs of the Mississippi, let me know.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Into the Hills

Eighty two miles brought us out of the relatively flat and lovely eastern and central Wisconsin into the quite hilly and equally or more lovely southwestern Wisconsin. This is the drift less area, meaning it wasn’t leveled by glaciers. Our first 42 miles went well. We met Mary for lunch near Oregon, WI, then the land and weather changed. We had a small head wind. The temperature warmed. And we had hills. There were at least four long hills that my experience tells me were at least a six percent grade. A portion of one was more. With about 15 to 20 miles to go, I was quite tired, so Ron pulled me in. I drafted behind him, sitting on his rear wheel. It was a welcome break. Finally he too became tired, so we took a water break. We guessed we had up to 5 miles to go. Back on the road we went about a quarter mile around a curve and thereit was, Tom’s Campground near Dodgeville, WI. There was one last tortuous climb up to the camper and the days work was done. I'm tired, but it was good to be challenged again before the end of the ride. We’ll have more of the same tomorrow as we bike south into Illinois to the Mississippi Palisades Campground just north of Savannah, IL.

I’ve attached a few classic pictures. These are a farm duck pond, a small working dairy farm and a classic green tractor and bailer.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Section IV: Starting in Milwaukee

After site seeing in Salem (see Mary’s blog), traveling to Chicago and spending two days with my brother Phil and his family, and then spending the night with Ron, his wife, their son and daughter in law, today we began the final section of the tour. This morning we (Ron, Mary and I) drove to the Lake Ferry dock in Milwaukee and began biking west. At least today, Milwaukee was a peaceful city. There was a designated bike lane most of the way to the suburbs. After that it got a little confusing.

Wisconsin has many paved roads, but almost none of them are straight. We started with plan A, which was to follow county road D to C to C1 to 106 and arrive at the campground at Hebron. We lost D in Waukesha. However, we biked over an overpass and saw a bike path below us. It was the Glacier Drumlin State Trail. So we switched to plan B, and road the trail for a dozen miles or so. It took us directly to C and we were back on our route. This is the kettle moraine section of Wisconsin and is very lovely. A moraine is an area of dumped glacial debris and the kettles are small ponds formed in areas of melted ice. Other than a 10-20 mile an hour head wind, it was a nice 48 mile beginning to the last small section of the ride.

Once again, it’s very nice to spend a few days biking with a friend. This isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed biking alone, because I have. I think many of the blessings I’ve experienced on the ride have been due to its solitary nature. I can’t say time goes faster or slower with a companion or that the ride is easier or harder. It’s just a nice change. As with my brother in law Don, Ron and I have shared many life and biking experiences together. Biking together is familiar and comfortable. Welcome Ron.