Posted: Wed, 16 June 2004
JUNE 16 SMILING IN SALT LAKE
In the night I could hear the wind whistling against the window in the hotel. I wondered, in which direction is it blowing?
At 6:00 am, as we departed Wendover and headed East into the blinding rising sun, we found out. The strong 15-20 mph wind came right at us from about a 10 o'clock position. It stayed with us for the first 5 hours of our long 117 mile trip to Salt Lake City. We tried various combinations of groupings with our bikes to shield us from the wind. Finally, we rode in two's, with the bike on the right a half length behind the leading bike. It seemed to help, perhaps only psychologically. It was a frustrating, slowing wind. We couldn't get any SPEED, and we had 117 miles to cover. Our only boosts came from trucks passing at 80 mph, which seemed to drag us along in their wake.
By mid-day the wind was less of a factor, and we picked up the pace. We then encountered a long stretch of highway construction on I-80. An ugly mess for our biking crew, as we had to maneuver through steam rollers, trucks, and tar spreaders. Our tires were covered with tar and gravel resulting in frequent stops for cleaning.
In my ACS jersey - in Utah!
All of this time we were passing through mile after mile of salt flats. White salt and sand on both sides of the road that seemed to reach to the mountains. We saw the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway area, and the occasional lake not yet dried up. In many respects a "moonscape".
Great Salt Lake
Getting enough to eat and drink on a century ride is critical. Our AbB crew was up to the task. The vans seemed to be everywhere, supplying us with water, gatorade, bananas, PB&J sandwiches etc. The mechanics and many riders again repaired numerous flats today. I'm sure I-80---which we left today for good---accounted for at least 40 flat tires.
Meg in the Salt Flats
Jim heading to Salt Lake
Early this morning--in the wind--I rode for quite a while with "Dr. David", a radiologist from Syracuse, NY. He is bright and engaging. We discussed a number of things including: West Africa, the Mormon religion, free will, and the Adirondacks. He was much more conversant then I. Today is David's 60th birthday. When I pulled into the parking lot of our hotel in Salt Lake City, I was surprised to see balloons, signs, and strangers waiting. They were there to surprise David. His wife and two 20 something twin daughters(extremely attractive was the concensus) had flown in from Syracuse to surprise him. We all waited--enjoying our first cold beer in many, many days--for his late arrival. It was a wonderful scene when he came in. All the AbB gang and his family were there to celebrate his 60th!
Dr. Dave's Party
Our whole group was in a party mood tonight at dinner as we begin our first DAY OFF. The hotel manager surprised us with a free cocktail party. MISTAKE! I am sure he has never seen a gang like this. We behaved, but his accountant will be in in the morning wondering what happened to the beer inventory.
I know I whined about yesterday's difficult century...Sorry. Riding today-even in the conditions we encountered- I realized there is no place I would rather be than right here...doing the Cross Country Challenge.
Posted: Tue, 15 June 2004
JUNE 15 WHINING IN WENDOVER
Everyday we get up and go out and ride the prescribed course. Some days it ain't easy! Today was one of those days.
We left Elko at 6:00 am with a 108 mile ride to Wendover, NV ahead of us. It was our first century ride (100 miles) of the trip. The temperature was 47 degrees, and the constant wind was in our face. Not a good sign.
It got worse. At the 50 mile point we began to climb. In all, we climbed 3500 ft during the day. Long, steady climbs as we watched the trucks on I-80 struggle uphill as well. At high noon, during the most difficult climb of the day, the cool wind was absent. The temperature must have been in the high 80's.
It was a tough, long 9 hour day for most of us. Dennis (MA), the Mt Washington Bike Race veteran, called the day's degree of difficulty, "significant". John (ME), my friend who I rode with most of the day, I think was more accurate when he said, "This is the longest, toughest bike ride I have ever been on"...and we both laughed.
We all made it. And we all experienced some incredible sights. We saw cowboys driving a herd of open-range cattle. The landscape here was lush green with the larger snowcapped Pequop Mts in the background. Beautiful vistas! As we approached Wendover, or destination that sits right on the Nevada/Utah border, we could see the Bonneville Salt Flats. Miles and miles of white salt deposits left when the lake dried up centuries ago.
Wendover is a casino magnet for Utah (non-Mormon) residents coming across the state border. Our hotel is again surrounding the large, brightly lighted Rainbow Casino. We annihilated the supper buffet provided.
Today was a personal record for the longest bike ride of my life. Tomorrow, I will break that record with a 117 mile ride into SALT LAKE CITY AND A REST DAY!!
We are now on Mountain time...thereby losing an hour of rest. Perfect!
Posted: Mon, 14 June 2004
June 14 EASING INTO ELKO
Our 72 mile ride to Elko, NV got off to an early start this morning. We were on the road by 6:45 am. Normally the temperature in this high desert region is 100 degrees or more this time of year, so AbB wanted us on the road in the coolest part of the day.
Bikes at breakfast
We were fortunate with some early clouds and a headwind, so the heat was not a factor today. We were at our motel, the High Desert Inn in Elko, shortly after 1:00 pm.
A little about Elko, NV: The city of Elko sits in the largest gold mining region in the country. Active open-pit and underground mines operate outside of town. Ranching remains the most common occupation and way of life. Descendants of the early Shoshone tribes still live here. It appears clean, prosperous and friendly.
Welcome to Elko
The main bike route today was again I-80, but we took a picturesque side road through Carlin Canyon in order to avoid the Carlin Tunnel. The tunnel cuts through the mountainside and is off limits to bicycles.
The scenery in this region of Nevada is characterized by open range covered with sagebrush and towering granite peaks with deep canyons off in the distance.
Our groups rode at a pretty good clip this morning on the flats of I-80. At one point we had a "pace line" going with 10-12 people to draft in the headwind. At mile 26 we began the 12 mile climb up Emigrant Pass. The grade was gradual, but we climbed 1325 ft on a steady upward slope. We complain about I-80 for its rumble strips in the bike lane for miles, its truck tire debris etc, BUT, we are seeing beautiful country....and we are having FUN!
Climbing Emigrant Pass
I can't say enough complimentary words about the group of bikers. The comraderie of our 33 members is extraordinary. People are outgoing, helpful, happy to be here, and fun. The mustache and goatee growing contest began today. I AM IN! (...at least for awhile). Seven guys have shaved their heads! Mason is used to giving buzz cuts to his troops as they came in off Army maneuvers...so he is the barber.
About the bikes: I don't have an accurate survey, but the most common bikes on the trip are: Trek, Litespeed, Lemond, and Specialized.
Tomorrow we begin 2 days of back-to-back century rides (100 plus miles per day) that will take us into Salt Lake City. Breakfast is at 5:00 am! I'm off for an ice cream cone.
Posted: Sun, 13 June 2004
JUNE 13 "THE ARMPIT OF AMERICA"
The story goes: In 2000 a travel reporter for The Washington Post found what he reported to be "The Armpit of America." It is Battle Mountain, NV. Five gold mines currently operate here, but that year the gold market was in recession and many townspeople had been laid off, resulting in severely depressed economic conditions. As the reporter drove into town at night, the letter S in the SHELL station sign was out. When he saw HELL and the depressed town of 3000, he had found his "armpit."
The townspeople here "don't like much that comes out of Washington anyway," so they fought back. While biking on I-80, we noticed a large billboard sign that advertizes Battle Mountain as the Armpit of America and invites visitors. Old Spice deodorant held a large festival in town last year as a promotion.
The lady at the motel desk told me, "It is a nice place to live," and that she has raised 4 sons here. They received good educations in the public schools, and "have made in Battle Mountain lasting friendships for a lifetime" I'll take her word...over The Washington Post!
The ride today of 56 miles on I-80 took us over Golconda Summit, a climb of 3.8 miles. The downhill of 5.6 miles that followed was a highlight for most (again---not me). We have seen "dust devils" whirling off in the distance....and mile after mile of barren desert sagebrush. One of the distant mountains was still snow capped.
Bike Lane on I-80
Following last evening's "route rap" in which instructions for today's ride were given, Mason presented the second special award of the trip. He spoke first as the youngest member of the group (29) and as a regular member of what he called "the scenic group" of riders. Joe (TX), John(ME), Mike (NJ) are also members of the group. They always leave a bit later than the others and really enjoy the ride. I rode with them the first several days. Lately, as I'm always ready to go early, I've been riding with others. I've told Mason--in jest--that "I've moved up from the "C team". After a SAG stop yesterday afternoon, we all headed out together. A few miles later the group I was riding with passed Mason and the "scenic group". When I went by I said to Mason, "This is the point in the day when the great ones kick it up a notch." I knew there would be some retaliation. It came in the form of the second special award.
Mason said at the route rap that although he was representing the youth group, he felt that the actions of older members made the whole group take on a youthful cast, like a bunch of spring chickens. Specifically, he mentioned that one person had "moved up" from the scenic group to ride with the faster guys; a man who could "kick it up a notch--like the great ones" The award "The Spring Chicken Award" was presented to ME. It is to be carried all day and the presented to "another deserving person when appropriate".
I rode with "the scenic group" today....and had a lot of laughs!
The Spring Chicken Award
Posted: Sat, 12 June 2004
JUNE 12 WINNERS IN WINNEMUCCA
We arrived at our hotel: Winners Hotel and Casino in Winnemucca by mid-afternoon following our 76 mile ride in the Nevada sunshine. A persistent head-wind most of the day changed our expectation of an easier day's ride, and we were slowed substantially.
Departing Lovelock this morning, we all enjoyed a traffic-free ride out of town and onto a quiet road that ran through the countryside parallelling I-80. We rode at a slower pace, sometimes 3 across the lane in larger groups just talking and enjoying the scenery. We passed open-range ranch country where the cattle were contained by only "cattle grates" in the roads (be careful on those on a bike!!). The grazing land appeared to be mainly sagebrush. The mountains in the background were highlighted by a perfect, cloudless sky.
We got off the bikes at one point to take some pictures when a rancher in his pick-up stopped to ask if we needed any directions. Meg, a school administrator from SC, said, "What's the best way to New Hampshire?" He laughed, and wanted to know all about our trip, which is exactly the reaction we get from everyone. They all say "Ride Safely" at the end of the conversation.
On the road to Winnemucca
A the 25 mile point we got on I-80 for the rest of the day...ugh. John (MA) and Mike (IN) and I were no more than 100 yards onto the highway bike path when John got a flat. We were all helping John when Mason rode by and yelled, "How many retired guys does it take to change a flat tire?" Pretty good sense of humor on that guy.
"Mormon Crickets", as the AbB staff calls them, were everywhere on the roads. They get even more plentiful as we get closer to Salt Lake City, we are told. They are either locusts or large grasshoppers.
Mason (TN) presented the first of what he called special awards at dinner last night. It went to one of our riders, Dennis (MA), who in the confusion of changing a flat tire, re-inserted the punctured tube rather than the new one. He won the "Everthing Deserves A Second Chance Award." Dennis is actually a very strong biker who has finished several Mt. Washington climb races. He is also helpful to those of us "with less experience."
The AbB staff with the AbB Van in the background
Kathryn (ME), a sweet and fun gal rider who is here with her husband Tim, joined the "slot machine challenge" last night at the casino. Up against quite an assortment of "local talent," she managed to win the jackpot while supported by several vocal AbB bikers in the cheering section. She was delighted!
The mechanics, Brantely (NC) and Vern (AL) are really a big help to us. Brantely fixed my rear wheel, which was slightly "out of round" due to some major bumps. Tonight they gave a class on how to clean and maintain a bike.
Some statistics you might like to know about our group:
- 26 cross country riders
- 3 riders doing the Western States
- 4 AbB staff, including the 2 mechanics
- 18 States represented, plus the couple from France
- 3 couples
- Only 2 charity riders
Now I'm off to another buffet dinner, but with 1 free beer chit from the casino. CHEERS!
Posted: Fri, 11 June 2004
JUNE 11 INTERSTATE 80 TO LOVELOCK,NV
Today's ride covered 91 miles from Sparks/Reno to the little town of Lovelock, NV, once known as Big Meadow. "It's history dates back to the great western migration when travellers on horseback and wagon trains would camp and feed their stock on the rye grasses before embarking on the grueling trek across the 40 mile desert."
The America by Bicycle gang "treked" through that desert today, observing the nearly white (alkali) sands with only some sparse sagebrush vegetation and the rocky, barren hills way off in the distance. We also saw miles and miles of hot springs, occasionally spewing steam from the ground. It was a landscape very new to me and most of the others. Beautiful in its own harsh, dry way.
For all but 12 miles, we travelled on Interstate 80, the only appropriate roadway for our travel. I-80 has a bike lane....better in some areas than others, that is separated by "rumble strips" from the highway. It is a split 4 lane highway with a large median strip that is the main East-West route for EVERY car and truck in these parts. Once out of the Reno area and into the desert country the path improved and we could ride and talk. And RIDE we did!
Our group of Joe (TX), John (MA), Mike (IN), and Jim (FL) were together all day. We covered the 91 miles with an average speed of 16 mph, while most of our cruising was at 18+, clearly the fastest time for that kind of distance for all of us.
Many riders today experience flat tires due to the debris from blown-out steel belted truck tires. BUT, everone seemed happy as we checked into the Ramada, which appears to be built around a large....you guessed it: CASINO.
Posted: Thu, 10 June 2004
JUNE 10 GAMBLING IN NEVADA
We all had a good night's rest last night after the big climb day, and were off this morning at 7:15 headed for Nevada. It was cold, and we were biking to higher elevations, so the crew was dressed warmly in tights, windbreakers, long-fingered gloves and even shoe covers. It wasn't long before we were sweating and putting those things away to be used later.
Almost immediately we began a 5 mile steady climb to Brockway Summit. Then a cold, steep downhill to Lake Tahoe and the towns of Incline Village and North Lake Tahoe. It is truly a beautiful sight to see the Lake and the snow capped mountains way off in the distance. We of course got off the bikes, took pictures of each other and checked out the sights. A few even hit the casino, which was about the first building we saw after crossing the State line into Nevada.
The boys at Lake Tahoe
As if Brockway's climb wasn't enough, we next had a grueling climb for 8.2 miles to Mt. Rose summit at 8,991 ft. It was a steady, endless (it seemed) climb in the bike lane of Rt 431, with passing trucks and all. We did stop several times of course to rest and drink our gatorade. The motivation to keep on going was the knowledge that once we reached the top we had a 16.7 mile downhill to look forward to.
Bill at the summit
Most everyone enjoyed the downhill more than I, as it was too fast, too curvey, too long for me. We rode it almost all the way to Sparks, NV where we are spending the night. Sparks is a city of 65,000 "which shares a beautiful valley on the eastern slope of the Sierra with Reno, it's neighbor to the west" (quote from Chamber of Commerce).
Tonight we "dine" (or devour) a buffet at the Nugget casino within walking distance of the hotel. Do you think all the bikers will be in bed early tonight?
Posted: Wed, 9 June 2004
JUNE 9 TRUCKIN' TO TRUCKEE
The "toughest climb day of the trip" was an incredible challenge to almost all of us....certainly to me. We climbed 8230 feet over the 76 mile route from Auburn to Truckee, CA. Some of us were out on the road 10 hours today, having gotten an early start at 6:30am and getting into the motel at 4:30pm....exhausted!!!
BUT, WE ALL MADE IT! A real sense of acheivement was evident at this evening's pizza party. There were stories of some of the top speeds attained on the steep, fast descents, i.e. 42, 45 mph. I was no where near that (safety first!), but did enjoy many of the switchback declines. We all talked about how COLD it got (43 degrees) as we gained altitude or sped downhill.
The Sierras and Donner Lake provided real scenic beauty. When we weren't climbing, we could enjoy the big pines and mountain views in this impresive region.
The story of the day was of course the climbs, the climbs, the climbs: long, tough uphill pedaling. We were all determined--and we all succeeded!
Mason, the West Pointer, said after completing the days climbs, "I'm going to DisneyWorld." When we checked into the motel, his girlfriend had arranged for the delivery of a cake we all shared that said, "It is all downhill from here."
Well, not quite. We still have some hard climbing to do tomorrow....and of course Colorado looms, but we are through the Donner Pass and feel proud of what we accomplished today.
Posted: Mon, 7 June 2004
JUNE 7 -- SACRAMENTO
Today's ride was an enjoyable, short 55 miler through the Sacramento Valley's farmlands and the towns of Vacaville and Dixon. We passed by Travis AFB and UC Davis and rode on to the State Capitol.
It was a Florida "flatlander's" dream ride; while riding with Tim Tolford of Maine, he said "This is the flattest ride I've ever been on". (I'll stay in FL.) We will do some tough climbing in a few days when we hit the Sierras--so it was a pleasant ride for all of us. It was again a beautiful, warm, sunny day. We had a lot of fun riding today. We practiced our "pace lines" (drafting tightly behind each other and taking turns at the lead), and had time for stops and sightseeing.
We rode through the UC Davis campus where wine...from grape to wine rack...is a major field of study. All of us shook our heads as we rode past an athletic field where summer school students were taking instruction in fly casting 101! Where was that course when I needed it?
The City of Sacramento impressed us all. The magnificent Capitol Building, the quiet streets (where were all those government administrators?) the "old town" with cobblestone streets and shops, restaurant and bars, and the American River running through it, all make for a beautiful city.
Biking through Sacramento
Tonight at dinner (chicken, ribs, chili, potato salad, garden salad and cookies...all you can eat) Jim Semradek of Orlando, FL, a fellow biker, told me a terrific story of what had happened to him today. It can reinforce your belief in the goodness of your fellow man:
.....The two of us , while cycling around the Capitol building, stopped to take a picture. We laid our bikes down on the ground. When we finished, we got back on the bikes and caught up to the group.
Much later, back at the motel, Jim got a call from his father, who asked him, "Do you have your wallet?" He said , "Yes, in my bike pack". His father asked again...so Jim checked; it was gone.
A man walking near the Capitol found Jim's wallet (which had fallen out of his bike pack) containing his license, a substancial amount of money, credit cards etc. Wanting to return it, he "googled" the name on the license and Jim's father, an author, came up. Somehow the man made contact with Jim's dad and was given the name of our motel. He came to the motel shortly thereafter with the wallet intact. He wanted nothing more than to return it!
Jim is riding across America to celebrate his grad-school graduation. He just received a master's degree in Bible Studies!
Posted: Sun, 6 June 2004
JUNE 6 WE ARE OFF!!
This morning at 7:00 am our energetic group of some 30 cyclists departed our hotel near the San Francisco airport and headed out on an adventure of a lifetime.
We had assembled yesteday for orientation, bike assembly, and introductions of our group as well as the 4 person staff of AbB. It is a diverse, friendly, focused group of bikers...and we all get along very well (much more about the individuals as we go along).
At the start
Day 1 was an 85 mile trip from SF to Fairfield, CA that encompassed about every kind of biking terrain challenge I've ever encountered: STEEP CLIMBS, fast down hill runs, all sorts of traffic conditions, beautiful scenery, and long flat runs. The weather was perfect.
We rode together for at least the first 23 miles...to the Golden Gate Bridge which we biked across, stopping on ocassion to marvel at the sights. After passing through Sausalito we broke into smaller groups for the rest of the day.
A real HIGHLIGHT of the day had occured previously at Ocean Beach in Golden Gate Park. We all took off our shoes and socks and carried our bikes the 50 yards or so down to the ocean where we dipped the rear tire in the Pacific, symbolically representing the start of our coast to coast journey. We posed for a group photo, watched a large group of triathletes pass on their bikes after having swam in the waters off Alcatraz, and headed EAST.
Bill at the Pacific - the whole country is still ahead!
Bill with fellow ABB cyclists
We also passed, during the day, hundreds of cyclists participating in an AIDS RIDE from SF to LA, some in outrageous outfits. We passed by San Quenton prison as we rode the roads north of the Bay.
My group arrived at the hotel in Fairfield at 5:00 pm (not the first group in), a 10 hour day on the bike...but with many great stops along the way. It was a very tough day for me-- to be sure, but one of the best days I have ever spent on a bike.
On to Sacramento!