Range Roaming – Reflections on Illinois and Iowa

Here is the email update I sent to family and friends from Lincoln, Nebraska:

So I’m waiting out an unusual and ‘historic’ (read record-breaking) winter storm in Lincoln, Nebraska. After record flooding in Illinois and record low temps in Iowa, 4 inches of snow just seems par for the course. Spring is waaaaay late this year – not an ideal start to a bike tour!

However, it could not have started better. While home, I saw many, many old friends – several of whom I hadn’t seen since the late 90s. I saw most of my extended family. It was a fabulous send-off into what has mostly been a very cold, wet and windy experience.

In the first week, three times I literally raced thunderstorms across the barren, lifeless corn fields of Illinois. Once I made it to safety with five min to spare. Twice I crawled into towns amongst lightning, headwinds and pouring rain. Consequently, there has been earthworm carnage. At one point they were smeared on everything – fenders, panniers, bike frame, even my socks!

One night, safely residing in a motel due to severe weather threat, there was a tornado warning for the area. Luckily, no tornado, but record flooding was just beginning. I didn’t stick around to see the crest or to help sandbag.

The day after that I left in 30F temps, windchill 22F, into a direct headwind blowing at 20 mph to 30 mph. I crawled along at 5mph for 5 hours to cover 26 miles. I fought the whole time to keep the bike upright and on the road. Intermittently, ice pellets flung at me at 30mph and very painfully bounced off my face and stung my eyes. I finally gave up for the day when the wind just made it too unsafe to ride. I talked a farmer into giving me a lift the final 15 miles into town. There I got one of the last rooms in town as flooding had displaced many people. That was the hardest riding I’ve ever done.

There have been many other days characterised by crazy headwinds or rain or both. I did sit out one day cuddled up in my sleeping bag in my tent in Iowa while it snowed and sleeted all day.

Another night I camped in a small town and had direct protection from the U.S. Army…. In the little town area for camping, there was an army tank set up as a memorial. I pitched my tent right behind it out of the wind – best use of my tax dollars for an army tank ever.

There have been a few good days where it was sunny and the winds favourable or negligible. On these days I knocked out big miles(75-85) and had great days. I even added in a scenic byway through the loess hills of Iowa on one good day. If the continuous hills with 8 percent grades that comprise southern Iowa isn’t enough, throw in steeper grades and make it gravel! The unique and outstanding scenery made the big effort worth it though.

Even though it’s been a really tough start to the tour weather-wise, I still wouldn’t trade this for anything. I love being on my bike. I love life being reduced to a quest for distance, food, water and shelter. I love watching all the birds of prey soaring the thermals above me as I fight so hard against the wind below. I love the days I feel bad-ass and strong. I love that some days the absolute best thing in the whole wide world is just to get out of the wind and someplace warm. The simplicity of my endeavour, and what is required to achieve it, resonates deeply with my spirit. It’s about adventure, the unknown, and being forced to adjust your daily goals to forces beyond your control while also keeping the big picture in mind.

So life is good. I’ve got quad and calf muscles building and I’m feeling stronger each day I ride. Yes, some average temps and rainfall would be appreciated – so if you’ve got a direct line to the weather gods, please put in a request for me and the crew. We’ve had a nice time in Lincoln and we were blown away by the amazing fossil collection in Morrill Hall at UNL. The diversity and abundance of life represented there nearly brought tears to my eyes. But now we are ready to head west onto the plains.

Thank you for all of your love and support. It’s your encouragement that gives me the confidence to go after my dreams and live a life that’s full of “did that” instead of “I should” or “I wish”.

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