Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 67 of 69

I think this has been the best week of my life. It's crazy to think that my Bike & Build experience is officially ending this Friday! I'm currently enjoying my last night in the USA and look forward to entering Canada tomorrow morning.

I will put up pictures soon, because there is no way words can describe what I've biked through over the last few days. Simply, we have climbed 6 mountain passes in 5 days, spent two wonderful nights of camping in some of the most beautiful scenery the country has to offer, and had one heck of a day off in Sandpoint, Idaho where a group of us rented a boat, water skiied, and enjoyed each other's company.

During the 11 day stretch of biking, I thought I was ready to be done. But after this past week of some of the most incredible biking, I am wishing there was a way to slow down time. I've loved every second of this trip and have made friends that I know I will have for a lifetime. It is going to be the most bittersweet feeling seeing the Pacific Ocean.

Okay, too overcome with emotion to write anything more coherent. I will post pictures within the week, so check back even though my trip will be over! Thanks again to all who have donated to the affordable housing cause and made this lifechanging experience possible for me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pictures from the last few days

Admiring a whole lot of nothingness on Hwy 2, Montana

So excited for Glacier!!!! Liz, me, and Kate! (Cut Bank, MT)

Road into the Rockies

My Glacier riding buddy, Abby! This picture was taken by a man who lives 20 minutes away from Janesville! Small world.

Climbing (before descending) into St. Mary on Hwy 89

Outside my favorite place in the world, Park Cafe!!!

Nothing like a 4:30am breakfast at St. Mary campground

Some of the group on Going to the Sun Highway, Glacier National Park (in front of Wild Goose Island)

Build Day in Whitefish, Montana. Spacing studs for the garage frame with Stephanie.

Great spot for lunch between Eureka and Libby, MT

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Remember that time we biked 11 days straight and covered 785 miles?

Happy to be blogging from a day off the bike in Whitefish, Montana after one of the most physically and mentally challenging/rewarding experiences of my life. Our longest stretch of the trip began in New Town, North Dakota and has taken us to the far west side of the expansive state of Montana. That's 11 straight days of biking - covering a total of 785 miles.

It's hard to even find a place to start when trying to describe these last few days. Simply, it's been incredible. The part of the trip I've looked forward to most (aside from seeing my family in Wisconsin) has finally come!

We have spent most of our time on long, flat Highway 2. Our cue sheets went from being half pages long in the beginning of the trip to merely an inch long, with one direction: Highway 2 for x number of miles. I knew Montana was huge, but the expanse of it really began to sink in as I pedaled day in and day out of the flattest, most dismal landscape I had seen all trip. It's crazy how rapidly  this state shifted from endless flatland to the Rocky Mountains overnight.

We finally experienced the wind everyone warned us about as we make this journey westward. Biking into Shelby,  Montana at a max. speed of 9 mph was not fun. Not fun at all. But, it made for great conversations. It's always the stressful, hard days that everyone ultimately has the most to say about. So, although we hated feeling like we were going nowhere way too fast, it was just another great bonding experience - something we all endured together.

The closer we started getting to western Montana, the harder time I had keeping my excitement under control. I was so, so, so excited to go back to the place I left a huge piece of my heart in: Glacier National Park. Most of us were really starting to get emotionally and physically drained after a week straight of long days of pedaling. Glacier and seeing my friends at the Park Cafe kept my spirits up.

I spent the past two days biking into the Rockies with my friend Abby. Words can't even begin to describe the feeling of being on a bicycle with the most beautiful landscape in front of you. When you're moving at a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour, it gives you a chance to really take in your scenery. Even though I'd driven from Browning to St. Mary many, many times in a car, the experience I had on my bicycle was more powerful than any trip I'd ever take on these roads before. The air smells different, the climbs through the mountain are more spectacular, and the constant sense of adventure are so unique to this trip.

Upon arriving in St. Mary (right at the east entrance of GNP) after one of the best descents I've ever done, I couldn't wait to go have a piece of pie at the cafe. Abby was by my side and just looked at me in awe as I sprinted into the community room of the Park Cafe and gave all my old coworkers and friends the biggest hugs. Shortly after, I was met by Jamey and Travis and we all sat down and had a meal together. It felt like home to be sitting in that cafe. Seeing everyone around the cafe in their "Pie for Strength" t-shirts made me feel like I'd never left. It was wonderful to be able to spend a night with such great place filled with such great memories.

Later that night, the Bike & Build team camped out at St. Mary campground. The rain was relentless and I was a little nervous the weather might put a damper of experiencing Going to the Sun highway the next day. After snuggling up in our tents to stay warm, we all woke at 4:30 to get an early start so that we could be off of the Going to the Sun Highway before 11 am. Because of higher traffic flow later in the day, bicyclists are not allowed on the road after 11 am. We woke up to rain, packed up all our gear, and looked up at the Rockies behind us in excitement. The first 17 miles were an uphill climb to the continental divide. The rain never really stopped, and the temperature never rose above 50, but to know we were on this road in the middle of Glacier National Park was enough to keep us happy. In an effort to weatherproof myself, I biked up the road with a winter hat, bread bags on my feet, and winter gloves. My friend Jamey decided to wear his long john's over his biking gear just as an extra layer. We all basically looked like hobos climbing the Rockies.

After reaching Logan Pass, we all prepared for the 12 mile, 6% grade descent. Normally, I love descents, but this one was a tough one for me. For one, I was so cold that I couldn't feel my hands at all and my hat kept getting pushed down over my eyes because of my helmet. I made it eight miles before my body physically stopped me from finishing. I have never had the shakes so bad and I realized that flying down the side of a mountain at 25 miles an hour in an effort to get done before 11 was just a terribly unwise idea. I waited for a shuttle to get me to Apgar Village, where I met up with the rest of the group (who also had to shuttle down) and headed to lunch.

The last 25 miles into Whitefish were much easier, almost completely downhill and much, much warmer! Whitefish is a lovely ski town tucked in the valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. It was such a great feeling to finish 11 straight days of biking, especially on a day that was arguably most people's favorite day of the entire trip.

I was able to stroll around the downtown, journal, and take comfort in the fact that I would not be getting on my bike the next day. After picking up a new book of short stories, I set "home", the lovely First Presbyterian Church, in downtown Whitefish to read my new book. However, before I knew it, I was out cold by 8 pm - before I even had the chance to put my pajamas on or blow up my Thermarest. I woke up at 5:30 this morning, fully rested and decided to take a stroll around town.

It was so nice to wake up when I wanted to! I met up with some of the locals in the town and had a coffee and some lovely conversation. Then, we all had breakfast together at the church before we set off for our last build day of the trip.

This was one of the best build days we've had. All 32 of us had something to occupy ourselves with. I got to work on building the framing for a garage and used my first air pressure nail gun. It pretty much scared the living daylights out of me.

After we finished our build day today, the girls rushed home to finish up our Sadie Hawkin's date proposals. After prom, the boys thought it only fair to make the girls ask the boys out on a date. I drew our leader Denis' name and decided to ask him to ride with me into Eureka tomorrow via "Mustache-Grams" since he is wildly popular for his impressive facial hair. The girls have been pretty creative and the boys very impressed. We will all be riding into Eureka, Montana in date-like pairs tomorrow. I am very excited!

Well, once again, I've written a novel - but so much happens in a week's time on this trip - it's unbelievable! It's even more unbelievable that this adventure of a lifetime will be finished in 12 days. 12 days!!!! While at times I feel like I've been biking for years, I also have a hard time reconciling that it has gone by this fast and that I am over 3,000 miles into this trip. The fact that I am still walking is nothing short of a miracle to me. I really feel the hugeness of this accomplishment at this point of the trip, and I am so blessed to have been apart of something so lifechanging. Thanks for reading. Hope to update again soon - this last stretch of the trip is supposed to be incredibly beautiful!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's the little things that count

Like paved roads. After a stressful ride into New Town on Hwy 23, the leaders decided that our next day of riding would need to be different, and thus, they set out for what would be a 8+ hour quest to find safer roads for us to ride on into Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). By 4:30 in the morning, the leaders (Gramelly and Kyle) had a new route for us that made our trip into TRNP 100x better than the previous day. However, leaving out the stress of giant oil trucks and no shoulders meant riding on unpaved gravel roads for over 25 miles. Moving at 6 mph is way better than worrying about getting run off the road by a billion ton truck, at least I think. However, once we hit paved roads again, I felt as though my bike had grown wings. I didn't realize how much I loved smooth pavement until that day.

My knees and left arm have been really bothering me lately, but I've been adament to see this part of the country on my bicycle and avoid the van for as long as I can handle it. As we've been biking across the vast expanse of the North Dakota plains and into the flatlands of Montana, I can't help but think that this is the closest way to experience the country as the earliest settlers did, and it's pretty exciting to see Lewis & Clark trail markers along our route.

The last eight miles of our ride into TRNP were nothing short of spectacular. As we descended into the park, the contrast from great plains to the Badlands was breathtaking. As soon as we arrived, around 4 pm, we biked five miles into the campground to see our tents all set up. It was so exciting to finally have our first night of real camping in such an amazing place. Jamey, Abby, Andrew and I decided to take a mini hike after showering off with freezing water from the pump at the campground. Along the way, we witnessed two bison within a football field's distance of us. Pretty exciting!!!

For supper, we made some delicious hobo style meals and sat around the fire.  As soon as I sat down to eat, I was delighted to hear Neil Young's "Old Man"  (my favorite song of all time) followed by the rest of the Harvest album! Such a great way to relax. It's so nice to have so many people with such great taste in music all contributing tunes for our mealtimes. Later that night, we all made s'mores and journaled. Many of us were excited to lay out and watch a night sky free of light pollution. Within 20 minutes of laying down on a tarp under the stars with my teammates, we witnessed at least five shooting stars.

After a good night's sleep, we woke up to near freezing temperatures and I prepared myself for a day of 97 miles as sweep with Kelsey. It wasn't even four miles into our ride that the entire team got trapped in TRNP by unpredictable bison near the road. We probably waited over 20 minutes before we all felt safe enough to bike on out. It made for a pretty entertaining start to our day. Overall, sweeping was way more enjoyable than I had anticipated, despite the fact that our friend Jillian got two flats and fell ill whilst riding, causing us to wait back for quite a while as the van came back to pick her up. In total, I was outside on my bike for over 10 hours, but it was a tremendous ride nevertheless, especially when Momgela and Corcoran came and found us 10 miles out and gave us water and cookies and a morale boost!

We crossed another stateline that day - finally entering the great (and huge!) state of Montana! We stayed in a small town about 35 miles from the MT/ND border called Culbertson and once again had a delicious dinner cooked by members of the Bethel Community Church. How did we get this lucky?!?!?!

I was in pretty great spirits until we had our 54 mile ride out of Culbertson and into Wolf Point, Montana. Strangely enough, I really don't like shorter mileage anymore - mainly because I mentally fail and anticipate a much shorter ride and thus start watching my mileage, making it go by much, much slower. Yesterday basically felt like I was biking in slow motion. The wind was strong, the roads weren't great, and I just felt like blah. However, once we arrived, the day really turned around.

We had probably one of the most homey and welcoming stays of the trip at First Lutheran Church yesterday. Special thanks to Glo, Joe, and Laurie for spoiling us with wonderful watermelon, junk food, and town facts! I got to learn so much about the Assiniboine and Sioux Indian culture of Wolf Point. After relaxing for most of the day and enjoying an amazing dinner, we were able to experience a real Powwow and were invited to participate in the dances. It was so incredible to see them in their authentic dress, listening to members of the tribe beating a drum, and just really getting such an authentic cultural experience. I loved every second of it.

Today was another short day - 50 miles into the town of Glasgow. MUCH MUCH MUCH better than yesterday's ride. Flat, minimal wind, and 18.5 mph average allowed me an 11 am arrival time. Since we were in so early, many of us decided to bike downtown and grab some lunch or ice cream at a diner. Now that I have awoken from my food coma, it is nice to relax, update my blog, and get excited for the night we have ahead of us - a RODEO!!! Can't wait!

It's hard to believe that there are less than three weeks of the trip left. We've currently completed 5 of the 11 straight days of biking - the longest leg of the entire trip. I can't wait for our next build day and our nearing arrival to Glacier. Montana is pretty flat right now (nice for biking, not so nice for the scenery) and I am very much looking forward to seeing the Rockys in the next few days!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Welp, I spoke too soon.

Today was rough. 74 miles from Minot to Newtown, North Dakota against constant headwinds. It's safe to say I mentally 'bonked' when I couldn't help but start screaming at the wind during the last 10 mile stretch into the town. Not only was today windy, it was hilly! I'm okay with one or the other, but both!!!! compounded by the fact that there was minimal shoulder for most of the ride along Hwy 23 did not make me the happiest of campers. Regardless, we all arrived to Newtown High School safely and in a mostly timely fashion.

Today was a maildrop day - a very exciting day for B&B'ers - and it felt like Christmas for me! My energy (aka Clif bar, Shot Bloks) supply is back above empty and there really couldn't be better timing, as we are one day into our longest stretch of 11 straight days of riding. Not only did my wonderful parents give me a great care package, but I was also surprised to receive goodies from the Ryan's and a letter from my grandparents! Thank you all so, so much! You made my day :)

Tomorrow is our first camping experience, and we get to have it in Teddy Roosevelt National Park! It is so beautiful there, and I am so excited to sleep out under the vast expanse of Western sky. Tomorrow also marks our last riding day in North Dakota. I can't wait to see Montana (my second favorite state, after Wisconsin) by bicycle! Glacier is a mere 9 days away and I can't wait to see Kathryn, Neal, and the whole Park Cafe clan and have some AMAZING razzleberry pie. I'm salivating at the thought.

Here is a video taken by Minot's local news station at our build site yesterday:

A picture to describe how many of us felt about our ride today.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why not Minot?

Prom was a huge success! Of all the proms I've been to, this one takes the cake for most fun had. Not only did we all dress to the nines in our finest Llama Prom-a apparel, but we also danced up a storm. I think by about 10:30 pm, we turned the gymnasium into a sauna. Below are a few pictures from before prom and during prom.

As I've probably said a few times in my blog, I was really dreading the rides through North Dakota. Having driven through the state a few times in recent past, it's not the most visually pleasing of all states. Given my disdain for driving through it, I was trying to mentally prepare myself for biking through it while also facing headwinds of up to 40 mph (as reported by riders from years past). However, I'm happy to report that I am already in Minot, North Dakota - approximately 3/4 of the way through the state and have enjoyed every second of every mile so far. We've had very little wind, the temperature has been perfect, and the conversations amongst fellow riders has been top-notch. This is one of the best groups of people I've ever had the privilege of getting to know, and I know this trip wouldn't be the same without even a single one of us not a part of it. I shouldn't count my chickens before they hatch, but even if it is super windy as we make our way through Montana, I consider the four days we've spent in ND a real blessing.

Today was our second to last build day. We spent the first half of a day at a Habitat site building a shed. Once again, we had the delight of meeting the future homeowner and also were spoiled with a tremendous lunch provided by a recent Habitat home recipient. 32 people to build one shed is a bit overwhelming, so after lunch, half of us went to an assisted living home to pull weeds from the property. It was very relaxing and we accomplished a lot!  

Tomorrow, we head to Newtown, ND followed by our first night of camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I can't wait!

Nolan, as a guido, asking out our very own Italian bombshell, Momgela.

Also, did I mention we biked almost 118 miles from Crookston, Minnesota to Devils Lake, North Dakota?! Talk about an epic day of riding! I was begging for a wheelchair at the end of the day.

Sam, the bounty hunter, and myself enjoying a night of slow dancing at prom. I just wish I had a little more bronzer and hot pink lipstick!

Llama Prom-a Royalty - 2010. Steven (in the khaki overalls, blue hat) was my date AND the Prom King!

Build Day (August 3rd) in Minot, ND

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bike & Build: Prom Edition

Hello from Bemidji, Minnesota! Cannot believe we're just two days away from the great plains of North Dakota. I'm going to dedicate this blog post to all te magic that has been happening over the last few days.

Since anyone who has been through North Dakota knows, not a whole lot to see and do whilst riding on Hwy 2. So, in the spirit of making the best of our surroundings, we've decided to have our own PROM: Llama Proma: A Day on the Farm. The name comes from the fact that we've seen many a llama on our rides.

About a week ago, I purchased my prom dress from a thrift store: a button up, sleeveless denim dress. Something my mom might have considered wearing in 1992 (not knocking your style, mom). Additionally, I purchased a metallic orange belt, a woven sun hat, and some flamboyant, hot pink earrings. I can't wait to look like a stunning beauty queen come August 1st.

While the apparel of the trip will be a definite highlight, it's the way we all got asked to prom that has been so, so, so amazing! All of the boys, and one girl had to draw names out of a hat to select their date. Then, all of our dates were required to come up with the most creative ways to ask their dates.

So far, we've had dates asked out on real, live horses, jumping out of mail boxes, love letters, chalk poems on the side of the road, scavenger hunts, and well, I'll go into a little more detail about the way I got asked out this morning at breakfast. John, you've got some fierce competition, just FYI.

While eating breakfast this morning, I was blissfully unaware of the scheming that had been going on between some of the men on the trip the night before. I sat down with a hot plate of delicious eggs made by the Zion Lutheran Church of Grand Rapids, and was about to take my first bite when my face was brushed with a bouquet of the most beautiful, fluorescent dyed flowers I had ever seen.  I looked up and saw my leader Kyle Gamsby and instantly thought he might be my date. But! Seconds later, Mark Broz sauntered up to my side with a bottle of sparkling grape juice, and like a 5-star restaurant, I was poured a bottle of the finest sparkling beverage. Now, at the prospect of Mark being my date, I was terrified, mainly because Mark's girlfriend, Kira, caught wind of what was going on and was standing at the table shooting me dagger eyes. Best not to be the homewrecker.

And then the moment happened. The song "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" came on over the speakers, and out came Steven, doing the most ridiculously seductive dance toward me. I think I lost it when Steven kicked his shoes off and began pointing at me. Absolutely hilarious. Shortly after making his way to my table, Steven realized he no longer knew all of the words to the song and desperately tried to get Kyle to cut the music so that he could ask me to prom officially. Since Kyle wasn't paying attention, all Steven could do was sing "BABY!" every 10 words or so. As soon as the song ended, Steven was down on one knee and asked me to prom. Best prom date ever!!!

Unfortunately, now the bar has been set very high for any future suitors of any of the NUS ladies. I honestly believe some of these prom proposals have been better and more creative than wedding proposals. LJ, you're going to have to start singing to me every time you want to take me out to dinner.

Well, it's 9 pm and I have a 5 am wakeup call tomorrow for a 90 mile day into Crookston, Minnesota. As always, it's great to be staying at an incredibly gracious host this evening, Bethel Lutheran, in the home of Paul Bunyan.