Gone with the Wind
bike ride from
Have you ever been riding with a strong tailwind or on a long downhill slope? Doesn’t it feel great to speed along almost effortlessly? Haven’t you wished for this wind or slope to never end? Well, this dream came true for me on the longest day of the year, resulting in the longest and fastest bike ride of my life!
I had done three long weekend rides the last couple of weekends, all going out on Saturday and returning on Sunday. I always wondered what it would feel like to just wait for a good day with consistent winds and then just take off and coast downwind all day.
until Thursday evening did I really decide to go. Then I threw a mental switch
and started to prepare – just like in the good old hanggliding days when the
weather report rules your next-day schedule. I put some cloth, sandals, repair
kit, camera, phone, wallet and toothbrush in my backpack – when you have to
carry everything on your back, you learn to travel light. This time, not to
forget, I had to bring my passport, as this was going to be an “international”
minute I placed some phone calls and gave notice to my manager and peers via
email instructions sent out around midnight. For a moment I contemplated to
switch to an out-of-office note like “By the time you read this, I’m riding in
number one: If you want to go far, you have to leave early. After some short
calculations I estimated I should leave around to have a chance to get to
first challenge was to navigate the night time roads of
The half moon overhead, a few curious birds joining me for 100m or so, I had the world to myself with the dawn painting beautiful colors in the sky. What a great feeling – you just have to get out there; adventure still can happen right in front of your own doorsteps.
Around it was getting light. I stopped for a Powerbar and drink. Also, I needed to give my behind a break every 60-90 minutes or so. The sun rose at about, and blue sky was all I would see when looking upwards for the next 16 hours!
It’s time to bring out the sunglasses. One nice side effect of the wind is that it kept the mosquitoes away. So I did not have to rush as much when taking pictures or a break.
Just after I had passed the 100km mark already! I decided to go all the way to Crookston at about 125km for my first longer break. There I placed a few more phone calls – further North I wouldn’t get any more cell pone signal – and I had breakfast around.
Speaking of food: The night before I had feasted on an entire package of pasta to load up on carbohydrates – like the classic pre-Marathon Spaghetti party. In the morning, after a Powerbar and a bottle of Gatorade I had breakfast at Hardee’s in Crookston: 3 pancakes, a cinnamon roll, orange juice and coffee. Throughout the day I kept on eating and drinking: More Powerbars, 3 sandwiches, 2 icecreams, 3 bananas, 1 loaf of bread with tons of butter, minestrone soup, seafood pasta, more coffee and a total of about 8 liters to drink. One thing is for sure: If you ride all day, you won’t have a problem with obesity – you just can’t eat enough when you keep the furnace burning that high!
Back to the ride. As expected, the wind was now starting to kick into high gear, so was I on my bike. Without much effort I was cruising along at 40-45km/h. There were sheer endless straightaways with very smooth surface. I watched how the wind gusts would make my speed fluctuate between 40 and 50 km/h and thought about not having any wind in my face! This combined with the climbing temperatures and the low humidity (40%) made it feel very hot and dry. Drinking plenty would be the key to avoid cramps later on…
brief rest stop in
When the 200km mark approached, I was in such a rush that I didn’t want to stop for a picture. So I fished the camera out of my backpack while cruising along at around 50km/h. When the wind is pushing so strong, you don’t slow down much even without pedaling for a while. I took the pictures of the 200km mark at while doing 52km/h. Hey, slight euphoria was starting to take over. Just for fun, I took some more pictures, letting the camera looking back.
When the camera was stowed away in my backpack, I had probably covered another 2 km or so – it was just unbelievable. This sweet downwind trip seemed to never end.
the map I figured to stop in Donaldson, before cutting east a few km to connect
with another road going straight North to Hwy 59, which would lead across the
border and all the way into
I saw a young man mowing his lawn and approached him. (He had a T-Shirt with the Gatorade logo and colors, I thought: How fitting! However, the shirt logo turned out to be a play on words. It read: Get’n Laid.) Anyway, I asked him whether I could buy some water. “The nearest shop is 5 miles that way (wrong direction).” Thankfully he invited me in his cool home and poured one liter from his cold drinking water jar for me. The next 20 minutes were pure heaven: Laying barefoot in the grass, watching the wind bend trees and picking up dust-clouds and small debris, all with a liter of fresh drinking water. The simple joys of life…
next 8km were tough. I had to go East to connect with the right roads going
Then after some patient side-wind struggle I could turn left on Road 5 heading straight North again – what a huge relief. The wind seemed to gain strength still – now it was really hammering! The wind painted patterns in the grass and some cars on gravel roads parallel to the main roads were shrouded in their own dust. When I passed under telephone wires overhead, they made a low humming sound like you sometimes hear from an approaching truck or maybe a high-speed hangglider. My odometer crossed the 50km/h speed mark more often now, and my endorphines were flowing. I remember reminding myself of not spinning too fast and then suddenly burning out with 150km still to go.
only small technical problem I had all day was on this stretch of the road. It was
so bumpy – every 20m or so there was a hump in the concrete – that my bike and
body were absorbing a violent, high-speed shock treatment. I felt like a test
driver on a course trying to break some equipment, measuring how long we could
withstand these shocks. Unfortunately my odometer didn’t tolerate this beating
for long and at 240km it reset itself and showed all Zeros. I stopped to figure
out how to properly set everything up again. The same had happened a few weeks
ago when riding to
While this took away the joy of seeing the 300 and eventually the 400km mark in a single day, it had another advantage: Without the much slower early morning city crossing and various stops along the way, this now allowed me to measure the average speed in the middle of a long stretch. So for the record: The next 19km I averaged 47.04 km/h, while my top speed climbed up to about 57km/h – all without sprinting or anything. (In fact, when you want to ride that long, you better make sure you never work your muscles very hard near 100%, otherwise you flame out quickly. I kept it steady at maybe 80% or so the whole time.) The km flying by almost as fast as the minutes – when was the last time I had that much fun riding a bike? The US and Canadian flags along the way were flat exactly pointing North, their fabric nearly ripping, tearing hard at their poles and filling the air with the flapping sound usually heard at good windsurfing spots. The next 130km I covered just under 3 hours at an average speed of 44km/h – this blew away all personal speed records I remembered. (In my Triathlon days back in 1986 I once did 35km/h over 100km– by yourself without wind going out and return with some hills that’s still a very good speed.)
At 01:30pm at 275km it was time to stop and fish out the passport: Canadian border. Hardly any traffic, the customs official’s first words were: “You picked a good day!” He smiled when he waved me good-bye and wished me good luck and a safe trip.
were some herds of bison and more trees along the way. For the first time I
started to think about
was now rapidely approaching
short detour just a few km outside of
I picked up the bike from the tall grass after taking the above picture coming
It was and I had arrived, way ahead of my scheduled 08:00pm. The next hour or so, I just sat down amidst the people coming out on this perfect summer Friday evening celebrating the weekend and gorgeous weather. I was laying on a park bench when I noticed a strongly bending tree just a few feet upwind. I remember thinking whether I should pick another spot to avoid being crushed under a broken tree after all! One hour of day-dreaming later I summoned my last energy to coast around town and check out train and bus schedules for a return trip on Saturday. At the impressive legislature building the 400km mark rolled around, which made me pose at a fountain with naturally all smiles.
outside the train station – Sorry: no train service to the
I checked into this classy hotel, my yellow jersey standing out from the more conservative dress-code of most guests. But all staff and guests were very friendly. Picture the people riding up the elevator in their fine cloths and me coming into the elevator with the bike tilted up and the sweat of 400km on my skin! Priceless moments…
After a shower and change into fresh underwear, shorts, shirt, socks and sandals I looked like the average tourist. Not unlike our mountainbike trips in the alps when going out for dinner after showering off a sweaty bike day. I strolled over to The Forks again and just watched the action from the observation deck 20m aloft.
Artists, musicians, outdoor dining, courtyard markets, kids on skateboards and the riverboats – all to the competing tunes of music playing from multiple restaurants and occasional rumbling of a freight-train across bridges in or out the nearby train station. What better way to top this glorious day off than with a sunset dinner?
While downing many glasses of lemonade and the incredible good taste of a fresh loaf of bread with butter, my thoughts wandered back to the day: 13 ½ hours, with about 10 ½ hours in the saddle, I had seen more road than ever before in a single day – gone with the wind.
next morning I feasted on a fabolous breakfast buffet, where two chefs cooked
eggs in every style to your order and I loaded an inch thick of raspberries and
blueberries on one of the best tasting belgian waffles I ever had. Want to eat
as much as you can, all the sugar and fat you are craving for and still avoid
obesity? Well, how about riding all day – works guaranteed! After check-out I
had a bellman take this picture in the glitzy lobby of the
like a time-warp, posing with the high-tech Titanium bike against the old
classic charm of the last century. There was little left to do other than to
roll a few km to the central bus station and get a ticket to catch a Greyhound
bus back home to
20 minutes of putting the bike back together – some assembly required – I was
heading home into the relentless wind. I stopped at the Iszler’s home – friends
I met last year after one of the
40 hours after I had left in the predawn hours of Friday morning, and 800km of
highway later, I was back at my apartment in