Day 15 – Ride Across America, Great Bend to Abilene, KS

Did you know? – Last year, 84 % of Growing Through Grief students reported they improved their ability to concentrate in school.

You’re never alone. – 9th Grade GTG student

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Wearing 4 layers of clothing, we started riding at 7 am with small tail wind and a temp of 42 degrees. We shed layers as we warmed up and the temperature climbed to mid 60s. As I’ve matured, I find myself starting out slowly and building speed and momentum as I ride. The first 68.5 miles to lunch passed quickly. After lunch we turned left to head north and now we were biking into the wind on rough surfaces for nearly 30 miles. That was exhausting. Eventually, after turning east, we entered Abilene from the northwest and rode down residential streets with beautiful homes including the Seeley Mansion from 1902. (Check out the ingredients of Wasa-Tusa, a family remedy, that Dr. Seeley made along with 100 similar products.) We finished the 127.6 mile route by 4 pm.

My right hamstring has been bothering me daily for three days with discomfort, especially with pushing hard, and some cramps at night. It has interfered with my speed and efficiency. Ice, stretching and using a foam roller will be helpful-when I find the time.

On our ride, we saw farmland, huge parcels often stretching beyond what I could see, on both sides of the road. Many of the fields had working oil wells. Oil was discovered in Kansas in the 1880s and natural gas about the same time. Both oil and natural gas from Kansas represents about 1% of US production of each commodity. ( see the oil train cars from the William company in the video) Williams company processes, stores and transports oil and natural gas. It has large underground storage facilities as the signs noted along our route. Also, as mentioned in previous blogs, many windmills are seen in the fields with more being constructed. In fact, Kansas is in the top 5 states for energy produced by wind.

Near Abilene we passed several large facilities for the Greyhound racing industry. We saw dog training- racing next to each other in separate cages, hundreds of dog houses, the Abilene Greyhound Park, Greyhound feed companies, veterinarian clinic and the National Greyhound Association of America building.

Of course, Dwight D Eisenhower and his brothers were raised in Abilene. His childhood home, the Presidential Museum and Presidential Library are all located in town.

Tomorrow, we ride to Topeka, KS, 107.4 miles away. On Tuesday, we will mark our mid-point in our Ride Across America.

Day 14 – Ride Across America, Dodge City to Great Bend, KS for GTG

The program encouraged my middle school aged son to work through and express his grief in healthy ways. This included talking in a group which was initially outside his comfort zone, but he later found group talk easier and very helpful. – Parent of Growing Through Grief student

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First, to all mothers reading this blog, I wish you a pleasant Mother’s Day tomorrow!

At 43 degrees, our morning was cool and we dressed in multiple layers to stay warm. Fog covered much of the surrounding countryside as we climbed out of Dodge City, but it quickly vanished with a gentle breeze and warming temps. Multiple large industrial plants were seen along our route such as, Praxair and fertilizer and farming supply companies. Endless fields of wheat lined both sides of Hwy 56 with harvest expected in the next month. Hundreds of windmills stood like sentinels in the fields, most waiting for an invisible conductor to instruct their movement. Other windmills moved slowly in unison reminding me of the slow tempo of Eric Satie’s Gymnopedia

Ponds along the roadside gave forth a cacophony of frog calls announcing their intent to eat and mate after having spent the winter in hibernation or being frozen solid. Still more frequent and intrusive, the traffic kept us vigilant, insisting that we ride single file on the shoulder. We always had to expect the loud sounds from trucks, vans and cars with bad exhausts to startle us as they passed.

We made good time with lighter winds and a slightly downhill route. In fact, we lost 1230 feet in the 91.5 miles. We finished at 2 pm, in time for me to take one of the riders to Walmart for medication prescriptions.

Great Bend is known for the change in the course of the Arkansas river to east and then southeast.

A few comments about the photos in the video below. Some notable sights include the Sod House museum – see photo – a replica of the original homes built from prairie sod cut into pieces for the settlers arriving in the 1870s and 1880. Photos of the museum docent and the sod house interior are shown. The museum also had a bike from 1901, when 19 year old Frank Spring rode it from NYC to Kinsley, KS.

We had lunch outside Fort Larned – active in the mid 1880s. Golden Valley company deals with the financial side of farming- mainly wheat. Other photos show the blades and bases of windmills ready to be erected. Only up close could I appreciated the immense size of the titanium blades.

Tomorrow, we ride to Abilene – 127.6 miles down the road with lunch and 2 sag stops along the way.

Day 13 – Ride across America, Liberal to Dodge City, KS.

“It helps me take a break and get all my stress and grief off my chest.  It helps me get over losses that I witnessed.” – GTG High School Student

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Cool and dry this am, we biked to a local pancake house for breakfast. Our route was simple, 61 miles on Hwy 54 to Minneola and then Hwy 283 N to Dodge City and our hotel at 83.3 miles for the day. Our headwind was present throughout the day, but it was about 8 mph much of the time. Most of the land we passed was farmland: winter wheat was already knee high, corn stalks from last year waiting for tilling and recently planted land. Please see photos of the beautiful, endless fields of wheat in the video. Todd’s relatives are farmers in the Dakotas. They do migrant harvesting work, bringing their enormous combines to Oklahoma in spring to harvest fields and travel northward as the crops ripen until they reach home..

In large fields, we also saw many wind turbines, perhaps hundreds, placed in groups, not scattered about. Yellow crop dusters were active spraying the fields with chemicals.

The Highways were very busy, especially with cattle related semi-trucks. Kansas is the largest cattle producing state and 1/4 of the beef produced is near Dodge City. Cattle brought to feed lots weigh in at 700 lb and leave 120- 140 days later weighing 1200 lb.

Dodge City is known for being a frontier town of the wild West in the past and maintains a good tourist industry based on that history. Unfortunately, we will not have time to visit all the sites before we leave in the early morning.

Please check out the video of today’s ride and also the photos below.

Texas Waffle from Dalhart, TX

Day 12 – Ride Across America for GTG, Dalhart, TX to Liberal, KS

…my greatest honor throughout my career has been spending my days supporting the students transform their pain into healing and hopelessness into hope.    – Growing Through Grief Counselor

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In previous years, today was always a “recovery ride”, according to Mike. That is, an easier ride to help you recover from a strenuous ride. Today was not that. We started in the light rain at 39 degrees headed into a 17 mile per hour headwind. I thought I had enough warm clothes, but I was wrong. It was an arduous, very cold and long day. While the rain stopped by lunch at 12:30, the headwinds picked up for the rest of the ride. The temp rose to 44 degrees in Liberal, at the end of our ride. The one silver lining was the generous help of Marco, Todd and Morten – they took turns leading the pace line and pulling us through the rest of Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle and into Kansas. We stopped at several gas stations to warm ourselves with hot chocolate and found refuge indoors at our sag and lunch. Jen had to stop riding due to knee pain. Our leaders complimented us on staying together as a group – something not seen in previous years. I have no other photos – the landscape was unremarkable except for little change in elevation and I felt no need to take pictures in the town of Hooker ( or buy a t-shirt). The usual ride of 112 miles takes 6 hours – for us, it was nearly 9. At our destination, they arranged a hose and we washed our bikes and lubricated the chain.

Tomorrow, we wake up to 38 degrees and a lighter headwind. Our goal is to get to Dodge, KS before it starts to rain – predicted for 2 pm. I will dress warmly and add a windbreaker on top of the 3 layers of clothing i wore today.

Day 11 – Ride Across America for GTG. Tucumcari, NM to Dalhart, TX

Without the support of grief group I don’t know how my life would be or if I would even be alive.  It has helped me so much since my mom died.” 

– 16 year old GTG student

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Today we entered Texas and we will leave it tomorrow. One of our shorter days at only 96 miles, with a headwind of 17 mph gusting to 25 mph, it became a long day, indeed. We continued on Hwy 54E from Tucumcari – it will take us all the way to Liberal, KS, our destination tomorrow. Another challenge today was the narrow strip of shoulder to ride on for the first 25 miles. The rumble strip was 10 inches to the right of the white strip. We had to bike on a shoulder only 18 – 24 inches wide between the rumble strip and gravel. Riding on the rumble strip creates discomfort/pain at all contact points with the bike, especially the hands. And if you veer onto the strip, you grip the handlebars tighter, increasing the discomfort in your hands and arms.

New Mexico geography into western Texas was relatively flat. About 20 miles into the state, some rolling hills developed. The major point of interest for the day, just west of Dalhart, was the livestock yards, where cattle spend their last 90 days being fed before slaughter. Along Hwy 54 we saw two feed lots; I’m told one had 750,000 head of cattle and the other 850,000. Finally, from the scattered tress along Hwy 54 we heard the beautiful songs of the Mockingbird, the state bird of Texas.

Riding into the wind is always a challenge. It requires more time and energy to reach your destination. I try to get as small as possible, often getting into the drops, the lower part of the handlebars, to reduce wind resistance. The wind can easily make you colder or hotter depending on the ambient temperature and, as with any outdoor sport, one must dress thoughtfully for the activity. Then, just keep pedaling.

On a side note, bikers must do everything they can to be seen by drivers. I use daytime flashing lights on the front ( white light) and back ( red light) in addition to bright colored clothing and helmet. When I designed the GTG jersey, I wanted bright colors and lettering that could easily be seen and read. ( The logo for GTG has been professionally designed. ) And always, bikers should follow traffic laws.

Tomorrow’s weather forecast is for Northeast winds about 15 mph. Cold with a morning temp of 39 degrees and wet. Proper clothing for the weather was reviewed at Rap tonight. We can get in the van if we get too cold.

Please check out the video from today.

Tucumcari, NM to Dalhart, TX

Day 10, Ride across America Las Vegas to Tucumcari, NM

A quotation about Growing Through Grief:

What an inspiration and great program to support! As the wife of someone who lost their father at a young age, I wish there had been more resources out there then. – A HealthPartners Employee

Dear Readers, please share this blog with friends who are interested in Growing Through Grief, who may be affiliated with Park Nicollet and HealthPartners, who want the program in their school or anyone interested in helping our school aged kids grow through grief.

Nearly ideal is the best way to describe today’s ride. Simple -turn left out of our hotel parking lot, left onto route 104 and left into the parking lot of our hotel in Tucumcari after riding for 109.5 miles. Visually stunning- we started on a butte with prairie grassland and scattered shrubs as far as one could see. Then, we rode fast down the face of the butte trying to watch the road and catch a glimpse of the valley floor and other buttes in the distance. (No place to stop and take phots!). Under overcast skies we saw muted colors of red rocks – the erosion face of multiple buttes we passed, pine green of the shrubs and brick red centers and orange petals of local cone flowers and other perennials with blue, white and red flowers. Aromas from farms and ranches were also present to intermingle with the natural scents from the landscape vegetation.

Our day was challenging, too. We found a 15-20 mph head wind beginning at the bottom of the butte, about 35 miles into the ride. We had several steep climbs, also. 4 percent grade for half a mile becoming a 9 percent grade for 0.7 miles. Glad I had the extra 6 teeth on the big gear in back. (see photo in video). Another 8 percent climb for half a mile later in the ride – into the wind – to keep us honest. As they say back home, “you don’t have to pay extra for the headwind.”

Multiple birds and hawks flew near us including; several Cooper’s hawks, a Northern Harrier and possibly a goshawk. Another local bird we saw was the western kingbird with its yellow breast. Of course, the road runner – the state bird of New Mexico – ran across our path.

Day 9 – Ride Across America

Quotation about a Growing Through Grief experience:

It has been a positive experience for us. She has even made some very close friends through the grief group with girls who are experiencing the same emotions as she is. It has been crucial in our healing. – GTG Student Parent

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Albuquerque to Las Vegas, NM, at 138 miles our longest ride. We started with a steady climb out of the city heading east along parts of the old Route 66 trail. At the higher altitudes, we could see evergreen shrub covered hills on both sides of the road. These hills gave way to a beautiful, verdant valley on the north side of the road – see a picture of it in the video. (also, a picture of a decorated ranch gate) We continued to climb on NM State 14, also called Turquoise Trail that led us through the the artist’s colony of Madrid. (See photo of Zebra on home in video) An old mining town known for anthracite coal and more recently the film, Wild Hogs, shot on location in 2007.

We continued to climb along Turquoise Trail heading for Santa Fe. Farms had become artist’s gardens, especially as we reached the bedroom communities in the outskirts of Santa Fe. Outdoor sculpture and adobe style homes dotted the landscape. We had lunch at 1:30, at mile 79, in a Fire Station. We reached the highest point at mile 90, at 7599 feet and began our long, mostly downhill course to our hotel at mile 137 in the small town of Las Vegas. We finished riding at 6:30 – nearly 11 and 1/2 hours after we started.

This blog is notably short- it is already late and I’m exhausted. Nonetheless, I wanted to update you on the day and offer the video below to share the topography of the ride with you. You can pause the video to look at the pictures. Place your cursor near the bottom of the screen and a pause button should appear on the left side. After clicking on it, an arrow will replace the pause icon and clicking on the arrow will resume the video.

Day 8 – Ride Across America

Being a counselor in the GTG program is an incredible honor and privilege. I feel truly blessed every day to be able to join kiddos in their pain, anger and confusion. My hope is that our program can be a small part of their healing process and that they can find comfort in knowing they are not alone on their journey. – GTG Counselor

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Dear Readers, Today is a rest day for us and our bodies need it! Nonetheless, it is a busy day with laundry to do, a thorough bike maintenance and cleaning, a brisk walk of 2 miles, a visit to the bike store for new gloves and few other items, cleaning our water bottles, visit Francois in the hospital, stretch and catch up on sleep. Most important, it is a time for me to talk with family, my partner and friends. And, since the first day of the trip, eat enough to satisfy my exercise induced appetite.

We have covered 847 miles ( about 25 miles less for me due to the ambulance ride yesterday). We’ve done 3 of the 5 days of more than 130 miles/day. Tomorrow is a ride of 137 miles to Las Vegas and May 25th is a ride of 137 miles to Dunkirk, NY.

Recovery from exercise is an important factor in muscle care both in building muscle when training and in preventing overuse that can reduce muscle output. The device I use to follow our course and keep track of my performance data recommends rest recovery of more than 24 hours based on age, miles ridden and cardiac output. So, except for today and the rest day in Springfield, I will not get the full recovery recommended. So, keep a steady pace, eat and drink well and rest whenever possible.

On this day of rest, I feel grateful for this wonderful opportunity to see the country by bicycle. I am supported by family, friends, my partner and you, the readers of this blog. I have received education from the Growing Through Grief staff and we can share with readers the quotations the team has gathered from students, teachers and family members. The Park Nicollet Foundation team, especially Paul Danicic, has helped me organize the fundraising effort and given guidance on the blog and communications. The Communications department of HealthPartners has arranged interviews with Cathy Wurzer and Eden Teller. And, many others have helped me along the way. It brings me great joy realizing that we are all working together to raise money for Growing Through Grief.

An update on Francois. He will be discharged from the hospital tomorrow and will take a train back to New York. The bilateral pneumothorax is a contraindication to travel by air for weeks. After many months planning for this trip he is disappointed, but accepting of what he must do. We’ll miss his humor, his French accent and his colorful clothing.

Now, some additional photos for your interest. And I’ll hurry off to sleep for a 5 am breakfast.

Thorough check both inside and out of Jen’s rear tire following a flat. I found the little wire from the steel belted radial tire of a semi that went through her tire. We are just inside the NM border
Leading Judy on the road to Sedona
Jim doing mechanics on our bikes this morning. The most experienced, patient and thoughtful mechanic I’ve ever met.
Cleaning bike, chain, gears, checking spokes and wheel rim at insert of spokes looking for cracks. Apply new lubricant to chain. Hotel parking lot, Albuquerque.
Taking flight near Sedona, AZ
Getting ready to ride in van past road construction, yesterday.
On the road to Gallup, NM

Finally, when you can, please visit YouTube and check for a video on Bugs Bunny and Albuquerque. An old time cartoon favorite and appropriate for this leg of the trip. “I should have taken a left at Albuquerque!”

Day 7, Ride Across America – Gallup to Albuquerque

Riding to raise money to provide counseling and support for grieving children.

Today was remarkable and memorable in many ways. Gallup was very cold this am – low 30s when we loaded bikes at 6 am. We were required to get a van lift past construction to the site on the road of the Continental Divide – see photo. After photos, we biked to the local gas station and gift shop for a bathroom. I heard Navajo language being spoken by one of the clerks talking on the phone – a very soft and pretty sounding language and a reminder of the Code Breakers of WWII.

Much of the ride was on old Route 66. Along the way, a few towns still exist and hundreds of scattered homes are lived in. However, most buildings, businesses, homes, churches and municipal buildings had been abandoned and were in decay. In the background, Interstate 40 hummed with semi trucks and motor homes – greatly outnumbering cars. On the other side of us,, trains past every 45 to 90 minutes, each with 4 – 6 locomotives and hundreds of cars. See photos of some scenes along I 40.

Interstate I 40 also runs through the northern side of the El Malpais lava flow south of the town of Grant. (see the picture of cactus growing from lava in Relive video.)

Lunch finished by 11:45 and we started biking again. At noon, I passed Marco standing a few feet off the road. At dinner, he explained that in the Netherlands on May 4th at 8 pm, the people observe 2 moments of silence to remember the Dutch victims of WWII. Tonight, he also included all peacekeepers who have died in service since then. Our noon time is 8 pm in the Netherlands.

Biking downhill at 2:25 pm, about 25 miles outside of Albuquerque, I saw one our bikers laying face down on the shoulder just in front of a sign that spanned the width of the shoulder. Francois had fallen hitting his nose, left side of head, left shoulder, hip and knee. Fellow bikers immediately controlled the scene by directing traffic, another called 911 and Mike our leader. I cared for him until the ambulance arrived and I went with him to the University of New Mexico Hospital. Francois had sustained a concussion, fractured his left collarbone and had bilateral pneumothorax. At 6 pm, he finally remembered trying to ride around the sign, but he caught the edge, lost his balance and fell. It is expected he’ll get out of the hospital tomorrow and he’ll be able to go home. The ABB staff will ship his bike for him. We are all concerned about his welfare and saddened that he will not continue with us.

Below is the abbreviated ride due to the van ride to the start and ending the ride at the accident. The speed of 72 mph occurred during a van ride for a few miles to get passed construction.


Day 6 Ride across America

This is why I am riding. To raise money for Growing Through Grief :

“I always look forward to grief group. Even if it’s a week when there are a lot of students who are sad and crying it feels so good to be with people where we all understand the pain of having someone we love die.  I not only like receiving support from the group, I like giving support, too.” – GTG Student

We started the day early with a 5 am breakfast and a 6 am start for Jen, Judy and myself. With temps in the 40’s, I wore a jacket, ear band and full fingered gloves. At mile 17, we were loaded into the van for a short drive past road construction.

Our first rest stop was at 38 miles, the Hopi Travel Plaza. There, a couple from Texas asking about our ride with America by Bicycle, heard about the Growing Through Grief program and gave me $5 for it. “It is an important cause”, the wife said.

After I spoke with the couple, I went back to my bike and found the rear tire was flat – I had picked up a piece of wire that punctured the inner tube. The tire was thoroughly checked for other wires and glass and then, with a new inner tube, put back on the wheel and inflated.

As we drew closer to Gallop, the scenery began to change – see photos in video – with beautiful hills and caves carved into the stone from indigenous peoples. Soon after our second sag stop, we entered New Mexico. A few minutes later, Jen had a flat and a problem with her chain, so our arrival into Gallop was delayed until 6:15. New Mexico is an hour later than Arizona during Daylight savings time. So, total time en route was 11 1/2 hours and we covered 131.5 miles. Again, a problem with the odometer will a show a shorter distance than we covered..

Those personal contact points with the bike have been taking a beating. I have bandages on the hands for blisters and the feet are sore, especially the toes. The bottom, well, it needs attention. Ointment tonight and, in addition to chamois cream, I’ll start wearing two biking shorts tomorrow. I don’t want skin breakdown to interfere with the trip.

5 am breakfast and a 6 am luggage load in the morning. I hope this hotel is not as noisy as last night in Winslow!