Day 17 – Ride Across America, Topeka,KS to Cameron, MO

The program has allowed my son to grieve outside of the home, which can be beneficial for a teenager who sometimes likes to keep their thoughts private from their parents. – Parent of a GTG Student

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Good weather greeted us this morning, our last one in Kansas. An alumni from the ABB ride in 2009, who lives in Topeka, met us after breakfast and rode to the mid-point of our trip with us. (Please see photos of mid-point in video.) I had a strong ride to the first sag and then to Atchison, past gently rolling hills of eastern, KS. ( See photos of street sign in Atchison, a commemorative stone marking the site Lewis and Clark stayed in Atchison on their historic journey and trains with Santa Fe markings ) The road across the bridge to MO was closed so we put bikes on the van and drove south past Fort Leavanworth – now a prison- and crossed over the Missouri river into MO at that point.

Following north along the eastern side of the river bottom for a few miles, we turned east and began climbing the first of many hills for the day. (biker joke – what do you see from the top of a Missouri hill? The next hill to climb). In addition to the hills, the landscape was dotted with trees and forests – a significant change from most of KS. The large, seemingly endless fields of crops in KS were replaced with the smaller family farm that included crops and cattle in MO ( much like MN farms) . The fields planted on the rolling hills, outlined by trees. Many of the homes were small – but well maintained and many had gardens. Lunch was at the central square of the small town of De Kalb, pop 200. By now, the temp was in the 70s with significant humidity. The combination of repetitive hill climbing with warm temperature made for an unpleasant afternoon. Most people agreed, they were ready to stop at 100 miles.

As we drew closer to Cameron, the farm houses grew larger, the grounds more interesting. Some homes also had facilities for smoking meats or an outdoor pond or above ground pool. Cameron has a small airport with at least 6 single engine planes seen in the hanger.

I finally arrived at 5:20 pm, exhausted after riding 121.7 miles and sore at all points of contact with the bike. In addition, I had swallowed a few bugs and others remained stuck to the layer of sunscreen that I wear on my face. Biking for me, especially up hills, has never been conducive to breathing only through your nose. Just glad I haven’t swallowed a stinging insect, thus far. After a long shower and a full dose of anti-inflammatories, I ate pizza with the group. As I walk,I can feel the discomfort in my legs and I am concerned about what biking will look like tomorrow.

As I write this, it has been raining with some dime sized hail for the last 20 minutes. Fortunately, the rain will stop soon and tomorrow is forecast to be warm and dry. 6 am breakfast and load by 6:45.

The video will show both my bike ride – as well as the u shaped detour along the western side and the eastern side of the Missouri river.

Tomorrow, we ride to Kirksville.

Day 16 – Ride Across America for GTG, Abilene to Topeka, KS

Imagine losing a parent or sibling or other loved one while in middle school.  Now imagine having a safe place to process this grief with a trained professional and the support of your peers.  Growing through Grief becomes a life line for students at a vulnerable time in their lives.  We are extremely grateful for this important program and the support it provides.

– Participating school Dean of Students

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A cool morning gave way to a beautiful afternoon and the added headwinds challenged us on this shorter than average distance day. Our first sag stop was at Katy Park in the town of White City. It was named after the superintendent of the railroad at the time. New Chicago and Swedeland were also considered as many of the Scandinavian townspeople had migrated from Chicago. See photo in the video. It is a lovely little town with many flower gardens displaying white and purple iris, orange poppies and white bridal veil. Further on, flat farmland gave way to rolling hillsides. Rock could be seen throughout the fields and appeared just below the surface at outcroppings. Cattle in groups on the hillside and near the fences adjacent to the Hwy showed curiosity about us as we passed. A few farms also had sheep, goats and asses. Our lunch, at mile 76 in Eskridge, was also in a park, the sun in a cloudless sky warming us while we ate.

Most of our route was on Hwy 4 and the rolling hills gave way to washboard like hills that could seen from a distance. A sign of Missouri roads to come, the peaks followed by troughs in the road occurred at 200 yard intervals. So, one pedaled consistently, but the speed you gathered going downhill didn’t carry you over the next hill. Difficult to maintain consistent output over the hills, I find it more tiresome than pedaling uphill against a consistent grade.

Ideally, on these endurance rides of 100 miles and more, one eats and drinks as you go. About a bottle of water every hour – more if warm and perspiring and a bar or other food about as often. It is the best way to minimize the ebb and flow of energy and maintain constant work output. It is a habit I need to practice and avoid eating all my calories at meals.

We had been prepped about some Kansas drivers not wanting to share the road with bikers. Another apparent statement against bikers were noticeable sculptures made from old bicycles that did not appear to have a positive impression about bikers, according to our leader. To prove the point, we had our share of drivers getting too close to us when there was room for them to move over a lane. And, I did get a flat (my fourth)- exactly at the driveway of an “artist” who made the bike sculpture. It turns out that he was a nice guy ( with a nice dog) and offered to help me. The flat occurred 12 miles from our destination, just when I wanted to be done. I arrived at the hotel at 4:30, enough time for a shower before afternoon Rap. Tomorrow, we enter Missouri, 59 miles into our 121.7 mile day.

After Rap, I was allowed to speak about the ABCDEs of skin cancer. A for asymmetry, B for an indistinct border, C for color change, D for diameter greater than 6 mm and E for evolution over time or everything else, especially a wound that doesn’t heal when it should. We briefly reviewed the 3 main types of skin cancer: Basal Cell, Squamous cell and Melanoma. Sun screen use, taking photos of moles with a millimeter ruler next to the lesion and checking family members and friends for these signs was discussed. Of course, any new or worrisome lesion must be checked by one’s primary care or a dermatologist.

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!”