Thursday, 04 September 1997

I had just graduated high school and decided that I wanted to go on the Klobuchar bike trip. It is a week long, roughly 500 mile bike trip that is sponsored in part by one of the local newspapers. One of their columnists, Jim Klobuchar, started the mass bike ride many years ago. Originally my graduation present was to be a trip out East with my mom and my brother. I ended up on the bike trip while they went out East and I have never regretted that decision, not even for a minute.

Every day was a new adventure. From waking up and being amazed that you’re alive, to night time when you can’t believe what you’ve done and what you have yet to do. I can’t remember the details from most of the trip. Some things do stand out that make it one of the most memorable times of my life.

The first day was probably the most amazing to me. Gathering at a high school 20 miles out of town there were about 300 people, like myself, that were along for the ride. They represented many different levels of abilities and came from all walks of life.

The day went from awe to exhaustion however. The wind during the first half of the day was incredible. 22 miles per hour heading East. Unfortunately we were heading West. The group I was with traded off for the lead positions with the rest of us forming two columns using the front people as a sort of wind break. When one of the people in front would get tired they would drop back and the next person would take the lead. And so it went, everyone getting a turn.

Slowly but surely, the group got smaller as the morning wore on. People would break off the group to stop and rest for a bit. Eventually I started to get dehydrated and wore out. One person coming by gave me one of his spare water bottles to help me get back on my feet again. In the state I was in, I couldn’t have thanked him enough.

Finally we made it to our lunch destination. A leisurely meal and we were off again. Thankfully the wind and our path changed directions. Now the wind was at our backs for the most part and had died down some. By nightfall I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. I knew I was in over my head, taking on such a long trip, but I was determined to make it all the way through.

The wind quieted down to a mere breeze the next day. It gave me time to take in the sights and actually enjoy the ride. The people in the towns along our route never ceased to amaze me. We’d pass by farms and houses and the owners would be standing out side and wave as we went by. We made a rest stop in almost every town. There were people around with watermelon, cookies, water, lemonade, and always a kind word. I guess it was a big deal to them.

The most amazing group wasn’t really a town, per se. I forget what day, but it was in the morning, around 10 or so that we came across this immaculate white church. Very Scandinavian style construction. So white that you’d swear they scrubbed the thing down with bleach every other week. The inside was as amazing as the outside. The woodwork was fantastic and extremely well kept. Everything about the church, the building, pipe organ, pews, even the hymnals, was taken care of with great pride.

The real reason for our stop however was not a study in architecture. Like most rest stops, we were expected. This time it was a ton of food. Watermelon by the patch, sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade that certainly didn’t say Kool-aid on the package. I wish I could remember the name of little church, or what town it was nearest to. I’d like to go back andi spend some more time there.

Ever been caught in a tornado? How about on a bicycle? Well, we did that. It’s not an experience I’d care to repeat. The group I was with got blown off the road twice before we decided to take shelter. Everything got soaked to the core–sleeping bags, tents, clothes, you name it. After the rain stopped, we descended on this little town about five miles later. In small groups we paraded through a couple laundromats to dry everything out as much as possible. For some reason cold rainwater isn’t exactly pleasant. Luckily it was the town we were to stay in that night. When they saw the rain, the school district opened up the local high school for anyone that wanted to sleep inside that night. About 150 of us decided that we’d wimp out that night and slept in the school gym, tents and all.

The most memorable thing about the trip were my fellow travelers. During the day I’d ride with several different groups, meeting many different people. One of the funniest people was a gentleman in his early 70’s. He was a riot to talk with and had lots of great stories to tell. He’d be plugging right along on his 30 year old, three speed bike. It didn’t have a spot of rust on it. This wasn’t his first time on the trip, and from what I heard it wouldn’t be anywhere near his last. He was heard to say that he won’t quit making this trip until it starts to cut into his polka schedule. If you ask me, he kept up on the trip better than most. I just saw in the paper two or three years ago that he was on the trip again that year too.

It was incredible waking up every morning, watching the sun rise over our little city of tents, and the sunset every night, in a different town, over the same sea of bicycles and tents. I’ll always have fond memories of that week. One of these years, I’ll get off my duff and go again, just to refresh my memory. I never seem to find the time and I miss the experience.

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