Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Touring Series: I Give Up!

A Guitar Ted Productions series
Thanks for joining me again on another adventure in "The Touring Series". This tour was dubbed the "Race Against Death Tour". This tour occurred in August of 1995. The three participants, Ryan, Troy, and your's truly, left from Cedar Falls, Iowa to try and get to Winter Park, Colorado in two weeks. Here I am reproducing the tale, mostly as it was posted on the blog in 2009. There are some new edits and additions. I also will add new remarks and memories where appropriate at the end of each post. 

 Once again, there were no cell phones, internet, social media platforms, or digital cameras in use by we tourers in 1995. I will post images where I can, but this tour wasn't well documented in images, so there probably will be very few sprinkled throughout. A modern image will be used only where it depicts things I want to clarify, like where we were in that part of the tour via a map image, or the like.

The "Touring Series" will appear every Sunday until it ends. Look for past entries by scrolling back to a previous Sunday's post, or type in "Touring Series" in the search box to find more. 

We rejoin the Race Against Death Tour now as the three riders leave Scenic, South Dakota after seeing an inebriated Native American rise out of the tall prairie grass behind the convenience store.

The shock of the man "rising from the dead" out of the grass back in Scenic was soon forgotten. Our attention was now focused on the road ahead. Troy, naturally, was making the pace and his emotions drove us down the road at such a speed we couldn't converse for a while. 
It wasn't long before we ran into several grasshoppers along the road. Big green ones. They were jumping around and getting on our legs and on our bags. Hitch hiking insects! But that wasn't the worst of it. The throng of hoppers thickened, to the point that the entire roadway was covered from ditch to ditch. This slowed us down and we remarked at the weirdness of it all. As if we hadn't already seen enough weird things!

Image credit- USDA- APHIS

But it got weirder. Hoppers were going through our spokes and under our wheels at such a rate that our tire treads were green with bug guts. The spokes were singing a "plinkity-plink" tune as the insects hopped through the whirling mass of wires to their inevitable death. Every so often, a giant orangish-red hopper would be seen. Dwarfing the already enormous green brethren, these would make a serious "clunk!"if they got caught up in the whirling machinery.

As the surreal plague of insects played itself out, we were mesmerized by the spectacle and the sound. Suddenly, I became aware of some movement ahead. As I looked up, I saw a wall of insects peeling away from the surface of the road as if someone, or something, was turning the page of a very large book. The wave swept over us with a deafening roar, and our bicycles almost came to a halt.


Not just any old wind, but a wind that wasn't there, and suddenly was. The power of the gust was immense. Maybe a blast of 40-50mph at the snap of a finger. That's what blew the insects off the road, and us to a near stop. It wasn't just a gust either, it was not giving up. It just kept blowing at this incredible rate. Once we figured out it wasn't going to stop, we got into a line and started taking turns pulling at the front. It was slow going. We all ended up in our lowest gears. Unable to move much faster than ten miles an hour, usually less, we were obliged to stop after about two miles of butting heads with this wind. Completely exhausted, surprised, and baffled. We didn't know quite what to make of it.

 Stopped alongside the road, with the roaring wind in our ears, we tried to come up with ideas for what to do to carry on. Running nose to tail wasn't giving any relief. The wind was so strong, there was no draft. It was so loud, we had to yell at each other to be heard. Besides, we were afraid we would take each other out working so hard so close together. The wind couldn't last like this, or could it? There was some debate upon this point, but Troy was of a mind that any dilly-dallying would cause unnecessary delay. Finally, we decided to roll out, facing the wind mano-a-mano with what energy we could muster.

It was simply brutal. We could only manage approximately two miles at a crack before we would pull over exhausted. After resting for five to ten minutes, we would get back to it. Heads down, roaring wind all around, weaving due to the low speeds and in our lowest gears. It was borderline impossible to move forward and mentally draining.

At one point the road turned 90 degrees to cross a small river. The landscape was such that it funneled the wind down the steeply cut banks and around the steep, grassy hills rising above on either side. The wind actually intensified here. We were getting the blast from our right sides in this half mile stretch. I wobbled, got the bike steadied, wobbled, steadied.......finally I found a balancing point. The ground looked strange. I looked up and ahead for the first time after entering the crosswind. I laughed out loud at what I was seeing.

Ryan was up ahead about 50 yards. He was riding along steadily, at a 45 degree angle to the road leaning into the wind! My bags were close to grazing the pavement on the right side, and it seemed as if we were "surfing" or "flying" our bicycles rather than riding them. I felt that if the wind were to gust slightly higher, it would topple us over to the left and right into oncoming traffic. I figured we wouldn't hit the road, but the opposite ditch, if we didn't get struck by an oncoming car or truck. Throughout all of this, Troy dangled off the back, but at the time, I was too busy to mark the oddness of that.

Finally we turned back into the wind, and getting out of the river valley lessened the winds intensity. This was far better than the crosswind! We stopped, amazed at what we had just experienced, sheltering in some boulders next to the roadway. Troy took the opportunity to relax and stretched out on his back on the ground. Not long afterward, a motorcyclist pulled up and stopped. He wanted to know if we were okay, and then before we could answer him he cut himself short and said, "Oh, you guys are on bicycles! I thought a motorcycle went down." He bade us farewell and motored off.

So, since we weren't "motorcyclists" we were okay to have trouble and injury? We were a bit miffed about that, but also amused. I mean, how else could you react on a day like this? After a laugh and a decision to try to lengthen out each riding section to four miles, we were off.

I am not sure exactly where it was, but somewhere in the next stretch I had that moment. A pivotal moment in ones life. It just happened to be while riding a bicycle. I think riding a bicycle helped me get to this point, no doubt, but the moment was far bigger and more meaningful than a bicycle ride. I found out a lot about Life, me, and my future in about ten minutes time.

Ryan and Troy had found a rhythm, the wind had lessened a bit, and hills had kicked in that left me dangling way off the back. I finally couldn't even see them up ahead. As I became desperate, I cursed, and I yelled, and yes, I cried. I was having a fit in the middle of no where. I gave up. Then I finally had what a friend of mine used to call "a come to Jesus meeting". Well, I had that meeting right there on my bike.

 I suppose the epic, insane, over the top experiences I was having during this day helped. I suppose the situation my life was in was a contributing factor. I don't know if it makes any sense to anyone else out there, but for me, I finally figured out that I wasn't in charge of my life, God was. Well, all I knew at the time was that a big part of my frustration with life in general was gone that very moment. I was at peace with things by the time I noticed that up ahead, Troy and Ryan had stopped to wait for me.

After a bit of a rest, we soldiered on, but the efforts of the afternoon had started to take a toll. First thing was that we were dangerously low on water, and we had a long way to go to get to a resupply. We decided to stop at the first farm house we could find.

A day of truly biblical proportions. A day that, even now, I find incredible. I know that no one will probably believe it. But it did happen and it was the day that started me on a big change in my life.

The wind was nuts. I maybe have ridden twice since then in wind close to that. Once was at a Renegade Gents Race where our five man team was running in echelon to beat the quartering headwind that day. I was thinking a lot about that day on the tour again while riding the gravel South of Ames. But of course, the tour experience was different. I had been broken- drained over the previous week, mentally, physically, and spiritually, and I was in a much different place. The Gent's Race had me in a familiar place, surrounded by friends and people. This tour found me in a wasteland of grassy hills all alone. Completely broken.

Next Week: Beggars Again


CrossTrail said...


Ari said...

Amazing! That you for sharing that story. It just got filed in the deep of my brain. Ari

Okie Outdoorsman said...

Great post! I do believe it, as I have had my own "come to Jesus moment" in life. To those who have been there, and experienced that, there is nothing like it. Hard to explain, but real, nevertheless. Loved this series, and have really enjoyed the stories. I appreciate you sharing with us, GT!