Good things come to those who wait
BY KIERSTIN KLOECKNER
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
It’s July 27th – exactly five weeks since the summer solstice and five weeks from when I was supposed to complete the most challenging ride of my life – to ride across Wisconsin, my route being around 245 miles, without the use of a car … solo. Mother nature, however, was a fickle woman and forced me to wait patiently.
Here I sit, in the Intermodal station in Milwaukee, waiting for my Amtrak train to roll in and bring me to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for my final leg. I’m currently a little over 100 miles into my journey (I chose to wander a bit in Milwaukee and dip my wheels into Lake Michigan since I had time to spare) and am trying to “shush” all those life decision questions that are taunting me. If all goes well, I will pull into La Crosse around 7:30 pm and begin a long night of rail trail riding before tackling the Baraboo hills south of Reedsburg around sunrise.
Only a few people know I’m doing this. I kept it this was to ease the pressure. I’ve always done better tackling big challenges alone and in semi-secrecy, but I’m also not stupid and made sure to have three emergency contacts “just in case.” But for now, I will put those “just in case” scenarios out of my head and will just enjoy the adventure.
“Why?” is the question I’m sure I’ll be asked if I complete this. Why in 24 hours? Honestly, there is no reason other than it seemed like a cool challenge wrapped up in a tidy little package. This weekend marks two amazing 24-hour bike events: Riverwest24 (this is the first time I’ve missed it in many years) and Wausau 24 (where a lot of my mountain bike friends are pummeling themselves). There’s just something special about one trip around the sun. Why solo? I’m stubborn and independent – to a fault, some of my friends will say. But really, I just felt it necessary to go my own pace and tackle my physical and mental exhaustion on my own. Why without a car? The thought of doing this ride with others while doing a car drop in both Milwaukee and La Crosse did cross my mind last year, but I really don’t like cars, and aside from two wheels, my favorite form of transportation is by train. I love being able to sit back and watch the world go by at a civil pace. I may not wax poetically about train travel like Paul Theroux, but there is no denying train travel makes you much more aware of your surroundings compared to planes or cars.
Leg No. 2
While waiting on the platform to hand my fully assembled bike over (many of Amtrak’s routes now offer this service for a small fee), I had the best conversation with the staff. The past 15 years of air travel has killed most of the joy and art of travel for me. Everyone in airports, or on planes, seems angry and agitated. This is different. I had forgotten what smiles look like on the faces of staff and passengers. It’s soothing.
I’m sharing my car with a large Amish family, also headed to La Crosse, which is near where many Wisconsin Amish call home. I will be passing through those communities tonight on the trail, hoping to catch a glimpse of their farms under the full blood moon.
Leg No. 3
The past twelve 12 hours seem like a blur. I am home. I am in a sleep-deprived daze. I am both fatigued and ramped up all at the same time. I am happy I *almost* succeeded in my challenge and at the same time sad it’s done. For some reason, I cannot rest yet. I want to cherish what I’ve just done and all the beautiful things I saw and felt.
My train pulled into La Crosse just a little behind schedule due to a freight train blocking the tracks. Even while disembarking and gathering my bike, the Amtrak staff made me laugh while pretending to have misplaced my bike. I needed the laugh since my nerves were a little rattled. My first destination was finding a Kwik Trip to restock for the night ahead. I had purposely eaten healthfully until now knowing I would be living off fast food from this point on. After replenishing my bag and belly, I rode past Blue Steel Bikes (my usual home away from home in La Crosse) and hit the first of three rail trails. Although the daylight was fading, I chose to keep my lights off until I had no choice to conserve their battery power, but also to enjoy the sunset and rising of the full moon over the coulees. As I came close to Sparta, dubbed the “Bicycling Capital of America,” two deer crossed the trail no more than 15 feet in front of me. No need for an energy drink! I was then fully awake, heart pounding out of my chest.
As the dark settled in, the temperature began to drop. Fifty-six degrees was the forecasted low for the night. I knew quite quickly this would not be the case and I had made a substantial error by not packing more warm clothes. I began to worry just before Norwalk. The condensation in the long tunnel acted more like rain (a heavy rain I might add) and soaked me to the bone. Then, nearing Wilton, the fog rolled in. As the temps plummeted to 48, I began to shiver and beg for the long slow inclines found on most rail trails. The small towns passed by. In Elroy, I started wondering if I should call in for a pick up since I wasn’t warming up. No luck. None of the gas stations or small motels were open and since this is the driftless area, of course, I had no cell coverage. I had only one choice and that was to push on to Reedsburg, the largest town on the multi-rail trail line. Once I decided this, for some reason I warmed up and relaxed into the ride. I knew I wouldn’t freeze to death and the discomfort could only be temporary if I found shelter in town.
One-hundred-eighty-five miles into my journey, just after 2 am, and I chose to pull into a Quality Inn and seek shelter for a couple hours. I wasn’t happy doing so, but I knew I needed it. Walking into a hotel and asking if they have a room for a couple hours isn’t an easy task. Thankfully, the person working took pity on me and gave me a break from their nightly charge. A long hot shower and an hour in clean sheets made a world of difference! I woke, ate the rest of my provisions, drank a quick cup of coffee and hit the roads leading over the Baraboo range (yes, once a mountain range). I watched the sun rise and cast a golden light over the tall corn crops, I dug deep to climb the long hills and cherished the long descents which followed. I felt good – really good – until hitting the Wisconsin River only 25 miles from home – bonk! Oh yes, I was waiting for this. I had also asked for it since I was too stubborn to refuel in Prairie du Sac. The thought of beer somehow guided me home, and there I was, laughing as a group of roadie friends flew by me at a blistering pace, a mere 15 miles from home. As I had promised myself, I dumped my belongings I had carried with me onto the floor once I reached my destination and headed to the grocery store for some liquid nourishment. Sure, it was 9 am (about two hours over my 24-hour goal) but I earned it. The only words which came to me at that point were “stick a fork in me, I’m done.”
In just under 26 hours, I traveled 244 miles. I burned a ton of calories and consumed many as well. I had multiple near misses with kamikaze deer, skunk, opossum, rabbits and ground squirrels, but also too many smiles to count.