Hot Corner: Looking back 20 years
By Rich Palzewic
Having dreams and reminiscing makes life tolerable.
I can’t remember the exact moment I thought of riding my bicycle across the country, but it was sometime during the summer of 1999 teaching summer school in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
I’d been putting on tons of miles for years and knew the timing was right – I wasn’t married, had the summers off and didn’t have much responsibility.
I signed up for Coast-to-Coast 2000, a nine-week bicycle journey across the United States, shortly thereafter.
Being 27 at the time, I thought I could conquer the world, but I was nervous.
If you commit to something you’re scared about, it forces you to prepare.
The 4,300-mile tour, sponsored by Cycle America, began in Everett, Washington, and ended 63 days later in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
One week after school ended in 2000, I boarded an Amtrak train and headed west for the June 18 start date.
I chose a tour company because all I wanted to do was ride my bike.
Cycle America transported my luggage from town to town, marked a daily route, printed cue sheets, provided ride support, set up places to eat and planned sleeping arrangements.
We didn’t stay in luxurious motels, but rather campgrounds and inside schools.
Men snoring all night made it difficult to sleep at times.
I’ve saved my maps and plan to ride parts of the trip again someday.
I became a machine – wake up, eat, ride, sightsee, finish, shower, journal, eat, set up my sleeping pad and sleep.
I’d do it again the next day, 54 ride days total, averaging 80 miles per day.
I’d eat 5,000 calories per day, but I was always hungry.
In my opinion, the trip was more mentally challenging than physical.
Riding 30 miles uphill over the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming was tough, but knowing you had to do it again the next day was a bigger challenge.
The main mountain ranges I crossed were the Cascades, Bitterroots, Big Horns and the Tetons in the west and the Green and White ranges in the east.
After Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were traversed, South Dakota brought much beauty and heartache.
I got sick in Pierre, the capital, and spent three hours in the hospital because of food poisoning and dehydration.
Luckily, the next day was an off-day (we got one day off a week), so I was able to recover.
My most difficult day came on July 18, a 95-mile jaunt from Pierre to Miller, South Dakota.
It should have been a pretty ride along the Missouri River, but 95 miles into a massive headwind with rain and 50-degree temperatures didn’t quite cut it for me
There were zero reasons to be riding a bike, but I did it because I had to.
I could have taken the support vehicle to the next town like some others did, but I wanted to ride every mile that summer, which I’m happy to say I accomplished.
I use the same philosophy today: Sometimes life stinks, but you wake up and grind your way through the day on many occasions because you have to.
Sometimes I’m less patient with people nowadays because of that day, though.
I think to myself, “If I can ride seven hours on my bike with rain and a 25-mph headwind, you can work a little harder.”
South Dakota was my favorite and least-favorite state.
The beauty of the Black Hills and Badlands (despite the 112-degree heat) is unmatched, but it’s also where I got sick and had one of the worst days of my life riding a bike.
Riding across Minnesota and Wisconsin rejuvenated me – I saw family and friends for five days straight.
Soon enough, I was a passenger on the SS Badger ferry steaming across Lake Michigan and riding my bike again through Michigan, Ontario (Canada), New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.
Dipping my tires in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 19, 2000, will always be one of the happiest and saddest days of my life.
I was relieved to be done and not riding my bike 4-5 hours per day, but I was lost at the same time.
A week later, I was in Rhinelander again teaching social studies to sixth-graders.
I put 10,000 miles on my bike that year, 5,000 more than I put on my vehicle during the same time.
I don’t ride as much anymore, but I still average about 3,500 miles per season.
I diversify my activity more these days and have fun doing it.
Cycling is a great way to lose weight, think about the world’s problems and come up with solutions.
We currently have some ongoing issues in our country, but cycling helps me forget about COVID-19, whether my daughter will go back to school in the fall and when life will return to normal.
I spent 236 hours on my bike during the summer of 2000, averaging 18.2 mph.
My bike computer measured my altitude gain, and it registered 158,490 feet of uphill climb – comparable to ascending Mount Everest more than five times.
I had 10 flat tires, ate an estimated 351,000 calories, produced approximately 1,237,806 pedal strokes and touched four Great Lakes.
My top speed was 57 mph careening down Teton Pass in Wyoming, and my longest ride day was 108 miles.