I’m a sucker for those things that go around Facebook like “30 Things that Prove You’re Getting Old” and lists telling me how far away the 1990s are (huh, that was like 5 years ago, right?!). I remember reading one listing out things that everyone should do once in their life. “Going on a vacation by yourself” was on that list, and I know it sounds crazy to a lot of people. But now after my 10 day excursion across the US for the mountain bike nationals by myself, I realize it is something everyone should do!
Roughly 1,700 miles each way from Cheyenne, WY to Allentown, PA (with pit stops along the way that I’m sure added in more miles), and then another 100 miles from PA to Lakewood, NJ, and then alllllll way back to WY made for an interesting adventure. My parents and friends and others around me did express concern over me taking this trip by myself, but I didn’t have anyone to go with me and life (aka mountain bike racing) doesn’t stop because I don’t have a travel companion! I did wonder how stir crazy I’d go in a car with myself for hours on end, and what would happen if something was to go wrong in a far-away state. Luckily, my 10 days were mostly hiccup free, and I have come to love solitary travel. Your own schedule, your own plans, your own crazy music choices!
I mostly wanted to document my trip for myself… so here it goes!
Day 1: Cheyenne, WY to Adel, IA – July 11th
The day is here! Unfortunately I didn’t get the best of sleep and when my alarm went off at 6:15am I almost considered pushing snooze. Then I remembered I had a 9-odd hour drive ahead of me to get to that night’s destination, and my car wasn’t going to drive itself to nationals! I had loaded up most of my stuff in the car the night before and only had my coolers and bathroom bag to load up, along with the bikes. The bikes took longer than I though as I had never used “bike bras” before and it took me a few attempts to get them on (key thing: put them on BEFORE putting the bike on top of a Subaru Forester, unless you’re a giant). Then I had to figure out how to wrap my lock cable through the 3 bikes and still have the two ends meet so I could lock it. I skipped breakfast, and hit the road just shy of 7am.
The drive was pretty uneventful. Somewhere in the midden of forsaken Nebraska I downloaded an app that gives current elevation so I could marvel at the elevation drop that occurs once you head east from Cheyenne. Traffic wasn’t bad, but I took to pounding my head on the dashboard over the miserable fuel mileage I was getting. I found an XM station that had a top concussion expert on talking about concussion injuries, and then some other sports medicine topics that were fairly engaging. I hate Nebraska… Crossing over into Iowa was a relief, and I have always kind of liked driving through Iowa and find it pretty, though the rolling hills didn’t play nice with my already sucky gas mileage. I ended up getting a meatball sub from Subway a few miles from my campsite, and I rolled into the KOA campground in Adel, IA at 5pm on the mark (I “lost” an hour in Nebraska when I crossed into Central Time).
Here it goes… first night ever camping by myself, even if it was in a modern campground with bathrooms and showers. I picked out a nice site with a big tree, as it was cloudy and I had passed through rain in NE so I knew it was headed my way. Jim had walked me through how to set up my tent efficiently before I had left (whoa, who knew it could be so easy?!), so I was semi-confident I could get it up quickly. Which I did, and I did a little happy dance. I got my bedding situated (1000 thread count sheets while camping, don’t judge!), and set up my chair which promptly broke. I needed to use the restroom so I got the Fate off the roof and rode it around for a few miles in the horribly thick air. Then I hung out, reading stuff on my phone since I couldn’t pick up the wifi from my site. I was quite exhausted so I ended up passing out in the tent about 8:30pm
At 3:30am a pretty decent storm rolled through with wind which woke me up. It rained but the tree I was under helped shield me from most of it. I woke up by 7am or so and marveled that I survived my first night alone in a tent alive, dry, and well rested!
Day 2: Adel, IA to North Liberty, IA to Riverside, IA to Rock Island, IL – July 12th
I was a bit stupid in the fact I figured my Iowa mountain biking trails would be like they were last year – above water, dry, and open to ride. Eeek, I was wrong. Lots of rain leading up to my trip and also during this leg of my trip meant my Day 2 plans for Iowa mountain biking adventures were pretty much out the window. Since I was planning on racing in Davenport the next day, I had to stick around the area. So I continued onto Sugar Bottom Recreation Area outside of North Liberty, hoping maybe I could ride the fun trails there like I did last year, even if it was from a high water entrance.
Um, no. Not happening Heidi. The bike wash station was actually under a lake. Literally, Coralville Lake. The sign going in said the trails were open but when I called the ICORR hotline they said the trails were closed and you could get ticketed for riding. I looked around, the sole dummy in the parking lot with two mountain bikes on the roof of their car. It was still early in the day, and I had to do something… so I suited up, and got my road bike off the roof. Gotta make lemonade out of these lemons!
Iowa, you impress with the steep grades and elevation gain! The road in and out of Sugar Bottom is punishing, I think I saw a 35% climb on my GPS file. I rode out of the recreation area and got on the road towards Solon. I didn’t want to stray too far as I was a bit anxious about leaving the mountain bikes on the roof unattended (even though they were locked), and plus I didn’t want to get lost. I rode out 5 miles, enjoying the abundant oxygen. I unfortunately inhaled a bug into my lungs which caused a 5 minute reflex coughing fit I couldn’t control. I also saw a farm that had an enormous (aka “world’s largest” type sized) dining table and chairs on the lawn… no photo 😦 I conquered the steep climbs back to the car, impressed with Iowa road biking as much as I was impressed with the mountain biking last year.
I cleaned up in the park’s restroom and made myself presentable. Damn, still early in the day. I checked the site for the race, and the trails were closed for pre riding due to the rain so another kink was thrown into my plans. So the next logical thing to do was go visit the Future Birthplace of Captain Kirk!!!! (Yes, I’m a Trekkie). Google maps veered me to the wrong town originally, but soon I found Riverside, IA which had a small sized Enterprise parked in a parking lot. I could never find the plaque commemorating the future birthplace and for some reason I was really self conscious in the town (3 bikes and Wyoming plates does that to a vehicle). I did find a cool church which I snapped a photo of, and fueled up on Enterprise Drive. Not all was lost! Here’s to Captain Kirk’s birth in 200+ years!
Sunderbruch was still closed, so off to my night’s campground I went, which was the KOA in Rock Island, IL. This folks was the night that almost broke me. I was miserable. HUMID HUMID HUMID. My campsite had no shade. It had giant blood sucking flies that were immune to my Off Deep Woods. My camp chair continued to break in 3 other areas. I called my mom with my woes. I looked up when sunset was and started counting down the hours to cooler temperatures and no sun. I sat in my broken chair in the shade of Mr. Fozzy, refreshing Facebook to see if my race would be canceled, and ate a pizza Lunchable as my dinner (my appetite literally disappeared on this trip). I soon began to search for hotel rooms. Literally EVERYTHING in Davenport and Rock Island was booked except the crappy La Quinta Inn I stayed at last year which was $150 for a room. I knew that place wasn’t worth $150, and that I needed to pull on my big girl panties and stop being a girly wimp and make due with what was happening. I mean, it was my idea solely to camp in humid ass Illinois!
When the sun relented I set up my tent (which had no shelter) and went and showered – this KOA actually had nice private shower rooms, which was about its only redeeming quality. I once again zonked out asleep by 8:30pm.
At 9:30pm I woke up and realized my hair was soaking wet. I swore it had dried before I went to sleep, and that’s when I realized there was a big storm going on. Captain, we’re taking on water!!!! My rainfly was resting up against the tent (Lession learned: buy more tent stakes and stake out the rainfly away from the sides of the tent) and the seam of the tent was soaking in water in the big storm. I first posted my woes on Facebook like any rational person would do, and instantly people were urging me to go to a hotel, sleep in the car, or even offered up their mom’s houses as shelter. Then I took one of the fleeces I was using as a blanket and padded it along the seam to soak up water and went back to sleep among the storm. I think some people call this “character building.” LOL
Day 3: Rock Island, IL to Davenport, IA to Middlebury, IN – July 13th
I awoke to a gorgeous morning that was almost “chilly.” The rain had stopped, it wasn’t humid, and I was happy. First thing I did was check my phone, and indeed my race was still happening, just with a two hour delay! Woohoo! Of course I was up too early, so I took my time eating some cereal out of my $1 “camp” bowls I bought at Walmart and putzing around my campsite. My rainfly dried super quick so I left my tent set up while I went to shower so it could dry out as well. I had survived the night, and I was happy (and $150 richer for not breaking down and getting a hotel).
I stopped for some baked potatoes at Wendy’s and then headed to Sunderbruch park for my race. My race adventure can be read here: FORC Side Thrill Ride Race Report. It was a good race with good people, and luckily the temperature was mild and the humidity wasn’t sky high. People marveled that I was from Wyoming, though sometimes in a rude-ish manner – I had two different people say “Not to sound rude, but why are you here?” I mean, I get that I do live next to the best mountain biking in the world or at least within a 7 hour radius (not to discredit Moab and Fruita), but why not explore the world?!
After the race I had a frantic 4 hour drive across all of Illinois and nearly all of Indiana to get to my campsite in Middlebury. I wanted to arrive before dark, and knew crossing into Eastern Time would cause me to lose an hour on the clock. Luckily traffic on I-80 through Chicagoland and Gary wasn’t not bad, and I learned from last year’s mistake and didn’t miss the tiny exit for I-80/90 in Indiana. EZ Pass also sped things up! I also was awesome and timed “All You Can Ever Learn You Already Know” by The Ataris to come on exactly when I got to Indiana. Don’t ask, it’s just one of my Ataris-isms that I must do! I think it has something to do with Indiana having “Crossroads of America” on their welcome signs, and that song having the line “Dashboard of America.” I also saw the final fellow Wyoming plated vehicle of my eastbound journey on this part of the drive!
I arrived in Middlebury exactly 4 hours after leaving Davenport at 9pm, woohoo! The KOA’s office was closed but they left my reservation at the after hours check in with a nice map telling me where my campsite is. And wow, I was amazed. I was happy, content! It was tucked into the trees and private, and I could hear the sound of horse hooves pulling Amish buggies on the highway next to my site! The weather was downright gorgeous, the leftovers of the Super Moon was rising, and the fireflies were coming out to play! And I could even pick up the wifi!
I think this was the point that I realized how awesome my trip was and how fortunate I am to have the ability and means to travel like I do around the country. I ate the second cold baked potato from earlier in the day under the waning sun and excitedly checked in with my parents with the news of an awesome campsite in Indiana Amish country. I made sure I had my camp set up before dark – since I was at the western edge of eastern time it was light to nearly 10pm, and then showered and headed to my tent. I was only 2 miles away from Michigan, which was a state I had not visited (I’m a bit of a “state-bagger” and MI was one of the few I’m missing) so I stayed up late planning out about an hour long road ride for the morning to visit Michigan. Only hiccup was a little rainstorm that came through at midnight so I had to scramble to put my biking clothes and towels back in the car that I had hung out to dry. I took that chance to snap a photo of the moon before it was covered by clouds.
Life is good.
Day 4: Middlebury, IN to Bellefonte, PA – July 14th
I woke up at about 7:30am and set to planning out my road ride in Indiana/Michigan. I created a course on Strava, and wrote out a cue sheet to tape to my top tube, and ate some cereal and set out. Road riding at nearly sea level is so strange. I breath a lot easier and it’s almost like my body doesn’t know what to do. There was also a distinct lack of wind to either aid or hinder the pace. I had to remind myself to occasionally slow down and just enjoy the scenery (though I must brag that I took two QOMs on Strava!).
And gorgeous it was. I rode through the corn fields and farms of southern Michigan, and among Amish farms in Indiana. I laughed at the amount of horse poop I rode through – people always think Wyoming has nothing but horses everywhere, but I never ride through horse poop on my Wyoming road rides! Drivers of cars were extraordinarily polite when passing, and I could only guess that this was due to having to pass the Amish buggies frequently. People waved and called out good morning as I rode along the quiet county roads. I was at such a personal peace I could not even begin to describe it. It was almost overwhelming, and I remembered thinking that for all the crap I’ve gone through in various dramatic episodes of my life, here I was riding through gorgeous farmland in the midwest and it was all worth it. It was seriously one of the best, if not best, road rides I have ever done. If I didn’t have a nearly 6 hour drive ahead of me, I probably could’ve stayed out riding all day, or least until the humidity got to me! But I called 18 miles and an hour good enough and rode back to my campsite to pack up and prepare for another day of driving.
I left Middlebury about 11am and continued the drive east. I stopped at a Red Burrito at a service plaza for what would be my first real “meal” in days – two tacos, chips and salsa, and for the first time in my life, refried beans! I was soon in Ohio, which I made good time across, and then into Pennsylvania – woohoo, the final state in my trip (not counting New Jersey)!! Pennsylvania is another state I find very pretty, though all the trees get to me in a claustrophobic kind of way. I’m use to seeing stuff miles away and having mountains as a reference. In PA you have trees and hills all over the place. It’s very discerning and disorienting to me. We (aka Mr. Fozzy, Ruby the road bike, Fa-tay the Fate, Georgia the Epic, and I) climbed and descended the mountains, and even crossed the highest point on I-80 east of the Mississippi River! I grew up 10 miles away from the highest point on I-80 in general, so I had to chuckle at the 2200 feet in elevation.
The trip into Bellefonte was pretty uneventful and I think got to the KOA about 6pm or so. I once again had a nice secluded campsite, though a bit muddy from all the rain that PA had been receiving. I once again had fireflies, so I was a happy girl!! I set up my tent for the final time for a few days, and one handed to boot since I was talking to my mom on the phone. That’s how I knew I was becoming a pro at this tent thing! I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sat down to enjoy it on my pathetic chair… then I felt something crawling on my chest… I looked down my shirt and I kid you not there was a tiny worm on me! I screamed, tossed my phone into my sandwich (yay for Life Proof cases that are jelly proof) and did that whole frantic jump up and down and brush yourself off dance. SCREW THAT. I quickly dived into my tent for the night to keep myself safe from the scary nature outside. Oh man…
Day 5: Bellefonte, PA to Macungie, PA to Allentown, PA – July 15th
The final day of driving! The fun is over, time to get down to business! I had about 3 hours to go to get to Bear Creek Resort in Macungie for a few hours of practice. It was raining the whole drive, so I detoured to Wawa for lunch before heading to the resort. I haven’t had a Wawa hoagie since August 2011 which is FAR TOO LONG!!! I just might’ve been more excited to put Wawa in my belly than to practice on the nationals course!
Practice went well, though it was raining the whole time. All the rocks were deadly slippery, and I did have a minor wreck where I was coming down an off camber rock face and my tires slid out and when I went to put my foot down it slid so I belly flopped down the rock. Didn’t think much of it until I was showering and discovered my “minor” wound could “talk” and I could almost see bone. Yuck. Nothing some ointment and a bandaid couldn’t fix, haha! I don’t want to write too much about the Nationals stuff, as I don’t think it pertains to the overall trip adventure. But it was good practice in the rain, and I got in two laps and even got to talk about how marvelous Curt Gowdy State Park is to a guy from Missouri who seemed annoyed that his friends keep saying to ride there!
I got to the Red Roof Inn in Allentown in late afternoon, which is where I stayed last year. Cheap rates but pretty nice rooms! I unloaded the car and after cleaning myself up hung my tent up to dry in the bathroom. It started raining again so I drove to the Red Robin that is next door to the hotel. It’s next door, but requires like 2 miles of driving to get into the parking lot… ridiculous! Oh east coast… how funny you are! I have a huge dislike of eating alone in public, and this is the first time I’ve actually eaten at a sit down restaurant alone. Got some stares, but I enjoyed my big chicken salad and spinach artichoke dip! I then went to Target for supplies for my shin. Tucked myself into the king size bed with a real mattress with no fears of worms (hopefully…) or rain ruining my sleep!
Day 6: Nationals Practice – July 16th
This was the day of packet pick up and official practice at Bear Creek Resort. Full details involving that here. There was also the much anticipated pasta dinner! Funny enough, I didn’t get full enough from this pasta so I ended up going to Panera Bread back in Allentown for a bowl of broccoli cheddar soup and a big salad. At the pasta dinner I chatted with a pro from Vermont that surprised me with “Wyoming… the Equality State!” when I said where I was from, and then 81 year old national champion Fred Schmid and his wife joined us at the table which was great! My friend that I met last year at nationals, Kim (not to be confused with BFF Kim) found me so I spent the rest of my time with her and her husband talking shop and talking shit. 😀 It was a good evening to end the day with, and I was back to the hotel to collect myself for the big day coming up in the morning.
Day 7: Nationals!!! And then onward to Jerseyyyy- July 17th
Everything related to my race at Nationals is here!
After awards I said my goodbyes and hightailed it back to my hotel in Allentown to pack up and head out to New Jersey to spend the night with my best friend! Unfortunately I came about the brilliant idea to stay with her after I made nonrefundable hotel reservations so I just had to eat the bullet and check out at 6:30pm on my final night at the hotel, but it was oh so worth it for a quick trip back to my old Jersey stomping grounds and to see Kim!
Traffic on the Garden State Parkway aside, I made it to Lakewood, NJ in about two hours, and was able to unpack and throw some clothes into wash (thank goodness for Kim offering up her washer and dryer! My bike clothes were growing stuff I swear) before my old favorite, Chinese food from Sultan Wok, arrived. We chatted and I was able to submit my cat 1 upgrade request and get caught up on the internet world. Then we decided to cruise up to Sonic in Howell to get drinks and then just drive around. We enjoyed singing along to Garth Brooks at Sonic, and decided to go drive to the Point Pleasant Beach Boardwalk. Yes, I would make it all the way to the edge of the country on this trip! Kim and I walked along the boardwalk in the moonlight, how romantic 😛 It was great to hear the ocean and see the cutesy beach houses again! I really don’t know when I’ll be back near NJ again, so I always kinda treasure the time I get to spend there, no matter how much the other drivers drive me nuts and how much I find jug handles to be impractical, along with the whole “you can’t pump your own gas” nonsense. Whew. We topped off our late night by serenading some young guys at a stoplight with Garth Brooks’ “Shameless.” I’m sure that was quite the sight, if not pretty scary… two girls in a yellow Beetle screaming along to Garth Brooks at 2am…
Day 8: Lakewood, NJ to Macedonia, OH – July 18th
Long ass day. I headed out from Kim’s around 11:30am, detouring in Howell to get my final Wawa for the road (and for breakfast). I’ll miss you sooooo much Wawa! Realized that even though it’s been 8 years, the Wawa in Howell still makes my hoagies weird and soaks the bread in vinegar and oil instead of putting in on the toppings. Some things never change… unfortunately I didn’t have my handy bottle of red wine vinegar with me to remedy the situation like I had all those years of living in NJ. Shucks. Whatever, the Wawa filled my belly! I also loved the bottle of Mango Green Tea I got. Damn, should’ve loaded up since I can’t get that in Wyoming!
I turned Mr. Fozzy west and away we went! Traffic wasn’t too bad, but it was one long trip to my stopping point in Macedonia, OH. Pennsylvania is a long, and expensive state (toll wise and gas wise), to drive through. Even the 3 tunnels couldn’t make me smile. The “I wanna get home, and I wanna get there now” mood had set in. I was originally planning on staying in Willow Springs, IL on Saturday night and racing there on Sunday, but I had no desire to race anymore. I was sore in places that hadn’t been sore all season and the mental fatigue had set in from my race season. Though I was better off mentally than where I was last year, I had the waves of burnout start coming over me. I just wanted my couch and my kitty and to be back among my dry rocks and thin air.
I also pretty much stopped taking photos. It was just go go go. Luckily I got to La Quinta Inn in Macedonia about 7 or 8pm, and quickly got the bikes tucked into the room so I could head over to Bob Evans! Woohooo! I had a cool waitress, she saw my RoadID and asked if I was a cyclist because she was a cyclist! I had a big bowl of vegetable beef soup and a massive salad. Felt good to fill my belly (my appetite that was lacking on the eastbound leg had returned with force for the westbound leg). I spent the rest of the night uploading photos and planning what to do the next day. I wanted to check out the trails at Royalview in Strongsville, OH so I planned to do that in the morning before trying to get as far west as I could push.
Day 9: Macedonia, OH to Adel, IA – July 19th
Damn you rain! Oh so rainy when I woke up… it was actually pouring buckets. No mountain biking, and no road riding either. Sad… I think that rain zapped any remaining motivation to try and ride anymore on my trip from me. So I grabbed breakfast at the hotel, packed up in the rain (people had a really weird tendency to tell me it wasn’t biking weather every time I rolled each of the 3 bikes individually out to the car… no, really? Doesn’t mean I just leave my bikes at the hotel! Hahaha… I was bitter. I wanted to ride!), and headed out for what would be my longest day driving of the whole trip.
I had a disgusting service plaza experience in Howe, IN, shoved McDonald’s in my face somewhere else in Indiana, flew across Illinois, and got lost along the Mississippi trying to find a rest area that I swore was there back in 2001. I almost considered stopping at Illiniwek Forest Preserve for some mountain biking, but I just wanted to keep pushing west AND I didn’t want anything to do with the Rock Island area again and their big bloodsucking flies. So I pushed on past Des Moines and decided to stop to stay again at the KOA in Adel, Iowa since I had a good experience there on my way east.
I found a different tree for my tent and found myself to be a curiosity in the campground. My neighbors came over and asked if I was in Iowa for RAGBRAI. They weren’t the first to ask that (which means I should really do RAGBRAI sometime!). They kept talking to me like there were more than just me in my party, which I realized was caused by 3 bikes. No single girl has 3 bikes with her on a trip, haha! They were nice and went on their way, and then another lady from across the tent sites came over and asked if I just drove from Laramie. She said she was just coming back from camping at Vedauwoo for a week! She asked what I was doing since I was holding my Epic in my hands with my number plate still on and I explained I was at MTB Nationals and she asked if I was a competitive mountain biker and how I did, and was super excited about my bronze medal. Yay for single serving friends! Kinda crazy all the experiences you can have with people, even if it’s just for minutes or days at a time! Wyoming license plates are always a curiosity, which I don’t quite know why. People on this trip always liked to tell me I was far from home. it’s weird, because growing up in a college town, and now living in a military town I don’t think twice about license plates I see. But go somewhere with WY plates, and you’re the hot topic! Apparently we’re a rarity, us Wyoming folk 🙂
All the junk I ate made me feel like a bloated pig so I had a bottle of chocolate milk for dinner. Seriously.
Day 10: Adel, IA to Cheyenne, WY – July 20th
There’s no place like home!
Probably worse part of this trip is knowing that to get home I had to endure 7 hours of Nebraska. Nebraska sucks. I’m not going to sugar coat it. It’s hot, humid, and boring. Combine that with construction and busy traffic, and it was just a headache. My music choice reflected this as I listened to solely Nine Inch Nails the entire state. Mr. Fozzy was NOT happy in Nebraska, either. It was 100-105 degrees for the entire state with a bad headwind. Outside of Sydney my temperature warning light started flashing and I panicked. No trees for shade, 105 degrees, and a very grouchy hot turbo’d vehicle that was getting 10 miles per gallon (there went staying on the gas budget). I slowed to 65mph, took it off cruise control, and just hoped for the best. I was 100 miles from Cheyenne and it figures the trip would all start to go wrong. Luckily Mr. Fozzy pulled through and got happier the closer we got to the Wyoming border and the higher we went in elevation. We hit that Wyoming state line, saw the 80mph speed limit signs, and made a run for it! So close, time to fly!
3:30pm I pulled up to a welcomed sight for travel fatigued eyes. The only thing missing was Sammie, who was away on her cat-cation with my parents. It just felt so good to go inside my house and sit on my couch. Surprisingly enough I unpacked my entire car – yes, even the bike stuff that always seems to stay in my car! Jim arrived in time to help with the bug and spider web covered bikes. I showered, placed my new medals on my medal hanger and my FORC oak chunk on the trophy shelf, scrounged up food in my kitchen, and planted my butt on the couch. HOME SWEET HOME!
This girl who likes fancy sheets and pillow top mattresses and who absolutely hates bugs survived 5 nights of camping throughout the US. I survived nearly 4000 miles of adventures, just me, 3 bikes, and one gas-hungry Subaru Forester. Just about the worse thing to happen to me was a tiny worm in my shirt in Pennsylvania! And now I’m firm believer that everyone should take an adventure by themselves. I don’t think it has to be a massive cross-country road trip like I did, but even just a small weekend. There’s a lot of world to see, and really it’s not as scary as the 6 o’clock news makes it out to be. I’m happy I made the trip, despite peoples’ concerns and worries, and even my own worries about safety, cost, and if it would be worth it. YOLO. Haha.
Next purchase: a proper sleeping pad for camping.