: Rapha Continental Ride - Upper Mid West
Rapha Continental
I joined the Rapha road trip for the third leg of their trip, through the upper midwest. For a complete rundown on the Rapha Continental road trip, check out rapha.cc/continental. Here is my story and pictures.
Gentlemen's Race - New Paltz, NY - Sunday, May 24

I joined the team in New York City on Saturday, May 23rd, after a red eye flight from Portland. I landed at 7am and went directly into Brooklyn to join up with Carey S-H from Rapha. We had a bunch of errands to run before taking the train up north to New Paltz for the Gentlemen's Race the next day. Trying to find a copy shop in mid-town Manhattan seems like it would be pretty easy, but juggling luggage, cameras, subway maps, and not getting lost made it more difficult than it should have been. But we managed, somehow.

We relaxed for a couple of hours on the train, heading for Poughkeepsie and our ride over to New Paltz. We passed the time on the train watching the Hudson River go by and watching "Stars and Watercarriers" on my laptop. Amazing scenery and a pretty darn good movie.

We arrived in Poughkeepsie and met up with Slate and Jeremy in the Rapha van. We had a few errands to run and some final course markings to make before meeting up with the rest of the group for some dinner. Bright and early the next day, racers started showing up for the Gentlemen's Race. A team from Hup United was there, ready to redeem our honor. All they had to do was finish without going off course and/or getting lost. They finished in last place, but still finished with all their riders. Two other team finished with only 5 of their 6 riders, so technically, Hup was not DFL. Everyone had a good time, with very few mechanicals and no injuries/crashes at all. I spent the day driving with Daniel, taking photos when I had a chance. While the format was very similar to the Gentlemen's Race in Portland last fall, there was a different feeling to the event. Most likely, it was because I only knew a few of the people there, and the course was completely unknown to me. There are plenty of reports of the race. You can find a few here, here, or here.

On Monday (Memorial Day), we headed back to NYC. Slate, Jeremy, and I headed back into Manhattan for the afternoon. We had lunch at Coffee Shop on Union Square and wandered up Broadway to the brand new Ace Hotel, which had only been open for 10 days. We hung out most of the afternoon, having drinks, doing some work, and taking in the scenery. Carey, Dave, and Adam joined us a bit later after their day in Manhattan and Daniel arrived from his errands soon after. We all went out for a nice Italian dinner to discuss the schedule for the next few days. One more night in Brooklyn (thanks Richard Bravo for letting us invade your apartment) and it was off to the midwest.

We drove from New York to just west of Cleveland on Tuesday. That evening, we went to a movie and decided to watch Terminator Salvation. Biggest piece of crap movie ever. But the explosions were cool.

Wednesday, we moved on to Detroit to pick up Tony and Piers. We also picked up some dinner fixin's (brats, salad, beer) and headed north to Empire, Michigan, a small town on Lake Michigan. We met up with our local hosts, who were actually from Lincoln, Nebraska and Chicago, Illinois, at a nice vacation home and spent the evening making dinner and getting to know each other. We went out for beers at a local watering hole, where Slate and I beat Jeremy and Dylan 2 games to 1 in foosball. Daniel made some friends with some locals, and earned another nickname, Fudgie (name given to tourists who head north for the fudge shops).

Gentleman's Race Photo Album

Gentlemen's Race

Ride #1 - Michigan M22 - Thursday, May 25

This ride was supposed to be very scenic, with the route following the Lake Michigan coast line along the top edge of the "mitten". Instead, it was rainy, cloudy, foggy, and generally socked in so much that it was hard to tell that we were even near a large body of water. The route was fairly boring without the views. Every so often, we'd see some sort of view that made us think there might be more, but then we'd turn the corner and see another big bank of greyness and our spirits would drop. The ride ended in Traverse City after a bit of a short cut. As we pulled in to Traverse City, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and everything looked perfect. But the ride was done, so we went to dinner, had some beers, and drove back to Empire for another night in our vacation home. That evening, we had a big debate about the next day's driving route to Madison, Wisconsin. Daniel wanted to go north and cross the Makinac Bridge and then head across the Upper Peninsula and drop down into Wisconsin. Everyone else wanted to take the faster route south through Chicago and up to Madison. Daniel won, and our route was set.

Our drive from Empire, Michigan, north across the Mackinac bridge, across the UP, and down through Wisconsin took about 12 hours. We stopped for lunch at a burrito place just over the border in Wisconsin. The shop was cool, but the burritos weren't that great. Nothing like King Burrito in Portland. Finally, we arrived in Mt Horeb, just south of Madison, where we would ride and take pictures the following day. We stayed overnight at the Deer Valley Lodge, a motel on the side of the highway with a water park (pool, hot tubs, slides) just off the lobby. Dinner that night was at the Grumpy Troll and then off to bed for an early morning wake up call.

Michigan M22 Photo Album

Michigan M22

Ride #2 - Wisconsin Blue Mounds - Saturday, May 27

The ride started off rainy and grey. Not the best start, but the sky cleared up and the roads dried out and everyone began to enjoy themselves. There were some great climbs, long twisty descents, and lots of farms, barns, trees, and fields. The ride host was having some problems keeping up with the Rapha rider's pace, and eventually climbed into the van for the last few miles after having leg cramping problems.

We had to head out right after the ride to Minneapolis for a dinner at our ride host's home, so everyone changed and cleaned up in the motel restrooms and we hit the road. I drove this leg of the trip while all the riders tried to put their feet up and get some rest. 300 miles (and some Phil Collins air drum solos, courtesy of Piers and myself) later, we arrived in Minneapolis for a late dinner. The food was all homemade and tasted great, but everyone was pretty tired from a long ride and longer drive, so we soon found ourselves on the way to Hurl's house (of Cars-R-Coffins fame) for some sleep.

Wisconsin Blue Mounds Photo Album

Wisconsin Blue Mounds

Gentlemen's Ride - Minneapolis - Sunday, May 28

Today, the ride was a short, casual spin around Minneapolis. We met up at Hurl's coffee/bike shop with a few locals at 10am or so. I took photos of the pre-ride preparations, and when everyone took off, I pulled out the laptop and spent the next few hours catching up on the outside world while everyone else rode their bikes. I might have even taken a nap in the van for a little while. After a nice lunch at a pizza place down the street, I was back at the coffee shop for the rider's return and got a few more pictures while they relaxed with beers and pizza. We headed back to Hurl's house to clean up and then downtown for some overpriced, mediocre Thai food. The best part of the evening was trying to figure out how to move the tables so all of us (about 15 people) could sit together instead of at different tables. Our waitress was very entertained by our efforts. We finally came up with an odd shaped rectangle that almost fit everyone. One more night at Hurl's house and then it was off to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Gentlemen's Ride Photo Album

Gentlemen's Ride

Ride #3 - Lincoln to Ponca - Tuesday, June 2

We were very unsure about what Nebraska had to offer in the way of epic cycling routes. When you think of Nebraska, you think of flat, flat, more flat, and wind. Well, there was a lot of wind, but very little flat. The ride was 155 miles long, with maybe 30-40 miles of it being on paved roads. The rest of it was on gravel and dirt roads, constantly going up or down through rolling hills, always going north, and never turning, except to take a short jog east or west to connect to another north-bound road. Some overnight rain and light morning drizzle added a bit of a twist to the first part of the ride. The soil is clay based and the roads are packed down very firmly, but the moisture created a slick layer of mud. The bikes didn't have too much of a problem. The mud just made it very hard to keep up any speed. The van, on the other hand, had a few more problems. We struggled for traction up every hill, and fishtailed our way down the other side. There were a few times when we were pretty sure we'd have to call the riders back to help push us out of a ditch. The rain had stopped shortly after we started, so conditions rapidly improved. By the 50 mile mark when we stopped for breakfast, everything was totally dry and solid.

We stopped for breakfast in North Bend and became the talk of the town. Not many people come through this town, so everyone wanted to know who we were and what we were doing. Someone at the diner called someone else, and as we were packing up for the next part of the ride, a woman showed up with a camera and a notepad. She ran the local paper and wanted to take a picture and maybe write a little bit about us. That was pretty cool. We posed for a bunch of pictures and helped the lady figure out how to use her camera. We all left our names and chatted a bit about the project and our destination for this ride. Soon enough, we were back on the road, following the riders and finding new ways to keep ourselves entertained while following cyclists going 8 mph into a headwind on sand and gravel covered farm roads. At one point, Daniel and I had a camera duel, starting ten paces from each other and drawing our cameras while trying to dodge the other one's shots. I think Daniel won the duel. I had a long zoom lens on my camera at the time, and it slowed down my draw time. Next time, I'll be sure to have the shorter zoom on there to speed things up. You can find some of the duel photos on page 2 of this album.

As we drew closer to Ponca, our concern switched from deep sandy conditions and fierce head winds to remaining daylight. The sun was starting to set and we still had 15 miles to go. We left the decision up to the riders, and they wanted to go as far as possible for as long as possible. We followed them in the van with our high beams on, trying to provide as much light as possible. A couple guys got off the front and rode several miles over pretty rough roads in almost complete darkness. We finally called it quits at 150 miles, three miles short of Ponca and two more to the planned finish line just north of town. It was 10pm, completely dark, and everyone was totally wasted from 14 hours in the saddle. We loaded up the van and started heading home. We had planned on getting dinner in Ponca at a local restaurant, but found out that they were already closed before we even got the van loaded. So we began heading to Sioux City to find some food. Everything was closed and we were all starting to wonder if convenience store snacks and frozen foods were on the menu. But then, like a beacon of hope, we found a taco truck, brightly lit up, sitting outside a Mexican grocery store. We pulled over, piled out, and started ordering tacos, burritos, and everything else on the menu. Someone ran inside for a case of beer, and we sat around stuffing our faces with greasy food and cheap beer. After that, it was back to Lincoln to drop off the hosts and find our motel for some sleep. We got back around 2am after a 21 hour day. Piers had an early flight out, so I was up at 5am to drive him to the airport. I got back to the motel and grabbed a couple more hours of sleep before we all got up and got ready for another day in the van, heading further west.

Our next destination was Spearfish, South Dakota in the Black Hills. We continued across half of Nebraska before heading up into South Dakota. After a short stop at car museum for a few pictures, some chocolate milk shakes, and some leg stretching, we made the final push through Rapid City and into Spearfish. We found our host's house, had a quick beer and glass of wine, and the headed out for dinner. Wednesday night is ugly mug night at the Chophouse, where $5 gets you all the beer you can drink. We were going to discuss the ride route for the next day, but a large table of college kids playing Thumper (a loud drinking game consisting of making noise and drinking, for those of you unfamiliar with it) kind of prevented us from getting much talking done. For a road side bar, the food was pretty darn good. We headed back to our host's house and settled in for a good nights sleep.

Lincoln to Ponca Photo Album

Lincoln to Ponca

Ride #4 - Black Hills and Mt Rushmore - June 4

Just short of 100 miles, this ride was one of the most spectacular we've ever seen. The scenery was breathtaking, each curve bringing new vistas of alpine-like farmland, towering cliffs, rushing rivers and creeks, and so much more. The weather was absolutely perfect, with huge fluffy clouds periodically hiding the bright sunshine. A mild breeze kept things from getting too warm. The ride route headed south out of Spearfish and wound its way through the Black Hills towards Mt Rushmore and the finish in Custer State Park. The riders left the paved road for a 20 mile section on a rail-to-trail line that took them over trestle bridges and through rock-carved tunnels. We passed just in front of Mt Rushmore and then headed up a road that had three pig-tail loops (360 degree loops that cross over themselves) and a couple of narrow, single lane tunnels that had us worrying if the van would fit through. Steep sharp climbs were followed by screaming downhills filled with switchbacks and swooping corners. As we got closer to Custer State Park, the wildlife changed from horses and cattle to bison and antelope. A couple of huge bison standing right next to the road had the riders a bit worried, but there were several cars and the van to provide some protection if the bison decided to take an intersted in the two wheeled riders going by. We pulled in to the Game Lodge at the park after a great day of riding in one of the most beautiful areas I've ever seen. We had a bunkhouse reserved for the night, and after changing and cleaning up, it was back to the game lodge (where several presidents had stayed a long time ago) for some buffalo steaks and burgers for dinner. We were all pretty wasted from several days of riding and driving, so most everyone headed to bed pretty early. After several nights spent in sleeping bags on a camp pad, it was nice to curl up in a lower bunk with real sheets and blankets for a good night's sleep.

The next morning, we packed up and grabbed some breakfast. This leg of the Rapha Continental was finished and it was time to head back home. We stopped by the visitor center to see some stuffed animals (think taxidermy, not teddy bears) and then hit the road. We dropped Tony off at the airport in Rapid City for his flight home and then headed to Denver to drop off a few more people. We stayed in Denver overnight on Friday, and then Daniel and I headed back to Portland over the next two days.

Black Hills and Mt Rushmore Photo Album

Black Hills and Mt Rushmore

After dropping Aaron off at the Denver airport at 6am on Saturday morning, Daniel and I began the long drive home. Garmina told us it was 1200 miles to my front door, and if we drove straight through, we'd arrive at 11:30pm. Looking back on it now, it was a really dumb decision, but Daniel and I took that schedule as a challenge, and decided to make the drive in one straight shot. We stopped several times for fuel (both for us and the van). Lunch was in Ogden, dinner was in Baker City. The stretch from Pendleton to Portland was the toughest, but we were so close, it just didn't make sense to stop. We pulled up at my house at 2:15am after driving for 20 (or 21 since we crossed a time zone) hours. The trip was finally over.

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