By David Meridith,
I decided to try to break the Wisconsin West to East record when my wife and I moved to Wisconsin back in 2012. I have at least a piece of a cross-state record in every state in which I have lived (except one) and, naturally, felt it was necessary to try Wisconsin. The planning began shortly after our move and the date of July 19, 2014 was selected for the attempt. I felt that since the route is a more northerly one in Wisconsin, I would have a better chance at decent weather with a July ride than June or August.
Once the date was chosen, it was time to start assembling the crew and finding a UMCA official. One person was a given, my dear friend Randy Johnson. Randy had been on every one of my previous successful record attempts and had been my crew chief on my unsuccessful RAAM attempt in 1993 and has helped me several times at the National 24 Hour Challenge in Michigan. His situation was less than ideal this time since he was and is in the process of battling melanoma and a few other things. Once asked, he was enthusiastic about helping me again and we could only hope that his health would hold out for him to go along. I initially asked him to be my UMCA official but when he gave it some thought, he told me he would rather be a crew person, since if he couldn’t make it for some reason it would be easier to replace a crew member than an official.
I had already asked seasoned crewperson, Ron Saluski, to be my crew chief. Ron has crewed for RAAM riders, record holders, and others throughout his cycling career and since he lives relatively close to me, I thought he would be a natural. He is a meticulous planner and when he crews he puts his whole being into the effort. He graciously accepted the challenge.
My friend from St. Louis, John Jost, had indicated previously that he would like to help crew for me if I made this attempt. So I contacted him and he also accepted. John is the RUSA RBA for St. Louis and Randy and I had helped support him on his successful Colorado Last Chance 1200k brevet a few years ago. Randy and I first met him when riding his brevets which are based out of Edwardsville, Illinois.
So, the crew was set. I had not asked Ron Saluski’s girlfriend, Luisa Saettone to help out so, when Randy bowed out of the official’s position, I asked her if she would be willing to make the effort to become a certified UMCA official. She jumped at the chance. I didn’t know Luisa very well having only met her twice, and she hadn’t been a part of any ultramarathon cycling events before, but I knew her well enough to know she would do her ultimate best in the position.
We met at my house in the Village of Merton, Wisconsin at 9:00 AM on Friday, July 18, loaded up my van and headed north. We drove to Merrill, Wisconsin where we would pick up Wisconsin Route 64 which was part of the route I would ride and followed it back to the starting point in Prescott, Wisconsin. This allowed me to see and visualize 200 of the 300 mile route I had chosen. The previous record holder was Mark Ehlers of Brown Deer, Wisconsin. I had messaged him a few times to try to pick his brain about the route he had used. After doing some recon of the route earlier in the year, I decided to change his route to make things easier for me and the crew. We would get on 64 earlier than Mark had and since that is the road that leads to the finish line in Marinette, Wisconsin we wouldn’t have to worry too much about navigation.
What surprised me in driving the route backwards was that the roads seemed to be in really nice condition. I was expecting chip and seal and broken up road surface, but overall the roads were pretty decent-looking asphalt.
I had reserved rooms in East St. Paul, Minnesota so we headed over there to get dinner and check in. Luckily there was a Denny’s restaurant right next to the motel. After a good meal we checked in and at about 10:00 we were in our rooms and sleeping. We had planned to wake at 4:00 AM and start riding at 5:00. I felt like I could do the ride in 18 hours so that would put us at the finish around 11 PM. It turned out that none of us needed an alarm clock when we were awakened about 3 AM by the shouting, cursing, and banging on the doors of an obviously mind-altered individual. We were actually afraid to leave our rooms so Ron called the front desk and had the girl there call the police. They arrived with three squad cars and took the guy out in handcuffs. As we were leaving, we were glad to have the police officers there as we saw several “thugs” milling around the hotel parking lot.
We arrived safely at the start and staged ourselves in a little park on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River across from Prescott, Wisconsin. After hugs all around I began riding and crossed the state line with the van behind me and the clock began ticking. I realized that I had made the mistake of not really thinking about what I would have for a preride meal. Nothing was open for breakfast so I drank a bottle of Ensure and had a Honey Stinger Waffle. I also was aware once we started that I had neglected to pump up my tires before the start. That was not a real concern however, since I had pumped them up a couple of days previous. I just like to top them off before each ride.
Once across the bridge the route turns to the left and does a relatively easy climb out of the river valley. I felt good but was a little worried that I would start off too fast and pay for it later in the ride. The temperature was in the mid to upper 60s and the wind was pretty strong out of the south. I was pleased that it was not a headwind. We followed route 29 out of the river valley through River Falls and eventually turned north on Wisconsin 63 which would intersect 64 in about 25 miles. I had told the crew that I would really like an Egg McMuffin (that was my breakfast of choice on RAAM) and some coffee and somehow they arranged to get it for me while I was riding a nice tailwind during this northerly stretch. Of course, it isn’t easy drinking a cup of coffee on a bike, but they had cooled it down and when I spilled it on myself I didn’t get burned! I ate half the Egg McMuffin. From that point on it was going to be Spiz, UltraFuel, Endurance Fuel, Gatorade and water. My crew did a great job of reminding me to drink and I tried to keep the fluids in me. I have always had a hard time making myself eat and drink on rides and this one was no exception. Randy calls me the “camel.” I just feel like if I am going uphill I don’t want to eat or drink because I am concentrating on the climb, and if I am going downhill I want to focus on going fast. No excuses on the flats though.
The ride was really uneventful. I was holding 19.1 miles per hour for a long time and sometime in the afternoon the wind shifted slightly SSW. Having done enough ultras I know that one of the main keys to doing well is to just stay on the bike so I only stopped for “natural breaks” and at the same time the crew would refill my bottles and get me ready to go. I think I was only off the bike about 10-15 minutes total.
Sometime during the ride I realized that if I just kept going, the record would be mine. Mark’s record had been 19 hours and 43 minutes with an average speed of 15.1 miles per hour but I knew he had battled a headwind all day in his attempt so I felt I would be able to beat that record and even do better than my 18 hour goal. Awhile later I heard someone on the crew say something about coming close to beating sundown, so I just put my head down and tried to make that happen.
Unfortunately, the beating sundown thing didn’t happen as it was beginning to become dusk as I was nearing the 25 mile to go mark. And, as is usual on these types of rides, at the 25 mile to go point, I came up to a great looking downhill and right before it my crew was standing beside the road next to a “Detour – Road Closed Ahead” sign. Not wanting to take any chances at this point, we followed the detour signs. It is always disheartening when this happens because you never know how far out of the way the detour will take you. After a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself I decided to just roll with the punches and keep pedaling. At this point I didn’t have as much punch in my legs for the hills, but was still keeping a decent pace. The road surface on the detour was some of the worst of the route and we were in darkness now. The crew was anxious to get to the finish and so was I. The detour turned out to be about 9 miles long.
Once we turned back on 64 I began to look ahead to see if I could see the lights of Marinette. I would see cars coming toward us and think those were the lights, but it seemed a long time before we actually could see the city lights. Once I saw signs that said “Reduced Speed Ahead” I knew we were close.
The route finishes at the Michigan/Wisconsin State Line on the bridge over the Menominee River at Marinette, Wisconsin. A few more pedal strokes, a fist pump and the ride was over.
We rode over to the Michigan Visitor Center to put the bike in the van and head to our hotel in Marinette.
My official time was 16 hours and 33 minutes for the 307 mile route at an average speed of 18.55 miles per hour. My fourth cross state record was now history.
If it seems that my report makes this ride seem easy, I would like to reassure you that it wasn’t. Ultramarathon rides are always a major psychological endeavor. Focusing on the event and not allowing distractions to hinder your effort is the key. I think about many things while doing these events – how far I have gone, how far I have to go, how fast I am going are but three in the front of my thoughts. This one was different though. Along with those thoughts were the ever-present thoughts about my friend Randy and all the suffering he has gone through in his fight against cancer. I knew that when I was hurting it was but a very small amount of hurt in comparison to his troubles. He hasn’t quit and neither would I. It means the world to me that he was able to take part in this attempt.
After the ride we got a good night’s sleep with no untoward events, had breakfast the next morning and drove back to my home in Merton. After-photos were taken and the crew dispersed to drive back to their homes. I went to bed.
I would like to thank all of my most excellent crew people and my ultra-efficient official. Thanks to their willingness to give up their time I was able to complete my goal. I hope they realize that this record also belongs to them. Cheers, friends!
I would also like to thank Randy Ice for developing Spiz which has been my main biking sustenance for several years now. Also thanks to Wheel and Sprocket bike shop in Delafield, Wisconsin for the great tune-up job they did on my bike. And finally thanks to Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee who tried to hook me up with a new jersey for the ride. It didn’t work out this time, but I think I have more attempts left in my legs in the future!
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