Dennis Blanchard was born in Bristol, Connecticut. He and his wife Jane moved to New Hampshire in 1980 where he has climbed thirty 4000-foot mountains, biked the trails and enjoyed the wilderness. Never living very far from the Appalachian Trail, Dennis was always aware of the seductive siren’s call to hike it. Dennis is an electronics engineer who has freelanced for amateur radio, technical and motorcycle adventure magazines. He now lives in Sarasota, Florida.
Life has a way of getting in the way. Originally, it was my plan to return to the ride later this summer (2017). In the interim, there have been a few life changes that will, once again, postpone things.
Jane and I have decided to sell our home and move to something requiring less maintenance. All this traveling and keeping up a home does not go well together. At our age, the traveling takes precedence over mowing lawns and fixing plumbing.
In addition, we have a rental property that we’re selling, for the same reasons. We’re closing on a home to move into, a manufactured home at a local mobile home park. It needs work, but, once done, we can get on with our lives. Of course, a home of that nature isn’t as solid as what we have now and we could end up like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in a tornado, or hurricane. It is a chance we’ll have to take.
The closings for the properties we are selling will happen in August and September. That, and moving, precludes any bike adventures for the time being. Currently, I go out for midnight rides and will continue until the weather cools. It is just too hot here in Sarasota in the summer to ride during the day. Additionally, there is absolutely no traffic late at night. With a powerful headlamp, tree frogs singing and no traffic, what’s not to like?
This puts finishing the bicycle ride out to next summer. I’m hoping that July will be the right time. I could go earlier, but May or June can be chilly and rainy up north, so why push it? Any suggestions on places that I should stop and see along the way? The tentative route is flexible:
After the crash in Minnesota, the American Automobile Association, AAA, contacted me about doing a piece about my crash and how they helped out. It was just published in the July/August issue of the AAA Magazine. I’m not certain it is nationwide, it may be in just the Southern AAA Magazine.
This is just a quick update. I now have a new mount for my attack on finishing my ride from coast-to-coast, a Surly, Long Haul Trucker (LHT). I purchased it used from a hiking friend and it is a perfect fit.
The LHT is the perfect touring machine, especially in my case. All of my previous bicycles have never had sufficient foot room. When pedaling, my heels would always hit against the panniers shown in the photo above. On my ride coast-to-coast last summer I had to use front panniers on the back of the bicycle. They are smaller and allowed room for my size 15 (EU 50) feet. The LHT has plenty of room and now I will be able to pack even more gear next summer.
As yet, there are no firm plans for a date, but I will complete the ride next summer. I will start back in Stacy, Minnesota, where I crashed and continue on through Wisconsin, take a ferry across Lake Michigan, Michigan, Canada, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and then finish in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Yes, I will once again be carrying my amateur radio equipment and will be on the air along the way. The equipment was undamaged in the crash, I wasn’t so lucky.
I look forward to all of you following along and hope to talk to many of my ham radio friends along the way. Hopefully, the northern winter will be short and sweet…
Going through photos of my trip this morning, I realized that I had stopped shortly before the crash to photograph the trail surface. The constant pounding of the bicycle wheels on those seams had been on my mind since Oregon. I kept thinking they would eventually fatigue a spoke or two and I would have to repair a wheel. I had forgotten about my front pannier rack and that I wanted to safety wire it because I was concerned that if the mounting bracket broke, it would stop my front wheel. Guess what I forgot to safety wire. I really hate being correct sometimes.
It has been just over two weeks since my crash. I’m healing well and the pain is finally subsiding. The worst pain was in the wrists. I must have really been hanging onto the handlebars.
I’ve been very happy with my Cannondales over the years, both for road touring and mountain bike racing. All of their bikes that I have owned were made in the USA. Now, they seem to be making most of their bikes in Taiwan, so I’m not as enamored with them any longer. Still, the touring bike they offer does meet my needs.
The CoMotion machines are made in Oregon. They’re really well made and have a great reputation, but I just may not be able to afford one, they are twice the cost of the others. When the Cannondales were made here, they did cost more than the Asian versions, but not twice as much. I suppose they would be now, as are the CoMotion machines. Still, I can dream, can’t I?
Then there is the Surly. They have a long standing reputation for being one of the best touring machines. I don’t know where they were originally manufactured, but they too are now from Asia. I’m leaning towards the Surly. A friend has one for sale that might fit me, if it does, I would seriously consider it. We’ll see. The friend’s bike has already completed one coast-to-coast ride.
As for me, I’m feeling well. I’m still stiff and walk like an old man, but then I am, so nobody notices. Since I don’t have a bike here in Florida at the moment I have been riding Jane’s. It is small for me but at least I get to exercise the muscles. I had lost ten pounds on the coast-to-coast ride and lost another two pounds upon my return, but now I have put a few pounds back on. Time to get back on a bike and keep the weight in check.
Jane and I have plans for next summer, but, if I can find a month there somewhere I may just go back and finish Wisconsin to Massachusetts. My daughter, Áine, pointed out that I seem to do most of my epic journeys in two parts (The Appalachian Trail, The Vermont Trail) so why should this be any different? Good point.
This is just a quick note to all that are following along. I’m near the St. Paul airport and am picking up a rental car and driving back to Sarasota. I have had a quick look at your comments, but just don’t have time to answer them all, I have to pick up the car.
Thanks to all for so much concern and I’ll post when I have time from home. You’re a great bunch and it is nice to know the team is cheering for me.
Too bad you didn’t see me vault off of the bike, the German judges gave me a 9.7.
I write this with a heavy heart. As most that know me will attest, I’m not a quitter. However, I do have enough sense to know when I am beaten.
Yesterday, I left Dalbo in good spirits, well rested and enthused about making it to at least Stillwater, Minnesota before nightfall. It was a nice day for riding and my progress was fine. I decided that I wouldn’t follow the Adventure Cycle Assoc. maps and would go directly across Wisconsin so I could make the ferry before they changed their schedule on the 11th.
I stopped for a quick lunch in Grandy, at about 30 miles. At Harris, MN, I went south to North Branch where I picked up the Sunrise Prairie rail trail. I was moving along very well, about 15 MPH (23 kph). There were people out for a Sunday ride and it was nice seeing all the smiling faces.
About a quart mile from the intersection of the rail trail and the main road in Stacy, MN, disaster struck. I was on a lone section of trail, no other vehicles or riders in sight when, without warning, I felt myself being catapulted through the air and crashing down on my face on the pavement.
This all happened in milliseconds! One moment I was riding along enjoying the day, then suddenly I’m laying on the ground with my bike and gear scattered all over the trail. My face hurt and there was lots of blood coming from somewhere. I remained calm, the worst thing one can do in these situations is panic. I sat up slowly and assessed my situation.
I checked my legs, nothing broken. Same for my arms and hands. I looked around, there was a substantial debris field, all of the gear from the bike was scattered about, like a garage sale. As I sat there, two people out for a ride, came up. At first, they were just curious why somebody would be sitting in the middle of the trail. Then they saw my face.
I was bleeding profusely from my nose, upper lip, lower lip and chin. There were also cuts on my hands and wrists. I got up and grabbed some clean paper towels from my bike and pressed them on the wounds to try and stem the bleeding. Then, I picked up the bike and leaned it on a bush.
What had happened? At first, I thought perhaps I had hit a deer I hadn’t seen, that’s always a possibility. I looked at the front of the bike, the luggage carrier on the front was tilted forward far enough that it was resting on the front wheel. Then, it all came back to me. Prior to this trip I had mounted that carrier and didn’t have a proper bracket to secure it to the bike forks. I made a bracket, which was actually very substantial. I recall looking at it and thinking that if it ever broke there would be nothing to stop it from rotating forward and catching the front wheel, exactly what just happened. At the time I mounted it I was going to go back and put a safety strap on it, just in case. As you’ve concluded, I never did. I forgot and now I was paying the price.
It appears the bracket fractured from all the “bump, bump, bump,” of the seams in the roads that I complained about in an earlier posting. I was concerned about broken spokes, I hadn’t thought about the rack. One time, many years ago, Jane had a BMW motorcycle and when we were riding across I-84 in New York, something similar happened to her ignition coil. At that time that road also did the bump thing. Her mount for her coil snapped. Just prior to my crash, that very thought had crossed my mind.
The bike stopped so quickly that the front forks bent to where the wheel stopped up against the bike frame. That takes considerable force. When the bike stopped it launched me over the handlebars. Having a firm grip on the bars I essentially did a very quick handstand and then crashed to the earth. The first part of my body to hit the earth was my helmet, followed closely by my face.
People talk about folks that are dying seeing a lighted tunnel. This all happened extremely fast, but I recall at one point seeing a lighted tunnel and thinking, “This is it? That’s all there is?” Thinking back, I realized the “tunnel” was my panniers (saddle bags) on the front were wrapped around my head creating a “tunnel.” The light, was the sun.
The two people that stopped, a couple just a little younger than I, were concerned about how injured I was. They wanted to get me medical care, but I was concerned about leaving the bike, ham radio gear, and computer. We managed to put everything back on the bike and they helped me roll it to the nearby trail head. The front wheel wasn’t working well, but I was able to force it along.
When we arrived at the trail head, which is also the town park, they offered to go get their car, eight miles away and come back and help me. Mike and Barbara were my new best friends. Barbara insisted that I stay at their place. Here I am bleeding to death and would certainly mess up the inside of their car and they didn’t care, I needed help.
The bleeding was ceasing. They told me that AAA has a service for picking up people with bike problems. I wasn’t aware of it. We called and AAA said they would send a wrecker out. Mike and Barbara gave me their cell numbers and told me to have the wrecker take me to the Wyoming, MN hospital, four miles south of there.
They rode off on their bikes and I waited for the wrecker. People stopped by and offered to help. I told them the situation and they looked at me a little strange, “don’t you know you’re bleeding to death?”
One fellow and his daughter stayed with me, just in case I might pass out from an unknown injury. Eventually, the wrecker showed up. At first, he didn’t want to take me. By law, if I’m bleeding, I’m a bio hazard and he is not supposed to deal with that, just vehicles. Finally, he did agree to take me, the bleeding did seem to have stopped. The fellow with his daughter explained to the driver that he was a medic in the military and thought I would be okay.
I put the gear in the truck and off we went. The driver warmed to me and we talked about his son in the Marines and being a GI. In about five minutes, we arrived at the hospital, he handed down my bike, we got the gear out the truck, and he took off.
Grabbing the gear, I moved in all inside to the emergency room reception area. The bike stayed outside. The staff took one look at my face and jumped into action. I didn’t really have to explain.
They rushed me in for X-rays and were very professional and checked me over thoroughly. I didn’t have any broken bones or neck injuries that they could see. They then went to work fixing my face with stitches and cleaning it up. They really knew what they were doing.
After a few hours, they discharged me. I called Mike and Barbara and they were there in about twenty minutes. They took me to their home, made me comfortable and I conked out.
During the night there was a huge thunderstorm, or two, that rolled through and it kept waking me with all the noise. I slept on the bed with some plastic sheets on it and threw my sleeping bag on top of everything. I didn’t want to soil their nice stuff. They are true trail angels.
As for my bike, I’m leaving it with Mike. He is handy and a professional auto mechanic and I’m sure he’ll have it repaired in the future, minus my front luggage rack. The bike has 60 thousand miles on it and would make a good bike for around town, but needs to be retired from long distance rides.
I was extremely fortunate. The way I crashed, I could have ended up like Christopher Reeves. It all happened so quickly there was no time to have any control over the situation.
Because I’m so bloody, I might have trouble getting a flight home (bio hazard) so I have rented a car and will drive back to Sarasota, Florida, starting tomorrow morning.
It is a heart breaker, but on the bright side, I am able to sit here and write this blog…it could have been worse. As for the pain, yeah, it hurts, but considering the alternatives, I’ll take it. I’ve seriously considered getting another bike and continuing, but I’ll need dental work soon and it can’t wait. I’ll go back for my dentist.
Thanks for following along on my journey. It has been an epic adventure and who knows what the future holds? Jane wants to hike in Italy, stay tuned.
If you don’t want to see how my face turned out after the stitches, then don’t scroll down.
Today I planned on an easy ride, maybe forty miles or so. On journeys such as this, plans have a way of getting changed. Last week I asked Jane to send me my passport and a replacement ATM card. The card laminate is coming apart and I could see it getting swallowed up in an ATM machine.
Looking at the maps I figured the Milaca, Minnesota post office would be a good place to send it. The Post Office is really good about having packages sent to a “Hold for delivery” at their locations. One can go to USPS.com and check to see if that office offers this service, most, but not all, do.
What I didn’t consider was the Labor Day weekend holiday. As I neared Milaca I was making faster progress than I anticipated and it was obvious that I would arrive Friday. All well and good, except the package tracking information showed that it would arrive on Saturday. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but I was making very good time and Jordie, at Jordie’s Cafe in Bowlus told me that I HAD to stay at the Bicycle Bunk House, in Dalbo, Minnesota, which is 19 miles (31 km) beyond Milaca.
This presented me with a logistics problem:
I stay in Milaca so I can be at the post office on Saturday morning. Oh, I forgot to mention, the service desk is only open for one hour on Saturday mornings, from 09:00 to 10:00 am.
Figure out if it is possible to have the Post Office ship the package to an office further down the line.
Ride to the Bicycle Bunk House in Dalbo and figure out a way to get back to the Post Office on Saturday morning. This would mean, hitching a ride, finding some sort of public transit, or leaving my gear at the bunk house to ride the bike back to Milaca.
None of this was appealing. I rode to Milaca and was there early enough so that I could ask at the Post Office if the package had arrived early, which happens often these days. It wasn’t there. I then asked the clerks if there was a way I could have it forwarded to another post office? They hadn’t encountered this request before and told me no. Post Offices on the Appalachian Trail see this all the time and have the correct answer. It can be forwarded, more on that in a minute.
I decided to continue on to Dalbo and cast my fate to the wind, which had been in my face for most of the day. Just prior to arriving at the Bunk House, I thought about Conor and Aidan and wondered how they were doing. Would I see them again?
I pulled up the Bunk House and the door opened and out hopped Aidan. We cracked up. They figured they wouldn’t see me again. I told them about Jordie’s and they were super disappointed. They had passed Jordie’s and figured they didn’t want to spend $10 to camp in the town park. They ended up at an RV park a few miles down the trail and it had nothing to offer for a tent camper. Too bad, they would have been thrilled with Jordie’s.
After settling in, I quickly fired up the computer and looked for solutions to my package shipment problem. Another variable was compounding my problem. At Jordie’s, Graylon had told me that he came straight across Wisconsin from the ferry, rather than taking the rather convoluted route that the Adventure Cycle Assoc. Maps (ACA) take. The ACA’s goals are scenic routes and not just traveling. I could skip scenic just now, there is an event that I might try to make in Michigan, so a shorter route might fit the bill.
I looked around on the Post Office website and there is a package “Redirect” option. If one has a tracking number (I do!) you can go online and punch in the number and then, for about $12.95, the package can be redirected. When you punch in the tracking number it tells you if the package qualifies and mine did. Now to figure out where on my non-map route to ship the package.
Right at that moment, Donn Olson, the farmer that owns the Bunk House, came in. He is bigger-than-life and so full of energy I immediately envied him. Even though he doesn’t do long-distance bicycling, he is a big advocate for the community and has the premier biker hostel in North America. The place is huge, well stocked with everything a rider could possibly need. Even though he operates on donations, lots of items are outright free. What a guy!
He dragged out some maps that he gives away and showed me the best route east. Not only that, he came up with a solution for a ride back to Milac in the morning so I could pick up the package and not even have to worry about a redirect. It is so amazing how the people along this ride come up with solutions and help the riders. I can’t thank them, and especially Donn, enough. Everything came together in a few moments and I had been racking my brain all day.
Don is a retired Army helicopter pilot veteran and did 20 months in Vietnam. What an American.
I went to bed one happy camper. In the morning, I had my ride to Milaca, picked up my package (thank you Jane) and am now spending the day at the Bunk House. I could use the rest and thought that by the time I figured out my new route that I will be taking and cleaning up my gear, it was hardly worth rushing out.
The shelves here are well stocked, the prices very reasonable and the sun is shining. Time for a nap.
Today I rode 67.09 miles (108 km) for a grand total of 2309 miles (3716 km). I can almost smell the Atlantic Ocean from here. Hmmm, maybe that’s just Lake Michigan?
As I proceeded north from the expensive Super 8 motel, I encountered the same work crew I had seen the night before. There were working on a different side of the highway from where I ruined their work. When they spotted me, after I took the photo, they started waving me away and laughing.
Today was more rail trail riding, all the way to Bowlus. It was mostly level and there was a bit of wind, but nothing I couldn’t live with. I’ve been wondering if Conor and Aidan have finally outpaced me and left me behind. I didn’t see any sign of them when I arrived in Bowlus. The town has a very nice park and we can camp there, but they charge $10 and there is no shower. There is a washroom and restroom. Why do they call it a “restroom?” I don’t know of anyone that actually goes there to rest.
The Adventure Cycle Map says to contact Jordie for camping information. Jordie has a cafe directly across the street so I went to find the details. The staff there was very warm and friendly and I immediately felt at home. Jordie was meeting with a vendor but a server explained that I could camp in the park for $10, or if I wished, camp at Jordie’s Cafe for free. Neither had showers and both had nice green grass. This was a no-brainer, even for me.
Another couple of riders showed up, Kate and Graylon. We started chatting and I found out Graylon is also a radio amateur, AA7GV, from Seattle, Washington. Of course, this meant that Kate wouldn’t have anyone to talk with for the rest of the evening. Graylon’s doing a ride from Newfoundland to Seattle. I’m wondering how much “winter” he will hit in the Cascades?
Everything in Jordie’s place has a bicycle theme to it. They are very supportive of the long distance riders and knew our needs. Jordie invited us to put our bikes up on their outdoor covered dining area once the day ended and even invited us to put our tents up there so they wouldn’t get dew on them during the night. We all did. “Cowboy” camping (sleeping without a tent) wasn’t an option, the mosquitoes were hungry.
Jordie’s was having a special on burgers tonight, half-off the price. I couldn’t resist and gave in and had a burger. The previous night, at the Depot Express Cafe they were giving veterans half-off on any meal. Two nights in a row with a price break, life is good.
I set up the radio and made a bunch of ham radio contacts, the furthest being a guy in Pinellas county, in Florida. He didn’t mention the hurricane, and I didn’t ask.
It was a nice cool night and I looked forward to a restful sleep.
Wow, has it been 50 days already? Where does the time go? Today’s ride was 78.90 miles (127 km), for a grand total of 2242 miles (3608 km) thus far.
One sees some interesting lawn ornaments on a ride like this. I’ve seen quite a number of old cars, truck and tractors displayed in front yards. Some are for sale, most are not.
Leaving the Pelican Motel was like leaving family. I had an enjoyable stay there and left with the remains of my zucchini bread and fine memories of their dog, Bentley. He is a bulldog mix and a character. He didn’t bother to get up to say goodbye, he slept in. Some security dog.
The first third of today’s ride was on roads. The terrain is vastly different from the last thousand miles or so, rolling hills with trees and lakes everywhere. The state of Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 lakes,” and I would estimate I’ve already seen that many in one day.
The last two-thirds of the ride is on a rail trail. A rail trail is a railroad bed that had fallen into disuse and has been converted for recreational use. The one I’m now following is the Central Lakes State Trail which will later join the Paul Bunyan Trail and then the Lake Wobegon Trail. I think I have about 200 miles (322 km) of rail trails.
Riding rail trails was a different experience from any other riding. Trains don’t like hills, so the rail beds are mostly flat or have very long gradual climbs and descents. Both sides of the trail usually have trees or steep banks around them where they cut through the hills. This means little, or no wind. It also means much-appreciated shade.
Being level means there is never really a break from peddling. This constant leg motion can be stressful on the muscles. Many years ago we did a week-long family ride on mountain bikes, in Michigan, and Jane ended up with a very serious shin splint injury. I’m being very careful to not do that.
Jane sent me some items for pickup at a post office in Milaca, MN. When I gave her the post office to send it to I wasn’t thinking about the upcoming holiday weekend. The tracking shows the package should be there Saturday, I’ll have to plan on making it there by then. I don’t want to sit around for two days for a package. If I recall, I can arrange to have the USPS forward it to another office, I just don’t want to get involved in that if I can help it.
When I arrived in Alexandria last night, I stopped at the trail head to look at the maps and local info to see if I could figure out where to stay. The camping was nine miles out of town—too far—and I had placed a call to a WarmShowers.org host, but hadn’t heard back. It was getting late.
After calling a few motels, I sensed that something was going on in town; they were all full. Of course, I was calling the bargain priced places. A few women from a Newcomers group (a local bicycling group) stopped to help me find a place. We tracked down an AirBnB.com member that one of them knew, but they were already booked. The women had to go, but gave me some ideas on where to look.
Darkness was approaching, so I went over to the nearby Depot Express restaurant and had a quick evening meal. Two women on the trail suggested that it was a good place to eat, and they were right.
I finally found a room at the Super 8 motel, all the way on the other side of town, about four miles away. I hustled to get there before dark. I had to stop at an ACE Hardware store and pick up batteries for my head lamp, so time was tight.
Finally, off in the distance, I could see the motel sign. I had my lights on and came to an intersection where there was some construction activity. I quickly looked right and left and all was clear. What I didn’t realize was they were laying new tarmac on the road and somebody forgot to put up signs to close the road access.
It was like a scene from an old Keystone Cops movie. I rode across the fresh tarmac, leaving a four-inch-wide track in their new work. Off to the side, I could see a fellow jumping up and down, but it was too late. I couldn’t hear him yelling with all the construction machines, but he was. I’m sure they were counting on going home soon, but I just dashed that dream. Not only that, there was a car following me and they figured it I made it across, they could too.
As the road crew was jumping up and down and yelling I rode off to my motel.
In the lobby, I signed up for a very expensive ($108 + tax) room. As I finished, my phone rang. You guessed it, the Warmshowers contact was calling back to tell me they had a free room. Sadly, it was just too late. They’re four miles out of town and it was dark out there. Besides, if I went near that road construction there would be death threats.
I settled in and after a hot shower, it was bedtime.
I awoke about a half-hour before sunrise this morning. I packed up most of my gear and the big yellow lab, Kazu, decided he didn’t want me to leave. In the short time I was there, two nights, this dog had really taken to me. On the second night I slept on a guest bed in the cellar. Rather than mess it up, I just threw a blanket over the bed, the blanket I had used the night before on the couch.
Kazu decided that if he stayed on the blanket, I wouldn’t be able to leave. As I brought gear upstairs he would follow me up, but if I started to return downstairs, he would charge down ahead of me and jump on the blanket. I believe his logic was that I couldn’t leave if I couldn’t remove the blanket. I tried to take the blanket off the bed so they could wash it, but he wouldn’t budge. At 110 pounds (50 kg), I wasn’t going to argue with him.
I went upstairs and drank a large glass of orange juice and ate a banana. As I did, the dog sat right in front of me and whined. The he finally worked himself up into full-scale barking. Everyone in the house, from the various bedrooms, started yelling for him to quiet down. I couldn’t believe it, he didn’t want me to leave. He’s seen so many guests from WarmShowers leave that he knew I was next. Amazingly perceptive and emotional dog. He is a real charmer, I didn’t want to leave him either.
I went outside and Finn, had left a little “present” on the walkway so that I couldn’t leave as well. His method wasn’t as impressive, but I got the message:
It was time to go. I headed south, then east into a rising sun. Today was more of the flat, long roads.
At about thirty miles, I stopped to photograph some workers up on a 1300 foot (396 m) tower. I think they were going up to replace something. There were three of them at about 900 feet, you can see them if you really look. As I was taking the photo I heard someone coming up the road behind me. It was Coner and Aidan again. We keep crossing paths. They too had taken a zero day in Fargo. I rode with them for several miles until we hit the hills, and then I faded.
58.13 miles (94 km) later, I arrived in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. I had contacted someone from WarmShowers.org, but when I arrived in town I had a phone call from them. They were at the Minnesota State Fair, so they were not home. I told them I took a room at the Pelican Motel.
The motel is very nice and the proprietor, Wade, made me feel like family. We started talking about our dads in WW II and before I knew it he was loading me up with a loaf of zucchini bread he had just made, butter and drinks from his fridge. How could I refuse? The bread was very good.
I told him I came to the motel because I saw it on Google Maps. On Maps you can find motels, click on them and see reviews from previous customers, all without leaving the map. The reviews were very good.
Tomorrow I am off to Fergus Falls and then after that it looks like there is about 100 miles (64 km) of bike trail to ride. This should be interesting.