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Day 16 - Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin to South Beloit, Illinois
152 miles
6540' climbing


I woke up feeling a little better. I lined up all my drugs again, taking Vitamin C, Excel, ibuprofen, aspirin and throat lozenges. I stood there while taking all this stuff and tried to remind myself that this was my vacation and this was supposed to be fun. In the end this was my best day of the whole trip.

It had rained overnight and there was still a little drizzle coming down at breakfast time, so we ate breakfast in the hall and stairwell. No one seemed in a tremendous hurry to go out and ride in the rain. This was to be our first morning of having to start in rain, and it just seems to take a little more of a push to start out this way.

The roads were pretty wet, so I put on my rain pants, as well as jacket, booties and gloves. I wanted to try to keep my shorts dry, and keep that one saddle sore that I had from getting company. Before we actually started, the rain seemed to stop, but the roads were still wet and I didn't have a lot of confidence that the rain would not start back up, so I kept all my rain gear on. I was really eager to ride, but we had to wait until everything was loaded up before leaving. I got to see all the other riders get ready and roll out, as well as all the stuff it takes to keep our group on the road get loaded into each vehicle. Rebecca was the last thing loaded each morning!

Lon and I rolled out a little after 7AM, accompanied by Jim, Pete, Ed, Fred, and Kurt from Switzerland. We started climbing right away. I was happy to be on the tandem, but also knew that I was going to get my hardest workout of the trip. And I was really working hard. On a tandem, you don't want to feel that you are not pulling your own. On one particularly long hill, I must have been breathing pretty hard and Lon asked if I was wearing a heart rate monitor. I'd always thought that would take the fun out of riding, so of course I didn't have one. He suggested that if I did, it would be pegged, and that I should relax a little. Then Pete and Jim pulled on either side and placed hands on my back and proceeded to push us up the hill! We weren't doing that badly, but I think Pete really enjoys doing this. He did it to me and many of the others plenty of times on the trip!

I was having a blast. I was soaked through, and realized I'd need to dump my rain clothes soon. We spent most of the first 25 miles climbing. None of those spectacular downhills I had hoped for yet. At the first stop, I inhaled some food, got rid of my booties and rain pants and we were off again. Lon doesn't like to stop for very long. We then hit a dirt section that we just hammered through. I definitely picked the right day.

The terrain on this section was amazing, up and down and up and down, gaining 50-60 feet of elevation at a time. This was definitely a ride that would put wear and tear on shift levers and derailleurs. The gearing on this bike was set up for RAAM, and definitely for two incredibly strong riders. It had two chain rings, a 36 and a 56. We stayed in the 56 most of the time, powering up and over hills. The 36 was our bail out gear, and only got used on really long steep climbs. Lon is an absolute powerhouse on the bike. I'd never ridden with a captain as powerful as Lon and was a little surprised when he stood for the first time and I was literally thrown up and out of the saddle. It certainly eliminated the need for him to say standing, but it also made me afraid to take my hands of the handlebars.

Speaking of handlebars, one of the really great things about this bike is the stokers bars, or rather everything that had been done to accommodate the bars in the back. The bike has aero bars on the back, not so much to get the stoker in an aero position, but to relieve hand pressure on long rides. I ended up with a little numbness after stoking a tandem on last year's Boston-Montreal-Boston and had decided I really wanted to get aerobars on the back of my tandem. The problem is that then my face would literally be in the captains backside. This bike had a much, much longer top tube, eliminating that problem. I decided that my next tandem will be just like this one.

We came over one hill that Lon thought was a great photo opportunity, so he ducked while I took a picture over him. I can't wait to see this one. The scenery really was great and stoking gave me the chance to really enjoy it, since I only had to pedal and look around, rather than paying attention to pavement, and arrows, and shifting and such. I really was having such a good time, that I didn't want to give the bike up. So I asked Lon if I could convince John Bayley to captain, if I could keep the bike that afternoon. He knew that John had not captained before, but having seen and ridden with John himself, and with my confidence in John he decided to let us try.

John was a little nervous, but decided to go for the challenge. At first, we figured we'd send our singles up to the next snack stop in case it didn't work, but logistics made that difficult, so we decided to just go for it. After all it was only 60 more miles! Roger started trying to tell John all sort of tandem tips, but I stopped him. I didn't want John to have to think too much about what he was doing and filling his head with all this information would make him more nervous.

I told him it was just like riding a loaded touring bike, except that the luggage would pedal. I got him to ride around the parking lot without me, and then hopped on with no further instructions. I've stoked enough with so many different captains that I can usually feel what they are doing. I don't need to be told everything and often it is distracting. So maybe I've taught John some bad habits if he rides with novice stokers, but it worked great for us. We rolled out and immediately got out of the saddle. I wanted to make sure we could do this right away before doing a hilly 60 mile ride. No problem. We went barreling down the next hill and leaned hard into the first turn. I've later joked that I scrapped my elbow on that turn! John tried the aero bars a couple of times, but it was really too hilly to get much of a chance to spend any time on them. And it didn't take too long until John was captaining like an old pro.

We joined up with Tom and Cindy on their super lightweight titanium tandem and played cat and mouse on the hills. We really started to have fun, and it was great finally getting to ride with John. We had met last year, when he came over to do Boston-Montreal-Boston and stayed at my house a little before and after the ride. John is incredibly fast, so of course I hadn't been able to ride with him, and really hadn't seen that much of him on the trip, so getting to ride the tandem together was really great. Definitely the best part of the trip!

At the final snack stop, Roberta, one of our dedicated crew members told us that the last 30 or so miles would be much flatter. Well we wanted to strangle her after climbing hill after hill, and the message that Lon painted on the bottom of a hill saying "Welcome to FLAT Illinois" really frustrated us. We finally did hit a flat section about 15 miles from the finish. It wasn't too much later that we saw a rider coming toward us. We waved and continued on, but then the rider turned around and gave chase. It was Terry. He had flown all the way to Chicago to see if I liked my cookies! Actually, he was on his way to Boston to do BMB and had arranged a 2 day layover in Chicago to visit with his parents. He looked at his schedule and discovered that we would be nearby, so he came out to meet and ride with us. I had foiled his plans by getting on the tandem and riding too fast, so he'd only get a 20 mile ride, instead of the 60 miler he had hoped for.

I convinced Terry to clean my single, while I got a massage, and then we went out in search of milkshakes. We hit the jackpot with a diner across the street that used 7 or 8 scoops of ice cream for each shake!

This day was certainly my best on the tour, thanks to Lon, John and Terry!