Wow! Where to begin?! The Cow-to-Cow 2000 started out as a crazy idea that kept getting crazier. For my 40th birthday, my husband Jay and more than a dozen of our friends chipped in to buy me a new bike. I had been riding Jay's Trek 850 mountain bike, which I had always thought fit me just fine ... until I got my Terry "Moo" and realized just how much more comfortable riding could be!
Trek 850 Friends at the Party Jay - The Quiet Mastermind
Terry Bicycles is this amazing company that has concentrated on making bikes for women for the past 15 years. They understand the different proportions of women (shorter arms, longer legs, wider hips) and make bikes that really fit us, instead of just making smaller versions of men's bikes. Terry also understands that women come in all shapes and sizes, and just because you're not 5'10" and 120 pounds doesn't mean you're forbidden to be a cyclist! They actually carry clothing in PLUS sizes!!!
The Terry "Moo" bike is a model that's been discontinued, but is similar to the "Susan B" model now being sold. It's a mountain bike configuration, and although the "Susan B" is made for all women, the "Moo" was designed only for women 5'5" and under. That's me! It has this delightful Holstein paint job that makes it a real classic, and after I added cow print handlebar tape and a squeaky horn that's the head of a Holstein, I was ready to embrace my new persona!
After just a couple hundred miles on my faithful "Moo" I knew I wanted to schedule a longer trip. You know how you get those crazy ideas that won't go away? Well, I made the mistake of thinking, "Hey, it'd be really cool to bike to my parents' house." Now for some of you that might not seem like much. Jay's mom lives in Waukesha which is only a 20-mile training ride from here. But my parents still live on the farm in North Dakota, western North Dakota no less, and is a cool 855 miles from here by car on the Interstate. On bike, I knew I was talking somewhere closer to 950 to 1,000 miles!
I'm not a complete stranger to long distance cycling. Jay bought a tandem in 1996 and after just one short summer of training, we did the Habitat 500 to benefit Habitat for Humanity. The trip was fully supported and went from Louisville KY to Atlanta GA in August of that year. The following year we repeated our distinction of being the only tandem on the trip and did the Habitat 500 from St. Paul to Lake Superior and back. For this trip, though, I knew I'd be talking about taking on twice as long a distance without road support.
End of 1996 Habitat 500
Our Trek 100 Tandem End of 1997 Habitat 500
St Paul MN
I don't know when I started saying "when I go" instead of "if I go," but to me that marked the point of no return. To change my mind now would make me a quitter, and worse yet, a quitter before I even started. I was committed (and probably committable).
My evenings are full of rehearsals, but fortunately my days are usually my own. I started riding at least two hours a day, sometimes longer, and in all conditions. For those of you who like stats, I biked 1,167 miles from mid-May through the first week of August, averaging 29 miles per ride, with an average speed of 12 mph. I did a couple of 90-milers back to back the beginning of July (Milwaukee to Madison and back) and a couple of 50-milers the end of July. Most of my rides were in Milwaukee County on various parts of the Oak Leaf trail system.
The Cow-to-Cow idea went from a spark of inspiration to a full-blown event in about the time it takes a neuron to cross a dozen synapses. I was looking at maps and feeling overwhelmed by the distance I would have to cover in North Dakota -- over 300 miles of mostly flat expanses heading into an inevitable west wind. And no matter which route I took, the last 40 miles or so to my parents' farm was going to be lots of long hills as I headed out of the plains towards the Badlands. Somehow, I had to cut this ride short. I had decided that from Fargo west I would be sticking as close to I-94 as possible (it's legal to ride the shoulders in NoDak -- scary, but legal) so I was looking at that stretch on the map when New Salem leapt out at me.
New Salem is a fairly indistinguishable town except for the fact that they build this tremendously huge (50 feet long) Holstein cow on the top of the biggest hill in the area. Mecca! As soon as I thought of it, I knew my ride would have to end under Salem Sue, as she is known. Well, if I was going to end the trip there, I would have to begin the trip at the Golden Guernsey cow at their plant in Waukesha. Instantly, the name "Cow-to-Cow" popped into my head, and it sounded so much like a fund-raising ride, I decided that was what I would have to do -- raise funds for a worthy cause.
It was easy to choose Habitat for Humanity. We had raised pledges for them before, and it's a terrific organization. They don't just hand out money; people have to work for it, and not only on their own house but on someone else's as well. People helping people. That's the way it should be.
The other pleasant side effect of making Cow-to-Cow 2000 a fund-raising ride was that it allowed me to shamelessly broadcast it to my friends and in turn receive the support and well-wishing that can make the difference between riding and quitting. I know felt like I had my "support" crew, at least in thoughts and prayers. I ended up with over 60 pledges totaling around $3,000. Eventually, $3,642.50 was collected and delivered to the Milwaukee office of Habitat for Humanity.
Being on the road for 12 days would mean sleeping somewhere other than home for 11 nights. If I were to stay in hotels the whole time, the cost would have been prohibitive. I started running searches on the United Church of Christ website to locate UCC churches along the route, and altered my route where necessary. I contacted the ministers in those towns and within a month had a place to stay for 8 of the 11 nights. I booked the 3 remaining nights at hotels, bought cow refrigerator magnets to take along for my hosts, church postcards to send them the day after I stayed there, and had Tom Pexton put together a small photo album of the church where I'm director of music -- Plymouth UCC Church in Milwaukee.
I spent many a late night studying the maps I had purchased from Adventure Cycling Association and working with Mapquest online to create routes to get me where I was going. I also made lists of everything I needed to take with me, and roughed out what my daily routine should be -- when to do bike maintenance, laundry, journaling, etc.
When I contacted Terry Bicycles to tell them what their "Moo" had inspired, they offered to send me some "Fat Girl Slicks" which would fit on my 24" inch rims and be more efficient than the all-terrain tires I had on there. Friends also loaned me a CO2 gun for fixing flats and an expandable rear rack pack. Everything else was purchased, organized, stuffed into plastic bags and loaded. I was ready!
(For those of you interested in "technical" stuff -- bike components, what I packed -- check out the Statistics page.)
Humorous Thought for the Day(s) - When I'd be out riding on a day where it was either too warm, too windy, or too rainy, or on a day when I was too tired, too busy, or too overwhelmed, I'd find myself asking, "Why are you doing this?" I always answered myself - sometimes out loud - with the words of Bill Murray in "Stripes" when asked where his platoon had been: "Training, sir!"