Good evening to everyone out there, it’s evening for me at this point. This is Day 22 out of 50, Monday, July 13. Today we traveled from Hot Springs to Rapid City, SD. We went 75 miles today, and it was a significant day of climbing. They told us that it would be, and we always think that when we’ve climbed so much before that it probably won’t be that hard because we’ve done it before. But it’s not true, it’s always hard every single time. But I can say this, it was a magnificent day today. The interesting thing about all of these days is that while some things are the same, every day is so unique and so special that it feels almost like there’s five or six days within the day. Trying to explain how the day went at this time of the night, at the end of the day, is almost like the day has had so many events in it that it’s hard to explain everything from the whole day, even though I do this every evening to give you this message. It’s still amazing to me every day how things start off and how the day rolls into these events.
For example, we started off today and most of these cities lately we seem to have these great descents going into the cities, which is really wonderful at the end of our trip, like two or three or four miles of descending. However, it also means that the next morning we’re climbing out of those cities to get to the next places. So this morning, for our first 31 miles, we were pretty much climbing the whole time. I found out that we did about 2500 feet of climbing. It’s pretty significant first thing in the morning. Now the great thing is, it was quiet and beautiful and peaceful as we left Hot Springs, because we leave once again around 6:15, no later than 6:30, so it’s early in the morning and not much is out for traffic. Once again we started off with a gloriously beautiful day today, we still can’t get over, all of us on the trip, how perfect this weather has been. Every time we’ve heard of a thunderstorm threat, or a of a difficulty that could be happening within the day, like today it was predicted that we would be definitely hitting a thunderstorm/lightning storm within the afternoon into the evening, or that the weather was projected to be really, really bad on Mt. Rushmore. But it turned out that we had picture-perfect, gorgeous weather. So, again, we have been extremely blessed, extremely thankful and still can’t even believe how wonderful this is.
So at 31 miles we had our first SAG stop. We were pretty much on Route 385 North and Route 18 West. We went through the area of Wind Cave National Park, which there was about a 10-mile section near Custer where we got up to 5318 feet, starting off at 3220 feet, so that was 2000 feet right there. As we went through the town of Custer, there was a section of descent coming out of the town that was just beautiful. It was free, hardly any traffic, smooth roads. I have to admit I usually don’t like to go any faster than 35 to 38 mph, but I actually got up to the fastest speed with a comfortable, cautious feeling, 43 mph on my bike going downhill today. Even I’m shocking myself sometimes, because a lot of times I’m really a scaredy cat! I’m still afraid every day with something, it’s still a major challenge going up these climbs, and I’m still very cautious going down with the rumble and with watching the road and the debris and the shoulder and the cars and the heat, usually by the afternoon in extremely hot weather between 80 and 90 degrees. It’s always nice and cooling going down a hill. But it was really a blast for that little while, going 43 mph, it was really, really fun.
So at the 37-mile mark we got to this amazing section called Crazy Horse Memorial, which was just off to the right on our route. It’s really amazing. You go into this pavilion area where they have a whole memorial building section. There was an Indian, Crazy Horse, who was an extremely honorable man as an Indian chief, and he was always trying to kind of right the wrongs of people who were not following their treaties. He always tried to create peace and justice, and he was a very good, honorable man. They wanted to make a memorial for him, and there is a memorial being built that is mammoth, looking up on the rocks. Just to give you an idea, we know how huge Mt. Rushmore is, this is going to be two to three times that size when it’s finished. It got started in the 1940s by one man, and he started it on the mountain all by himself. It’s just an amazing story of what this man has done. Only recently did he die, and his wife are still alive. They ended up having ten children, and seven of his ten children are still involved with the cause of building this. The memorial is an Indian man with hair kind of wisping back on his horse, with the horse’s head kind of bowed down, and the Indian’s arm out straight pointing to his land. It’s a carving in the rock of the mountain, which is absolutely amazing. We went through the museum and saw teepees and some gorgeous Indian art with clay vases and beautiful jewelry and art paintings. Their ability for art and design is absolutely amazing. The fortitude of the people who are building this, only the head is done and a portion of the section of the arm going out has already been kind of blasted. But just like they did with Mt. Rushmore, they’re blasting the mountain to do the carving. It’s really sensational. It’s hard to say the name of this family, but it’s Ziolkowski, the family that still continues to build this Crazy Horse dream. It’s nine stories high, and they celebrated the 50th anniversary back in 1998, so it’s been going on for a long time. The first blast was on June 3, 1948. There’s a lot of information about it if you want to look it up. That was just an amazing experience to see this, to go in and see the movie and the story. They also do a legend of lights at nighttime, they do a storytelling, and it’s just fascinating. It was really wonderful that we were able to do that.
We did a lot of sightseeing today, and we could take as much time as we wanted. We actually took a lot of time to go see all this.
So leaving from the 37-mile mark of our 75 miles today, we went on to 52 miles, and all of that was climbing, some downhill a little bit, but most of it was climbing, to get to the beautiful, magnificent Mt. Rushmore. It has four presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. That is really a sight to see. It was fascinating. We got there and went through the whole museum area of all the information of the presidents, went through the whole boardwalk to get really close, as close as we could to the rock formation, to get a lot of pictures. We went through the movie of how it was formed, again by blasting. Just the incredible technology of artists and engineers working together, which I think is really sensational. Mt. Rushmore is in the Black Hills, and it was fascinating to see. The main man who designed it was named Borglum. He was really a visionary and he was looking for a rock mountain that wasn’t too fragile. There are a lot of fragile kind of needle-looking rocks. He found this 5725-foot Mt. Rushmore that was named in 1885 for a New York lawyer, Charles E. Rushmore, and found that it was the perfect area to do this in. So President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial back in 1927, and it took 14 years to make it. Six years were spent on actually carving it. It was fascinating to see this in the rock. I was really happy to be able to see that today and spent a lot of time there as well.
So leaving Mt. Rushmore, we did some descent and then at 57 miles we started the climb again. From 57 to about 73 miles was quite a climb, quite difficult. I was very, very happy after 75 miles to get into our motel, to say the least. It was a long day, but it was a wonderful day.
I have something really most significant to share about the day that was really my prize experience for the day. Everything was so wonderful, but the thing that was most special about today was I met a very special person named Bryan. When we were walking Mt. Rushmore, a big, burly man came up to me who had on his leather jacket and was clearly a motorcycle rider. I had my Operation Life Transformed shirt on, which was really pretty filthy, I got pretty dirty today. I had a slight little fall, nothing serious fortunately, so the back of my shirt was all dirty, and we were walking through Mt. Rushmore with me pretty much a sweaty, dirty little wreck, to tell you the truth! Taking my helmet off of totally sweaty hair, definitely not the beauty queen, I’ll tell you that. This man came up to me and said something about angels on the back of my shirt, which I didn’t understand. I said, “No, I’m riding my bicycle across America for the cause of our heroes that have been deployed and those that have been injured, and for the families that are home waiting for their loved ones to come home.” I said, “It’s a really great cause.” He said, “Well, that’s wonderful. I’m with the Patriot Guard Riders, standing for those who stood for us.” He said, “I actually go to the families of the people who are deployed who have died for our country, and I help bury them. I’m there for the widows and for the children.” I just started crying, and I said to him, “You are one special man, how good of you to do this. What a heart you have for our country. Thank you so, so much.” He said, “Thank you, thank you for riding across America and standing for our soldiers.” He said, “I’ve lost some very good friends in Iraq, they’re my brothers.” Then he said, “Here, come with me, I have something for you.” We walked a short distance over to where his wife and two children were, and he went into his bag and pulled out this most glorious coin that is protected in plastic that is actually given to the men and women who lose their loved ones. It’s an honoring coin. It says, “In honor and appreciation and respect, standing in support since 2005.” It’s a beautiful picture of our flag. The little section that they work out of is the state of Washington, so that section is kind of cut out from the flag. On the back side of it it says, “Patriot Guard Riders of Washington.” On the bottom it says, “Standing for those who stood for us.” It’s a triangle of “Patriot” coming up the left side, “Guard” coming down the right side, and on the bottom it says, “Rider,” and in the middle it’s stars. It says, “Riding with respect.” Of course, he rides a motorcycle and that’s how he gets from place to place to go help the widows and families. His name is Bryan and his email is email@example.com. He gave me his card and of course I gave him my card from Operation Life Transformed. We gave each other a hug, and I got a picture of him today. I had a friend of mine take a picture of me with him. We hugged each other and said God bless you to each other, and it was a very, very special, emotional moment. This coin will always be extremely precious to me.
I have to say, this trip so far, between all of the experiences of America By Bicycle, people that I’ve met and ride with, that watch out for me and protect me, all the different men on this trip have just been so great and the women have just been great fellowship for me, the staff has just been exceptional. Mike Munk actually took a lot of pictures of me today. I was riding with a friend named Paul and he got a bunch of pictures of us that should be on the website. I sent you that bamacyclist.com website and you got to http://www.bamacyclist.com/Journal2009/North09/09North.htm and you can find all the pictures that Mike Munk is taking of all of us on the trip, and he does a big write-up every single day, which is actually more information than what I’m giving you. So you’re most welcome to go on that website and take a look at those.
Anyway, between that and just the thrill of all the scenery that I’m seeing and the fears that I face every day of these climbs and descents as far as how difficult it is physically but how exhilarating it is as well, how at the end of every day I’m just so thankful to be alive, that I made it through another day. And I literally mean that, because there are just a lot of scary situations with my tires on the road, on the side, and with all of the different factors of how we could go down. I’m just thankful for every safe day. There are just so many things that go into one day that I can’t even describe what this trip is like. It’s definitely transforming me and I’m definitely already a very changed person, I trust, much more for the better.
At the dinner table tonight, we were over at Perkins, at our table of eight of us, we literally laughed our heads off, I don’t think we ever stopped laughing. Just the things people say about the trip, about the ride, about something they’ve seen, I think just being so slap-happy, silly tired, we just were laughing until the tears were rolling down our face. It’s an amazing time, it’s an amazing gift to be on this ride. The people that I’ve met, a lot of the people up at Mt. Rushmore who asked us what we’re doing, I always have my card ready to give them about Operation Life Transformed, and they’re always really touched when I say that I’m riding for the cause of helping our military men and women and families in all the branches of the military, helping them, supporting our heroes.
I just want to tell you that you heroes, you are making a difference. Whether people talk about it or whether you know it, when you’re mentioned, and when it comes up about you, people are touched. I can see it in the facial expressions, I can feel it in their spirit, I can tell that you really are making a difference and you do matter. So just know how appreciated you are, and how much we really do love you. I know you don’t feel it, I know you don’t see it every day, and you probably think that you’re forgotten, but I want to tell you that you’re not forgotten. You’re not forgotten in the hearts of many Americans. People don’t talk about it, I think a lot of people don’t like to talk about difficult things, and war is just a difficult thing, something people want to deny and want to kind of put under the rug and not face a lot of times. It’s just like a lot of people don’t want to deal with grief either, but when you’ve been through a grievous situation and you know how to sit by the side of someone who’s grieving and say, “You know what, it’s okay, it’s okay that you’re sad, because I’m here with you and I love you, and you’re going to make it to the other side.” A lot of these people really do have a heart for you. So God bless you, know that you’re loved, know that you’re cared for, know that you’re prayed for. Let’s just keep on keeping on, shall we? Yes!
I look forward to telling you the stories of tomorrow. We are heading to the city of Wall, SD, and it will be July 14, 14 is my favorite number. My first daughter Aubrielle was born on July 16th, her birthday is coming up, she’ll be 26. She’s a beautiful young woman married to a wonderful, wonderful man named Alex. They got married last year and celebrated their anniversary on July 5th. They got married in Bar Harbor, Maine last summer on a beautiful 4th of July weekend. I love them very dearly, and of course all my kids. I’ve mentioned Justin, Josh and Christina. I want to mention my sisters tonight too, my precious sister Sue and her husband Dan and their boys Eric and Nick. They leave out in Chittenango, NY, and when I go through Liverpool I’m going to get to see them, I can’t wait. Also my fabulous sister Jane and her husband Bob, and their two boys Bryce and David. Both of my sisters have been a great support throughout my life, they’re very, very precious to me as well. I love their husbands and their children, and I know that they’re both very excited for me. They’ve been very supportive of me doing this trip. I just want to tell them how much I love them and how thankful I am that I have them as sisters. I’m a middle girl of three, so I’m very blessed to have two wonderful, loving sisters that I can always count on that have always been there for me. I try to be there for them as much as possible. I trust they feel the same way about me. We all have a good relationship and it’s a real blessing.
Anyway, time to say goodnight. It’s been great chatting with you, sharing with you. Again, I hope that you’re thinking about what are the things that you want to do in your life that will be a legacy, that will make a difference, that make a difference for the people around you. Maybe you’re already doing it, so just keep on keeping on, because God bless you, that’s what it takes, kind of one step at a time, one pedal at a time. We climb these mountains that we have in our lives and we conquer them, then we can enjoy the thrill of it for a while, then we have to climb another one. I just think riding a bike is such an example of what life is filled with—our fears, our joys, our sorrows, our thrills, our emotions. It’s just companionship, looking out at nature and just marveling at what God has created, meeting the people across the nation and realizing that people are just amazing.
God bless you, and God bless America.