Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wisconsin West-to-East Record

Date: August 19, 2012
Mileage: 298.1 miles
Elapsed time: 19 hours and 43 minutes

Rider: Mark H. Ehlers
Crew: Brian Larson (crew chief), Linda Ehlers, Judi Zink
U.M.C.A. Official: Nick Carver

2:30 am: We pulled our vehicles into the park along the St. Croix River in Minnesota. The crew and I exchanged a few last minute details before going into a short group prayer for safety and success. Brian reminded me I had 2 minutes before the scheduled 3:00 am start. My wife and I exchanged a kiss and I proceeded to the bridge where I stopped and waited briefly for the crew to join me. The bike I rode is a 2012 BMC Team Machine, with Sram Red drivetrain, Easton EA90 wheels, 3T carbon handlebars, and Fizik Arione saddle. I chose to go “old school” and ride without aero-bars, which worked out just fine.

3:00 am: I clicked into my pedals and crossed the bridge into Wisconsin. The first few hours in the dark were chilly and quiet. The starting temp was about 50 degrees and damp, but dropped several degrees a couple hours later. I stopped briefly to put on knee warmers as Brian reminded me that it’s always coldest before the dawn. On some of the longer descents, I found myself shivering so much that the handlebars would shake and keep me from going any faster. Back in June, when I test rode the first 100 miles of the route I was able to descend these hills without restraint. Even the climbing was a bit difficult, as the damp air caused my lungs to work harder, and I was reminded of the asthma I had struggled with as a child. I rolled through the countryside, past farms that were awakening for morning chores and preparing to attend Sunday church services.

4:03 am: I spooked a pigeon that had been resting on the side of the road. The bird took flight and passed within inches of my face, only to hit my left shoulder as it flew by. Several minutes later, I commented to the crew via our 2-way radios, “The stars are incredible.”

4:17 am: First potty break. And as we approached pre-dawn, concentrated pockets of thick mist floating above the low areas produced an eerie beauty of their own. The crew called them “fallen clouds”.

5:00 am: Discovered slow leak in front tire. We stop for a quick wheel exchange.

5:18 am: Second potty break. I think to myself, “It must be nerves”. Frustrating!

6:06 am: Sunrise! The beauty brought hope to a new day.

8:25 am: Remove knee warmers and wind vest.

9:55 am: 100 miles and 1/3 of the way done!

10:15 am: Riding through Amish country, 3 Amish girls on bicycles come over the rise, dressed in colorful Sunday dresses. Against the blue sky and green hillside, the image brings a smile to my face.

11:55 am: 70 degrees and loving the warm, sunny day!

It was somewhere around the very early afternoon, 140 miles or so, I began to feel discouraged. My speed had dropped to about 10 mph. I believe this was after leaving the town of Abbotsford. From here I had to ride directly north and into a headwind for quite a while, until reaching Highway 64. Up until then, I had been riding against a crosswind coming from the north. So I stopped and talked with Brian, my crew chief, who proceeded to tell me that he wasn’t going to let me give up and that anything can yet happen. The rest of the crew came over and prayed over me for strength and hope. A car stopped and asked if we were okay. I felt better and I continued.

2:05 pm: I turned onto Highway 64 and had my crosswind again. I began to hammer.

3:40 pm: Friends from church, Adam and Abbey, phoned my crew. They had organized a prayer meeting with other church members. Adam prayed with my crew via speakerphone. They also planned for people to pray hourly “as long as it takes”.

4:28 pm: I hit 200 miles! My crew is cheering, ringing a cow bell, and basically carrying on!

5:20 pm: Food and potty stop. So far, most of my caloric needs have been met in liquid form (Hammer Perpetuem and Accelerade), with occasional pretzels and sandwiches of fig spread, mascarpone cream cheese, and ham. But at this stop, my crew gets me a jar of pickles and a Coke as requested. Riding along the southern boundary of the Nicolet National Forest, I am surrounded by gigantic pine trees on both sides of Highway 64. Is this the road to heaven?

7:45 pm: Temperatures beginning to drop as sunset approaches. Just before the town of Mountain I stop to put on warmer clothes and my lights.

7:55 pm: An incredible sunset!

8:25 pm: A white SUV with one headlight passes me very slowly and proceeds to drive alongside Brian in the lead car. Shortly after, they both pull off to the side and stop. I pass both vehicles. A moment later, the SUV pulls up alongside me while I’m riding. There are two slightly drunk women inside, and they tell me that they just gave Brian $10 for our “cause” (we were using the ride to raise money for a missionary from our church, Abbey, who had called the crew earlier that afternoon). Soon after thanking them, my wife, who was driving the follow vehicle (and knew they were drunk), goes into her mama bear instincts and chases the SUV away – honking, shouting, and flashing her high beams in the driver’s eyes: Be gone, you!

8:26 pm: Nick, the official, continues to record elevation updates, average speed, etc. He comments to the crew that I’ve been going 18-20 mph. He is really getting into this! Little did anyone know, but for the last 40 miles or so, my left hamstring had gone into a very painful cramp that I couldn’t release. It was extremely painful and was causing me to lose any riding form I still had left. It was beginning to look like I might not break Fred Boethling’s 10-year standing record. For the last hour or so, my wife has been urging me on via our 2-way radios, letting me know that the record is within my grasp, but that I need to keep my speed up. She reminds me often, “The joy of the Lord is my strength!” My friends, Nancy and David B. (driving in from Sturgeon Bay) and Ruth C. (coming from Milwaukee) phone in to the crew. They would end up being influential in guiding our lead car the last couple miles toward the finish. Finally, I see the Marinette city limit sign and I hit the big chain ring. I start to hammer.

10:43 pm: I cross the bridge that brings us from Marinette, WI and into Menominee, MI. My crew and friends from Milwaukee and Sturgeon Bay are waiting for me with signs, party noise makers, and cheers at the Menominee welcome center. I roll up to a grassy spot near the building, lay down my bike and fall on my knees, thanking the Lord for his mercy. Then I roll to my side and lie on the grass. My wife runs up to me exclaiming, “Honey, you broke the record! You broke the record!!!”

I am home.

Mark H. Ehlers - The Prodigal Cyclist

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Aftermath

Now that this 3 year journey has been completed, the next several days will be spent compiling all the notes and photographs that my crew recorded during the ride. Wednesday was my first day back on the bike and it was a very easy spin on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail to the north end of Cedarburg. Thursday I took another easy spin of about 20 miles. Then later in the day I joined up with the "Ride MKE" Club that has Thursday evening rides out of Wheel & Sprocket's Northshore location. I had a nice vigorous 30 mile "big-ring", clean-out-the-cobwebs ride with the group, and actually felt pretty good.

I'll post a story of our adventure soon, along with all the interesting characters we met along the way. For now, please enjoy a few photos from the record ride:

Ready to leave for Prescott, WI Saturday moring

Support vehicle getting inspected by U.M.C.A. official
About 3 hours into the ride

A long awaited sunrise!
One of the smaller climbs

Mark, don't feed the cows!
A brief route discussion

"Honey, you broke the record! You broke the record!!!"
Victory at 19 hours and 43 minutes after crossing the bridge in Marinette, WI,
as Mark collapses at the finish.

Monday morning after the victory (left to right):
Nick Carver - UMCA Official
Brian Larson - Crew Chief and Navigator
Mark Ehlers - Rider
Linda Ehlers - Coach and Follow Vehicle Driver
Judi Zink - Log Keeper and Cook

Rider, crew, official, and welcoming party!
(including Dave and Nancy Bontempo and Ruth Carver...and oh, yes...Buster!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It is finished...

Pending verification from the U.M.C.A. (Ultra Marathon Cycling Association), the governing body for ultra-marathon cycling events, there is now a new record for cycling across Wisconsin: 19 hours and 43 minutes.

Story to follow soon...

Thursday, August 9, 2012


After nearly three years of training and preparations, the big day is now less than two weeks away. I am now in the tapering phase. The time for long days in the saddle has come to an end. Now it's time to give my body true rest, as it builds up reserves for what will probably prove to be the most taxing ride of my life. I have to confess that there have been moments of doubt, questioning whether or not I should be investing the time, energy, and money into this endeavor. But the Lord has blessed me with some special friends that have helped me through those difficult times.

First, there is my wife, Linda, who has offered more encouragement that I could ever deserve. She has sacrificed a lot during these past three years to support me in this dream. She is my best friend. Linda stepped up to the plate immediately and began to learn the selfless responsibilities of being a support crew member, and has done so with an enthusiasm that sets up an environment for a winning team. She is always there to remind me that with God, all things are possible.

Next, there is my crew chief, Brian Larson, who has been an encouraging confidant as he listened to me express my personal concerns and struggles. Brian and I became friends many years ago, and even then I knew he had a heart of gold that could only be the product of a man who gave his life to Christ. Brian has many years of experience working with bicycle tours and all the gritty details that keep people spinning the pedals and reaching their goals.

The third member of our crew is Judi Zink, someone who also has a Christ-like compassion for people that anyone would be blessed to have on their crew. Judi also has experience with marathon cycling herself, and is very familiar with the strength, both internal and external, that is required to push yourself as a marathon cyclist.

The fourth member who will be joining us is Nick Carver, the official who will be making sure all of us (rider and crew members) obey the rules of the road and the rules set up by the UMCA (Ultra Marathon Cycling Association), the governing body of ultra-marathon cycling events. Nick has the integrity and wisdom that is necessary for such a position. But most of all, he is also a friend of Jesus.

In case you haven't already noticed, everyone involved in this record attempt is a Christian. When I began to search for the right people to fill these rolls, I looked for certain characteristics that would allow each of them to work well together as a team. But the main characteristic, the one above all earthly skills, was that each one had to have given their life to Christ. These people are much more than crew members and official. They are prayer warriors.

Recently, a few people have asked me if I'm getting nervous as the big day approaches. Sometimes while sitting in my office at night, I read through a new chapter or two of a prayer book my wife gave me last month for my birthday, "30 Promises and Prayers of Courage for Men". But truthfully, I haven't really thought about it...being nervous, that is. Sure, there is a certain amount of excitement that I can now feel building up inside. And during the next week and half, as I begin starving my mind and body of it's daily fix for long hours on the road, that nervous energy will get to be a new challenge in itself, as I learn how to wait, in patience, for the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, August 19th.

I want the start of the ride to be here soon, with all the preparation behind me, and all I have to do is focus on the task at hand - riding the bike. But more than anything, I have a sense of peace about it all. You see, I know that the Lord is in control.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Not just another bike ride...

Dear Praying Friends,                                                                     

We are getting so excited about Mark’s “Record Ride” that will be happening on Sunday, August 19, 2012.  By “Record Ride,” we mean that he has been training for almost 3 years on his bicycle to ride 300 miles across the state of Wisconsin, attempting to break the record time of 19 hours and 55 minutes, set 10 years ago by another man in his 50s.  I know he can do it!  He is ready, and the Lord has blessed Mark with the stamina, strength and perseverance he’ll need to make it through.

We wanted to get the word out about the attempt, for several reasons.  First, we ask that you’ll pray for Mark that weekend, especially for a tailwind (W-E), for safety on the road, and for pleasant weather. 

Second, we are excited to add to the ride a pledge drive for our friend, Abbey Gottinger, a gifted young woman whom God has called to the mission field this fall, particularly to work with immigrants and refugees from the Middle East in Frankfurt, Germany.  She will be working with a church that is specifically reaching out to these refugees, bringing comfort, practical help and the good news about Jesus to them.  Abbey will focus on refugee women and children, mostly coming from Muslim backgrounds.

We hope you’ll consider pledging an amount to Abbey through Mark’s Ride.  As mentioned, the ride is about 300 miles long, and we are suggesting that folks might want to pledge an amount per mile.  In addition, it might be fun if you’d consider doubling that pledge in the event that Mark is successful in breaking the record!  Or, if you know Abbey and Mark, you may want to pledge an amount per mile that you could give per month to Abbey.  She will be in Frankfurt for about 10 months.
Please pray about it.  It would be a huge encouragement to Mark to know that his many hours of work and sweat on the bike are going to bring lasting glory to the Lord through Abbey’s ministry.

Prayer Requests for Mark’s Record Ride
Pledge Ideas for Abbey’s Mission Trip
Safety on the road
10¢/per mile = $30
Tailwind!  From 3am to 10pm, west to east.
Doubled if Mark breaks the record = $60
Pleasant weather (no rain, not too hot, maybe a little cloud cover…)
Monthly pledge of 10¢ per mile: $30/month
for 10 months = $300
Strength and stamina to ride 300 miles
Or, whatever you would like to give
Minimum of back & muscle pain, etc.
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
(Proverbs 11:25)
“Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matthew 7:7)

Abbey, Mark and I are members of Eastbrook Church, and I (Linda) have known her family for over 15 years.  Please email us if you can join our prayer team, and/or Abbey’s support team.  She will send you a letter with more details about her ministry.  Checks can be sent to Eastbrook Church, 5385 N Green Bay Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53209, with “Abbey Gottinger” on the memo line.
Thanks for considering our requests.  We are blessed by your encouragement and friendship.  The LORD make His face shine on you and give you peace.”

Love from,

Mark & Linda Ehlers
Milwaukee, WI
Cell phone: 414-526-4113 (Mark)