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


  1. what a great write up. I felt the emotion and the happiness.... congratulations. You worked very hard to achieve your goal!

  2. Susan, thank you so much for your kind words. You and Lon, individually and as a couple, have been an inspiration for me from the early '80s. And even today, with the work you folks do, I am still being inspired. Hope to see you guys sooner than later!

  3. Thanks. You had a great crew chief.


  4. Mike, you know I had the best! I never imagined having someone as helpful and encouraging as I had with Brian. A humble, yet courageous brother.