Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rain Again? Seriously?

Bellevue, Iowa
Joe Ossman, veteran of a cross-country trip
in 2010, is at right.
Pedaling across America, you have plenty of time to think, and you can learn something new every day. Today I learned that you cannot break a fall by landing on a camera.

This morning I have the ugly bruise and malfunctioning camera to prove it.

Other than taking a hard spill, however, yesterday
was one of my best days yet as I was joined by a gentleman named Joe Ossman. I met Joe last summer when my brother (Tim) and I planned to ride with Joe, Chuck Boehme and Rich Fowler from San Francisco to Yellowtone Park. That ride ended for my brother after three days when he took a fall and since I didn't know the others and he did, I decided to pull out and ride this summer for JDRF.

At that time, the idea that my two youngest daughters might want to go along this summer was also a major factor.
Joe and Rich went from coast to coast themselves, so they're serious riders (and so is Chuck who did "only" 1300 miles); and since Joe was going to be visiting friends in Iowa, he said he'd have his wife drop him off one day and he'd ride with me. Joe did more than just ride "with me," he led the way almost the entire way, 86 miles, cutting through the air and making my job much easier. It's the same idea as the Tour de France where team riders shield the team leader and help him conserve strengh. In fact, Joe kept referring to himself as my "domestique," as they call support riders on the tour. And with a good tailwind we did make great headway, from Bellevue, Iowa on the Mississippi River to Strawberry Point, 86 miles away. Joe's wife, Kathy, joined us at the end of the day for a good supper (and showed me scrapbooks of Chuck, Joe and Rich's ride, which she and Rich's wife Cindy and Chuck's wife Janice supported).

And then the Ossmans also paid the dinner bill!

The good news today is that it's fairly cool here in Iowa. The bad news is it's cool because it has been pouring rain again. Dubuque, over on the river, got fourteen inches last night, I'm assuming an unheard of record for the city. Strawberry Point got about four; but I was lucky to be in a motel undercover. When I got up this morning, it was sunny outside and the prospects looked good. Then I noticed I had a flat rear tire, the third flat in the last three days). I spent half an hour patching all three tubes and trying to find any hidden bit of metal or piece of wire that might be puncturing all the new tubes. Couldn't find a problem. Had another hugh breakfast.

We're off!

One mile out of town I notice a huge wall of black clouds ahead. I consider stopping. No, the rider must go on.

Three miles out the cloud begins rumbling and flashing and the wind roars and the cloud breaks open and it feels like I'm getting hit with hail. The rider realized that discretion is the better part of valor and takes cover under some trees.

So here I am, waiting out a little precipitation in Oelwein, Iowa, which means I've been rained on 15 days on this trip already. But I can't complain. The people I'm meeting are universally kind, whether it's Joe and Kathy or the host couple at Starved Rock State Park a few days back, in Illinois. Bonnie and Phil Lyerla let me set my tent up on their lot and didn't charge when they heard I was riding to raise money for JDRF. Then the next morning Bonnie served me an omelette and toast, and I got to watch Phil feed the wild turkey that visits him mornings.

Later that day I stopped for a drink and some pastry at a little shop in LaSalle, Illinois. I had a brief talk with a gentleman at the next table and he loaned me the front section of the day's newspaper. The question came up, where was I going. California, I said, riding for JDRF.

We talked for awhile and he told me about family hiking trips he, his wife and two kids had done and talked about a vacation they took to Denali. Then he called the local paper and they sent a reporter over to take my photo.

I hope the photo didn't make me look fat.
Mike and Kathy.

Finally, my kind friend rose to pay his bill, stopped by my table to wish me a safe trip, and handed me a check made out to "Juvenile Diabetes" for $100. His name was Doug Gift--and his check says he's an attorney at law.

Later that same day I took a wrong turn trying to find the library in Peru, Illinois and ended up staring at my road map in front of Mike Frizoel's house. He called out and came over to help. Then he noticed my JDRF shirt and got excited. His wife Kathy is a type-1 diabetic and he said she'd love to meet me, but said she was at her doctor's appointment. So I said I could stick around. Kathy Frizoel has been a type-1 diabetic for forty-eight years, since age eight, and she has all kinds of medical problems, some related to diabetes and some not.

What Kathy DOESN'T have is a quitter's mentality.

Mike's tiger tatoo to honor his wife.
 She's a deeply religious individual and believes God uses her for His purposes. When she was battling breast cancer a few years back, for example, her experiences helped her convince others to get check-ups, including one good friend who caught a serious condition just in time. Kathy has also had eye surgery on both sides and recently got a kidney transplant, and she has titanium rods in both legs from a serious car accident. Mike interrupted at one point and said they sometimes meet little old ladies, who hear about his wife's problems, and go, "Oh, sweetie..."

Like THEY feel sorry for her.

Mike's a funny guy, who knows all the neighborhood kids, and says he gets along with them all because he "hasn't ever grown up." Then he tells me how he and Kathy first met. Mike was out bicycling and Kathy was sitting out in front of her apartment high-rise. "I felt like a teenager," he told me, and said "I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen." (Kathy later admits that she liked Mike from the start too, with his gentlemanly manners and remembers thinking, "Wow, he likes me and he has just gorgeous eyes.") Mike says he sat down in front of her and asked, "Would I be totally out of line if I asked you if you have a boyfriend?"

The answer was no, and they've been together since, four years.

I asked Kathy about her diabetes. When her blood sugar level hit 890, she went into a diabetic coma and didn't come out for ten days. In the meantime, she kept thrashing about and pulling at various tubes and wires, and when she finally recovered, her doctor told her mother "she fought like a tiger" and that nickname stuck.

Mike shows me his tatoo of a tiger on his back in honor of his wife--but I don't think to ask him why he has a picture of Jerry Garcia.

The Frizoels are on a fixed income, so they aren't rich, and all her medical problems have left Kathy in a wheelchair at this point. So she doesn't take anything for granted. But she says the same prayer every morning, "Use me today, Lord, for whatever you need." I ask them what they both want out of life in the next ten years. "Mostly enjoy life," Mike replies.

"Take a cruise," Kathy says.

Eventually, I pedal away, happy to have had the chance to talk to them both and ride another fifty miles that day.

In the afternoon, I ran into Pam Cromwell, a single mother with a type-1 daughter, Raygan, age 10, a left-handed young lady who swims and plays soccer, baseball and volleyball. Pam remembers thinking "my life was over" when Raygan was diagnosed. But care is steadily improving from when Kathy first showed symptoms of the disease and remembers boiling syringes and needles to keep them clean to now when Raygan can wear a pump and still engage in sports.

Mom says Raygan works hard in school, but doesn't know any other diabetic kids, because they live out in the country and Raygan's entire school only has 100 students. (There's not even a school nurse!) Pam tried to get her into a camp for diabetics this summer, but all the openings were filled. So Raygan doens't always have people she can talk to who understand what she deals with in her daily life.

If anyone reading this blog might like to say "hi" to Raygan, here's mom's e-mail address:

If you would like to donate to help find a cure for type-1 diabetes please click HERE!

(This single click takes you to my fund-raising page. There, click again on "donate to this event." Then click "Biking and Painting for Diabetes."


  1. John: Spent part of the day attempting to plot a suggested final 246 miles of your trip; see my email earlier, and the Map My Ride suggested route and let me know what you think! Ride safe, brother John! Tim.

  2. Thanks for the nice words, John; it was fun riding with you. The main purpose of our trip to Iowa was the ride. Visiting friends was a side benefit. We got caught in that rain on our way back to Dubuque. It was a monster storm, truly frightening. Sure am glad we weren't riding in it.