WSC Student Max Lindsey Pedals 1,450 Miles from Gunnison to Wisconsin
June 22, 2010 (by Julie Buckles, The Daily Press) -- There's more than one way to travel home. One could drive, fly, ride the rails or take a bus, for instance. Max Lindsey chose the mode less traveled and biked 1,450 miles — 315 of which he did in one 24-hour stretch — from Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison to his mother's house in Washburn, Wis.
WSC student Max Lindsey rode his bike 1,450 miles from Gunnison to his home in Washburn, Wis. Photo courtesy of The Daily Press.
In 15 days, at an average of 97 miles per day, he biked over mountains and across the plains through snow, rain, hail, lightning, floods, oppressive humidity, relentless headwinds and the threat of tornadoes.
He faced snarling dogs, hordes of mosquitoes, gas station food, stormwatchers and even a wary bull. Ask him if it was worth it and he'll smile and tell you he's already planning his next excursion.
The 21-year-old political science major likes biking. At 15, he bought his first road bike — a heavy thing from the 1960s, he says. The next year, he rode in his first race. Two summers ago, he biked 750 miles with a friend to Indiana, where family lives. Last summer, he biked with a friend around Lake Superior.
Solo, Gunnison-to-home, was the next logical step, or pedal in this case.
"I've wanted to do a longer ride. Colorado to home seemed like a good one," he explained.
He departed his "little school in the mountains" May 12 in the snow, pulling a 65-pound trailer with a white flag with a red X through the words: Pebble Mine, a proposed gold mine located near the headwaters of the Kvichack River, one of Lindsey's favorite fishing rivers in Alaska that boasts the largest wild salmon run in the world.
He anticipated making it home in 15-22 days — in time for the June 4 birthday of his mother, Chris Lindsey.
Release the hounds!
His first day, riding in snow, in shape from a winter of skiing, he pedaled 80 miles, eight of which were uphill — to cross the continental divide at 11,200 feet elevation. Those eight miles alone took two hours.
And then he did it again the next day, this time in a blizzard.
On the fourth day, he rode into 30-mph winds, looking forward to a cup of hot chocolate in an upcoming town.
Instead, he discovered a trailer park. "I saw a guy look at out his window at me and I saw him walk around his trailer and he let his two dogs out," he said.
The dogs chased him for a half-mile."The wind was blowing so hard I couldn't go more than 7 mph." So, he pedaled and kicked at the dogs until the dogs finally let up.
It wasn't his only animal encounter on the trip. In Wyoming, in pea soup fog in a free-range cattle area, a bull stood in the road bellowing "sounds I'd never heard before." Maybe it was because Lindsey said he looked like a cow because of the odd tan lines from riding shirtless on the rare sunny day, the day before.
And in North Dakota, farm dogs chased him at every chance. Lindsey said he if does it again, he'll carry pepper spray.
But, to continue with day 4. After the dogs, Lindsey rode through rain and snow for 14 miles uphill to ride out of Colorado. On the way downhill into Wyoming, it started hailing.
"I couldn't see anything so I had to rig up my raincoat to cover my face with only a hole for my mouth so I could breathe," he said. "It fogged up my glasses and I almost went off the road."
At the end pass, he came upon a one-building town with a little bar and café. He walked in soaked from the rain, wearing his rain gear, hand-sewn neoprene socks with plastic bags around his feet, strapped on with duct tape — and discovered a fireplace.
He doesn't know why the restaurant was there — one might even think he might have conjured it — only that a woman greeted him with a cup of hot chocolate and hung his clothing by the fire to dry. He enjoyed a double, green-chili-smothered burger with cheesy fries.
"Maybe it was just because of the circumstances and the fireplace and the hot chocolate, but it was the best meal ever," he said.
Head West, young man
It snowed or rained 13 of the 15 days on the road, and 14 of the 15 nights. He camped part of the time (though only paid for camping the first night) and stayed in motels the rest. He ate oatmeal for breakfast, bagels and peanut butter or tuna for lunch, and dehydrated soups for dinner.
Lindsey ate 32 Pop-Tarts in all "because they are easy to eat while riding and have a lot of calories," said Lindsey, who was burning roughly 5,000 calories per day.
With so much solo time, Lindsey said he contemplated his future and decided two things. One, he'd like to pursue competitive bike racing. And secondly, he wants to go to law school at the University of Utah at Salt Lake City.
Being alone for so long was good, when the conditions cooperated, he said. He could ride at his own pace and through the night. "But when the conditions were not good, you wish you had someone to draft off of," he said.
Like the day he pedaled in 95-degree weather with 100-percent humidity and headwinds pounding him back. He met a guy who bought him an ice cream sandwich and for the rest of the day, he bought an ice cream sandwich every time he stopped. He ate four that day.
It slowly dawned on him that the wind blew consistently from the east — rather than the preferable west.
In Faith, S.D., the hometown of Sue the dinosaur, he asked some of the nicest people on the entire trip when the wind would switch back to its normal pattern. They said it wouldn't — and suggested he head west.
One day in North Dakota he ran into 30 cars and an armored tank — stormchasers. He turned north to avoid whatever it was they were looking for, and they passed him. They stopped to take pictures of the sky and so did he. "It was fun," he said. "They'd go by and I'd catch them."
They were waiting for a tornado. They reported baseball-sized hail up the road and advised Lindsey to wait for it to pass. “But after 20 minutes, I decided that the hail wouldn't be as bad as the mosquitoes," he said. He learned later that 100 tornadoes had been spotted in eastern South Dakota that day.
He'd tented in a storm the night before. "Worst storm I've ever camped in," he said. "I sat there in my tent for five hours praying that a tornado wasn't going to drop down." And then lightning hit a nearby transformer and the lights went out.
And so he got a hotel the night of the 100 tornadoes.
His mother said she is grateful she didn't know what was going on. Lindsey had broken his cell phone two days before the trip. Instead, he had to rely on calling cards and tolerant gas station owners. Some allowed him to call, some didn't and some imposed a two-minute time limit.
When he had the chance, he would call his girlfriend, Kelsey Rowe, who would then call his mom. "It was good not to know," Chris Lindsey said.
Just keep pedaling
Lindsey had pedaled 160 miles in one day on his trip around Lake Superior. When he told his relatives, his uncle replied that he had rode 180 miles in one day. The unspoken challenge stuck in Lindsey's mind.
He called Rowe in Wahpeton, Minn., and told her he would be home in four days. She, in turn, called Mama Lindsey.
But then he hit new pavement and the first tailwind of the trip — the challenge kicked in. He was moving 16-17 miles an hour, so why not. He'd go for 200 miles. He biked through the night with lights on his trailer and bike and one headlight to see by.
All went well until he hit a 20-mile stretch of potholes and rough roads. His wrists hurt so much, he couldn't put weight on them. Fueled only by peanuts and Pop-Tarts, he continued. He could hear deer escaping into the woods and a skunk ran alongside him for a stretch.
He rode into the highly anticipated town of Carleton at 5:30 a.m. but there was nothing there. Just a gas station so he had to rely on donuts for fuel. "I was so close, I didn't want to stop, " he said. "I guess I wanted to do more miles than anyone I knew — and make sure they couldn't beat it."
He continued on, now shooting for home — a total of 315 miles. The hardest section of the entire 1,450 miles was the hill near Northwestern High School, into Maple, on U.S. Highway 2. He was hungry and fatigued. He hadn't eaten a real meal for 210 miles. He hadn't slept since the night before. And he hadn't stopped moving for 20 hours or so.
At Maple, he ate a burger at the Sundown Restaurant, located at the top of the hill. It did the trick. "My legs felt better." And somehow, he forced them homeward.
When he made it to the T, where Highway 2 and Highway 13 intersect, he knew he'd made it. It was just a matter of continuing to move, slowly.
He made it home with a week to spare for his mom’s birthday.
He rested more than a week, and went for a mellow bike ride with Mom on her birthday — 15 to 20 miles of flat, newly paved roads, off County C.
"I'm not really what sure what motivates him," said Chris Lindsey of the trip. "It left me a bit in of awe of him. And of luck. The power of luck."
Next, Lindsey flies north to Alaska to fish commercially for his third summer in a row. To stay in shape for his job, he added chin-ups and push-ups to his daily pedaling routine, just to work his upper body. He says he might like to pedal from Alaska to home someday.
"I guess I'm just looking for that adventure that will challenge me enough to see what my limits really are," he said. "I came close on this trip but I'm going to keep pushing the limits until I find what I can do."
Story by Julie Buckles and reprinted with permission from The Daily Press.