Dr. Brack Hattler’s Big Bike Ride

June 25 - August 11, 2007

Dr HattlerOn June 25, 2007, Dr. Brack Hattler will dip the rear wheel of his bike into Puget Sound in Seattle, WA and begin a 3,300 mile trek across America to raise funds and awareness for the American Lung Association’s critical research, education and advocacy programs. The final destination is the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. and then on to complete the cross-country ride by dipping the front bike wheel into the Chesapeake Bay.  Dr. Hattler will travel with a group of cyclists composed of approximately 40 riders between the ages of 18-70 who will bike an average of 83 miles per day for 6 and a half weeks.  Read More

 What will a typical day on the trip be like?  According to others who have biked for the same cause, after camping on the road for the night, the day begins at 5 AM and riders hit the road by 7 AM.  They typically consume huge amounts of food while traveling and must help prepare meals and do their own bike maintenance.  Dr. Hattler has agreed to write a blog during his trip that will tell us about his own experiences firsthand.
Dr. Hattler is professor of surgery and executive director of the Artificial Lung Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.  He joined the university faculty in 1989 as a cardiothoracic surgeon and is presently the head of the High Risk Cardiac Surgery Program.  Read More

Dr. Hattler’s past research efforts have focused on the advancement of artificial lung devices.  He also developed and patented an Intravenous Membrane Oxygenator, originally conceived and used because of the crucial need for new forms of therapy in the treatment of reversible lung injury.  Dr. Hattler’s latest research effort (in addition to his bicycle trip!) is in developing the Hattler Respiratory Support Catheter, emphasizing various means for improving gas exchange in artificial lung devices.  Read More

Ride Journal - Updated Daily

Day 0 - The Departure - 25-Jun-07

My Ride Across America begins today with the rear bike wheel in the Pacific Ocean at Puget Sound, Seattle, WA. Carrying the bike up to the start line, I’m feeling a little anxiety. The rest of the riders look ready and fit, but this is not a race. The goal is just to finish and ride every freaking mile. Here goes! In 48 days and 3,300 miles we expect to be in Washington, DC.

Rear bike wheel in the Pacific Ocean ( Puget Sound ), Seattle, Washington.

Carrying the bike up to the start line.

Day 1 - Easton WA - 6/25/07 - 77 mi.

The day started out a little dicey.  As my bike was being carried on top of a car to the start line, the driver of the car misjudged an overhead clearance, and there was a significant impact to the bike.  I thought for a few minutes that I would be buying a new bike before I even got started!  Luckily, the bike wasn’t seriously damaged, and an onsite mechanic was able to make some minor repairs so that I could begin the ride on time with everyone else.

We rode almost 80 miles today.  Right now it’s almost 9 PM, and I’m still trying to put up a tent in the campsite and feeling a little bit like Chevy Chase on vacation.  Fortunately, there are others more knowledgeable about these things than me who are willing to lend a hand. 

Rode through some gorgeous country and scenery today in the state of Washington.  The weather was great with just a little rain as we left Seattle.  We gained almost 5,000 feet in elevation during the ride with one climb of over 17 miles of steady elevation just before reaching the campsite this evening.  The most impressive sight was a spectacular waterfall, Snoqualmie Falls.  It falls some 270 feet into a basin.  The mist and sound of the rushing water is something I won’t forget. 

So, a good day, all in all, although I feel a little like the guy jumping off the Empire State Building who passes the 80th floor and says, “Wow! Things are going great so far!"

A big thank you to all of the folks in Pittsburgh who made donations.  Before the start of the Big Ride, we were able to present the American Lung Association with a check for $350,000.  Who was the number one fundraiser?  Yours truly.  Thanks to everyone again for all of the support.

Day 2 - Vantage WA - 6/26/07 - 71mi.

It’s 9 PM on the second day of the Big Ride.  We’re camped near Vantage, WA, somewhere in the middle of the state and right on the Columbia River.  Today’s 71 mile ride was billed as an “easy day.”  The first 40 miles were great, riding through some nice back country.  But then for the final 30 miles coming into camp, we encountered a 30 mph headwind.  No matter how hard you pedaled, you could only go about 7-8 mph.  If you stopped pedaling, it was almost like going backward. 

We got a nice reception from the people in Vantage. The people from the town and around the area cheered us on as we rode the last few miles. This is a big annual event for them. About 1,500 turned out to welcome the American Lung Association riders.  This is a big annual event for them. I also had an encounter with someone on the road today that showed me more about these people at the “heart” of America. We were stopped along the highway to get some coffee and nourishment—trying to stockpile some energy against that 30 mph headwind.  A gentleman approached me—kind of a down and out looking guy with shabby clothes.  He was looking at my bike and asked what was happening.  I guess the amount of activity and the bikes were unusual for the area.  I told him we were biking for the American Lung Association, to help raise money for their programs.  He dug down into the pocket of his overalls and pulled out $30.  “Here,” he said.  “Take this. It’s a cause I want to support.”  I couldn’t help thinking that he needed the $30 more than the American Lung Association, so I politely refused the money.  But I walked away from the encounter thinking, “Is America great, or what?”

My wife, Jean Anne, is still riding with me as she has been since Seattle.  I’m learning a lot about her as well.  Even people you think you know can sometimes surprise you with the fortitude they display under trying circumstances.  So right now I’m thinking that Jean Anne is amazing, America is amazing, and being on this bike ride is amazing. 

Web Master Note: Vantage, WA had a population of 70 people in the 2000 census. While Vantage is a popular camping spot on the Columbia River and is the gateway to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, residents and visitors to the region must have come from significant distances to meet the riders.

Day 3 - Odessa WA - 6/27/07 - 81mi.

Jean Anne is helping me write the blog tonight.  We did 81 hard miles today.  It was hot, near 90°, and the ride was mostly high plains and desert.  One of the riders from Israel commented that it looked just like the Golan Heights.  I’m going to let Jean Anne take over now.

We’re both pretty beat, and I told Brack I would help him out tonight with the blog.  The last 2 days have been really tough. All of the bikers thought it was difficult.  I actually logged 83.4 miles on my odometer today, which brings the total miles from Seattle to 235.

For breakfast this morning, we had a great meal with eggs and biscuits at a restaurant in the beautiful campsite we stayed at in Vantage. Then we biked over a long bridge, crossing the Columbia River and then riding about two miles uphill out of the Columbia basin.  Once we got out of the basin, the landscape was, as Brack said, very desert-like. It seemed to go on and on forever.  We had about a 2,000 ft gain in altitude over the course of the day.

Some of the places we passed through today were the town of George, Washington—a great little town with a bust of the namesake and a diner called Martha’s.  We stopped for snacks in Ephrata and then it was on over the never ending high plains landscape to our campsite in Odessa.

We’re camped on the lawn of the high school here in Odessa, and I feel like we have arrived back in the 1950s. It’s a tiny town that made us a great lasagna dinner tonight and will serve us breakfast again in the morning—coffee ready at 5 AM.  What makes me feel thrown back in time is the quaint little high school—the graduating class this year totaled 20 students—and the slogans hung all over the walls of the gym where we went to take showers.  Things like, “Be a good teammate.”  “If you only have time for one thought, make sure it’s a positive one.”  But the people and the effort put into the meals is great. 


We’re getting to know the other bikers better and starting to feel more of a sense of community.  One thing that’s apparent is we have some very serious cyclists in the group.  Several people are members of the 2000 in 2000 group—which means they biked 2000 miles in the summer of 2000. Brack and I are tired, sore and feeling pain in our feet, back and knees. One of the topics of conversation tonight at dinner was not, “What hurts?”—but instead trying to locate a body part that didn’t hurt.

We have signed up for massages on the rest day in Spokane!  Something to look forward to.

Webmaster note:  George, WA has a population of 528. Odessa boasts 957 people.  Ephrata, WA was one of the more populated towns on the route today at 6,800 people.

Day 4 - Spokane WA - 6/28/07 - 75mi.

Jean Anne is doing the blog tonight while I send some photos (see below): Got here to Gonzaga University in Spokane where we are staying in the dorm two nights, since tomorrow is one of the required rest days.  Believe it or not, staying in a dorm seems wonderful after a week of camping.  The one negative is that there are no elevators, and we had to trudge up the stairs with our bags.  We ate pizza from a nearby restaurant with some of the other riders, and it’s now way past our bedtime—going on 11 PM. 

Today was the best biking day we've had. I'm not sure if it's just a matter of hitting a groove and getting into a routine, but we had a great day. Everyone else seems to feel the same way. We rode through rolling hills and uninhabited roads most of the day. By that I mean that there was little, if any, traffic. It was an overcast day, and we enjoyed the scenery of wheat fields and canola fields-really quite beautiful.

What I thought I would do since tomorrow is a rest day and there won’t be any “biking news” is to recap some of the events we’ve left out do to the anxiety and fatigue of the first few days.

Before we left Seattle on Monday morning, we had a wonderful dinner and orientation Sunday night.  The really nice thing was that many riders from past years came—people from all over the country--and it was a reunion of sorts.  We had the “required” pasta meal: spaghetti, lasagna, lots of salad.  There was also a big cake decorated with a map of the U.S. and bicycles going across it. We then had a two hour instructional session on safety issues.  I should mention that the Big Ride has an excellent safety record over the years.  (More about some of the logistics of the ride later.) 

Our hosts in Seattle were a couple where the wife is a Big Ride veteran from 2004.  They couldn’t have been more lovely, gracious and kind.  They took us around on Sunday to buy some last minute biking supplies.  We were helped by the suggestions that they offered and have kept in touch since we’ve been on the ride.  The other nice thing was that on Monday morning as we left Seattle, many of the alumni riders rode with us the first day.  It was quite a challenge getting out of Seattle.  We had 4 pages of directions that day, so it was great to have others there with us until we got out of the city and up into the pass towards Snoqualmie Falls.  They cooked us a great barbeque the first night, and I got some tips about always taking extra cookies or brownies to save for the ride the next day. 

As far as the set up of the Big Ride, it is really quite impressive.  There are 46 riders, 14 of which are women.  Some are college students riding with friends, but many came by themselves—everybody has a story or reason for being here.  There are 4 support vehicles on the road with us at all times.  There is the American Lung Association SUV staffed by a volunteer and the trip mechanic—a college student who is completing the Big Ride as a graduation requirement.  There is another car driven by a woman whose husband is in the ride, then a big truck that carries all of our bags (we have to load and unload this every day), and a fourth vehicle—an RV that carries some heavy bicycle pumps in case of flats (see photos for example of the type of mishaps that can occur). 

The RV is also available in case a rider gets in trouble and has to be taken in.  This has actually already happened to some riders due to the extreme heat and the daily challenges of the terrain.  We have 4 water stops available during the day—about every 20 miles—set up by the volunteers in the vehicles.  There are also 2 mandatory check points each day where we are required to stop and check in and make sure that all are accounted for.  The typical daily handout is 2 pages of directions instead of the 4 we got the first day when we were leaving Seattle. 

Overall, it’s really going very well.  As we get ready to turn out the lights here and go to sleep, we are thinking how excited and happy we are to have made it from Seattle to Spokane.

Pictures from Dr. Hattler:

The tent and home for the next 45 days.  Putting up a tent is not as easy as it may seem especially when you borrow it from a friend and the instructions are not included.  Finally after 4 days we are starting to get our time down to where the entire camp isn’t taking notice.  Some terrible to view battles have occurred with this tent and we haven’t won yet.

The Tent

Tent city. The day begins with taking down your tent and ends with putting up your tent. After just 4 days I have got some suggestions for REI as to how to make this less laborious or is it me---these weird thoughts pop up unexpectedly when your major function is to put up a tent and ride a bike and this is the way it will be for the next 44 days ( 48-4=44).

Tent City

Welcome to Cle Elum the heart of the Cascades. The beginning of passing through many small and picturesque very small towns that make up the heart of America.


Picture of Jean Anne relaxing in someone else’s foldable lounge chair.  I have to learn better social skills or get Jean Anne to teach me.  I was never invited to sit in the chair to my chagrin after those 80 grueling miles of riding.


I should have brought a chair but the reality is that my bags were so loaded with things that I now know I won't use that I couldn't have stuffed a Kleenex in after they were top loaded and barely closed. As a lady said watching me unpack--" you don't camp much, do you".

Flat Tires:  A major breakdown, front and rear tires blown simultaneously.  This will happen if you don’t watch the road where several broken bottles got to the tires before the bike could be maneuvered away from them.

Flat Tires

Picture of me on the phone answering a page—believe it or not.  Those pagers are bouncing off satellites in unintended ways. 

Phone Home

Webmaster’s note:  Dr. Hattler’s Big Ride will resume Saturday, June 30.  The blog updates will resume here on Monday, July 2, but we will be sure to post the weekend blog entries at that time.

Day 5 - Spokane WA - 6/29/07 -Rest Day

Day 6 - Sandpoint ID - 6/30/07 - 76mi.

Today we rode from Spokane to Sand Point, Idaho--a distance of 76 miles.  Jean Anne and I actually cycled 81 miles and were awarded 5 bonus miles for today's leg of the trip.  "Bonus miles" are also known as "stupid miles."  It means you took a wrong turn and were actually traveling in the wrong direction.  It was early this morning, and we thought we were making really good time and were just way ahead of everyone else.  When we realized our mistake and that there were actually no other cyclists behind us, we had to backtrack and correct our mistake. 

My son, a cardiologist in Denver, joined us today for the Spokane to Sand Point leg.  So now there are two Brack Hattler's on the Big Ride.  He is actually a very good rider and rode up front for most of the day.  Jean Anne and I like to ride in the back and take in the sights.  The front riders go so fast that I'm not sure they're getting to see as much as we do.  Today's scenery was quite beautiful again.  We had a nice tail wind and saw gorgeous green hills, mountains, cliffs and lots of lakes as we crossed from Washington into northern Idaho. 

We had another great cafeteria dinner from the folks in town.  It is wonderful to have their support. We are camped on the front lawn of a high school again tonight. 

Here are a few photographs:

Husband and wife and from Washington state, dressed in USA shirts and pants, state who joined the ride because of concerns over friends and family who have died because of heart and lung disease.

Picture of donkey: once you get out of the city its all Republican. This is the first Democrat I have met in 4 days and 320 miles of riding.

Day 7 - Thompson Falls MT - 7/1/07 - 88mi.

Middle America getting ready for the 4th of July. This billboard had just been put up as we passed by on the way to Montana. We have now biked the entire width of the state of Washington, the width of northern Idaho and are into Montana as I write.

Another photo of the heartland of America as we approach the 4th of July holiday.


Here the road follows the railroad tracks and probably will all the way across the USA.

Mountains, lakes, and a picture of scenery on the way to Missoula.

We seem to be on roads that follow the railroad tracks, which in turn follow the rivers. So at night and into the early morning we are never without the train whistles. But for me it hasn't been a problem since I am in my sleeping bag and soundly asleep by 8:30PM.

Day 8 - Missoula MT - 7/2/07 - 101mi.

We just got to Missoula, Montana after a 101 mile ride from Thompson Falls, Montana. This comes after a 90 mile ride from Sandpoint, Idaho to Thompson Falls. We have a rest day here in Missoula but the total mileage since leaving Seattle is about 600 miles.

A very good friend of mine needs to have surgery, and I will be coming back to UPMC for 4 days to be there for the procedure. Therefore, the blog will be temporarily in the hands of another Brack Hattler (my son), who will continue the ride from Missoula to Billings. My plans are to return and rejoin the ride in Billings and go the rest of the way to the east coast.

Picture of one of our riders who has attached to his bike two American flags solidly welded to the frame. The flags have been in place since we left Seattle, and he plans to take them, as is, for the entire ride. The reason for mentioning this is the fact that every 18-wheeler that goes by acknowledges this display by blasting on their air horn. It makes riding with him a cacophony of noise.

A picture of Brack Jr, Jean Anne and myself.  Brack Jr. has joined the ride for 8 days. He has already ridden from Spokane to Missoula and will continue on to Billings, Montana. Unfortunately, because of the surgery, as I explained earlier, I will not be with him for that part of the ride. Once he reaches Billings he will be returning to Denver where he is a cardiologist at the University of Colorado. The picture was taken in Spokane just before we left.

Day 9 - Missoula MT - 7/3/07 - Rest Day

Notes from the road. We are on a day of rest in Missoula, MT.

Left Sandpoint, ID for Thompson Falls, MT on Sunday morning. This was one of the most challenging days we’ve had. It was an 80 mile day, but the rolling hills went on and on forever. It was a day of superlatives that tweaked the senses in every way. There was the smell of evergreen and mountain air in the morning. The incredible sights of the hills and rivers—notably the Pend Oreille River. The taste of bugs in our mouths as we plunged headlong into a swarm of gnats--and the contrast in sounds. The remarkable quiet when you are biking alone with just the sound of your wheels on the pavement and the wind. Then the jarring noise of the traffic as you near a town. Some vehicles are very kind, beeping their horns in support. Others not so much. The large trucks sound their horns in intimidation, making sure you realize that they will refuse to yield their lane of the road. There were lots of big logging trucks and tourist traffic coming in and out of Glacier National Park. We had a wonderful meal when we got to Thompson Falls at a diner called Minnie’s Montana Café. It was a fun evening and great to have a choice of 5 different entrees! We were so hungry from all the calories we burned during the day. Temperatures were in the 90s.

The next day, from Thompson Falls to Missoula was a “century day.” 101 miles!! We started with a wonderful 4:30 AM breakfast at the Elks Lodge, hosted by the mother of a Big Ride alumnus. We were treated again to gorgeous scenery. It’s interesting to trace the history of the country. How the byways went from rivers to rails to roads. We crossed the Clark Fork River numerous times. I believe it is named after the Clark in Lewis and Clark, the team of surveyors that traversed the country at President Thomas Jefferson’s request in 1803. Their view of the country back then must have been spectacular, to say the least. It’s hard to imagine how they must have had to hack their way through the rugged terrain. We passed through little towns named Dixon, Rivoli, Paradise and Arlie. Leaving Arlie there was an 8 mile uphill incline. But what a reward at the top! A long, long downhill all the way into Missoula. Speedometers registered an incredible 45-50 mph!

We are staying at the dorms at the University of Montana here in Missoula. They are air-conditioned, a real treat. The school’s mascot is the grizzly bear, and it is in evidence everywhere.

As you know, I’m coming back to Pittsburgh for 4 days, from Wednesday to Sunday, and then will rejoin the ride in Billings, MT.  Everyone on the ride has been very supportive of my decision to be with my friend during lung surgery. After all, that’s what the American Lung Association is all about. I am thinking of returning at some later date to bike the Missoula to Billings leg, just to be able to say I did the whole ride. As it stands right now, I will miss about 300 miles.

Picture of a sign that students at the U of MT designed and put together. It was waiting in the hall of the dormitory where we had student rooms assigned to us. Another rest day which after 101 miles (I don’t mean to be picky, and I could have just written 100 miles, but every freaking mile is worthy of full credit) is eagerly anticipated.

A most unusual picture and for me maybe worth the entire trip. Jean Anne, my lovely wife  (you notice how I am hedging here because I know that she is going to read this) actually outdoors with an active hose, cleaning a machine. Granted it’s her bike, but nonetheless, a FIRST. As I have mentioned earlier this ride is giving me a new marital perspective. Maybe now she will volunteer to wash the car!

Webmaster’s note: Dr. Hattler recommends the book Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose, a history of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Day 10 - Avon MT - 7/4/07 - 99mi.

This is Brack Hattler Jr. holding down the fort and updating the blog.  On the 4th, we cycled from Missoula to Avon, MT, mostly along Rt. 210.   It was almost sad to leave the fantastic hosts we had at the University of Montana.  The people there were super nice to us—I especially want to mention those at Knowles Hall.  In keeping with the tradition of the Hattlers, I was the last one to leave camp in the morning. 

We biked along the canyon of the Blackfoot River most of the day.  Eventually came out along a mountain valley meadow.  Today’s route was a 99 mile leg, but most people did the extra mile to get another “century” day in.  Had one of the best spaghetti dinners we’ve had on the trip at the Avon Café. We also ate that all-American dish, apple pie with whipped cream in celebration of the 4th.  Most of us got in around 2-4 PM. 

One note I want to add about the 4th of July is that it was a special day as so many of the riders are doing the ride in honor of friends and family who have suffered from lung disease.  In that respect, all of our thoughts were on those who can’t be with us today. 

The following are some photos of the recently traveled area…just fantastic scenery!  Thinking about the 4th of July….this is truly “America the Beautiful”:

Day 11 - Townsend MT - 7/5/07 - 61mi.

Jean Anne’s blog continues from Pittsburgh:
As noted earlier, Brack needed to return to Pittsburgh because of a friend needing lung surgery.

Brack and I flew back to Pittsburgh on a private plane, and it was so interesting to watch the route from above. It was almost exactly the same route as the Big Ride! So we got a bit of a preview—hope we are successful in returning and retracing the route on our bikes.  We had a wonderful surprise in Missoula before we left. Someone was shouting that I had a package, and I couldn’t imagine what it might be as I didn’t give anyone the general delivery addresses along the route where we could receive mail or packages (I think there are four of these addresses for the entire trip). To my delight, we received a box of sugar cookies from our host family in Seattle, Erin (Big Ride veteran ’04) and Jason Abbey. The cookies were in individual wrappers and shaped like bicycles. It was great. In the spirit of a true “care” package, the box also contained some cream for sore areas of the body(namely our poor, poor derrieres), some hand sanitizer and some Kinesio tape, a wonderful tape for knees and other sore areas. Erin teased us that she can’t believe she had to tell the doctor about what is now such a widely used tape in the medical community.

We spent last evening with our friends prior to the lung surgery that one of the couple is undergoing today. Brack plans to back on the ride in a few days, and I will try to return on July 13th.

Just a footnote: You would think we would sleep well in our own beds, but I was up half the night, checking mail on my computer and EATING!! I think I am just so much in the habit of eating large quantities of food. Also, my mind is constantly with the other Big Riders. Where are they now? I wonder how it’s going for them. I am so happy to say that I would be thrilled to have any of these riders as my neighbors and, of course, as my friends.

We look forward to returning to the Big Ride …and the road ahead.

Hi…Brack Hattler, Jr. checking in again. On July 5th we biked past the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the 2nd largest wilderness area in the lower 48. It was a gradual uphill all day long—a 2,000 ft climb over the course of the day. The highlights were going over the Continental Divide, the first glimpse of the Rockies in the distance, and a herd of antelope. We crossed the Continental Divide at MacDonald Pass. It was a shorter day today, 61 miles, to make up for the two 100 mile days in between. We had a 1,200 ft climb up to the MacDonald Pass where the altitude was something like 6,356 feet, the highest point on the whole ride.

This turned out to be a big “photo-shoot” with people holding their bikes over their heads in triumph. The weather has been terrific. Nobody was even wearing jackets on the 12 mile downhill into Helena where again speedometers reached 40-50 mph at a coasting speed. The views were beautiful, fantastic, and indescribable. 

We biked the last 30 miles on July 5th from Helena to Townsend. Helena seems like a really nice city—pretty capitol building. After that, it’s mostly high plains. It was a warm day with a slight headwind but not too bad. We crossed the Missouri River today. It seems strange to think that the headwaters of the Missouri are all the way up here in Montana.

Webmaster note: The 1992 movie A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford and starring Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffler was set and filmed along the Blackfoot River in Sourthwest Montana.

Day 12 - Harlowton MT - 7/6/07 - 101mi.

Report from Dr. Hattler: This a picture of the plane that that came to pick us up for the flight back to Pittsburgh and the opportunity to be at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for the lung surgery on a very good friend.

I am happy to report that the surgery yesterday went well and his recovery will be without problems. This will make it possible for me to rejoin the ride in Billings, Montana. I have been talking with my son over the last few days and it sounds as if everyone is doing well and the Big Ride crossed the continental divide without difficulty. Congratulations to all those great riders!

Notes from the road: A subject that hasn't been addressed yet is that of the various parts of a bicycle beginning with The Saddle. This is appropriately named because often when you get off of The Saddle you feel like you have been riding a horse all day. I have come to the conclusion that there is no comfortable position on The Saddle. All you can hope for is brief moments of respite interspersed with constant motion trying to find another brief moment. You can shift from the left cheek to the right cheek and back again and then there is sliding forward and backward (or as they say in biking: the fore and aft positions) on The Saddle. This is facilitated by lathering yourself liberally with some form of grease or bag balm, all of which is probably somewhat unsanitary and certainly not up to OSHA standards. But what can I say, we still love the ride although I am beginning to wonder if somewhere down deep there are not some masochistic genes that are now being expressed.

One thought for the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (my main sponsor for this ride): if you really want to help regeneration put your engineers to work on designing a totally comfortable, never to be forgotten, and certainly very profitable SADDLE.

Report from Dr. Brack Hattler, Jr. - After a wonderful dinner provided by the Townsend, MT Lutheran Church (chicken cordon bleu, lots of fresh vegetables and fruit), we slept on the gym floor at the high school--some of us rather fitfully. Everybody wanted to be up early the next day because we had a 100 mile day, and the forecast was for record heat. We were all on the road by 6 AM and surprised to notice that even though we all thought we got up really early, the farmers were already out mowing hay. The immediate problems we encountered were a headwind and unexpected construction. There was loose gravel and dirt for 4 miles. Several riders went down--fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt.

After that, we went through a beautiful canyon, Deep Creek Canyon, then a 12 mile climb of about 1,500 feet up out of the canyon. We went from lush green to a dry high plain, a place named, appropriately, Grassy Mountain. We continued on Rt. 12 and came to the only town on our ride all day, White Sulphur Springs. There are only about 1,200 people in the town, but I hear they do have a 9-hole golf course where you can get on without a tee time. We stopped at Dori's Cafe, a place that advertises "food you'll remember." It's true! I had one of the best cinnamon roll's I can remember.

It was still blazing hot all the way to Harlowton. Record highs for Montana, between 97- 105 degrees. Riders arrived in Harlowton anywhere between 12:30-5:30 pm. another 100+ mile day, and a total of 829 miles for this portion of the Big Ride trip.

Web Master Note: Until Brack Hattler returns from Pittsburgh, the Hattler team can’t send photographs. The following photos have been provided by Dan Scott, another of the Big Ride participants. Thanks Dan for sharing the photos!

Day 13 - Billings MT - 7/7/07 - 92mi.

We were fed early Friday night in anticipation of an early start again--another wonderful meal. We found out the importance of having an aerodynamic tent--similar to the benefits of having an aerodynamic bike. Wind gusts during the night hit 40 mph and there was a tent blown away. We actually woke up on Saturday to a cooler day than was forecast. It was a lucky 7 day for just about everyone--appropriately 7/7/07. Many riders had their best average time for the trip. 
It was a slightly downhill day. Just over 90 miles with a nice tailwind into Billings, MT. We rode on the high plains along the Musselshell River. The interesting historical footnote to the day was that we followed (in the opposite direction) part of Chief Joseph's path of retreat as he led his tribe of Nez Perce in an attempt to elude the U.S. Calvary. The highlight of the day was stopping at the historical marker memorializing the point where Chief Joseph was finally captured in 1877.
My Dad will rejoin the Big Ride in Billings, and I think everyone will be glad to have him back.
Webmaster's note: Chief Joseph's retreat is still referred to by historians as the greatest tactical retreat on record. Leading a band of about 700 Nez Perce (of which only 200 were warriors), he managed to outdistance and outmaneuver 2,000 US Army troops for 1,400 miles. Along the way there were at least 4 major battles and numerous skirmishes.

Day 14 - Billings MT - 7/8/07 - Rest

Note from Dr. Hattler - Pictures of my return to Billings, Montana on Sunday, July 8th. In one photo I am boarding the plane in Pittsburgh and in the other we are refueling in S. Falls, South Dakota. It shows you the difference between a tailwind and a headwind, both of which we have experienced on the Big Ride so far.

On July 4th when I flew to Pittsburgh we had a significant tailwind and the flight from Missoula took just over 3 hours with no stops. With the return trip to Billings however we encountered a stiff headwind and had to land to refuel with the entire flying time over 4 hours. For the Big Ride I am praying for tailwinds the rest of the way.

I am glad to report that the lung surgery went exceedingly well and due to the amazing physical condition that my very good friend is in, he was discharged from the hospital yesterday.

Day 15 - Hardin MT - 7/9/07 - 54mi.

We rode from Billings to Hardin, MT today. It was an easy day, only about 52 miles, and although temperatures were in the mid 90’s, it was a beautiful ride. The landscape is magnificent here.  Pictures don’t do justice to what I’m seeing. It’s like being in the middle of an ocean and then having the horizon disappear every time that you turn your head. The most distinctive feature is the buttes—the raised flat-topped hills that rise abruptly from the plains. We’ve seen lots of cattle, but amazingly, only one tree in all the miles we covered today. It’s an area scarce in population and also any significant vegetation other than grass.

The town of Hardin is in the middle of a large Crow Indian reservation. We’re about 12 miles from where General Custer made his last stand—where he and all his men perished. We’re staying at the Hardin High School, camped on the football field. It’s a very nice high school and field. I’m guessing that the U.S. government may have built this for the Crow people and their children. 

Some photos to illustrate—although as I said—pictures can’t really capture what I’m seeing: 

The first photo is of riders making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as we get ready to depart for Hardin, Montana. Little did I know as I developed this all American taste in my distant youth that it would serve me well on this Ride Across America.  As my mother used to say, "it gives you energy honey.”  Mothers always know best.

The other two photos are scenes of the country around Hardin. Spectacular in its harsh beauty-the camera can't do it justice because there is no wide angle lens available that can capture the majesty of the scenery. It’s as if you are on an ocean and the horizons disappear in every direction you gaze. Except here we are surrounded by buttes, endless plains, and a relentless sun. It’s hard to imagine what Custer’s thoughts must have been as the Sioux, Crow, Arapahoe and other Indian tribes descended upon him and his men, maybe something like, "Wow--suddenly this is not looking like such a good day.”

Day 16 - Sheridan WY - 1/10/07 - 84mi.

Crossed into Wyoming today as we rode from Hardin, MT to Sheridan, WY.  This is the fourth state we have visited on the trip.  Clearly, Montana was the widest.  If you look at a map of the U.S., you will see how much wider it is horizontally than any of the surrounding states.

Today’s ride was 84 miles, and it was the American plains in all their glory.

This photo shows a sign for the Little Bighorn Battlefield, site of Custer’s last stand.

The photo below is of the railroad tracks once again running beside our route and the buttes in the distance.

The last photo shows me as I enter the Cowboy State beside the “Wyoming Welcomes You” sign that uses the famous bucking horse and rider—also the logo for the University of Wyoming.

Day 17 - Gillette WY - 7/11/07 - 112 mi.

Today’s ride was from Sheridan, WY to Gillette, WY. It was a difficult day, 112 miles, the longest segment of the ride. The difficulties lay in the up and down nature of the hilly countryside, the 95° temperatures, and the headwinds. We left at 6 AM and didn’t arrive here in Gillette until 4 PM, so it was a 10 hour day on the bike with all the accompanying soreness.

The scenery was spectacular once again. Pretty similar to what we had in Montana. Gillette’s population is about 19,000, and it sits at an altitude of 5,000 feet. Considering that Sheridan was at 3,000 feet, we had a 2,000 foot climb over the course of the day. The plains and buttes are majestic and endless—like the vanishing horizon stretching as far as you can see. Saw lots of cattle and sheep today which reminded me of the old range wars between the cattle ranchers and the sheep ranchers.

Right now I just feel glad to have completed today’s ride and am looking forward to going to bed soon so my body can recuperate. The recuperative skills of the body are really amazing if you think about it.  Every night I go to bed dreading how I’ll feel in the morning. Yet when I wake up, somehow the body has recharged, and I am able to go about taking down the tent, packing up, loading the truck, checking my bike, and beginning another day’s ride.

The photo is of Gillette, WY in 1904.  Note the unpaved street and the plank sidewalk.

Day 18 - Newcastle WY - 7/12/07 - 76 mi.

The ride today was from Gillette, WY to Newcastle, WY—a distance of 76 miles.  It was an easier day than the 112 mile day we had yesterday, although it is still very warm.  We generally try to get going as early as possible in the morning, which means that we want to be out of camp by 6 AM or a little after.  Today we actually got a late start: 6:45.  By 10:30 it starts to get hot.  This isn’t helped by the fact that the blacktop of the highway reflects the heat.  People that keep track of the temperature on their bikes say it is usually from 90-95° on the bike.  It doesn’t cool off until 4:30-5:00 PM.  In the midst of this heat wave, we have not had a drop of rain since the first day when we left Seattle.  It has rained some evenings in camp, but the ride itself has taken place under a continual sun.

We passed a town in Wyoming today with a population of 25.  They recently held a mayoral election that was won by a 13-12 vote.  The joke is that they’re asking for a recount.  Seriously though, the landscape here is barren.  The only sight of interest today was a view of Devils Tower off in the distance.  If you remember how Devils Tower was featured in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it makes good sense because the whole area here feels alien.  A sci-fi movie fits in perfectly.

One of the common sights in Wyoming is the farmers and ranchers cutting winter hay.  They roll it up and then place it in stacks.  Whole fields are completely covered with these stacks of hay.  Also a constant is the snow break fences and posts along the side of the highway—put there to keep snow from drifting over the roads.  Hard to imagine the winter when we are in the middle of a hot summer, but it must be harsh and long.

Another observation is the straight roads here in Wyoming.  You can go for 20 miles without having to turn the handlebars on the bike.  They say that the roads in these parts are so straight that they have names for the curves.

Our group is holding up well.  We are almost like a well-disciplined platoon at this point.  Everybody works together to get up on time and get ready in the mornings.  Our total distance from Seattle now is 1,200 miles, so we are over a third of the way through.  Tonight we are staying at a Senior Citizen’s Center, and they will be fixing dinner for us. I’m looking forward to that and then to my early bedtime of 8 to 8:30 PM.  I have no trouble at all sleeping.

Devils Tower (close-up above) is a national monument dedicated in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.  It is a volcanic neck and rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River and its valley.  The tower is sacred to many American Indians and is known to them as Bears Lodge.  The legend is that seven little girls were playing in the woods when they were chased by bears.  They ran to the tower and climbed to the top where they were eventually turned into stars in the night time sky.  As they huddled on top of the tower, the bears kept trying to climb up the sides to devour them.  The vertical lines up and down the sides of the tower are the scratches from the claws of the bears.

Day 19 - Rapid City SD - 7/13/07 - 81 mi.

Today the ride was from Newcastle, WY to Rapid City, SD, a distance of 81 miles.  Rapid City is the gateway to the fabled Black Hills, which we will be traveling through when we leave here.  We have a rest day tomorrow (Saturday) and will do some sight seeing in this town of 67,000 people.  I passed a small grave yard on the road today and got off my bike to look around.  I spotted an unusual engraving on a headstone: “Here lies Sam Ellington, Hanged By Mistake, September 27, 1857.  Unfortunately, the photo I thought I took didn’t register on the camera when I reviewed my photos later.  Here are some photos that did come out.

This is a parched tree which surprisingly is still alive since there are a few green twigs sprouting from the upper branches.  It sort of looks like me:  I know I am still alive, but I must look like the very devil.

A small western store in Wyoming offering their items for trade, barter or purchase.  I didn’t see any scalps, but there were a lot of skulls.  I wonder if any of the Big Riders are missing.  “Come on in and browse around,” said the old cowboy as he polished up the cranium of one of these fellows.  I decided to just pass by and wait for somebody big and strong to go in with me—like Jean Anne.

Day 20 - Rapid City SD - 7/14/07 - Rest Day

This is Jean Anne Hattler, continuing the blog on Brack’s behalf.  I flew in from Pittsburgh to Rapid City on Friday 7/13/07.  When I got here I caught the riders after a difficult 81 mile day, and I think they were all pretty spent.  They had been going for 5 days in a row.  Five hard, hot and hilly days, sometimes with headwinds to contend against. 

I had a pleasant surprise when I checked into the dorm at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology where we stayed on Friday and Saturday night.  It was a beautiful dorm, quite a step up from some of our other digs.  We had elevators, air conditioning and a delicious dinner in the cafeteria with ice cream that we made into various concoctions like floats.  Everybody thoroughly enjoyed it.  It felt like the Ritz. 

I rented a van when I got here and that turned out to be a great idea.  We found out about a concert at Mt. Rushmore from one of the other Big Riders, so we filled the van with people and went.  We heard a concert by Brulè and AIRO—that stands for American Indian Rock Opera.  There were about 3,000 people there, and it was wonderful.

The story is that Paul LaRoche, the band’s spokesperson and lead musician, was born on the lower Brulè Sioux Indian Reservation and adopted at birth by a white family.  This was a common practice in 1955.   When Paul’s parents died he was 38 years old and had no idea he was a Native American by birth.  His parents left him a letter, and in 1993, he discovered his Lakota heritage.  Within a short time, he was reunited with his brother, sister, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.  Paul calls his discovery of his roots a “path of reverse assimilation.”  Since that time he has felt a need to unite the two communities and cultures: the one of his birth and the other of his environment during his childhood and young adulthood. Through his music, he tries to create a bridge between the two communities.  The music is sort of a contemporary twist on Native American Indian music. At the time it premiered, it was something that had not yet been mainstreamed into the record industry.  The concert included not only the Brulè rock opera sound, but also dancers in native dress with beads.

Day 21 - Kadoka SD - 7/15/07 - 101 mi.

Here is a photo of an impending thunder storm as we rode towards Kadoka, SD—a 101 mile ride from Rapid City.  This was our fifth “century day.”  We rode through some rain, thunder and lightning, which by 11 AM had cleared.  The rest of the day was under a blistering sun with temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s.

We passed through the Bad Lands which are sacred to the Sioux, and for me, it had the appearance of nature’s unfinished pyramids—actually more magnificent than what the Pharaohs built

This photo depicts the Crazy Horse Memorial which was begun in 1948, 7 years after work ceased on the nearby Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  The new memorial to Crazy Horse was therefore the fifth granite face to emerge from the Black Hills.  The project was commissioned by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear and created by the American sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski.  When it is finished sometime in the future, Crazy Horse will be the largest mountain carving in the world.  It is dedicated to the spirit of the Lakota leader who with the other Sioux fought at the Battle of the Little Big Horn where Custer and his men were slaughtered.  I found the memorial very moving.  It is really more about the spirit of the American Indians than about the battle at Little Big Horn.

This is a photo of Korczak Ziolkowski with Chief Henry Standing Bear.

The next photo is what the Crazy Horse Memorial will look like when it is finished.  Crazy Horse will be pointing back towards the Black Hills and the Bad Lands.  When asked the question (by a white man), “Where are your lands now?”  Crazy Horse answered, “My lands are where my people are buried.”  The aura of the Native Americans and their heritage truly surrounds you in this area of the country.  It is hard not to get caught up in it and I am no exception.

To listen to the music of Brule` and AIRO, go to www.Amazon.com.  They stock all of the band’s CDs and you can listen to a sample.  It is a haunting arrangement of keyboard, flute and native drums—something truly unique.

Day 22 - Pierre SD - 7/16/07 - 95 mi.

This is Jean Anne, helping Brack out with the blog again tonight.  Today we rode from Kadoka to Pierre, South Dakota’s capital.  I think this was one of the most challenging days we have had on the ride, and I think many other riders feel the same way.  It was really quite miserable—headwinds, bugs, heat.  And the hills!  They weren’t steep hills, but rolling hills that just went on and on and on.

Of course, this came on the heels of the challenging day when we traveled to Kadoka.  At least on that leg of the trip, we were treated to the gorgeous and spectacular landscape of the Badlands.  It was also a challenging day.  Also hot, hilly and with headwinds to contend with.  A leisurely lunch at the Badlands National Park helped.  When we arrived in Kadoka, Brack and I felt we needed a little respite from the tents and the bugs.  We booked a room at the Silver Court Motel across the street from the city park where the Big Riders were camping.  This turned out to be the greatest experience.  We had such nice hosts at the motel.  More about this later.  Photos are coming, but tonight we are having problems sending anything.

Today’s journey to Pierre had no redeeming quality such as the beautiful scenery the day before.  We did see South Dakota’s 1880 town with its restored buildings with authentic décor and artifacts.  This is where the movie Dancing With Wolves was filmed.

It was such a relief to finally get to the state capital.  We are staying at a County Park along the Missouri River.  This turned out to be a $10 night, which is also a treat.  On these nights the crew gives every rider $10 to go into town and have dinner.  Everyone scatters, but we often run into other riders during the course of the evening.  Brack and I had a good dinner at the Best Western.

Day 23 - Miller SD - 7/17/07 - 74 mi.

This was another South Dakota day.  Brack and I feel quite ready to leave this state by now.  In fact, we have two pieces of advice for anyone who wants to visit South Dakota.  First of all, don’t go in the summer.  Secondly, find a different mode of transportation than the one we used crossing the state.  We actually only have one more day in South Dakota, but between the heat, the hills, the wind, and the bugs, it can’t come too soon.  I keep wishing that some of the riders of Irish descent would make the saying come true that the Irish always have the winds at their back.  So far, no luck.  Every morning when we get on our bikes, we can feel the wheat chaff hit our faces.

The other unfortunate thing about our stay here is that the area is so sparsely populated that cell phones and the internet don’t work well at all.  The first town on our route today was Blunt, with a population of 342.  We have also had to be quite careful about dehydration and possible sunstroke.  Overall, the headwinds and the heat are very tiring.  Today’s landscape was just more of the same, maybe a little flatter. 

The one interesting thing about this day July 17th, is that it’s Brack’s birthday.  The Big Riders sang Happy Birthday to him at breakfast and presented him with a nice card. We defected from the camp at the local high school (yet again).  This time we found refuge in the Super 8 Motel.  For Brack’s birthday dinner we had cheeseburgers and Cokes at the High Light Bar.  I couldn’t help but think that for my last birthday we were on a fantastic ship in Antarctica, celebrating with a great dinner, great wines, great friends.  What a contrast!  Maybe that’s why Brack and I are so happy together.  Like opposites attracting, we find personal pleasure in doing very different types of things.

Webmaster’s Note—South Dakota has been described as hell with the fire burnt out.

Day 24 - De Smet SD - 7/18/07 - 77 mi.

When Jean Anne and I joked about finding another mode of transportation for traveling in South Dakota, I never thought it would be an ambulance.

I left Miller, SD about 6:15 AM after seeing Jean Anne off.  She was returning to Pittsburgh that morning.  It was a cooler day with some cloud cover and decreased winds.  Things were going great.  By 9 AM we had covered a considerable distance, about 45 miles of the scheduled 77 mile day.  It was just before 10 AM, and I was riding in a group, going along at a good pace (about 18-20 mph) on a flat stretch of road.  I was 2nd in line when the front wheel of my bike hit the back wheel of the rider in front of me.  I flew up over the handlebars and down to the pavement where I guess I was unconscious for several minutes. 

When I came to I tried to get up but felt quite groggy and had pain in the right side of my pelvic area.  An ambulance had been called, and I was taken to the Huron (South Dakota) Regional Medical Center.  After examination, I was told that I had a severe concussion and a break to the pelvis in two places.  Fortunately, the pelvic injury is a rather straight forward injury and should heal quickly. Things could have been a lot worse.  With the way I hit my head, I could have suffered a serious head or brain injury.  Also, I have been very fortunate to land in a good hospital here in this town of 11,000 and to be taken care of by some great people.  Unfortunately, it signals the end of the Big Ride for me.

Great friends of ours are sending their plane to pick me up and take me back to Pittsburgh on Friday (July 20th).  All of the Big Riders have been great as well, coming to see me at the hospital and assisting me at the scene of the accident.  We will update the blog in a few days.  It is possible that Jean Anne may decide to pick up the Big Ride at some point and ride to the finish in Washington, DC.  We will let you know.  The Huron hospital is located only a few blocks away (on the west side) of the half-way point of the ride. 

Day 25 - Brack Update

Brack spent 48 hours in the hospital in Huron before flying to Pittsburgh where he was admitted to UPMC.  Repeat CT scans showed a subdural hematoma on the brain.  He is now recuperating at UPMC and receiving great care from the trauma team with Dr. Freddie Fu’s (orthopedics) close supervision.  We feel enormously grateful that these injuries will all heal with time.  Brack should be home in a day or two.  We will update everyone with our plans of how to finish the ride soon.  Don’t worry—this is not the last of us.  We have some great ideas we hope to be putting into action soon. We will also be posting updates from some of the other Big Riders who have agreed to help us by wearing the McGowan Institute bike jerseys and providing photos and commentary. 

Helen and Vern, proprietors of the Silver Court Motel in Kadoka, SD.  We started a trend with this motel stay.  Other riders started looking for motels near our camp grounds for respite on occasion.

Like many of the small towns we biked through, Interior had one convenience store where we caused an instant sell out of Gatorade.

Jean Anne relaxes with her feet up and a much needed bottle of Starbucks Frappuchino.


Brack and Jean Anne at one of the highlights of the ride, the Crazy Horse mountain sculpture.

Day 26 - New Ulm, MN - 7/20/07 - 86 mi
Courtesy of Big Rider Trish Dimmitt, on a tandem bike with her husband, Greg.

The photo is of wind towers near Tyler, MN.  Tyler to New Ulm was a day of beautiful corn fields that I got to look at all I wanted because Greg was concentrating.  I loved it.  The farms are like little islands completely surrounded by corn or soy.  Lots of rolling hills, which we love.  The temperature was perfect most of the day, just cold this morning when we started.  Mostly an uneventful day.  We had a catered breakfast this morning, so we weren’t hungry for at least 2 hours. Amazing.

New Ulm is gorgeous—a beautiful German town with the college overlooking everything from a hill.  We are sleeping in the basement of the dorm.  We put mattresses on the floor, and we have a fan.  I feel like we are living the high life.

Day 27 - New Ulm, MN - 7/21/07 - Rest Day

Jean Anne demonstrates how to rest during the ride.  This is what you do when all you have is your bike and there is no where else to sit down.

Photo of the half-way mark for the ride, less than a mile from where Brack had his accident in Huron, SD.

Day 28 - Owatonna, MN - 7/22/07 - 72 mi
Courtesy of Big Rider Dan Scott

Today started with a great breakfast at Martin Luther College.  The head of food services there cooked, served and cleaned up.  The ride itself was relatively short.  But we did have some challenging headwinds again.  The wind has been a constant since before Rapid City.  Today’s were less direct, often crosswinds instead of headwinds.  This helped somewhat.  Still felt it necessary to ride with others to get help fighting the wind.
Because we were focused on getting done as soon as possible, we did not really observe much of the surrounding countryside.  Mike McFarlin’s wife was following us in a rental car and often leapfrogged ahead to capture action shots.  Hope to review them and see what I missed.  When we got to Owatonna, Mike and I stopped at Culver’s, home of the butter burger and great frozen custard.  This chain actually originated near my wife’s hometown in Wisconsin.  The food is actually much better than it sounds.  We are camping tonight at the county fairgrounds.  Some are sleeping inside the German Beer Hall—an empty shell of a building. 

While Brack and Jean Anne will not be physically with us on the ride for the near future, they will never be far from our thoughts.  They are still part of our ride in spirit.  They are also allowing me to keep them on the ride by emailing these blog entries.

Day 29 - Winona, MN - 7/23/07 - 89 mi
Courtesy of Big Rider David Lambert

Today started out with waking up to the sound of pouring rain.  Thankfully, we had been able to stay in a building at the county fairgrounds.  A few people had set up tents outside, and they sure looked wet when we saw them.  We ate breakfast at the truck.  It was especially good today as Pollie had gotten some “elephant ear” pastries, and they definitely hit the spot.

I started the day in full rain gear because of the rain clouds in the distance.  It rained for about the first 10 miles.  I was grateful when it stopped because I was really starting to get warm in all those clothes.

Today was also the first day in a while that we haven’t had severe headwinds.  The rain storm seemed to calm things down a little. Before Rochester, Ane and Liz’s family had a water stop for us.  There was fruit, pie, candy and, of course, water.  They had even set up an overhead tent for shade!  Ane had 2 flats before she got to her family’s rest-stop.

After leaving the rest-stop, we rode into Rochester.  The first thing we rode by was the Mayo Clinic.  Then we started to get into downtown.  It was a little rough getting through the streets with all the cars, but we all made it all right.

After many turns through the city, we were back to farmland.  Kathy had a water stop at a Kwik Trip gas station around the 52 mile mark.  After a snack and some Gatorade, it was time to head out again. Around 71 miles, we started a rolling descent into the Mississippi valley.  It was beautiful with all of the trees and farms.  We had one last water stop before the last 12 miles, and then turned off Rt. 14 East to ride through Winona.  Winona is a nice town, but it’s busy with traffic.  I was glad when we arrived at Winona State University for camp.  Ane’s former restaurant provided us with wonderful muffins.  They tasted so good after the ride.  The total mileage for the day was 91.7 miles.  We eat dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow in the college cafeteria, then head out for Wisconsin.

It’s amazing that we have come so far since the beginning of the trip.  It seems like a blur sometimes when I think back.  I am glad we are getting updates every night from Pollie about Brack’s progress and am happy he was able to ride the stationary bike so soon.  We all miss Brack and Jean Anne, but we are happy to hear that they are safely back in Pittsburgh.  We hope to meet up with them along the route as we get closer to Pennsylvania.  The above photo was taken by Brack before he left the ride and shows a typical water stop along the route.

Web Master Note: Brack was released from the hospital on July 24th and is now recuperating at home.

Day 30 – Viroqua, WI - 7/24/07 - 66 mi
Courtesy of Big Riders Ane Klomps and Liz Schulz

We slept well today for the first time in a couple of nights, on a real mattress on a real (bunk) bed. It was lovely. Though I must say that when my alarm went off, I looked out the window to see people already loading up the truck. Honestly, we must have some real morning people in this group. Our breakfast was a little shoddy today at the cafeteria, but we had an exciting announcement that we had a new crew member joining us: Pollie’s father Mark! (We lost a crew member a couple of days ago for a personal crisis.)

This whole day was absolutely gorgeous as we traveled through and finally climbed out of the Mississippi River valley. We have driven through the area many, many times, but never have we experienced it as we did today on the bike. The first twenty miles led us from Winona to Dakota, MN. The entire route was along the river, and we even traveled a couple of miles on an intimate little bike path through the trees and parallel to the bank. Perfect slow, pokey, lazy, content riding. Ben was our little gentleman this morning, reaching down on the bike and picking wildflowers from the side of the road for us. He even wore some in his helmet and Sean had a whole garden stuck into his handlebar bag.

Eventually we turned back onto Hwy 14 and then exited towards Dakota. Here we were greeted warmly by the Meyer family, and we were grateful that we hadn’t had much of a breakfast at the cafeteria because they had loads of yummy, yummy food for us. It was so fantastic. This family has hosted this Minnesotan breakfast for the Big Riders for years now. They had signed posters hung up from previous years and photo albums of previous riders. They even had pictures already printed off of us and asked for our autographs! How cool. One of the girls conducted an interview with us, and in exchange we were given hand-made bracelets to keep with us. We cherish ours.  What a good memory. As one of the former riders wrote on her poster, they truly made us feel at home. These are the people who are inspiring.

We moved on down to La Crescent and across the bridge to La Crosse. The bridge across the Mississippi was huge, and we soon found ourselves taking pictures of the sign for state number five: Wisconsin. Ben was even bold enough to lay right in the flowerbed under the sign.

Once in La Crosse, the traffic was a little hectic through the downtown area. We were even witness to a fender-bender accident ahead of us (thank goodness it had nothing to do with us). On our left we watched the world’s largest six pack approach at the city brewery. Of course we were with Michael Yee and Helen who convinced us to stop at the gift shop and visitor’s center.

The mighty Mississippi remained on our right hand side for a while longer, and we took so many pictures. It was so beautiful with the bluffs on our left, the train tracks immediately on our right, the shoreline after that, followed by green algae and lily pads speckled with bright yellow flowers, fishermen mingling in the shallow waters, and the river’s expanse topped off with the western bluffs on the far shore. We’ve never appreciated the river as much as we did today.

Slowly we turned east again and began to climb out of the valley. The whole experience was breathtaking, an absolute picturesque landscape. We couldn’t believe it. Steep rolling, rolling hills on a small rural road surrounded with fields of corn and hay dotted with trees and bluffs. It was Amish country as well, and we spotted long black clothes hanging out to dry on lines, waved to a family in a horse and buggy crossing our path, and admired the neatly piled bunches of hand-bundled hay. It was incredible. The scenery was almost too overwhelming to photograph.

We had a super steep 1.5 mile climb at one point, as well as a super steep descent that was curvy and thrilling. We were having so much fun and really had no idea how fast we were going. Afterwards my jaw dropped at my computer’s max speed of 47.1 mph. We tried to convince Kathy to drive us back up to the top to do it again, but she wasn’t biting at the idea.

Viroqua was our destination today, a cute little town of 4,300 people. It was a short day of about 67 miles, but we took our time so much at the Meyers and through the terrain that we got into camp pretty late. It was blissful to just lie around, even before showering, just hanging out.  Showering didn’t seem urgent anyways after Jody sang the hokey pokey while she described the water temperature.  Sean even helped me change my chain, and it was a very educational experience. The two of us ate dinner at the Viroqua co-op store, and we seriously felt like we were in heaven. We ate piles of organic salad with everything on it that we could have dreamt up, and then enjoyed some soy ice cream treats. This little town sure knows how to build and stock a co-op; it was like a mini Whole Foods!

Tonight we plan on sleeping out under the stars again; we have a fairly quiet piece of land at the fair grounds with plenty of nice green grass.

Day 31 – Madison, WI - 7/25/07 - 100 mi
Courtesy of Big Riders Sean Bennett and Ben Thiesse

Today was one of the few days where Ben and I actually didn't ride together.  We thought instead of having one combined blog for the day, it would be neat to give you our thoughts about the day from two different perspectives.  Also attached is one picture from each of us--the one we liked the most for the day. 

This is Sean’s view of the day:
The beginning of today's ride started with some very steep ups and downs, as well as some fog.  We rode through some beautiful fields and farms at the beginning of the ride, and it was just a great start to a long day of riding.  I decided today that I wanted to ride by myself and basically see how fast I could get to camp.  The last several days we
have been pokin’ around a little too much, and I knew at some point I wanted to just pedal as hard as I could, so for some reason I picked the second longest day of the trip. 

Once the hills ended we got to flat roads for a large portion of the day.  Here I was cruising along in my drops anywhere from 21-24 mph. Part of this was because I got my first flat of the entire trip right around mile 100.  It was pretty hot at that time, and I was standing on the side of the road sweating a whole lot and trying to change my tire as fast as I could.  I got to use my CO2 refill cartridge which was fun because I've had it for so long and finally got to use it.  It didn't completely fill up my tire so I had to take it easy for the last 10 miles, riding carefully on an under-pressurized tire because I did not want to use my mini pump so close to the end.  I also ran out of water with about 7 or 8 miles left, which was another reason to take it easy. 

I enjoyed this new change of pace a lot from what we have been doing.  At the stops I just ate quick, filled up and left not spending any time sitting around.  The only exception to this was one of the water stops that had a mini petting zoo with goats, pigs, a donkey I petted, and even a zebra. It felt good to ride alone for once doing what ever you wanted whenever you wanted, but it did get kind of boring with no one to talk to.  I only saw other riders when I passed them today, so that was the only time I could really talk to people.  This also led to a new experience for me.  I was completely tired and exhausted when I got to camp.  I also had to help clean up breakfast this morning, so I was one of the last to leave camp, but I finished right behind Steve, the fastest rider.  Even though he got to the campground before me, I ended up having 30 minutes less riding time and only showing up 15 minutes later than him. After pedaling hard for almost 7 hours I ended up taking a nice nap right after my shower.  There was little to no shade at this campground, and it was hot, so I set the fly up on my tent which has a little "porch" or overhang that provided enough shade for a nap.  Later that day for dinner some people sat under it for shade which was pretty cool, because it was a lot better than standing in the sun. 

Dinner, by the way, was awesome.  Dan Scott and Bob Dumpke's families put together a dinner for us at the campground.  They had a lot of fruits and vegetables for us to snack on before dinner, and the main attraction at dinner was grilled brats which they soaked in beer and onions for a while.  They tasted awesome with onions, ketchup, mustard, and sauerkraut.  Unfortunately, on the downside of pedaling hard today, my lower back ended up hurting for a good day or two after from riding in the tucked position for a while.  I did plan on taking it nice and easy the next day because I knew I was going to be tired and sore. 

This is Ben's view of the day:
I'm starting to like not having to set up the tent.  Sleeping under the stars was really cool and refreshing, and in the morning, I didn't even have a tent to take down.  Today started off with some steep up and down hills and some morning fog, which made the hills look really cool.  I started off the day by myself, which was definitely a good change.  I love riding with people, but it’s also really nice for me every once in a while to ride alone, go at my own pace, collect my thoughts, and enjoy everything around me.  Except I ended up missing a turn.  I was in the zone, going down a little hill and missed the turn and ended up going about 5 miles down the hill.  Finally, Pollie's dad, Mark, came to rescue me and tell me that I missed it.  I don’t know how long I might have gone before I would have realized it, but a little bonus mileage never hurt anyone.

It was really nice going through the rural back roads of Wisconsin, seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, and smelling the smells.  So the first half of the day I rode myself, which was pretty refreshing, then the second half, I joined up with Tom and Scott, and we had a pretty good time too.  I had my first cheese curds today, which evidently, are the thing to get in Wisconsin.  If you ever get cheese curds, they have to be squeaky, because that’s how you know they are good.  And these ones were pretty squeaky.  Tonight, we are staying in a park outside of Madison, and my grandparents also came to visit from Iowa.  We went out to dinner at the Cranberry Cafe down the road.  It was really good to see them and talk with them.  I am going to sleep in the tent tonight, though, because the mosquitoes are vicious.

Day 32 – Belvidere, IL - 7/26/07 - 83 mi
Courtesy of Big Rider Jodi Matakovich

Yesterday was a 108 mile day with a few more tacked on when we tried to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright  house, Taliesan.  We actually couldn’t get in, but we walked all around hoping someone would show up.

( Frank Lloyd Wright’s  personal residence, Taliesan-Spring Green, WI )

This day today was one of my favorites.  Wisconsin has to be one of the best states for cycling.  Most of our day, we were on rolling country roads, practically void of any traffic or people.  I was able to go at a pace slow enough to actually hear things besides the wind in my ears.  The birds were especially musical and happy.  They were everywhere whistling tunes.  I think I saw a red bird with black wings, but I’m not sure.  There are lots of farmland and corn.  Lots of time to just enjoy being a part of.

Today I wore Brack’s shirt.  I picked the blue one…it matched my bike.  I spent a lot of time thinking about Brack and Jean Anne.  There is a definite empty space without their presence.  I somehow felt a sense of security with them on the ride.  This, I miss.

As I pedaled along, I reflected on life and was reminded of how fragile it is.  How it is forever changing, just like the old beautiful vacant farms, for sale, for sale, for sale.  I think of Bob saying, “Remember the dash.”  The line between the beginning of life and its end.  This makes me forever grateful for the opportunity of one more day!

I crossed into Illinois and a pretty hard rain.  I knew somehow if I’d just be willing to ride the rain, there would be a dry comfortable place for us at the day’s end.  Then, voila!  Voila!  A huge covered area for our tents and bikes!  Laundry, TV and food being cooked just for us!  I said, “The sun is shining and the rain has stopped.”  Thank you.  Thank you Brack for riding with me and thank you, Jean Anne, for asking me to wear the jersey of your gentle giant.  See you soon.

Update from Brack - Pittsburgh PA - 7/29/07

At home now, and after communicating with some of my fellow riders, it is clear that the accident was the consequence of drafting and suddenly encountering broken pavement on the highway.  Our group of riders was moving at a good pace.  Although I have little remembrance, my front wheel hit the back wheel of the rider in front of me, twisting my front wheel suddenly at an acute right angle to the pavement and bringing me to a screeching halt.  This was followed in swift order by me sailing over the handle bars and bouncing along the pavement with my head leading the way.  My Democrat friends tell me that I was fortunate and chose the best part of my anatomy to land on.  My response is that even in my befuddled state, I am still politically correct, and they are just jealous.  I am, however, in for a longer than anticipated recovery since my jostled brain still wants to leave me periodically in flights of fancy.  I have to go out and capture it and return it to its proper place in my cranium

Day 40 to 42 - Burton, OH to Washington, PA - 8/3/07 to 8/5/07 - 83 mi
Lorenzo Soletti, a graduate student researcher at McGowan Institute, joins the ride and shares the following:

I arrived in Burton, OH at the Geauga County Fairgrounds early on Friday evening.  I had a rental car, so I had to drop my gear at the campsite and then return the car about 15 miles away and bike back to camp.  By the time all that was done, it was almost time to go to sleep.  I had been a little apprehensive about what to expect, being a newcomer to the ride and knowing that everyone had spent the last 40 days together, but before we turned in for the night, I had a good conversation with several riders that were standing around talking and drinking a beer, and I felt reassured.  I got the tent up OK, but unfortunately, I had forgotten a blanket.  It was so cold that I nearly froze as I tried to sleep underneath my towel.

In the morning, we ate breakfast at a nearby restaurant and were on the road by 7 AM.  As far as the pace of the ride, I had been told by others that there were 3 types of riders.  First of all, the riders who rode in the front of the group, generally going out as fast as they could with the main focus on reaching the destination.  A larger second group rode more slowly, broke into smaller groups and took things somewhat leisurely, stopping often, taking in the sights, etc.  Then I was told that there were those who preferred to ride alone.  I knew that I didn’t want to ride alone because I was too afraid of getting lost.  I had imagined myself cycling at a leisurely pace, but what I found out after awhile was that I wanted to go fast.  I wanted to get as tired as I could. 

It was a very hot day with flat terrain. As I increased my pace, I had to remind myself sometimes to look around at my surroundings.  It’s easy to just become intent on watching the road.  I know that there were a lot of Amish—we stopped to ask directions at one point.  The only other landmark of interest was Mike Tyson’s house in Southington, OH, but it was closed off by a big iron gate and chain.

I reached the campgrounds in New Waterford, OH in good time. I have done a lot of cycling in the past, and I really didn’t have any physical problems keeping up with the faster riders the first day.  The camp was near a small lake.  Everybody’s main complaint was that the showers were too far from the tents.  Dinner that night was from Boston Market. 

Sunday morning, my mobile phone was dead, so I was feeling a bit disconnected and hoping my ride would be there when I got to Washington, PA.  We ate a cold breakfast and packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the ride.  I took four.  Right after starting out, we hit some construction and had to detour onto a freeway for a bit.  As we crossed the Ohio River into Pennsylvania at the big nuclear facility in Shippingport, it started to rain.  We were also faced with a deadly uphill grade at that time, and from there until we reached Washington, PA, there were lots of hills and on and off rain.  We stopped a few times for coffee along the road.  I hadn’t packed any rain gear, so I got wet (and so did my poor nonfunctional mobile—as I forgot to pack it in a waterproof place), but overall, I felt the rain was almost cathartic.  It was as if I was being washed clean of the worries I had carried into the ride.

I got to Washington, PA around noon.  It started to really rain hard then, so people congregated in a couple of gazebos at the campground.  Finally Brack and Jean Anne Hattler arrived, and I was very glad to see them.  They stayed for a short time and then gave me a ride back to Pittsburgh with my bike.  The first photo is of Brack Hattler (on crutches) at the campground in Washington, PA  with several other Big Riders, one wearing one of Brack Hattler’s  McGowan shirts, The second photo shows me at the left of the photo in blue next to Brack.

Am I glad I did the ride?  Yes, very much.  The most remarkable thing was that the other Big Riders were just awesome people—easy going and very open.  They made me feel comfortable right away.  I had the nicest conversations—one with just about everybody on the trip—and I felt a sense of connectedness almost immediately.  I wish I could have done more of the ride and was sad that it had to end for me too soon.

Note from Brack: On Sunday we went down and picked up Lorenzo in Washington, Pa. He did an amazing job of biking those two days and of making friends with the other 44 riders. They all were sorry to see him go and were praising the McGowan for the quality of people they send as representatives. However, getting back to a subject I addressed many weeks ago, Lorenzo made a diplomatic faux pas when he said that it only took him 2 minutes at the most to get his tent up each evening. This is the same tent that I struggled with mightily and had in numerous configurations before finally figuring out its true architectural design. I think my record was 28 minutes and 48 seconds. So you can see that Lorenzo, in all innocence, gave the wrong answer when asked about the tent we had lent him.

On a more pleasant subject. While visiting the riders in Washington, Pa. some were wearing the McGowan jerseys, which Jean Anne also plans to wear when she rides the last two days into Washington, DC with the group. I will be in a car in support.

Conclusion of Big Ride, Washington, D.C.
Comments from Brack Hattler

After a farewell dinner for all the riders and crew Friday evening, the Big Riders rode into Washington, D.C. on Saturday August 11, 2007 as planned. Of the 45 riders that started this journey for the American Lung Association, 44 finished. That the rest of the riders never faltered represents, from my perspective, an amazing mental commitment more so than a physical one. Jean Anne and I were there to greet the riders as they circled near the Lincoln Memorial along with numerous family members who traveled to the nation’s capital from all corners of the country in support of their riders.

This first picture shows the entire group as photographed at the final destination. Can you find Waldo—I mean Brack?  I’ll give you a hint. He’s the one with the crutches.

The second photo shows the actual finish line as determined by the ALA at the 3,300 mile mark. Notice that my crutches made it across the line but unfortunately, my bike did not.

Some final thoughts about the ride now that I have had some time to recover and reflect: I am convinced more than ever that to see the greatness of this country one must travel at slow motion.  To understand its form one must view it from horizon to horizon.  To experience its mood one must see it in all its manifestations, from sunrise to sunset, in strong winds and gentle rain, in storm and in soothing breezes, a grandeur that is as varied as the people who inhabit it.  The ride, even shortened as it was, was well worth taking.