fire service tribute ride

A cross-country bike ride to respect, remember and honor all fallen firefighters

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Update from Plainwell, MI

It is nice to be back in Michigan, even more so just the great lakes area.  The scenery is the best, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to visit friends and have others ride along.  There are a lot of rails to trails routes in the area too, so that helps in avoiding a lot of the automobile traffic.  I made it from Madison to Michigan City, IN primarily on bike paths, with just a couple stretches of roadways and some downtown streets in the bigger cities.  That being said, I have really enjoyed riding into Milwaukee and Chicago.  I don’t think the trip to Chicago could have been any better!  I was able to meet Nate, who is a firefighter friend of mine from the Town of Madison.  He rode with me 30 or 40 miles, and set up a lunch at his fire station in Pleasant Prairie.  After that we crossed into Illinois, and I was able to follow paths all the way through Evanston (Northwestern University) and onto the Lakeshore Path that hugs the coastline of Lake Michigan.  It was an incredible sight to finally be able to see the Chicago skyscrapers in the distance, and as I approached they just got bigger and bigger.  I am a sucker for big cities and their skylines, so getting to ride sandwiched between Lake Michigan on my left and the Chicago skyline on my right made for a pretty memorable bike trip. 

The Chicago Fire Department also stepped up big time and really represented the camaraderie of the fire service well.  I was actually having trouble securing a place to stay in Chicago, and thankfully the Milwaukee firefighters’ local contacted the Chicago local, and literally the day before I rode to Chicago I got a call from a chief.  He said he’d be happy to help out with lodging, and that I could stay in any firehouse in the city.  How generous.  When we made the arrangements at Engine 13 by Navy Pier, I was greeted by over thirty firefighters standing outside the bay doors.  They really did a great job taking care of me.  I enjoyed talking with them and hearing more about the CFD. 

There is just so much to write about with this trip, I know that there is no way I can do it all justice with this blog.  I’ve skipped entire portions, and basically the entire leg from Denver to the Midwest.  There were so many great people and stories from those parts of the trip that I can’t just leave them out, but on the other hand I don’t have to time to detail everything the way should be.  Even the two days I spent in Madison were just so jam packed, it’ll take a while to get it all written out.  But I’ll do my best, please bear with me!

I am writing this post from my Aunt’s house in Plainwell, MI.  I have 35 miles to go to Grand Rapids, and I am actually riding with an old friend of my dad’s, Greg Good.  It’s so great to have other people to ride with, and it’s so neat that Greg has been willing to ride the whole day with me.  I’ve been learning a ton of stories about my dad from his days in Kalamazoo, and it all makes for great conversation as we travel.  Last night I stayed in Oshtemo, MI, which is a fire department my dad formerly worked for.  It’s cool to hear these old stories about things he was doing in the fire service back on that department.  Everyone in Oshtemo was extremely friendly and kind, and I’d like to say thanks to the firefighters who were willing to stay up and listen to my stories from the road.  One firefighter shared some of his groceries and cooked me breakfast, which I am very appreciative of.  It was also great to be able to watch baseball with some other Tigers fans!

Before Oshtemo I rode from Chicago to St. Joseph, MI with two terrific riders who are firefighters out of Elkhart, IN.  These guys were fast.  I have never gone so fast in my life.  And they were fun too.  We had a lot of laughs and joking (and a couple of flats) throughout the trip despite pouring rain.  We called it our Michigan Monsoon.  They rode 92 miles with me, and we covered the distance in no time.  I’ll have to write more about that day of riding later, but it was an absolute blast.  There was one point in the trip where we were drafting off each other and following in a line.  Your sight is reduced when you ride like this, so you’ve really got to rely on the rider ahead of you to point out potholes and other road debris.  There was one giant hole that Jeremy swerved away from, and I was able to barely follow him and avoid it.  “Good God!” he said. “That was a deep pot hole.  I think that one went straight to hell”  I don’t know why but that cracked me up.  I couldn’t stop laughing for the next 5 miles.  Even now I still smile about it as I write. 

Alright, we are off to finish the ride.  The weather is nice, so it should go well.


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Update from Grinnell, IA

I’ve got a couple minute here in a library on my way between Des Moines and Iowa City.  I’ve really enjoyed riding back in the midwest, and I like all the trees, rivers, streams and farmland.  Iowa is pretty hilly, and the terrain is similar to what I am used to riding back in Dane County.  I’m really excited for the next couple days because I will be biking to Madison this Saturday.  After that is two rest days!  My last rest day was in Denver, and I’m really looking forward to seeing some of my friends again. 

In Cheyenne I met back up with engineer Jon, and he was a great host to the city.  We drove all around, and got to check out the state capitol.  I’ve been very lucky this far to have seen so many state capitols; in the first 7 states I passed through capitol cities. Cheyenne’s capitol was rich with cowboy art and history, and I enjoy seeing those kind of things.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the capitols in the West seem to feature more American flags all over the building, inside and out, and all throughout the downtown streets.  It’s a pretty cool thing. 

Jon set me up at fire station in Cheyenne, and the crew there were as welcoming as everyone I’ve met so far.  I enjoyed talking for a couple hours with the on duty battalion chief, who is actually a very young chief.  He talked to me about taking opportunities to better himself and thus promoting on early within the department, and it was great to hear some of his advice.  He gave me the contact information for his uncle who works as the fire department chaplain in Lawrence, KS, and that connection later proved useful when I got to that area.  After Cheyenne I had a great ride south into Denver, and I have to admit I was very excited in general to visit Colorado.  I’ve always heard these stories in Madison about people from the midwest traveling to and then living along the front range, and everyone talked about Denver as a hopping town full of lots of outdoor activity.  One of my favorite bands Five Iron Frenzy is from Denver, and I also have some friends in the area too.  All of these things helped get me excited to finish the 115 mile trip into downtown, and I couldn’t help but smile and take it all in when I passed into “Colorful Colorado” and then finished the ride alongside the river on the bike trail.

The firefighters at Denver station 6 were some of the best I’ve met.  I literally arrived as they were serving the dinner meal, and they made no hesitation to welcome me to their firehouse.  These downtown fire stations are so full of camaraderie, it’s really appealing to me.  Station 6 was kind enough to allow me to spend two nights at the station, and on the first night I got to ride along on engine 6 and HAMER 1, the hazmat response vehicle.  This is a very busy firehouse, and I caught a lot of calls with them in just a short period of time.  I eventually stopped going on calls around midnight, because I was just too exhausted.  Earlier in the evening the firefighters in the engine spent some time driving throughout the district, showing off the skyscrapers and attractions.  We passed by the baseball park and hockey/basketball arena for the Denver professional teams.  I’m really glad that those firefighters took that time to take me out and show me the city, that really meant a lot.

I’m gonna hold off now, I’ve got to cover some more ground to Iowa City.  If anyone is interested in riding with me to Madison on Saturday, 8/16, please text or email me and I’ll get you the details.  Thanks!


Update from Olathe, KS

Today has been a good day, and a fun day of cycling.  I’ve found some steep hills in this part of Kansas though.  Tonight I am staying at Olathe Fire Station 5, and this has been a special station because of a couple family connections.  The station captain, Scott, is actually a long time family friend from Michigan.  He and my dad worked together on fire departments in both Michigan and Kansas, and he really helped out with this leg of the trip.  He gave me a big hug when I finished at the station and got off the bike.  Also, when I arrived to the firehouse there was a giant American flag flowing over the apparatus bay, held up by one of the aerial ladders.  Talk about cool.

I’ve really enjoyed spending the night at the station, and the captain and I got to talk a lot about his experiences in the fire service, and how he first started off riding along on calls with my dad back in Kalamazoo.  There were some great stories to share.  It has been a very fun evening.  Tomorrow will be a lower mileage day, and we plan to get some BBQ in downtown Kansas City, MO.  I hope to get into the next fire station early to rest.  One week from now I will be in Madison.  That is hard to believe.  The time has just been flying.

So out of the Snowy Range Mountain pass I said goodbye to the family I met in Denver, and told them to honk at me on the way down the mountain.  Things started off OK, but soon the rain started coming down in sheets.  Without any rain or cold weather gear, I was an icicle.  The windchill from descending down the mountain was brutal, and after a bit I pulled off the road to take shelter under a tree.  Lucky for me Josh, Nick and Hallie were right behind me, and I was pretty relieved when I saw their SUV with the kayaks on top pull over.  The asked if I’d like to hop in the car to avoid the rain, and I gladly accepted.  We spent probably 30 minutes just talking and sharing stories, and after warming up slightly (the car thermometer read somewhere in the 40s) I decided to head off again.  I didn’t last too long.  Their car passed me, and with it raining just as hard as before they asked me if I’d like to stop again.  We talked it over for a while, and Josh offerred to drive me closer to Laramie.  I’m glad he did.  If they didn’t help, there was no way I was going to get to Laramie that night.  There was hail and rain, and it just wasn’t safe.  We drove through a portion of the plains, and they dropped me off just outside of town where I rode the rest of the way in.  Thank you Josh, Nick and Hallie for saving the day in Wyoming.  Seriously, thank you so much.

I made it alright to Laramie fire station 1, and the crew there had dinner ready to go.  I think they have been the goofiest bunch of firefighters I had met on the trip (at least until Colorado Springs, they were pretty goofy and fun too), and when we took a photo, everyone did all these different poses and faces, and it was just goofy.  They were an awesome group though and treated me great.  That night I actually got to spend the night at one of the officer’s homes, and that worked out really well.  Gus picked me up from the station, and I got to meet his family and new baby boy.  I thought it was really nice of him to open up his house and allow me to stay, and I had a great time learning talking with them and learning more about Wyoming.  It sounds like their state has some great programs with the university and helping students attend college, and I found it all pretty interesting.

The next morning I had my first flat of the trip, luckily it occurred just on the other side of town.  The University of Wyoming campus is very pretty and green, and after passing through it I tried to get the tube fixed at a mechanic’s shop, but we had no luck.  It was raining that day too, and when I called Gus he drove over in a matter of minutes to help out.  He took me to the local bike shop (which had been rated one of the best in the country), and thanks to a local connection with Gus’s sister the flat tire was taken care of, and I actually also decided to throw a new tire onto the front wheel.  The exisiting tires probably had about 5000 miles on them, and they were pretty shredded.  I think it was that I-80 interstate that did em in.  After the bike fix-up I had a good ride to Cheyenne, and the firefighters there were awesome.

I’ll finish some more of the blog tomorrow.  Thank you for all the messages and texts, I appreciate everyone’s support.  I’m coming closer to the midwest, so I hope to see a lot of you in person soon!

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Update from Abilene, KS

Hi all, my apologies on the late update.  Things have been very busy, and I’ve been logging some serious mileage in Kansas.  Unfortunately I haven’t been getting to the firehouses until around sunset, but that should all be behind me because this next week’s cities are all spaced pretty close.  I’m also planning for a short ride and rest day in Kansas City, MO.  I am writing at a public library now, and I only have a short time before I need to hit the road again, but I’ll try to catch up a little bit on the events so far.

The Snowy Range mountains in Wyoming were absolutely gorgeous.  That has been the most scenic portion of the trip.  The weather was not so great, and that did turn out to be an issue.  When I left Saratoga, the Cheyenne firefighter (Jon) helped me out by taking my two panniers by car and dropping them off at the Laramie fire station.  It saved me a lot of weight, which was great because I had a lot of climbing to do, but I left my rain jacket and under armor leggings in the bags with him.  When I got to the middle of that mountain pass I was freezing, and it was just pouring sheets of rain.  A couple nice people did help me on the way though.  I met a retired Columbus, OH firefighter at a rest stop, and then a woman from Indiana let me eat lunch in her car to avoid the rain.  She was 89 years old and still driving, heading back to Indiana after a family wedding in Nevada. 

At the top of the mountain pass is this beautiful glacial lake called Lake Marie.  it is so scenic.  I wish I could have spend the entire day there, as there were so many things to check out.  I’ve heard that there are lakes like that all over the peak, but that Lake Marie is the famous one because it is so close to the road.  I’m sure someone could spend days exploring all the lakes and wildlife.  The mountain peaks somewhere over 12,000 feet, and the road tops off at 10,000 plus.  At the very top I stopped to check out a view and started up a conversation with a family from Denver.  Their names were Josh, Nick and Hallie, and they absolutely saved the trip for me later that day.  They were just returning from a kayaking trip in Wyoming, and they were all so friendly.  It’s a lot of fun to talk to different people from all over the country.  One thing we talked about were the different states, and I told them about how windy is had been in Wyoming.  Josh told me a joke, saying that the reason Wyoming is so windy is because Nebraska sucks.  It’s all in good fun, but I have found it hilarious how everyone bashes the next state over!  It’s totally true and it’s something I have found consistently about the trip – everyone east of California is talking about these natural disasters and earthquakes that are going to separate California from the rest of the country.  When I left to go to Nevada, the Californians jokes about all the brothels in that state.  A lot of people before Wyoming talked about vast the state is, and told me that a day biking there would feel like weeks. In Colorado everyone joked about how flat Kansas was, and when I got to Kansas they told me that their state is so windy because Nebraska sucks and Oklahoma blows.  I think it’s all funny.  I guess I’d be saying that same sorts of things about Illinois if I were back in Wisconsin.  Flatlanders and their fast driving.  Ha ha just kidding.

I guess I didn’t really add much to the story, but I am meeting a firefighter cyclist to ride in with me to Manhattan, KS in a few hours.  I guess I’ll have to travel through a military base along the way, so there may be a security check for that.

Everyone in Kansas has been really helpful.  I changed the route last minute out of Colorado Springs, and a lot of of Kansas fire departments have been willing to help me on the fly.  I’ll send out another update soon I hope.