A ride of a lifetime

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dr. Dick Schindler, from left, Roe Erlandson, Jerry Ulwelling, Dave Thompson, Julie Thompson, and Terry Fox (not pictured) will all be taking part in a cross-country ride this summer. Schindler, Erlandson, Ulwelling, Thompson and Fox will be making the trek and Julie Thompson planned and mapped the entire route. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

With an average age of about 67, five men are planning to bike across the country in 30 days.

David Thompsen, Roe Erlandson, Dr. Dick Schindler, Jerry Ulwelling and Terry Fox are planning to bike from Oregon to New York — more than 2,900 miles — this August. All are in their sixties, except for David, who will be the oldest rider at 71. But his age hasn’t deterred his love for cycling.

“I guess you could call me a hardcore nut,” David said. “I can’t get enough of it. I’m riding every day.”

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A decade in

the making

Roe Erlandson, Jerry Ulwellling, Dave Thompson, and Dr. Dick Schindler talk about their upcoming bike trek across the country. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

The group has talked about riding across the country for more than a decade, but it never worked out.

“We never got real serious because we were all working,” Ulwelling said.

David’s wife, Julie, brought the dream closer to reality by agreeing to drive support for the group as a 70th birthdaygift to David.

“She put the pressure on,” David said.

Julie’s done more than that. Along with being the support crew, she agreed to map and plan the entire route. As Julie saw David’s racing days nearing a close, she knew her husband needed a way to challenge himself.

“I thought it would be the perfect way to solve his problem,” she said.

“He’s always wanted to do this,” she added.

Now the men have the means and the time. All are retired, except Schindler, who plans to take a month-long leave from his practice at Austin Medical Center.

As far as being physically ready, the men have few doubts they’ll be in shape for the ride.

“Fitness-wise, we’re always on the edge of being able to do it,” Ulwelling said. “It’s just bumping up the endurance.”

But the ride is not going to be a pleasure cruise. The group is already planning a tight schedule to finish in the month Schindler has off work. They plan to bike 100 to 150 miles a day at an average speed of 15 to 18 mph. They plan to take a few days off.

“It’s not going to be a recreational thing,” David said.

‘We’re all dumb’

Endurance challenges are nothing new to the group. All the men have run marathons, and they’ve each participated in Border to Border, a 500-plus mile triathlon across Minnesota from south to north. But, the sheer length of this ride is the unknown.

“It’s kind of an unknown territory when you get into the 20-some days. Our body’s should hold up,” Ulwelling said.

While those bodies have already clocked a lot of miles, only Erlandson and Ulwelling still run. The other men now focus on cycling, along with other activities.

David quit running after he had his knee replaced. After so long, Erlandson and Ulwelling said they have to quit or ease off running to avoid injuries.

“Biking’s a lot more forgiving,” Erlandson said.

One doctor told David he couldn’t climb hills anymore, but he’s ignored the advice.

“I’ve been climbing hills ever since,” David said. “They (doctors) know you never listen to them.”

David also has arthritis, which is especially bad when he rides at temperatures below 50. But Julie said cycling has actually helped his arthritic joints. However, she acknowledges there will be some challenges and pains.

“He is very driven,” she said. “I guess he just works through the pain.”

“You have to be in great shape, but you have to have the right mindset to keep going,” she added. Julie also competed in Border to Border.

The men agreed mental toughness will be a necessity.

Ulwelling described it as a passion for cycling, but Schindler had a different description: “We’re all dumb,” he joked.

Regardless of their mental toughness, the group will have to fuel their bodies for success.

Schindler said the riders will have to consume a high amount of calories each day, and he noted collisions or falls are also a concern.

Muscle pulls, cramps and dehydration are also a possibility, Ulwelling said.

“I think there’s always those concerns, no matter how fit you are,” Ulwelling said.

According to Ulwelling, one of the fun parts will be seeing if they can accomplish their goal. He’s sure they’ll have to adjust their plans during the ride.

Erlandson said he’s unsure how much motivation they’ll have the morning after biking 100-plus miles.

A lot of


While much of the hard work will fall on the riders in August, Julie is the busiest one now.

She is mapping the route and is plotting a route through Oregon using Google Earth, which shows climate and elevations.

“There’s a lot of homework to do, but it’s been quite interesting,” she said

A northern route was chosen because many cyclists in the Midwest wanted to hook up for a week or two and it makes it easier for them to connect. By sticking north, the riders avoid the desert and more mountainous climate to the south. Plus, the northern route avoids cities.

“You want to stay away from the populated areas,” Julie said.

The group plans to ride through Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands and then they’ll take a ferry across Lake Michigan to serve as a break.