Off to cross the country

Published 11:44 am Friday, July 29, 2011

Jerry Ulwelling flexes as the five cyclists and their support from Austin prepare to leave for their cross country ride early this morning from the Hormel Institute. The crew includes, from left: Dr. Dick Schindler, Julie Thomsen, Ulwelling, Roe Erlandson, Terry Fox and Dave Thomsen. -- Eric Johnson/

And they’re off.

Five men with local ties who call themselves the coast-to-coasters hit the road this morning to start their month-long, 3,500 mile journey across North America.

Terry Fox, one of five Austin cyclists who will be biking across the United States, waves to well-wishers as the group leaves from the Hormel Institute this morning.

“I’m pumped,” said Roe Erlandson, 68, of Madison, Wis., and formerly of Austin.

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So are the rest of his friends. Erlandson, Dave Thomsen, 71, Jerry Ulwelling, 65, Dick Schindler, 69, and Terry Fox, 64, are driving to Newport, Ore., where they will begin biking across several U.S. states and part of Canada starting Aug. 1.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for 10 years,” Fox said.

The trip started when Julie Thomsen, Dave’s wife, decided to help Dave plan a nation-wide bike tour for his 70th birthday. Dave loves biking and has participated in bike races across the Midwest. The Thomsens invited others along, as they’ve all wanted to go on this trip for years.

While the five men are biking, Julie will drive their RV, where they’ve stored supplies, maps and other equipment Julie has brought to provide support, which includes a whole lot of food.

It takes about 9,000 to 10,000 calories a day to feed a Tour de France bicyclist, or so the team found out. That means eating pasta, bananas and granola for breakfast, eating a pre-race meal, eating during the ride, eating after the ride, eating dinner and eating before bed, all while riding 200 miles a day. While the team won’t push that hard, they’ll still be riding between 80 to 130 miles or more a day, depending on the conditions.

“I’ll be cooking a lot of pasta in the morning,” Julie told friends gathered at the Hormel Institute Friday morning, where the coast-to-coasters had a large sendoff.

Julie Thomsen tears up as she talks about Dan Ulwelling early this morning in front of the Hormel Instititute. The five riders taking part in a cross country ride to raise money to fight cancer were riding in honor of Ulwelling.

Part of the coast-to-coasters’ mission is to raise money and awareness for the Hormel Institute. The ride is dedicated to the memory of Dan Ulwelling, a bicycle enthusiast and founding partner of Rydjor Bike Shop, who died of cancer in 2006.

“We know he’ll be with us in spirit,” Julie said.

There will be plenty of people riding along with the coast-to-coasters as well. People from across the nation may join up with the team for short distances during their trip, including the time they’ll spend riding through southern Minnesota. The team won’t pass through Austin however; they’ll be riding through Faribault and New Ulm on their way to Wabasha, Wis. and on to Lake Michigan.

The coast-to-coasters, all in their 60s or 70s, have been training hard. Jerry estimates he’s rode more than 5,000 miles over the past several months to prepare for the trip, and the other cyclists have done similar training. They hope that training will prepare them for the mountains they’ll have to cross as they pass through Oregon and the western states, as none of them have biked in high altitudes before. Julie estimates some of the mountains they’ll be climbing will be more than 8,000 feet above sea level, where the air gets a little thin.

What’s more concerning is the descent. The bikers will travel down long, steep winding roads at fast speeds, which Julie and Jerry say could be a problem.

“The descending is really dangerous,” Julie said.

Yet the experience will be worth it as they travel through Wyoming, South Dakota, Ottawa, Canada and upstate New York before ending at Salisbury, Mass. For the coast-to-coasters, it’ll be the ride of a lifetime.

“It’s just a great way to see the country,” Erlandson said. “Part of it is to say I did it, brag it up to my friends, but it’s a good way to see the country.”

YMCA following coast-to-coasters

YMCA members have a good reason to follow the coast-to-coasters. While the bikers are traveling across the country, Y members can participate in the Coast-to-Coasters challenge, where they can earn miles and achieve fitness goals. For $20, Y members can earn challenge miles by attending Y classes or biking and running outside. They have until Sept. 7 to achieve their goal of 300 or 500 miles. Those who earn more than 500 challenge miles are entered into a drawing for $50 in Chamber of Commerce bucks. All proceeds will go to the Hormel Institute for cancer research.