WILMINGTON, Del. — Three things you might want to know right off the bat about former Gov. Jack Markell’s cross-country bike trip, which ends in early August in Rehoboth Beach:
1. Yes, his butt hurts. “You might as well light a match and keep it there, honestly,” he says from Rochester, Minnesota.
2. The temperatures, which have included lows in the 40s and highs in the triple digits haven’t bothered him. But he’s learned to hate the headwinds he’s had to pedal into for hours on end.
3. Yes, it’s been harder than he expected. He had to walk his bike up 1.5 miles of steep grade in the Tetons, but the scenery, company and glorious moments have made up for it.
Markell’s trip is designed to draw attention to physical fitness and community health while raising money for Motivate the First State, a website that turns exercise time into donations for seven Delaware charities. He’s riding with a group on a 3,700-mile route put together by a company that organizes trips.
“You do what you need to do to get through the day,” Markell says. “Sometimes it’s fantastic, like when we went through the Badlands, which I’ve never been through before. The Badlands are just amazing. Just beautiful. Some days it’s a total slog.”
The wind and the condition of the road determine what kind of day it is for the riders.
“If the wind is with you, it’s a good day,” Markell says. “If the wind is not with you, it’s not a good day. The main things that go into it are the wind and the surface of the road. If you have a really smooth surface, that’s great. But if you don’t, like today, we have mile after mile after mile of just kerplunk, kerplunk, kerplunk.”
One of his fellow riders joked that if there had been a thumbtack on his bike seat, it might have felt better. Markell agrees.
Friends and family have popped in and out of the trip since June 19 when he dipped his bike wheels in the Pacific Ocean off Oregon, where his wife, Carla, saw him off. His daughter, Molly, and her boyfriend surprised him in Boise, Idaho, for one of the few rest days. Online a few weeks ago, Markell lamented the departure of his friend Bob Pincus, a Delaware lawyer who rode with him for five days and who apparently also is Lord of the Tailwinds.
Delaware State Sen. David Sokola just joined Markell on the road and will ride with him to Rehoboth Beach.
Most of the daily rides cover less than 100 miles, but the group has had quite a few “centuries” as they call biking that distance in one day.
Markell says he drinks constantly. He carries two water bottles and refills them several times a day. He also buys juice or a sports beverage on the route.
The bikers stop at Dairy Queen any time there is one, he says.
“I eat a lot more than I eat at home,” he says. “It’s going to be an adjustment going home and not eating like this. I eat pretty much everything in sight.”
He has no idea if he’s lost weight, but guesses he’s lost a couple of pounds.
“I wish I had lost a few more pounds before I started because getting up those hills, a few pounds would make a big difference,” Markell says.
Within a few days of embarking, he had an evening routine established. He gets to his hotel room and showers. Then he washes his clothes in the sink and hangs them to dry overnight, so they are ready to go in the morning.
“I stretch. I eat. I catch up on my email and the world news and I go to bed very early,” Markell says. “This morning we started at 5:30 a.m. It’s a very full day and I have to be in bed early.”
He’s ridden both a Fuji and a Cervelo bike, both lightweight models designed for long rides.
There are no rain days, although the group did huddle in the lobby of a hotel during a tornado watch.
“Our schedule is set,” Markell says. “We have to be at the next hotel. The only time we don’t ride is if it’s lightning. But if it’s raining, like yesterday, we ride.”
One of those stops in the rain was at a Mountain Lake, Minnesota, cafe. The women there found out Markell was a former governor. When they discovered he hadn’t run for a third term, one of them speculated out of his earshot that the “big guy,” U.S. Sen. McConnell, must’ve called Markell and told him not to run.
The riders average 80 miles a day, which can be done in five hours with a good road and cooperating wind, or can take eight hours with a headwind or bad road, Markell says.
He thinks they’ve climbed more than 12 miles.
And he’s had a couple moments when he wondered if he was crazy.
“I’d say that’s happened a number of times, including today,” Markell says. “But I have said and told the staff that it’s ironic that I’m paying to do this because you couldn’t pay me to do it again.
“I’m very glad to be doing it, honestly, because it’s a great experience. I would say it’s more dangerous than I had expected, because it is, and it’s harder than I expected. Most importantly, I miss Carla and being away from Carla for just days. I’ve never done that before.”
Markell says he wouldn’t have done anything differently to get ready for the ride. His trainer, Deborah Leedale-Brown, got him into great shape, he says.
He knew he would really miss the Delaware State Fair and noted online that the smell of rural Wyoming reminded him of the fair, in a good way.
He’s not sorry he missed the finale of the legislative session, which ended with Gov. John Carney calling an emergency session to pass a state budget.
“As painful a day as I was having that day, I think Gov. Carney was probably having a more painful day, and I’m very happy for him that he was able to get the budget done a couple of days later.
“I did not miss the legislative session. At all. Exclamation point.”
Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com