Skip to content

2018 Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnée Day 4: Winona to Apple Valley, Minnesota USA

2018 Inaugural Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee

Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee in Midwest, USA

1204km/753 miles of Driftless Heaven

August 13-16th, 2018

Apple Valley, MN USA






DAY 4: Thursday, August 16th

I slept for 2 hours and woke up at 7:00 am.  I opened my eyes feeling thankful.  Joye Moon, artist once said, “Every day is a gift–a new beginning…bound out of bed with the enthusiasm of a child.”  I reflected on my Coulee Challenge over the last 75:20 hours since the event began on Monday, August 13th at 4:00 am:

Total miles/kilometers: 613/982

Total elevation gain: 27,857 feet/8490 meters

Total hours of sleep:  10

Hallucinations:  0

Shermer’s Neck:  0

I pulled on some sweats and a t-shirt and grabbed my brevet card.  Although I felt better, I just wasn’t sure I could ride today.  Last night was extremely difficult.  For me to finish last night was quite an undertaking.  I honestly did not think I could manage another day under the emotional duress I experienced last night.  Yet I did feel better this morning.  And the presents I had received the past 3 days from the Coulee Challenge were quite special.  Was I willing to miss out on my last present?

I headed downstairs to have breakfast and turn my brevet card in.  As I arrived to the lobby, I saw a group of the organizers, Tom Ehlman and Jerry Christensen.  They asked me how I was doing considering the crash last night.  My eyes welled.  I felt sadness.  I allowed the feelings to again come to the surface; I recognized the importance of this in the healing process.  Jerry gave me a hug which was just what I needed.  As I let go of him, I then saw Kit and Greg Smith in the lobby.  A large sigh of relief came from me.  I was extremely happy to see her.  I went over and talked to her for a bit.  Kit seemed to be doing ok.  She relayed to me the rest of her evening last night.  She also told me that Scott was going to begin riding at around 8:00 am.  The organizers were loading up her bike to take her home.   She gave me a hug and we said our goodbyes.  I watched Kit leave as she followed the organizers to head out.

I went to grab some breakfast and turn my card in.  I saw another rider there who I had heard had DNF (Did Not Finish).  My plan was to eat and then turn my card in.  As I began to eat my breakfast, I saw Jerry Christensen again.  Jerry was talking on the phone to my friend Lara Sullivan, another Coulee Challenge support personnel and friend from my spring Pacific Atlantic Tour Gravel Camp 2018.  He then called to me, “Hey Dawn, I am on the phone with Lara and she says you better get your butt moving and get out there…”  It’s funny because all of a sudden, very quickly, something in me shifted.  Something was turned on in my mind.  After hearing him say this, I immediately went from a DNF to then saying to myself, “Just get out there and TRY.  Do it for Kit since she cannot ride.”  And then I was on again.  All it took was Jerry saying this to me, like a fire beneath me had been ignited.  Pretty amazing, huh?  I did not say anything else to Jerry and finished my breakfast.  I went back upstairs and got ready.  In the matter of 15 minutes, I had decided to try to ride the last day of the Coulee Challenge.

I dropped my bag off to the organizers and headed out of the hotel.  As I walked outside, I ran into Mark Olsen, Coulee Challenge organzier.  He asked me if I needed anything before I took off.  I replied to him that I probably needed some air in my tires.  Mark helped me out.  I am sure he could tell I was exhausted.  As he pumped the air into my tires, I looked into the U-hall truck next to me.  I saw Kit’s bike.  A took another deep breath and exhaled.

Then, I took a second deep breath and exhaled.  I began to formulate my plan.  I would try to ride as far as I could.  Would I finish?  I did not know, but I would try.  I would do the best that I could.  My plan was to take each pedal stroke and control at a time.  At each control, I would then re-assess and see how I was feeling.  I felt strong physically, but mentally I was running a negative deficit.  To be quite honest, I just wasn’t sure how my mind would hold up today.


At 7:38 am, I began to pedal out of Winona, Minnesota and started to open the last present of the Coulee Challenge.  By comparison to the previous presents received, this one came in the smallest box.  It was wrapped in the most beautiful, detailed wrapping paper.

OVERVIEW OF THE DAY:  The final day of the Coulee Challenge had 141 miles with 4,710 feet of climbing (33 feet of elevation gain) from Winona to Apple Valley, Minnesota.  Greg Smith, Regional Brevet Administrator of the Driftless Randonneurs characterized this day as “beautiful and mild climbing the first half of the day with flat run-in to the finish.”  The finish could be challenging if it was going to be windy.  We climbed out of the Mississippi River valley, rolled through the high plains of Minnesota and on the Hay Creek. We would finish on the Cannon Valley State Bicycle Trails into Apple Valley.

Day 4 Route

Day 4 Coulee Challenge:  Winona to Apple Valley, Minnesota

CONTROLS:  The controls for day included:  Plainview, Lake City, Red Wing, Cannon Falls and the finish in Apple Valley, Minnesota.  The segment from Plainview had the most climbing of the day with 47 feet/mile of elevation gain.  After that, the amount of elevation gain decreased with a flat finish to Apple Valley.  This day was shorter and significantly easier than the previous 3 days.

As I left Winona, I began to climb out of the Mississippi River Valley with a gentle climb up the wide valley. The first control in Plainview was thirty-two miles away.  I was riding alone.  This is what I felt I needed.  I did not wait for Scott.  I needed to take the first leg and see how I felt.  There was a heavy mist covering the route.  At about 10 miles out from the overnight, I was passed by Martin Fahje (RUSA #217).  He said hello to me when he was right next to me and passed me.  I know he had no intention, but with the accident last night, I was startled quite a bit.  It was nice to see a fellow rider, but I could tell the mental challenges from last night would continue.  The thoughts again came into my mind…

Damn, I wish I had my mirror.

Damn, why did that girl have to reach for her vape?

I continued to pedal onward.  At about mile 15.4 on MN-26/E Center St in Altura, I saw Coulee Challenge photographer Deb Ford on the route.  I was descending and very focused on moving forward.  I recall the moment when I saw her.  Tears filled my eyes.  I had a huge rush of emotions to deal with today and it seemed like anger was at the forefront when she took this photo of me.


The catalyst of Anger.  Photo credit Deb Ford Photography.

I continued to move along the route.  The route was very scenic as I continued to climb.  At mile 19.7, in downtown Elba, I came to St. Aloysius Church. I stopped to say a prayer of thanks.  As I was taking a moment to reflect, Scott Gregory rode up and said hello as he continued forward on the course.  It was nice to see him this morning.


Like a Prayer in Elba

The route continued along the Whitewater River and Beaver Creek in the Whitewater State Park, in the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota.  I continued to climb as I reached the first control, a Kwik Trip in Plainview.  I saw Scott there and we talked for a bit.  Additionally, Deb Ford, photographer was there and me and Scott and asked how we were doing.  My eyes welled up and I felt sad.  Deb was very supportive and empathetic.  I stopped myself from crying.  I told her I needed to stay focused and keep moving, she agreed.  Deb said she would see me on the road and we all parted ways.  I finished up refueling as Scott moved out.  I assumed I was the last one on the course.


Whitewater River

I left the control in Plainview, my next control was Lake City, Minnesota, total overall mile 670.2.  I was feeling ok, up to this point.  The roads had minimal traffic and I was very thankful for that.  I was getting tired but holding up well considering I had only had 2 hours of sleep last night. I was pretty happy with how I was feeling overall mentally.  Physically I was feeling strong.

This section offered the ability to experience the Minnesota version of the Driftless area, which was a little more open, on the high plains.  Additionally, there were fewer long hills.


At mile 57.5 for the day, I arrived at the Kwik Trip control in Lake City, by the Mississippi River.  I moved through the control efficiently.  I sat by the window and was greeted by Mark Olsen.  He provided me with encouragement and relayed to me that I had one more climb out of this control and then the course would even out.  I left the control and pulled onto US-63 for 3 miles with a nice shoulder.  As I turned off US-63, onto Co Rd 15, I saw my last climb and geared down and steadily moved up the hill.  Once I crested the hill, I took a moment at the top to get a video of the last climb of the Coulee Challenge. Take a look for yourself:

I continued to move forward on Co Rd 15, which turned into Co Rd 9.  This was a two lane road with a small shoulder.  I was on this road for 4.9 miles.  Up to this point, I was feeling strong and was mentally holding together pretty well.  Well, or so I thought.  I was on this road for a few miles when this suddenly crept again into my head “Damn, I wish I had my mirror.”  Oh boy.

OK, I can manage this.  I just need to keep calm.  This was about mile 66.6 for the day/679 total distance.  I continued to pedal on for a 2 more miles.  The thought continued.  It became more frequent now.

“Damn, I wish I had my mirror.”

“Damn, I wish I had my mirror.”

I began to talk to myself, “OK, come on Dawn, you can manage this.  Stay calm.  Keep on moving forward.  RFP:  Relentless Forward Motion.”  I moved forward another 2 miles.

Unfortunately, my paranoia/PTSD continued to get worse with each pedal stroke.  I tried to manage it with self talk.  I moved foward another mile.  Then I hit my mental overload again.

Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror. Damn, I wish I had my mirror…





I was again in full blown paranoia, just like I was this morning outside of Winona.

Why did that girl have to reach for her vape?

I could not pedal any further.  I stopped in a driveway and set my bike down.  I started to cry.  I became very scared again, the memory of the accident was bubbling to the surface again. It was progressively getting harder to breathe.  I felt boxed in, again.  I. COULD. NOT. BREATHE.   I sat down and put my bike upside down.  I sat there and put my head down and tried to relax my mind.  I then worked on doing some deep breathing exercises.  I was having difficulty continuing any further at this time.  I took about 30-45 minutes here to calm my mind.  It did seem to help.  Then, I tried to get back onto my bike, but the anxiety and paranoia set in again. IMG_6341 DAMN.  I took another 15 minutes to calm myself.  I looked down the long stretch of road again and then looked up to the sky.  I knew that this moment was much bigger than me biking and continuing on my grand randonnee.  It was a moment of clarity for me.  I then prayed and asked for help, specifically an angel to help me continue to move forward.  I knew I could not do it alone and I needed help.

I closed my eyes and sat in silence for 5 minutes.  I opened my eyes and looked to my left.  I could NOT believe my eyes.  I saw Robert Kingsley, fellow Coulee rider, coming towards me on the road.  I was speechless.  It was a clear sign.  My prayer was answered.

I loudly proclaimed to him, “Fancy meeting you here.”  He said hello back.

I asked him, “Interested in some company to finish this adventure out?”

He replied “Yes”

With that, I got on my bike.  My fear and paranoia had suddenly dissipated.  It was amazing.  Bob and I began towards the next control in Red Wing, Minnesota. We had about 17 miles to go to Red Wing.

Fear is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it. But we cannot meet it halfway.  -quote from The Haunting of Hill House


We continued along the course and my paranoia/PTSD from the accident had calmed down and seemed to dissipate.  By having Bob with me and behind me, it gave me a sense of comfort and security.  What a relief.  I was so thankful that he came along.  I began to smile again.  I became to get into my grove again.  I focused on the present in front of me.  I continued to open up my present as the miles accumulated.  We reached Hay Creek on the way into Red Wing.  I knew then that the toughest physical challenges of the ride had been conquered.  I hoped my mental clarity continued through the end of the event so I could finish.  I wasn’t sure but I would try my hardest.  That is all I could do.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.


At 87 miles/699 total miles, Bob and I arrived in Red Wing, Minnesota.  We fueled up and got ready to continue to move on.  We had one more control before the finish, 22 miles to Cannon Falls.


The box was not opened yet…


Red Wing, Minnesota

We left Red Wing on the Cannon Valley State Bicycle Trail to ease out of the Mississippi River Valley for the last time. We passed the Cannon River Turtle Preserve and Miesville Ravine Park Reserve as we traversed next to the Cannon River.  We spent the next 20 miles on the trail.  It was a nice scenic trail that traversed along the Cannon River.  It was wet.  Thankfully, we missed a large storm front that had moved in.

At mile 109/721 culmunative miles, we arrived at the Cannon Falls control.  This was our last control before the finish.  We were greeted by Mark Olsen and John Oneschuk, spouse of rider Marj Oneschuk, rider from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  They were waiting for Marj to arrive.  Bob and myself fueled up as we talked about our day.  We were both grateful we found each other to finish together, especially considering what we all went through the night before.

As we began to get our gear back on and prepare to leave, Marj rode into the control.  I had never met Marj.  She walked into the control and was just as pleasant and friendly as one could be.  She asked us if we would wait for her.  There was never a question in our minds.  All three of us would ride together and finish together.

32 miles to the finish of the inaugural 2018 Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee.




Cannon Falls Control with Mark Olsen, Robert Kingsley and Marj Oneschuk

We bid farewell to Mark and John and headed out towards Apple Valley.  And what a beauful sight we had.  When we pulled out of Cannon Falls, the sun was setting to reveal the final sunset of the Coulee Challenge.  Boy what a sight it was!  Take a look for yourself.  It was truly a PRICELESS MOMENT as I began to move the top of the box off of the present…

The sunset guided us back to Apple Valley.  Robert, Marj and I shared stories of our Coulee adventure.  Marj was quite an accomplished randonnesuse, having done Paris-Brest-Paris, Granite Anvil, Last Chance and Van Isle 1200k’s in the past.

We continued towards the finish in Apple Valley.

All three of us synonymously got into a rhythm…

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

Pedal, smile, repeat

I continued to open

up the top of the present…

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.


We had conquered the toughest challenges of the ride.  We were on time to finish within the time limit.  Although, to be quite honest, it was not really about finishing the event for me. After the accident, I wanted to finish the ride for Kit and to honor all cyclists who have been hit by distracted/irresponsible/reckless drivers.  It was those individuals who inspired me to keep moving forward despite the mental challenges I had encountered after the accident.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.


We continued towards the finish in Apple Valley.

All three of us synonymously got into a rhythm…

A few miles from the finish I had gotten ahead of Bob and Marj and stopped to wait for them.  I wanted to make sure we all crossed the finish line together.  We continued to work together towards the finish, with huge smiles on our faces.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.

Pedal. Smile. Repeat.


At 10:20 pm, 90 hours 20 minutes after we started, we crossed the finish line of the Inaugural 2018 Coulee Challenge.


Coulee Challenge 2018 Lanternes Rouges.  Photo credit Deb Ford Photography.


FEELING PROUD with Greg Smith, Coulee Challenge organizer and Driftless Randonneurs Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA)

Dedicated my finish to Kit.   

753 miles/ 1211 kilometers

Total elevation gain: 33,163 feet/8490 meters

Total hours of sleep:  10

Hallucinations:  0

Shermer’s Neck:  0

The present of the Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnee was simple, it was each moment across the emotional spectrum interwoven together.  It was the stillness of the valley, the sunrises, the sunset into Apple Valley, time spent with new/old friends, the accident, mentoring from randonneuring friends, bean soup at the Milk Jug Cafe, so many priceless moments.  The present of the Coulee Challenge was the dance of life, with the bicycle acting as a medium for growth.

The Coulee Challenge was epic.

It was memorable.

It was soul nourishing.


Thank you to the Coulee Challenge for changing me.  I appreciate all of the gifts you gave to me over 90:20 hours.  I embraced every present that was given.  I am forever changed.  And to honor you and my deep love for this unglaciated region of the Midwest, I have affectionately changed my name to…

Driftless Dawn


Coulee Proud.  Driftless Dawn.  Photo credit Mary Gersema



YAY!  Coulee Challenge 2018 Midwest Sufferfest in ‘da books.

COULEE CHALLENGE POST-EVENT FACTS/DATA from Rob Welsh, Regional Brevet Administrator of Minnesota Randonneurs and Coulee Challenge leadership team:

  • “337 riders on the interested list as of January 1st, 140 signed up on registration day or shortly after; 88 riders starting; 75 finishers (including the 6 pre-riders from the week before).
  • 13 women started, 11 finished.  As best I know, this is a high water mark for the # of women at a 1200k event.
  • Riders were from all over the US, 4 Canadian provinces, 2 from Europe and 1 from Japan.
  • Climbing overall was fairly moderate in total compared to other 1200ks but the Coulee had a lot of steeper but shorter hills.  Compared to all the other US based 1200k rides in 2018, the Coulee was the closest to a PBP ride (smooth roads, lots of rolling terrain, no real long hills).  PBP overall has more climbing, but most Coulee riders with PBP experience said they thought the Coulee was harder because of the steeper hills, but still a great preparation for next year.
  • 28 riders completed their first 1200k, 7 were women.
  • 85% finish rate; 75 completed, 11 women
  • The Coulee Challenge was by far the largest 1200k event in the US and Canada this year and one of the largest ever held in North America.
  • The Coulee Challenge was the largest 1200k event in the US this year, by far, out of the 7 events scheduled.  Cascade had 60, Mac & Cheese had 61.In relation to how the Coulee Challenge compared to Boston Montreal Boston (BMB).  BMB had 2 years (2000, 2006) with over 100 riders.  There have been a few events with 80-90 riders, including SIR (85, 87), Davis (88), BMB (88, 85) and the Coulee ride with 88.  It would be fair to say that the Coulee Challenge event is in the top 5 of the largest 1200k events ever held in the US.
  • A couple of other interesting notes from Rob as well regarding RUSA events: 2018 will have the largest number of 1200k+ riders ever for RUSA, over 300.  This will exceed the previous high of 277 in 2014.  This probably bodes well for a high level of RUSA participation at PBP next year.”



  1. Thank you for sharing how you have become ‘Driftless Dawn’ !
    Your ability as a wordsmith is only exceeded by your ability to ‘pedal, smile, repeat’ through all the challenges you fought while receiving your presents!
    Thank you for bringing me into your experience via your beautiful writing and thus giving me a present of inspiration that I will take with me!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind and generous compliments Shelby. I appreciate you following along my journey of the Coulee Challenge. What a small world that you lived in Apple Valley for a bit growing up.

      I wanted to share my challenges after the accident honestly with anyone interested in following. My hope is that it may cause someone to think before reaching for that phone/vape or whatever when driving. We were all so lucky. Despite the accident, it was an amazing experience.


  2. Great job on showing the mental and emotional dynamics that occurred on the ride. Also, I was happy that you emphasized the encouragement and support of other riders and support volunteers.
    It seems like some support from a fellow rider or volunteer at the right time could ‘unlock’ some extra normal capacity to break thru a physical or mental barrier. I appreciated the kindness and encouragement you gave to me during the ride.


    • The emotional support and encouragement from the volunteers and fellow riders is key, especially when we get tired and need that extra push. You were my angel in Day 4, really you were. I was in a dark place until I saw you come along before the Red Wing Control. Congratulations on an amazing finish at the Coulee Challenge. I am so glad I met you and we became friends. I will connect with you when I come up there for some brevets this year. Cheers my friend-


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: