The Team Jesse Foundation
Mission: To provide education and support for families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams


Mission: To provide education and support to families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams

“…Three days in the saddle, ya know my body hurt...” (Day Eighteen with the Sixteen/Seventeen recap)

Here in lovely Delores, CO, and very happy to be feeling normal again.  Days Sixteen and Seventeen were brutal on my body and I’m afraid that they left my mind in a bit of a fog until it worked itself out through the day.  So, I’ll start with today then jump back a few, making sure to get you what I can of this incredible journey. 

We got up this morning (6/26) and had breakfast with Kerry Bunday (a person you’ll hear about as we go back in time) before he gave us some final instructions and hopped in his plane to fly back to Seattle.  Because of today’s route, he would not be able to give us another inspirational ‘fly-over’.  We were going through a few State Park areas, and pesky federal laws don’t allow for what he had in mind.  So, he gave us some encouragement, reminded us that our previous two days’ efforts were somewhat exceptional, and went on his way.

It was a late start for us.  We were ‘wheels-out’ at 9am.  It was an 84 mile course with 4,200 feet of elevation gain.  Temperatures were only 90 degrees at hottest (of any of the times that we checked, that is).  The route took us out of Utah, a state that was most beautiful yet I’ll always remember (if you can call it that) as being a challenge, to say the least.  Before we left the state, though, we came across a Veterans Memorial Park, and there was a well-groomed, grassy field surrounding it.  You know that kind of grass that begs you to take off your shoes and let it cool your feet down, softly?  It was that kind of grass.  Light green, low on the scratchy.  No scratchy, in fact.  It was great to see Kevin and Heather have a peaceful moment to themselves (along with the Whippets, Java and Moka).   I, in turn, was still seeing if I was indeed better than the near-dead condition that I was reported to have been in the day before.  I just laid down on the no-scratchy, cool, bright green grass. 

When we got on our bikes and rode out, it was a mere 20 miles to the CO border, and then another 40 or so to Delores.  It was great to cross the border; a huge milestone, for sure.  The course was full of hilly rollers; while we gained 4,200 feet, it sure didn’t seem like it.  Lots of ranches and barley farms.  There were some slight headwinds, but they were light in recent comparison and they just served to animate the fields as they gusted over them, all of it peacefully, like it was part of the plan.  For Kevin and me, it was a day to get our arms around the next few days as well as to get better at the actual riding part.  It was also interesting to hear more about the day before, especially those parts I don’t remember well.  All in all, a much-needed, peaceful stroll.  One that, a few months ago, would have seemed like a difficult task.  But, today, I can’t remember either of us really being out of breath.

Day Sixteen (where it began)

We woke up and got ready to depart from Escalante, UT.  We had gotten the best of hearty, homestyle hospitality from the proprietors of the Moqui Motel.  As we were having some breakfast, we were delighted to hear the familiar voice of Kerry Bunday, as he exclaimed something like ‘ah, so this must be command central’ or something of the sort.  Kerry has been a huge influence on Kevin where cycling is concerned, and as we trained for this journey, he has been very outspoken in helping me as well.  I’ve always said that ‘it’s all about the people’ and this Kerry Bunday character is a good example of what I mean.  Kerry is prominent in the Seattle business community.  Add in that he’s a former professional cyclist, track coach and flies his own plane all over kingdom come, and he makes for one interesting dude.  Anyway, Kerry came down to ride with us a little bit, see what we needed and well…just be Kerry.  It was great. 

Started out with a short climb, then we were busting down some breathtaking canyon descents; one thing that Coach Bunday wanted to work with me on was being able to get down the hill faster while not compromising safety.  It can be tricky heading down those passes with gusting, swirling winds, and he helped with some stabilization techniques.  Not a moment too soon, I might add.  What a great rush, I’ll say yet again: going really fast through strikingly beautiful scenery.  We would pause to look over at the long winding road (read: racetrack) that was still ahead of us.  It felt powerful to see the whole thing winding down, stretched out into the valley until you just had to guess (read: go find out) where it went.   It was amazing.

It was fun while it lasted, but shortly after the three-legged Rottweiler ran out at Kerry (and was deterred), the real climb began.  This time, we went to the top of the Grand Staircase.  Still strikingly beautiful, it was a series of 9-15% grade (uphill, this direction) roads that were on cliffs.  At the top, there were no guardrails and it was pretty stunning.   We worked and worked, the three of us and came to rest at the top (briefly) before continuing over to the next ridge and up again.  Amazing to see it all from up there!  Up and up we went, and we went through an Aspen forest that brought shade and no wind.  It seemed to be so very different than 2,000 feet below.  We then stopped at a strange pasture, right on top of the mountain, where we ate and chilled out on some random gray and black boulders. 

Best part of the day, no doubt, was when we screamed down into the canyon.  These monstrous pink rocks looked like they were from another planet!  When Kevin hit his brakes, I thought that something was wrong until I saw his big grin, and I knew that we’d hit the 1,000 mile mark of our journey.  It was fitting to have Kerry along for that part of the trip. 

As we pulled down further and into our fourth different ecosystem/climate of the day, I was bummed to feel my neck/shoulder/back acting up again.  At that point (and still now) I began to wonder if it’s actually a pinching nerve.  Anyway, we finished by pulling each other through a fifteen-mile stretch of high-rocked walls.  It was like a maze, but there was only one way to go, and also one speed (yes…like a bat out of “H-E-double hockey sticks”).  Overall, it was a great day; but, it was about 112 miles and 10 hours of cycling, all of it at altitude, much of it climbing (7,200 feet) and all with temperatures over 95 degrees, and often over 100.  I would later be faced with the truth that these things add up.  But not today.

I was beat-tired; this had been my biggest course so far (and by far).  I went to bed at around 9 or so, thinking about how glad I was that there was no way that the following day could be that hard.


Day Seventeen (the following day, and boy, was I wrong)

Started strong (don’t they always?) as we shot out of Hanksville and headed to Blanding, UT.  Kevin and I were going to do the 117-miler, while Kerry would start with us and then take one of the film crew guys up in his plane to see about getting some shots from the air. 

We had a long stretch of plains before we got to ‘the  good stuff’, and I have never experienced gusts like that; OK, maybe when I was a child at my grandparents’ retirement home in Vero Beach, FL, when a hurricane came through; but, I wasn’t on a bike then.  It was very taxing, but at least a little bit awesome (in the literal sense). 

When we got to the big, colorful rocks, the first part was incredible.  Again, towering walls, but this time they were a maroon-like glow.  Striking thing was how the texture could vary, and usually different one side of the carved path from the other: on the left would be a surface so smooth it looked like glass, yet twisted and curved, like something that Dale Chihuly would imagine.  The other side looked pockmarked and yet intricate, as if Antoni Gaudí was behind the whole thing.   I was smiling at that point, and who wouldn’t be?  We then dropped into Glen Canyon area, and we crossed several chasms that dropped over 1,000 feet down.  It was a visual paradise, all of it.  It was around 10:30am.  Still beautiful, we crossed and headed up.  And up.  And up.  It was getting hot out but it was OK; I knew that we had a stop pretty soon. 

We got to the scheduled stop, and all I could think about was getting out of the sun.  I hid in some shade and tried to eat, but couldn’t really get much down.  I was pounding water like it was no one’s business, though.  We got back after it and started climbing and climbing.  We never stopped climbing.  And then it got really hot.  And hotter.  Thankfully, there was less oxygen to breathe as my neck and shoulder started to throb again.  This time was the worst of any of the times, and I actually wondered if somewhere, someone had a little Matt Sauri voodoo doll and they were stabbing it in the neck with a needle.  We had hours to go before we would be finished, and it seemed laughable.  I do not exaggerate at all when mentioning that, out of 117 miles, over 100 were uphill.  It was absolutely brutal. 

Still Kevin and I stayed together, plugging away up the mountain.  A few times, he asked me really stupid questions to which he clearly knew the answer.  Then, it was time for his favorite (read: godforsaken) game: 80’s movie trivia!  I played along and also noticed that Heather and the support vehicle was always pretty close by.  Realized later that he was worried that I was going to have a heat exhaustion/dehydration malfunction.  He was just trying to keep me talking and coherent.  SGT Mincio likes to call a certain act ‘using the latrine’; that day, despite each of us drinking at least 20 bottles of water each, we only had one ‘latrine visit’ apiece.  Think about what’s going on with your body at that point!  Kevin’s an alien, so he wasn’t as affected as I apparently was.  That said, he did mention that ‘I’ve been in some hot places, Matty-Boy (referring to Iraq) and this ranks right up there, let me tell you..’.  I was definitely delirious, but not so much so that it was any kind of fun.  No question, though, the highlight of the day came when, out of nowhere, Kerry Bunday flew right over my head (in his plane – I wasn’t that delirious) , buzzing over without me even  knowing he was there until he was…right there.  It was meant to be, because I’m not sure I would have made it up that last hill.  I bet that Harvey (the appointed film crew staff member) got some pics of me looking…well…not my best as I trudged up that last bit of paved rock.

When this miserable day ended, I found myself in a fog that didn’t leave until around mid-day today. 

I know the following:

1)      I was and continue to be very sore.  All over.

2)      I’m very lucky to have someone like Kevin, who was in the end forced to accept a degree of stubbornness out of me, yet outsmarted it.

3)      Kerry Bunday is a godsend, and has a special talent to balance humility and confidence like very few can.  Wish there were more people like him.

4)       What kept me going was the idea that I’d dedicated the week to someone who would have never, ever quit.  Brendan Looney, thanks for letting me honor you this week. 

Back to today…  

Great to be feeling better; when I was really ‘out there’ on Saturday, I was at least able to come up with an idea of a thing or two that I can do better to drive our cause.  Due to synapse difficulty, I should flesh it out a bit before too much description.  But…it’s coming. 

Tell ya where we ride tomorrow:  Telluride.  (OK, that was fun).  There are rumors of a reception.  I can’t wait.  Always wanted to go to Telluride, but never had the opportunity.

For the Families of the Fallen…To the Limit.

Care Creates Community,

Matt Sauri

RideMatt S