New Orleans to Little Falls, a 1,400 mile bike trip

Dave Sperstad and Ron Makela finish the ride in 18 days

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Dave Sperstad and his good friend, Ron Makela, took the ultimate bike trip this summer. The two rode from New Orleans, La. to Little Falls, a 1,400 mile journey, and they did it in 18 days.

Rev. Dave Sperstad, First Lutheran Church in Little Falls, and Ron Makela recently rode from New Orleans, La., to Little Falls. The 1,400 miles trip took them 18 days. They are pictured leaving St. Louis, Mo., about halfway through their trip.

Sperstad, the minister at First Lutheran Church in Little Falls, started this adventure by taking a youth group to New Orleans for a 10-day national youth gathering. Makela met him when the gathering concluded July 21, with the plan of biking back to Little Falls.

They called their trek “Ride for Rice.”

“At first this was going to be just a vacation for us,” said Sperstad. “But friends of mine with an interest in Food For Kidz asked if we would ride for the organization. They got the word out to people along our route and did the fundraising. We did the ride and raised $2,400.”

Rev. Dave Sperstad

Food For Kids, based in Stewart, provides an opportunity for anyone or any group to help package a specially designed meal for hungry children and their families. The packages feed six people, cost approximately 15 cents each and are distributed to those in need.

Sperstad and Makela each rode about 600 miles in preparation for their trip. Makela did his in the six weeks prior to the ride; Sperstad did his over a three-month period.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be one of the hottest summers on record. They said the heat was one of the hardest things to overcome during their 2 1/2 weeks on the road.

“It was even too hot to camp,” said Sperstad. “We stayed in more hotels than we expected we would, due to the heat. One morning in Mississippi it was 91 degrees at 5:30 a.m.”

Ron Makela

“I will never forget the heat of Mississippi,” said Makela, an English teacher at Royalton High School and a member of First Lutheran Church. “The state was flat and had no wind. After that came the hills of Missouri. I’ll never forget them, either.”

Through the Missouri hills, Makela said they climbed them going back and forth across the two lanes of the highway, slowly inching their way to the top.

“That way we didn’t have to walk our bikes up the hills,” he said. The ride down the other side, at 45 miles per hour, created a breeze and gave them a time to enjoy the ride.

The two would leave their evening accommodations at 5:30 a.m. each morning to beat as much heat as best they could.

“But in Waterloo, Iowa, it changed. We stopped for coffee and hot chocolate that morning because it was so cold,” said Makela.

Many of their evenings were spent with strangers. Through the Web site, the two bicyclists found places to stay with other bicyclists who were willing to open their homes. Advanced notice is expected, but one may call just a few minutes before arriving to learn if the hosts are receptive to guests that evening.

At the end of one day, they had planned to camp, but stopped at a restaurant first. While there, they asked how the nearby campground was and were told it was a nice place to stay. When they got to the entrance, they found out it was closed and had been for several years. They had to ride another 40 miles to find a hotel.

Besides homes and hotels, Sperstad and Makela slept in several churches on their route along Highway 61.

“The best part of the trip was the people we met,” said Makela. “On most days, during the mid-morning, we would stop at a McDonald’s to have a yogurt parfait. There would be groups having their morning coffee and we would get into conversations with them. Most people we spoke with asked us why we were riding to Minnesota. They thought we were crazy. That is except the one person who wanted to join us. I think he wanted to see if we were really going all the way to Little Falls.”

Sperstad said he found people were more approachable south of Iowa. Once they crossed the border, people did not seem as willing to talk to them.

“My daughter Kinbrae said it was because we looked as if we were homeless,” he said.

There were no negative issues with people during the 1,400 mile trip. But while in the south, there were periods of time when they kept hearing splashes as they rode by water. Finally, they noticed the noises came from alligators who, not used to seeing bikes on the road, would dive into the water to hide.

While the heat and the hills were daunting during the trip north, the headwinds were the most demoralizing. In speaking with other bikers, no matter whether one rides north to south, east to west or any other direction, they learned the winds never seem to be with the rider.

Surprisingly, they only had three flat tires during the trip. Both men agreed that if they ever do this type of trip again, they will take their time and do more sightseeing.

“I wanted to get home before the last day of Vacation Bible School at the church,” said Sperstad. “More than 80 miles each day is too much; 60 – 70 is best.”

Sperstad plans to ride from Virginia to San Francisco, Calif., in 2013. He figures it should take about 60 days. Makela would like to do the Lake Superior loop next summer which is about 1,300 miles in length.

“It takes lots of psychology to get on that bike day after day,” said Sperstad. “No matter how tired I was at night, I had to keep myself motivated to continue the trip.”