By Judy Steffes Special to Published Sep 13, 2006 at 9:00 AM
My name is Judy Steffes.  I’ve been doing solo bicycle tours the past five years.  Within the next week I’m flying to South Carolina and bicycling back to Wisconsin.  The trip, which is a vacation for me, is a mix of “Survivor,” David Blaine, and hopefully not, “Lost.”
My first ride was from Wisconsin to Colorado to visit my sister.  She said, “Jude if you come visit, I’ll buy your plane ticket.”   I said, ‘No thanks … I think
I’ll take my bike.’  

Since then I’ve toured from Wisconsin to Canada, Minnesota, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Last year I quit my job and went bicycling in Europe.  
I normally ride by myself, only because I’ve yet to find the man who can keep up with me.  My friends say part of the trouble finding a biking group is because I’m extremely frugal.  My Dad qualified me as ‘the daughter who could squeeze a nickel so tight, she could make the buffalo ride the Indian.’
I do not have a world-class bike or supplies.  I travel with about 70 pounds of gear including a tent and sleeping bag.  I normally stay overnight in churches.  They’re cheap and safe.   However, when I biked in Ireland I slept in a cemetery, a glass garden shed at a convent, and a priest’s rose garden.  When the priest came to see me off he invited me in for tea.  I responded to the offer saying, “I’d be  loving you!”  He held up his hand like he was stopping traffic and said sternly, “The tea is all I’m offering.”
I have no idea where I’ll be from one  night to the next as the wind and weather play a huge part in daily mileage.   I normally try to get in 65 to 100 miles a day.  Bicycling 140 miles in one day with all my gear is my ultimate Judy Steffes world record.   My friends say they get tired driving that far.
This is the first tour where I’ll be racing the clock. I’m dubbing it my “David Blaine tour” because quite a few people don’t think I can
 make it in 17 days.   I normally post a daily travel journal for friends and family.  I stop at community libraries and write about my adventures.
I’m not riding to raise money, or for a specific cause.  I bike because I’m young and healthy and it’s a great way to meet people and see the sights the highways now bypass.  This tour, I hope you’ll follow along.

Nice day in the upper 70's with sun, however the sun doesn't really come out until 7 a.m.  On the road at 7:15 after a quick panic that I lost my credit card.

Stopped after 20 miles for eats at Ted’s in Concord. The community is very quaint.  Lots of tree-lined streets where the upper branches gather together and form an alcove.  Still has the feeling of the south with wooden rockers on every porch.

Up the road is Mooresville and stopping at What A Burger.  Looks like an old-timey diner from the '50s complete with drive-in, outdoor menus where you can push a button and order from your car.  I go inside and there's a staff of about 12 people behind the counter.  A full staff of veterans who operate like they've been doing this their whole lives.

"Been here since 1965," said the woman behind the counter.  "Whatcha have?"  I got a 'What A Burger' with cheese and a cup of water.  The phone rings in
the back and you hear 'What-a-burger-whatcha-want?' It's a busy place at noon time.

The restaurant is slick.  You give your order, get a number.  They call your number, you get your food and pay your bill.  Eat inside or they can bag it to go.

I choose a booth and spread out my map, my food and my postcard for Mrs. Stitt's K5 class at St. Alphonso School in Franklin.  This year the class is collecting postcards.  I'm their field reporter and I'm behind in my homework.

I write about the cotton fields of South Carolina. What-A-Burger. How 1,2,3,4,5 deer crossed in front of me today.  And then how 6,7, and 8 followed after.  I
also wrote about the dirt being a mix of 'skin your knee' blood red stirred in with a little orange popsicle.

"I can get you a better map then that," said a voice from the next booth.  Cotton Ketchie was a silver fox working on a What-A-Burger with the works.  "Work at the Landmark down the street.  Stop by after lunch and I'll fix you up right."

The Landmark was on Main Street.  A classy shop with North Carolina watercolor prints.  Cotton's business card said 'Preserving America's Heritage.'

A little white dog is first to greet me followed by a woman named Jackie.  "I was told to come here for a map," I said ... although it sounded out of place for a picture gallery.

"You must have met Cotton," said Jackie leading me to the back of the store.  Cotton comes out of the back room armed with maps and directions on how best to get from here to there.

He has a map of North Carolina, Virginia and another of the Southeastern States.  "Travel all over," said Cotton spreading the maps all over the front table. Our issue at hand is the mountains and how best to get around them.

"Well you're NOT getting AROUND UM," said Cotton pushing aside a black and white table top photo album of himself.  He must have had quite a history, because his childhood alone was wrapped in a binder measuring three inches thick.  

As Cotton runs a green highlighter across a route that swings through Lincolnton, Asheville and up through Bulls Gap, the ladies behind the counter start asking questions about the tour.

Yes, I'm alone.  I sleep in churches.  No, I don't have a sag vehicle.  I carry all my own gear and fix what breaks.  

"You riding for a cause or a charity?" asked Jackie who had short blonde hair and diamond earrings.  She talks about her daughter who works with troubled kids. "When they go camping, she's got a lot more stuff then you do but she has to carry all her food and water and cooking gear."

Cotton interrupts with option No. 2 that skitches further north through Sparta, up Hwy. 19 to Wise, Virginia and into Pikeville.  "Up to you," stated Cotton who was a little wary of the mining towns and twisting roads.

I made it up to Statesville and stopped at the Rotary farmers market.  Lowell was working out of the back of his pickup.  "Red apple for eatin’?" he asked and I nodded.  "Peach for eatin?’" I nodded again and he handed them over at no charge and then moved on round the side of the tailgate; he had bigger orders to fill.

Ended up Monday night up Hwy. 21 north and pulled into Harmony around 6:30 p.m.  Two nice ladies, walking, each carrying a stick helped me try finding a place for the night.  It turned into their mission.  We walked from the Mayor's house to the fire department and finally to Harmony Baptist Church.  Pastor Shane interrupted his dinner to take me to the church hall.  "Don't tell anyone I'm doing this," he said.  "For as much as we preach about the Lord, everybody on the board is against this because they fear you'll trash the church."  

I swear to God I won't, turn over some I.D. and he left me for the night.  Set up my bunk in the nursery.  Nice mattress in the crib, but I'm afraid my legs may get stuck between he bars.  Plus, I'd be curled up the whole night.  I pull the mattress out and throw it on the floor.

Had breakfast Tuesday morning at the Harmony diner. "Are those fellas OK to sit with?" I asked the waitress as I nodded toward the table of eight.  "That’s the large table," she said.  "They're OK."  

The old boys helped me map for the day.  "If I was to ride a bike from here to Wisconsin, it would be a V-Twin," said Ralston James who claimed his parents named him after the Ralston Purina dog chow.  They banter back and forth, talk about taking Hwy. 26.

"She can't take 26, that's the Interstate," said Russell who was watching out for my best interest.  I chimed in saying, “I'd be arrested.”  "That'll be your lucky day then," said Russell.

"Didn't Shara tell you this was the Liar's Table?" said another man down the row.  I thought she said 'Large table' but now 'Liar's table' makes more sense.

As I get up to go Ralston sees me out the door.  "I had a friend once went to J-school.  He had palsy and his one arm was bad," said Ralston who didn't appear to be breathing between sentences.  "Friends would always refer to him as my friend with one arm but I just knew him by his name."

I've made it to my bike and Ralston has now switched the conversation to himself.  "I normally drive truck, but I'm kinda caught in the middle with my job because I look out for the farmers but I work for the state."  Ralston is a big, big guy.  Forty-four years old and he's pulling out a can of Skoal.  "So you got battery acid in this hand and sulphite in this hand and you have to tell the farmers…" Ralston goes on and on as I begin to lose hold of my vision. Ralston has one thing in common with the dog chow: he’s probably more interesting to dogs than people.

Finally I'm straddling my bike and to everyone but Ralston I'm on my way ... hoping to make Independence and cross the state line to West Virginia.  Early word is I won't be making the 89 miles I did yesterday 'with the hills and all.'
Judy Steffes Special to

Judy is a Milwaukee native who is ever exploring the country. Her favorite mode of travel is her 21-speed, blue Centurion bicycle, which she bought after high school. Judy has worked in the local media for the past 20 years. "I need to do something to support my biking habit."

Judy has an extensive history in radio news, having worked at WISN, WUWM, WTMJ, WKTY in La Crosse and WBKV in West Bend. A strong interest in sports also had Judy reporting for ESPN Radio covering the Packers, Buck, Brewers and Badgers. "One of my first Brewer games at County Stadium the security guy yelled as I walked into the locker room ‘LADY IN THE LOCKER ROOM.’ Now it’s so commonplace. But that story makes me sound really old."

Judy is currently working at WISN-TV in Milwaukee. She is a freelance writer and her pieces have been seen in The Small Business Times and The Business Journal. Her travel journal has appeared in Minnesota Trails Magazine, The Statesman and the West Bend Daily News, to name a few.

Aside from biking, running and being active in her community, Judy is known as someone who is "very, very thrifty." "I get candles for Christmas. My friends call them my space heaters because I normally keep the heat in my house at 40 degrees during the winter. It’s not that I can’t afford to turn up the thermostat, I just hate paying for heat."

Judy said her "conservative attitude" plays a part in her bike tours ... not needing to pay for gas and frequently spending nights camping inside churches. "First of all, it makes me feel safe since I’m traveling alone and second all you’re doing is sleeping, so why pay for that. It’s no wonder I can’t ever get someone to travel with me."

Judy grew up in Whitefish Bay and graduated from Dominican High School and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Judy is the second oldest among seven siblings and spends a lot of her time working as a "park tester" along with her eight nieces and nephews.