Bike Across USA
Bike Across USA (Oregon to Virginia)
Yes, a bike trip from Oregon to Virginia (through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky)!
Although I spent a bit of time agonizing about it, the decision was easy. When someone asks you to join them on a cross country bike trip, you go. Ask anyone about a summer they spent hanging around their hometown, what will they remember? Pose the same question to someone who spent June and July pedaling across the United States and I guarantee a smile will creep across their face. For me, as time passes, my smile broadens.
What follows are the letters that I wrote to Emily (who is now my wife) during my cross-country trip that took place during the summer of 1999. For the most part the text is exactly as I wrote it down, save spelling errors and minor editing over 4 years later when I found the time to decipher my scrawl and make an electronic record. I hope you enjoy the reading about my adventure and that it inspires you in your own endeavors, whatever they may be.
This is the original transcontinental bike route of 1976, which is the same path that we followed. I must confess that I found this rendering on the internet, at some guys site who is from Washington. We must have been 3 or 4 days into the trip before I had time to look at the maps (we only had one set) to see where in the heck we where headed.
Day 0: Eugene, Oregon
Last night at 8:30 pm I met Kevin, Ned and Jim at the Berkeley, California Marina and we boarded a Green Tortoise bus. It was 2 years ago, when I graduated from Berkeley that I rode with Kevin and Ned plus a few other guys (Keith and Jeremy) from Berkeley to Santa Ana down the Pacific Coast Highway, covering 600 miles in 7 days. Now, 2 years later we are trying to go across the entire country in one summer. As I see it we have only one problem, food. On our previous trip we had a "sag wagon" in the form of Ned’s girlfriend; this time we are on our own and I must admit, totally unprepared. We don't know what to buy, how much to buy, how to cook, etc. Kevin is of the idea that we ought to buy weeks worth of food before hand and then keep it stocked up. I would prefer to buy as we go. I seem to be the odd man out on this one as everyone else has brought with them a whole box of Powerbars (a box has 24 bars). They like the idea of saving a little money by buying in bulk, I would rather buy bars as I go and save weight.
The Green Tortoise is a company that has retrofitted a fleet of buses so that you hang out during the day and get to actually sleep horizontally at night after converting the tables to beds. And sleep I did, rather well in fact. The best part of the tortoise trip though, was stopping in a remote Oregon location for breakfast. The land is owned by the founder of the Green Tortoise and he has built a sauna next to a river. We made breakfast consisting of blueberry pancakes and fruit salad (in another converted bus, of course) then I went into the river, followed by the sauna, and then the river again. It was quite nice but I am too worried about the food situation to be excited about the first day of riding tomorrow.
Jim, Kevin and Ned (left to right) sleeping in a Green Tortoise bus. It left Berkeley, California in the evening and drove through the night, stopping once for a food and bathroom break and another time at the Green Tortoise compound before depositing us in Eugene, Oregon the next day. It was especially convenient for us since we were able to put our bikes and gear up on the top of the bus.
Kevin and Ned wait in line in a permanently stationary bus for pancakes at the Green Tortoise Compound somewhere in Oregon.
And this is the sauna at the Green Tortoise Compound.
Once in Eugene we met up with another participant in the California coast ride, Keith. Although not joining us for this trip, we spent our final night before the start of the ride in his apartment. We also took advantage of the big lawn in front of his abode to spread out all of our gear and see what we all had. All in all I think we sent about 10 pounds of gear home. Some of the more interesting items found on the lawn that day included a box of AA batteries (40 total) courtesy of Jim while Kevin brought martial arts numb chucks and an electric hair clipper. Most of the batteries went away although Kevin kept his clippers and martial arts weapon.
Here we are on Keith's lawn in Eugene, from the left Kevin, Casey, Ned and Jim.
Day 1: Eugene, Oregon to McKenzie Bridge Campground, Oregon
Today we rode 70 miles along the McKenzie River, which we are now camped at. Even in June, Oregon has a lot of rain. We spent most of the day chasing blue skies. We could always see the blue sky, but quite often we got dumped on. It's a vicious cycle, get teased with beautiful weather (so you change clothes accordingly) only to get caught in a cloudburst. Then you are all wet so there isn't much point in putting rain gear on. But you do anyway and then the sun comes out.
Regarding food, the situation is a bit better but we are still very low on the learning curve. We spend way too much time doing nothing. We really must get more efficient.
This part of Oregon is pretty but very … soggy, for lack of a better word; too much so for my taste. The mileage was quite painless for me today. I feel sorry for Kevin since the weight of my bike and gear is less than the weight of the gear in his bag only!, not counting his bike or trailer. But then again, he is super strong and won’t complain. Tomorrow we have a steep 20-mile climb right away so I will try to go to sleep (8:30 pm).
Day 2: McKenzie Bridge, Oregon to Sisters, Oregon
Greetings from some unknown highway at Summit Santiam Pass (elevation 4817 ft). We awoke at 7:00 am and left camp around 9:00 am. Must work on efficiency. Currently it is 1:50 pm and I am lying on my foam-sleeping pad in the snow (actually it is snowing lightly around me). I think I just rode up one side of the Cascades but I am not sure! At any rate, a 5-hour ride is something to be proud of. I have no idea when the other fellows will show up.
Ned, Casey, Jim and Kevin (left to right) leaving our first campsite. Upon my recommendation, we bought corn pasta in bulk in Eugene and tried it the night we camped here, with disastrous results. Try some and you will understand. Note the various packing options. By the end of the trip we all agreed that the way to go was probably with just rear panniers as the front ones were too small and caught a lot of wind while the “Bob” trailers just allowed you to carry much more than you needed.
Here I am at a pass through the Cascades, waiting for the others guys in the snow. At this point in the trip I hadn’t looked at a map yet so I didn’t think that going ahead and waiting at the top would be a big deal, but the road just kept going up, and up and up.
Regarding my clothes, I am extremely pleased. Not only am I using all of them but after the 5-hour climb I was able to change into warm dry clothes. By the way, tell my brother that the items I got from him work great, especially the pants.
For the first time since this trip began I was content. It happened before the serious climbing started as I was admiring the trees. Suddenly I was aware that I wasn't worried about what I brought, the food situation, etc. I was just happy with the knowledge that I was on an incredible journey and regardless of what happens I can go home to people whom I love and who love me.
Just a quick note while waiting on the summit for the guys regarding how cold it is. Have you ever broken a spoon by repeatedly bending it back and forth until it yields? That is how I have to eat my Powerbars. As you might imagine, my jaw is quite sore.
It is now 9:00 pm and we are in Sisters, Oregon. Enough cannot be said about how nice it is to cycle in the sun. The east side of the Cascades is much drier than the west, and very beautiful. Blue skies, pine forests, and rolling green fields as far as the eye can see. This is the first place that we've been that I would consider living in.
Day 3: Sisters, Oregon to Mitchell, Oregon
Ochoco Pass (4,720 feet) at 4:30 pm
We left Sisters this morning and set off for… actually, I don't know. Ned has the only maps and I haven’t seen them yet; I don’t even know where we are going to end up at on the east coast! What amazes me most about today’s ride is how different the terrain is compared to the previous days. We have gone from mossy and soggy forests to high desert country. If you were blindfolded and set down in this region you would swear that you where in New Mexico or Arizona. Plateaus are everywhere, along with cows. I saw a newborn cow (calf?) and started getting in position for the perfect picture but the mama cow became perturbed and blew my opportunity.
The others have arrived so I've got to go and get down the pass.
Taking pictures of Kevin is always fun as you can be guaranteed some sort of silly pose or expression. His enthusiasm and boundless energy made the trip special.
Action shot of Kevin and the "Bob" trailer.
Greetings from Mitchell, Oregon. This little town of about 200 has character. Well maybe I won't go that far but it is small and… falling apart, which makes it neat. We rode over 90 miles to get here, the last 16 or so where downhill, which is always a nice way to end the day. Today is the epitome of how I believe the bike trip and route should be. Ride through wonderful scenery and end the day in a little town where you can walk down the middle of Main Street, camp in the park and not see any fast food or chain stores. Next go into the general store and buy your dinner, along with breakfast and lunch for the following day.
I cleaned myself for the first time since we left Keith's apartment on day 0. All I had was a small washcloth and a sink that only saw fit to exude cold water. First I stripped and with the washcloth wet, wiped myself down. Next I squeezed some liquid soap into the washcloth and lathered myself up, and finally I rinsed myself off, once again with the washcloth. I have only two sets of clothes, one for riding during the day and the other for changing into after cleaning up after the days ride. It feels so good to take of the tight, synthetic cycling shorts at the end of the day and put on loose, cotton boxer shorts. Ah, the simple pleasures of life.
Day 4: Mitchell, Oregon to John Day, Oregon
I left camp at a quarter past 8:00 am, which was good news because I awoke a bit before 7:00 am. Ahead of me was a 6-mile climb, a nice way to start the day. For the first time it was warm enough to wear only my cycling jersey although I still have my tights on.
Riding up to the summit I heard shots. I thought for a second it could be backfires but there were not any cars around. I crossed to the west bound lane an peered over the edge to find a good old boy in his pickup truck with 2 dogs in the back having a grand old time. A quick "howdy" on my part and we were introduced. As I trudged up the hill he got back in his truck and sheepishly drove off.
Here is a view looking west at the city park campsite in Mitchell, Oregon where we stayed on our 3rd night. This picture was taken on the way out of town the following morning.
In the lower right hand corner of this picture you can see the truck that had the "shooting man". He drove off after I yelled "Howdy".
Zipping down the pass I suddenly felt at bump… bump… bump, then a really loud BANG! In an instant I knew I had blown my rear tube. Upon pulling over I realized it wasn't just a flat tube but rather a 1-inch gash running parallel right down the center of my tire. Now I can fix flat tubes but tires are a whole different story. To make matters worse the last decent bike shop was in Sisters, well over 100 miles away. According to the maps the next bike shop ahead of us was also over 100 miles away in Baker City.
Duct tape tire repair. I have never done anything like this before or since, but hey, it worked. It wasn't very smart starting the ride with such lightweight tires!
Duct tape comes in handy. I taped up the inside of the tire, put in a new tube, blew it up and was ready to go my merry way but decided to be extra sure by duct taping the outside of the tire as well (the riding surface). This got me to Dayville although I had to disconnect my rear brake. The grocery store there had recently changed hands and was now being run, for the last 3 weeks, by Steve who biked through the area while making a cross-country trek many moons ago. Turns out he was in the process of setting up a small bike shop in the back corner of the store. He had everything, except a tire. In desperation I asked if anyone in town had a road bike and would be willing to sell me the tires off of their bike. To make a long story short Steve sold me a tire off of his own bike and I was on my way. It doesn't really fit because it rubs the front derailleur clamp and I will have to get a new one but at least I am still riding.
We encountered the "Can Man" in Dayville, the same little town where I bought a tire off of a shopkeepers bike. Sometimes a words will never do justice and this is one of those cases.
After the tire fiasco Kevin and I had a good chat. Turns out that myself, Kevin and Ned all wish that everyone would work more for the group. Mainly meaning that Jim should do something. As it is he doesn't cook, shop, set up tents, etc. We both felt a little better after venting.
Reminder to myself, yell at all the bike shop people who saw my bike and didn't say anything about going cross-country on my tires!
Finally, tonight we are sleeping in a tee-pee! It cost $28 a night for all of us whereas a normal spot would have been $16. I'm a bit surprised I had to talk the other guys into it. Oh yes, while washing clothes in the restroom sink I met a man who told me he was the original equipment manager for the Grateful Dead. He was washing his hands because he just changed the tire on his 1947 Cadillac; a car Jerry Garcia gave him on his 50th birthday.
Kevin exits the teepee while Jim (blue shirt) and Ned (green shirt) attend to something at the left of the picture.
Day 5: John Day, Oregon to Prairie City, Oregon
Short day, rode less than 30 miles. All of us have screwed up knees. Highlights of Prairie City include: a logger burger that had 3 patties, cowboy guy in the burger place, and the man with the "old fart" hat who wouldn't leave us alone after dinner. We camped next to a little museum and I took some fun pictures. I am very worried about my knees. Will see how they work tomorrow. Not happy
Kevin and "Bob" ride east in the foreground while Ned (or Jim) follow with the snowcapped Cascades looming in the background.
Clowning around at the museum in Praire City, Oregon. "How would you like your eggs young lady?".
Day 6: Prairie City, Oregon to Baker City, Oregon
Three big hills to start the day, knees bad at first then OK later. Struggled with tires. We got up early, which worked out well. We should be in Idaho tomorrow
Day 7: Baker City, Oregon to Woodhead Park, Idaho (near Brownlee Dam)
Tire I got yesterday blew up, Achilles of left foot super sore or pulled, knees hurt, Jim doesn't do anything, otherwise, things are great.
Today we rode 93 miles through an area called "Hells Canyon"; it was probably a pretty stupid thing to do. As you might imagine it was really hot, all day. We left around 7:00 am and arrived around 6:00 pm; of course the whole time the sun was blazing directly overhead. Early on in the day I thought about giving up, the main reason being my achilles. It was fine until this morning, but when I got on the bike it just hurt. To relieve the pain I had to pedal all day with my left foot pointed down. That is fine for a few days but I cannot keep that up for the whole trip. If I keep riding will it heal?
Ned rides towards Brownlee Dam at the end of day after riding through Hells Canyon. At this point we had gone over 90 miles but still had to climb the height of the dam to reach our campsite which was on the reservoir it created. If you want to read about water and the development of the west pick up a copy of Cadillac Desert.
On the health front, I think my knees are doing better but I attribute that to not climbing out of the saddle. I love getting up when I climb and it kills me to go up a hill sitting down. Not literally of course, I just like riding that way. We had some pretty big hills today and went up all of them sitting down. Yuck Phoo!
My saddle is quite comfortable and I don't think I need to get one with a hole in it. Of course if I have to ride sitting down all day that changes everything. They say that Hell's Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon. Save a trip to Idaho and go to Arizona instead, the latter is much more impressive.
It comes down to this: given my injuries, our lack of time to relax, my tire problems, unequal workloads, etc., I would much rather get in a car with you and drive the route. I miss you terribly.
Day 8: Hells Canyon, Idaho to Evergreen Campground, Idaho
No shower, no sink, no electricity; things are great. I love the campground we are at, on top of some mountain in Idaho. It is so remote that no one is here to collect fees; it is just some pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. Of course I shouldn't forget about the wonderful river in which I am now soaking my sore achilles (that's right, both are now injured), the trees, lush green foliage, etc. In short, this is the best remote campsite yet.
I attend to my journal and feet at the same time at the Evergreen Campground in Idaho. Note the dark face and farmer's tan after only 8 days of riding.
Today we rode 60 hard miles in which we climbed 3000 feet but only descended 1000 feet. Yesterday it was my left achilles, today the right one hurts. For a good part of the ride I thought about how much more fun it would be taking the route in a car with you. Likewise, I spent a great deal of time thinking about how I might get better and still continue with the trip. The question I have been asking myself is "Do I really enjoy this?". The answer of course is sometimes yes, sometimes no. Even with everything that has gone wrong though, the yes's outnumber the no's. Another thought which has occupied my mind is how much of the reason that I am doing this is because I want people to be impressed when I tell them that I rode a bike across the country. Of course I like the snob appeal, but I also like biking and seeing new things.
Prior to reaching the Evergreen Campground we stopped for lunch at some nondescript town, right on the bike route, where bikes are apparently not allowed.
Jim has left! This is the real news of the day. After reaching the campground he called home to find that his mom is in the hospital and he needs to go home to help run the family photo shop. The weird thing is, it might not be a big deal at all. Jim spoke with his father on the phone, he speaks Chinese but very little English while Jim speaks English but very little Chinese. Since we are in the middle of nowhere a sheriff is coming to pick him up to take him to a town where he can catch a bus to Boise, Idaho and then fly home. All of this happened in a matter of about 30 minutes. In that short period of time we first heard the news then saw him ride off.
I feel bad even thinking it, but I am kind of glad to see him go. He didn't shop, cook, set up camp, clean, look at maps, etc. It kind of put me in a foul mood to see him wandering around while all of us were working. He never even volunteered to help. In terms of community gear, he didn't' have that much so it shouldn't really affect us. If anything I think it will make the trip more enjoyable and will cause me to better appreciate the opportunity and wonderful adventure I am having.
Tonight we had burritos and veggies for dinner. The burritos consisted of rice, refried beans and cheese while the vegetables were corn, squash, cabbage and a little garlic. Just as we started to eat we were mobbed by about 15 big black flies. We quickly moved our food but within a minute they were back. Eventually we realized it was the veggies that the flies were after so we dumped some about 10 yards away and enjoyed our meal fly free while pondering life's little questions such as: which of the veggies to the flies like (corn, squash, cabbage or garlic) and what do flies eat?
With Jim gone I was now all alone in my tent. During my first solitary night at the Evergreen Campground someone drove up in a truck around 3 am and scared the bejeezuz out of us.
Day 9, Evergreen Campground, Idaho to Riggins, Idaho
Our first milestone, although unplanned, occurred today. With a sign like this it is almost mandatory to stop and take a picture.
Short day, all downhill yet very difficult for me with my bad knees and Achilles. We arrived in Riggins around 1 pm and found it to be a tourist-orientated town, the main attraction being whitewater rafting. Luckily, I didn't even have to talk anyone into doing it. For $38 each we spent about 3 hours drifting down the Big Salmon River, about 20 miles in all. The rapids were fun but not quite scary enough. I wish the vessel would have capsized. Our guide Steve was quite friendly and encouraged us to fall overboard. Although it doesn't seem like it, we were drifting in the second deepest canyon in North America (Hell's Canyon is #1 and the Grand Canyon is #3). It was incredible but I know that the Grand Canyon would be more awe inspiring to float through.
And we are off! From the left we have Steve our guide, Ned, me, an assistant to the guide, and Kevin.
I told Kevin I might need to take a bus ahead due to injuries so we will rest tomorrow and see what happens. Due to cold joints and muscles, riding in the morning is getting downright awful. We encountered lots of crazy truckers on the way here. Imagine riding on a narrow two-lane road where there is no shoulder and a big cliff. Now add semi's passing you on blind corners taking up half of the other lane. So dumbfounded was I when this happened that I didn't have time to be frightened.
I like Riggins as it is unlike the other little towns here. Young people come here for the summer to raft, people seem aware of the environment, etc. To dark to write, I have the flashlight hanging from my ear but that doesn't work so well.
So this is 9 days so far, more to come.
Ned admires the sunset at our riverside campsite. Unable to secure a camping spot in Riggins proper, we cycled 2 miles out of town and up the river to a nice sandy beach. Quite uneventful, except for the bugs! Think back if you will, to the last time you were sitting in a parked car as a light rain fell. Do you hear the pitter patter of the drops on the roof? Well, while riding to the river we heard that same sound as bugs hit our helmets. Even worse, those bugs hitting our helmets were the ones we could hear, the rest of them, slamming into our bodies were silent.
Day 10: Riggins, Idaho (rest day)
And this is what our campsite outside of Riggins, Idaho looked like the following morning.
Yesterday we went white water rafting with 3 guides, not a bad ratio (1 to 1). Anyway, towards the end of the 3-hour adventure I was getting a little bit cold (the sun was setting) and as such, was turning my head and body when in rapids to avoid the cold water. Mike, our guide who sported a 4-inch red goatee, picked up on this right away and said, "look's like someone doesn't want to get wet", at which point he turned the vessel into some whitewater and soaked me but no one else. Originally I thought Mike was around our age but at the end of the trip he removed his hat and, wow; he was totally bald.
In the van, riding back from the river the 3 guides spoke of a billboard. At length they said how it was bad for the town, etc. What was really funny to me though, was when we drove by a local resident using a circular saw. One of the guides complained of the noise and the other two immediately followed suit. Growing up in Santa Cruz and attending University at Berkeley, usually I was the one on the extreme end of the spectrum but these guys had me beat. Billboards and circular saws? I suppose you had to be there. We declined an invitation to play ultimate Frisbee with them.
Campsite in Riggins overlooking the river after on our rest day. That night we experienced a spectacular lightning storm with winds that almost blew our tents into the river.
That night we were turning in early because we had a big climb the next day (7% grade for 8 miles, the famous Whitebird Hill). Anyway, we were staying in an RV park so I put my earplugs in so an idiot camper wouldn't wake me up at 3:00 am. Instead, sometime in the middle of the night Ned or Kevin did. Turns out an intense thunderstorm was headed our way, complete with rain, wind and lightening. The reason they woke me was because although I was in my tent, I didn't have the fly on. So with my tiny flashlight (about as big as my pinky finger) and despite the tremendous wind I managed to get the fly on and go back to sleep.
Day 11: Riggins, Idaho to Kooskia, Idaho
Leaving Riggins, Idaho we had about 20 miles of flat to downhill terrain before we hit the "Whitebird Hill". People had been warning us about it for days and everything they said was right on. It just kept going and going. Worst of all, when I thought I had made it to the top I discovered it was a false summit, still over 1 mile to go. Basically, it was a 7% grade for 8 miles. That means I was in my easiest gear the whole time. The climb was made much more palatable given that halfway up the hill was an information building. It turns out that in the valley below us the Nez Perce kicked some US ass. If memory serves, 38 U.S. soldiers died while the Nez Perce had zero causalities.
On the way up Whitebird Hill we stopped at this information kiosk to read about the Nez Perce War. Throughout the entire trip we encountered kiosks such as this that provided a nice historical perspective to our trip.
Hooray! We made it up Whitebird Hill. We could have gone the old route, which is less steep but longer but chose not to. With the stop at the Nez Perce kiosk it wasn't so bad.
One of the reasons I was so frustrated early on had to be due to my exploding tires. In all of my years of bike riding I have never blown tires, only tubes. In my first week of riding I blew 4 tubes and 2 tires. Grangeville had a bike shop in which I got a meatier tire and I think all of that hardship is behind me. I suppose I was kind of asking for trouble when I started out with tires called "Paperlite".
Grangeville was the city after the difficult Whitebird Hill and leaving it we were rewarded with the best downhill ever. I have never thought about how to rate a downhill but some things to consider should be: how often do you pedal, how often do you brake, are there fun turns, good views, do you get cold, how is the road surface, etc. In every regard this downhill was perfect. For about 5 miles I didn't pedal or brake but just flew down the hill. It had big turns so you could see where you were going and where you had been. The temperature was perfect (although just wearing shorts and a shirt I wasn't cold going 30+ mile per hour) and the views were spectacular. We started in cultivated fields and ended up in a beautiful forest following a river. Well, day 12 is tomorrow. Wish you were here.
Perfect downhill after climbing Whitebird Hill. No need to pedal or brake. I hate going down hills where I have to ride the brakes the entire way.
Day 12: Kooskia, Idaho to Wilderness Gateway just east of Lowell, Idaho
Ya, this is what it's all about. Relaxing in the grass on my foam sleeping pad in the sun next to a river in Idaho.
Greetings from the Lewis and Clark Trail. As I lie here in a meadow next to a swollen river I find it difficult to comprehend what that party of men did (the Lewis and Clark expedition). Except for the roads, the terrain here is exactly as it has been for centuries. A river cutting a path through the mountains, so fierce, even I wouldn't attempt to cross it. Besides you, one couldn't ask for more than this; green trees and meadows, a cool (painfully so) river, blue skies and the sun on my back. Except for the occasional car, there is no sign of civilization here. Now let me tell you about the night before last…
We stayed at a community park in Kooskia, Idaho. Because of the heat, we once again pitched our tents without flies and went to sleep with every star in the sky visible. A little after midnight I was jarred from my slumber by a sound and to my horror I knew exactly what it was. Automatic sprinklers had come on and were at that moment soaking Ned's tent. Before I could find the offending nozzle it soaked my tent as well. We ended up putting a pot over the sprinkler, drying out the tents as best we could (really just sopping up the puddles), ground sheets and sleeping bags with little hand towels and finally moving the tents to dry ground. After the fiasco of the previous night (the wind and lightening in Riggins) I wasn't amused. Surprisingly, we were able to get everything pretty dry and fall back asleep, in relative comfort, without our tents flies, beneath every star in the sky.
It is now 4:00 am and for some reason I am awake. Crap, it's starting to sprinkle. This time I take no chances. Quickly I move all my gear, tent and all, under a gazebo and go back to sleep on a concrete slab. Within minutes an intense thunderstorm breaks out. For 2 hours lightning could be seen and heard every 10 seconds and then the rain came. At its peak it was coming down as hard as I've ever seen. But I didn't care, for I was warm, dry and comfortable and when I awoke at 6:00 am the sun was out and everything was OK.
A quick note about the road we are on now. It is just like highway 9 near my parents house in that it is narrow, sinuous and follows a river but the difference is over half of the vehicles are big rigs. At one point a truck passed towing a huge boat, so wide that almost occupied both lanes of traffic.
Two lane road, small shoulders, big trucks and fog. Sounds like a deadly combination however the truckers always gave us plenty of room as Ned can attest to.
If I might change the topic, let's discuss my health and morale. Only 4 days ago I was hurt and discouraged to the point that I honestly thought I was going to have to take a break to heal and then rejoin the group. As the saying goes, "what a difference a day makes"! Since our day off in Riggins things have been much, much better. In terms of my body, my knees and achilles are not 100% but I am no longer in pain. We are also in real wilderness, which really boosts my morale and helps a lot with the pure enjoyment of riding. To be blunt, I can't believe I'm doing this. What a great adventure! And what great stories I will have for the future kids and grandkids.
Day 13: Wilderness Gateway, Idaho to Lewis and Clark Campground, Montana
Finally got up the hill, it was about 100 miles long with only one short downhill section. Most of it was a "magical" hill…
Riding up the "Magical Hill", so named because although it was continuous uphill all day, it never felt like it. A mild grade with curves following a river will do that anytime.
Stopped at 3 hot springs today. The first was the best (at mileage marker 142). The second was nice as well (Jerry Jones) and the third was awful and commercial so we didn't go (we would have had to pay).
Turnout to the best hot springs we encountered. Despite the cars in the lot, we were able to soak in the springs all by ourselves. It should be noted however, that we had to leave our bikes and gear on the dirt trail and walk for about 15 minutes before reaching the springs. Kevin was worried about our gear and stayed behind.
Ned and Casey enjoy the best hot spring ever. Thanks for staying behind Kevin!
Another not so secret hot springs. We actually rode our bikes along the trail (off-road) to get here. Can't complain about the people since the lady to the far right gave me an ice cold Coca-Cola.
Before I forget, let me recount the fellow bikers we have met: Mary (met her 1st day, don't think she has any chance of making it but hope she does), shirtless guy (riding opposite direction, pony tail, Keith look-a-like), Powell Guy #1 (riding to Virginia which is his home, has a crappy bike and more gear than Kevin, doesn't look like he could ride down the block but if he is telling the truth is kicking our ass in terms of mileage covering almost 1000 miles in 12 days) and finally Bill Murray (I see the resemblance but Kevin and Ned don't, he lives on a boat in Oakland or Berkeley, his girlfriend drives a car and caries the gear).
At the top of the hill (Lobo Pass, site where the Nez Perce fled through) there was a historic site with buildings, etc. I asked some people if there was any water around and found that none was to be found. People are friendly though, as one fellow got a jug of water from his car and filled my water bottle, another lady gave me a cold diet 7-Up. Another man gave me 3 bottles of water. Also, at hot springs #2 someone gave me a cold Coca-Cola. Will call you tomorrow from Missoula, Montana.
At the top of Lobo Pass, where Idaho gives way to Montana, strangers gave me ice cold beverages.
I pass a drink to Bill Murray as he reaches Lobo Pass. Kevin and Ned didn't see the resemblance.
Day 14: Lewis and Clark Campground (~ 15 miles to Lolo) to Hamilton, Montana
Kevin's birthday was today so we ate breakfast in a diner/casino. Stopped in a small town and saw a parade that lasted about 5 minutes. Also saw a rodeo (at least the barrel racing part). Met Randy, owner of a bike shop here. He was helpful to the extent that he gave me his card and said that if we were stranded within 100 miles of here he would come get us in his van.
Ned and Kevin eat breakfast, Happy Birthday Kevin. I spent a long time taking this picture because I wanted to get the guy on the phone at the left. What kind of restaurant has phones at the booths?
And while shopping for lunch Ned and I bought Kevin a cake which he appears to be trying to eat in one bite.
Washed clothes for real for first time in 14 days (I mean in a washing machine and not a river) and shaved for the second time on the trip. For the first time on the trip I felt hot and disgusting so I decided not to hang around Hamilton and go straight to the showers and laundry at the campground 4 miles away. Later in the day when we had regrouped at the campsite guilt hung heavy on my mind when I told the guys that I felt sorry that I went ahead without them but they said it was not a big deal.
Sometime between breakfast and lunch this Swashbuckler and Merry Wench tried to convince Ned to join up with them and sail away on their pirate ship.
Highlight of today had to be getting the spoon out of the enormous trashcan. So large was this can, you could fit 5 people in it. I did a re-enactment for a photo. Speaking of which, I need a new battery for the camera, and quickly, as the low battery light has been flashing for about 5 days now. Our current campsite is next to a busy, noisy road and our neighbor campers have had a radio on all day. Peace, quiet, and tranquility of the mountains await tomorrow (I believe we will go over the Continental Divide). Loved hearing your voice today.
I search for my lexan spoon in the giant trashcan while Kevin and Ned look on. Who took this picture?
Note to self - write about food bonk and eating less! And Zen!
Day 15: Hamilton, Montana to USFS May Creek Campground (16 miles west of Wisdom)
Hamilton is at an elevation of ~ 3,500 feet and today we climbed over Chief Joseph Pass (7,241 feet) and thus made our first of many crossings of the Continental Divide. Climbing 3,700 feet is quite a feat, pun intended! The interesting thing though, is that it seemed easy. Thinking back to the previous 14 days I don't believe we ever climbed that much. Perhaps I am getting stronger.
Kevin, Casey and Ned below at our first of many crossings of the Continental Divide.
Only the last 8 miles of the climb were steep so I tried something new. Using the mileage markers on the road I would climb for 1 mile and then rest for 2 minutes (basically drinking water and admiring the view while standing over my bike) then ride another mile, followed by another 2 minute break and so on. So successful was this technique that I will probably adopt it in future steep ascents. Using the technique I managed ~ 7 minute miles on very steep terrain. Another plus is that the 2-minute break gives my back a rest so I don't have to climb out of the saddle, which is oh so hard on the knees (besides being inefficient).
Certainly one reason the hill seemed easy was because everyone told us how hard it was going to be, particularly in the last stop before the summit, a town called Sula. You cannot really call Sula a town. It has a single general store/grocery store/café/KOA campground. In the café Ned and I tried Buffalo burgers that could have been tough beef as far as I am concerned. Speaking of which, I saw a female cow (I suppose that saying female is not required) urinate for the first time today. Yikes! Back to Sula, the best part was the older couple that we met. They are about my parent's age or a little bit older, live in Santa Barbara and were also cycling (not across the country but rather in a loop across these upper states). So thoroughly did I enjoy chatting with them that at this moment I very much regret not having a name or picture to remember them by. We were able to talk about cycling around Santa Barbara in in particular, the Lake Cachuma area since we took that shortcut on our trip down the coast in the summer of 1997. Note to self; take pictures of all future cyclists that I meet.
Regarding food, I am eating less. There was a time once when I rode from Pacifica (San Francisco) to Felton (Santa Cruz) that I got food bonk, i.e.. ran out of energy. To avoid having this occur on this trip at the first sign of hunger I have been munching Powerbars. Well, I know I am eating enough so I rarely have Powerbars anymore. On the steep part of the climb today I went without my shirt and helmet. Will do this again on steep climbs.
Help! I am under attack, completely trapped in my tent, under constant 24-hour guard by mosquitoes. Normally they only come out at dawn and dusk but here they don't follow the rules. Sitting in my tent I can count about 20 just buzzing around, waiting for me to attempt an escape. This made cooking and eating quite comical. After boiling our noodles and pouring a can of "Manwich" over the top we grabbed the pot, stuck two spoons in it and where off. The idea was to eat until the mosquitoes found us and then to run about 20 meters away, eat until they found us again and so on. Actually, it was kind of fun. Usually I chose a straight path while Kevin and Ned would do figure eights, zig zag's and so on to confuse the blood suckers. They are so bad that I have been in my tent since I got here (around 4:00 pm) except to bathe at the river and eat. Currently it is 9:00 pm and I am waiting for the sun to go down so I can sleep. Yes, of course it is beautiful but believe me, you don't wish you were here.
Day 16: May Creek Campground, Montana to Jackson, Montana
Short day, around 8:00 am I awoke and tried to pack out my tent before the mosquitoes attacked; no such luck. I am sure that they posted guards and when they saw me stirring called in for reinforcements. By the time I was all ready to go Kevin and Ned were still getting up so I told them that I would meet them at the "Big Hole National Battlefield" five miles down the road. This was one of the many sites where the Nez Perce fought the U.S. around a decade after the Civil War. I watched a short video, saw artifacts, learned how the troops advanced, etc. It was quite interesting and I would like to someday return and walk the battlefield. Honestly, I was just glad to be able to wait indoors, where the bloodsuckers couldn't get to me.
Kevin is very paranoid about things getting stolen and last night didn't help at all. A couple of teenage girls camped a few spots down from us and decided it would be funny to shake Ned's tent at night and then run away. When you are in the middle of nowhere with your life in a few bags such pranks are not funny (at least until the next day). Anyway, Ned woke up Kevin and they got out their lights and Kevin's numb chucks and checked things out. By the time all of the commotion had awakened me, one of the girls had come over and said her cousin thought it would be a funny thing to do. Right after she left I emerged from my tent and found out what was happening. It was difficult for all of us to sleep after that.
Currently I am lounging by a natural hot spring at the "Jackson Hot Spring Lodge" run by a German lady. The hot water flows directly into a large rectangular pool (about 30 feet by 60 feet). It is one thing to soak in a hot spring but another thing altogether to swim in one. Needless to say, $5 well spent.
To stay at the lodge we were charged $7.50 per tent but told that we couldn't cook on the premises. When buying groceries at the "Jackson Mercantile" we asked the owner if there was a park in town to picnic at but she said the nearest substitute was a cemetery. We told her we couldn't cook where we were camped and she promptly led us to her kitchen! We had a nice chat. She too, is from California and has children our age. Although if I was in her situation I would do the same thing the generosity of people on this trip never ceases to amaze me.
Tonight I look forward to: talking to you on the phone, more soaking/swimming, and watching game 3 of the NBA playoffs in the lodge.
P.S. Maybe I'll write about Zen tonight or tomorrow.
Day 17: Jackson, Montana to Twin Bridges, Montana
Scenarios straight out of hell don't get any better than this…
We had arrived in Twin Bridges and decided to camp here despite the mosquitoes because they had showers. While Ned showered I pitched my tent, rinsed out my riding clothes and hung them in a tree to dry. I was hot, sweaty and sticky as you might imagine and very much looking forward to the shower. Ned stepped out, looking clean and refreshed, so I went in. Up went the shower handle and… nothing. Curious I thought, perhaps I will try the ladies shower. I did and had similar results. Well, what about the sink in which I rinsed my clothes not 5 minutes ago? You guessed correctly, no water.
It turns out that the town has just gotten a new water tower and literally right when I stepped into the shower they turned the water off. For about 15 minutes I was hot, sticky, sweaty and quite pissed off, but shortly the water came on and all was well.
This morning we were lightly rained upon, so when descending a hill I removed my glasses so I might see better. Towards the bottom of the grade I encountered a pickup truck with its hazard lights flashing and moving towards me very slowly. Squinting, I delighted to see why he was driving in that particular fashion; he was leading an honest to goodness cattle drive. We stopped and watched on the white line as men and boys on horses led several hundred cows down the highway. Standing on the road on my bike I wasn't sure what to do, the cattle took up all of the road and looked more intimidating the closer they got. Quick, what a great time for a photo. But alas, my battery finally went kaput so I wasn't able to get the shot. Eventually the cowboys led the cattle around me and I continued on my way, kicking myself for not having a spare battery.
We went over 1000 miles today! Hooray!
Total miles to date: 1038
Total days: 17 (including rest days)
Average miles per day: 61
OK, OK, Zen… but briefly. While you were in China I read a book entitled "Viruses of the Mind" by Richard Brodie (one of the original authors of Microsoft Word). In the book he introduces an idea called a "meme". Basically it boils down to this. Very simple organisms have their actions based upon their genes, as do we humans for certain things (food, sex, fear, etc.) but as we have become more evolved the meme has taken precedence over the gene. A meme is anything that reproduces itself (so it is very much like a gene). A meme can be a song stuck in your head, the beliefs of religious groups, governments, etc. Anything that reproduces on its own is a meme.
How is this related to Zen? Well, in the book Richard Brodie talks a lot about how to deprogram yourself from all of the memes that life throws at you and how you can see life as it is, without all of the crap in the way. He said Zen was a good way to go and recommended several books. Of course I didn't have time to read them but I wish I had and this is the reason why.
For 10 weeks I will spend countless hours on the road with no companion but my thoughts and what I see, smell, hear and feel. That sounds great but in reality quite a bit of the time I have stupid songs or jingles running through my head and I hate it. I wish to see and enjoy life, experience new ideas, etc. and instead I can't get the David Letterman jingle "letters, we get letters, lots and lots of letters, letters" out of my head. In short I am full of memes that I have allowed to invade my mind and I can not get rid of them. This book on Zen was supposed to help. Anyway, time for bed and also time to mail you these ramblings.
Day 18: Twin Bridges, Montana to 39 miles from West Yellowstone, Montana
Today was all uphill except for about 5 miles of very steep downhill. So steep it wasn't fun. Leaving Twin Bridges we encountered road construction and had to ride almost 10 miles on dirt (boo hiss!).
Quote of the day, "What the hell are you doing?" barked the middle aged lady holding the "Stop" and "Slow" sign amidst the road construction as I took her picture. The sun and her smokes hadn't been good to her. Calmly, I explained that I was on vacation and as such, was taking pictures.
Prior to riding 10 miles on dirt road we encountered the surly "Slow/Stop" woman who wasn't amused as I took a picture of Kevin.
We went through two very neat cities today, Virginia City and Nevada City. Both exploded when gold was discovered but now are tourist stops. The first one (I can't remember which is which) had a neat museum full of whirlitzers. These are giant, elaborate machines that make music. Next time I will return with a pocket full of quarters.
Virginia City or Nevada City? I don't remember and it doesn't really matter, certainly not to poor George Ives. My sleeping bag is wrapped in my foam pad on the rear rack.
Beyond the first town but before the second one was a museum dedicated to tools and machines used to mine gold. Most impressive was a huge dredging boat. Ned took a photo after I climbed on. A sign said that the dredges were made in sizes 2 to 16 with 2 being the smallest. This one was a 2 but it was enormous.
Casey on top of the size 2 mining machine (16 is the largest).
If memory serves, the logo on the Montana license plate is "Big Sky". How true that is you have no idea. Most of the day we cycled on rolling plains (at ~ 6000 feet) with snow capped mountains in the distance. I think it's the wide open plains that make the sky so big. Anyhow, sometime soon we will see it together. Tomorrow we enter Wyoming and then Yellowstone (in opposite order). Yay! I will go call you now.
This picture sums up how I will always remember Montana, as Big Sky country.
Day 19: 39 miles from West Yellowstone, Montana to Madison, Wyoming (a campground in Yellowstone)
Riding here we encountered a lot of wind that seriously takes away from the joy of riding. That nuisance was very much offset though by the events of the day…
We met 4 other cyclists today; the first was Mark. He was our age or a little younger and riding from Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Eureka, California. We chatted for a while along the road about 3 miles out of West Yellowstone. Not 5 minutes after meeting Mark we met Bill, a much older guy from New Hampshire touring on a dual suspension Cannondale mountain bike. He was riding in the opposite direction as us and when I first spotted him I got excited because he was towing a "Bob" trailer similar to Kevin's. Actually, I was yelling, "he's got a Bob, he's got a Bob"! We got to talking and Bill explained to us with a wonderful example how things are where he is from (New England). He told us that if someone saw him on a bike they would stop him and ask him what he was doing and "don't you know that something is good on television?"; I though that was great. Next we met a man named Jerrold who had a good 50 years or more in him. He was riding from Virginia to Oregon and averaging 500 miles a week (that is faster than us). He was quite a talker but I enjoyed the interaction and gave him my e-mail address. Similar to Mark and Bill, I also snapped a photo of Jerrold, who is from Oklahoma by the way. Finally at the campsite we met Dick, an older guy who is only averaging about 40 miles a day and who talks a lot. No picture of Dick so far.
Seems like I may have stretched out this picture vertically! Anyway, this is Mark from Steamboat Springs, Colorado who didn't know he was riding with a generous tailwind when we met him. Headed in the opposite direction, we knew.
Bill from New Hampshire showed off his "Bob" type trailer to an enthusiastic Kevin. Note the full suspension mountain bike.
What can I say about Jerrold from Oklahoma except where did you get your helmet (or is it a hardhat?).
If you look on a map you will see that the west boundary of Yellowstone is in Montana, which means that once we entered the park we all knew that the border to Wyoming loomed close (we race for state lines). Kevin and I pedaled along at an easy pace, both knowing that the other was ready to bolt at the first sight of the big sign "Welcome to Wyoming". Well the big sign turned out to be a small wooden affair that stated "entering Wyoming". It was so small and unassuming that neither of us saw it until it was about 10 meters away from us. Quickly I assumed the sprinters position, out of the saddle with hands low on the bars and started rocking the bike back and forth. But alas, after only one or two complete revolutions my shoe came unclipped from the pedal and almost sent me flying over my handlebars. This little snafu would have cost me the state line except Kevin had problems as well. He too got out of the saddle and started rocking the bike, but because he is towing a trailer, he almost crashed as well. By about one bike length I got Wyoming.
Casey and Kevin on side-by-side bike in West Yellowstone, Montana. I laughed so hard I almost pooed in my pants! And that has happened to me twice in my life, thanks to my funny Dad, although I was much younger then. We stopped here after meeting Bill but before meeting Jerrold.
In addition to the side-by-side monster, the bike shop in West Yellowstone also had a recumbent out front. Note that I am steering with my right hand.
The other two state lines so far have been Idaho and Montana, neither of which have been exciting. Kevin took Idaho (I was injured and didn't even attempt to make a race of it) and I took Montana as it was at the top of a long hill, Lobo Pass where people gave me drinks, and I am king of the mountains! So where is my white jersey wiht red polka dots?
Just as we suspected, so far Yellowstone is nice but also very crowded. Coming in from the west I believe we rode through the area that was burned several years back (1988). Must investigate. As I write this from inside my tent it is raining and I am happy to report that I am bone dry. Actually, this is the first time I've been in the tent on this trip in the rain. If you remember it rained very hard in Kooskia, Idaho but we had moved our stuff under a shelter.
Entering Yellowstone we almost staged a sit in. The fee per biker is $10 while the fee per car is $20. It just isn't right that we are paying more than a minivan with 6 people in it.
For over a week now, on almost a daily basis, people tell us that there are 4 girls biking a bit ahead of us. It is kind of surreal the way we keep hearing about them and knowing that sometime (a day, a week) we might catch them. Well, when we do catch them we can really freak then out because Dick told us their names (Emily, Katie, Katie and Barbara). Tomorrow we see Old Faithful.
P.S. Last night I bought olive oil, salt and pepper so now pasta tastes yummy!
Day 20: Madison to Grant Village (both campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park)
With only 16 miles to ride to Old Faithful, it was not difficult to arise at 6:00 am. What did make the distance tough though, was the WIND! No matter which direction we went in today we never had the wind at our back, only from the side or in our face. Of hills, rain and wind the latter bothers me the most. I am quite sure you can imagine me yelling and growling at the wind (I do both). Being stubborn, I also occasionally try to pretend that it doesn't really slow me down and try to ride at a normal speed. It doesn't take long before I throw in the white towel.
About halfway between our campground and Old Faithful we encountered an unexpected surprise (and a nice break from the wind). There was a 1/2 mile boardwalk that went around an area of extreme thermal activity. In some areas we saw clear hot pools with brilliant colors and in other areas large pools of bubbling gray mud made the most wonderful sounds. Even if you were blind it would be a neat place to go to. Get a whiff of the sulfur, feel the heated water vapor blow by you and of course hear the "burping" of the mud, the hissing of the steam escaping the ground and the roar of the small but never ending geysers.
Ned gives the thermal activity and steaming pools a thumbs up.
Old Faithful was exactly as you expect, and actually kind of a let down after the unexpected boardwalk earlier. After watching Old Faithful blow we crossed the Continental Divide twice and then snuck into a campground. Before we reached the first summit though, I swam in a small lake. Certainly it wasn't as nice as the lakes we experienced in Tahoe but given that were over 8000 feet and snow could still be found on the ground it was surprisingly warm. For about 5 minutes I played in "Scaup Lake" and even found a log to float on. I would have stayed in longer but Ned and Kevin didn't join me. Tonight we will put out of business an all you can eat soup and salad restaurant (only $4.95) and tomorrow we will leave Yellowstone and enter the Grand Tetons.
Ned and thousands of others prepare to watch Old Faithful.
Remember when I was injured and planned on taking a bus ahead to Yellowstone and waiting for the guys? Well I am very, very glad that I didn't do that. Yellowstone isn't centralized like Yosemite; in fact, if you want to see everything you must drive the figure 8 roads that are well over 100 miles long.
We met another cyclist today by the name of Dick (yes, another Dick) who is traveling with Jerrold but lags a day behind.
This is Dick, who started out with Jerrold but is currently about 1 day behind. Maybe his boots have something to do with it.
This is Scaup Lake, somewhere in Yellowstone and surprisingly warm despite being at over 8,000 feet in elevation and in an area that still had snow on the ground.
Day 21: Grant Village to Falls (a USFS campground ~ 8 miles from the Continental Divide)
So far today we have met Eric, Lorenzo, Jason, Mike and Martin. Eric is from Hoboken, New Jersey and has a funny cart he tows behind his bike. I took his picture and he gave me a card with his email address. I met Eric while waiting for Kevin and Ned. After Eric left Kevin and Ned showed up then so did Lorenzo and Jason. Lorenzo is great. An older just retired software guy who lives in Berkeley, Lorenzo is riding east to west and met Jason along the way. Jason didn't say much. For some reason Lorenzo was carrying a Wyoming license plate strapped on his bike with all of his other gear. When I inquired he said he wanted to start a tradition at which point he promptly pulled out a permanent black felt tip pen and wrote "Lorenzo E to W, 99" on the back of the plate. I took the plate and wrote "Casey B, W to E, 99". The idea is that before leaving Wyoming I must pass the plate to another westbound rider. Perhaps Lorenzo was just sick of carrying the plate and this was his way of getting rid of it, who knows? For posterity, we re-enacted the handing over of the plate and took photos.
I ate breakfast with Eric while waiting for Kevin and Ned. I later heard that he complained that I ate more than my share, sorry!
Lorenzo starts the license plate tradition. I suspect he got tired of carrying it and, being from Berkeley, couldn't stand to throw it away.
Finally today we met Mike and Martin from Zurich, Switzerland. They started in Washington D.C. and have almost made it all the way west. After meeting them Kevin remarked that they were quite ugly. Cycling in cotton tank tops with biking shorts didn't help. But the best part of meeting Mike and Martin is where we met them and what they did there. When I pulled up one of them was eating donuts and drinking a Pepsi and when Kevin and Ned showed up the other one started smoking a cigarette, very European. I took a photo of them and guess what the background was, the Grand Tetons. Kind of a neat coincidence, seeing the Tetons and meeting guys from Switzerland at the same time.
Kevin and Ned between the Swiss riders with the Tetons in the background. When we met them at this point they were: eating donuts, drinking soda and smoking cigarettes.
At the end of the day we had a huge climb that I had to talk Kevin and Ned into doing. It was only 3:30 pm and they were ready to call it quits for the day and tackle the mountain in the morning. I told them that their plan was fine with me but I was climbing it today and would wait for them on the other side. Eventually we all started to climb together with the idea that we may only go halfway up and then camp. The climb went really well and we all made it to the top. The top, by the way, was at 10,000 feet and we started at 7,000 feet.
In a previous letter I told you that I have begun to do steep climbs without my helmet or shirt. Today I forgot for the first few miles but then remembered. To my surprise, Kevin and Ned followed suit and removed their shirts. Towards the top the whole scene felt very surreal, like the Dali painting with the melting clocks. We were climbing through green meadows with random circular patterns of snow everywhere and to make matters more interesting, we were cycling with only shorts. Hopefully the photo I had Kevin take of Ned and myself can capture some of the essence.
Casey and Ned ride through a Salvador Dali painting. It felt strange to be climbing a pass at 10,000 feet without shirts and snow on the ground.
One last note… It was so cold last night that the condensation that formed on the inside of Kevin and Ned's fly froze. Likewise, when I was shaking out my ground sheet I saw little ice crystals come off and sparkle in the sunlight. Beautiful yes, but still too cold for me to wait for breakfast to be made (so I rode ahead and shared breakfast with Eric). Falls campground has nice views and of course a waterfall but the mosquitoes are awful. Thank goodness my little tent kicks ass. Very much liked hearing your voice this morning.
Day 22: Falls to Lander, Wyoming
Just so I don't forget, today we have met an older couple from the Netherlands and a group of 3 from New York (Amy, Greg and Martin). We also passed through Debois, a town that has wonderful geological formations consisting of layered red rock. It evoked thoughts of the Grand Canyon.
Let me tell you about the wind (when I get more paper… OK, so I bought more paper and this time I didn't just take 20 sheets and throw the rest away to save weight. For goodness sake, I have even left the cardboard backing on.
Day 23: Lander, Wyoming (rest day)
We rode over 100 miles to get to Lander yesterday and it would have been easy given that we started near 8,000 feet and ended around 5,000 feet. But you mustn't forget about the wind! Actually, the wind was either behind us or blowing us over, luckily we never had a head wind. I sure felt sorry for those five people we met who were headed west. Speaking of which…
On a nice flat stretch with a good tailwind we met the couple from the Netherlands (Henri and Annelies, firstname.lastname@example.org, from a town called "Best". At this point you, my BLT (brave little toaster), know that something is amiss. How on earth could I remember all of that? Trivial my dear, the answer is "gloomp". Whenever Henri and Annelies pass other cyclists who stop and chat with them they hand out tiny wooden shoes or "gloomps" with all of that information written on it. Next, they take a photo of their new friends while having them say "gloomp". The enigmatic girls from Virginia didn't get "gloomps" because they didn't stop and chat. 40 gloomps began the ride with them and only 4 remain. The couple also has a website which has some photos and what not of their trip. Here is the URL if you are interested (waalen.nl/berende).
Henri and Annelies from the Netherlands gave us gloomps, tiny wooden clogs with their contact information written on them.
New York sent a delegation of three (Amy, Greg and Martin). Greg and Martin had mountain bikes with "Bob" trailers just like Kevin while Amy had front and rear panniers. They said they loved their "Bob's" while Kevin hates his more and more every day. Week old stubble was evident on the legs of Greg and Martin. I can't find enough time in the day to brush my teeth so how in the world are these guys shaving their legs? Worth noting as well, Amy was the first member of the opposite sex we have met that is near our age.
Amy, Greg and Martin from New York but not to be confused with "The New York Girls".
How do we know where we are going, when we can buy food, where we can camp, etc.? Well, we are following maps prepared by the Adventure Cycling Association. Each map (there are 10 in all) covers around 300 miles and supplies you with all of the aforementioned information. Rolling into Lander yesterday, we followed the map to the city park to camp but the map also told of an indoor pool with showers and a Jacuzzi! Of course that sounded wonderful but it was already 6:00 pm and Sunday; the chance to soak looked slim. But just a few blocks from the park I happened upon a man sitting on the stairs leading to his home. An inquiry regarding the pool was made and to my delight the fellow volunteered to go inside and call the pool. Now in my opinion, luck has been with us the entire trip (or maybe I'm just an optimist). This was no exception as there was a recreational swim from 6 to 8 pm. We were in the water by 6:15 pm.
"How to Cycle Across the Country on $15 per Day" is going to be the title of my best selling book. Actually, the number is quite realistic; so far we are spending about $100 per week per person on food, camping and entertainment (whitewater rafting for $35 per person). In the book I will tell people what to bring (what type of clothes, camping gear, etc.), what to buy along the way (food, film, etc.), what kind of meals to make, how to pack your gear and what not to bring. Included in my book will be the letters I have written to you along with pictures. Not included in the book will be a route for other organizations have already got that aspect well covered. One reason I wish to write this book is because every single person I see seems to have too much gear. All you need are two good size rear panniers and a small handle bar bag. My bike and gear weigh around 50 pounds combined while most people that we meet have over 50 pounds of gear without including the bike. Honestly, I believe that market exists for this book. Ask Kevin or Ned how they would go across the country again and both will reply, "rear panniers only."
Day 24: Lander, Wyoming to Rawlings, Wyoming
Currently I am sitting on a concrete sidewalk with my back to the Jeffrey City Post Office. Somewhere behind me are Kevin and Ned and a father and son team, Bob and Phil. For the first time we have met a group of riders "going our way". After the usual chit chat I sped off as my riding pace is a bit faster than most. It is 124 miles from Lander to Rawlings; in between minimal services exist (no grocery stores, just a few cafes). Using Jedi mind powers I hope to coax Kevin and Ned into going all the way but I still have much to learn of the force. Last night in Lander I watched "Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me". Of course I will watch it again with you and very much missed you being with me.
It's me again! Today I have already gone 81 miles and it is only 1:10 pm. And even more impressive is that: we started around 8:00 am and I didn't even cycle from 11:00 am to noon as I was waiting for Kevin and Ned. Wow, that's averaging almost 20 miles per hour. Speaking of Kevin and Ned, I'm a bit frustrated. For some reason they require much more food than me, which means we are always stopping to eat, when I am not even hungry. To make matters worse, Kevin is on such a strict budget that he buys super cheap food. For example, today we left Lander and knew that there wasn't food for 50 miles (and even then it was a café, not a store). With a good breakfast (which we had) and a snack or two (which we all had) 50 miles isn't much at all given the terrain and the wind. I didn't buy any food and when I got to the café at 11:00 am I delighted in my 3-egg omelet with hash browns, toast and coffee for $5 including tip. Kevin and Ned bought 5 cans of vegetables and beans. Sure enough, they finished all 5 cans and then 22 miles later at "Muddy Gap" they were hungry again. My 3 eggs were still sitting quite well so I continued onto Rawlings while they rested and ate. Of course Muddy Gap was just about the worst place to get a meal as all it had was a very ghetto gas station convenience store (Hostess cherry pies cost $1.18). Of course, I'm not really being fair since I have been out of school and working so spending a bit more money on food is not an issue for me. I can certainly remember being a poor student.
From Lander to Muddy Gap the wind was either behind us or not existent so we covered the miles fairly easily. Luck would not be with me as I turned and headed south. Now the wind was either blowing in my face or from right to my left, pushing me into traffic. These last 44 miles were pretty bad. The worst part came when I actually got into town and tried to locate the "Presidents Camp RV Park". We heard about it from Pete (from England, and east to west guy) and the only directions I had was that it was at the end of a row of hotels. First, a city of about 10,000 people has many hotels and it wasn't easy to find the "row". Once I did and started riding up the street the wind kicked up a notch or two. It was directly in my face and blowing so hard I could hardly move the bike forward. But ride on I did, occasionally yelling at the wind. Finally I saw the Presidents Camp, quite run down but the restroom had clean showers and I bargained the attendant down to $5 for all of us.
Upon walking into the manager's office, his jaw almost dropped to the floor. Usual formalities occurred, I told him where I came from today, where the trip started and where it will end, etc. and then he offered me a beverage. Of the beer, cola, 7-Up, water and so on I chose a diet Pepsi (for some reason I like the taste of diet soda). Upon entering the bathroom for a shower it became immediately apparent to me why such an offer was made. Lines of salt covered my face and juxtaposed nicely with my severely bloodshot eyes. I hope the photos I made come out.
Would you talk to this person? I exhibit the effects of a long ride in the sun and Wyoming wind.
Day 25: Rawlings, Wyoming to Riverside, Wyoming (encampment)
So things are not nearly as bad as I may have made them seem yesterday. Kevin and Ned got to Rawlings and we all got in on a BBQ with the RV attendant. Short, fat, dark, pony tail and always "stoked" about everything describe this guy. Food eventually came around 10:00 pm and it was surprisingly good. Pork, beef, elk, potatoes and pasta were had by all of us. In return for being invited I purchased a 12 pack of Coors and some sour cream. Truly we experienced trailer park trash at its best.
Before dinner two girls came by who were part of the Adventure Cycling group heading west. You will remember that Adventure Cycling is the organization that makes our maps, apparently they also lead tours. For $3000 each these girls were riding with 13 other people and one group leader from Adventure Cycling. Everyone has to carry their own gear and about once a week you have to go to the grocery store with a partner and buy enough food for dinner, breakfast and lunch for everyone and then prepare the food (the food is paid for with your $3000 contribution along with all campsites). Do you know how much we are going to spend? About 1/3 of that!
Since we were almost out of Wyoming I took this opportunity to get rid of (I mean pass on) the Wyoming license plate. Pictures were taken to make the ceremony official.
I pass on the Wyoming license plate to westbound riders as Lorenzo's dream becomes a reality. Did they cross Wyoming and then pass the plate on to another eastbound rider? If anyone knows please drop me a line.
After riding 134 miles the previous day you would think we would be looking forward to sleeping in. Normally yes, but directly across the street was JB's restaurant that offered an all you can eat buffet for $3.99. Of course we pigged out on such items as eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon, pancakes, waffles, french toast, biscuits, fruit, pudding and cereal. We had fun seeing how many mini cereal boxes we could pretend to eat and instead sneak out. We ended up with about 5 each.
Ned examines a map in the Wyoming wind after the buffet breakfast from the restaurant you can see across the street.
Finally we got on the road and as it turned out, the road was our dear friend Interstate 80. Yes, we had to ride for about 20 miles on our old friend that was with us at the start of the trip at the Berkeley Marina (where we boarded the Green Tortoise bus). Luckily I-80 had very wide shoulders so even though traffic was heavy we felt fairly safe. Another plus was that we had a nice tail wind that allowed us to cruise at 25+ miles per hour.
Kevin in yellow and Ned in red ride along Interstate 80 outside of Rawlings, Wyoming.
Still riding along I-80 I spotted a bridge ahead, a narrow bridge. Our 6 foot wide riding strip all but disappeared and we would be forced on the left side of the white line. About 20 yards from the bridge I looked over my shoulder to check traffic and all I could think was holy shit as I screamed "GO GO GO" to Kevin who was ahead of me. Out of the saddle, I sprinted with all my might across that bridge and then quickly pulled off to the shoulder as I watched a semi cross the bridge with a house in tow, fully occupying both lanes of traffic. Kevin later remarked that "we almost were pushed off of the bridge into the river by the house".
Once we turned off I-80 we fought the wind all the way to a small town called Saratoga whose one redeeming value was that it had a "Hobo Pool". Very hot mineral water bubbles out of the earth at certain locations in Saratoga and the townsfolk have done a wonderful job creating a soaking pool. After fighting the wind for 25 miles and knowing that the battle was no over for 20 more miles today the pool was a godsend. Plus, it was totally free and open 24 hours a day. We soaked on and off for a couple hours (in some places it was 104 degrees, too hot for me) and then rode 20 miles to Riverside, where I am now. Tomorrow we will enter Colorado and hopefully leave the wind behind us.
Kevin and Ned (at the far right) enjoy a soak in the Hobo Pool of Saratoga, Wyoming. The hot waters are free and open 24 hours, a real treat anyone, especially cross country cyclists.
Day 26: Riverside (encampment), Wyoming to Walden, Colorado
As you can see, we made it Colorado! State line races seem to have gone the way of the dinosaurs along with my taking pictures of all other cyclists we meet as now there are simply too many. Leaving camp this morning it seemed as if we had finally left the wind behind us but as the sun arched further into the sky the god damn wind bitch awoke and began to blow us over (right to left). From what the east to westers are telling us though, we are pretty much through the wind.
Yesterday we pulled into Riverside and promptly checked out the town park. Trees, swings, slides, picnic tables, clean restrooms, yes, it had it all plus a "no camping" sign. Disappointed, we rode back into town and to the RV Park. The red haired manager with a scraggly beard told us it would be $14.50 for a site plus $2 for each additional person plus 8% tax. As he stood in the doorway waiting for our response we just stood silently, knowing exactly what the others were thinking. It was like an episode of Star Trek. Kevin was thinking "if we have to pay $17 to camp I can't eat tomorrow" while Ned thought "I have a very strong opinion on the subject but I will not say anything unless directly asked" and finally I was thinking "this guy's an idiot, no way is he getting my money". Mr. Red Hair finally became fed up with our silence and told us to ring the bell when we made our decision or enjoy the 50 mile ride to Walden. We rode 1 mile to "encampment" where we pitched our tents for free!
Leaving encampment this morning I saw the sign "State Line 27 Miles" and was off. Unfortunately for me though, I broke a spoke about 7 miles from Colorado. Although it didn't stop me I am worried about ruining my wheel before I can get it fixed in Kremling tomorrow (50+ miles away).
The first settlement (not nearly big enough to be a town) we came to in Colorado was Cowdry and the general store turned out to be a real gem. High ceilings, wooden floors, comfy chairs, a selection of used books, fishing gear and a café awaited us. The proprietor was a young man about our age in overalls and a tee-shirt but don't begin to get the mental picture of a farmer or hick in your head. This guy would blend perfectly in Berkeley. We all ordered breakfast wraps (3 eggs, potatoes, fresh salsa and sour cream) for $3.75 and found them delicious. We added the third egg as a 25 cent option. As he cooked and while we ate Tom Waits and his mournful music (but in a good way) came through the speakers. As we left I even noticed a recycling bin! Once again, a real unexpected gem in the rough.
Casey, Kevin and Ned relaxing at the bookstore/cafe/tackle shop in Cowdry, Colorado.
Once we arrived in Walden, Kevin and Ned told me they didn't want to go any further (we had planned on going another 20 miles) which was fine by me. I miss you! Love, Casey. PS, I can't wait to pick up the cookies you sent me in Canon City.
Day 27: Walden, Colorado to Kremmling, Colorado
Today we covered 64 miles before noon and towards the end I was ready to put my fist through something. You see, today roads came without shoulders but with plenty of big trucks not willing to give you any room. That bothered me but worst of all was once again the WIND! We awoke at 5:00 am and were on the road around 6:30 am but even then the wind was blowing lightly. By 7:30 am it was blowing full force. You see, today we rode 64 miles with wind in our face or blowing us from the side. By the time we rolled into Kremmling I was fed up. If this wind continues I will be driven insane and return to you a loon whom must have drool wiped from my face while I sit in a corner bobbing my head mumbling, "against the wind, I was driven mad against the wind". No joke, towards the end of today riding was no fun at all! I think a pint of Ben & Jerry's is waiting for me at the supermarket. Deserve it I do. Write like Yoda I can. Better I feel.
Ned went shopping for dinner and came back with some unappetizing choices: a BIG can of ravioli, frozen corn, fresh broccoli and brown rice. Supper is a sorry affair when Chef Boyardee is on the menu, however, I have no right to complain since I didn't help with the shopping this time. Additionally, the rice never fully cooked due in large part to not accounting for being at over 8000 feet in elevation. At least we had salt and pepper for the veggies. But all was not lost; ice cream was on my mind and Ned's too. No pint of Ben and Jerry's was consumed but we did finish off every bit of a half gallon of Dryers chocolate. Yay!
Since seven miles from the Colorado border I have been riding with a broken spoke. Performance is affected very little but the wheel is now prone to un-repairable destruction so I was happy to roll into town today as the map said Kremmling has a bike shop. Perhaps bike shop is too strong of a word. Action Sports sells some bikes but also roller blades, hockey stuff, and other stuff. While getting directions to the shop while in town a local told me "2 blocks this way then 1 block that way but it probably won't be open because the owner has a "real job". And sure enough the hours on the door were essentially 5:30 to 7:30 pm everyday. Well, that was around noon and when I showed up 5 and 1/2 hours later I found John to be very friendly and helpful but totally incompetent. No way in hell would I let him touch my bike. Just have to make it 38 miles tomorrow to a real bike shop in Silverthorne. Hope the wheel holds out.
Kremmling as a town isn't much but they do have a nice little area where you can camp for free behind the old fire station. Green grass occupies an area of about 40 square feet, surrounded on 2 sides by buildings and waist high chain link fence on the other two sides. Additionally there is a 12 square foot covered area with a picnic table. Restrooms are clean, just around the corner and actually work (unlike the toilets in the Walden park). Because of the covered area, tonight I plan on sleeping under the stars; if any rain threatens I will move under the enclosure. Indeed, I have been writing this while lying on my sleeping bag, on my ground sheet, on the lawn, while watching the sun set over the Rockies through the chain link fence.
Chain link fenced campsite behind the fire station in Kremmling, Colorado. Ned is contemplating exchanging his bike for a shopping cart.
4:00 am will come tomorrow along with the chime of my watch's alarm. Due to our bad experience with the wind and traffic today we plan on donning our spandex 1 hour earlier than usual. Writing down the exciting and even the mundane events of the day is a great way to bid adieu to the sun. I very much regret not doing the same on our European adventure, especially considering all the time we spent on trains, waiting for trains, etc.
For my book I suppose I should start keeping track of what we are eating and how much. For lunch today (I shopped) we had: sandwiches with 1 pound of turkey, 3 roma tomatoes, 1 head of lettuce, 1 avocado, 1 large container of vanilla yogurt, celery (that we dipped in peanut butter which we always have) and 3 pears. Time for bed.
Day 28: Kremmling, Colorado to Frisco, Colorado
Yea, finally, this is how I expected Colorado to be. 4:00 am rolled around and we rolled out of our sleeping bags. Camp was packed up and 4 hard boiled eggs apiece were consumed along with an ear of corn. Still in darkness, we began rolling. It was 5:15 am. As we climbed higher and higher into the Rockies the sun slowly began to shine on the snow capped peaks to our right, then on the river valleys and finally on my face. By 8:00 am we had ridden 38 miles and gained about 2000 feet in elevation. We were in Frisco and wanted to go no further. Yesterday we stopped riding because the wind blew the life out of us; today the cranks stopped churning because we are in too beautiful an area to ride through. What made the ride so nice; let me count the ways. First their was no wind, second would be the sunrise, third place goes to the wildflowers and fourth and perhaps most important was the bike path. From Silverthorne to Breckenridge one can get off the autobahn and instead ride on a bike path just like on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz or Venice Beach in Southern California. The path winds its way through pine forests, along a reservoir and all the while you have magnificent mountain views. Today we rode on the path from Silverthorne to Frisco and tomorrow we will take it to Breckenridge.
We trade a road in for a bike path in Silverthorne, Colorado. This was the first time that we rode without cars to our left.
And another picture of the bike path, this time with Kevin.
Frisco is a tourist town and as such is very nice but what I liked most about it was that bicycles probably outnumber cars. People of all shapes and sizes were riding all kinds of bikes everywhere. I think I could live here (it is only about an hour from Denver). Oh yes, finally, after riding over 130 miles missing a spoke I was able to locate a bike shop with someone competent enough to replace the missing strand and true my wheel. Happy day. Kevin and Ned have gone to the health food store for a late lunch; I wonder what they will bring back?
Supper consisted of corn elbow pasta with tomato sauce and hummus with bread. I don't believe we will buy corn pasta anymore!
Day 29: Frisco, Colorado to Hoosier Pass, Colorado
Plenty of camping stops abound in the Frisco area but as we have gotten a taste of "a gratis" living they were promptly ignored. Instead we set up camp about 70 meters from the bike path, about a 5 minute walk to town. Of course we knew that camping wasn't allowed…
Aforementioned dinner was prepared at a picnic table only about 1 minute by foot from our stealth hideout. Blood pressures rose when we saw the police car cruising down the bike path and stopping as if to find the rouge campers. As it turns out, he was either dense or considerate as to the plight of under-funded cross country cyclists. Our only company that night was a little rain.
Normally we enjoy awaking around 5:30 am and pounding out 20 or 30 miles before really waking up. Exceptional locations call for rules to be broken. Mr. Sun was our alarm clock this morning and instead of charging through the miles I made a conscience effort to slow down and cruise. You see, Frisco is connected to Breckenridge by a wonderful 8-mile bike path that wound through pine forests, flowering meadows, etc. With my hijacked American flag sticking out of the back of my sleeping bag I just took it all in.
Breckinridge saw fit to throw a parade and festival to celebrate our arrival (or perhaps it was the 4th of July). Anyway, we arrived just in time and finding no seating we took to the street with our rears and gave the parade marchers less room. Our spot turned out to be a judicious choice as we where right in front of the announcers. Typical radio personalities yes, but they did a great job. One photo I couldn't pass up was of the marching band from Sandwich, Illinois.
A marching band from Sandwich, Illinois celebrates the 4th of July in Breckenridge, Colorado.
4th of July celebration in Breckenridge, Colorado. A kiosk explained how this river used to be contained in a covered concrete culvert; I would declare the restoration a success.
After the parade we went to the market and bought lunch (fried chicken, cinnamon/raisin bread, cream cheese, apples and cookies) and dinner (spaghetti, frozen corn, carrots and zucchini) and then set off for the 10 mile trek up to Hoosier Pass at elevation 11,500 feet. This would be the highest point on the entire trail so we were a bit apprehensive. As it turned out the grade was mild so the climb was quite easy. At the summit, after a photo or two, we headed up a dirt road. Several days earlier I had suggested that we camp on the summit. Kevin was for it but Ned was a bit undecided. With perfect weather and spectacular views there was no doubt in anyone's mind. We found a place below the tree line for camp and then each set out on our separate ways. Kevin and Ned rode their mountain bikes up the fire road while I walked. Quickly I passed the tree line, and then I reached snow and finally a plateau that I will describe below. I've said it before and I will say it again; we have been fortunate on this trip. Normally you have thunderstorms each afternoon in this area and in fact we did have one yesterday. Today (currently it is just after 7:00 pm) we have had nothing but blue skies and cool breezes. You are the only missing piece to this fantastic puzzle that I can't wait to complete.
Casey and Ned Celebrate the ascent of Hoosier Pass, elevation 11,542 feet, and our last crossing of the Continental Divide.
Ooh, ahh, feel the breeze and sun on my bar back. Take a deep breath, do you smell the goodness? Close your eyes, now open them, what do you see? Straight ahead at the horizon are some of the Rockies and below them are the not visible cities of Frisco and Breckenridge. Once again close your eyes, take 5 deep breaths, feel the sun and the wind, turn your head left and open your eyes. What do you see? First the sun, casting its light on eight 14,000 foot peaks and reflecting off of perfectly still pure white pillows of water vapor. Scattered about all the peaks are patches of snow, clinging to the hillside in defiance of our star. Again close your eyes but now breathe silently, listen to the buzz of the flies, the distant wind, a chirp of a bird; to your left are brown mountains with very little snow, here the sun has won. Behind you, the Rockies end and the plains begin. And finally close your eyes and look at where you are seated. It's a peak of about 13,000 feet, to high for trees. Hearty plants have taken advantage of the poor rocky soil and found their niche among the crumbling mountain. Delicate white flowers, no bigger than the fingernail on my pinky grow out of what seems to be moss. Blue, yellow, purple and pink flowers also abound, interspersed with various grasses. Until we reach the Appalachians this is our last night in the mountains, to which I don't know how to say goodbye.
Casey runs "free" above Hoosier Pass in a meadow above our campsite on the 4th of July. None of the flowers in this picture are bigger than a quarter.
Day 30: Hoosier Pass, Colorado to Canon City, Colorado
First off, the pronunciation is "canyon city" and secondly, it is at an elevation of a bit more than 5000 feet. Gee, we started the day at our campsite around 12,000 feet so that means we had about 7,000 feet of nice downhill. Yes, it sounded good to us too and even started out that way until… the wind. Putting the day down on paper will bring back too many bad memories. Let me put it this way, yesterday by unanimous decision was the best day of the trip, today would have to be one of the worst.
Note to anyone: avoid the general store and city park in Fairplay, Colorado. The former is expensive and will not allow you to use their restroom. Lacking water, garbage cans and a restroom the latter is even worse. We ended up filling our water bottles from a local house only to find 5 miles down the road that the water was disgusting. If you don't get the picture let me try to sum it up: 90 to 100 degree weather, head wind, water so nasty I dumped out 1 bottle and only sipped the other one when my throat became so dry I couldn't swallow, and of course memories of yesterday.
Day 31: Canon City, Colorado to Fowler, Colorado
Yesterday an unfortunate choice was made. A few miles out of Canon City I saw it, as did Ned. Later we all wished we hadn't. "KFC", read the sign, which wouldn't have caused any of us to double take but below it read "buffet". Although we only paid $5.59 each we really paid the price, not being accustomed to the greasy food.
This morning our departure from Canon City was delayed as I was expecting a package from you at the post office. Before it opened I was waiting in line, only to discover the package had not yet arrived. Woe is me.
Truly we have left the mountains. Even our maps no longer show the elevations of the cities we are going through. Today we rode through rolling plains with 90 degree plus heat and of course a head wind. Things became so bad that I yelled at Kevin for poor riding technique (suddenly stopping in front of me without pulling over to the right) that made him mad, resulting reciprocal verbal abuse. Anyone knowing Kevin and myself and our mild mannerisms can appreciate what the day did to us.
Finally we made it to the RV park in Fowler which turned out to be right next to a community pool, open from 1 to 5 pm. It was 6:00 pm. Luckily a family had rented the pool area for their 14-year old sons birthday and the mother (Shelly) had seen our sorry state and told the lifeguard she didn't mind if we swam. Yay! Not to be party poopers we rode over to the "Loaf 'N Jug" and bought Ryan a water gun and some water balloons. Newspaper was a good substitute for wrapping paper and soon we were in the ever so refreshing and rejuvenating water watching the local teenagers put on a show at the diving board. The situation only improved when Shelly told Ned and myself (Kevin had already left) to help ourselves to the BBQ. Two hotdogs, two handfuls of chips and two cups of fruit punch later I left.
Today we met a guy named Kenny who is from Virginia and riding west to east. He is an interesting fellow and I enjoyed the company of the 45-year old who carries a machete and "had a cyst cut off one of my nuts". As an interesting side note he told us that the first person to ride cross country did it in 1893 on one of the bikes with a huge wheel in front and a small one in back. According to Kenny, this cycling pioneer took about 100 days for his journey.
Day 32: Fowler, Colorado to Eads, Colorado
Old and run down are words that describe the café in which I sit (in Sugar City, Colorado) as well as its patrons. Not yet 8:00 am, I have already ridden about 25 miles, alone and with a heavy heart. Not only do I miss you very much but I also find myself growing tired of the ride. Kevin and Ned have been great for the entire trip, but we have different agendas. After the ride, Kevin will go back to school, so he is in no real hurry to complete his summer adventure although he does have his girlfriend waiting for him. Ned, unattached at the moment, has just graduated and plans on getting a job somewhere on the east coast, so likewise, he isn't in much a hurry either. I quit a job that I didn't like to go on this ride and my future is uncertain when I return to the Bay Area. Yet I don't have the patience to ride for only 5 hours a day through the mid-west. In hindsight, I would have enjoyed spending more time in Yellowstone, or the Grand Tetons.
Locals tell us that it will reach close to 100 degrees today, yet I had difficulty getting the group out of camp this morning. Regrettably, I feel I must break from the group and cover some serious distances. After a month on the road I am strong and ready to pound out high miles through the plains. Traveling only 80 miles a day isn't sufficient for me. As there isn't much to see and/or do I wish to get through this area as quickly as possible, covering 100 miles per day, perhaps 120 miles or more. My only real difficulty in breaking from the group is that we only have one set of maps. Of course most of the information on them is superfluous so I shouldn't have much difficulty getting the pertinent information (distances between towns, locations of grocery stores, camping sites, etc).
Early on in the ride there was much talk of what we would do once we arrived on the east coast. We talked of riding around Washington D.C or Manhattan. The more I travel with Kevin and Ned the more I realize I don't want to do that. I have already found my globetrotting soul mate, you!
Seconds pass and the sun arches further up the sky. As the earth and air warm I grow more melancholy. What causes someone to want to undertake such an adventure? Perhaps the better question is why don't I hitchhike or take a bus to a nicer area of the country? When I was injured early on I considered the bus/auto route and am very glad I didn't follow that path. Now, once again, I must look deep within myself. Yes, stubborn is a very apt word to describe myself. Is now the time to break from my usual self and go ahead or even go home? Sticking with the group is another option, silently suffering. Clearly I am unhappy.
I was still waiting for Kevin and Ned in Sugar City and quite crestfallen so when the machete yielding Kenny arrived I decided waiting an hour was long enough and rode off with him. Kenny had camped with us in Fowler and told me Kevin and Ned had left camp before him. Since they hadn't passed me they must have stopped for breakfast somewhere. Anyway, riding with Kenny and just riding in general turned out to help me. As we pedaled out of Sugar City we chatted about this and that until I heard Kenny say "wow". For the most part I had been riding with my eyes fixed down to the road but his exclamation caused me to raise my head; it was quite a site. To our left, right and straight ahead was flat plains as far as the eye could see. For the first time their where no trees, bushes or landmarks of any kind. Just grass, and for the first time I saw the beauty of the plains, albeit in a desolate sort of way.
What a busy day. By 1:00 pm I had already covered over 80 miles and was at the local community pool in Eads enjoying lunch. Pool hours are from 1:00 to 5:00 pm and I plan to stay the entire time; swimming, relaxing, writing and waiting for the wind and heat to die down. Around 5:00 or 6:00 pm I plan to be back pounding the pavement, riding until the sun goes down. Tomorrow I plan on starting my ride with the sun, taking a midday siesta, and once again riding until dark. While at the pool, I used their phone and ordered Adventure Cycling maps for myself. They will be delivered to Alexander, Kansas that is well within a week's ride of here (I hope).
After hanging up the phone I felt like a real jerk with my intentions of abandoning the group. It was especially bad since I ordered the maps behind the backs of Kevin and Ned. They know that I want to go further each day but I haven't sat down with them to talk about it directly. I feel like a sneaky weasel and they don't deserve that treatment.
Day 33: Eads, Colorado to Scott City, Kansas
So it finally happened, after several days of mulling over the idea I have finally acted upon my desire. I have gone ahead and broken up the group. OK, OK, stop the dramatic music, it's not like you think. You may recall that yesterday someone (I won't mention any names) was quite down in the dumps. This person went so far as to order maps so that they could finish the ride more quickly. Well, as I (oops, gave it away) rode yesterday, ahead of Kevin and Ned, I guess I was telling other cyclists I met that I was thinking of going ahead so when Kevin and Ned finally met up with me at the pool they kind of knew. Kevin and I had a good discussion (Ned doesn't say so much) and I went to bed feeling good. Things only got better as we rose at 4:00 am this morning and were on the road around 5:15 am. Of course the idea was to beat the heat and the wind and since we covered 80 miles before noon with a two hour break I must say we succeeded. But wait, if we all went 80 miles how did we get split up? Well, Leoti, Kansas is where we all reached around noon (actually we crossed into the central time zone so technically it was now 1:00 pm) and promptly inquired as to where the city pool was located. To our utter dismay we found that it was being repaired but as if to console us we were told Scott City has a pool. Leoti, at 1:00 pm, in July is quite hot (~ 93 degrees) and of course it was only going to get warmer so Kevin and Ned opted not to ride the extra 25 miles to Scott City; I did. When I arrived the temperature had climbed to 98 degrees but of course I didn't care. Quickly, a man on the street was asked to provide directions, which he did, and in no time I was floating in the air, traveling head first into the water. Tonight I will either camp in the city park or stay in the hostel and while Kevin and Ned are up at 4:00 am, again, I will be sleeping in, awaiting their arrival.
Quick bonus: Transamerica cyclists get to use the pool in Scott City for free!
What made today work out so well, several things: First of all, last night I told Kevin and Ned that no matter what I was leaving camp tomorrow as soon as it was light enough to ride safely (it turned out to be around 5:15 am, about 30 minutes before the sunrise). This was significant because usually at night we cook a pot of what we call "gruel" or "birdseed" in my pot, as it is the biggest. Basically all this meant was that if they were not done eating in time they would end up carrying the pot. Everyone finished in time.
Secondly, and equally important was the wind. Even at 5:00 am it was already blowing (actually it never really stops) but as it turned out today the wind was from the south west (more south than west). Hooray, we had a tiny tailwind that we could really appreciate when we saw riders coming from the other direction. I couldn't help but laughing to myself at the disgust on their faces and think about all the wind they still had to encounter in Wyoming. At least I didn't tell them that wind builds character, if someone tells me that again I will show them how a fist breaks a nose!
Before I forget, last night we camped with Kenny in the Eads city park. With green grass, water (non-potable according to the locals) and a picnic table it had everything, including a grain silo right next to it. It seemed like trucks were going to be collecting and depositing grain all night. That wouldn't have been so bad except that all of the truckers fancied themselves as riders of Harley Davidson motorcycles. What I mean is that somehow they modified their engines and also accelerated such that they made a lot of noise, as if they were trying to peel out. Luckily, the trucks eventually stopped and we all slept soundly.
Machete yielding Kenny and the grain silo at the town park in Eads, Colorado.
Drafting behind Ned, perhaps I won't pay as close attention as I should and just maybe my front wheel will hit his rear wheel causing me to crash and allowing me to go home. Hey, when you don't want to ride, yet you are on the road for 6 hours, a lot of things go through your mind. But what prompted me to write this silly scenario? I was at the Scott City pool and decided to go down one of the four tube slides. As I dove down head first the top of my foot hit the entrance to the slide and boy did it hurt. As I hopped out of the pool and onto a bench I thought how mad I would be if I had to drop out of the ride because of a kiddie slide.
Poor Kevin and Ned, as they swelter in the heat in Leoti (as of 6:22 pm it was 99 degrees) I am munching chips in a Mexican restaurant. While I sip ice water they fumble with unruly stoves and drink yucky warm water. Wait, it gets better (or worse depending on your perspective), I am staying at the "Athletic Club" which has a pool, spa, tumbling, racquetball, etc. in addition to a hostel room. Measuring about 20 feet square it has soft carpet, a couch and comfy chair, books, magazines and a TV. As I am the only one there tonight I think I will get a pint of Ben and Jerry's and kick back (I just finished a great carnitas burrito). Clearly I am happy
Day 34: Scott City, Kansas to Ness City, Kansas
Good days, bad days, happy days and sad days; only someone on double doses of Prozac wouldn't experience these feelings and emotions on such a trip. Yet today was a new day for me, a blah day. Out of the northeast the wind blew in my face but I didn't really care. With the chain in the big ring in front and the middle to small cogs in the rear cluster I just chugged along. Semis going in the opposite direction tried to discourage me by slapping me in the face with their airstreams but I simply lowered my head and charged into it. Similarly, trucks going my way would literally blow my shirt off of my back (or at least up it), not to worry though, I just felt grateful for the wind. What really put me in my blah mood though, must have been my trip to the Dighton, Kansas post office. For the third time I was going to the PO expecting goodies and a letter from you and for the third time I came back empty handed. Kevin and Ned were also expecting items that never arrived. Once again we filled out cards to get our items forwarded ahead but this time we took no chances, I expect to finally get your package in Illinois.
This turtle was only one of many that we encountered on the roads of Kansas.
Kevin and Ned showed up at the Athletic Club around 7:00 am this morning. As it turns out, they rode to Scott City last night around 8:00 pm and stayed in the city park; a large cloud blocking the sun gave them the kick-in-the-butt to go. I was fairly shocked to find that they chose the park over the hostel since I was only charged me $4.50 for the night.
Since Hoosier Pass the riding and terrain has been… lacking. Aside from the moment with Kenny when I saw the plains for the first time the terrain has left me uninspired. But when looking back on this part of the trip there is something that I will remember very fondly about the Great Plains and Kansas, the community pools. Usually open from 1:00 to 6:00 pm, they are a great way to end the day and the last two pools I have been to let me in free as I was a transcontinental cyclist. Freeing myself from salt, sweat and grime is my first order of business upon reaching the pool, usually be means of a diving board. After a few minutes I feel sufficiently refreshed so that I can next spend 5 minutes or so washing my riding socks, shorts and shirt. Once I tried to wash my clothes before going in but found myself in such a hurry that I didn't do a very good job. Next the clothes are rung out and hung to dry. Soaking, swimming, sunning and writing are now the activities which occupy my time until the pool closes although I seem to spend most of the time watching the kids play.
Back in Eads, Colorado I called Adventure Cycling and told them to send me maps care of the Alexander, Kansas post office. Pardon the pun, but if they are not there tomorrow I may go postal. Kevin and Ned don't know about the maps, since I haven't told them, and for that I feel pretty shitty.
Don't really feel like writing but can't forget about white trash family and their son, Bodie. Chainsaw wielding husband invited us to his house about 20 times to use his hot tub, watch TV, sleep inside, and eat eggs from their chickens and meat from their cows and pigs that they butcher themselves. Chainsaw also told us that they have a bratty 14-year old daughter (Bodie was around 10) but we could just slap her across the face if she acted up. As they talked to Kevin and Ned, I kept my head buried in a map to hide my disbelief.
Regarding food, today I ate on my own and enjoyed it but while I was in the supermarket getting more paper, an apple, an ear of corn and chocolate milk an unexpected swell of emotion came over me and I almost burst into tears. Nothing in particular or out of the ordinary happened but for some reason I was very sensitive. Going into this trip I had no idea that we would be going through so much yucky terrain that makes me not want to be here. The mountains of Santa Cruz are so perfect in the summer so why am I toiling away in Kansas? After 34 days most of the daily chores are just that, chores. Buying and cooking food, setting up camp and even riding are just becoming a drag because we have nothing to look forward to. The plains are flat and windy, the towns are small and depressing and of course one must not forget about the water, it tastes disgusting.
I have come to the awful realization about the maps, which I ordered in Eads, Colorado, and expect to pick up in Alexander, Kansas tomorrow. First off, the population of Alexander is 130 people so the post office may have irregular hours. But even worse, tomorrow is Saturday. Could my luck with the post office get any worse? Well, kind of. You know that I ordered the maps so that I can break away and get home more quickly but Kevin and Ned don't. Tonight we are camping in Ness City that is only 20 miles from Alexander and I have to tell them I don't want to get up early because it doesn't make sense to get to the post office before 8:00 or 9:00 am. Just two nights ago I told them I wanted to leave as soon as it's light enough to ride and now I am asking them wait for me. Of course it is more of a big deal to me than them but it is just another little thing to show what a jerk I am.
Speaking of little things that happen when you least expect them to. This morning I left my only boxer shorts in the Athletic Club (hostel) shower and also accidentally threw away my lexan spoon. Last night as I watched a great PBS show about 3 fellows climbing a mountain in New Zealand I was also secretly eating a pint of Hagen Das chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. Stealth mode was required because the room had at least five signs telling me not to eat or drink in it but to go out to the patio instead. I guess that when I finished I threw the spoon away with the container. But you must now be confused as earlier I wrote that I was going to get a pint of Ben and Jerry's. Yes, you are correct, I did write that but the store only had Hagen Das and just to show you how things have been going for me I didn't really like it. Sure the ice cream was great but the chocolate chips just got in the way. Plain chocolate or strawberry would have been much better.
Day 35: Ness City, Kansas to Great Bend, Kansas
He came back three times, once before we went to sleep and again in the morning. As we ate or packed the father of Bodie, Chainsaw, would watch us, conjuring up questions that he would ask us at one minute intervals. Being friendly is one thing but this man offered us everything from food and shelter to his son and daughter (the 14-year old bitch who you just slap if she gets out of line)!
No need for me to set my alarm this morning as rising at 4:00 am would be futile. Only 20 miles were between our Ness City campsite and the post office in Alexander where I would get my maps. Although I was awake for sometime prior, I didn't get out of my sleeping bag until 7:30 am to wake up Kevin and Ned. Consisting of a banana and two bagels with peanut butter, I quickly finished and enjoyed my breakfast while Kevin and Ned shared a cantaloupe, carrots and two small cans of corn. Just as we were all packed and mounting our bikes to leave Ned noticed that he had a flat tire. As it was 8:45 am I could wait no longer and told them I would be waiting at the Alexander post office. The twenty miles passed quickly but as you might expect, upon entering the post office lobby I found the doors closed and read a sign which informed me that the PO hours on Saturday are from 8:00 to 10:00 am, currently is was 10:03 am! What rotten luck, post offices just aren't working out for me on this trip, but wait, what's that rustling in the bushes? It turns out that the postmaster, Judy, was behind the closed doors and turned out to be very helpful. Of course my maps had not arrived but she gave me a card to fill out so she could forward them when they did. After regrouping with Kevin and Ned, as we rode away I though about the four other instances when I filled out the same card with poor results so I decided a new approach was required. When Judy drove by I flagged her down and asked for the post office phone number. On Monday I will call her to see if the maps have come in and then and only then will I tell Judy where to forward the maps.
Regarding riding on the plains, I would say I've taken a liking to it. For the first time my road bike is clearly superior the mountain bikes, especially when I put my hands low on the bars, tuck and go go go. As I go by mileage markers, I even sing a song, take a listen and pretend I am riding by mileage marker 175.
Mileage marker 175
Mileage marker 175
Pass another mileage marker
And that means
One fewer mile to ride in Kansas
Pretty catchy huh? Don't worry though, it won't infect you like other memes. Twenty times or more I sang the song yesterday and I still had a hard time remembering it so I could put it down on paper.
Three other cyclists were encountered today, one so extraordinary I had to take his photo. Blaine not only had front and rear panniers and a large handle bar bag but also a Bob trailer with everything on it including a lawnmower. "Will Mow for Food" read the sign and he claimed to actually be doing just that.
Blaine, an east-west rider in Kansas "Will Mow for Dough". Yes, he was toting a functioning lawn mower around and occasionally cutting peoples grass.
A very Real World'ish conversation took place while eating sandwiches. For weeks Kevin has expressed an interest in riding at night; I was more than willing to give it a try but Ned didn't want to. Similarly, based on conversations with some west bound cyclists Kevin and myself decided it might be a good idea to find a more direct route through Kansas; once again Ned was not in favor of the idea. In reality though, the problem was more that Ned would just say that he didn't want to do something and any reason or discussion would have to be coaxed out of him. As it was Kevin's idea to ride at night most of the discussion was between himself and Ned and for the most part I watched and listened. In the end it was decided that Kevin should talk less and Ned should talk more. At that point I could not help myself and said "then no one is going to say anything". Knowing Ned and his stoic nature I am sure you understand.
Casey tries to sleep before the night ride while Kevin looks for something in his bag.
Day 36: Great Bend, Kansas to Newton, Kansas
So, what has happened since I last filled you in? First off, we rode at night, from around 2:00 am to 1:00 pm (with lots of breaks). Stuff not to forget: community pools keep getting better (two story high waterslides), lunch, movie and Dairy Queen with the New York girls (Catherine and Lucy), broke another spoke and want to fly home from Wichita.
You know, I was awake for your entire birthday except for the last 90 minutes. Miss you terribly.
Casey, Kevin and Ned enjoy a meal during the "night ride" through Kansas.
Day 37: Newton, Kansas to Augusta, Kansas
Stuff that happened today: live bait, fixed bike, atomic burrito, guns and underwear.
Casey in a field of Kansas sunflowers during the wee hours in Kansas.
After being awake for almost 24 hours we slept in till 7:00 am. I'm not joking, staying in bed until 7:00 am is now sleeping in, weird huh? Anyway, to Wichita we rode from Newton, both Kevin and myself on hobbled bicycles. As the population of this largest of all of the cities in Kansas is 300,000 people it took us almost as long to get to the bike shop once in the city as it took us to ride to the city. Well worth the trek is an understatement regarding the effort required to get to the shop, as it was probably the best one we have encountered. For $15 my spoke was replaced and wheel trued but to my dismay I discovered that the noise my bike makes while pedaling requires a new chain and rear cluster. As I plan to sell the bike upon finishing the trek, I opted not to spend the extra $80. Kevin's wheel was also repaired and luckily it was discovered that part of his bottom bracket was cracked. Had this gone unfixed Kevin could have ruined his frame.
While discussing the route with a bike shop employee the topic of dogs came up, Kentucky dogs. One thing led to another and suddenly I found myself at Wal-Mart watching in disbelief as Kevin and Ned shelled out $50 each for 17.7 mm pellet guns. Scariest of all, these pellet guns (which use compressed air) look just like real guns. Kevin and Ned plan to ride through Kentucky with these in their jerseys, just tempting any dog to screw with them. I worry what might happen when a Kentucky hillbilly sees Kevin or Ned pull out a gun and shoot their dog, it could be exciting!
We'll be rich; I have a great idea. Get a soda machine but sell live bait out of it instead of drinks. Oh, too bad, someone in Kansas has already done it.
Can I get Diet Coke with my live bait?
Next door to the bike shop was "Atomic Burrito". If possible I would eat two or three large burritos each day, as they are so yummy with rice, beans, meat, veggies. At this particular shop I ordered a "Super Atomic" burrito that weighed in at over two pounds! Half was eaten for lunch and I couldn't wait for dinner to eat the remainder.
Finally, while Kevin and Ned were pricing weapons I bought new boxer shorts. After not wearing cotton underwear since leaving them at the Athletic Club (hostel) it felt so good instead of the synthetic riding shorts!
PS, camping is not allowed in the Augusta city park so we pitched our tents in the middle of some trees/bushes. One could walk 10 feet from us and not know we were there. Why are we doing this, well we haven't been following the map for the last couple of days so we didn't know where to camp. Good night (upon waking, I found my tent was now the proud recipient of a bunch of guano).
Blurry picture of the community pool in Augusta, Kansas. Swimming at the pools in Colorado, Kansas and Missouri was a huge part of trip through the mid-west and was a refreshing way to end the day.
Day 38: Augusta, Kansas to Chanute, Kansas
Typical Kansas road. Actually, this one is better than most since it isn't overflowing with cars and trucks.
As I sit alone in Elisa's Mexican Restaurant lets see what I can recall about today. First off, I set the alarm on my watch for 5:30 am but as I put in earplugs I didn't get up until around 6:30 am. The morning wake up/break camp/eat ritual took about 90 minutes although I was ready in 1/3 of that time. Maybe I should stop being such an idiot and just sleep an additional hour. We were on the road by 8:00 am. But were we, actually not, because Kevin wanted to go to Wal-Mart to look for a holster for his gun, which they didn't have. What we did find at the superstore though, to our dismay, was that Kevin's Bob trailer had a flat tire that delayed our departure another 1/2 hour. To sum up, I though we would be on the road by 6:30 am but we didn't really get moving until 8:30 am.
But it didn't really matter as once we started I didn't stop until 12:30 pm (except twice to pee) so many miles were covered very quickly. After waiting at a junction and munching bagels with peanut butter and honey we rode 25 more miles to Chanute and you guessed correctly, the community pool. Here I learned to dive off of the high diving board. Not just walking to the end of the board and meekly jumping down but bouncing as high as I could and flying in full Superman style. It was scary but very fun! After our pool party we rode to the grocery store and while Kevin and Ned shopped I drank chocolate milk and talked with my parents on the phone (I would have called you but it was too early) and then we rode to Katy's.
Katy is a great woman who lets cyclists' camp on her lawn. Pulling up and ringing her doorbell is very much like going to visit your favorite aunt or uncle. In fact, sometime tonight she is going to come out and play her ukulele and yodel for us. After that I plan on getting a treat at Wal-Mart and then hitting the hay.
No sooner did I finish writing the above when Katy came out with her instrument and began singing songs for us. Actually, she sang one song and then we each picked songs for her to sing (all of the titles to the songs she knows are taped to the back of her ukulele). We were having such a good time that she probably sang ten songs in all and then took a photo of us in front of her limestone fence post. After a hug she gave us her card and a loaf of zucchini bread (below is a copy of her card).
Nothin' says lovin' like Bakin' from Katy's oven
Katy Lopeman R 4 Box 29
Chanute, Kansas 66720
Shirts are not required a Katy Lopeman performance, surrogate mother to all cross country cyclists.
Day 39: Chanute, Kansas to Golden City, Missouri
We are leaving Kansas today, but its not so bad anymore. Well, ok it is but at least we are back on the Transamerica route, which means no more major highways. Unlike flat, dry, hot and brown western Kansas, eastern Kansas is rolling, humid, hot and green. Some of the roads even have curves, that is nice. On a sad note we gone from seeing deer, squirrel and skunk carrion to turtles, armadillos and birds. What is worst dead animal I have seen on this trip, it is probably a tie. In Wyoming we saw a deer that had its head cut clean off not a couple feet from the road. I suppose someone hit it and then took the head as a trophy but Colorado yielded and even sadder sight. Three cute little yellow and furry ducks laid dead, not 6 feet from the one another. Stuff not to forget: stone hostel with AC, washer/drier, shower; couple from Holland (he was 68 and she was 65 and it is their 3rd trip); couple from Holland telling us about the couple we met from the Netherlands, how he is famous for the 11-city 140-mile ice river skate; and cycling 33 miles in 100 degree humid weather to get here and win the race to the Missouri state line.
This great couple from Holland told us that the "gloomp" husband was famous for some sort of 11-city, 140-mile race on ice covered rivers.
Lucy and Catherine (left to right), the New York girls outside of the Golden City, Missouri hostel. We first met them in Newton, Kansas where I went with them to see the "South Park" movie. For some reason Kevin and Ned stayed behind. Likewise, while we three slept in beds, showered, and washed our clothes at the hostel in Missouri Kevin and Ned opted to sleep in the city park.
Day 40: Golden City, Missouri to Ash Grove, Missouri
What can I say, the glory is back! Once again riding is a pleasure and I must say I owe it all to Missouri. Since leaving Hoosier Pass on day 30 I found the roads to be straight, the wind in my face and the scenery brown, dry and dull. Although I bitched a lot about not liking Kansas, and urged my cohorts to go further and faster, I worried that my depression would carry over into Missouri. More bluntly, I believed that I was just sick and tired of riding and the trip in general and not even the most beautiful terrain would help. But then, about 30 miles into Missouri, I found Golden City.
Fewer than 1000 people live in town and they didn't have a community pool but their hostel certainly made up for it. Two men, one a mortician and the other the director of the Wyatt House (for eight developmentally disabled men and women) bought a small stone house right in the center of town and turned it into a bicycle only hostel, just for those like me. It has four beds with clean sheets, the shower had fresh towels, the kitchen was spotless and the air conditioning was cold. Even my clothes enjoyed the stay as I washed them at no charge in the washing machine. All that is asked of those who stay is that they leave $9 in a coffee can.
What has prompted my change of heart, the terrain of course. Having grown up and lived in beautiful places the plains of Kansas and Colorado were tough for me to stomach. So far riding in Missouri can best be likened to riding a roller coaster. One steep downhill leads to a steep uphill, all with curves, flowers and trees. Flowers, it seems as if I haven't seen wild flowers in profusion since Colorado (before Hoosier Pass) but they certainly are back. Trees, they line the road and although I was dripping with sweat from the humidity, just looking into the dark recesses under the canopy of the trees made me feel much cooler.
Hooray, the roads in Missouri have hills, turns and foliage.
But don't despair my Poobie, for I still wish to finish this trek as soon as possible, it's just that now I believe I will enjoy finishing. In fact this morning I even told Kevin that towards the end of the trip I was probably going to set out on my own and we had a good chat about it. Even better, at the hostel someone heading east to west had left the first three chapters of the Ikenberry book that details the route from Virginia to Oregon. Of course this means that Kevin and Ned don't need to know that I ordered maps behind their backs. Given the limited means of those who take orders at Adventure Cycling it also means that if they screwed up my map order, again, it doesn't even matter, I can just use the book (I have the Illinois, Kentucky and Virginia chapters).
Going through Kansas we saw a lot of dead turtles, which was sad, but also puzzling as I associate them with water, not dry grassland. Regardless, it turns out that Kansas has quite a few ponds (mostly man made) in their plains. Now you know water and me but I wouldn't go near these things with a ten foot stick. I imagine ones first step would lead to one sinking up to their ankle in mud, yuck. Which leads us to Missouri and the swimming opportunities here. About 15 miles out of Golden City we rode by a rocky area that was perhaps and old quarry. Clear, cool water had filled the void forming a beautiful lake. Although only 15 miles into the day I stripped and swam. It couldn't have been any better.
Water filled quarry just inside Missouri that I took a quick dip in.
As we have only gone 38 miles and are done for the day I suppose this is a rest day that I neither need nor want. At this point, even another day without you is tough to fathom. But I do, because soon we will be to Chester, Illinois and I will leave the boys behind, riding from dawn to dusk, to my Poobie.
Before I forget, Missouri has magically repaired my bike. For about a week or more every turn of the cranks has produced squeaking. Upon reaching the bike shop in Wichita I was told that it was due to my chain being stretched that seemed to be a reasonable explanation. Then as we rolled out of Golden City this morning I guess I forgot to pack the squeak because it is gone (good riddance) and my bike is purring. Yay!
I have just done some calculations and come up with the following numbers. Less than 300 miles remain between me and my maps in Chester, Illinois. Covering that distance with Kevin and Ned should take about 4 days at which point I will bolt. Less than 1300 miles will remain between a plane home and me and I will cover the distance (or try) in less than 2 weeks. As today is day 40, adding 4 days to Chester and 14 more days to the eastern seaboard means my trip will be over after 58 days on the road, almost 2 weeks less than the originally planned 70 days. Covering the extra mileage in the last 2 weeks doesn't worry me, at this point I can go 100 miles a day in my sleep.
5:00 pm is the time and my affliction is pool overload. Don't get me wrong, after a ride in which you become hot, sweaty and sticky the pools feel great but we have been at this one since before it opened at 1:00 pm and I believe we will remain until 7:00 pm. Even then all we are going to do is roll our bikes 200 meters to where we will pitch our tents for the night. Many more miles could have been covered today, which would have brought me even closer to you
Day 41: Ash Grove, Missouri to Marshfield, Missouri
We first saw this guy camping in the park in Newton, Kansas and thought it odd that he pitched his tent so close to the cemetery. This picture was taken in Missouri, after we had a chance to talk with him and find out that he carries a hand gun.
Of course each day without you becomes exponentially more difficult to deal with but beautiful Missouri makes it manageable. In fact, yesterday my only complaint would have to be that we didn't ride enough. And, once again, today the same holds true. But so much happened today that I don't really know were to begin…
Despite spending 7 hours at the pool yesterday sleep eluded me, as I was too hot. Nonetheless, at 6:00 am the tent was unzipped and out I came. The terrain was as it was yesterday and I was enjoying myself despite the fact that I mistakenly repacked my squeak. And then it happened; riding up one of Missouri's famous roller coaster hills I heard a "pop"! Dismounting at the top my worst fears were realized when I found I had broken yet another spoke. Certainly I was discouraged but as I had already ridden over 100 miles with a broken spoke (from Wyoming into Colorado) I figured I would just do it again. I mounted my bike and began riding, and then about 15 minutes later I heard it again, "pop!". Now utter despair set in as I had broken a second spoke, my bike was still rideable but with two broken spokes my horse was akin to the Volvo after your Dad ruined the wheel, failure was eminent. When Kevin and Ned caught up I consulted the map for the nearest bike shop only to find that it was about 300 miles away in Illinois. With two broken spokes I had no chance in hell of covering that distance. What would I do? Many thoughts raced through my head as I rode the few miles into the next town, chief among them, hitchhiking to the bike shop in Illinois and then waiting for Kevin and Ned to catch up. But that solution was flawed on many fronts including that I still had to get my maps in Chester, Illinois that was before the bike shop in Carbondale, Illinois.
Another problem was that I had very much enjoyed riding through Missouri and the idea of hitchhiking through the rest of it was not appealing. But there was still a larger problem. It was in Illinois that I planned on breaking from Kevin and Ned to see what life alone on the road is like and more importantly, to get home to my Poobie more quickly. It wouldn't be right to either tell the guys goodbye now but I also couldn't wait for them in Illinois. Clearly I was stumped. Another option that I very seriously considered was calling my brother and having him ship his bike out to me. Either way, sitting in front of the grocery store in this little town I was positive that I wouldn't be riding for the next couple of days and that hitchhiking to Chester and then Carbondale would be my next move. Across from the market was a gas station were I purchased a Missouri state map and began to look for the best place to wait for my ride. As it turns out, I wouldn't wait long.
A large red and white Ford 4x4 truck pulled up while I had my nose in the map and suddenly Don, a man of 50 or 60 years, was asking questions. One thing led to another and within minutes all of our bikes and us were in his truck headed to Springfield, Illinois and the oldest bike shop in town, the A&B. Ned rode up front with Don while Kevin and myself rode in back with the bikes. Although only 16 miles from the little town, Springfield was a world away; a city of almost 1/4 million people. As we drove through the urban nightmare I was glad, no ecstatic, not to be cycling.
Don couldn't tell a Huffy from a Trek but he did take us to a spectacular shop, the A&B. Within minutes T.J. had given me the different options for replacing my wheel and once I decided he had it fixed up right away and didn't even charge me for the labor (Just as an aside, my wheel became screwed up when either the mechanic in Hamilton or Frisco trued it and tightened the spokes too much. As you can not loosen the spokes my wheel was ruined, causing spokes to break about every 200 miles). All the while, Don was wandering around the bike shop, chatting with each of us, just as happy as a clam. After my bike was repaired we loaded it back in Don's truck and headed back to the supermarket where we met not a few hours ago. But wait, this doesn't seem like the way came, where are we going? To Don's house it turns out, were we got fresh produce (tomatoes and zucchini) from his 50 foot by 150 foot passion, met his wife and sipped lemonade on their porch. I'm not kidding, this all happened and finally Don drove us back to the supermarket. Missouri roads are a roller coaster and today so were my emotions; but with the likes of Don, I ended the day on top. Let's hope I can stay up there for a while.
Ned and Kevin enjoy lemonade courtesy of Don and his wife. It is people like Don that make trips like this memorable and the world a wonderful place.
Kevin and Ned in Don's garden.
Just a quick food note… Outside the market some women were selling bratwurst dogs for $1 to raise money for the school. Always one to help out a good cause I bought one and found it delicious as did Ned. Peer pressure forced Kevin to buy one. Once in the market we began the usual routine of "what do you want?", "I don't know, what do you want?" Sometimes the game is fun but not tonight and I promptly went outside and bought my dinner, 3 more bratwursts. After eating them I went back in the market and found that Kevin and Ned had only picked up milk, cereal and fruit for breakfast, still totally undecided about dinner. Ned quickly dropped out of the game and bought himself potato salad, cottage cheese and bananas while Kevin eventually settled on a pound of sliced Oscar Meyer Ham and Water Product, cream cheese and bagels. What's my point, I wish I was shopping with you.
Day 42: Marshfield, Missouri to Licking, Missouri
Last night it finally happened. After hearing about the 4 girls from Virginia from every west bound rider since day 1 we finally caught them. Actually, they caught us as we passed them somewhere in Kansas. The meeting occurred at the Marshfield city park around dusk while we were preparing for bed. Our plans of getting up early were quickly scratched as we watched them go through their set up camp and food preparation ritual. As they cooked 2 pounds of elbow noodle pasta and ate it quickly became evident that they are going through the exact same predicaments as us with slow riders versus fast riders, slow eaters versus fast eaters, etc. After they finished their pasta (actually, quite a bit was left over) they were kind enough to share their apple pie with us. Then we all hit the hay.
Katy, Emily, Katy and Barbara (left to right), the Virginia girls! The two in back are sisters.
Ya gotta beat the heat somehow. I could have stayed in much longer.
Compared to the night before I slept like a baby. Although it was still too warm for me, I was able to offset that with a cold shower.
Day 43: Licking, Missouri to Pilot Knob, Missouri
Yesterday we rode as a gang, 3 guys from California and 4 girls from Virginia. With 7 people you can take up a lot of road (and we did). Around midday or a little later I found myself at a junction waiting for everyone to catch up. Being quite thirsty I backtracked to the nearest house and soon found myself sipping cold water and enjoying the shade. Then, out of my oasis came "Do you know that Jesus Christ is our savior?". This nice man turned out to be a pastor at the local church and he was very concerned that I not go to hell. I very politely ignored him until he left me to sit in a chair, under a tree, sipping water, waiting for the gang.
Yesterday we got off of the main route again at the urging of the older European couple (not the klomps) and started heading east on 32. The only problem with getting off the route is that you are never very sure where you can get food and camp; Licking was no exception. A town of 4000, they had a city park but wouldn't let us camp there. One of the Virginia girls called the local sheriff and he told us we could camp at a rest stop, less than 1/2 a mile away. Once we arrived we found it initially quite pleasing; trees, green grass, restrooms and an adjacent corn field all said, "welcome" and "enjoy your stay". Unfortunately, rain looked eminent and the bathrooms, upon further inspection, were disgusting. The sinks had running water but as luck would have it, once it left the basin it drained right onto your feet. I used the drinking fountain outside.
While cooking rice for our burritos I began setting up my tent, and just in time. Rain, in big drops, began to fall but as I was hot and sticky (and all my gear was safe and dry in my tent) all my clothes came off except for my after riding cargo shorts and I had a rain dance/bath. In stark contrast, the Virginia girls sat around in their waterproof jackets.
So that was yesterday, lets see what I can recall about today. We left Licking and rode about 20 miles till a Super Wal-Mart were we bought lunch and I got another lexan spoon. Looking through plastic at a USA Today outside of the store I saw a headline that caused me to shell out 50 cents for the nations newspaper. Lance Armstrong, an American, is going to win the Tour du France! After Wal-Mart we rode another hour or two until the small town of Boss. As I was the first to arrive I chose where we would eat our lunch, a clear little river under a bridge just before town. Before everyone else arrived I changed into my cargo shorts and soaked in the river. I also had time to rinse my riding clothes and set them to dry on the rocky river bed. Everyone liked eating by the river although only Ned took full advantage of the water like myself; everyone else just soaked his or her feet. While lunching I was amazed to learn that the Virginia girls hadn't been in any rivers yet! As you know, for the first 3 or 4 weeks of the trip we followed pristine rivers and went in them every night. Of course they were often freezing cold but the refreshment far outweighed the pain (especially for my feet).
Lunch was a wonderful affair. While sitting cross legged in the river (with water up to my tummy) I ate two bagels with avocado, tomato, salt and pepper plus one bagel with peanut butter and honey and finally two nectarines. Really, I must buy food for myself more often.
Lunch being eaten, we set off again and to my delight we had a summer rain. Although we had certainly been sprinkled on before during the adventure this was our first time riding in a full bore rain. So what did I do? I took off my clothes and sprinted ahead. As the warm rain fell in buckets I rode on wearing only my shoes, socks, cycling shorts and helmet; my jersey and gloves being stowed in my panniers. Other than my shoes and socks getting soaked I had a great time and even forgot how humid it was. Then I saw the New York girls (Lucy and Catherine) just as I was coming out of the rain.
With their bikes on the side of the road I assumed they were taking a break but in reality Lucy was ready to have a mental breakdown. In the past 2 days she had gotten 5 flat tires, this being the second one today. And both herself and Catherine were finding Missouri miserable. Although she was still cordial it was easy to tell that the next little thing would either cause her to cry or kill someone so it didn't help that after myself the rest of the group (6 more in all) rolled up individually and had to be appraised of the situation. For about an hour we waited along the side of the road, assuming that we would all ride together once she fixed her flat but in that time she patched the hole about 4 times, put the tire back on and pumped it up only to find it didn't hold air. Eventually, at her urging we left them as we found them, on the side of the road, and planned to meet at Pilot Knob, Missouri.
Lucy, Catherine, Kevin, Emily, Katy, Barbara, Ned and Katy, quite a colorful group.
Leaving Catherine and Lucy we rode to Pilot Knob with the highlight of that portion of the trip being myself setting of an alarm at a school while filling my water bottle. The school was at a junction so I had to endure the noise for over 15 minutes while waiting for the group to catch up (I didn't touch anything, honest!).
A grocery store was located in Pilot Knob and since Kevin wanted to make soup I promptly bought a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey and proceeded to eat it while we shopped. Poobie, Kevin and I have very different ideas regarding food. For his soup he planned on using bullion cubes (which we already had), vegetables and rice. That's it! I inquired how he planned on getting full and he said at home he mostly eats vegetables. Geez, I wonder why you're always hungry, Kevin.
For some reason or another Ned and myself starting chatting with Amy, a women about our age working behind the deli counter who recently moved here from St. Louis with her parents. At some point I asked what she was going to do with all of the left over deli food… can you see were this is going? Poobie, we left the store with 5 Styrofoam containers (the 3 compartment lunch type) filled with corn, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and 2 filled with pork and stuffing. We rode to the RV park / motel with at least 10 pounds of the stuff that Amy said, would just "have been thrown away".
Rolling into the RV park/motel we were glad to see that Lucy and Catherine had made it but I most enjoyed all nine of us sitting around the 5 containers and pigging out. It was a photo opportunity I could not pass up. That's it for now, finally, I am back up to date. Tomorrow we will ride 9 people strong across the great Mississippi and into Illinois, our 8th state. Likewise, in Chester, I should get my maps from the post office so I can strike out on my own. Currently I'm thinking of staying with the group until I have 1000 miles left and then bolting, covering the distance in under 10 days. From Yorktown, Virginia I will take a bus to BWI where Southwest Airlines will wisk me home, to my Poobie. You will fly up for a long weekend to visit and we will drive back down south along the coast. Although I am very much enjoying the riding part of the trip again I can't wait to see you.
Emily, Katy, Katy, Barbara, Catherine, Lucy, Ned and Kevin (L to R) enjoy the group meal thanks to Ned striking up a conversation with the girl at the supermarket deli counter.
Day 44: Pilot Knob, Missouri to Chester, Illinois
What can I say, Missouri was great but I'm glad to be in Chester, home of the creator of Popeye and just east of that great wide muddy river, the Mississippi. This morning we left the abysmal campsite at the RV park motel 9 riders strong. After 20 miles we reached the next town and regrouped. It was decided that we ought to buy our lunch here, then ride, and then eat. A fine solution for the group but not for me as I knew I could ride all the way to Chester before lunch, so I did. Now I lounge at the pool, having already bought and eaten my lunch and been to the post office.
Here I am with copious amounts of sweat and the bridge that moments ago took took me over the Mississippi River. It had no bike lanes!
The big question today was whether or not my maps would be at the post office and… they were! Of course that means I now have no excuse not to finish the ride more quickly. The New York girls are breaking from the group tomorrow, heading north toward home and I think I will leave at the end of Illinois or the beginning of Kentucky.
Day 45: Chester, Illinois to Harrisburg, Illinois
Everyone poses for a picture prior to leaving Chester, Illinois. From the left we have me, Barbara, Catherine, Lucy (sitting), Ned, Katy, Katy, Emily and Kevin.
Leaving the birthplace of the character Popeye we road out of Chester and on non transcontinental bike roads until the college town of Carbondale. There I quickly found the famous "Bike Surgeon" who, after introducing himself, asked if I needed a place to stay. As it was before noon I declined and put him to the task of finding the cause of the squeak in my bike. Simple solutions were ruled out until the point were he had to go take the bottom bracket out. It was fine but lacking grease, upon reinstallation the noise was gone. An attempt was made to pay for services rendered but he would have none of it. As he drove away in a limousine I wondered when I had entered backwards land.
After Carbondale everything went to hell. Originally we planned on riding about 20 miles to the next town and relaxing by the pool as it was only 2:00 pm and we expected to be all done riding in another 2 hours. We were only 5 hours off! The first problem occurred just outside Carbondale when Barbara slit her tire on some glass. Luckily, with a cell phone, she called the "Bike Surgeon" and he rode his bike out with a new tire and tube, all for only $15 (of course all of this happened while Ned and I were a couple of miles ahead wondering were everyone was). While all of that was happening Katy Martin was stuck with a flat between Ned and myself and the slashed tire group. Now normally a flat tire isn't at all a big deal but the Virginia girls operate in strange ways. Emily carries all the spare tubes but no pump, Katy H. has a pump and patch kit but no tubes, Katy M. has a pump only and I have no idea what Barbara has. Basically, Katy M. had to wait an hour before the group caught her and could provide her with the tools needed to fix her flat. Finally everyone caught up to Ned and myself and we rode on, until Katy M. got another flat tire. This time it was quickly patched by herself but upon riding a bit more it went flat again. This time I took action into my own hands and quickly patched the tube and changed the tire but unfortunately I missed a tiny sliver in her tire liner so after a couple minutes her tire went flat for the 2nd time. Again we patched the tube, found the sliver and were once again on our way but that darn tube slowly began leaking again. It was decided that since the leak was so slow we would just pump up the tube every 1/2 hour or so until town and then deal with the problem. Sounds simple enough until Katy M. tried to put air in her tube and instead broke the stem. Once again the tire came off the bike and a new tube was put in. By this time the sun was starting to set and we didn't get into town until dark.
After a day like we had, with the heat and humidity, all I wanted to do was shower and get a meal in a restaurant but as we were on a shortcut we had no idea where to camp and no one was interested in a hotel except Barbara. Much to my disappointment we ended up staying on the lawn of the Lions Club and eating pasta. Had we not found a faucet on the side of a building and had I not bought a half gallon of chocolate ice cream I would have killed someone. After 2 showers and about 1/2 of the ice cream I went to sleep and awoke the next morning at 8:00 am in 90 degree heat. By the time we got on the road at about 10:00 am it was already 100 degrees.
Kevin rides on the ferry over the Ohio River and into Kentucky, just miles downstream from the not yet constructed (as of 2004) Olmsted Dam.
In seconds I will board a ferry and cross the Ohio River into Kentucky.
Day 46: Harrisburg, Illinois to Marion, Kentucky
As I have already written, today we took a ferry across the Ohio River and into Kentucky. Tomorrow morning is the big day; I will wake up before everyone else and take off! A little more than 1000 miles remain and I will complete the distance in 10 days or less (as I have written countless times). This being the night before, I find myself as nervous and excited as before the entire trip. In reality, this is going to be like an entirely different trip for me. No longer will I spend hours in a supermarket or 1/3 of the day at a pool. From now on I will be on my bike for 8 hours plus a day. I am sad to be leaving the group and also quite scared but move on I must. Maybe I will hate riding alone, maybe I will love it, and the only thing that I know for certain is that there is only one way to find out. Very soon my Poobie, I will once again gaze upon thine eyes, perhaps even before you get this letter. Tonight I will call you and see what you found out regarding my flight home. The Virginia girls tell me I ought to end my trip in Williamsburg (just before Yorktown) were I can have a bike shop ship my horse home and then take the Amtrak to Washington D.C.
Day 47: Marion, Kentucky to Rough River Dam State Park, Kentucky
Finally I have done it! Although last night I was a basket case, once I finally got on my horse everything was OK. First off, I woke up and was ready to go in about 45 minutes (the group routine is usually about twice that). Once on the road everything was normal except that instead of waiting in towns and intersections for the group I just kept going… and going… and going. When I finally stopped it was 4:00 pm and I had ridden 116 miles. I did stop for lunch and several times for water or Gatorade, but other than that I kept moving. Leaving around 6:00 am, I figure I rode around 9 hours today and because I am going off route tomorrow for a shortcut I will have to do the same again.
Regarding the riding, it was nice in the morning until maybe 10:00 or 11:00 am and then it got pretty bad with temperatures near 100 degrees and very high humidity. If I were only riding 50 or 60 miles a day it wouldn't be a problem but I'm not. Likewise, there are no longer community pools to chill at, but that really is a null point as Kansas totally burnt me out on pools. So where does that leave me? Today I only rode 116 miles in rolling terrain so when I hit the Appalachians I'm really going to get my ass kicked. Right now I plan on getting a plane ticket tonight (leaving BWI the morning of August 1st) and riding to perhaps the first big city in Virginia (maybe Charlottesville). From there I will have a bike shop ship my horse home and I will catch a bus or train to Aunt Judy's. That way I can say I rode a bike from Oregon to Virginia. It is just too hot and the terrain isn't nice enough to cycle the whole route. Actually, I really miss you very much and just want to come home.
Not to make more excuses but it really is time for this trip to end. My rear is starting to develop bumps and sores and my wrists hurt. I've also noticed that I have a difficult time holding my right hand still. Given what I have already done to my elbow I think I ought to listen to my body.
OK, so I've been sitting in a restaurant looking at maps and have decided to end the bike portion of my trip in Damascus, Virginia. Assuming I ride all the way to Berea, Kentucky tomorrow, I will have just 283 miles to the little town of 918 people. Why Damascus, well, they have a hostel were cyclists and Appalachian Trail backpackers stay. And two bike shops. Of course I like the fact that it is right on the Appalachian Trail as well. So there it is, looks like I've got about 400 miles to go. Better go make that reservation and give you a call.
Day 48: Rough River Dam State Park, Kentucky to Berea, Kentucky
Since the trip began I've wanted to do it and now that I've done it I never want to do it again. What is it that he who speaks in riddles is talking about, riding from sunrise to sunset of course. Today I awoke at 5:00 am and set off at 6:00 am with a thick fog, which worried me, but luckily I had no close calls. Around 6:00 pm I pulled into the RV Park in Berea, 150 miles later. Figuring that I stopped at a market for lunch and at many gas stations for Gatorade I would say I was on my bike for 10 hours today. Let me jot down a few notes about the day before I forget. First, 4 dogs chased me today and I finally realized that most of them just like to run behind me and bark so if I speed up or slow down, so do they. While in one small town I purchased chocolate milk and a banana and since the store was cooler than outside I asked if I could enjoy my food indoors. The old women made me eat in the corner! Lebanon was the town in which I met two young women (recent college graduates) from Vermont who were heading east to west and just starting out. And of course I saved the best for last. Upon riding into the town of Lancaster, Kentucky (still 20 or 30 miles from Berea) I glanced up at the display of the bank, 6:00 pm was the time and 102 degrees was the temperature!
Day 49: Berea, Kentucky to Buckhorn, Kentucky
Yesterday was great and as you remember I told you on the phone that if the trip ended right now I would be happy. Today I wished it had. Coming out of Berea everything was fine; I showered before leaving the campground and bought my breakfast at Super Wal-Mart. Outside of Berea I found the "Murphy's Ford" shortcut that saved 10 miles but then I hit the hills. Poobie, many of the west bound cyclists have told us how much more difficult the Appalachians are than the Rockies. So many in fact that it began to annoy us, especially since none of then had actually ridden over the Rockies yet. But back to my story, after the shortcut I found myself climbing hills so steep that even in my easiest gear I still had to climb out of the saddle. Now you know how vain I am so I obviously wondered how on earth the trail could go through terrain I could barely ride. You can probably guess the answer; I went the wrong way! Yes, after the short cut I zigged (went right) when I should have zagged (gone left) and for about an hour I kept going the wrong way, up hills as steep as Ma and Pa's driveway. Finally I stopped at the little store and asked how far ahead the junction was and received the usual blank stare. Quickly I pointed to the road and found out it 89 and not 1209. I was screwed (and a bit upset as well).
Outside the store I found a car less (not careless) road so went back inside to inquire how long I might wait for a ride. Deer in headlights woman told me that last year someone did the same thing and got a ride back with a fellow who comes to the store but she didn't' know if he would be in today, with it being Saturday and all. Smile, nod and walk out; what else could I do? Luckily a sport utility came by within minutes. I flagged them down and found them willing to take me until they saw I had a bike. Our silent stalemate lasted about 7 seconds until I saw a truck coming down the road. Moving on to greener pastures I abandoned the sport-ute and hailed the truck.
Exactly where I wanted to go is where the hillbilly in the truck took me and although he didn't know any of the road numbers, once I told him I was headed to Booneville he knew where to take me. Honestly, I tried very hard to remember his name but his accent was to thick and the name was so Kentucky it just didn't' stick. What I will never forget though, is looking out the window and seeing nothing but a sheer drop while my new friend drove with a can of Budweiser between his legs and no seatbelt. It seemed very fitting in fact when he threw the can out of his window when he finished, just as natural as can be.
So now I'm back on the correct road, headed to Booneville of all places and not to happy as I knew had I not gone the wrong way I would already be there. Along the way the scenery made me feel better though. Green and leafy vines grow all over the trees and telephone poles and all look like things, just as clouds sometime do. You'll have to see it in person, as I didn't take a photo. Seven miles from Booneville it was 1:00 pm and I hadn't eaten so I stopped in Vincent, a junction town with no houses but a post office and café. I made myself a peanut butter and honey sandwich and ordered a chocolate shake that turned out to be so good that I ordered a second. Thunder prompted me to ask the women if it would rain and she said yes but as I was headed to Booneville I could probably outrun it. Maybe she just wanted to get rid of me or maybe she just wasn't much of a meteorologist but I ran straight into the storm. No complaints about the storm though, as it really cooled things off and everything was safe and dry in my panniers.
Through Booneville I rode, in the rain, until Buckhorn and the state park with the same name. There I set up my tent and felt gray and gloomy, just like the sky. After a shower I rode the 1/4 mile back into town and had sandwiches for dinner (bologna, cheese and brown lettuce, made fresh for me), bought milk for my cereal for breakfast and came back to camp. My tent had been set up at a hiker / biker walk in site on wood chips which didn't work very well with my tent stakes so I decided to move everything to the car sites which had grass. Actually, the main reason I moved was because I wanted to pass the time.
My new site was much better and I began to feel better. While waiting to use the phone I was looking at maps and the camp host even showed me a much better way to go, I was out of my funk. If all goes well tomorrow I will enter Virginia and the day after that reach Damascus where I will ship the horse home and get a ride to Nashville. Southwest Airlines will do the rest wit a direct flight to San Francisco or Oakland where Willy will pick me up. I can't wait.
I'm pretty sure this is in Kentucky. Riding alone, as expected, the number of pictures I took sharply diminished.
Day 50: Buckhorn, Kentucky to Breaks Park, Virginia
Let's clear something up, remember after my big ride 2 days ago when I told you the trip could end and I wouldn't mind. What I really meant was that if my bike broke, was stolen, I got hurt, etc. it would be OK but it would not be OK if I just quit. With that cleared up let's talk about last night and today.
I am happy to reach Virginia (note tan, muscular back).
Since we came down Hoosier Pass in Colorado it has been hot, so hot I have had a difficult time sleeping. And of course as we headed east the humidity only made it worse as I would be sticky while sweating on my sleeping bag. So Buckhorn turned out to be a nice surprise as I was not uncomfortable when I hit the hay, problems arose when I awoke in the middle of the night. For dinner a man at the Buckhorn ghetto grocery store made me 2 bologna sandwiches and now they want out. Exiting the tent I sat on the side of the river with my head between my legs and began swallowing air to induce burping and hopefully vomiting. Succeeding in making myself more ill I quickly went to my finger and after several plunges out came dinner. Immediately I felt better but of course I had vomit mouth and would have to brush my teeth several times to get rid of it. But I didn't.
Vomit sandwich man told me I had two big hills to climb to get out of Buckhorn and he was correct. Luckily the fog kept things nice and cool for me, unluckily though, I met dogs. Now whenever I met dogs before I always had the option of outrunning them (although it was never necessary). This time I was climbing a steep hill very slowly in my easiest gear, and then I saw the dog. Then his mother, next this father, and finally his 3 brothers and sisters. It was almost comical as I was going so slow the dogs couldn't even run after me, they just ran around me. Although I didn't have to, I squirted two of them in the face with my water bottle and then they quickly lost interest (I don't think the two events are related).
As I am now out of Kentucky I suppose I better tell my scariest dog story which occurred two days ago, on the Murphy's Ford shortcut (just before I went the wrong way). For 3 houses in a row dogs had come out and chased me, the fourth proved no exception although I almost died laughing at the little terrier and beagle running after me. But little dogs can have big friends, in this case a beautiful and large German Shepard who was coming at me covering 10 feet per bound. All at once I said, "oh shit", every hair on my body stood up and I got a huge dose of adrenaline. Thankfully the shepard never left his property.
While riding to Pippa Passes I was on the far right of a 10 -oot shoulder so when a big rig flew by me and honked I was annoyed and said in a loud voice "what the f__k?". To my horror the truck immediately pulled over and I began mentally preparing for the whooping I was going to get. As I was still riding up to the rig the trucker was already outside and when I was about 10 meters from him he reached into his back pocket and out came… a gun, no… a switchblade, no… it turned out to be a black comb. Calmly I asked him if I had dropped something and he gestured behind me. Suddenly it became obvious, he had honked at the small truck that was now behind both of us.
At 11:00 am I reached Pippa Passes, home to the Alice Lloyd College and a hostel I wanted to stay in but didn't. At a gas station/convenience store I had the best roast beef sandwich I've ever had and also saw an interesting raffle. For $1 you can buy a ticket to win a TV and VCR, the proceeds on which go towards "saving the foot of Joe Hillbilly".
It had been overcast but after Pippa Passes the sun came out, just in time for 611! Remember how yesterday I made a wrong turn and went up some super steep hills. Well 611 was just as bad and I am truly humbled that these are even on the route.
On another climb after 611 I saw a couple of little kids (brother and sister) standing beside a trampoline in their yard. "Hi" I said, causing the little girl to run inside and the little boy to promptly grab a rock from his pile on the trampoline, heave back, and throw it at me! As it bounced somewhere near my rear tire I just didn't know what to think.
For 5 years in a row the big Spaniard Miguel Indurain dominated the tour but was dethroned by the Great Dane, Bijarne Ris of Team Telekom. Next year his teammate, the mighty German Jan Ulrich took the podium and just last year, in a race no one thought he could win, the little pirate from Italy, Marco Pantani ran away from the field in the Alps. This year, today in fact, Lance Armstrong will become the first American to win the tour since Greg LeMond! He will arrive in Paris and cruise up and down the Champs Elysse before hundreds of thousands of fans and take the trophy before the Arc de Triumph. Today I too consider my epic journey to have come to an end as I entered Virginia after 50 days on the road and after having raced across Kentucky (almost 500 miles) in 4 days. Tomorrow I will ride a short 80 miles into Damascus and perhaps by Tuesday I will be back on the west coast.
Day 51: Breaks Park, Virginia to Damascus, Virginia
What can I say, I'm done! Although mentally I completed my journey upon entering Virginia yesterday, still 80 plus miles remained between myself and a bike shop in Damascus who could pack and shop my bike home. So this morning I arose early and for the last time broke camp and set out in the cool Appalachian mist. And for the first time my legs were not with me, it wasn't that I hadn't eaten, was tired, or didn't sleep well, but rather, for the first time in 51 days my legs felt like lead. Little hills, which just yesterday I would have sprinted up, I now took in my easiest gear. After 40 or so miles of up and down I had enough and approached a local man sitting in his truck at a gas station.
Now at the beginning of this trip my goal was not to ride the whole way but rather to spend time in the beautiful places and breeze through the bad. Since I rode all the way from Oregon to Virginia (3600 miles) without getting a ride I guess I didn't follow my own rule, but hey, there is no time like the present. At first the old boy told me he was headed the other way but he agreed to take me up to the top of the hill. As we drove about 8 or 10 miles I couldn't have been any happier. Two lanes in either direction with no shoulder at all was the road I would have been riding on, no fun at all, and then we hit the hill. What he drove me up in 10 or 15 minutes would have taken over an hour on the bike and today I just didn't have the legs. At the summit we bid each other a sincere farewell and each headed down the mountain, in opposite directions. About 10 miles later I pulled into Meadowville for lunch.
When the trip began we all rode with shorts over our spandex cycling trunks but as the weather grew warmer and the hills became steeper we were all soon riding in our skin tight black trousers. Usually though, upon entering stores or small towns we would once again don our shorts to better blend. Towards the end of the trip I really could care less about such things and today was no exception as I walked into the small café with complete confidence. I expect to dine alone in such situations, as was doing so, but today a local by the name of Otis chatted with me and for that meal it was nice not to be the weird cyclist. After lunch only 15 miles remained between myself and Damascus, luckily with no major hills. Very soon I was in the town that had literally been reborn due to the popularity of the Appalachian Trail.
A large sign said bikes so I pulled into the shop. In an hour I was being driven to Abingdon, Virginia where I am now and will catch a bus to Nashville. In that hour I showered and packed my bike and much of my belongings into a box. At 8:00 pm I will board a Greyhound bus and by 2:00 am Nashville will be mine.
Casey sans bicycle in Abingdon, Virginia. The ride is over, now it is time to go home.
Time is what I need to reflect on my 51 days of cycling across the America but I need no time to come to the following: whatever I do or wherever I go for the rest of my life may it be with you.
Day 51 Continued and Day 52: Damascus to Abingdon to Knoxville to Nashville to Phoenix to Ontario to Oakland
Sitting at the Abingdon Greyhound station I felt like an elitist knowing that soon I would be on an airplane while everyone else would be stuck on a bus. To my right sat a young, heavy and small white woman who immediately brought the poor white trash meme into my mind. Although I don't like judging people this way my initial assessment appears to have been accurate as she went on to tell a completely unknown family how she was going back to Michigan to take custody of her young daughter from an abusive husband.
Earlier in the day I had spent several hours in an Abingdon bookstore and purchased "A Walk Across America" by Peter Jenkins. His story so mesmerized me that I was able to block out the woman and her troubles and relate what I had been through to his epic journey that began before I was born. For reentry into civilized life this was exactly the wisdom I needed and indeed what I sought on my trip. Countless times throughout the book (I finished it before Ontario), so powerfully was I affected that tears came to my eyes and I was forced to put the book down so as not to make a scene. As with the "Zen" book, I wish Peter's experiences and self realizations could have been imparted to me before the trip.
My most memorable moments of the trip have been the unexpected things that happen, case in point… In Knoxville our bus received a new driver and although it was past midnight he addressed all of us over the PA before starting. As I was reading my book very little attention was paid to this man until his, shall we say sermon. And I quote, "with all my faith in our savior Jesus Christ I know I will get you to your destination safely", preached the man. But what really made me smile was that 80% of the occupants of that bus, most half asleep, all piped up with a hearty "Amen!"
Six hours later and within one minute of getting off of the bus I was in a cab speeding to the airport. Around 3:00 am I had my spot setup on the airport carpet and closed my eyes. By 6:30 am life had once again permeated the structure so I slumbered over to the Southwest counter and bought a ticket to Oakland. By 8:00 am I was on the plane and in 45 minutes the plane will land in the same city. 51 days were required to bike from Oregon to Virginia but less than 24 hours were needed to get me home.
It's good to be back home with Mom, Max and a cake.
- 51 Total Days
- 3,678 Total Miles
- 72 Average Miles per Day
- 149 Maximum Miles in One Day (Day 48)
Day / Date / Miles / Sum / Where We Slept
0 / 5-Jun / 0 / 0 / Eugene (Keith's apartment)
1 / 6-Jun / 70 / 70 / McKenzie Bridge Campground
2 / 7-Jun / 60 / 130 / Sisters (RV park)
3 / 8-Jun / 90 / 220 / Mitchell (city park)
4 / 9-Jun / 68 / 288 / Mt. Vernon (tepee at RV park)
5 /10-Jun / 20 / 308 / Prairie City (city park)
6 / 11-Jun / 70 / 378 / Baker City (RV park)
7 / 12-Jun / 93 / 471 / Brownlee Dam Campground
8 / 13-Jun / 60 / 531 / Evergreen Campground
9 / 14-Jun / 50 / 581 / Riggins (beside river outside town)
10 / 15-Jun / 0 / 581 / Riggins (RV park in town)
11 / 16-Jun / 74 / 655 / Kooskia (city park)
12 / 17-Jun / 53 / 708 / Wilderness Gateway Campground
13 /18-Jun / 77 / 785 / Lewis and Clark Campground
14 / 19-Jun / 66 / 851 / Hamilton (RV park)
15 / 20-Jun / 56 / 907 / May Creek Campground
16 / 21-Jun / 38 / 945 / Jackson (Jackson Hot Spring Lodge)
17 / 22-Jun / 84 / 1029 / Twin Bridges (RV park)
18 / 23-Jun / 82 / 1111 / Log cabin lodge 39 miles from Yellowstone
19 / 24-Jun / 55 / 1166 / Madison Campground in Yellowstone
20 / 25-Jun / 44 / 1210 / Grant Village Campground in Yellowstone
21 / 26-Jun / 87 / 1297 / Falls Campground
22 / 27-Jun / 104 / 1401 / Lander (city park)
23 / 28-Jun / 0 / 1401 / Lander (city park)
24 / 29-Jun / 134 / 1535 / Rawlings (Presidents RV Park)
25 / 30-Jun / 67 / 1602 / Riverside (encampment)
26 / 1-Jul / 52 / 1654 / Walden (city park)
27 / 2-Jul / 64 / 1718 / Kremmling (behind fire station)
28 / 3-Jul / 43 / 1761 / Frisco (stealth camping near bike path)
29 / 4-Jul / 18 / 1779 / Hoosier Pass (at the top, off of the road)
30 / 5-Jul / 94 / 1873 / Canon City (RV park)
31 / 6-Jul / 82 //1955 / Fowler (RV park)
32 / 7-Jul / 84 / 2039 / Eads (city park near grain silos)
33 / 8-Jul / 105 / 2144 / Scott City (Athletic Club Hostel)
34 / 9-Jul / 60 / 2204 / Ness City (city park)
35 / 10-Jul / 70 / 2274 / Great Bend (school prior to night ride)
36 / 11-Jul / 101 / 2375 / Newton (city park)
37 / 12-Jul / 60 / 2435 / Augusta (stealth camping in city park)
38 / 13-Jul / 100 / 2535 / Chanute (Lawn of Katy Lopeman)
39 / 14-Jul / 98 / 2633 / Golden City (Hostel)
40 / 15-Jul / 38 / 2671 / Ash Grove (city park)
41 / 16-Jul / 55 / 2726 / Marshfield (city park)
42 / 17-Jul / 86 / 2812 / Licking (rest stop next to corn field)
43 / 18-Jul / 91 / 2903 / Pilot Knob (RV park)
44 / 19-Jul / 78 / 2981 / Chester (city park)
45 / 20-Jul / 87 / 3068 / Harrisburg (Lions Club lawn)
46 / 21-Jul / 52 / 3120 / Marion (city park)
47 / 22-Jul / 116 / 3236 / Rough River Dam State Park
48 / 23-Jul / 149 / 3385 / Berea (RV park)
49 / 24-Jul / 85 / 3470 / Buckhorn State Park
50 / 25-Jul / 122 / 3592 / Breaks Interstate Park
51 / 26-Jul / 86 / 3678 / Nashville Airport (from Damascus by bus)
For several years after I finished the ride I would often tell people that I was glad that I rode across the country but would not recommend that other people do the same. However, my stance has changed with time and my position has shifted as follows. If you have the choice between a bike ride across the country and a summer at home, by all means, you must go. If people whom you already know, like and respect invite you on said trip the choice should be that much easier, as it was in my case.
However, if you are fortunate enough to have the choice between a summer ride from the Atlantic to the Pacific and an adventure such as exploring Europe the decision isn't nearly as easy. Although I love riding, I'm afraid I would take the European trip 9 times out of 10. Perhaps the reason has more to do with the bicycle than the destinations. Although on the bike you are the master of your own locomotion, at the same time you become a slave not only to the bike but to the roads. You may travel by your own power across the country but you will never leave the roads and are thus never free from the automobile. Indeed, except for a few miles on a bike path in Colorado one could drive the entire Transcontinental bike route. I might even argue that a driver would see much more of the country than the rider since the former has the luxury of making day trips from the route, something not really feasible on two wheels. Yes, you can lock up your bike but what about your gear? Until someone develops a backpack that can double as a pannier you will have problems.
If you still want to go, and I hope you do (provided you meet the criteria above), all you need to know can be summed up in the few questions/answers below.
What do I need to bring?
As little as possible, seriously. Remember that you will be on a road with cars going by all the time so help is close at hand. If you find you need something, buy it during the trip. I had one set of clothes to ride in (synthetic) and one set to change into at the end of the day (cotton). For camping you will want a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, and pot. That was essentially it. Of course I'm not going to list things like my toothbrush, sunscreen, etc.
How much will it cost?
Almost nothing, really. If you camp and stay in city parks, as we did on our trip, lodging will almost never be more than $6 per night. Cooking your own food also keeps the cost way down. But don't skimp on everything; if you are in Riggins, Idaho go whitewater rafting and to celebrate leaving Kansas spend the night in the air-conditioned hostel in Golden City, Missouri. My biggest expense was airfare home.
Should I train for the ride?
We didn't and if memory serves, neither did the Virginia or New York Girls. But, you will also recall that we suffered early on in the ride. I'm sure that training would have helped, but if you don't have time to train, don't use this as an excuse not to undertake the adventure. It probably didn't help matters that on the second day of the trip I rode ahead of the group, and unknown to me at the time, to a pass through the Cascades where I waited in light snow for the group.
How do I know where to go?
The questions keep getting easier and easier; buy maps from an organization such as Adventure Cycling. In addition to the route we chose, they have other cross country routes and different tours such as Canada to Mexico down the Pacific Coast Highway.
Which direction should I ride?
Follow the example of Virginia and New York girls here and ride toward your home. Imagine the immense satisfaction you must feel upon riding into your driveway after cycling for two months and several thousand miles. We didn't because it was simply to easy to throw our bikes on top of the Green Tortoise bus and start the trip that way.
What kind of bike should I ride?
Although I had never owned a road bike I bought one for this trip and it served me well. I did have to replace the rear tire and rear wheel but that was my own fault. Kevin brought his several year old mountain bike and Ned brought his very old mountain bike. Ned's horse, the oldest of the group had the least amount of problems. It doesn't really matter what kind of bike you ride, so long as you are comfortable on it. On our trip, older riders tended towards road bikes and younger riders had mountain bikes, quite often with front suspension. I must admit being quite envious whenever I saw someone with triathlon bars.
Should I get an anatomically correct seat?
Ned made the switch to a Specialized seat with a V-shaped notch pretty early on in the ride while Kevin and I stuck with our conventional seats. However, I now own two mountain bikes and both are equipped with Terry saddles featuring holes in the middle and I love them. So I say yes, get the fancy saddle.
How should I carry my gear?
Human nature being what it is, we tend to fill up bags. Thus, starting out on this little trek, Kevin's bag and its contents weighed more than all of my gear, including my bike! Add in the weight of Kevin's bike and his Bob trailer and you will see that he rolled along with well over 100 pounds of stuff. Of course Kevin has superhuman strength so it didn't matter. My point is you can very easily fit all of your gear in two rear panniers and a handlebar bag using the space on top of your rear rack for something like your tent or sleeping bag. This philosophy worked for me, the Virginia girls and countless others that we met on the trip. Indeed, while discussing the topic during the ride Ned and Kevin came to the same conclusion.
How will I fix my bike when it breaks?
Changing tires, fixing flat tubes and lubricating moving parts is the extent to which I work on my bike, now and during the trip. So, as you might guess, I think it is sufficient to bring a bike in good working order along with spare tubes, patches, a good pump, tire irons and a mini tool. OK, go ahead and throw in a spare tire! You may also want to wrap about 10 feet of duct tape around a tube on your frame for the unexpected. Even if I was an expert bike mechanic I would not bring a slew of tools and spare parts since much of the experience is dealing with the unexpected with things go wrong. If you take the self sufficient philosophy too far you could ride across the states and not meet anyone. For us, that would mean that on day 41 Don wouldn't have come into our lives; that he did was one of the highlights of the trip.
Should I ride the whole way or skip certain areas?
Let's be very clear, a good portion of a cross country bike ride is through mediocre terrain. Adventure Cycling has done a great job coming up with the route outlined in their maps but when you are covering over 3,000 miles it all can't be spectacular. However, skipping areas seems to be equivalent to opening Pandora's Box since you will always be able to come up with a million reasons why it's OK to get a ride to the next town or state. And if you do it once, it will be all the much easier to justify it the next time. I say start with the steadfast intention of completing your entire route. The more that I hated certain areas and suffered through them the more I cherish those memories as time passes!
Say, let's not forget about my companions! Kevin and Ned went on to finish the ride with the Virginia girls, dismounting for the last time "in" the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial. And now, almost 5 years later this story is done, and I'm going for a ride in the hills.
Casey Bowden, 27 March 2004, Berkeley, California