Friday, June 29, 2012

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Missouri any more

Speaking of Toto, this song has been playing in my head for several days-

Today, I rode out of Missouri and into the great state of Kansas.  Right now I am in Pittsburgh, KS while Tailwind Cyclists takes a look at my bottom bracket and does some other maintenance on the bike.  The bottom bracket started making a knocking sound a couple of days ago so I thought it best to get it checked out before heading on further.  Considering that I have put about 7,000 miles on the bike so far, it's money well spent.  That brings up another thing: crossing into Kansas brings me to the 2k mark for this trip.  I guess I am roughly 2/5ths the way to the Seattle area?  I dunno.  I just take it a day or two at a time.  Any more than that and you can get overwhelmed.

Missouri lacks the wickedly long and steep climbs of eastern Kentucky, but it makes up for it with lots and lots of shorter hills.  Lots.  While I could at least settle into a solid rhythm in western Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri offered no such respite.  One minute you're cranking uphill in your smallest gear and the next you're flying down in your largest.  Over and over.  I also realized that 5 miles west of Eminence, MO is where eastbound cyclists on the TransAmerica get the first taste of "eastern" hills.  I ran into a couple travelling east and they mentioned that there was a climb they had just come up that was steeper than anything they had encountered in the past 3,000 miles (that includes the Rockies).  This meant that a) they were in for more steep climbing and b) I was in for apparently a lot less.

The other thing about Missouri is that it has been hot.  That's an understatement.  IT HAS BEEN HOT.  Yeah, that's better.  It's been getting over 100 degrees for the past couple of days.  It's going to get hotter I think.  Yesterday I drank two gallons of water.  At least.  A bottle of ice water is warm soup within about 10 minutes.  When you ride over tarred roads, the hot tar cracks and pops like a bowl of Rice Krispies.  You know the little heat wave images they like to use in the movies?  Yeah, those are real.  Everyone that you encounter thinks you're a complete idiot.  I started listening to a small FM radio to supplement the extremely straight and flat roads that I am travelling.  Every ten minutes the announcers remind us that there is an EXTREME HEAT ADVISORY!

All in all, the heat hasn't been that bad actually (knock on wood).  Other than my water tasting like hot tea, I've been getting along alright.  The one thing that is bumming me out a little bit are the headwinds that I have already been encountering as the land flattens out.  But you'll have that.  Just turn up the volume on the country music, devoid your mind of negativity and keep the pedals spinning for a few more hours.  It's just another day in paradise!

Perfect.  Ellington, MO
The uniformed see a pile of old napkins.  The cognoscenti sees toilet paper.  Always keeps some handy when you're travelling.  You can also save the billion napkins that they force on you when you get takeout food and use them at home.  Environmentally friendly and thrifty.
I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be watching for wild horses or horses with riders.  Either way, I kept a lookout.
Laurel and Jameson saw my bike parked outside of a diner and came in to join me for lunch.  They are headed east on the TransAmerica.  Jameson was really, really bummed because the diner stopped serving breakfast 10 minutes prior and he had his heart set on pancakes.  Eminence, MO
Did I miss a turn somewhere?  I actually ended up in Houston, MO (the birthplace of Sam Houston of Texas fame) that night.  Yukon, MO
No, I didn't wander into an abstract art gallery.  These are the sweat /salt patterns on my bike shorts.  Eww. .. gross.
Finally up on the Ozark plateau.  Only a few more hills to encounter before the Plains.
The rolling roads can look cool, but sometimes they just get frustrating.  These were okay.
Ozark high country.  I kept expecting Clint Eastwood to appear over the horizon to offer me a cigarillo.
I am now persona non grata in Marshfield, MO.  Their county fairgrounds were pretty nice accommodations though.
The words "Breakfast served all day" have to be the best in the English language.  Marshfield, MO
I easily could have eaten double this.  I still got pie.  And ice cream.
I may need to double check my arithmetic but... yep, no water.  I did not see a single cloud in Missouri.  I am in no way exaggerating that fact.  None.
I was fairly sure that this was the last climb of any significance left in Missouri.  It was.  Flat roads to the Rockies!
I biked about 85 miles in 104 degree heat to Golden City, MO.  Golden City is one of the absolute nicest towns in the US that I have come across.  At the suggestion of a pedestrian, I went into Cooky's Cafe.  It was packed.  I mean every seat at every table packed.  I kept walking to the back corner until I found a 6 top with only an older couple sitting there.  I asked if I could join them and they readily agreed.  Charlie and Lila of Carthage, MO had actually seen me toiling out on the highway and were pleased to get to talk to me about my trip.  At the end, they not only bought my entire dinner, but also gave me $20.  Apparently I looked worse than I thought.  The strawberry rhubarb pie was to die for.  The next day I ran into an Aussie headed toward Golden City and I told him he had to go to Cooky's for pie.  It didn't take much convincing.
My first self portrait of the trip as I entered Kansas.  You can decide how successful it was.  It also looks like I need to eat more pie.  Those trees/shrubs in the background are probably the last for about 500 miles.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yes. Rest.

When all that you need to do is sit on a bicycle and pedal 50-100 miles each day, it is easy to forget what day of the week or month it is.  A couple of days ago I actually checked the date and realized that I had been riding nearly three weeks straight since I left Washington D.C.  During my planning and riding, I knew that at some point I would want to take a rest day here and there, but when?  It's hard to plan because you don't want to spend a day off in the middle of nowhere nor do you want to pay multiple nights for a motel or something to make it luxurious.  When I arrived in Farmington, MO though, I knew that I had found my spot.

In Booneville, KY a cyclist named Patrick had mentioned that he spent a night at "Al's Place" and that it was pretty sweet.  I hadn't remembered what town it was in, but when I saw it listed as an option for Farmington, I had to check it out.  Al's Place is a bicyclist hostel run by the community of Farmington in the town's old historic jail.  You call the local police and they provide the code to the keypad on the front door and voila you are in.  It was stepping into sweet bliss.  The place is air conditioned and there are ceiling fans (it's getting into the 100s these days).  There're couches and a TV, kitchenette, multiple bunks with linens, showers and laundry facilities.  I met Greg, the guy who maintains the hostel, and he encouraged me to stay multiple nights in order to get a rest day in.  Overall, the place looks like a really nice apartment.  And all at a low, low cost of a $20 donation per night.

First I slept in until the late hour of 7:30 am.  When you're waking up at 5:30 or 6 everyday, this accordingly feels like bliss.  Then I sat around and drank coffee and read magazines.  My bike needed a little TLC so I took off my chain, cleaned it, and lubed some parts.  When it got to lunch time, I rode around aimlessly until I located a Mexican restaurant to satiate me.  Afterwards, I went to the movie theatre to see Rock of Ages which will henceforth be known to me as the greatest movie ever.  All you need to know is that it is a musical and all of the music is 80's hairband hits.  Recipe for awesome.  Upon returning to the hostel, I found that I fortunately had some company to liven up the place tonight.  Pete and Ian from the U.K. are riding east to finish up a ride that they have been on since last September and eventually (and possibly unwillingly) find some jobs.  Now I am looking forward to taking another shower, washing my stanky shorts, eating far too much food and talking with them about the riding.

In riding 120 hilly miles through Illinois, this is the only such sign that I saw.  Still, it is more notice than I got in the several other hilly states I've ridden through.
This was the last thing that I want to see along my route.  I tried going on anyway.  It turns out the road was indeed closed and where the construction crews were digging big holes in the road, no car could pass.  But a bike can easily be wheeled around them...
There are quite a few statues of Popeye around Chester, IL.  I don't know what else to note about the town.
The bridge over the Mississippi River taking me to Missouri.  Fortunately, no coal or sand trucks caught me in the middle of the narrow bridge.  Just at the narrow offramp.  Twice.
At Al's Place you can find real mattresses!  With real linens!  Farmington, MO
The digital TV and faux leather couches make plenty of people feel at home.  They make me feel like I'm in someone's much nicer home.
Racing jerseys and memorabilia decorate the walls
Coffee.  It's a beautiful thing.
Did I mention that they have a complete separate and locked bike room with a workstand?  The Surly receives some attention.
My friend Jeff Carlson tipped me off about the ease of cleaning your chain with a 2 liter soda bottle , some dish detergent/degreaser, and hot water.  This is a great method when you're travelling.  Just don't use boiling water cause you can start to melt the bottle as I did.  Then just cap the bottle and shake the heck out of it.
State College, PA has finally been represented on their map.
Sorting out the maps and such that I'm done with and will send home at some point.  Every ounce counts.  You can carry more cat food then.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I bid farewell to ol' Kentucky

To anyone who doesn't know what my title is in reference to (beyond the fact that I am no longer in Kentucky), here you go-

I think that at last update, I was in eastern Kentucky still getting chased by dogs and coal trucks.  Yep, I think I had another day or two of that, but it eventually passed.  I'd say the change in landscape really took place after say, Booneville, KY.  I also had an exceptional evening in Berea, KY which set the new stage.  Mike Zehr had told me earlier that his cousin Ginny and her husband, John, lived in Berea and might be willing to host me for an evening.  Once in their area, I contacted Ginny and John and they were absolutely delighted to have me over!  When I first arrived, Ginny admitted that she "wasn't too sure what cyclists want or need" and then began ply me with several cups of ice cold lemonade.  And then show me to a shower and washer/dryer.  And then John and Ginny made a delicious dinner.  And then we sat around a campfire and ate s'mores.  And she showed me to a guest room with a real bed!  Ginny and John- trust me, you two know EXACTLY what a travelling cyclist loves!  We also had the opportunity to discuss coon dogs which John breeds and look over the remainder of my route as they know some folks in Kansas and Idaho.  I couldn't have asked for a nicer evening or for two nicer people to spend it with.  And keep in mind, that I was a complete stranger to them before I rolled up!

(Mike-  John and Ginny live less than 1/2 mile from the TransAmerica route.  They made me promise that you and I would spend the night again when we ride the route next year.)

Once I departed Berea, the land started flattening out.  Not pancake flat yet, but compared to the steep thousand foot climbs with narrow twisty roads that I had just done it felt like Kansas already.  I was able to start riding for long stretches in my drops and in the big ring.  (The "drops" are the lower part of bullhorn type handlebars that let you get lower and more aerodynamic.  The "big ring" is the biggest gear in front which is next to impossible to use when going uphill but on long flat sections you can use it to go fairly fast.)  I couldn't help but think that my friend Jeef would love this riding right now because I think it's his favorite.  Just tuck into a ball and pedal at 12-15 mph for an hour or so.  The only downside to it getting flatter is that the wind picks up and so far it has been blowing against me.  Again, I found myself wishing that someone such as Jeef was riding with me.  With multiple people, you can take turns pedaling in front while others draft behind you, just like geese fly in formation and switch out in front over time.  Accordingly, I put in three days in a row that registered 92 miles, 103 miles and 82 miles.  Now that I am in Illinois, it seems to have gotten a little hillier.  Once I get into Missouri (I think by tomorrow actually) it will get steeper again through the Ozarks.

If you look closely, you can see my welcoming party already out on the road ahead.  Hindman, KY
C'mon, really?  All you had to do was switch them.  Dwarf, KY
Patrick, a Brit heading East, outside Mel's Diner  where we had breakfast and discussed America.  His site can be found here.  Booneville, KY
Ginny and John Veeder, my two new friends and bicycle host extraordinaires!  Berea, KY
Lunch break: time set aside for the transmis(s)ion of food to my mouth
This Kodak moment was made possible by Lucien B. Smith, the inventor of barbed wire.
Sorry Ieva.  Still no more sheep sightings.  Maybe these burros/donkeys will temporarily appease you?
On a hot day when I was riding 90 miles, I started having a conversation with an imaginary cyclist about where we should eat tonight.  We both agreed that we should go to "the Mexican restaurant".  Alas, I knew that there would be no Mexican places to be found in central Kentucky.  Then, in Hogdenville, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, I struck paydirt.
There is a gas station at some unnamed crossroads whose policy is to give all cyclists a free freezie pop.  This is the best policy I have ever heard of.
So you're telling me that I can stay in your air conditioned fire department, alone and unsupervised and use a shower, laundry, mattress and kitchen?  Yes, that's what they told me.  Utica, KY
I was trying to capture all of the different horizontal layers that I was looking at while sitting on the side of the road.  I wish my brother Greg, a photographer, was along to take some photos sometimes where I just don't think I got what I was looking at.
These roads were make for truckin' and that's just what they'll do.  One of these days  I'm gonna go Long Haul Truckin' over you.
Alex, another eastbound Brit, who gave me some extra water when I miscalculated how much I would need.  Now I try to carry about one liter per ten miles of riding.  Sounds like too much?  Go ride a 100lb bicycle in 95+ degree heat for a while.  His site can be found here.
Just crossing the Ohio River by ferry to Cave In Rock, IL.
I bet Jesus could still oust Mitt Romney for the nomination if he threw his hat in the ring.  Provided he's Republican.  I'm really not sure.
Dessert connoisseurs will recognize this as "a piece of cherry a la mode".  At Delaney's, all cyclists get free dessert.  Another exceptional policy.  Goreville, IL 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

When worlds collide

As I rounded the corner on my bicycle, the only thing that I could see was the dog.  A heavy set black Labrador standing poised for action with a slight bend in it's back.  The hairs stood up on the back of the dog's neck and a slight growl was audible.  "No!" I stated loudly as I ratcheted my gears in order to begin a speedy takeoff with the hopes of outrunning the beast.  It was at that moment I noticed the man sitting in a chair underneath the tree, chuckling to himself while saying something to calm the dog.  Sheepishly, I stopped my bike and said hello to him.

"She don't quite like bicycles." he said.  "She don't like cars much neither."  The dog continued to utter a low growl towards me and I checked to make sure that I was on pavement and not actually in the dog's yard.  The man commented on how hot of a day that it was and asked if I wanted a pop or some Gatorade.  I politely decline since the dog was still making me a bit uneasy and what I really wanted was to get away from it.  But then as the man and I began to converse, she calmed down and trotted up to the stoop of the house to lay down in the shade, content that I was not a threat.
Old Case knife found on the side of a Kentucky road
Only when the man got up and shuffled over to me with the assistance of a cane did I realize that he was quite old.  As he got closer, I saw a man who had weathered many years and much hard labor.  He extended his hand in greeting and his strong grip belied his years and reflected the farming culture surrounding us.  His arm was blotted and discolored from hours out in the sun.  Likewise his right ear seemed to suffer from additional sun induced decay.  But his eyes were piercing and his voice still strong and authoritative.  I introduced myself and he countered with "M'name's Riley B_.  M'name's Riley B_." repeating himself not out of confusion but to ensure that I remembered it.

He commented on how dry it had been which prompted me to ask if he was a farmer and the surrounding land his fields.  "Yep.  This is all my property.  Bought it when I got married 63 years ago.  Been farming it for 63 years.  Slowing down now.  It's about time that I turn it over to my sons."  His three sons and other extended family members all live on adjacent properties.  This was reinforced by the driver of every car smiling and waving to him with genuine care and familiarity as they passed.  Despite the passing cars, Riley had some business to attend to.  "Doc gave me a water pill to take so's I got to make some water.  'Scuse me."  With that he half turned and urinated on the side of the road.  When the majority of the neighbors are your immediate family, I realized that it indeed didn't matter.

As I described my life and my previous jobs and the trip I was undertaking, Riley looked longingly at my bike.  "I don't know what a vacation is.  I ain't never taken one.  Just worked every day for 63 years."  He said this without a trace of bitterness or accusation in his voice.  "I wish that I could hop on a bicycle and follow along with ya.  I ain't never been out West."  He proceeded to name the handful of surrounding states that he had visited while of course driving a truck for farm work.  "I can't drive much no more.  Can't see the road signs 'til they're next to me.  My two docs don't want me to drive no more.  But I can't bike with ya neither cause of my health."  He proceeded to list several ailments including bypass surgery and multiple hernias that he had endured.

He offered again with the pop or Gatorade so I took him up on it.  Riley walked off and returned with a Diet Coke, realizing a bit of the humor in handing such a skinny man something diet.  He described some of the remaining hills in Jackson County, Kentucky and reminded me to keep an eye on my belongings.  There were also wishes of good luck and safety.  "Now if you come back through here, y'all stop by and see me again" he said.  I assured him that I would.  Riley returned to his chair and watched me ride off with a smile on his face.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

From cows to coal

Since y'all last heard from me (oh yeah, I started using "y'all" in most of my speech now) I cycled through the Shenandoah Valley west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and over into Kentucky.  My last full day in Virginia started in the Appalachian Trail town of Damascus.  At long last, I found some of the climbs that everyone complains about!  They weren't as tall as the Blue Ridge, but they were far steeper.  Once you get done with one, you zip down the backside only to start another one.  My first day so far in Kentucky was much similar, with several steep climbs that found me dripping with sweat and teetering upwards at less than 4 mph pace for thirty or forty minutes at a time.

The other change that is apparent is that once you leave Damascus, you leave the farm country of Virginia.  Then you enter coal country.  Many steep narrow roads twisting through hollows and valleys.  Big (think normal dump truck plus 30%) coal trucks come whizzing by all of the time.  Scruffy dogs waiting around the corner to chase you.  Errant chunks of coal litter the shoulders of roads.  Communities are decidedly poorer.  But after all of that, it is still beautiful.  Folks are still incredibly polite.  In gas stations and restaurants, folks ask you where you're headed, give you warnings about specific mountains and weather, and wish you a safe journey.  A similar establishment in central Pennsylvania would probably garner you a dirty look at best and a "get the f*_k off the road" at worst.  So far I have been able to shout at dogs and keep them at bay.  See Brendan Leonard's technique at on how to deal with them.  Thus far, the 25+ coal trucks that passed me today were relatively courteous.  And in another day or two, the wicked climbing will ease off a little bit.  So that's good.

I stopped at a produce store in Wytheville, VA and went nuts.  The group of bags on the left yielded  a five pound bag of delicious trail mix.  Apparently weight wasn't my first concern.
Free luxury accommodations in Wytheville.  They even unlocked the bathrooms!
I don't know why, but I like older rusted trucks.
Climbing in the forest around Mount Rogers 
I was able to get off of the road for ten miles into Damascus on the Virginia Creeper Trail.  Looks like I was the only creeper on the trail that day.
All roads, paths and trails lead to Damascus, VA.
Rules for "The Place"- a hiker/biker hostel in Damascus
Spartan but adequate and affordable accommodations at "The Place"
Foggy departure from Damascus.  Yeah, it's a rough life.
I call this piece "Bovine Mist"
For every long climb there is a resulting beautiful descent.
A box for trash.  Obviously.  
Somehow I succeeded in mixing couscous, dried veggies, textured vegetable protein, Tabasco, and garlic salt into something edible.
Breaks Interstate Park.  The "Grand Canyon of the East"
Where's the top to that mountain?  Oh yeah, they went ahead and removed it.  Kentucky coal country.
Pushing bikes up the driveway to the biker hostel in Hindman, KY.  It looks flat.  My cleated shoes  were sliding backwards because of how ridiculously steep it was.
My reward for pushing my bike up the driveway.
Henk and Marja from the Netherlands relaxing at the hostel.  We've ridden together a couple of times so far on the trip.