Days 41 & 42 - The End

Waking up in Afton, I immediately began thinking about the previous day's off route activities, and how they compared to the other times I had diverged from the prescribed route.  When I cycled through Danville, KY (off route) I got to see a fantastic city that a good portion of cyclists doing this trail miss.  On the other hand, yesterday's ride was quite the mess.  I decided that a) I wanted to see Richmond, VA, b) that without an old trout giving me bad advice I would be fine, and c) that I was fully capable of planning my own off routing.

Thus my ride along highway 250 into Richmond.  Actually a fantastic ride for 80% of the way from Afton, really until you got close to Richmond itself and the traffic picked up.  With a more detailed map, I'm sure that I could have taken smaller roads to get into town and had a more enjoyable ride. 

I spent the night in Richmond, and really enjoyed biking through the downtown area.  It certainly seemed like a city that I would enjoy returning to when I am not a grimy gremlin.  I left on Day 42 knowing that it would be my last day.  The weather was perfect. 

I passed through Williamsburg, about 20km from my final destination, and decided to make one last pit stop for food.  Outside a dairy bar in town, I happened to run into John from Britain, who also started from San Francisco, near the time when I did!  We ate lunch together, and biked the last hour to Yorktown, VA together.  Good thing too, as I now had someone to photographically document my arrival!

Yorktown does bear some symbolic significance, despite not technically being on the Atlantic Coast.  It was there that American and French troops accepted the surrender of British forces during their fight for independence.  A statute was erected in honor of this event.  It was at this statute, the Victory Monument, where the maps that had so faithfully guided me across the US ended.  I certainly didn't liberate a country over the past 42 days, but fought my own battles, and was glad to end the journey here. 

 

Victory.

Victory.

The plan now is short.  Rent a car, visit my sister in Princeton, NJ, then drive to Buffalo, NY.  From there I would enter Canada on my bike, and take a 2 day victory lap from Buffalo to Toronto, stopping with some old friends in St Catharines, ON along the way.  Then rest.  Lots of that.

Day 40 - Inside Jokes

The old man trickster I met in Troutville was a cyclist.  His local knowledge and vehement recommendation carried a lot of weight with me, and I was persuaded to change the route I proposed to take on Day 40.  The route suggested by my maps involved biking along relatively flat ground through Lexington, VA, before making a very steep ascent to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a winding road following the top of the old Appalachian mountains.

The Troutville Loki urged me to take an alternate route with such passion that I resolved, mouth stuffed with chili dog, to follow his advice.  I was to take highway 43 south, then follow the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway up the stretch of the Appalachians that I was to follow.  I was told that the grades would be less significant, and that the scenery would be much more impressive. 

The morning of Day 40 began, as many before, with PopTarts and a banana.  Hardly fuel.  I hadn't considered that by altering my route, I would be leaving the planned service stations that I had been counting on for more/better food.  A rookie error, especially so far into my journey. 

As I began the gradual climb up the Blue Ridge Parkway, a fog began to settle in.  On go the blinking lights, and onwards I pressed.  So much for the scenic overlooks I was promised. 

The fog thickened, and rain began to fall.  The temperature began to drop, and the climbs continued.  I pressed on, taking solace in the elevation markers by the side of the road, telling me that I had almost reached 3000ft, what I had expected to be the peak of my climbing (according to my original route).  This comfort was dashed as I began to descend, far earlier than I anticipated.  Then another 2000ft ascent.  Rain, more fog, down a mountain, and up a mountain. 

I began to curse the old man from Troutville.  I wasn't even able to enjoy the views he had promised.  Skipping ahead to the early afternoon, I finally reached the point where my original route met the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Conveniently, there was a park ranger station with a place to refill my waterbottles.   

I spoke with a park ranger there, who, after hearing about the detour I took, informed me that I had taken a much harder route (I had surmised as much myself) and that the Troutville man may have been trying to see if I had the cohones to make the arduous ascent.  He proposed another route, which he claimed would make up for the difficulties I faced earlier in the day.  As tired as I was, and as eager I was to make my camping destination, I followed his advice as well.  Fool me twice. 

The ranger and the old trout from Troutville must have been in it together.  I descended from the ranger station on hwy 56, then took hwy 151 towards my intended destination.  All good so far, until the miles began to pile up. 

Still soaked, I reach the small town of Afton.  I had put in over 200 kms.  The wheels on my bike had been spinning for over 10 hours.  Conservatively, I climbed over 8,000 feet, though I suspect that it was much more.  The morning's rain had soaked through my shoes, and had damaged my Canadian phone, making that the second phone that had been subject to water damage on this trip (it still hasn't recovered, several days later). 

However, a silver lining.  I reached the Cookie Lady's house in Afton, VA.  The Cookie Lady had been hosting cyclists since the 1970s, until she passed away in 2012.  The same basement that an army of spandex clad individuals such as myself had passed through was still made available, though no warm cookies awaited me. 

Instead, the 3 other cyclists who happened to have been spending the night there on their travel westbound left spaghetti.  I threw in the rest of my food (some Ramen and freeze-dried chicken flavored linguini) and made a meal out of it.   

The Cookie Lady's basement was plastered with cycling artefacts and postcards.  However, time was beginning to show underneath the decorations.  The walls were beginning to crack, and there was obvious water damage on many of the floors.  It seems to me as though this bicycle haven will not have very many years left before it becomes inhospitable.  It would take some benefactor and a good amount of elbow grease in order to rehabilitate it.  Still, the floor I slept on was level, and I was glad to change into dry clothes.  Another day down. 

Day 38 (continued) & 39 - Picnic Table Beds

In Wytheville I was alone in the city park.  It was quite nice there and was complete with pavillions, gazebos, and washrooms (hallelujah).  Given the generous accommodations, I felt no need to set up my tent.  Instead, I spread out my tarp, bedroll, and sleeping bag on top of a picnic table.  Magico Presto, instant imaginary 4 poster bed.  I had attempted this set-up before, but really perfected it this time around.  A little of bug spray around the ears, a flashlight near the ready, and a folded blanket as a pillow under my head turned the 3-star Wytheville to a 4-star resort.

24 hours later I stayed in a sister-hotel in Troutville, VA (that is, I slept on another picnic table under a different pavillion).  Being an early riser, I had set up my little hotel room just barely after the sun set.  There were a couple other bikers, and several Appalachian Trail hikers staying in the park as well.  I wasn't surprised when I woke up in the morning to all but one of them having foregone the tent option in favor of my 4-star sleeping arrangement.  They all earned double Hotel Alex points for jumping on board so soon.  3 more nights before you get a free night's stay! 

Upon arriving in Troutville, I was treated to a hot shower and use of the laundry facilities at the volunteer fire station.  By all accounts, many of these fire stations along the route are extremely hospitable and allow cyclists use of their facilities, and sometimes permit them to spend the night inside.  After cleaning off the day's ride, another treat!  The local church group was holding a BBQ, and offered me free chili dogs!  I had several.

I must have spent all of my good karma, because I proceeded to meet an older gentleman who ruined day 40.  A trickster, he was - a Loki, a scoundrel, a menace!  An explanation to come on my next post. 

Days 37 & 38 - New State Days

I have reached Virginia!  The final state in my little adventure.  I put in quite the day to reach the state line and the Breaks Interstate Park, but it was quite worth it.  The hills were just as steep on either side of the invisible line, and I encountered just as many dogs on my trip east from Hazard.  However, the Hills Have Eyes feeling seemed to disappear as soon as I saw the Welcome to Virginia sign.  It was in fact uncanny how quickly the temperment of the people I met and aura of the towns I passed through changed.

I think it really began to set in on Day 38, my first full day in Virginia.  During a brief stint on a larger highway, after a day full of climbing, I stopped at a small shack on the side of the road.  With cars whizzing by, I walked in and ordered a sandwich.  Now, my expectations weren't high.  The place was grubby, the ceiling yellowed with cigarette smoke, and the three women working the grill were not wearing their white chefs hats.  Yet, the sandwich was some of the best food I had tasted in days, and after chatting with the woman who made it for me, I decided that I could look past the lack of aprons, as she was very nice.  Go Virginia!  I congratulate you on not being creepy like your western neighbor.  Sorry Kentucky. 

Since entering the more rural parts of KY and VA, my thoughts have turned somewhat to some of the things I've learned on the trip.  I'll try and list some of them. 

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day - This old adage is too true.  The best rides I've had are after big breakfasts.  The bigger the better.  And let there be pancakes. 

The early bird gets the worm - If you are like me and are interested in getting some good mileage in per day (my average at the end of the trip is sitting at 97 miles a day I think), then you gotta wake up early.  Big days take time, and there is no such thing as rushing a tour.  I think more practically though, most of the states that I've been in get very hot during the early afternoon.  It is a great idea to escape the heat and duck into a restaurant for a late lunch from 2-4, or into a library, or even a grocery store.   

 

 

Days 35 & 36 - The Gateway to the Appalachians

Berea, KY was my destination after leaving Charlie and Sonora, KY.  Day 35 was my last day of fun in the rolling hills of Kentucky, and I ventured into the more aggressive slopes of eastern, and rural KY.  

I must say, however, that these were two days of my trip that were spent much more focused on reflection, as opposed to any interesting people/places. 

For cyclists, here's a tip - from Sonora, if you take US31E to US150 all the way to Berea, you pass through Springfield and Danville.  Both towns, and a couple others like it (Lancaster springs to mind) are very picturesque.  It really is a shame that they aren't on the main route, as they are also home to many of Kentucky's whiskey/bourbon powerhouses, like Makers Mark. 

Day 36 brought me to Hazard, KY.  Hazard was definitely a coal built town.  Going anywhere required use of the highway.  This included the convenience store/gas station/grocery.  The Hazard Double Kwik wasn't exactly my idea of gourmet dining, so I prepared myself for another night of PopTarts and bananas.  But wait - what is that?  Is that a kitchen back there?  That smell...it smells like a restaurant...um, gas station cashier?  I'll take the chicken tenders and the spaghetti please!  Oh, and I'll be back for breakfast.  Thanks for being edible, and actually quite good. 

Other than the Double Kwik, the main thing to note is that my 100 mile days are becoming increasingly hard to sustain.  The Appalachians sure are steep.  Doable, but steep.  Eastern Kentucky is also becoming a little eerie.  I'm getting a very "The Hills Have Eyes" feeling.  Every switchback corner I take reveals another mobile home or run down log cabin with sets of eyes peering at me over an open can of Budweiser.  Weird.  I can't wait to leave Kentucky.

Day 34 - Charlie

I woke up in the morning at the Baptist church in Sebree to discover a casualty.  My iPad had been plugged in, and during the night a power surge fried my only charging cable (the iPad still doesn't charge, and requires to be plugged in in order to work).

A few things of note occured during the day.  I had my first run in with the loose dogs of the Kentucky/Virginia area.  During my ride, I had the pleasure of meeting a large boxer.  Let's call him Barky-Chasey.  Barky-Chasey ran up to me and said hi, but made the mistake of running in front of my bike before I could stop and got his paw caught.  Thankfuly no damage was done, but I left before I could see if Barky-Chasey was ok.   

During my lunch break, I met a nice man.  I was in a small diner in rural KY, and was enjoying some of the local brisket.  A gap toothed individual and I got to talking, which was great.  I even found out that he intended to run for President in 2016, and that he would change the face of America! 

Not much else during the day happened, though I had a tremendous day of riding to Sonora, KY.  There weren't many places to stay in that 500 person town.  In fact, there was only one.  I checked in for the night at the Thurman-Phillips B&B.  This joint was built in 1897 and was really well put together for an old girl.  I had the delight of staying in a 4 poster bed (really radical change from my tent), but had the honor of meeting Charlie. 

Charlie ran the place, and was himself a Thurman.  Further, he was the definition of a southern gentleman.  It was a shame that I was there only a short period, as he was a tremendous host - from providing me with dinner to satisfying a lonely ear with conversation.  Definitely the highlight of Kentucky. 

(Pics of the Thurman house to come...my phone/camera has suffered an unfortunate water-related injury and is resting in a bed of rice.) 


Day 33 - Church at the End of the Rainbow

My shoes are wet.  Not a great feeling, knowing that as I put them on, I will be strapped into them for at least another 8 hours.  Blergh.

Poptarts and gas station coffee did little to warm up my belly, spirits, or muscles.  Begin the ride.  The sky was a battleship grey, covering my cruise through the rolling nonstop hills of southern Illinois. 

You might be able to sense my mood, but let's be clear.  Grim and damp were the words of the day. 

My mood was lifted a little when I reached the Ohio river, the nifty ferry they have at Cave-In-Rock, IL, and the fact that this was a new state day!  Hello Kentucky. 

Though I passed through several small towns along the way, little was open (most services were derelict) and so I ate only what I had been carrying with me.  The lack of warm food certainly wasn't helping me feel better.   Let us put this grumpiness aside, shall we?

I stopped for the day in Sebree, KY.  A local Baptist Church operates a hostel-like environment for cyclists going cross country.  I've had a shower, washed and dried my tornado-afflicted gear, and am looking forward to a good nights sleep. 

The pastor was very nice, not pushy about Christianity at all, and was very hospitable.  If I can secure a warm breakfast tomorrow, I might have a good and productive day after all.  I suppose I should put off praying to the cycling gods until after I leave the church though. 

image.jpg
My first stop of the morning, in Elizabethtown, on the edge of the Ohio River.  Snacks on snacks on snacks.

My first stop of the morning, in Elizabethtown, on the edge of the Ohio River.  Snacks on snacks on snacks.

Cool ferry.

Cool ferry.

2nd last state!

2nd last state!

Day 32 - Tornado Alley

I awoke in Chester's city park.  Chester, in case I didn't mention it before, is the home of Popeye the Sailor Man.  I did not feel so buff.  I did, however, sense a little storm a brewin', so I quickly packed up and headed straight for a diner in town.  Good timing too, as I was a couple blocks away when the skies opened up and started to soak me.

Hiding out in the diner over a great breakfast, I looked ahead to my day.  Destination: Eddyville, IL.  There is a small campground there - the Hayes Campground - that caters to horse trail riders.  Being allergic to horses, I wasn't too happy about it, but it was the only campsite that suited, so that would be that.  Good thing I stocked up on antihistimines. 

Though I left Chester late in the morning after the storm had passed, I managed to save 10 miles by slightly modifiying my route, cutting straight instead of following a bend in the Mississippi.  The morning held a beautifully flat and sunny ride.  Things were looking up! 

I arrived in Goreville for a late lunch, and started to look ahead to the next, and final, 2 weeks (give or take) of my journey.  I suppose I was looking too far into the future though, as I missed talk of a storm approaching.  Oh, the woes of no WiFi access at small town Subway restaurants. 

In the final push from Goreville to Eddyville (40kms? ish?) the skies began to darken.  Then blacken.  Then pitch-blacken.  Then edge-of-the-abyss-blacken.  Oh boy. 

About 7km from my destination, a guy pulls up in his SUV, yells at me that there is a tornado warning in this region, and that I better get inside somewhere fast.  He then peels off - apparently to get inside fast himself.  There being nothing for it but to go forward, I started to push that little red button in my mind that says SPEED

Droplets of rain.  Few at first, but quickly more and more of them fell.  A torrent descended upon me, soaking me helmet to cleat.  Then the hail began.  Sharp, stinging hail.  Lightning now.  BOOM!  THUNDER!  4kms left.  I start slamming that red button.  The little Mr. Scot in my head starts complaining, and my inner Captain Kirk starts telling him to shut the hell up and figure out how to get more outta the ship.  BOOM!  Lightning, Thunder, Red Button.   

I see a convenience store, and finally duck into cover.  I'm drenched, but avoided all tornadoes/lightning bolts.  After an hour of waiting for the rain to subside (which it did...slightly), I nip outside and head 1 mile out to the campground.  They bunked me down in a common area with 2 other cyclists heading in the other direction.  Everything being soaked, I laid my belongings out as best I could, and fell into a fitful sleep. 

(My internet connection being what it is, pictures will have to wait.  No, I didn't stop and take pics of the storm.  A part of me wishes I did, but my rational part kicks that part in the pants and tells him off, Red Foreman style.) 

 

New state day!  My welcome to Chester.

New state day!  My welcome to Chester.

The mighty Mississippi.  I crossed over the bridge instead of rafting.

The mighty Mississippi.  I crossed over the bridge instead of rafting.

A very MURICAN photo I took while looking for the city park.

A very MURICAN photo I took while looking for the city park.

Experimental fridge - version 1: Garbage bag lined with an emergency blanket.  A waterbottle filled with ice keeps all the other stuff cold.  It worked for about 50kms and kept everything quite cold.

Experimental fridge - version 1: Garbage bag lined with an emergency blanket.  A waterbottle filled with ice keeps all the other stuff cold.  It worked for about 50kms and kept everything quite cold.

Day 31 - Escaping Oz

I think I'm done now...maybe.  It is 9:30 pm on June 3rd.  I'm at a 24 hr laundromat in Chester, IL.  I just did a load of horribly rancid biking gear, and feel much better about myself.

Morning: Wake up in Elliotville on the hostel cot, Jeffrey from Germany starting to move about as well.  Jeffrey is on his second tour - his first was from Germany to Barcelona.  Muy interesante!  His English is passable, though there is a noticeable language barrier.  Good on him for making the journey solo.  He also started in SF, but did a detour to skip highway 50 and Utah.  Sounds like he spent time in Vegas, then jumped to Pueblo, CO.  Ahhh just livin' the life. 

Throughout the day, Jeffrey and I kept running into each other.  I would pull ahead, and whenever I stop for water/food he would be in 15-20 mins later.  Great guy, but my inner rower was screaming at me to not let him get any "overlap" after I had already got open water.  My final goodbye to Jeffrey was around lunchtime.  Happy trails! 

I ran into a quite large group of cyclists doing a TransAm tour set up by the Adventure Cycling Association (the company that sold me my maps).  They piled into the diner I was having breakfast at in Centerville, MO.  One guy in particular seemed quite distressed that I made the jump (early in my trip - days 1 to 4) from SF to Carson City so quickly.  Sorry dude! 

By evening, I reached the raging Mississippi River, and the home of Popeye the Sailor Man - Chester, IL.  Another state down.  Bye Bye Missouri, I won't miss your land of Oz. 

Now...how to find the city park from here at 9:30 pm...maybe laundry could have waited until the morning?  Nah.  Just follow the yellow brick road. 

Easy logging truck...easy.

Easy logging truck...easy.

Day 30 - They Get Paid by the Second

The wonderful wizard of Oz(arks) I was talking about?  Not so much.  Day 30 saw me travelling from Hartville to Elliotville.  Surrounding Elliotville were some of the steepest grade climbs of the Ozarks, and possibly of the trip.  Holy Hills, Batman!

I must say though, the morning ride to Eminence, MO, from Hartville was almost perfect.  Only two things rattled my cage. 

1) A particularly athletic horsefly decided that my head was its new track and field, and spent the good part of 20 kms flying laps around my eyeballs. 

2) Trucks.  Big 'ol trucks.  Of the logging variety.  These guys must get paid down to the second, because they do not slow down, move over, or show any road courtesy whatsoever.  Compared to the average Missouri driver (courteous, shares the road etc.), these guys are like 4 year olds who just got their hands on a Fischer Price truck and a 6 pack of soda, and are trying out their new wheels at mommy and daddy's dinner party.  Bah! 

I pull into Elliotville, pretty gassed, and start munching on snacks at a gas station, while I figure out where to camp.  As I sit there, a pickup truck pulls up, and I am "Howdy"d by a lovely couple.  They have just built a free hostel in town for cyclists, as part of the Chamber of Commerce's efforts to get us weary travellers to stop in their neck of the woods.  I am guest #1.   

I'm joined by a German cyclist named Jeffrey, who is official guest #2.  Looks like their little hostel is off to a great start!  I was just happy for the shower.  (More on Jeffrey in Day 31's post). 

(Pics of the hostel to come...) 

 

Not much to look at on the outside.

Not much to look at on the outside.

 

Day 29 - The Day the Music Died

Not much to say about today.  The band broke up.  I felt compelled to keep going with the 100+ mile days, and that didn't quite jive with Alex and Chris.  I don't blame them.  It doesn't jive with my butt either.  

A teary goodbye (likely brought on by allergies, but hey, could have been emotions) occured in a Conoco in Marshfield, MO.  No more drafting.  No more bubbling.  Such sadness. 

On the 30 miles after Marshfield, before Hartville (where I made camp), I encountered more and more hills.  I kinda like 'em.  ROLLER COASTER!!! 

 

Is this sign trying to suggest that I hitch a buggy to the Mule?  I'm already carrying enough, thank you very much.

Is this sign trying to suggest that I hitch a buggy to the Mule?  I'm already carrying enough, thank you very much.

I camped in front of the court house in Hartville.  They heard I was a law student, and just couldn't turn me away.  Ha.  Ha.  Just kidding.  I did run into some other cyclists camping there too though (4panniers.wordpress.com = Jon).  They were coming from the direction I was heading in, so I learned a bit about the road ahead.  Guess what, more hills.

I'm typing this during breakfast on the morning of Day 30.  Has it really been 30 days?! 

Day 28 - Golden Golden City

Chanute, KS to Golden City, MO

Day 27's rest was fantastic.  Chanute, apparently, is the centre of Google Earth on all Apple devices.  I always knew I would end up in the centre of the Universe.  The rest day was maybe too good though, as (other) Alex and I both set our alarms to the incorrect date.  Late start it is.  It was great to be back on the road though - despite the legs still creaking a bit.

We stopped in Pittsburg for lunch.  There somehow was a puncture in one of my tubes.  I don't recall running over anything either.  Flat #4 of the trip.  I'm becoming so proficient at changing these, that I don't even mind anymore.  A quick fix, and a stealthy nap in the Subway at lunch, then we're off again. 

Thus ends the land of the flat.  Thus begins the land of hills.  We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz(arks)!  Gotta love a new state day.

Thus ends the land of the flat.  Thus begins the land of hills.  We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz(arks)!  Gotta love a new state day.

Golden City has Cooky's Cafe.  Go there, if you are ever within 100 miles (or if you are on a bicycle, if it is en route).  Brisket, applesauce, fresh corn and curly fries.  Chocolate milk (for recovery...duh).  Follow all that up with a slice of apple pie, a scoop of ice cream, and a glass of milk (the chocolate was for thirst, the regular milk to enjoy).  I paid 16$ including tip.  Tremendous value.

Free camping at the lovely city park.  The have showers.  I strung up a clothesline, and decided not to pitch my tent.  I'm camping a la mode, just like my pie.  Under the park pavilion, tarp down, bedroll out, sleeping bag and pillow ready to go.  I hope to glimpse the stars as I drift off. 

Day 26 - What Happened to the Flats?

Population 262.

Population 262.

Up, down.  Up, down.  Up, up, up, down, up.  Wind.  Wind in the face.  Wind going up the hill in the face.  Wind.  Wind.  Toronto.  Toronto????

No more flats in Kansas.  Kansas has now bled into the Missouri hills.  Tucked up in there is Toronto, KS. 

No wonder things at City Hall are such a mess.

Christian Ventresca, do you work here?

Christian Ventresca, do you work here?

We stopped for the night in Chanute, KS, after a long day, and a slight misguided detour.  We've posted up in a hotel, the Tioga, to be specific.  Day 27 will be a rest day.  I can't say that I will be taking in all the Chanute has to offer, but I will be resting up my legs (knees) and staying out of the sun.  Day 28 should bring me to a new state!  Missouri, here I come!!!

Day 25 - New Tire Day!

We started the day in Nickerson, KS.  There was a waterpark in the city park that served as our (cold) shower on the evening of the 24th.  The bathrooms were unspeakably disgusting.  We shall not mention them further.  We did, however, get a satisfying and cheap little breakfast at a nearby town, and pushed on to Newton.

In an earlier post, I put up a picture of my Continental TourRide tire, that had lost all its tread and was beginning to show some of its liner.  This, I think, was mainly due to the poorly chosen weight distribution between my rear and front tires.  When I saw the potential for danger, I shuffled the weight forward, strapping a packed duffel bag to my front rack without any grace or style whatsoever.  The new system worked and works very well, but the damage to my tire had been done.  At the time, I was 300 miles from Newton. 

The only bike shop in a billion mile radius.  They sold me a Hutchinson UrbanTour tire.  Not the same as my front tire, but equally-ish as durable.  I think that with better care taken to weight distribution (as I have been taking), I should finish my journey with it intact.

The only bike shop in a billion mile radius.  They sold me a Hutchinson UrbanTour tire.  Not the same as my front tire, but equally-ish as durable.  I think that with better care taken to weight distribution (as I have been taking), I should finish my journey with it intact.

We stayed the night in Cassoday, KS.  The description in the maps is: "The camping in Cassoday is primitive".  Too true.  Too true.  We got up early and got the hell out of there.  

Oddities:

Proof that nobody lives in Kansas.

Proof that nobody lives in Kansas.

An exotic petting zoo in Nickerson, KS.  But no good restrooms in the city park...

An exotic petting zoo in Nickerson, KS.  But no good restrooms in the city park...

More Transformers pieces.

More Transformers pieces.

Day 24 - How 25cent Coffee Cured the McDeath

Kansas is much warmer than the previous states I explored.  I woke up without shivering, and hadn't even wrapped myself in every piece of fabric I owned the night before.  I can get into this.

There wasn't much in Bazine, or at the Oasis, in ways of food, so we pushed 22 miles away to a small town (I forget the name) and Effie's Place.  At Effie's, we had coffee and cinnamon loaf.  Effie, the 90 year old proprietor (not kidding), charged us 25 cents each for the pick me up.  The good deal, and the good coffee, purged the last of the McDeath from me.

If that didn't do it, running into Alexander, KS certainly did.

The Alexanders, in Alexander, under an Alexander.  Meta.

The Alexanders, in Alexander, under an Alexander.  Meta.

Day 23 - The Bicycle Oasis

I can't say the ride from Leonati to Bazine, KS was particularly thrilling.  The three of us benefitted from less wind, so it wasn't as stressful or strenuous, but it was no more or less scenic than previous days.  Let's fast-forward to our campsite, shall we?

 

It was indeed an oasis.  Showers and laundry.  We camped in her (Elaine's) backyard.  

It was indeed an oasis.  Showers and laundry.  We camped in her (Elaine's) backyard.  

The Oasis is a house, where Elaine and her husband decided to set up shop as a B&B for all the cyclists they saw pedalling by over the years.  If I recall, they have been in operation since 1979.  

Hey, Anderson Bourell, you'll love this one: Elaine gave me some charcoal pills when she heard I was feeling unwell.  Unclear whether they helped, or not, but the McDeath did begin to subside at the Oasis. 

The Oasis, nice and needed as it was, was a bit weird.  I suppose us 3 young guys just weren't used to being around many people, let along two old folks who liked to chat.  They might not have got the fact that we had just put in a 160km day through the wind and popcorn-fart fields, and had probably passed 20 words between the 3 of us during that time. 

The group prayer in the morning was also weird.  WEIRD.  REAL WEIRD.   

PS: I guess the day's journey wasn't that uneventful: 

 

We passed many of these oversized loads going through Kansas.  I think they were building Megatron.

We passed many of these oversized loads going through Kansas.  I think they were building Megatron.

Chris (left), and Alex (right).  Tired, but looking off to the horizon for more adventures.

Chris (left), and Alex (right).  Tired, but looking off to the horizon for more adventures.

Happy Memorial Day, America!  This weekend was tough.  Most everything was closed from Saturday through Monday.  We subsisted on gas station foods and lots of Gatorade.  It was an unpleasant experience while dealing with the McDeath.  This pic was taken during our last stop before hitting up the Oasis.  We made friends with a nice old couple who were having a picnic out on some random picnic table, kind of like us. It is hard to gauge from my photos, but everyone in Kansas is at least 60 years old.  Seriously.  Young people were seen few and far between along our route.  Many towns were deserted, and the ones that weren't didn't see the dust unsettled by the shuffling of geriatrics. 

Happy Memorial Day, America!  This weekend was tough.  Most everything was closed from Saturday through Monday.  We subsisted on gas station foods and lots of Gatorade.  It was an unpleasant experience while dealing with the McDeath.  This pic was taken during our last stop before hitting up the Oasis.  We made friends with a nice old couple who were having a picnic out on some random picnic table, kind of like us.

It is hard to gauge from my photos, but everyone in Kansas is at least 60 years old.  Seriously.  Young people were seen few and far between along our route.  Many towns were deserted, and the ones that weren't didn't see the dust unsettled by the shuffling of geriatrics. 

 

Day 22 - Popcorn Farts & Goatheads

Chris, Alex and I woke up in the Eads city park to the roaring of trucks and the first rays of sunlight.  Did I mention that Eads is a highway town in the middle of a bunch of wheat fields?  Probably explains why the wind getting into the town was at gale-strength.

It is telling that while writing this several days later, I forget whether we crossed into Kansas from Colorado on Day 21 or 22.  The terrain along the border was the same.  Eastern Colorado was just as flat and empty as Kansas.  The same wild wind blew across the dry fields.

During breakfast, the old-timers at the diner were complaining of the very same thing.  "It's drier than a popcorn fart", said one.  It was only good manners that saved us from being chased out of that diner for laughing that morning.  He was right though. 

But onwards!  The McDeath clung to me, and I sought to get far from Pueblo, where I contracted the ailment.  The 3 of us pointed east, towards Leoti, KS. 

 

Standard drafting formation to avoid the winds in Kansas/Colorado/OHMYGODTHISDAMNWIND.

Standard drafting formation to avoid the winds in Kansas/Colorado/OHMYGODTHISDAMNWIND.

We eventually entered Kansas...who knows when.

We eventually entered Kansas...who knows when.

After a day of riding into a headwind on the flats, I am struck by two thoughts.  One - riding a day into a headwind is significantly harder on the body than a day in the mountains.  Same resistance, no downhills!!  Two - Dayum Kansas, you flat.

We reached Leonati, and sought out the city park.  We set up tents, and made dinner.  Just before bed, I spit out my warmed-up chili.  No, it wasn't because of the McDeath (though it still made me feel like a dessicated bike-zombie).  GOATHEADS!  The dreaded thorn. 

Goatheads are a type of thorn found in parts of the US.  They are very small, and have multiple barbs that are well known to pierce cyclists' tires and tubes.  I had at least 30 on my bike.  THE MULE!  YOU HAVE BEEN WOUNDED!  The front tire fared well, but due to the lack of tread protection on the rear, a goathead go through and pierced my tube.  Flat tube #2 of the trip. 

Day 21 - Chris & Alex

I awoke at 6:30 am, after a 12 hour stint of tossing and turning.  I felt the need to get out of unlucky Pueblo, despite my host's kind offer to allow me to stay longer and get over the McDeath.  I felt horrible, but left anyway. 

Thankfully, the day was young when I ran into Chris and Alex, riding east on the same route.  They actually whizzed by me as I was stopped, panting.  I decided I wasn't going to be so decisively passed, despite the McDeath, and decided to follow.

Chris and Alex are from the Bay Area, and have quit their jobs in order to bike across the US for the summer, and get a new perspective on things.  They started, unlike me, from Eugene, OR, in mid-April and passed through different states than I, until we met in Colorado.

They kindly offered to let me ride with them for as long as I liked, and given my huffing and puffing, I was glad to accept.  I rode mostly with Chris on the first day, as Alex was far ahead, exploring. 

We planned to make a stop in Haswell, CO, but arrived to find the town devoid of life.  Tumbleweed blew across the main road, and the promised convenience store was nothing but a faded Texaco Gas sign.  We felt fortunate (after riding through some similar towns earlier) to find a water spigot and shade.  We rested there for a period, then decided to head for Eads for the night. 

 

The central hub of Haswell activity, it appears.

The central hub of Haswell activity, it appears.

I actually thought that the McDeath was fading when we entered Eads' only open diner that evening, and ordered a large meal.  I managed to eat a single bite.  Literally - one bite.  Not quite like me.  A lingering disease this McDeath.  However, Eads wasn't a total loss.  The city park offered free camping to cyclists, and sported green grass and shady trees.  It was a very nice spot to spend the night, despite my empty and churning stomach.  We had managed 110 miles that day.

Before concluding the post, I should point out another Mule injury.  Alex pointed out that my rear wheel had lost its tread, and was now flashing its red undergarments.  Come on, Mule En Rouge, keep it in your rubber! 

 

That orange colour is the lining showing through.  As you can see, the tread in the centre is completely gone.  Pro: this was spotted early, and before any catastrophe.  Con: 300 miles to the nearest bike shop... I redistributed the weight of my gear away from the rear tire a bit, and pressed on.  No choice.

That orange colour is the lining showing through.  As you can see, the tread in the centre is completely gone.  Pro: this was spotted early, and before any catastrophe.  Con: 300 miles to the nearest bike shop...
I redistributed the weight of my gear away from the rear tire a bit, and pressed on.  No choice.

Day 20 - The McDeath

Day 19's rest day was fantastic, and Salida, CO was a great choice of rest spot.  However, it was time to push forward.

A detour sounded like a good time on Day 20, so I left my prescribed route and rejoined old US 50 via Cañon City (not terribly exciting...too touristy). 

 

Goodbye, Misty Mountains

Goodbye, Misty Mountains

My descent from the Rockies was swift and relatively easy.  It was an easy ride through canyons, with glimpses of blue skies ahead.

 

Hello, golden fields of Rohan!

Hello, golden fields of Rohan!

Finally, I reached Pueblo, CO.  At 4500 feet, it was significantly warmer and I might have thought that it was a little less dry too.

In order to organize my evening, and to celebrate my escape from the mountains, I stopped at a McDonalds for the WiFi.  I also grabbed a little ice cream to nom on as I relaxed.   I organized my stay with an ex-Alaskan who hosts travellers, and set out to her house.  

3 hours later, one truth became painfully clear.  I had become afflicted by the McDeath.  The ice cream from McDonald had made me sick.  Food poisoning.  Vomiting.  The McDeath. 

Sleep was fitful. 

Days 17 & 18 - King of the World

Day 17 had no remarkable scenery, or people (sorry randoms that I met) to speak of.  I camped at night just outside Cimarron, CO, at a small RV park near a rapidly flowing river (in hindsight, perhaps not the wisest choice - isn't it colder near water?).  At 7,000 it was a bit chilly, but all the better, as Day 18 was anticipated to be a big day, and deserved my 5:30 wake up.

There is one thing to mention regarding Day 17.  I realized, about halfway up a 1700ft climb, that I am really beginning to enjoy this tour.  Not that I wasn't before, but I caught myself grinning way too many times on Day 17 - it can't be passed off as anything but glee any longer.  At the beginning of the trip, I was bumbling along a bit, without some of the modifications to my ride that have made it significantly more comfortable.  Further, the people who have impacted my trip positively have really done a number for my morale.

I did make some new friends at my campground in Cimarron!  Bye guys.

I did make some new friends at my campground in Cimarron!  Bye guys.

"Hello Darkness, My Old Friend":

The Crone is back!  I have returned to US Hwy 50.  I guess I couldn't get away from this mystical, magical, transamerican beast.  Please be gentle, Crone.

The Crone is back!  I have returned to US Hwy 50.  I guess I couldn't get away from this mystical, magical, transamerican beast.  Please be gentle, Crone.

 

Day 18: 

Today was the day that I go for the Monarch Pass.  This pass scraped the sky at over 11,000 feet, and is the largest mountain that I have or will summit on my journey.   Nothing to be trifled with!  To top it off, Monarch Mountain straddled the continental divide, meaning that after I passed the summit, I would be on the "Atlantic-side" of America.  Significantly imposing physically and figuratively.

Beginning in Cimarron and breakfasting in Gunnison, CO (at a great joint: W Cafe) , I made my way to Sargents.  Sargents sat at the foot of Monarch Mountain, 17kms from the summit, and 3000 feet below it.  A snickers bar and a gatorade later, and I began my jaunt up to the heavens.  It was 2:48pm.

No doubt about it, the climb was steep.  It began to noticeably get colder.  I had to stop and throw on extra layers during my breaks for water and snacks (fuel for the Mule).  Many pedal grindings later, I arrived at the summit.  It was 4:38. 

I wish I could say that it was a more beautiful sight, but today just wasn't the day for it.  The skies were cloudy, and the peaks of nearby mountains mingled with the grey rain-bearers to obscure the landscape.  I was the only one at the summit.  No other cyclists to congratulate, no motorists to ask to snap a picture of me. 

 

My last view of the Pacific side of the Continental Divide.

My last view of the Pacific side of the Continental Divide.

However gloomy and desolate the atmosphere was, I can't help but be happy with the picture below.  Simple and unornamented by a smiling Alex, but significant.  The metaphorical halfway mark of my journey.  

For this brief instant, I am the Monarch, the king of the world, looking across the expanse of America from the territory I conquered to the trails and trials to come.  Just for an instant.

For this brief instant, I am the Monarch, the king of the world, looking across the expanse of America from the territory I conquered to the trails and trials to come.  Just for an instant.

Day 18 ends in Salida, CO.  A neat little town that has a very well preserved historic district.  I'm going to take Day 19 off (my first rest day!), explore and rest my legs.