Texas is great, but it’s so darned big, I thought we’d never get through it! In fact, I almost didn’t!
We have been pretty lucky with the weather here in the south. In fact, when I see the reports of the snow and cold back home, I think it’s fantastic here! In five weeks of riding, we’ve only had two days of rain. But last Tuesday’s storm was a real doozy. The day started out very promising. The small towns all along the route are huge antique markets, set up with both temporary and permanent antique display areas. In fact, the sign outside Wendleton proclaimed, “A little drinking town with a big antique problem.” There’s even a gasoline alley, featuring the signs of a dozen or more now-defunct gas stations.
I was having a great ride through the hills, even though the clouds around me were getting darker. I assumed it was like back home,where you’d get a few drops of rain falling. Then it might get a bit heavier, and eventually it might pour. In other word, you can see and feel it coming. Not here. The skies cracked open with thunder, and totally dumped on me. I ran for shelter under a big tree (I know that’s not safe in an electric storm, but it wasn’t the tallest tree in the area.)
The wind lashed at my back, the lightning flashed all around me, and the water moved in waves across the road. I waited and waited for Myrna to arrive while shivering and feeling hypothermia coming on. I thought I was going to die on that lonely Texas road.
By the time Myrna arrived with the van, I was almost frozen. I stripped off my wet clothes, climbed naked into the sleeping back, held the dog close for added warmth, and had a couple of nips of Crown Royal to warm my innards. Myrna drove on to Independence, where we parked, with the furnace on, and napped until the storm passed.
We camped at the municipal park in Navasota, cleaned off in what may have been the nastiest shower we’ve yet encountered , did the laundry and prepared for our excursion to Houston the next day. I met Charlie Dominguez and Dave Bourbeau at the Golder office to catch up on the latest company news. It was great to see them both, however brief our visit.
Then on to south Houston, to see former (and still honorary) Calgary Frontrunner Simon and Kirby and their three ultra-cute dogs — Paco, Lester and Rhys.
We went to Barnaby’s for dinner, a unique restaurant where dogs are welcomed — as are their owners!
When I awoke the next morning, Simon had already returned from a run before the day got too humid. We enjoyed a nice breakfast together, then hit the road, loaded with goodies Simon had packed for us. I was glad to leave the big city and get back on my bike and onto the back roads through the Sam Houston forest.
We get the last camping site at Cagle Campground on Lake Conroe — a gorgeous spot with big trees, big sites, bbq pits, hiking trails — the works. I knew that with the long weekend coming up, we may not be as lucky the net couple of days.
Critters, large and small. Some dead, some not!
There are a lot of critters on the Texas highways — most of them roadkill. Rabbits, raccoons, armadillos, turtles, possoms and bullfrogs, My experience with snakes last year had me a bit jittery about stepping off the shoulder, because there seem to be a lot more of them here. Most of those who have ventured out onto the highway are dead. So I am cycling merrily along, weaving between the asphalt repair strips, until one of those strips starts moving. YIKES! It’s a black snake! I leapt about two feet out of the saddle, and had to get my heart back in my chest. I console myself by thinking he was probably more afraid of me than I was of him. Yeah, right!
Louisiana, Here We Come!
Eastern Texas and Western Louisiana feature lots of mobile homes. One dilapidated dwelling with a tarp covering the broken roof had a sign posting, “You come lootin’ I come shootin’!” And there are LOTS of churches. In one small town of 500, I counted 11 of them, including one massive, brand new Baptist congregation. All are spiffed up for the Easter weekend, with brightly colored bunnies and eggs, promoting their family services.
We entered Louisiana at Bon Weir. The names are now sounding distinctly more French (Villes Platte, Mamou, Morauville and the restaurants feature more cajun than TexMex. A long day’s ride on Sunday brought us to Chicot State Park on Lake Chicot. Having just ridden 150k through the heat and humidity, I asked if the lake was good for swimming. “Well, Ma’am. I wouldn’t, she said matter-of-factly.”
Four weeks of cycling the Southern Tier and we’re almost through Texas. Moving from the desert into the green, rolling hill country has been a joy. For my Calgary friends, it’s like Springbank x 1,000! This is Lance Armstrong country and the land of LBJ. Their tire tracks and footprints are evident everywhere.
Riding here in the Spring has meant seeing the trees turn green; the profusion of colorful wildflowers along the roadside; the motorcyclists like swarms of wasps; and the baby lambs trying out their wobbly legs for the first time. One ewe had triplets, all with black little faces, jumping around her. Another one was going for a walk while her baby chased her crying, “Ma-a-a-a! Ma-a-a-a-!” Just like their human counterparts at the Walmart on any Saturday morning.
Communication all in order
One of the learnings we had from riding cross country last year was that we had to find a better way of communicating between Myrna in the van and me on the bike. Although the stories of our regularly getting lost may have seemed amusing, they were very frustrating, and potentially dangerous.
This time, Myrna has set us up with US phones on a solid network, and an app that helps us keep track of one another. This has reduced the amount of foul language on the road, and prevented decapitation of one or the other of us. I usually get a 3-hour head start before I see the van coming up behind me — just in time for lunch! You can imagine how envious my fellow cyclists are.
Today is Myrna’s birthday, and her wish was for a day to please just rest! Happy Birthday, Myrna!
Catching up to The Womens Tour — at the Winery (where else?)
This is a popular time of year to ride the Southern Tier. I have already mentioned the Adventure Cycling group. On the route as well, are Jackie’s Women’s Tour and Bubba’s Pampered Pedallers. The women’s tour left San Diego a few days ahead of us, but I caught up to them (a couple of them, anyway), looking fresh, relaxed and enjoying a tasting at the Lost Maples Winery. I joined them for a sip or two –or three — and continued to the campground with a bottle of 2016 Pinot in my water bottle cage.
Texas Floods and Texas Food
The other constant in Springtime Texas is the flooding of the rivers. We were warned that we always need a Plan B route, because roads are often closed due to flooding. When I saw a border patrol guard waving at me from the side of the road, I thought maybe he recognized me from the APB sent out the week before, about a cyclist crossing the tunnel under the Interstate. But no, he was just giving me a friendly wave. And then he told be the river ahead was flooded about 20 miles ahead, but that I should be able to make it through. I sure hoped so –I’d hate to pedal all that way back!
Riding through the Nueces River as it streamed over the highway was just part of the adventure, repeated again over the Guadeloupe.
And the food in Texas — yummy! Everyone knows about the Mexican, the barbecue and the steaks. But I discovered the Texas world of grocery shopping at HEB! “I think it stands for Howard E. Butts,” the girl at the checkout told me of the store that has everything. “People come here all the way from out of state to buy groceries here.” And now from Canada as well!
On the menu for Myrna’s birthday tonight — a big barbecued Texas steak, baked potato and salad, accompanied by fine Texas wine and finished with pecan pie!
Looking forward to seeing our friends in Houston this week, then it’s on to Louisiana!
I completed my ride on Sunday, July 17th. I posted photos of myself at Yorktown, Virginia on Facebook. My non-Facebook friends may be wondering if I ever made it to the finish line and survived. I need to finish the story of this great adventure.
Virginia was made for cyclists. The Blue Ridge Parkway, which overlooks the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley is not open to commercial traffic, is a dream to ride. The route continues onto the quiet roads of the Piedmont, along the James and the Roanoke Rivers — rolling through lush, green countryside — past Civil War battlefields (I was surprised to learn that 80% of the Civil War was fought in Virginia); old plantations; the immaculately-kept mansions and estates of Presidents Jefferson and Monroe and into a number of quaint college towns like Lexington, Ashland and Williamsburg with their beautiful campuses. I felt like I was in a living history book.
And the weather was fantastic! As we here in Canada head into the cooler days of fall, I will look back and think fondly of the days of waking at 6 a.m. with the temperature already hovering around 74 degrees, and heading out in shorts, a jersey and sandals. It did get hot by
midday, but the breeze created while riding, plus the many big shade trees along the road made for very pleasant riding.
Also, I have to note that people in Virginia keep their dogs tied up!
My dog bite experience has provided me a bit of a window into the US healthcare system. Since my initial rabies shots in Wytheville, I have had follow-up shots in Charlottesville and Virginia Beach — each one taking up a half day. If it weren’t for my insurance, I would have had to pay a minimum of $300 for each shot. And you don’t see a doctor or nurse until the billing people are satisfied you’re covered.
I was getting anxious to finish my ride. On Saturday, July 16th, exactly two months from the start of the ride, we reached Ashland, just outside of Richmond. When the ladies at the campground learned that I was about to complete a cross-country bike ride, they gave us the site for free!
One last, long push!
At 158 km, the final day was a long one. Beginning 40 miles west of Williamsburg, the route went onto the Capital Trail, a gorgeous bike trail alongside the highway. There were dozens of cyclists out for a Sunday spin on the cool, shady trail. And the final push
to Yorktown, over the beautiful Colonial Parkway, actually felt like the end of a marathon– coming in to the stadium for the finish. I ended my 10-week journey where the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1781 is commemorated — at the Yorktown Memorial.
From there it was off to the waterfront to dip my front wheel.
We celebrated with a bottle of champagne and take-out ribs from Scoot’s Barbecue, then spent the next day at Virginia Beach (actually, I wanted to spend the rest of my life in Virginia Beach!) before beginning the long trek home.
We arrived home safely in Calgary on Sunday, July 24th.
Some parting thoughts
Completing this trip was the fulfillment of a long-time goal and the memories will be with me for a lifetime. Small things made each day a memorable one and I can say that not a single day went by that I did not experience joy that brought a wide smile to my face. I had a lot of time alone to think and reflect on my life.
In his book, Stumbling Into Happiness, Daniel Gilbert talks about peoples’ ongoing desire to find happiness in their lives; how (and why) it so often eludes them. I find happiness every time I climb on my bike and begin to pedal. These past 10 weeks have afforded me an up-close view of a most wonderful country– from coast to coast. Even more, they have affirmed for me the kindness, neighborliness and goodness of people everywhere. From the guys who pulled Myrna out of the ditch on the Blue Ridge Parkway (that’s her story to tell!); to the gals who loaded up poor Joe and his bike to take him to a hospital; to every truck driver who waited patiently behind me while I slowly made my way up a blind hill; and to every passing motorcyclist who floated me a”low five.” Maybe there’s something disarming about being on a bike, or taking on a big challenge, but people everywhere have been just wonderful.
People ask how Myrna and I managed to spend 12 weeks cooped up in a tiny van. I can honestly say we loved it — 85% of the time. I am lucky to have had Myrna and Basil as my support crew, and travelling in Priscilla was an awesome way to go. One of Myrna’s jobs was to pick up local microbrews along the way, and keep it on ice in the cooler. There were times she failed in her duty, and the only choice was Budweiser or Coors. In my opinion, Bud Light is about the worst beer on the planet! Moose Drool rules!
Many people have told me I am an inspiration to them. I hope that’s true, in that I believe that anyone can complete this trip if they want to — it’s just a question of how long it takes and what their objectives are.
And now, back to the laundry . . .
I have a few days to catch up on chores here at home before heading out to Minnesota for a Family Bike Trip in Paul Bunyan country. WooHoo!
Some gorgeous country in Virginia. It’s lush and green and thoroughly enjoyable riding. We crossed into Virginia on Saturday at the Breaks Interstate Park, one of only two parks in the country shared by two states. They offered up a little Appalachian bluegrass entertainment too.
But I was not able to make it out of Kentucky unscathed. Last week I mentioned the dogs in Kentucky? Well, I was so close! Riding through Combs, in rural Eastern Kentucky, I was chased on both sides by dogs.
I yelled and pedalled harder, but they were faster than me and “Buster” took a chomp of my left calf. My muscles immediately tensed. Youch, that hurt. Medical clinics were not open all weekend and I didn’t get to a hospital until Tuesday, in Wytheville, Virginia. I spent the morning there, and ended up with five shots — one for tetanus and four for rabies. I’ll also need three more rabies booster shots over the next two weeks.
We arrived at Damascus, Virginia on Sunday. This is where the Virginia Creeper bike trail begins. It is a beautiful trail. The creepers actually “clothe” the trunks of the trees. With the sounds of the Holston River running alongside it and the birds singing, I feel like I’m in a Disney movie.
This is also where the Appalachian Trail crosses through. This trail is almost 2200 miles long. Beginning in Georgia, it goes through 14 states — all the way to Boston. This might be another adventure for the bucket list!
People I’ve Met
There are still TransAmer’s heading west. They all warn be about the “big hills” up ahead. I think to myself, you folks don’t know hills like I do! There’s Dan from Baltimore, Austin from Denver, Giancarlo from San Antonio and Gunnar and Julia, a lovely couple from Oslo, Norway, who are journalists doing this ride as an assignment from their paper in Oslo.
This morning I checked in to the library in Radford to participate in a conference call from work but the audio wouldn’t work for me. Maybe it was a sign I am meant to keep riding.
And so I will! Just one week to the Atlantic Coast! I am looking forward to riding the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia, and then coasting down to Yorktown and the end of my big adventure.
Cheers to all of you. Thank you for all your encouragement and support.
I didn’t think I’d have much interesting to write since my last post in Missouri. More riding, more hills, more rain. But the week served up some doozies!
It started with me going the wrong way — back west. “Hey!” I thought. “I recognize this flea market . . . and this day care . . . and this gas station. I just saw them a day ago!” The Bike Route 76 signs in Missouri are excellent. You know if you’re on the right road, but it’s up to you to determine what direction you’re going!
Illinois, I barely knew ya
Before long we crossed over the Mississippi River into Illinois on the Chester Truss Bridge made famous in the opening scene of the movie, In the Heat of the Night. Chester, Illinois is home to the creator of Popeye, Elzie Segar. It remains the town’s claim to fame to this day.
I learned that Karin, Gerrick and the kids were in Chicago at the same time as we were in southern Illinois — just five hours away. So near, but yet so far. But we just passed through the lower sliver of this tall, thin state, and we were out before you could say, “I’s strong to the finich ’cause I eats me spinach. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man. Toot toot!”
The riding has been gorgeous all week. The tree canopy covering the small, winding roads, past sprawling estates with huge homes. I also saw, for the first time this trip, vineyards, wineries and even a moonshine distillery. (See, Julie, you should have come with me. Well, maybe not. The wine and the biking might not have mixed so well.”)
Alas, the great bike route signage we’d had in Missouri did not continue into Illinois, and I missed one of the “turn right onto the unsigned road at the Grace Baptist Church.” Nearly got run off the road twice — once by a WalMart truck and once by another semi-trailer truck — before I realized this was not my road, and doubled back to find the church.
We camped in Murphysboro State Park, on beautiful Murphysboro Lake. I was dying for a swim. However, the campground host informed me it is illegal to swim in Illinois State parks. “Are you kidding me?” I asked. “No, Ma’am. $500 fine for swimming in the lake.” Well, I don’t know what happened. Clumsy me, I just fell off that dock and had to swim to save myself. This is the view of the lake from our bedroom window:
Motivation Waning a Bit
So, my friend Don (who’s crossed the country before) told me that everyone experiences some down days on such a trip. I wouldn’t say it was a meltdown (maybe that’s still to come), but I woke up on July 1st not feeling super motivated. I started out late and after only two hours of riding through the quiet countryside, past Devil’s Kitchen and Grassy Lake, I realized I had missed another one of those unmarked turns and ended up on another busy highway. While I tried to plot my next move, I hear a honk behind me. WTF! It was Myrna. She had gone off route too!
We decided to call it an early day at only 43km, and checked in to Fern Clyffe State Park. I had a nap, ate junk food and went for a hike instead. By the next day, I was refreshed and ready to hit the road again. Passing through Elizabethtown, Ill., I asked if there was anything special planned for the 4th of July. “This is it!” I was told. A few vendors were selling pulled pork, baked goodies and T-shirts. OK! We had a pulled pork sandwich to help celebrate. By late afternoon, we were at Cave Rock Springs to catch a tiny ferry over the Ohio River into Kentucky, and by evening we were in Marion, KY, camped in the huge city park.
Welcome to Kentucky, Bubba
Rural Kentucky really IS quite different from what I have experienced so far. The people here speak with a distinctly southern accent. They seem pretty laid back, and that applies to their attitude towards dogs. I’d read the reports of vicious dogs and was very wary whenever I passed a mobile home with a porch and an unfenced yard.
I believe bicycle chasing is an unofficial sport in Kentucky and I had my first encounter early on — with a pit bull and a boxer. My heart rate climbed into the red zone and I pedalled as fast as I could while yelling, “Go Home! Go Home, eh?” in my most assertive Canadian voice.
That’s when I met Joe, the first time. Joe is from Raleigh, N.C. and he was racing the TransAm. He said he was at the tail end, with maybe six racers behind him, that he’d had nine flat tires. He strongly urged me to find some pepper spray for the dogs. He was havi
ng his sister checking online to find somewhere that he could get some for himself. Joe and I rode together for a while, but I don’t think he’d showered or changed his shirt since Oregon — and he was really smelly. Beside that, he kept riding up beside me and then ducking back in single file when a car approached from behind. I thought it was pretty dangerous. So at the next town, I told him I was going to use the washroom, and encouraged him to carry on. We’ll meet Joe again a little later.
I put in a long day of riding. The sky was overcast and it looked like it would rain. When I reached Fordsville, Mark from Oregon flagged me down. He was headed west so he knew what was up ahead. He had a weather app on his phone and said there was a tornado watch in the next county — where I was headed.
Mark, heading west to Oregon
Even if we did continue, he said the campgrounds were all full for the July 4th weekend. We agreed to hunker down there in the city park. And here comes Joe! I tried to flag him down, but he was head-down into the wind, going for it. The rain had started already, and the storm grew worse by the hour, raging through the night and into the next morning.
After several days of “city park” camping, Myrna, who was desperate for a shower, went out in the middle of the night to shower in the rain!
We didn’t get far the next day. Mark had already left when I started out, but the thunderstorms would not let up, so after 20 miles of riding, soaked to the skin and visibility at near zero, we stopped at Becky’s Cafe for breakfast and a coffee, and when it looked like it was going to continue all day, we surrendered and checked in to Falls of Rough State Park, on a beautiful lake.
And here’s Joe again!
Enough already with the loafing around. I needed to get some miles in. And as Willy Gruber says, “Those miles aren’t going to ride themselves!” I was still looking for pepper spray when I stopped at the next gas station. Who was there? Joe! He’d made the same decision not to ride in the storm, and had stayed at a resort overnight. Except now he was repair
ing flat #10 — and the air compressor was not putting out much for pressure. “If it weren’t for bad luck, Joe, you’d have no luck at all,” I told him.
I agreed to ride with him again, even though he was still wearing the same shirt as two days ago. Maybe he washed it on his layover day, I thought, hopefully.
And even though the gas station had no pepper spray, a nice lady gave us hers — “Y’all are gonna need it more than ah will,” she said.
We had an enjoyable ride together through the quiet, hilly countryside. Talking American politics made the miles just fly by. Joe’s idea was to overhaul the system altogether, by eliminating the House of Representatives, allowing the Senate to make policy decisions, and then gaining input directly from the electorate through social media.
We came to a nice downhill and I told Joe to go on ahead, as the road was very narrow. We swooped down the twisty, narrow road, until we reached a blind corner with an almost 90-degree turn. We each slammed on our brakes. The road was still wet, and I saw Joe’s back wheel shimmy and skitter. “Oh, s%i#!” I thought. “We’re going down.” And Joe did — hard. I just managed to get by him and make it to the bottom of the hill — right at a roadside cross marking a death at that spot in 2015. I ran back up the hill to where Joe was writhing in pain, swearing up a blue streak. He was in rough shape, but conscious, and it didn’t look as though anything was broken, although his collarbone was causing him a lot of discomfort. I flagged down the next motorist, to find out where the nearest hospital was. I thought Joe should get checked out. “In Leitchfield, about 20 miles from here. I can drive you,” said Art, who was a gentle, nice man, although I believe Joe thought he looked a little too much like one of the characters in Deliverance. “Yep,” said Art. “They call this Suicide Hill.”
“I think I’ll be OK,” said Joe weakly. “I’ll just sit here for a few minutes and collect myself.” Not five minutes later, a couple of gals from California, riding support for three other riders, stopped. Now, Joe decided he would like a ride to the hospital and the gals worked hard to make space in their car for Joe and on the bike rack for his Litespeed. They didn’t have a clue where Leitchfield was, but at least I knew Joe was safe and in good hands. I hope he’s OK. It would be a shame for him to come this far and not finish the ride.
Myrna and I met up for lunch in Sonora, another tiny town in the heart of Amish country.
I must make mention of the prominence of religion I have seen evident here in rural America and how it must surely shape the political values and perceptions of the people who live here. Some of these small towns have fewer than 200 people, and yet they have three or even more big churches, e.g. The First Baptist Church of . . . ; The New First Baptist Church; and The Christian Community Church of . . . In just 20 miles, another set of churches. I don’t know how they are all supported.
Along this route, we have passed through extensive Mennonite communities in Missouri, through Amish communities in Illinois and Kentucky. I even read about the Shakers, who came to Kentucky fleeing persecution in England. By 1820, they had more than 500 members. They were superb farmers, believing that working the land provided a life of purity and simplicity. The trouble was, they also took a vow of celibacy. With fewer people joining their ranks and the failure of their attempts to adopt orphans, the group pretty much died out by the early 20th Century.
And then it all went downhill . . .
Right after lunch, it started pouring again. I didn’t mind. It was a hot day and this was a great way to cool off. Again, the wet brakes on the wet and twisty roads caused me to take a turn a little too wide. If I overcorrected, I’d end up in the oncoming lane. As it was, I opted for the ditch, careening into a wire fence (not barbed wire, thank goodness!). Apart from a few bruises, I wasn’t hurt. I just got back on the bike, back on the road, and kept on riding. But this day was not going to end happily just yet!
I mentioned that the Bike Route 76 Signs dropped off in Illinois. Well, they picked up again in Kentucky. But if you missed one, because they are not always placed at every intersection, you have to navigate your own way back. That happened to me, and I thought I’d meet up with my support crew at the next town . . . or the next one . . . or the next one. No luck. Myrna was panicking because she hadn’t seen me all afternoon. She stopped in to a bar to ask how to get to Loretto, where I was. She explained she couldn’t take the most direct route the guys at the bar were recommending, because the bike route didn’t go that way. Eventually, Jeremy a guy in a black Camaro who had been at the bar after work stops me and asks if I’m looking for a lady in a white van. “Ah thought so, ’cause she’s circlin’aroun’ Loretto and she ain’t anywhere’s near here! She’s lookin’ at a different map from yours. Hop in, he said. I think I can track her down.”
It turns out Myrna’s is an older version of the TransAm route. No wonder she couldn’t find me — we were both going the right way — in different directions! Anyway, we were both glad to see the end of that day. We went to McDonald’s for a celebratory dinner, and checked in to the Springfield City Park for the night.
Through the Land of Lincoln
OK, so for not having much to say, this blog is going on way too long! But before I close off, I have to mention the interesting ride yesterday through the area of Abraham Lincoln’s family’s original homestead, and a full day of roller coaster hills through eastern Kentucky. I have escaped injury from my dog encounters (although one did manage to nip my back tire); my bike is still in great shape; and my spirits are high.
Today we are in Berea, KY, a small artsy college town. There’s a pool here and they’re running an AquaZumba class this afternoon that I hope to participate in.
Tomorrow might be my last day in Kentucky. Then it’s on to Virginia, the last state on the trail.
I have fallen in love with Missouri — the big, green trees; the crystal-clear rivers; and the many, many rolling hills. Maybe it’s because Missouri has everything that Kansas does not. It’s been a wonderful week of riding, and of ending each day with a swim in a cool river or spring. Does life get any better?
I thought for a moment, though, that we’d never get out of Kansas! We were parked nicely in the city RV park, when the van decided it did not want to go any further. Dead! I had to call AAA for a boost, and then an emergency alternatorectomy and transplant. Our man Alex at Kansasland dropped everything to help get us running again — even put in a bigger “amp-thingy” so we could run more stuff off the battery. Good as new and blowing cold air through the air conditioner once again, the support crew was happy as was the US economy for the large injection of cash from my account.
The numbers of cyclists heading west is getting less now, but still there’s a friendly wave, a thumbs-up and a “way to go” from each one I meet on the road.
Just a few miles into Missouri, I met Michael, a young architect from Portland on his thirdtrip across the country. Every time he comes to a crossroads in his life or career, he does the ride to reflect, think, and plan the next phase of his life’s journey. On Michael’s recommendation, I stop in at Cooky’s in Golden City (pop. 780) and order a piece of pie. I crammed that piece of pie into my little handlebar bag and thoroughly enjoyed sharing it with Myrna at our next rest stop. Mmmm. Great pie! There’s Michael on the left and Cooky’s on the right.
I thought things were going really well at that point and Myrna and I agreed to meet in Ash Grove, the next town about 10 miles up the road, to see if we wanted to stay at the city park or keep moving.
Well, there was no sign of Myrna when I got there and the city park was gorgeous, so I stayed and waited. And waited. And waited. So, a guy drives up on his motorbike and says he officially welcomes every cyclist into town. He asked if I needed anything. I told him, not at the moment, but that my support van might be lost. Dave fetched his wife, Wendy and drove all the way up (and I mean UP!) to Walnut Grove to flag Myrna down and led her back to Ash Grove! And that’s not the end of the hospitality! Not only was the camping (with showers) free, but Dave hooked us up to electricity AND cyclists got to swim free in the pool! I thought I might just move to Ash Grove.
Dave and Wendy, the unofficial welcoming committee of Ash Grove, MO.
Hills, thrills and excitement
Every day the drill is the same. Uphill, uphill, more uphill, round the corner, a little downhill. Then up and up and up again. Whew! The countryside is beautiful, though and I don’t mind the workout nearly as much as the Kansas wind!
In Hartville, we stay at the city park next to the Gasconnade River and are treated to a first-class lightning and thunderstorm. This town was the scene of a major Civil War Battle. Missouri has an interesting Civil War history. Half the population was in favor of slavery, and sympathies for Union and Confederates were about split. What made it different was the number of “guerrilla” fighters, looting, shooting and destroying property without official sanction from the Confederates, but welcomed anyway. In Hartville, the ragtag army took over the courthouse from where they served as snipers, shooting any Union soldier they saw. In the end, the Union army retreated. Pilot Knob was another town where a major Civil War battle was fought. I enjoyed learning the history of these battles and the people who fought in them.
Hartville today is a sad, forlorn little place. Most of the businesses are shuttered, many houses left vacant. In fact this is what we have seen in many of the small towns along the TransAm Trail — and likely why many people in America view Donald Trump as the man who can “make America great again.”
At the top of one of many hills, I met John, an engineer from Upstate New York, who had lived in Ottawa for a few years. In fact, almost everywhere we went in Missouri, there was a Canadian connection. One guy said he loves to go fishing in the lakes near Thunder Bay. Another guy told us he goes up to Manning, Alberta every other year to hunt birds. “I love Canada,” he said. Even Donna, whom you’ll see further down this post, said her daughter married a Canadian and lived in Paris, Ontario until he decided he liked her best friend better than her!
The Wonderful Rivers of Missouri
Our route took us through the Ozarks National Waterways — places like Jack’s Fork and Alley Springs were gorgeous! Blue Springs was a couple of miles off-route.
The springs are 310-feet deep, and the dissolved minerals make the water a very cool, cloudy shade of blue. I took a picture of my reflection in the blue water of the spring.
Back on the road and back up and down the hills of the Ozarks. I wasn’t making great mileage, but I sure felt I deserved a cold beer at the end of each day.
Last night we stayed at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. No, it’s not a rest home for old people in wheelchairs. The Ozark term, “shut-ins” refers to steep limestone rock walls, through which runs a narrow gorge. It’s quite unique to this area. The Black River has lots of scoured swimming holes, and the water is clear enough to drink. As I sat there, cooling my body, I could watch the tiny fish near the top, the medium ones a foot down, and the big ones hovering around my feet. Cool!
Cycling Luxury in Farmington, MO
Today we rolled into Farmington, our last stop in Missouri. Al’s Place is a cycling hostel with all the comforts of home — plus air conditioning! It’s in the old city jail, has been completely refurbished and is now run by volunteers. For $20 a night, you get a bed (with linens), a fully stocked kitchen; a living room with TV and a great selection of videos; showers; and a computer.We had the house all to ourselves today, and it was great to relax here for a day. Myrna and Basil may not want to go tomorrow morning!
This is our last stop in Missouri. Tomorrow we cross the state border into Illinois and the last third of our journey. I’m looking forward to an exciting July 4th celebration somewhere in Illinois or Kentucky — even bought a stars and stripes T-shirt so I wouldn’t stand out in the crowd. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Here we are in Pittsburg (no ‘h’), Kansas, just a stone’s throw from the Missouri border. They say that our minds trick us into remembering our most recent experiences as being representative of the entire experience — good or bad. Based on that assumption, I might have fond memories of Kansas as green, hilly and just nicely warm and breezy. But as I recall my week in Kansas, the facts must show that it is almost completely flat; almost always windy; and most certainly blazing hot!
“What do you like about living in Kansas?” I’d ask people who make this place their home. “Well, it’s cheap,” said one man from Hutchinson. It’s true. The gas here, at just over $2 a litre is the cheapest I’ve seen. And for the most part, camping is free — more about that in a bit.
“Well,” thought a couple of gals at the checkout in Tribune, “it’s flat. You can see storms coming from a long ways away.”
“So you can take cover?” I asked. “No! So we can get out and shoot video!”
The last tornado of this year touched down in Kansas on May 24th, and with the hot weather, I suspected we might see another one. I tried to anticipate what we might do should a twister hit.
In one campsite, the instructions were clearly posted. “Take shelter in the vault toilets. They are not tornado-proof, but they are able to withstand winds of 120 mph. Hmmmm. What a way to go — blown over in an outhouse!
My first introduction to Kansas could have been a disaster (I know, this is what you’ve all been waiting for). A guy in a pickup truck coming towards me flashes his lights and waves me over. “See that big bull snake in the road just ahead?” he asked. I did. “Will he bite?” I asked. “Hell, yeah!” says the driver, his passenger nodding in vigorous agreement. “If I were you, I’d ride on this side of the road to get by him.”
So I did . . . very slowly. As it happened, a car passed me and ran right over the snake. SQUIRRKK. Dead. Another potential disaster averted. I’ll spare you the photo I took of the fatality on the road. And, it turns out, the guys were wrong. Bull snakes are constrictors, not biters. This guy might have tried to wrap himself around my leg (which would have been scary, but not fatal).
Unfortunately, cyclists see a lot of road-killed animals — deer, birds, raccoons and turtles. One morning, riding Highway 96, I saw no fewer than three ornamental box turtles trying to cross the highway.It was early enough that there wasn’t much traffic, so I picked them up and put them back into the grass. I believe they are a protected species in Kansas, but many people would take them home as pets.I hope these three grow to live lo-o-o-ng lives, as intended.
Other creatures were not nearly so endearing. There are millions of mosquitoes, flies, midges and ticks in Kansas, the worst of which for me was a “bomber” biting fly. These guys would follow me while I’m riding and bite me on the backs of my legs. I could see their shadows, flying in formation behind me as I rode, and would vigorously swing my arm back and forth behind me and pedal as fast as I could to avoid getting bitten.
Near-Mutiny of the Support Crew!
I was making good progress through the state. I had logged four 100+ mile days. Because of the aforementioned bugs — and the oppressive heat , my support crew had been staying in the van, doing whatever they could to keep cool and bite-free. When the air-conditioning overheated (if that is possible), and Myrna’s stomach started acting up, she pulled over and told me to “get my *#*!ing bike in the van,” my emotional intelligence sensed a meltdown. (Duh!) “But there’s just five miles to go to our next stop!” She had already been there and found it severely wanting, in terms of shade and amenities. “Fine,” she said, and peeled off down the road.
As I mentioned, camping in Kansas is almost always free. There are so many tiny towns that are happy to have you stay in their “city” parks or at their travellers’ rest stops. For those who enjoy even a modicum of privacy or amenities, heck, even cleanliness, these places would not be for you! But I think they’re a great part of the adventure. In Eads, the Travellers Rest Stop was full of interesting historical information. In Leoti, we became part of a birthday party for one-year-old Jose. In Nickerson, we parked in the shade by the ball diamond. Very soon, we had front-row seats to a girls’ softball game, and I took advantage of the kids’ splash park to have an outdoor shower! In Cassoday, the “prairie chicken capital of the world,” we had the whole park to ourselves, complete with gazebo and swings.
What I wouldn’t give for a lake to swim in!
It seems that all the streams and lakes through this part of Kansas are dried up or well on their way to that place. Therefore, I looked forward to a night camping in the Cross Winds State Park near Toronto Lake! (That’s right, Toronto, Kansas!) On the map the lake looked to b e a good size, and I figured if there was a state park there, there would surely be swimming. Well, the water was the about color of mushroom soup, and it was tepid, but I was determined to go in. I kept my eyes and my mouth closed and my sandals on, and swam to the boat dock, then quickly showered to wash off whatever I may have picked up in there. All part of the adventure!
People I met in Kansas
It’s a long, lonely road through Kansas and as Willy would say, a real mental test rather than physical. Everyone I have met on my journey through this state, though, has been friendly, helpful and optimistic. Here is a collection of the cyclists I met: Don the fire fighter from Santa Rosa, California, starting retirement with a ‘new job;’ Ken and Terry, the business partners from Idaho Falls, riding the TransAmerica race, but not really racing –more like bonding; Charlie from Washington, DC, riding solo on his recumbent to escape the craziness that is DC in an election year; and Carl, the medical student from Arizona who is doing the TransAm in his “last free summer.”
Headed to Missouri!
Last night we stayed in the city RV Park in Pittsburg. The phone kept putting out a siren warning of a “severe flood alert” for the area. It was quite a storm, but no tornado. I will be happy to have a rest day here — maybe even visit a Starbucks! Then I will be happy to leave Kansas and cross the border to Missouri. I’m looking forward to the hills of the Ozarks and the crystal clear waters that await us there.