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.
Since starting in Florence, Oregon a month ago, I have now covered almost 3,000 km through five states –Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Today, the ride into Pueblo was a fairly short one, but by 11 a.m. the temperature was well into the 90s, there was no shade anywhere, and the grasshoppers were jumping up and bouncing off my shoes. Worse yet, one of the the van’s rear tires looked like it was getting heat blisters on its sidewalls. So our first impression of Pueblo was from the inside of a tire shop, where Priscilla got a new pair of shoes and the bank account took a major hit. But I’m getting ahead of myself. . . .
When I left off last week, we were taking a rest day in Rawlins, Wyoming, a city of 10,000 people at the crossroads of no fewer than seven highways AND a railway that goes right through town. Our campground was right next to one of the major highways. After a delicious breakfast of huckleberry pancakes and coffee at our picnic table, I set out to explore the town on my bike. Turns out he biggest attraction in Rawlins is the Wyoming Frontier Prison. And what a fascinating place it was! From the outside, it is a beautiful stone building, very well preserved. Since closing its doors in 1981, the inside has been preserved exactly as it was when it was home to 700 of the most notorious criminals from across the state of Wyoming.
I found myself spellbound by the photos and stories of the prisoners and seeing the conditions they lived (or died under). The prison was home to 14 women, one of them an 18-year-old Mormon women who poisoned her father by feeding him a pie she had baked with strychnine in it.
Another woman’s photograph showed a grossly deformed lower lip. She was in prison because she had murdered the man who gave her syphillis. Over the 80 years the prison was operational, 475 inmates died there — many of them executed by hanging or gas chamber. I even took a seat in the gas chamber!
I don’t mean to be morbid, but the last man executed here was in 1965 — a 22-year-old man by the name of Andrew Pixley who murdered two young girls in Jackson, Wyoming. His crime is considered the worst in the state. They say the prison is haunted by Pixley’s ghost and the ghosts of the two victims, the faces of whom he carved with his fingernails are still very visible on the walls of his death row cell. Creepy!
That evening, we went out to Rose’s Lariat, which is reported to have the best Mexican food on the TransAmerica trail. What can I say? It was best enchiladas I’ve had since San Antonio, Texas.It’s a tiny little, family-run diner, not licensed, and while we ate, we met Jennifer from Las Cruces, New Mexico, who had just taken a job at the resort in Saratoga Springs. She made the 50-mile drive to Rawlins to get a good Mexican dinner. Her verdict? “Nope. You gotta go to Las Cruces!”
Hobo Hot Springs in Saratoga
Back on the bike on Saturday, through the town of Sinclair, which was originally called Parco for the company that designed and built it as the “ideal company town.” At the centre was the elegant Parco Inn, a Spanish Colonial style building that took up a whole city block and featured a pond where diners could order the freshest trout in Wyoming. Parco fell on hard times during the Great Depression, its refinery sold to Sinclair Oil, and the town renamed Sinclair. The elegant Parco Inn still stands.
For the first time, my route took me onto the Interstate (I-80), but it was still early in the day, so not as much truck traffic as there could have been. The shoulder was wide and I felt quite safe. I exited the interstate near the town of Saratoga Springs, and set to find the natural hot springs that have been there, next to the North Platte River for more than 100 years; free and open to the public, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. There are three pools — a hot one, a hotter one, and the “lobster pot,” where temperatures are in the 115- to 120-degree range.
After a few hours on the bike, I thought I could sure use the “natural healing powers” of the water. It was magical! (Dad, another place you would just love!) I hit the road again, refreshed and relaxed.
Up the road a ways, I caught up with Tony Morgan, a 69-year old from Wales, who says he comes to the U.S. every year to ride 1,000 miles over some part of the country and do some bird watching along the way. He asked me what I thought of the American election coming
up, and said he wanted to offer some advice to Hilary Clinton — to take Bernie Sanders on as her VP running mate.
“Don’t ask me,” I said. “I’m just happy I live in Canada.”
He was going slowly, and he didn’t want to ride and talk, so I told him I needed to get moving to make it to the next campsite at Six-Mile Gap, six miles from the Colorado border.
For the next hour I battled a strong headwind, until making the turn south at Riverside, where it became a tailwind, and I fairly flew all the way to camp. It was the weekend (I am starting to lose track of days and dates), so there was a crowd of young people out camping at the Forestry site alongside us. They asked if we would mind if they “shot some clays.” I’m glad they asked because this is America after all and sounds of shots being fired could be pretty scary! The campground was quite a way off the highway and down into the valley of the Platte River. It was peaceful, rugged and beautiful, but you wouldn’t know it if you stayed on the main highway.
Sunday morning I was on the road by 7:05, headed for the Colorado border. Bright blue skies greeted me, the sun was shining and traffic was light. I passed through the sleepy communities of Cowdrey and Walden, “moose watching capital of Colorado” but I have yet to see a moose. Pronghorn antelope are plentiful. Sometimes I see one caught on the wrong side of the barbed-wire fence. They’ll run for miles looking for an opening in the fence so they can rejoin their herd. I have to watch them closely, though, in case they decide to cross the highway and run over me!
I had another pass to climb today — Willow Creek — and at the top I met a guy trying desperately to get his bike, himself and the sign into a photo. So I told him to go pose with his bike and I’d take his picture.
Benjamin is a fine arts student from Leipzig, Germany
who is currently between degrees. He is spending his summer riding from New York to Astoria, Oregon; then Vancouver to San Francisco. When I caught up with him he was eight weeks into his trip, and had 8 weeks worth of beard on his face.
The other side of the pass was a terrific downhill ride, with a meandering river to round out the experience. Beautiful!
We camped at another US Forestry Service site in Denver Creek. I had just enough time to wash my clothes and myself in the river before a monstrous thunderstorm crashed immediately overhead. It didn’t last long, though, and managed to cool everything down. Camped next to us was a young couple from Denver. Jon is an engineer and his wife Shelby is a school nurse. They were taking eight days to ride the Rocky Mountain Trail and were heading to Walden (remember, the moose-watching capital?).
Overnight, the rain on my bike had turned to ice and it was very cold on my fingers and legs as I started out, so I pedalled fast for five miles or so to warn up. It was a fantastic ride into the big ski resort communities of Silverthorne, Frisco and Breckenridge. Now that it’s summer, the mountain bikers are everywhere, and rafting on the Blue River is serious business. The mountain peaks form a spectacular backdrop to the multi-million-dollar log “cabins” that dot the hills.There is a terrific bike trail joining the three communities that takes cyclists right away from the traffic. The “Ride the Rockies” bike race was starting on Wednesday, so there were a lot of people out training on the trails.
Myrna thinks I’m not eating enough, so she suggested we get some fettuccine alfredo to go from one of the pasta restaurants in Breckenridge. Together with our barbecued lamb chops by candlelight in our little van made for a terrific dinner while yet another thunderstorm crashed above us. We stayed at the USFS campground in Frisco, right on the Dillon reservoir. It was our third night without access to electricity and all our electronics were in desperate need of charging. The next morning Willy Gruber, my colleague from our Denver office was going to meet me in Breck and help me get over the Hoosier Pass, the highest pass on the TransAmerica Trail. Trying to confirm last-minute plans was frustrating. My texts were not going through and the phone was running out of juice. When all else fails, send e-mail!
Here comes the Hoosier!
The night was another cold one but the morning of the Hoosier climb was sunny and clear. I was to ride the 15 miles from Frisco; Willy the 23 miles over the pass from Fairplay, and we were to meet in Breckenridge so Willy could do the pass again! My bike was covered in ice, and — what’s this? Some critter, not sure what, had, unzipped my handlebar bag, pulled out and eaten the three energy bars I had in there. All that remained were the wrappers and big muddy paw prints on my white handlebars!
Despite all our plans, Willy and I still somehow managed to miss each other at the appointed time, but we did eventually connect and he pulled me up the last four miles to the top of the pass at 11,539 feet and down the 10 or so miles to Fairplay. While I’m gasping for air and trying to hang on, Willy (the Rocket) is naming all the peaks to the left and right of us and pointing out the running and hiking trails accessed from there. It was so great to see a familiar face and to have some company on yet another climb up and over the Divide.When we got to Fairplay, Willy had prepared a “care package” — with enough cookies, gummy bears and energy bars to get me all the way to Missouri! I am very grateful for his support and for taking the time to do this ride with me. I had a blast!
All Downhill from Here!
While Willy headed back to the office, I continued my ride, practically downhill all the way to Royal Gorge — a drop of about 6,000 feet of elevation. At 153 km, it was my highest-mileage ride of the trip, but the downhill and the tailwind made it that much easier.
On a side note, Willy had recommended we try the world-famous tamales in the town of Hartsell, just down the road from the Hoosier Pass. Willy, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry to report that Hartsell’s tamale-making lady has sadly retired. No more tamales in Hartsell.
I’m starting to see more TransAm riders as the weeks go by, but if they’re going the opposite way, we usually just wave and “thumbs-up” each other. Here was a guy standing on the shoulder, taking a picture of . . . me! I crossed the road to say hello and he asked me if I was a TransAm racer.It must have been the Golder jersey that gave him that impression. John is from Sweden, riding the same route as me, except from east to west. After a day of headwinds and uphill, he was feeling a little demotivated. “The best is yet to come,” I told him. “Hang in there!”
We pulled in to a KOA campground in Royal Gorge with electricity, water, hot showers and a pool. Wahoo!
This morning, I pedalled the three miles from our campsite up to the Royal Gorge Bridge. At 965 feet above the Arkansas River, it is the highest suspension bridge in North America. I got there before the park opened, and learned that to walk across the bridge cost $18, and that on any given day, between 500 and 1000 visitors will do that. I looked at the bridge, took a picture, got on my bike and saved myself $18. Gerrick and Karin, you would no doubt have bungee jumped off the bridge. I didn’t even check how much that cost.
Farewell, Rockies. Kansas, Here We Come!
Colorado is a beautiful, rugged state, perfect for adventurers. I really liked it here, and would love to come back and explore more. I am now three full days ahead of plan, and would like to check out the Riverwalk and the art galleries in Pueblo before heading east into Kansas, where I understand the wind is always blowing — and usually in your face!
A special shout-out to my dad for Father’s Day; to my brothers Pete and Tom and my brother-in law, John; to Gerrick and to Curtis. You are all great Dads.
Four weeks. Four states. 2,369k biked. Two days ahead of plan.
Back on the road Sunday, through the southern part of Yellowstone, passing by Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Lake. I started early to avoid the crowds. Yeah, right. In two hours, more than 500 cars passed me, going in my direction. They’d stop and take photos of anything that moved. One tourist even took a picture of me riding by! I have a radical idea that I know will never catch on. How about banning motor vehicles from Yellowstone, except for old people and people with disabilities? If people cycled through the park, they’d see so much more, and be so much healthier.
Yellowstone runs right into Grand Teton National Park. Now this is a gem! I can only conclude that Yellowstone had more money to spend on PR, because the Tetons are absolutely stunning!
If only I had known the night before, that clear, warm, beautiful Jackson Lake was only a five-minute walk through the woods. Stunning! And did I mention it was warm? This is one place I definitely have to come back to!
A big climb awaited me this day, and I had to get going. What could possibly be better than starting the day with a 3,000-foot climb to the top of Togwotee Pass? At 9,668 ft, it is the second-highest pass on the TransAmerica Trail. It gets an average of 300 inches of snow every year, and looks like a snowmobiler’s paradise. The views were so magnificent, I had to stop around every corner and take another look. At the Togwotee Lodge, about 5 miles from the summit, I was flagged down by a couple of cyclists heading the other direction. “Have you seen the Norwegians?” they asked. Max and Amy are a brother and sister duo, riding from Colorado to Seattle for their cousin’s wedding. “I bet that will make a great story at the wedding,” I told them. We each shared highlights of what lies ahead in the direction from which we had come, and then carried on our way. “Oh, and there will be a couple of guys coming behind us, looking to catch up to a Norwegian pair, who sign in to every guest book but continue to elude their persuers, keeping just that bit ahead.”
Myrna met me at the top of the pass, where we shared a picnic lunch. By the time we finished, the sky behind had darkened, and it looked like a storm was approaching. Back on the bike, I pedalled faster to keep ahead of the approaching storm.
We rolled into Dubois (pronouned “DeBoyce” by Wyomingites — yes, I looked that up — as in “De Boyce aren’t here. De’re out fishin’ on the Wind River.”) We stayed at the KOA in Debois and, in a moment of weakness, I purchased a KOA annual membership, thinking we’ve got a lot of nights left to find camp spots. It was ice cream night, and we gleefully indulged in “New York vanilla” with butterscotch topping. (Wendy, I don’t know if there is such a thing as New York vanilla, or if it was just marketing by the ice cream guy. While we enjoyed our treat, dry and cozy inside the van, there was a crackerjack thunderstorm overhead.
Falling in love with Lander
From Debois to Lander was a fast ride up through the Wind River Canyon, with its towering red rocks. The snow-topped peaks of the Wind River range were on my right and what looked like the Alberta Badlands on the left. Deer are plentiful here, and they watch me go by with curiosity, not fear. Unlike the Hawaiian deer, who will just run a cyclist over!
Lo-o-o-ong stretches of lonely highway through the Wind River Indian reservation, with wide open land on either side — and the temperature keeps climbing. In Fort Washakie, we visit the grave of Sacajawea, the famous Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark through the Indian lands. More battles are recorded here, between the Shoshone and the Crow, the Arapaho and the Sioux. Chief Washakie, who is also buried here, is revered as a great warrior, a great leader of his people, and a friend to the white man.
A short 15-minute ride from the Reservation to Lander, a city of 7,500 where the camping is FREE at City Park. And the park is gorgeous — right on the Popo-Agio River, with lots of trees and green space. What a great service they offer. There was another thunderstorm rolling in, so I thought I’d ride downtown and get a video to watch. Instead I stopped in at the bike shop, which Amy had recommended highly. It was 5:50 and the shop closed at 6. I didn’t really need anything, but thought it would be a good idea if they could check the bike over, now that I was a third of the way through the trip.
“Congratulations,” said Thomas, the young owner. “Please sign our guestbook (presumably next to the Norwegians), and we offer an ice cream sandwich to all TransAm riders. Well, I am not one to turn down an ice cream! Then he and his colleague, Ed, set to work on my bike. The two of them were like surgeons operating on a patient that had just been in a car crash. They took off the rear cassette and thoroughly cleaned it; installed a new chain; tightened the brakes; checked the tires and put in a new front tube;adjusted the shifter cables; and lubed every contact point. It was 7:30 by the time they were done, an hour and a half after closing, and Jake was gleaming like a brand new bike. While they worked, they talked about the ride they had coming up this weekend –FART – the Fremont Annual Road Tour (Lander is in Fremont County.) The mountain bikers have a similar event in the fall that they call BARF, but I can’t remember what that stands for! I wish I could have stayed. It sounds like a great biking community in Lander.The people are friendly, the town is well kept and with some gorgeous homes. A nice place to live, maybe.
On to Jeffery City (Population 58)
So, it’s about 150 miles (240k) between Lander and Rawlins and in the heat and the wind, that’s too far for me. There are precious few campgrounds along that stretch. Hardly even any trees, if you need to heed the call of nature. And the rattlesnakes are huge (I know that because I’m seen them squashed on the road), so I wouldn’t venture too far off the highway. Once again, the thunderclouds were lining up behind me.
The map said that camping was available in Jeffery City, at about the halfway mark, at the Lions Park in town. Well, the place looked like a ghost town. Everything was boarded up. There wasn’t even anyone in the bar, where I went to inquire about the Lions Park. To my delight, there was a sign in the window that read:
“Welcome, Cyclists. You can camp behind the Jeffery Community Church. Showers. Kitchen. Look for the white steeple. Go around the back. The door’s open.”
Sounded good to me. Myrna wasn’t sure. She said she saw a sign for an RV Campground. “OK, let’s try it, I said.” It was a guy with a gravel lot and a few electrical outlets. He wanted $25 to park there. No showers, no shade, but plenty of hungry mosquitoes and a pack of four barking dogs. We didn’t have a lot of time to think. If you stood still for a moment, the mosquitoes swarmed over every exposed piece of skin. “I’m going to the church,” I said, and headed over a sandy back road in the direction of the white steeple.
The door was indeed open and inside was a large, cool space. There was a big board where cyclists could write their names, where they were from and where they were headed. They were from The Netherlands, the UK, Austria, Australia, and all over the US. I added our names with a Canadian flag, then hit the showers, cooked dinner in their fully stocked kitchen, and felt like a new woman. The view out the back of the van that night was priceless — gnarly rock outcrops from the wide Wyoming grasslands, set against a brilliant spring sunset. Ahhhhh. This is the life!
I got up early this morning to make the final 104k push into Rawlins before the heat of the day and the storms of the late afternoons. The first 30k were easy. And then the crosswinds hit. The next 30k was tough slogging, getting better just as a never-ending hill came in to view. Tough day. I’m tired.
I’m looking forward to a rest day tomorrow, a visit to the prison museum in town and then some good Mexican food at Rose’s Lariat — apparently the best Mexican food anywhere along the TransAmerica Trail. My overall impression of Wyoming is that it has changed little over the past century, and that for almost everyone, apart from the native Indians, it was a “passing-through” place — the settlers on the Oregon Trail; the gold miners headed to the gold fields of Montana and California; the railway builders; the Mormon settlers; the fur traders, the cavalry and the Pony Express.And, of course, the TransAmerica cyclists of today! It’s beautiful, wild, rugged country to enjoy as you pass through it.
On to Colorado
Saturday we set off on Week 5, into Colorado and the might Hoosier Pass. Willy, I hope we can meet up for a ride when we come close to Denver — I’m thinking early to mid next week?
Just before I close, I’d like to give a shout-out to my colleague, Greg Doram, who celebrates 5 years with Golder this week. Greg, I am proud to work with you. You are one classy guy! I’m sorry to be missing the party.
Week Three Completed — Ahead of Schedule and all’s well
In the third week of my big bike adventure, I covered another 464k, from Missoula to West Yellowstone. As I write this at my campsite picnic table, the sun is shining, the sky is a brilliant blue and the temperature is going up to 80 degrees. Life doesn’t get much better!
In terms of size, Montana is the fourth-largest state in the US, but in terms of population, I think it is the smallest. I am certain there are more cattle than people! And definitely more pick-up drivers than cyclists. In the last four days of riding, I’ve only seen six other riders, and they were heading east to west, looking pretty haggard. I wonder if that’s what I’ll look like in another six weeks! Once again, I had many hours of solitude in the saddle. I felt like I was riding along the bottom of a scooped-out bowl of whipped cream dessert. In every direction, the snow-capped mountains towered over me, protecting the broad valleys, where the cattle and the mule deer grazed. Five different ranges accompanied me on my way south — the Bitterroots (Montanans pronounce them “Bidderuts”), the Beaverhead, the Madison, Ruby and Gallatin ranges. I don’t know if I’m getting stronger or if the passes between them are less steep, but I easily climbed the Chief Joseph Pass, the Big Hole and the Bridger.
Myrna and I are getting into a great rhythm. I am setting out earlier and earlier each day, usually starting with an uphill climb. Myrna catches up to me around 11 a.m. and we find a place to stop for lunch. Darby, Wisdom, Dillon and Twin Bridges are all great little western towns, and though they are on the TransAm route, I think most people still have a hard time believing someone would actually ride their bike across the country. “Where you headed?” one old guy at the store in Twin Bridges asks me. “Virginia,” I say. “Whoa! I wasn’t expecting you to say that. I thought maybe Sheridan (a small town just 20k up the road).” Now when someone asks me, I tell them my destination for the end of that day.
The Wild West is Alive and Well in Montana
Montana remains a throwback to the old, wild west. People dress like real cowboys (probably because they are!), including chaps and spurs. The towns all look like the sets of the western movies we grew up watching — The Rifleman, Maverick, Bonanza, and my favorite, Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Matt Dillon, the handsome marshall, along with Doc, Kitty and Festus.
The gold rush in the 1860s brought thousands of people to the valleys of western Montana, along with the rough-and-tumble lawlessness and disorder that such finds attract. Riding through the Ruby Valley (so named because of the stones they found — they were actually garnet. The gold found in the value, in today’s dollars, was worth $40 billion. Huge dredging operations basically turned every stream inside out, leaving great piles of rocks where little will grow. Sad, really, that reclamation was not a mandatory part of the mining operation. A total of 12 bustling towns sprang up in the area and two remain — preserved and restored much the way they were — Nevada City and Virginia City. People still live Virginia City, in fact, and it is a great place to poke around in. Don, you will remember the ice cream they make there, touted as “the best in Montana.” We stayed at a campground just outside Virginia City, where the manager asked us if we were there for “Brothel Days” coming up on the weekend. “People dress up, and there are bed races,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of people coming in with Irish-sounding names.” Don’t ask me — she’s the one who mentioned it!
This cafe in Ennis is typical of a main street business in western Montana.
The route I cycled is nicknamed “Vigilante Road,” after the citizens who took it into their own hands to bring order to the territory and swift justice to the thieves, murderers and scoundrels who pretty much terrorized the valley. An interesting fact I learned (I learn a lot from roadside signs!) was that the profits from this gold find funded Harvard University in the early 20th Century.
New Friends and Old
As I mentioned, I have not come across many fellow cyclists in Montana. I did meet up with Mai and Kent from San Francisco. She’s an internet entrepreneur who can run her business from anywhere — even from the seat of a bike, apparently, and her husband is between jobs. So they’re taking a slow and leisurely approach to the journey. I rode with them for quite a while, talking US politics (Montana is a very conservative state, so we had to speak softly. They love their guns here.)
When I left them with the universal good-bye greeting, “Happy Trails,” I was passed by a couple of young women riding very fast. I caught up to them at the next corner. Rachel and Zoe are from Bozeman and were heading there from Missoula.
“You guys are fast!” I said. “Yeah, but we make a lot of stops,” they laughed.A dollop of sunscreen and they sped off again. “Happy Trails!”
The Joy of Camping
We have been lucky in that we have (almost) always gotten a camp spot at the end of the day. However, the fees charged seem to bear no relation to the services offered at the campground. We have paid $10 a site for electricity and water in a beautiful, forested campground; and as much as $50 a night for a gravel spot with a picnic table at the back of someone’s homestead. I love the US Forest Service sites the best — they are basic but gorgeous — and usually reasonably priced. State park rates vary widely from one spot to another. A remote spot with no services can cost $28 a night, while a privately-operated campground, with a huge site, big trees, a pond or stream PLUS electricity and hot showers –$16.50 a night. Go figure. That is what we found at Sula, a gorgeous little spot after a long, hot day of riding. And who should roll up right behind us? Dave and Twyla from Reno, whom we first met in Dayville, Oregon! We pulled out our folding chairs and umbrella, and shared a beer and biking war stories, while the steak and potatoes cooked on our little barbecue grill. Is this heaven or what?? Our arrival at the campground probably increased the population of Sula by about 25%. I regret that I didn’t get Dave and Twyla’s picture, because I don’t think we’ll meet up with them again. I put the hammer down and I’m probably two days ahead of them now.
Thursday night we camped at the Beaver Creek USFS campsite. Gorgeus! Our spot was high on a hill overlooking the Gallatin Mountains. We were only 39k from West Yellowstone, but it had been a day of fierce headwinds that really took a lot out of me. So strong were the winds that at times, even though I was going downhill, it seemed the wind was blowing me back up! We agreed to get a fresh start in the morning, and spend the day exploring Yellowstone Park.
The area around Hebgen Lake, a huge lake in the Madison Valley, was the scene of a horrific earthquake in 1959 that broke off a huge portion of Mount Hegben. The rocks dammed the river, cut off the highway and pummelled a campground. It was 11:30 at night, and most campers were asleep in their tents when the rockfall hit them. In all 28 people died. The rest scrambled to higher ground. Many were injured, others were soaking wet and all were very frightened. They huddled together at what is now called Refuge Point and waited for help to arrive. Parachuted storm jumpers arrived from Bozeman at noon the next day and began the rescue operation. I learned that Montana is one of the most seismologically active regions in North America — that there is an earthquake here almost every day (though most are so small, they are hardly noticed). I asked our campground host if we would be safe for the night. She laughed and said I should be more concerned about the resident bull moose, or the bears that like the smell of our burritos!
Yellowstone National Park
We arrived at West Yellowstone Friday morning, secured a spot for the night and set out to explore the park. First off, let me say that it is HUGE. It is also extremely busy. We are only at the beginning of June, and already the roads are crowded and every site is packed with people. Maybe my expectations of this place were too high, but I found the place to be quite underwhelming. I would tell anyone that our own Banff, Jasper and Waterton-Glacier National Parks outclass this park by any measure. I remember last year when our Golder group was cycling into Lake Louise, and there was a grizzly right on the outskirts of the townsite. Here, there was one tiny black bear and the road was jammed for miles with people trying to get a photo. The only thing they have here, of course, are the natural hot pools and geysers, and they are interesting, but to see them you follow a hundred tourists along a wooden boardwalk. Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon, but in my opinion, the sites I see from the road are far more magnificent and interesting — and there are no crowds.
On to Wyoming!
After a rest day in West Yellowstone, we head in to Wyoming tomorrow. We’ll go through Grand Teton National Park, cross the Continental Divide and finish the week in Rawlins, Wyoming — 350 miles away.
A big Happy Birthday to my sweet, lovable, handsome grandson, TJ, who turns 11 today. TJ, you are the light of my life. I love you to bits. Have a great day today, and maybe one day you’ll want to “hit the road” with your Grammy.