Monday, May 31, 2010
Ok...to catch up on recent hot TransAm happenings:
I neglected to take a rest day after the epic 120 mile ride, even though I was in a relatively good place for it. The Sebree, Kentucky First Baptist church hostel was comfortable, clean, and generously run by Bob and Violet, the pastor and his wife. However, I already had it in my head that I needed to get to Carbondale, IL as quickly as possible in order to catch up with Nick for a day, as well as to be able to have my rest day in a proper motel with actual civilization nearby (including a bike shop), rather than a church basement in the middle of nowhere. And, surprisingly, my legs still felt somewhat peppy the next morning.
So, I rolled on. The ride from Sebree, KY to Elizabethtown, IL was about 70 miles and the heat and humidity once again proved to be somewhat relentless.
I stopped for a little lunch in Marion, KY and to cool off and rest. After a McDonald's ice cream cone and a club sandwich at the Main Street corner cafe, I took a little snooze in the town gazebo.
After Marion, the road decended over 12 miles down to the Ohio River, passing through a lot of Amish farmland along the way. I passed about 5-6 Amish horse-drawn buggies and all of the folks in the carts I passed were extremely friendly and waved as I zoomed quickly by. Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday, none of their farms/stores were open for me to check out.
There is no bridge from Kentucky to Illinois at the place where the TransAm trail reaches the the Ohio River so I hopped on the free ferry. It's a 3 minute ride and one arrives in Cave-in-Rock, IL. There literally is a large cave which over the years has sheltered stranded travelers, killers, robbers, tax evaders, and those trying to get out of the merciless heat and humidity. Lewis and Clark even crossed the river there.
When I arrived in Elizabethtown, IL, I was blindsided by the beauty of the place. It's a tiny, tiny town of about 300 people, and is situated about 10 miles downstream from Cave-In-Rock. I was immediately drawn to an area on the river with a hotel and gazebo and a gorgeous view. I actually felt homesick at that moment; the view reminded me of what one sees when first entering the Columbia River Gorge from the west on Interstate 84 in Oregon.
I walked up onto the porch at the Rose Hotel and was greeted by Sandy, the owner (actually, she leases the hotel from the State of Illinois because it is a historical property that cannot be purchased). Although I was not a guest with a reservation, she immediately proved to be a sweet and generous soul, telling me that I could sleep either in my tent on the grass or under the gazebo, without charge. And, she said, she'd leave the side door open for the night so if it stormed, I was welcome to come inside and sleep in the dining room!
As it turns out, Sandy is a member of the Vinyard family who were having their 200 year family reunion in Elizabethtown over the Memorial Day weekend. As Sandy and I were talking, several other family members joined us on the porch and they all seemed to be quite interested in my journey. We chatted for about a half hour and then I said needed to get going down to the river for dinner at the floating dock restaurant (it was only a 30 second walk away). As it turns out, all of the Vinyards except for Sandy were also going to dinner and they asked if they could join me. I said "of course", and they showed up a few minutes later; we had the waitstaff push a couple of tables together for us.
What a wonderful group of people the Vinyards turned out to be. Seated next to me in the photo below there's Uncle Jay from Amarillo TX, the patriarchal figure of the family, who is 87 years old but doesn't look a day over 70. He generously insisted on buying everyone's dinner, including mine. Jay's sister Jenny is next to him and lives in Nebraska. Across from me are Jim and Jenny, husband and wife, from Mobile AL; Jenny is the older Jenny's daughter. Finally, the young guy in the front of the picture is Paul Vinyard, a 23 year old reserve Marine from Albuquerque NM. Paul is learning all he can from the Marine reserve school classes and is hoping to return to full-time Marine duty at anytime. We had a great conversation over about an hour and a half and they brought me into their fold just like I was one of their own. (To the Vinyards: thank you so much for all of your generosity, time, and conversation. Traveling alone can be difficult and it was very special to be included as a part of a great group, even if for a short time.)
After dinner, I headed back up to the Rose Hotel's gazebo area; it was just after sunset. It had stormed in the distance during dinner and there was a beautiful partial rainbow right over the gazebo which seemed to be beckoning me to sleep under it after a long, hot day in the saddle. I wheeled my bike into the gazebo with me, blew up my sleeping pad, and laid down in my silk sleeping sack, the river breeze gently cooling me and and whispering in my ear as I fell into a deep slumber.
Starting fairly early in the a.m. is becoming crucial if the ride is to be a) somewhat comfortable, and b) of any real distance. It's easy to get bored out there and riding sometimes seems like work. Riding earlier in the morning is not only cooler, but the light hits the earth at a shallower angle and makes for more beautiful contrasts. I liked seeing my shadow on the grass embankment next to the road this morning:
And, this photo at Little Grassy Lake, just outside of Carbondale, made me laugh because of the reference to "sunshine", given that it was about 5 minutes before I got soaked in a thundershower. (If you look closely above the top tube of my bike, you'll see that not everyone agrees with such sunny sentiments.)
Tonight, I sit in the Carbondale EconoLodge reunited with Nick. We just walked over to Applebees and had a fairly lame dinner of buffalo chicken wings, three-cheese pasta, and raspberry lemonade. While inside, however, a HUGE thunderstorm hit and we ate very slooooooooooooowly so that we wouldn't get drenched on the 1/2 mile walk back to the hotel. We definitely picked the perfect amount of time to wait, though, because upon exiting the restaurant we were greeted with the most perfect and gorgeous rainbow that EITHER of us had EVER seen..and wouldn't you know that neither one of us had brought a camera or even a cell phone with which to capture such perfection? You'll just have to trust me.
I'm now off for another beer and to watch hockey with Nick. And then a cinnamon/sugar bagel with raspberry cream cheese. Tomorrow is my rest day and Nick is leaving, but Tara (the other cyclist gal, the one with the back problems) has arrived in Carbondale by car, a few days earlier than her husband Stefaan, and she and I will meet up tomorrow and share in the laziness of a non-ride day.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh...a soft, warm bed is MINE tonight. Small pleasures, after > 1250 miles on a bike.
Finally, I couldn't resist this shot as I rode along one solitary morning:
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Hehe, I love Kentucky. (Actually, central and western Kentucky have been beautiful and the people generally quite friendly.) But then there are signs like this to remind you where you are...
PS...I am 12 miles from the Ohio River ferry which will take me into Illinois. While I am excited to see a new state, I am sad I probably won't be seeing anymore dune buggys on the street painted witb confederate flags like the 'General Lee' and piloted by devil-may-care dudes who look like they're straight outta the woods.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
I had no idea when I started out early this morning that today's ride would end up being so crazy long.
Total miles: 119.9
Avg speed: 13.1 mph
Max speed: 36.5 mph
Total time on bike: 9:08:44
Estimated weight of bike + gear (without me): 85-90 lbs
Low temp while riding: 71 degrees
High temp.while riding: 92 degrees
Humidity while riding: nasty wet
Breakfast break: 15 mins
Breakfast: 3 biscuits and sausage gravy - homemade
Lunch break: 55 mins
Lunch: chef salad, 2 large cokes, side of fried apples
Snack breaks: 30 mins and 35 mins
Snacks: 1 Clif bar, large turkey/cheddar Lunchables pack, 2 donuts, 1 bag donut holes, orange juice bottle, RC cola can, bottle of Coke, peanut butter crackers 8 pack, 1 banana, 1 apple.
After ride dinner: several helpings of what I detailed below.
What on earth possessed me to ride so far today? Multiple things. I woke up early to ride before it got hot. Then it got hot and there was no good stopping point. The ride was flatter than other days have been thus far (not actually FLAT, mind you...see the elevation profile from Sonora to just past Beech Grove, reading from right to left). There was a great church hostel to stay at with showers, food, and a real bed, IF I could ride that far. I was feeling strong and wanted to see how far I could push my limits today. I changed to the Central time zone and therefore gained an extra hour of daylight. I want to get to Illinois. There was no wind. And finally, the ride through central Kentucky was really pretty and the heat and hills waned a little bit in the late afternoon.
After all that, I arrived to a large home-cooked meal of breaded chicken with bearnaise sauce, potatoes with cheese, cornbread, fried cabbage/onions/bacon with soy sauce, lima beans, watermelon, and lemon pie with graham cracker crust...all cooked by Pastor Bob's wife, Violet.
Pastor Bob then took me to The Purple Opry to see some local musicians get down - that was a hoot! I was the youngest person there by 30 years and I sat with an animated 84 year old dude who was 3 days removed from 2 carotid artery stent placements. It was a stompin' and clappin' good time!
What an amazing day. Also today I blasted past the 1000 mile mark for the trip...
Now: sleep! G'night. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Fortunately, not long after reaching the top of the hill, I saw a laundromat...something I hadn't seen in 4 days. I needed to do all my washing so it was a great excuse to get out of the rain. The rain stopped during the hour and a half I was there, but as I was sitting there watching loud, jacked-up, hillbilly trucks go by, a half-mile long funeral procession passed (with a real hearse and everything) which kind of seemed like a bad omen. The really nice woman cleaning the laundromat engaged in some mildly awkward but nice conversation with me for a while, and then, because she learned I was riding cross-country, she gave me my drying time for free. I kind of felt bad taking the free dry time because she had just finished telling me about how the laundromat had recently closed after a theft of the change machine and the $60 in it, and then had nearly not reopened because it really makes no money and because the $2,000 cost for a new change machine was quite prohibitive. But her gesture was very much appreciated and I just smiled and thanked her nicely. It was nice to have someone be nice to me when I was in such a foul mood.
I still have very mixed feelings about giving Buck away, but ultimately I still feel that he's got to be much more comfortable where he is. The weather for the last five days has been generally really hot and humid (it kind of freaks me out because it's been decent in the mornings but moderately miserable in the afternoons and this isn't even truly HOT like it soon will get). If I'm that hot, sticky, thirsty, and pissy now, I can only imagine how little Buck would have felt, given that he's BLACK and would be trapped inside some kind of carrying container! And, with all the hills I have to climb, the bike is constantly swaying side-to-side and the little guy would be getting jostled around repeatedly.
After leaving Buck, I entered eastern Kentucky that same day; what a depressing place that turned out to be! That is deep Appalachia, my friends, replete with poverty like none I've seen in the U.S. before. The local folks vary from apathetic to suspicious to openly hostile and they don't generally take too kindly to outsiders. The countryside is very rugged, dominated by canyon after steep canyon (called 'hollows' and pronounced 'hollers'). These hollows are very hard to ride through not only because they're very steep but because of the dangers from cars and dogs as well. There are no leash laws (in fact, as I think about it, I'm not sure there are ANY laws) in eastern Kentucky; therefore, around literally almost every bend there's a snarling, vicious dog waiting in the yard or street to chase (and quite likely bite) you, while thoughtless owners who couldn't care less about their dogs' behavior sit on their porches or inside their trailers and do absolutely nothing about it. Combine this with the big trucks and clearly non-street-legal four-wheelers zooming far too closely by, as well as the generally poor state of roads with broken up asphalt, random holes, and no guardrails as you ride over creek drainages, and it becomes quite a scary place to be on a bike.
I have befriended a couple named Tara and Stefaan who are riding from Durham, NC to Portland, OR, where they are going to live. One day as Tara and Stefaan were riding through one of these areas, Stefaan passed through first and startled two dogs. One dog chased him but didn't have the right angle to attack; however, the second dog had the time to get the perfect chase angle on Tara and the snarling bastard bit her on the calf. She had to stop her bike trip, find a community health clinic (where they refused to treat the wound, and said she needed to go to an E.R.), and ultimately deal with this huge hassle of getting cared for so her leg didn't get infected. The dog's owner was a real jerk, didn't return phone calls or accept any responsibility, and only recently has begrudgingly agreed to pay for Tara's medical bills as long as Tara and Stefaan don't sue. (Wonder if THAT check will ever arrive in the mail...)
So, I am carring "Halt", which is a pepper spray specifically for fending off attacking dogs and doesn't hurt them but irritates their eyes for 5-10 minutes. I really do hate the thought of using it, though, because deep down I just don't want to hurt a dog. I'd rather spray the dog's OWNER in the eyes. I've only sprayed it once, and kind of half-heartedly. So far my approaches of either screaming at the dog or talking sweetly to it ("good boy, that's a good puppy, hi puppy dog, good boy") seem to be working well enough. I also take one foot out of the pedals and am ready to kick the little effer in the face if it comes to that. Fortunately I haven't been flanked by multiple dogs yet, though I hear stories from other cyclists who have.
One night, I was put up in a church's gymnasium (a regular cyclists' sleep spot on this route). The place was filthy (I wiped the sleeping mat down with a bleach solution before putting my sleeping bag on it), but the generosity of the owners was wonderful. They provided a safe place to stay for cyclist and cycle, and had available a lot of free food, towels, soap, showers, toothbrushes, etc. It did kind of creep me out when they locked me in, though, and said not to open the door for anyone for any reason, and to make sure to bring my bike inside because it would surely get stolen if left out overnight. It creeped me out even more when the guy running the place said not to go out at night because the local boys would probably attack and rob a cyclist if given an opportunity (even though his wife disagreed). It was also kind of creepy being locked in that big, dirty gym all alone for a night, with birds chirping in the walls and some kind of animals (mice?) scurrying around amongst the 15-foot-deep clutter pushed against the back wall, though at least I had a safe, dry place to be overnight. (Sure makes me appreciate home!)
One funny thing about eastern KY is the local signs for election candidates. While in every other place, you see "John Smith for Treasurer", or "Sally Jackson for Sheriff", here you literally see "Fuzzy (Buddy Boy) Johnson for Jailer" and Wendell (Bubba) Martin for Coroner". It was hilarious to see all these people using their down-home nicknames as they try to get elected for public office. I guess if they've been "Buddy Boy" or "Bubba" their entire lives in the local community, that's how they'd have to have their names on signs and ballots.
It was about three days worth of riding in eastern Kentucky (also known as Kensucky or Kenbodia) and I couldn't wait to leave. I have now reached a more central part of Kentucky, and it's completely different. It is almost like I crossed a line and it was just a different country. The people are nicer, they drive more respectfully, there are fewer dogs, the land is more rolling hills than tight hollows, and there's less trash. I'm starting to see signs of nicer homes, some beautiful horses, some beautiful lawns and gardens - the things I was anticipating seeing in Kentucky.
I've been with Tara and Stefaan for 3 days now, but we may part soon. Tara is having some back problems and may take a week off and take a bus somewhere for some treatment and a professional bike fitting. I do know I'll see them back in Portland, however, if not again later in the trip.
Don't get me wrong...I've had a few nice conversations with people in eastern KY. I learned from one guy that the ways locals make their money in Bevinsville are "coal, drugs, and welfare". I learned that the Eighty Motel I was seeking was closed due to "alotta drug stuff goin' on and they was makin' pornos in there too".
One generous soul did stop me and have a chat...and said that had he known I was camping a few miles away the night before, he'd have had me over for a barbecue. Thanks, Lee!!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
I ambled over to our nearest neighbor, wanting to just be friendly and have a quick chat. The guy was a real woodsman, dressed in full camouflage from head to toe. We started chatting and within about a minute, I heard a rustle in the weeds to my left and saw a little puppy running straight for me. The adorable little pup came right up to my leg and was rubbing up all over me. I told the guy that his dog was really cute and asked how old it was. He said "that ain't MY dog. I don't want nuttin' to do with that thing. 'S been runnin' 'round here for a day or so and I jus' keep tryin' to 'gnore the damn thing." We continued to talk about other things for the next five minutes or so, and all the while I thought the guy had been just kidding around about the dog. When I was about to walk back to my campsite, I said "well, thanks for letting me pet your dog. He's really cute." The guy repeated his denials about owning the dog so I scooped the puppy up and took him with me, telling the guy that I was going to go over to the other campers to see if one of them had lost the poor little thing. I figured for sure someone had to be going crazy looking for their missing little puppy.
How wrong I was. The first other group of people were friendly enough but said it wasn't their dog, even though they did pet him and say he was a "cute little bugger". They had two dogs of their own with them and they didn't want to take another puppy. They simply said "I guess he's yours now. Good luck riding across the country with him." The next group of people I approached didn't even let me get within 20 feet of their camper; they saw me coming and yelled out loudly and rudely "don't bring that thing over here! We don't want that dog anywheres near ours!! That thing's been runnin' around here for a day or two now and we don't want it!" I was shocked. That second group was actually the campground HOSTS; you'd think that at least if the hosts saw a stray puppy, they'd call someone or protect the little guy until someone came to get him.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
This is little Henry out in front of Carol Lee's Donuts...proudly displaying his coonskin cap and cinnamon twist. What more could a little boy want, except for maybe a high-powered air rifle. Come to think of it, I'm sure he already has one. Out here, I bet moms don't say "you'll shoot your eye out"!!
On another note, 61 miles today brings Nick and I to Max Meadows, VA. We are camping out behind the volunteer fire department. The guys let us in for a shower and they offered to leave the door open for us to use the restroom, even though they are all leaving for the night!! And, they said we could have Gatorade from the fridge. I continue to be both flattered and amazed by the trust and generosity I am seeing on a daily basis.
As I write this, I just finished dealing with an overly inquisitive cop. He shone his bright light on my tent until I came out of my sleeping bag to talk to him. He was an asshole, straight up. He talked to me like I was a criminal and never stopped shining the light in my eyes. Why does the guy have to immediately doubt my perfectly rational (and TRUE) explanation for why we are in tents behind the rural fire station!? It felt like I was a felon and had to talk my way into just being a tired, wayward cyclist taking advantage of fire department generosity. Jeez, man. Relax. Maybe the fire department needs to teach some interpersonal communication classes to the police department. (I know what you are thinking, Dad, but just let me vent!)
Hopefully we will have a quiet, uneventful night. Right now all I hear is an occasional cow's moo amongst the crickets' chirping. G'night all...
Monday, May 17, 2010
Well, instead of taking off in the rain this morning, Nick and I decided to take Beckie and Ronnie up on their offer to stay another night. The timing was perfect, actually, because after 8 straight days of riding, my legs feel shot. A day off with no exercise whatsoever is just what the doctor ordered. What the doctor also ordered today was a 2.5 hour nap and food intake including, but not limited to, biscuits and gravy, a cinnamon roll, a raspberry jelly donut, a maple bar with chopped almonds, a 22 oz. Rogue Double Dead Guy Ale, and a turkey/ham/salami/pepperoni sandwich on a french roll.
Beckie and Ronnie drove us to the grocery store after breakfast where we bought a few supplies; it was funny to see Beckie gawk in amazement as Nick and I decided what to buy not by how much it cost, but by how heavy it was. We each struggled with whether or not to buy a small canister of powdered Gatorade (a supremely good deal at $5 for a week's worth of good electrolyte hydration on the road) because it weighs about 4 pounds. That's a noticeable difference on a bike. In the end, we each sucked it up and bought one. I was also thrilled to find a bottle of spray suncreen that I wanted which was the perfect size to fit into my handlebar bag...better than the one I just finished that was a tad too big and completely screwed up the organization of the stuff inside. It's small pleasures like that that I'd have never have expected to make such a big difference on a trip like this.
Have I mentioned that Beckie is my stepdad Lloyd's sister? Ok, so that's how I'm related. Anyway, tonight Beckie, Ronnie, Nick, and I went out to dinner at a local sandwich joint. While at the restaurant, we randomly ran into Kim, who is Beckie and Ronnie's niece. I swear, you can't swing a dead cat in this town without hitting someone Beckie and Ronnie either knows or is related to. That's so foreign to me because the family I grew up with out West is not only small but is scattered across multiple states. So, in just one day, in one small town, I've met brother Larry; niece Barbara and her kid Grace; niece Kim, cousin Tommy; sister Phyllis, her husband Preston, and their kid Travis; and sister Linda and her husband Don. Every one of them has been super friendly and treated me like one of the family.
Oh yeah, Ronnie is into restoring classic cars. He's got a 1940 Chevrolet and a 1957 Pontiac that are simply gorgeous. He left no detail uncovered and both cars run perfectly. In fact, his sky blue Chevy is even sought after by local folks who want him to drive them to and from the church on their wedding day!
Beckie and Ronnie have gone above and beyond in their generous hospitality for a red-headed (well, bearded) stepnephew and I'm fed, showered, organized, and rested. I will leave tomorrow morning feeling renewed, refreshed, and rejuvenated, and ready to ride on in the rain. I cannot thank you guys enough!!
Sunday, May 16, 2010
It rains every day in Virginia. And this isn't some Portland-Oregon-misty-shower rain; this is full force, cats-and-dogs, drench-you-to-the-core rain. It's sneaky too...the days start out quite nice, but at some point, just when you think you're blessed with the perfectly cool riding weather, the skies literally open up. Thankfully it hasn't been cold at all, so the rain has really been, to some extent, refreshing. In fact, I have yet to don the rain jacket and pants I packed, and have been just riding through the rain in my normal cycling shorts and a windbreaker that has nearly zero water resistance to it. So, suffice to say, I just keep getting soaked and it hasn't been much of a problem. Fortunately, on each rainy day thus far, I've ended up not camping for the night. Camping while wet just sucks. It's one thing to get in, set up the tent, and have it rain during the night; it's a completely different thing to get INTO camp soaking wet and then have to get into the tent with a bunch of wet gear. The only real issue has been the lightning and thunder associated with the Virginia rain. It's a little scary riding in a thunderstorm down a desolate country road, with no shelter in sight, with 80 pounds of metal between your legs, in a rainstorm so intense you can barely see. Today I nearly chose to take shelter in a ditch after I only counted 1.5 seconds from the time I saw the lightning to the time I heard the crack of the thunder, but I persevered and was too fast for the lightning to catch me.
I'm meeting so many great folks, random folks, folks who are just amazed by what I'm doing. Generosity and friendliness abound. In Lexington, VA's Sweet Treats Ice Cream shop, after I ate my chocolate-dipped waffle cone with cinnamon graham homemade ice cream, when the gal working the counter learned that I'm riding cross-country, she insisted on giving me a "Sweet Treats....Lick It Up" T-shirt. And, remember Larry and Junior Steppe from the last blog entry? Here they are:
Virginia accents are quite varied. Some people here have no detectable accent at all; others have such a strong Southern drawl that I literally cannot understand what they are saying and I have to ask them to repeat it. I got my first singular "y'all" the other day...when the gal asked me "what y'all gonna have?", I had to turn around to see if someone was standing near me. I was alone. She repeated it. Somehow I didn't laugh, and somehow I managed to NOT say "well, we'll have the....".
I was riding alone on a deserted country lane when I passed a woman who was standing in her yard. She waved. I stopped and turned around because she looked friendly. We had a great conversation about Portland. Her name was Nancy, like my mom. She kept turning around and yelling "BUBBA!!! BUBBA!!" It was clear she was calling for her dog. After a few times of this, I said "your dog is named Bubba?" She said "no, I'm saying 'Bama". Upon further inquiry, I learned that her dog's actual name is Alobama...name made up from those of Al Gore and Barack Obama. I never got to meet 'Bama, unfortunately. This is Nancy:
At the Cookie Lady's house, I showered under a garden hose in an outdoor shower. At night when it was 50 degrees out. It was frigid, ridiculous, and perfect.
And the Cookie Lady's cluttered home, with 34 years of bicylists' gear, memorabilia, postcards, etc:
Nick and I stopped at a fruit stand. We shared a massive box of strawberries and a box of 6 strawberry cider donuts. Can you say 'food coma'?
A few days ago I got a flat tire. The tire just immediately went flat, over about a 2 minute span. We stopped and I took off the wheel, pulled the tire and tube from the rim, ran my hands along the inner side of the tire looking for an embedded sharp object, and pumped up the tube a bit to look/listen/feel for an air leak. Nothing. I searched that tube and tire for 5 minutes looking for a leak, but the newly pumped up tube was holding air. Unable to find a leak, I put the tire and tube back on the rim and pumped it up. I've been riding now on that same tire for 5 days without a flat. Weird!! How does a tire go instantly flat but not have a leak? Perhaps it was a valve stem thing. Perhaps the bike gods just were making me practice flat tire repair. Perhaps I pissed them off.
Today was a long day...a sluggish and moderately inclined 15 miles in the warm and sunny late morning, a cooler but hillier 15 miles in the early afternoon, and a really damned hilly 30 miles in the late afternoon, in a crazy thunderstorm. We safely arrived at Beckie and Ronnie's house and they greeted us with beer, water, and plastic chairs in the garage where we could sit our soaking wet asses.
My stepdad Lloyd's family lives in Blacksburg, VA and Nick and I are here visiting them tonight. I met brothers, wives, cousins, and kids and what a fun, crazy group of characters they are...generous to a fault on one hand, but then they'll turn around and throw insults back and forth right afterward. Sarcasm rules, and conversations are really light-hearted. We went out to a local brewpub (YES!!! An actual microbrew!!) and had a delicious meal that no one would let us pay for. I've had a great time, though it's only been one evening, and I am really glad I got to meet the clan. I wish I could stay longer. Of course I do...free food and beer...who wouldn't want to stay?! (Just kidding, Beckie...)
I'm shocked by how much I can eat right now. Last night I had a big bowl of chili, a huge turkey/bacon/guacamole sandwich, and a big piece of blackberry/raspberry/apple/strawberry pie. This morning I had two eggs, a huge chicken fried steak, fried apples, and two biscuits. All day long I'm eating nuts, bananas, ice cream, sour gummy worms, Bit o' Honeys, etc., and drinking Gatorade. Tonight I had a huge plate of fettucine with shrimp and sausage, along with a bunch of bread, and topped off with three pork ribs. Actually, I'm wondering if it's possible to ride a bike across America and get FATTER. If so, I'm well on my way.
Well, I gotta go. It's time for some dessert. I'm hungry and I think there may be some chocolate in my food bag...
Saturday, May 15, 2010
After leaving rainy Charlottesville, Nick and I meandered some beautiful backroads on a gloriously cool day. We happened upon Wyant's Store and were in for some good Virginia hospitality...we walked in and I said "hey, what's shakin'?" to a skinny white guy manning the counter, who turned out to be named Larry. Larry didn't miss a beat and shot back wih "my ass!!" and he started shakin' it. This elicited a big belly laugh from someone behind us we hadn't seen and we turned to witness a big black guy, who turned out to be named Junior Steppe, nearly rolling on the floor from laughing so hard. We all shared some sarcasm as well as some good, genuine conversation for a while. In fact, after leaving, I had enjoyed talking to them so much for that ten minutes that I went back inside and asked if I could have a photo with them. This time Junior Steppe was the one who didn't miss a beat when he rolled his eyes, laughed hard, and looked over at Larry and yelled "oh sure, they just wanna get a picture of a white guy and a black guy together in Virginia!" Then as we all gathered 'round for a photo he said "hey, you guys go on the outside and put me in the middle and we'll have ourselves an Oreo, but opposite!"
You never know whether to laugh at racial jokes...but 'ol Junior Steppe, a great big black man with happy eyes and a jovial laugh, just was so genuine and smiley that we all rolled with laughter at his joke. :) Then, about five minutes later as we were riding away, Junior Steppe came toward us from across the parking lot, with a little girl in tow. He just wanted his beautiful little 4-year old granddaughter Kendra to get to meet these boys on bikes from far away before they disappeared. She was absolutely precious and he was obviously such a doting grandfather, as he beamed with pride as she talked to us. I felt honored that he valued us enough that he made it a point to make sure we met the family he loves.
Finally we made it to Afton later in the day so now...'The Cookie Lady'. June Curry, now age 89, has been providing water, food, and shelter in her roadside home to passing cyclists for 34 years...ever since 1976's inaugural TransAmerica ride. This woman is a TransAm institution and nearly every rider stops and/or stays there, both because of tradition and her location at the very beginning (or end, depending on which way one is traveling) of what is said to be possibly the most difficult hill riding day of the entire route.
Well, she is still there, still generous to a fault, and quite cantakerous. She talked our ears off for hours about the good ol' days in Afton, VA and was quite a character, even at one point tirelessly forcing us to listen to and watch a 4-foot tall dancing Santa in the corner of the room sing five different original-length Christmas carols (yes, it was May 13th), while she just howled and cackled with laughter as if it was the first time she'd ever seen it!!
Her house was literally littered with layer upon layer of knick-knacks, as well as bicyclists' gear and paraphernalia left there or mailed to her over the years..it was a bit frightening. Some say it is haunted but sadly we didn't have any ghost encounters that night.
The next morning, after pictures, hugs, sage advice, and more lectures about the perils of alcohol (yeah, she was a bit preachy) we were on our way, climbing, climbing , and climbing some more, up some impossibly long and steep hills.
It was an epic day of climbing up to, and then up and down on, the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some who've ridden this route say it is the hardest climbing of the entire route, even worse than the Rockies...I find that hard to believe, but it really was a hard day. Besides beating a 20 yr old kid, I am super proud of the fact that I never once used my 'granny gear' throughout the entire 30 mile climb! I never switched to the smallest front chainring. :)
Dinner was a late afternoon bacon cheeseburger club sandwich and two cokes at Gertie's store in tiny Vesuvius VA. Dessert was a 24 oz Budweiser (don't get your hopes up for a microbrew out here). Tammy, Gertie's daughter, was cooking homemade deliciousness in the restaurant part of the store, while Boyd, her husband, was hanging out, smoking, and talking to us. They own the store and live next door. There was a sign saying that everybody is a neighbor or a friend, and Tammy said that if a person couldn't feel at home in their place, they couldn't feel at home anywhere. I totally agree. They were special folks and invited us to camp out either in the grass behind the store or in their roofed garage in case of rain. We chose outside and then briefly used the garage for shelter when a quick thunderstorm passed through. In the morning we all ate a homemade biscuits and gravy breakfast, and after hanging out and talking with a few other patrons for a while, we rolled west. Tammy gave us Gertie's Store postcards and made us promise to send them back to her from our hometowns once we arrive.
Oh, and June the Cookie Lady made us promise to each send her a picture since film no longer exists for her Polaroid camera.
We have met some special folks and received such hospitality throughout Virginia in week one of this tour...it's wonderful to see the wonderful side of humanity.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Observe the current calmness at Malvern Hill, site of one of the fiercest Civil War battles. I was the only person there and all I could hear was the wheat waving and whispering in the wind, save for the lone, occasionally-chirping bird...
A 30% chance of rain means there's a 100% chance that you're gonna get absolutely soaked over 30% of the day's route.
The last couple of days have been amazing...about 60 and 56 miles, respectively, of some of the most gorgeous forest, farmland, plantations, and lakes I've ever seen. I did get poured rain on for the last couple of hours of each day, but it was nice and warm, so it wasn't so bad. At least it cleaned off my nasty, salty, sweaty, sunscreen-caked body.
The one thing I've learned about Virginia is that, surprisingly, going downhill sucks! Why? Because the descents are short, and you're met immediately on the other side by a really difficult ascent. I'd heard that the roads out in the West are of an easier grade, but are longer, while the Virginia hills are really short and really steep. Now I understand. In fact, I have now learned to hate going downhill. Really?! That's usually the fun part.
Since my last post, I camped one night behind an Episcopalian church, and was offered housing for the night by the Mineral (Virginia) Fire Department. The Episcopalian church in Mechanicsville, VA was just conveniently located near the Mexican restaurant I wanted to eat at, and it was located on a hill so there was a little concealed area down and to the rear where I could put my bike and not be seen. Bonus: there was a concrete slab in front of a door to the preschool that had a ROOF over it!!! Woo hoo!!! No tent hassle tonight, and no drying of the tent tomorrow.
The second night, at the fire department, was awesome. The firemen and women were super hospitable (they didn't have any inventory of patches or shirts to trade or sell....sorry, Orlando...I tried!!) and offered us the top floor where there were electrical outlets (phone charging), sinks (washing hands, prepping food), laundry facilities (washer and dryer...free), and indoor storage for our bikes. We had the run of the place. They're used to cyclists passing through, and so it's kind of become a tradition for them to house us wayward sweatbags. It was a real blessing to get to Mineral that night because the thought of camping out in the POURING rain, after getting soaked for the last two hours of riding, was not sounding really appealing.
You'll note that I said "us" in the last paragraph. Though we are all riding solo, I met up with Sam (Colorado, age 25) and Nick (Pennsylvania, age 20) who are also riding the TransAm. We all got along famously and had lots of stories and tips to share with each other. It was really interesting to see what other people are using for gear and what they did/didn't bring. I have the most shit. That equals the HEAVIEST load. (And this is after I stopped at a post office in a small town along the way and mailed 10-12 pounds of stuff home). I may have a few more things to get rid of soon because the biggest hills (so I'm told) of the trip are coming in the next two days. Some say they're worse than the Rockies. I can't believe that, but I gotta believe that!
Sam is riding 60-80 miles a day and trying to get across in 2 months...much faster than Nick and I plan to go. So, today, Sam took off...then Nick took off...and finally I took off. That's nice thing about being alone, but meeting other people. You can still be on your own schedule, but have familiar faces around. We all traded cell numbers, so that if anyone got in trouble or stopped somewhere for lunch/dinner/sleeping, we'd maybe all be able to congregate. As it turns out, Sam was LONG gone, but I caught up to Nick at lunch where he was eating a turkey sandwich under a shade tree. After a nice lunch of chocolate milk, turkey sandwich, a small bag of cheetos (they came with the sandwich!!), and a banana, I was mostly refreshed. Nick and I hit the road, and it turned out we ride at a very similar pace so we stayed together all day.
Finally, getting close to Charlottesville and the end of today's ride, we passed Ashlawn (James Monroe's beautiful acreage...he was our fifth president) and Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's opulent hillside spread...he was our, uh, whateverth president). Nick and I managed to get ourselves kicked out of Monticello. We didn't know that you couldn't just ride in the gates, ride up the hill, and get a photo of the famous house that's in all the history books. No, apparently you have to dismount, board a bus, pay 20 bucks, and be shuttled up to the house to take a photo. Maybe you get to go in and have a look around too, but we were way too waterlogged and tired by this point to go through all of that. We just wanted a picture and had no idea that we were trespassing if we rode up the hill on our own. We got part way up the hill and an old dude started yelling at us and chasing us down....he ripped us pretty good and told us we had to leave and then stood there and watched us go until he was satisfied we were really gone. He was kind of a dick. Yes, he was just doing his job, but still. I was pissy after riding for hours and being soaked to the bone so I kind of yelled back at him for being such an asshole. Then we left before he called in more nasty, old man troops for backup.
Now, we sit in the Budget Inn, drying out, and drinking the best damn Budweisers we ever tasted, courtesy of Virginia Jerry, some motocross-racin', chain-smokin', local boy who just moved back from California and for some reason felt like greeting us outside the hotel with encouragement. I love nice people. The last few days have been filled with them; there have been lots of smiles, waves, "where y'all goin's", and "be safes" out there on the road. It's encouraging to see that there are such great, supportive people out there. They are definitely outnumbering the assholes who pass closely, those who honk, and others who pass at speed on blind curves only to swerve back in front of me when there's an oncoming car. There are also "No Trespassing" signs on private property everywhere, but it's nice to see a number of "Welcome" signs out in front of peoples' houses too. I may need to take advantage of one of those "Welcome" signs soon when I need water or a place to camp.
Nick and I are off to dinner. I was able to do a longer blog entry tonight because Nick is carrying his computer along, whereas all my entries up to this point, and probably in the future, have been by my cell phone keypad.
Thanks for listenin'...thanks for followin'...
Love to all.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Woke early and had to ride 13 miles just to where the TransAmerica trail actually starts, in Yorktown, VA. Yorktown was the site of the final battle in the Revolutionary War, and we'd have not won there if it weren't for the French navy helping us by sealing off the river exit so the English couldn't retreat to the ocean.
Gorgeous 73 degree day. After the ceremonial dipping of the wheel in the salty York River/Chesapeake Bay, I was off. Well, actually I was off after the ceremonial 20-minute cleaning of the sand out of my brakes, rims, and chain...grumble grumble.
I then rode the 13 miles back to Williamsburg to go to Target and the outdoor store for some things I needed. Then I rode to Jamestown to see where the first permanent American colony was established...in 1607...on May 14...my birthday! Hey, I share a birthday with the USA. Can anyone here other than Brandon claim THAT?!
Finally leaving the "historic triangle" area brought a very manageable 20 miles to camp on the banks of the Chickahominy River...only the free camping I expected at the park was instead $28.76. You gotta be kidding me...that's for a basic site on brown grass and next to the toilets?! I just passed fifty places I coulda "stealth" camped for nothing! So, I politely thanked the dude and left, retreating a quarter mile to some bushes and trees not far from a horse farm that perfectly obscured my free night's stay.
Wait...before I left, I used the park's free canopy (open 'til 1000 p.m.) area to cook my dinner, organize my stuff, and charge my phone. And, yes, I called my mom and Grandma to say 'Happy Mother's Day'. It isn't ALL about me, you know. :)
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Dave Schweickert. Is. The. Man.
We met online on a bike touring website and he had previously offered to pick me up from the Greyhound station in Williamsburg whenever I arrived. I knew I would either arrive at 730 p.m. or 1255 a.m. and he said he'd pick me up at either time...quite a generous offer, no doubt. When, via text, I told him about how, even though I'd made the early bus, because of traffic we'd missed our connection in Richmond, Dave Schweickert didn't miss a beat. Rather than have me wait five hours in Richmond's bus station for the next bus, he told me he was driving to Richmond to get me. Yes, this man drove over an hour EACH way to help a man he'd never even met.
It did not end there. Dave drove me all around Williamsburg and Jamestown showing me the lay of the land, explaining where my route was closed due to a bridge repair, and ensuring I knew my way around sufficiently to find bike shops, restaurants, and important landmarks. He took me to the hotel, helped me unload, and then drove me to a great restaurant to talk bikes/touring while I fed my famished self. Yes, I said 'I'; all Dave would let me buy for him was one glass of wine because he'd already eaten dinner with his wife and family!!
Now to top it off...get this. Dave and his family were leaving the following morning to go to Ukraine for SIX WEEKS to finalize the adoption of a Ukranian boy (their third).
I feel honored by his selflessness and that he would take such precious time from what must have been a very, very busy schedule. Dave, if I can ever repay the favor, let me know. Your deeds helped the beginning of my journey go SO much more smoothly!!
I stayed 2 nights in the Super 8 motel and one day packing and riding around doing last-minute errands and prep. The second and last night in Williamsburg was topped off with another great meal at the same restaurant that Dave introduced me to, as well as a free beer from the beautiful bartender Bobbie...she wanted to do a little something to send some well wishes my way. I didn't tell her, but her sweet smile and lovely eyes were all I needed.
The train dumped me in Chicago and I sadly could not see my good friends during the short layover but I gladly was able to fill my belly with a Chicago dog and my favorite caramel corn.
The train to DC was somewhat miserable without a sleeper berth and sitting upright for 18 hours next to an astoundingly annoying man. Still, I am getting excited.
It was fairly smooth getting my bike and bags from DC's Union Station to the Greyhound terminal after an early train arrival from Chicago, a five dollar tip to the red cap porter who carried my stuff out to the curb, and a very helpful cabbie who parked illegally so I would have the easiest unloading possible.
I was sitting pretty, and able to get on the 230 bus to Williamsburg, thus avoiding a five hour wait for the next bus. Getting on the 230 bus also meant a 730 arrival instead of a 1255 a.m. arrival. Sweet!! But, traffic was so bad that we missed a connection in Richmond and suddenly the five hour wait rematerialized. Not fun after being awake for almost 24 hours! But...enter Dave Schweickert...to the rescue.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
These nice folks from Phoenix AZ have been my companions in the dining car for the last two meals. Susie is an esthetician who generously gave me bottles of lavender oil and arnica to help with wound healing and bruising I may endure during my ride. Nikolai is an international chess master and champion from Russia who regaled us with tales of beating Kasmarov as well as knowing Bobby Fischer's girlfriend. Alan, like me, has a Droid smartphone and shared tips on how to get the most out of using it, in addition to just being an endless source of knowledge and trivia.
Just left Minneapolis and will be switching trains in Chicago in about seven hours...
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
From: Dennis Howe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Subject: My room for the next two days...Amtrak Seattle to Chicago.
Just cracked a mini champagne give to me by my Hawaiian Amtrak hostess
named Noelani. Made a 530 reservation in the dining car. Better live
it up now since 3 months of creek water and Top Ramen await...
On another note, because nothing says "bad-ass TransAmerica bike tour" like the pink amazingness you see to your left, just know it was really difficult to choose between buying this sweet little pink BMX single speed and riding my matte black, brand new, sexy, sleek, Surly Long Haul Trucker touring machine. I mean, what's more important..solid comfort, or having everyone be jealous because you're on a pink BMX tallboy?!
See ya down the road. :)