Saturday, June 26, 2010

Local Frisco Love and Riding to Kremmling

After leaving the pub in Breckenridge, I headed north toward Frisco and Silverthorne, CO on the bike path along the river. This is some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, with tall, rugged, snow-capped mountains and clear, fast-moving streams bounding downhill with reckless abandon.

Frisco is a mere 9 downhill miles away from Breckenridge, and Silverthorne is about another five downhill past that. I was unsure of whether I wanted to stay the night near/in Frisco or Silverthorne, given that I know nothing about either town; but, as I was riding the beautiful bike path toward Frisco, just before I got there a nice woman on a bicycle pulled up next to me, introduced herself, and asked where I was going. She was really friendly and we chatted for a few minutes as we rode; she said that Frisco is a really great little town and that I should stay there, so as she peeled off onto a different path, I thanked her and I rolled on down the 10% grade into Frisco.

The lady on the bike path had given me a couple of recommendations for a good place for dinner/beer, so I pulled into the very small (and lovely) town and slowly rode along the sidewalk scoping things out. As I perused the town, I was stopped by an older gentleman who wanted to know where I was traveling. When I told him I am going to Astoria, OR and that I live in Portland, he told me he owns a home in Aurora, OR, just 20 minutes outside of Portland. He said he and his wife spend part of the year in their condo in Frisco and part in their home in Aurora. He introduced himself as Frank Berger and we continued chatting for 15 minutes or so, realizing that we are both avid cyclists, and that we've both ridden in Cycle Oregon (although he's ridden in about 15 of them and I've ridden in one). He gave me directions to a great campsite on a nearby lake on the outskirts of Frisco and had several suggestions for good places to eat dinner. Then, quite abruptly, he said he had to make a phone call and he stepped away for a minute. When he returned, he said, "you're coming to my house for dinner tonight. My wife is a great cook." Far be it from me to turn down a dinner invitation from a nice local fellow so I took down the address and directions to his house, which just happened to be only a few minutes ride from the campsite he'd suggested as well. He said to show up for dinner at 6:00 pm.

It was only 4:30 at that time and I had some time to kill. I rode around the quaint town a little bit, noting where the good bakery/breakfast place was, as well as a pub that was having karaoke starting at 10:00 that night.

Frisco downtown:

I found a Safeway grocery store that had a WiFi seating area where I could relax, charge my phone, and make a phone call; and, it was just minutes from Frank's place. While sitting in Safeway, I made a phone call to my dad and was telling him about recent touring experiences, particularly about meeting Frank and being invited over for dinner. After I got off the phone, I turned to a woman sitting a few chairs away from me who was wearing a Safeway hat. I asked her if she lived in town and she said yes. I asked her if the karaoke place was any good and she said she'd never been but had been wanting to check it out. I told her that I might check it out later and that she ought to meet me there if she was interested. She told me that she'd overheard my conversation about the guy inviting me over for dinner at his house, and then went on to offer me the couch at her house if I needed a place to sleep for the evening. I couldn't believe it...two totally generous offers from local folks in one little town!  Sheila and I exchanged phone numbers and I told her I'd call her after dinner.

I then rode to Frank's condo where he greeted me and introduced me to his wife Carol and their sweet, shy boxer named Ginger. We had the most wonderful dinner and conversation for the next three hours or so; Carol made some delicious meat pies (the recipe for which she had learned from a chef in New Zealand) as well as a large plate of fresh pineapple, watermelon, and cantaloupe. Ice cream and cookies followed for dessert. By the end of the meal, I was so stuffed I was afraid I wouldn't be able to ride my bike back to town to meet up with Sheila!

Frank and Carol had very interesting stories to share about their lives. Frank worked in the insurance business and at least half of his business was in Alaska. He therefore frequently piloted a Cessna airplane to Alaska from Oregon/Colorado to conduct business. Carol owned a B & B in Breckenridge for years. Both are avid cyclists, hikers, and fisherpeople. I also learned that Frank is EIGHTY years old (while he really only looks about 65 to me) and he still rides his road bike every single day for many miles around these crazy, 10000'-high Colorado hills. (I can only hope I'm as good of shape as Frank is when I turn 80!) Frank gave me his contact information in Oregon and we agreed that when I get home from my tour, we will go out for a ride in Oregon together! What interesting and generous people Frank and Carol Berger are and I am honored that they invited me into their home.

I hopped on my bike for the several minutes' ride to Sheila's condo. Frisco is so small that everything is really only a mile or two apart, and it's really beautiful with the huge, snow-capped peaks looming closely as the town's backdrop. I arrived and was introduced to her roommate Jesse and her two children, Jordan and Roman. Sheila had baked a shortcake and had fresh raspberries and half-and-half as a topping; I was absolutely stuffed from eating with Frank and Carol, but there's always room for a homemade raspberry shortcake, right?!

We all chatted for a while and then Sheila offered me a shower (which any stinky touring cyclist will readily accept at any time) before karaoke night started. After showering we rode our bikes down to the bar and we had a few beers, I sang a few songs, and we just hung out and chatted for a couple of hours. She is such a sweet and genuine woman and she told me stories about all of the careers she's had (law enforcement, mortgage broker, meat cutter, and a couple more that I can't remember). She's got three grown kids from a first marriage and the two younger ones that I met from a second marriage.

Jordan, the 12-year old son I met, is autistic but you'd never know it by hanging out with him. Sheila told me that when he was a child, doctors told her that Jordan would never be functional and that he would need to be placed in some kind of institution to live. Sheila said "no way" to that and has obviously done the most amazing job of raising her autistic child, working tirelessly with Jordan herself as well as getting him into excellent schools where he could get the best help possible. When I was with Jordan, he was engaging, sweet, intelligent, and thoughtful and had no problem interacting with any of us in a normal way. I'd have honestly never known of his autism had Sheila not told me.

Sheila mentioned that she and her kids have lived in Hillsboro, OR; Port Townsend, WA; Liberty Lake, WA, Coeur D'Alene, ID; Denver, CO; and now Frisco, CO. Additionally, she had checked out cities in Arizona to live in as well. I wondered what had made her move her family around so much, but I didn't ask because I didn't really want to pry into private matters. Later, however, I learned that Sheila's 7-year old son, Roman, apparently has some serious and somewhat rare asthma issues. Sheila has uprooted her family multiple times in search of better places to live for her children, places that had the right schools/facilities for the autistic Jordan and places that had the right dry climate for the asthmatic Roman. She's done this with little regard for herself, and that explains a lot about why she's had so many careers. It seems that each time she's chosen to move for her childrens' sake, there hasn't always been a job available in her current field so she's had to accept a job doing something different to make ends meet. She's a real renaissance woman now, I guess, and a hell of a mother to boot!!

The next a.m. when Sheila got up for work, she said that I could go upstairs and continue to sleep for a few more hours on her bed (the couch downstairs was in the middle of the house where it would soon be loud with the kids and her roommate getting ready to leave). She sweetly told me to stay as long as I liked, and that when I awoke, everyone would be gone. She told me I could fix myself some breakfast and do some laundry if I liked and that I could leave whenever I wanted. I'm still shocked and touched my the trust Sheila showed in me leaving me alone in her home.

On my way out of town, I stopped off at the bakery/breakfast place. It was delicious!!!!!! I picked up fresh-baked ginger snap, chocolate chip, and peanut butter cookies and headed over to Safeway as I left town. Sheila took a break from cutting up Frisco's meat (yes, she's the Safeway meat cutter) and came out to share a break and a cookie with me. While I unfortunately never got a photograph of Sheila's family and her roommate Jesse, I was able to get this awesome photo of her hard at work in the meat department (and yes, she knows how to wield that knife):

After a hug from Sheila, I was on my way out of town. I had a leisurely ride because a) it was downhill all the way, and b) it was the most gorgeous country I've ridden through thus far on my trip. The ride from Frisco to Silverthorne took me on a bike path, not a highway, and right along the gorgeous Dillon Reservoir.

After waiting out a brief rainstorm under the awning at a Target store in Silverthorne, I hit Highway 9 North with a goal of camping about 30 miles away at the Green Mountain Reservoir.

When I got there the mosquitos were so fierce and swarming that I didn't even want to stop. At one point, however, I did have to stop on the road to talk to a local motorist about a road closure that I wasn't sure if I could get through or not. In only three or four minutes' time of standing there while he tried to call a few people for road information, if I didn't keep my hands continuously swatting (literally) at all parts of my legs/face/torso/arms/back/head, within a millisecond I would have 86 mosquitos having landed on me and looking for a convenient place to eat my blood. The guy couldn't get a hold of anyone with info, but by that point I didn't care anymore. I knew I didn't want to camp in mosquito hell and that I was getting back on the road, riding away from that reservoir an extra 19 miles to the high-desert town of Kremmling. The mosquitos in Kremmling are moderately better, but camping is limited here and I need a day off after having ridden for about 12-13 straight here I sit at the Allington Inn, having arrived last night and ponied up the cash for a nice motel room and a much-needed relaxation day. Here's the view from the motel in Kremmling:

My longtime, fabulous friend Diana from Denver is arriving later this afternoon and we'll spend today together in Kremmling before I hit the road again early tomorrow morning for a long, 78-mile day with a 2000' climb in the middle of the ride.

I am having such a good time on this trip!! I have seen wonderful places that I would love to return to and a bunch of places that I'd never go back to if you paid me. But, the adventure of it all is exhilarating and I always love a challenge and taking that new road that I've never been down before. Still, I do get homesick and I definitely miss my friends and family back home.

The strength in my hand is returning, though it is not back to normal by any means, and I'm just trying to do the best I can to avoid compressing the ulnar nerve in my wrist, as well as starting to do some hand/wrist strengthening exercises now that the nerve function is returning. I was a bit scared a couple of weeks ago and thought then that I may have to cancel the trip because of the hand issues, but the self-treatment seems to be working so I'm encouraged. I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that I am still excited to finish the trip, and am excited on most days to be on the bike. Some days feel like a chore, but I persevere...

Oh, and here's another random photo that really requires no caption, one of those "am I really seeing this?" pictures:

PS: I didn't go there. See, I don't fish.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pueblo to Canon City to Fairplay to Frisco, CO

Riding from Pueblo, CO to Canon City, CO was when the scenery started to really change. There were better-sized hills for the first time in hundreds of miles:

Then, after cresting a hill outside Pueblo Lake, I caught my first good glimpse of the Rockies out in the distance:

I was a bit sluggish riding that day and eventually Nick and his group of boys caught up with me. We ended up riding for a while but parted when they went 3 miles off-route to a convenience store and I just kept going toward Canon City. By the time they caught up with me again, I'd made it to just outside Canon City and stopped at a laundromat. There was a liquor store next door to the laundromat so I went over and bought a 22 oz. beer (New Belgium's 1554 Black Ale...delicious, by the way); I was half-drunk and my clothes were already in the dryer by the time the boys arrived. While waiting for my clothes to dry, Zach showed off his Rubik's Cube skills; literally, it was astonishing how this boy could solve the thing. I messed it up as best I could and then gave it to him. He took 15 seconds to just look at it, and then I started a timer...he solved the cube in one minute and nine seconds flat!!!

We then rode into town and secured permission with the police to camp at the City Park (it's not legal here like it was further east, but because of the fire nearby, many campgrounds were closed so they begrudgingly let us stay). We had to wait a few hours to pitch our tents while a pretty bad folk duo played an evening concert in the park. The wait was a bit boring but relaxing. Here's a picture of the boys on the last night we were all together before Nick and I split off on a different trail for the rest of the trip:

After the torture was over, we made camp. Three of the five of us chose to pitch our tents on the concrete under the covered pavilion so our tents didn't get wet with dew or ground moisture (thus allowing us to take off earlier without having to wait for a tent to dry before packing up), but Will and Nick didn't. That really strange sound I kept hearing in the middle of the night didn't wake me up for a while, but when it finally did, I realized it was the park's sprinklers...and Nick and Will's tents were getting completely DOUSED. I tried to get a decent photo in the dark, but this is all I could get of Nick's tent with a few droplets of water scattered about:

In the morning I took off after saying goodbye to all the boys (they're continuing to California on a different route). I found a delicious breakfast at a small Canon City cafe, finally getting real wheat bread, real cheddar cheese, and an omelette filled with really good meat and veggies. It seems I may finally be getting away from the land of white bread, pasteurized process cheese, and Miracle Whip. Thank god!!

The long 78 mile ride from Canon City to Fairplay, CO was essentially one long climb, rising about 4300' vertical feet over that distance. The scenery changed significantly with the elevation change and it was a day of significant physical effort. Various pics from the ride are below (I turned onto a different road before the fire became an issue):

I'd ridden a long way and climbed a lot so I was starving...therefore a pitstop in Hartsel at Dorothy's Homemade Tamales was in order. The tamales were spicy and amazing!!

Hartsel's jail looks like an old gas station, doesn't it??

Nick and I had earlier made arrangements to share a motel room in Fairplay when he caught up to me that evening; this was the view of the sunset in Fairplay that night!

Leaving Fairplay (elev 9800') together the next morning, Nick and I had to climb through the town of Alma (North America's highest incorporated town at 10500') before hitting the short but steep four-mile climb up to Hoosier Pass (elev 11572'). Hoosier Pass is the highest point on the TransAmerica trail and the point at which we cross the Continental Divide. Nick got a flat tire on the way out of Fairplay so we stopped at a coffee shop (for me) while he changed the tire. He couldn't find the leak so he just put the tube back in the tire and pumped it up again. Well, that was a bad move because the tire was flat again another mile or two up the road. Fortunately, stopping in this absolutely gorgeous country is not really a bad thing, so it was a minor annoyance at worst.

Flat tire #1:

A further up the hill we saw a fox hanging out in the grass:

Fox up close with the camera zoom:

Flat tire #2:

Me, in Alma, as we get closer to the top of the hill:

The view heading up to the summit:

MADE IT!!! (and beat 20 y/o Nick by 3-4 minutes...not bad for the old guy!! Sorry, Nick!)

When I arrived at the top, there was this Dutch guy (Walter) there waiting to greet me. Seriously. He actually ran across the road to shake my hand!! Turns out that he had done the TransAmerica route way back in 1979, three years after its conception, and this was the first time he'd been back to the U.S. since that ride. He was thrilled to coincidentally meet another Transammer after driving there to relive his accomplishment of 31 years ago.

After Nick arrived, we're tired yet excited and energized after reaching the top:

After hanging out for a bit and enjoying the summit, Nick actually left in a car because his uncle came to pick him up and take him to Denver to visit the family for a day (he'll get driven back up to the top of the summit in two days so he can continue the ride from the same place). I rode the 11 miles down to Breckenridge...really, really fast too, averaging around 30-35 mph. I had a beer in a pub in Breckenridge but didn't feel like sticking around there because the people didn't seem too friendly. I headed down the road about 9 miles to Frisco, CO and it was there that I had several great experiences with super friendly and generous local folks. Unfortunately I am out of library computer time so I will have to save the Frisco tales for the next blog post...sorry!!

Love, D

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

They were right. I entered some REALLY remote country after leaving Larned, KS. It seems that it just keeps getting more and more remote, flatter and flatter (though always with an uphill grade since we're heading toward the Rockies), and hotter and hotter (between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, though fortunately the humidity has been steadily disappearing and the heat is now closer to 'bone dry'). The riding has been fairly difficult also because of the nearly constant head/crosswinds we're facing, the fact that there aren't really shade trees anywhere, as well as because there is a lot of distance between towns that have any services available. Because of the heat and the lack of civilization out here, I've been forced to carry much more weight on the bike in the form of a lot of extra food and water.

I was still with the ACA group group when leaving Larned, KS. Many of us stopped off at Fort Larned, which is said to be the best preserved military fort from the Civil War era; we had a one-hour tour led by a guide and we got to wander through all of the buildings and see how life was like at the fort 150 years ago. They let us touch and hold the uniforms (wool: hot, thick, and heavy) and guns (about 12 lbs in weight and able to shoot 2-3 shots per minute by a very skilled user). It really was a great insight into old military life and very educational regarding the relationship between the Kansan Native Americans and the white settlers back in the day. It really sort of looked like an ordinary old small town, with a bakery, a hotel, a blacksmith/gunsmith, a store, a restaurant, some houses, etc., but only with a military emphasis.

Riding into a very, very stiff (~ 30 mph) head/crosswind before and after Fort Larned, I noted on my bike computer that I'd traveled only 12.7 miles in 1.5 hours. Then, following the map, I had to turn right and go north for 19 miles, which made that head/crosswind become nearly a direct tailwind. Over that 19 miles, that 30 mph tailwind pushed me along like nothing I've ever experienced before! I really pushed hard in my biggest gears and was able to cover 19 miles in only 47 minutes. I've never averaged such a fast speed for so long (nearly 24 mph average), even on my road bike which weighs about 20% of what my fully-loaded touring bike does. In fact, the wind was so strong and I was pedaling so hard that for a short while I topped out at 41 mph...on a FLAT ROAD!!

Ness City, KS was the next night's stay after a long, hot, remote day of riding. I got a motel room at the same place the ACA group did and 23-year-old Paul from Washington D.C. and I got a pizza and watched game seven of the NBA finals together (the Lakers eked out a close come-from-behind win to take the series). That night, while I was walking down the road alone, a local guy named JD pulled over in his pickup truck (he seemed totally wasted, incidentally) and said "heykiddo, where'ya goin'?" I told him I was just walking back to the hotel after taking a few photos. He told me, "Igottapresentforyabutitain'tevenclosetoyoursize." He whipped out, from a bag of grey t-shirts, a shirt that said "RIDE in on the Kansas winds" and "There is no place like home." He pointed out very specifically that the drawing on the shirt shirt depicted the big bank building in town (very historical), the JD Spirits liquor store (he owns it), the tree next to his liquor store (there are FEW trees around, but it still makes me laugh that he included the tree on the shirt), a tornado (they happen occasionally in Ness City), and of course, a pretty girl!! He was very excited about the shirt because it was made for his class reunion which happened last month...actually, it was for ALL Ness City class reunions because, literally, all classes of the high school that have EVER graduated, were invited back for one reunion. (That's how tiny this town was!) Anyway, the shirt was a size 2XL which was absolutely laughable on me because I'm between a medium and a large. I didn't want to turn down the shirt though because he was being so generous to a complete stranger (as well as because the shirt was pretty cool and unique) so I thanked him profusely and took it. And, since it really didn't fit at all, I cut out the design part of it and have been carrying it with me on my bike, using it as a rag or hanging it from my back panniers for people to see. It makes for a great story, anyway!

The next day, I rode mostly with Joe and a little bit with Bryn and Amber to Scott City, KS. Again, it was hours and hours into a stiff headwind, through a hot head/crosswind, and with a very gradual, almost imperceptible uphill grade. We stopped at some tiny town in the middle of nowhere and found an ice cream shack with a shaded pavilion outside, which of course required us to take an hour break from riding to relax and fatten up. I had a delicious chocolate malt, chocolate-dipped ice cream cone, and catnap on a shaded bench. Oh, and a banana, and some graham crackers with peanut butter, and a plum. :)

Refreshed, we hopped back on the road and discovered that the head/crosswind had shifted to a gentle tailwind! Not wanting to waste this generous gift from the wind gods, I took off and got to Scott City a while before anyone else did. Sleeping accommodations that night were at an athletic club that allowed us to roll out our sleeping bags inside as well as use their swimming pool and showers, all for only $13. I also went to the laundromat, ate a crappy chicken sandwich with some delicious mashed potatoes for dinner, and went to bed early with a plan to get up early and leave at sunrise...6 a.m.

The next morning, to my surprise, Joe was up early with me and wanted to leave so we hit the road just before sunrise, way before anyone else.

The tailwind from the day before was still blowing in our favor, and the early morning riding provided not only cool temperatures but some delicious cloud cover; we even rode THROUGH a cloud for about 10 miles, which was really, really weird given that the terrain is FLAT.

We really were able to make some great time and we first stopped about 25 miles into the ride at the first town we came to. Joe stayed with a cup of coffee and waited for the ACA group, while I went on ahead.

The tailwind continued, as did the cloud cover, and I realized when I hit the town that we were planning to camp in (at the 47-mile mark), it was still only 8:45 a.m. and cool. I had flirted with riding a 'century' that day and at that point, I decided that I was going to go for it and really ride hard throughout the afternoon to see how far I could go. At the 73-mile mark I saw the next town so I stopped at the only business in town, the convenience store, for lunch. There I met Brett, a graphic design (I think?) professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. We shared a booth and trail stories over delicious 12" turkey subs made with loving care by the girl running the store. Brett was really cool and laid back, and I found myself wishing we were going the same direction because I would've liked to have ridden with him for a while.

It did get hot, and it did start to get a little hillier, but I still easily hit a trifecta that day. A sign welcomed me to "Colorful Colorado", which was neither particular colorful nor welcoming, given the bland and flat landscape as well as the horribly bumpy road that would've been the worst of the trip thus far if not for having ridden long ago through that 4th-world country known as eastern Kentucky. But, by day's end, not only did I hit a new state (Colorado) and a new  timezone (Mountain), but I rode 103 miles total and still arrived at my destination (Eads, CO) at 3:00 p.m.  I felt I could have ridden another 30 miles or so, but the next town with lodging was 50 miles away and I didn't feel like pushing as hard as it would've taken to get there so I camped in the city park in Eads, alone for the first time in nearly a week as I'd left the ACA group behind.

In Eads, I ran into Nick and his three buddies again; they'd ridden the same 'century' I had, but they'd done it the NIGHT before. Yes, they rode 103 miles at NIGHT. They had left Scott City, KS at 9:30 p.m. the night before and had arrived at around 6:30 a.m. Apparently, some driver had called the cops on them because they felt that the bikers were not visible enough at night (I guess two of them had no lights on the bike). So, the sheriff came out and talked to all the guys individually, telling them to a) not ride so close to the center line, b) to put the riders without any lights in the middle of the group, and c) to stop at the convenience store/truck stop at the next town and buy some lights to attach to their bikes. Apparently the cop was really nice and didn't really chastise them at all. When they arrived in Eads, CO shortly after dawn, they pitched their tents, expecting to sleep for 8 hours and recover from the night ride. It proved, however, that they were not so fortunate because they all woke after about 2 hours when they were baking in direct sunlight inside their tents. Somewhat grouchy after riding all night and then not getting a good sleep afterwards, they went and got hotel rooms at that point and spent a full day recovering from their epic ride.

I left Eads very early in the a.m., around 5:55, just a little while after sunrise.

It was not an easy ride like I expected, however, because the grade was getting slightly steeper, there was more of a headwind than I'd anticipated, and I was sluggish after riding so many miles the day before. After a couple of hours, however, my energy started to kick in and the rest of the 66 mile ride proved to be alright. I was passing through Colorado country now, with more scrubby trees/bushes, a steeper grade, and more hilly areas. At one point, there were about 30 straight miles of unused boxcars on old train tracks, lining the highway. It was as if they were begging to be pulled somewhere, but to no avail. It actually made my ride both interesting and psychologically more difficult, as I was thinking "am I EVER going to pass the end of this damn train?!".

At one point, I pulled over in a map town that wasn't really a town at all and I took a quick nap on a picnic table under the tree. Yes, THE tree. Out here, when you see a shade tree, you get under it because it'll surely be miles before you see another one! After about 15 minutes of getting eaten by mosquitos and paved with flies, however, I ventured on in the heat...

In Sugar City, CO I finally met up with the older Australian couple that I've been chasing since Virginia. They're ~ 77 years old and riding a tandem bicycle. They were such a friendly pair and we had a great chat over a terrible lunch in Sugar City's only open cafe.

In Ordway, CO, the place I planned to sleep for the night, I ran into Will (from Nick's group) as well as Phyllis and Jerry (from Seattle and Baltimore, respectively). We all, as well as Fred and Barb (the 77-year-old Aussies) ended up staying in the Hotel Ordway.

For $25, there was a great clean room, a great clean (shared) bathroom, and a really receptive and helpful owner (Tom). Will and I made our way to the grocery store and shared some grapes and soymilk, while also buying some individual food items as well. I was STOKED to finally start seeing some Mexican food items in the store again because there's been a serious lack of it ever since I left Virginia. I bought some Arroz con Leche, basically a sweet rice pudding, for dessert and it was a tasty, tasty treat. Jerry and Phyllis shared their Fat Tire beer with Will and I, and then I was off to bed early (around 8:30) because I planned to get up at 5 a.m. and be on the road by 5:45 when the sun rose. I am really loving this early riding!!

I was super thankful I got up for an early ride that morning because I got the first true flat tire of the trip (recall older blog post about a 'phantom' flat in Virginia that wasn't really flat) while riding in the middle of the nowhere between Ordway and Pueblo, CO. I was happy it was early because I still had some cloud cover and wonderful 70 degree temperatures for the time when I was stuck at the side of that remote and shadeless road.

The tube had a slow leak so I had a few minutes of riding on a really soft tire while I looked for an appropriate place to pull over and change the tire where I'd be safely out of the traffic; this stretch of road had absolutely NO shoulder and only the occasional tiny pullout. I quickly found the flat - a 1/4" tiny piece of metal from a truck tire embedded in my tire and puncturing the tube. I pulled it out and since the flat was so obvious, I patched it rather than putting a new tube in. That saved me a few minutes of time and effort, as well as letting me keep my two spare tubes intact. During the 15-20 minutes I was on the side of the road working, both Phyllis and Jerry as well as Fred and Barb came upon me and stopped to make sure I was alright and to offer help if I needed it (Jerry did help me seat the tire/wheel a bit better so it didn't wobble).

The rest of the ride to Pueblo was uneventful, with nice temperatures, gentle hills, slowly-changing terrain with more trees and population, and even a bit of a tailwind now and then. I caught up with Phyllis and Jerry and we stopped at a tiny convenience/hardware store for a snack and to shoot the breeze while sitting outside in the gentle breeze.

Will passed us while we were sitting there; I eventually caught up with him down the road and the two of us rolled into Pueblo together, had some REAL Mexican food for lunch, found a bike shop (where I had a safety check done on my bike and I was pleasantly surprised to see they didn't have to do anything and didn't charge me anything), and then decided to share a motel room. Here's a view of over Pueblo's Arkansas River, as well as the train yards, with the trip's first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains way out yonder in the distance (which I'll start heading into tomorrow, most likely).

The bike shop became our hangout for the day since it was just down the street from the motel and Rojas' Mexican restaurant. We ended up catching up with Nick/Zach/Christopher, Phyllis, Jerry, and even two Transammin' girls (Lulu and Sue?) who had just arrived in Pueblo from the west. It's funny how all the cyclists always end up in the same places: bike shops, restaurants, motels, campgrounds, convenience stores, swimming pools, showers, laundromats. It's a really different way of life out here on the road because in our normal daily lives we sleep, eat, wash our clothes, and shower alone and in the privacy of our own homes; out here, we are all searching for these basic services and inevitably bump into each other over and over again.

This morning I am leaving Pueblo for Canon City, CO...after I go to the post office to mail some stuff home that I haven't been using and that I don't want to carry over all the mountains between here and Oregon. Nick, Christopher, Will, and Zach are all riding to Canon City today as well so I may meet up with them later. There's a fire buring near Canon City that's caused some local evacuations and unfortunately the Royal Gorge area that I really want to see is closed because of the fire. Apparently the fire is mostly or nearly completely under control though, and from the people I've talked to, it will likely reopen tomorrow. That will be good as I'll ride the 55 miles to Canon City today (Canon City is safe, and has had no evacuations) and then, tomorrow morning, take off and ride ~ 10 miles further to the entrance to the Royal Gorge.

I'm off to do some laundry now. I wonder who I'll see there that I know.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Catching up on over a week of TransAm trail life...

So, when I woke up in the morning at the old Farmington jail (which is now a cyclists' hostel), I decided to have a lazy morning doing some laundry there and munching on some breakfast. I really was in no hurry to leave, a) because the place was so nice and b) because I had the entire hostel to myself with no one else in the building!! Therefore, I was surprised when, five feet from where I was standing, the door suddenly opened and this great big, hulking dude walked in. It was no big deal...he was just there to change the sheets on the beds, do the laundry, and clean the bathrooms, but he did scare the crap out of me. Here's the catch, though: he was a PRISONER from the REAL jail. It turns out that the old jail I was staying in really was in use just a few years ago and that once they built the new jail and turned the old one into a hostel, they decided to use currently incarcerated people to do the cleaning work at the hostel. Gerald was my prisoner's name, and he was actually a really nice guy. We chatted about sports, girls, family, bicycling, how he can't wait to get out of jail, how I can't wait to get back home...basically everything EXCEPT what he was in prison for. Even though I was dying to know, out of respect I chose not to ask him that question. He did tell me that he has 10 months left on a 5.5 year sentence and that he's just toeing the line as best he can so he can get out and get on with his life again. What really shocked me though wasn't that he was allowed Monday through Friday work duty cleaning the hostel, but that they just let him walk right out of the new jail to come clean the old one without any supervision. He really did just walk down the streets of Farmington unsupervised on his way to do the cleaning. Really, he must be a MODEL prisoner, or else they've just got really bad cops in Farmington. Here's the inside of the jail/hostel (unfortunately Gerald wouldn't let me take a photo of him):

Later that day, as I entered the Ozark mountain range and the hills started getting bigger and coming more rapidly, I began to really get hot. I had plenty of water, but the difficulty of the ride and the 90 degree humid weather was really making riding a bicycle difficult. I kept looking at the bottom of each descent for a potential reward: a creek or river with a great swimming hole. I was continually disappointed, passing muddy, gross creeks one after the other. Actually it'd been that way since Virginia; we are REALLY spoiled in the Pacific Northwest with all the clean water we've got. Then, there it was....finally! I rode across the bridge at the bottom of a big hill and at 25 mph I looked over the edge and saw a group of people enjoying a swim in a really nice river! We waved at each other and one of them yelled "hey, where you going?!" "Swimming", I screamed back, and then I heard "well turn around then!"

I did just that and ended up having about an hour and a half of the most blissful swim. The river was the perfect temperature, the current was not too weak or too strong, the people were really friendly, it was the perfect depth for either swimming or just standing around, and the both the water and the bottom of the river were ultra clean. I have no idea how this wonderful river planted itself in the middle of all the crappy muddy Midwest rivers, but I don't care. Jake, Barb, Drew, Tori, and Michael were on a week's vacation but lived abotu 60 miles away. They'd gone to a different place initially, but because it was so crowded they'd come down to this place where we were the only people around. They were so generous and when they offered me a beer from the cooler, I didn't care that it would be a Budweiser because an ice cold beer sounded amazing at that moment. I was shocked when they tossed me a GUINNESS!! Oh the irony, drinking a good beer and swimming in a clean river in Missouri. When they offered me a turkey sandwich with pepper jack cheese, I just about lost it.

When I hit the road, I had a couple of hours and a bunch of fairly big hills to climb before arriving in Ellington, MO, that night's destination. Right before I got there, there were three cars/trucks that passed way closer to me than necessary while the people inside yelled obscenities at me out the window. I kept my cool, though, and just either waved or ignored them. There's no point in making them any angrier at my existence than they already seem to be, and also I have a goal of riding the whole trip without flipping anybody off or cussing them out.

When I got into the tiny town of Ellington (just about EVERY town I get into is tiny on this journey), I pulled off the side of the road to study my map when I couldn't find the city park. As I was figuring everything out, a truck pulled up to me and a couple inside asked if I was looking for the park. I told them I was and they said they suspected as much because many cyclists camp there; they indicated it was just up the road another half mile or so, but that they lived just before the park and that I was welcome to stop and pitch my tent at their house if I liked. They continued on and told me to look for their truck, which I saw as I later rode up toward their house. They were standing outside waiting for me. I introduced myself and met Billy and his wife Barb, and their grandchildren Jesse (age 12) and Terry (age 6). They also had a little Daschund dog, whose name I cannot recall, but that they all called "Weiner" anyway.

They were all super friendly and in no time all, they had invited me to stay for dinner (homemade lasagna, garlic bread, sweet tea) as well as have a shower and sleep inside the house! In fact, Jesse offered me his bed and they changed the sheets for me too. It was awesome sleeping underneath SpongeBob, Scooby Doo, and SpiderMan for a night!!

We all hung around eating dinner, playing and cuddling with "Weiner", and watching Will Smith movies (Men In Black and Bad Boys). They brought my bike in the house so that it would be safe overnight and Billy even offered me two sets of bicycle brake pads he had in the garage because he knew I was going to be riding through some even hillier country soon (unfortunately the pads didn't fit my bike).

In the morning, with a bowl of raisin bran in my belly, I was off again, but not before I got a photograph of all of us in front of their home. Then, as I was about to leave, Jesse and Terry gave me presents! Jesse had made me a bracelet of hematite (silver stones) on an elastic string and he also gave me a handful of starlight mints (hs favorite) so I would have tasty energy on the road. Not to be outdone, the little 6-year old Terry ran out and gave me a lollipop and a bag of Pop Rocks. What an amazing group of people these folks turned out to be, opening their home to a complete (and dirty) stranger and sharing everything they had without reservation.

Heading out from Ellington, I ended up taking a lunch break after 28 really hilly miles in a nice little town called Eminence. While having a mediocre lunch at a little cafe, I met a group of four other cyclists and ate with them. While inside the cafe, I saw someone I recognized ride by and realized that I had once again caught up to the Adventure Cycling group (of 14 people) who had been staying at the same Carbondale, IL motel days earlier. I took off alone again, through more hot, hilly, and humid Ozark awesomeness and it wasn't long before I failed one of my trip goals. On the beginning of a long uphill with no shoulder for me to ride on, a big, yellow school-bus-cum-river-shuttle-bus carrying a bunch of inner tubes and other floaty thing for river trips almost ran me over, completely intentionally. There wasn't another car on the road and the bus had plenty of room to go around me, but instead, I could hear him accelerate behind me and then pass me with literally 2-3 inches to spare while shaking his fist out the window at me. Not only did it scare the shit out of me, but the wind almost pushed me off onto the gravel shoulder which certainly would have resulted in a crash. I was really pissed off and had a lot of adrenaline in me after such a close call, but I kept my cool and just ignored it. However, about 15 minutes later on the same road, I saw the same school bus up ahead turning from a dirt side road onto the highway I was riding on, this time coming towards me. Long before he reached me, he was shaking his fist out the window at me and this time I couldn't resist...I totally fell down to this kid's level and I flipped him off and yelled some very recognizeable obscenities at him right as he passed me by. I half expected him to turn the school bus around and confront me, but he didn't. I have avoided acting like an asshole for so long, but this time I couldn't stop myself.

Eventually I made Houston, MO, where I camped alone in the city park for the night without any incident. The next morning, after a quick breakfast of cereal, milk, and banana at a local convenience store, I was off. Unfortunately, about 20 minutes into my ride, I tweaked a muscle in the back of my knee (strangely enough, while going downhill, at only 6 mph, pedaling as hard as I could in my easiest gear, into about a 30 mph headwind that came out of nowhere). Throughout the morning, the muscle pain just kept getting worse and worse and I knew I had to take a break. I stopped in Marshfield, MO, the first town I came to, after only about 35 miles of riding that day. I knew I needed to take a rest day or two to see if my knee would stop hurting, and while I found a nice place to stay, it was a bummer getting stuck in a $90/night motel (that didn't even have a fridge!!) after having stayed in fairly nice motels for only $40-60/night previously. There were only 2 motels in Marshfield, and the other one was a real fleabag joint; in fact, when I called that one to talk rates and availability, the woman hung up on me and told me to go just go to the Holiday Inn after I asked if they had wireless internet available.

I spent the rest of that day and the entire next day at the Holiday Inn in Marshfield, religiously icing my knee, stretching a bit, walking around, and resting. I also found a health food store (wow, in Missouri?!) where I got some Arnica gel which is supposed to be somehow good for muscle strains (can't hurt, right?!). Then, while at the health food store, I saw a dentist's office right next door which was offering an examination along with a complete set of x-rays and a full cleaning for only $59! Who gets excited to go to the dentist? ME, that's who! It'd been too long, and since I no longer have dental insurance, I obviously have to pay cash. Before I left Portland, I'd been looking around and the cheapest I could find was $130 so I'd bagged it then. It was awesome at this dentist's office because the hygienist was really into cycling and was very supportive of me, asking all kinds of questions and telling me all about what it's like to live in her part of the world.

The knee got completely better after that day and a half of rest, relaxation, ice, and stretching. What did not get better was an ulnar nerve compression (wrist/hand) injury that I was only beginning to realize I had. About the same time the knee pain started, I began getting some tingling in my right ring and pinky fingers and I noticed that my grip strength in my right hand was significantly weaker. I couldn't turn the key in my bike lock or clip the fingernails on my left hand....scary stuff. While trying to get my knee better, I also began icing my hand and even bought a wrist brace to see if a) sleeping with it on and b) riding with it on would relieve the nerve compression and allow the strength to return.

I rode to Golden City, MO (85 miles) the next day (yes, with wrist brace on) and rode straight into a tornado warning!! Not a tornado, mind you, just a warning. But, the whole town was talking about it and of course, the town had ZERO motels for me to find shelter in. My only option was camping in the city park; I don't know about you, but camping during a lightning storm that may be throwing out tornados doesn't sound like the smartest thing to me. I spoke to the sheriff in this little town of about 1,000 people and he said that what I should do when camping out was listen for the tornado sirens - that if they started sounding, to get on my bike and ride wherever all the other cars were going (because they were going to someone's house that had a basement) and just get off my bike and run straight down into the basement with them. That was my only option...until I ran into a dude named Paul at Cooky's Cafe while I was eating the most amazing blueberry crisp pie ever. (Cooky's is famous on the TransAm trail for its particularly delicious pies.)

Paul is a local guy who lives near the city park and said he has a neighbor with a storm shelter under his house that he opens up to anyone that needs it when the sirens go off. Later that evening, Paul and his friend Mark walked over to where I was camped in the park and invited me over to Mark's house to see where the shelter was, just in case I had to use it. I was relieved to see it was only about 200 feet from my tent. Mark also offered his garage for me to sleep in if the storm got a little too much for me in the tent. They said that even if there wasn't a tornado rolling through that the lightning and rainstorm would likely be quite violent. Later that night, when the lightning began cracking waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too close, I made a run for it and slept in relative comfort inside Mark's sweltering hot garage, thankful to not have become a lightning rod, and having timed it just perfectly as the rain started POUNDING down the second after I set foot in the garage.

 When I left the next morning, I had breakfast at Cooky's (all their food was great). This snapshot of an overcast Main Street of Golden City the morning after the storm does not reveal the viciousness of Mother Nature seen just hours earlier, when the driving rain and lightning strikes continued for hours on end.

Knowing Pittsburg, KS was only 36 miles away and that it was the biggest town (at 19,000) I'd seen since Charlottesville, VA (seriously, this was the largest town I'd seen in the last four states), I knew I'd stop there for both rest and because it had a bike shop. Even though my knee was now fine and my body otherwise was doing just fine, I knew I had to do something about this hand problem. As a Physical Therapist, I know that the numbness and tingling of a nerve problem, while of concern, are of much less concern than muscle weakness and atrophy. The longer a nerve compression problem remains, and the longer one goes with muscle weakness and atrophy, the less likely that strength is to ever come back once the nerve compression resolves. Given that I work with my hands, I don't want to mess with muscle atrophy/nerve compression in my hands. This presents a bit of a dilemma, given that I am in the middle of trip where I ride a bike for hours every day. I don't want to quit, but I do want to be smart.

I spent 3 nights in Pittsburg, which is loooooooong for a normal rest during a TransAm bike trip, but is a very short rest for a nerve compression syndrome. I did everything I could in Pittsburg to take care of my hand: I installed a shorter and more upright stem for my bike so that I sit more upright with more weight on my butt and less on my hands; I put some extra foam padding and handlebar tape on my handlebars with a bit of relief at the area where the ulnar nerve runs through the heel of the hand; I started taking 2400 mg of Ibuprofen daily as the doctor would suggest for anti-inflammatory purposes (I have no pain); I iced my hand/wrist 3-4 times/day; I avoided riding my bike almost entirely during those three days; I started doing some light hand/finger exercises at a level appropriate to my weakness/atrophy; oh, and I went to a Chinese restaurant where I got (and kept) the fortune that said "Serious trouble will bypass you".

The first night in Pittsburg, I found the "Tornado Lounge", a bar with some really crappy karaoke and really cheap beer. It was interesting people-watching to say the least; perhaps the most intriguing was some dude who was all "country'd up" with the hat, boots, belt buckle, Wranglers, and shirt with snaps and crazy pattern on it who was claiming to be a big star. He'd given the bar an autographed photo of himself, he gave me his card that said "singer/actor/model", and he told anyone who'd listen that he'd been invited to sing at the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame next month. He did look the part and, given my instinct to trust people until I get burned, I believed him. But then I heard him sing. There is no way that this guy would be invited to sing at the Texas Hall of Fame...I mean, he was not even good at karaoke! I think he may have been just using the whole facade to try to pick up chicks. Hey, wait a minute. I can buy a hat and sing like crap. Maybe I should do a little research project here...

The second night in Pittsburg was like a big party - the Adventure Cycling group had made it to town (I've started to see them more and more so I know most of them now) and Nick and his group of four 20-year olds were also around. There was a lot of resting and socializing going on during those two days, and it couldn't have come at a better time as I was getting pretty depressed about my hand problem and struggling with the injury, the lack of healing, and the possibility of cancelling my trip because of it. Will, the tall kid in the red shirt who is riding with Nick now had had a particularly long, difficult day at the bike shop and was planning to camp, so I let him take a shower in my room and sleep that night on the extra bed so he didn't have to set up a tent.

After Nick and the Adventure Cycling (ACA) group left, I stayed an extra day by myself and rested. I had thought I may stay up to a week and really give my hand a break, but it seemed I may be getting a bit of strength back. I also decided that I needed to try the new bicycle setup to see if it really made a difference in my symptoms. The next morning, therefore, I packed up and left, heading 60 miles for Chanute, KS.

Chanute was uneventful, except for the dinner I had at the sports bar in town where I sat outside on the patio with a local kid named Mike, a kid who was playing guitar and singing while hanging out having a few beers. He was a talented guy and interesting to talk to, having pretty much lived in every town in Kansas without ever having left. He could play any style of music and even wrote a few songs of his own. He let me play his guitar and sing a couple songs too...I was unimpressive on the guitar because of the fact that a) I haven't played in the last 6 months so my finger calluses are gone, and b) my right hand weakness limited my ability to pick and strum the strings either accurately or for any length of time. Or maybe I just suck. That could be part of it. :)

I camped in the Chanute city park for free (which was fine except the bathrooms were gross because a baseball tournament had just concluded and there was urine everywhere and no TP...but it DID have a shower!!) and ran into Tom and Alice, a couple of other cyclists who are touring with friends who follow them in an RV, carry their gear, and give them a place to sleep every night).

After leaving Chanute, it was 68 miles to Eureka, KS. Again, the city park beckoned, but when a flash flood warning was issued for the town, I hightailed it to a motel because the park is by the river. Before I left the park, I picked up Shay, a cyclist who is traveling EASTbound on the TransAm trail to share the motel room. He was a cool guy, from Flagstaff AZ, and was interesting to talk to. We cyclists are all about sharing the cost of a motel room so it was great timing for both of us to end up at the park at the same time. The lightning storm that night was once again vicious and incredible, and looked even more fantastic because of our safe and sheltered location in a room at the Blue Stem Motel. Shay travels with a bike trailer instead of panniers (the bags that hang from bike racks, as you can see on my bike in the photo background) but he says that, having used both, he still doesn't know which he prefers. I know I like having my panniers, but I've never ridden with a trailer...

I rode into Kansas' hills the next morning - the Flint Hills. They were entirely different from any other hills we've seen on this trip. They had very long but not steep grades and there are no trees anywhere! It's a good thing the day was shaded for the first few hours because it could've been miserable out there. The weather actually was really interesting....varying from super, super dark black skies with threats of rain/hail/lightning to beautiful blue cloudy temperate skies to unrelentingly clear and hot skies. There were cows everywhere; apparently the Flint Hills have millions of cattle trucked in every spring to get fattened up before they are taken back to wherever they came from and slaughtered to feed America.

I ended up in Newton, KS that night, after a very remote day with no services whatsoever for 38 straight miles. Loading up on water and food is imperative out here because there's often nothing to eat or drink for long stretches of road. I caught up with the ACA group again and they were staying at the Days' Inn. I've made friends with most of the group, and actually have spent a fair amount of time now with Joe (Pennsylvania), Bryn (NYC), Amber (Richmond, VA), Will (Eugene, OR), and Paul (Washington DC). That night, Joe, Bryn, and Amber told me how to get to a good Mexican restaurant so I went for a big burrito; then when I returned, Bryn and Amber offered to let me sleep on their hotel floor so I didn't have to set up my tent. What goes around comes give to others on the road and it comes back to you eventually for sure. We had a great time hanging out watching random TV, talking cycling, and being totally lazy.

We all got up and left together the next day and it was nice to ride with a group for a while. After about 12 miles, Joe and I went ahead of the girls and we stopped for lunch in a town called Buhler about 33 miles into the ride. Buhler was just like many other Kansas towns: small, friendly, with blue skies and with a huge grain silo looming over the town. As I snapped a photo of the silo looming large above us, seconds later a farmer drove by on a big bulldozer and I couldn't resist snapping a shot of him too.

It was there that I had the VERY BEST cookie I have ever eaten in my entire life. They called it a "turtle" cookie at the restaurant, which I did not catch the name of. It was a wonderfully moist, perfectly soft yet hard, perfectly sugary yet salty chocolate chip coookie, with pecans and a caramel drizzle on top. It was truly heavenly. I have a photo but on my phone and can't post it here now, but you have to see this cookie so I'll show it in a later post.

I left Buhler alone and Joe stayed with the ACA group when they arrived a while after us. All these rain and lightning storms have produced quite a bit of flooding around the area, none of which have really affected us until the road out of Buhler. There was water across the road out of Buhler and I wasn't sure how deep it was or if I could ride or walk through it safely. As I was nearing the flooded area, a school bus driver yelled out at me that she'd take me across; she helped pull the front end of my bike up into the bus, but it was too big to fit and close the door. So, as she drove me across, I stood on the lowest step and held the rear end of my bike so it didn't fall out of the bus into the water. I think the water ended up only being a foot deep and I later heard that all the ACA folks rode through it with no problem, but I think getting chauferred across by a friendly Kansas school bus driver is a much better (and drier) story. (Yes, it is a short bus, people. Insert joke here.)

 Kansas has flattened out nearly completely now, and the days are getting easier. There does seem to be a frequent wind in the face, though fortunately it's more often than not a bit of a crosswind as well and not a pure headwind. Last night brought me to Sterling, KS where I once again met up with the ACA group; this time we all camped together and Joe, Bryn, Amber, and I all went swimming at the public pool in the park. They even had a diving board! The campground was in an area completely unshaded, though, so we couldn't lounge around our tents until after dark because the sun was scorching. That was kind of annoying, but hey, you can't beat being allowed to camp and swim for free either.

Today was a relatively easy 52 mile ride to Larned, KS and actually I had a tailwind for part of the way. I got thoroughly soaked during a really heavy, but brief, rainstorm in the a.m. which actually served to cool me down nicely for the hotter afternoon. I was able to make the 52 mile ride in about 4.5 hours, which is pretty dang fast for a really heavy and loaded touring bike. Because I left early, I was able to get into the library to make this loooooooooooong blog post, which I haven't been able to do recently because of being in towns without libraries, not wanting to type because of my hand problem, not getting to town until after the library has closed, and not having a consistent data connection on my phone. I will try to get to a computer more consistently if possible so I don't keep making such annoyingly long blog posts in the future for y'all.

I am off now to go grab some dinner. It seems I'm getting some of the strength back in my hand and that the handlebar/bike setup is helping so my spirits are lifting as a result. I will be camping in the Larned, KS city park with the ACA group again tonight, and from what I hear, tomorrow we enter the REALLY remote territory. Wow, I can hardly imagine this, given how remote the country I have been rolling through has seemed recently...