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.