Monday, June 30, 2008

Day 19, The heart of Missouri

Day 19, Summersville, MO – Fair Grove, MO 101 miles (1508 total)

Time on bike: 09:42:02

Avg: 10.7 mph

Daily Ascent: 7081 ft (70 ft/mile)

Max: 41 mph

Pat and I began the day early to make up for our lost time due to rain the day before. We began at 6 and by 6:30 we met Steve heading East Bound and stopped to talk. Steve was from Oregon. We chatted with Steve for a while, discussing the terrain and other cyclists we had seen along the way. Then we pressed on through the towns of Houston and Hartville. There’s not much between towns here so it’s important to stop at each and “re-fuel”. I saw an armadillo (road kill) just outside of Houston. That was weird. Pat gets chocolate milk at EVERY stop we make! He swears by the stuff. It was a good day for cycling, weather wise. Cooler from the rain the day before, and sunny. But it was also windy and we did our fair share of climbing. The hills of south/central Missouri are rolling and not very steep, but they are long. You find that you’ve climbed a lot more than you expected by the end of the day. I’ve also discovered that the store that I’ve seen the most along the whole route has been Dollar General. So many of these small towns have one. More than any other store. Sub-way might be second.

We met Rudy just as we were about to finish for the day. He was a Floridan who had done the route 2 years ago but had skipped over Missouri and wanted to finish it, so here he was. Generally cyclists stop and talk to each other, but not always. You find that some cyclists, if they’re flying down hill especially, don’t want to give up their downhill momentum, so they apologize and keep going. That’s understandable.

Pat and I got our ‘hundred’ in, which was what we wanted. We’re camped out in town along the highway near a mill in a city park. I asked a volunteer fireman and this was where he recommended.

The sun is setting and I’m tired. I’m ready for bed. It’s 6 days until July 4 so I’m hearing fireworks around me. I hope they subside soon. We should be into Kansas by Tuesday morning. I’m looking forward to reaching my 5th state.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day 18, Rain Delay

Day 18, Owl’s Bend, MO – Summersville, MO 32 miles (1407 total)

Time on bike: 03:50:20

Avg: 8.9 mph

Daily Ascent: 3512 ft (110 ft/mile)

Max: 43 mph

Rain Delay. There was a bad storm that swept through Missouri last night. A lot of wind and lightening. Pat and I were camping. Fortunately we didn’t get too wet and our tents held up against the storm. It rained into the morning, though, so we didn’t get started until 8:30. Breakfast was at a little spot in Ellington. Breakfast buffet was $8.99. Too steep for us, however… the couple who had left before us left 5 pieces of bacon, a sausage patty and 2 silver dollar pancakes there on the table from their buffet. Pat and I decided to help ourselves!! Why not? Just as the waitress came to pick up the plates I said, “Hold on!” and grabbed the last piece of bacon!! You should have seen the look on her face. (Yes, I know this sounds gross, but you just had to be there.)

We cycled on through CRAZY hills (110 ft per mile!). We passed 4 cyclists, one of which was a woman named Sherry who was cycling alone. The guys, however seemed to be in a hurry, and we soon found out why. About 3 miles shy of Summersville we got hit with rain and wind. We made it to town, like a couple of drowned rats, and after a quick bite and mingling with the locals and figuring out that the rain might last all day, decided to bed down at Rose’s Green Roof Inn. A nice little hole in the wall motel, and I’m sure the only one in this town of 500.

So, it looks like we’ll get rested up and get a good jump on everything tomorrow…

Day 17, Pat, the new friend

Day 17, Farmington, MO – Owl’s Bend, MO (near Eminence, MO) 75 miles (1375 total)

Time on bike: 07:30:16

Avg: 11 mph

Daily Ascent: 5104 ft (68 ft/mile)

Max: 43 mph

A New Friend. Inevitabely as I bike along this famous bicycle route I encounter other cyclists. As I waited to meet my friend Ashby outside of Motel 8 in Farmington I saw a man approaching on a bicycle. I wasn’t sure what to think at first. I initially thought he was pulling kids in his trailer rather than gear just by the size and structure of the trailer. He pulled up and introduced himself as Pat McLaughlin and said he was traveling to Nevada for the Burning Man Festival. We chatted for a few minutes about the terrain and weather, as most cyclists do, and then I offered him my maps to photograph since he didn’t have maps and was going strictly by his GPS. The thanked me and then later brought down 2 bananas to my room as a thanksgiving offering.

I didn’t plan on cycling with Pat. To be honest he didn’t seem to be well prepared for this type of trip. He was on a mountain bike, pulling a large load and wearing hiking boots rather than cycling shoes. But he looked in great shape for a middle aged man and he certainly seemed like he was determined to get to where he was going.

The next morning there was a knock on my door and Pat was there asking what time I was leaving. We decided to travel together and it proved to be a good move. Biking with someone is generally better than biking alone. We cycled through the Missouri Ozarks and small towns along the way. Missouri drivers are apparently known for being a bit hostile towards cyclists and we did come across a few vehicles that yelled for us to get off the road. But the scenery is still beautiful and Pat and I both agree that this is an amazing way to travel for every reason.

Once we had reached about 50 miles we saw up ahead on a hill a cyclist who appeared to be in trouble. His bike was flipped on its side and he was standing next to it. It looked like a mechanical problem. Once we arrived it was merely an out of shape cyclist who had started his ride in St Louis and was traveling to Oregon. We told him we came from Farmington and he said, “Oh yeah, I was there 2 days ago.” 50 miles in 2 days? Dude, you’re out of shape, but glad that you’re out here doing this. The hill he was on top of he walked up and it wasn’t a steep hill, but we all move at a different pace and in a week he’ll probably be cycling up most of the hills. Pat and I had a good chuckle though as we went on wondering which hills our comrade would be walking.

We settled down for the night in a beautiful little camping site called Owl’s Bend in the Ozarks along the Current River. We inquired about showers from some campers who were already set up and they said there were none but they bathed in the river. Sounded like a good idea, so Pat and I made our way down with our soap and towels in hand. It was such an incredible thing to be bathing in a crystal clear river in the middle of the Ozarks as the sun was coloring the sky the most amazing pastel colors behind us. It was surreal. The reason for making such a journey and certainly a fantastic way to end the days riding, which was good because we climbed some monster hills in our last 14 miles. It was certainly the first time I’d bathed in a beautiful mountain river, but hopefully it won’t be the last!

Day 16, Rest at last

Day 16, Coffman, MO – Farmington, MO 14 miles (1250 total)

Time on bike: not very long

Avg: who knows

Daily Ascent: ???

Max: not very many mph

Today was a very short day. I was hoping to get these 14 miles in yesterday to make it one long day but I ran out of daylight. I spent the day in Farmington doing laundry and surfing the internet. It was good to be off the bike for the day. I met up with my friend Ashby who came down from St Louis. We had a stellar game of bowling followed by a riveting game of put-put golf. Really it was just good to catch up with a friend.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Day 15, Hello Missouri! (What happened to Illinois?)

Day 15, Goreville, IL – Coffman, MO 104 miles (1236 total)

Time on bike: 11:07:49

Avg: 10.5 mph

Daily Ascent: 6912 ft (66 ft/mile)

Max: 39 mph

Another night, another state. Hello Missouri. To be honest, I never thought I’d make it out of Virginia, but here I am now in the my 4th state.

I awoke early today to get an early start. The state park where I camped was a ways off the trail and I had to climb several steep hills to get back to the trail, so my earliness was nullified. The weather today was hot and muggy. Highs in the lower 90’s and it felt like it. I don’t notice the heat until I have to climb and Missouri proved to be just as hilly, if not more so than southern Illinois.

I stopped in Murphysboro, IL for a bite to eat at the recommendation of a cyclist I met the night before. He said, “17th Street Grill has the best BBQ Ribs in the world.” “You’re pullin’ my leg. Everybody says that,” I tell him. “No. They’ve won several awards and have even served their ribs to a few presidents of the US.” So I had to give it a shot after that.

It really was somewhat of a hole in the wall. It wasn’t much of a place, just looked like about any other bar and grill, heavy on the bar side. I ordered the lunch ribs which came with 3 sides for a whopping $8.99. I got 3 ribs for that price and they were good. No complaints here.

From there I progressed to Chester Illinois where I was to cross the Mississippi River… at flood stage. Chester brags about being the “Home of Popeye” as the cartoonist was born in Chester, IL. There’s a huge metal statue of him at the bridge into Missouri.

The river was massive and powerful. Looking at the supports of the bridge I could see how quickly the water was moving. There was a service road that ran parallel to the river that was submerged in sections. Chester is a city on a hill, so it wasn’t affected.

I wanted to reach Farmington today and am disappointed that I didn’t. I blame the hills, mostly. I’m meeting my friend Ashby Tyler there tomorrow and taking the day off from biking. It’ll be my first day off since starting the trip. I don’t want to take a day off in terms of recovery or progress, but I do want to chill out and spend a day with a friend that I rarely see.

I’ve been thinking about how the human body is an amazing thing. To ride a bicycle for 10+ hours every day for several weeks at a time… For my legs and knees to be pushing and bending over and over and over and over with the amount of stress and pressure I exert on them minute after minute… The human body is capable of so much more than we think it’s capable of and it does it without us really thinking about it. I imagine putting that amount of stress or pressure on a door hinge over and over and over for days at a time. I think it’d wear out before too long, but our bodies are designed for the weird and straining things that we throw at it. It’s really amazing when you think about it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Day 14, Hello Illinois!

Day 14, Clay, KY – Goreville, IL 94 miles (1132 total)

Time on bike: 9:17:01

Avg: 10.3 mph

Daily Ascent: 6265 ft (67 ft/mile)

Max: 40 mph

Illinois! What gives!! I always thought of Illinois as being a flat, boring state! Apparently southern Illinois is covered in hills! I haven’t climbed this much since I was in the Appalachian mountains in Virginia! The hills weren’t long or terribly steep they were just plentiful.

Early on in my ride I came to the Ohio river where I had to cross by ferry. On the ferry I met a group that had their bicycles mounted to their cars and were heading for some light trail riding. We had a great conversation bout cross country riding and recumbent bikes. The guy I spoke with had an older recumbent bicycle.

To keep me from going crazy by just peddling my bike all day long and listening to – creak, creak, creak – I listen to podcasts throughout the day. I put one earplug in and keep the other one tuned in for traffic. Every time I stop for a break I charge up the iPod. Here’s what I listen to in no particular order:

Tony Campolo

Rob Bell – Mars Hill

Mark Nelson – Crossings

NPR: Fresh Air w/ Terry Gross

Dave Ramsey

Car Talk

BBC Documentaries

This American Life

NPR: Religion

NPR: Politics

ESPN: Best of Mike & Mike in the morning

ESPN: Football Today – The Audible

Day 13, KY Farmland

Day 13, Hudson, KY – Clay, KY 112 miles (1038 total)

Time on bike: 10:07:16

Avg: 11.8 mph

Daily Ascent: 6588 ft (59 ft/mile)

Max: 38 mph

I’m biking through Kentucky farm land! I thought the hills were supposed to disappear? So how did I climb 6500 feet today? Most of the day was through roller-coaster like hills. Fast ups and downs most of the day. I awoke to my host father (of sorts) opening the country store at 6:30am. There was already one Chevy pickup waiting in the parking lot by the time he opened, waiting for breakfast. He immediately got to work preparing biscuits (warming them up) and sausage and bacon. I ordered 2 sausage and biscuits, but I ended up only having to pay for one. That set me back $0.50. Over the next several minutes a total of 6 different farmers rolled in. Some for coffee, some for breakfast, but most to sit around and exchange one liners and talk about the weather. It was a beautiful way to start the morning.

A horrible scene occurred early in my ride this morning. It haunted me all day. A young, juvenile dog, playful enough to be a puppy but in a full sized dog’s body, saw me coming. He playfully ran towards me. What he didn’t see was the neighbor’s big truck, a Ford F-350 pull out across the street. I think the neighbor was too interested in the bike I was riding to notice the dog and 15 feet away from me I heard a distinct thump-thump, the way a vehicle makes passing over a speed bump. I was afraid to look back. I was sure to see a black lump in the road, but instead I heard the most awful howling from a dog clearly in shock and pain. I glanced behind me. The truck just kept on going. The dog limped off the side of the road, still howling, and I could see that it’s front leg was clearly broken. My initial instinct was to flee the scene. “It’s not my problem.” I told myself. So I peddled harder. I’d like to say that I turned around and got some help, but I didn’t. I rationalized that there was nothing that I could do. The dog may have to be put down. It may be euthanized even as I write this. What I know is that that image hung in my mind and bothered me all day.

On to a more pleasant note, I did get 112 miles in today. It was a beautiful day, highs around 85 but low humidity. A perfect summer day in many regards, through the rolling farm lands of KY. I encountered 4 other cyclists who were also going West. Two were going to San Francisco, a young man and woman. They were going a little too slow for my taste. We chatted for a while, mostly about the infamous family of 4 on one bicycle which we’ve all by now heard about but nobody has yet seen.

I’m well into my routine now. I wake up at 5am (I’m an early bird if you haven’t noticed) and I’m on the bike by 6:30 after a lunch of a bagel and peanut butter. Then around 10am I stop for a 30 minute break where I try to find a blueberry muffin for a snack. Then I cycle until 1pm and take an hour for lunch, hoping to find a Subway where I can get a foot long sub for $5 and save the other half for supper. By 4:30 it’s time for another 30 minute break. On my breaks, my shoes have to come off and my flip flops go on to really relax my feet. They get sore from all that peddling. Then by 7pm I try to find a place to sleep, which typically consists of a church, fire station, city park, or a friendly looking home along the route.

I’ve come to hate State Parks! Basically, a State Park is their way of saying, “We couldn’t farm this land because of the hills. Cyclists, knock yourselves out! J

This evening I settled in Clay, KY. A small town of about 1,200 people. It has 2 convenience stores, one which stays open all night and the other that closes at 9pm. It also has 1 restaurant which closes at 8pm. I pass through so many small towns on these “off the beaten path” roads. Here I pulled into a nice neighborhood near the city park and asked if cyclists camped out in the park. They didn’t seem to know but pointed me to the city councilman across the street and he said it was ok. I got to chatting with the neighbors. They were curious about how far I’d come and where I was going. They were so kind and helpful. They told me that I could shower at 2 of the churches in town. One man even called up the Baptist pastor and asked about the showers. “The janitor won’t be in until 7am tomorrow, so you’ll have to wait until then to shower.” I sleep so much better after a shower, but it’ll have to wait yet again. Ah well.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Day 12, "Will you sign my guest book?"

Day 12, Springfield, KY – Hudson, KY 98 miles (926 total)

Time on bike: 8:51:16

Avg: 11.1 mph

Daily Ascent: 5696 ft (58 ft/mile)

Max: 36 mph

The morning began just outside of the Lincoln Homestead just a few miles west of Springfield. Three log cabin structures stood in the morning mist where Abraham Lincoln’s father was raised until he was 25. I continued on to Bardstown which is the 2nd oldest city in Virginia when it was settled in the 1780s. Bardstown was the first center of Catholicism west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Diocese of Bardstown was established on February 8, 1808, and served all Catholics between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River, an area now served by 44 dioceses and archdioceses in 10 states. Bardstown is nicknamed the Bourbon Capital of the World. It is home to such distilleries as Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Heaven Hill. Bardstown is also the home of My Old Kentucky Home State Park, on which the Federal Hill mansion (the alleged inspiration for Stephen Foster's song "My Old Kentucky Home") was built.

As I cycled through Bardstown the Catholic presence was evident as I began to pass several concrete statues of the Virgin Mary, some of which were sheltered by a half buried bathtub creating a cave of sorts to shelter the statue. The statues were somewhat eerie to cycle past, I have to admit. They seemed to come from nowhere and they were in a number of yards and they had quite an elegant shrine built around them.

It was a welcome relief, of sorts, to run across interstate 65 because I went to college just off of 65 at Purdue, so it felt like a piece of home and also a milestone to cross as I felt like I was making progress. Dark clouds ahead caused me to pull off into a gas station and wait a few hours to see what the weather was going to do. The wind picked up but there was no rain so I pushed on ahead.

I went longer than usual trying to make up for the stoppage time and found myself in a rural farm land area looking for a place to put up my tent. A woman picking up sticks in her yard yelled at me, “Do you want to sign our guest book at the store?” “Well, to be honest, I’m looking for a place to put up my tent.” “You can do that too, let me get the keys and open the store back up.” So I ended up talking to Arnold, Lucy and Lauren, their 13 year old “mature” daughter until 10:30pm telling stories of Africa. We sat in their store and watched TV and sat around their booths and tables late into the night. Their store, as with many country stores, was a hodgepodge of a little bit of everything. The shelves weren’t stocked deep with items, but they made up for it with variety of items. Everything from cans of beans to fan belts for an automobile. They allowed me to take a shower which was also in the store and then fed me sausage biscuits for breakfast the next morning. Kentucky hospitality is a wonderful thing!

Day 11, A visit from Dad and Mom

Day 11, Berea, KY – Springfield, KY 72 miles (828 total)

Time on bike: 7:51:16

Avg: 10.6 mph

Daily Ascent: 5426 ft (65 ft/mile*)

Max: 36.5 mph

Rolling farmlands. The day started out with breakfast at Cracker Barrel with mom and dad who came to Berea to visit. My joy in seeing them was only slightly surpassed by the chance to sleep in a bed and take a hot shower. After bidding them farewell I started off later than ususal and wanted make up for lost time, but Berea proved to be difficult to navigate. Kentucky doesn’t mark the roads with the “Route 76” bike route signs like Virginia did, so you’re pretty much on your own to find the route, and the course changed roads frequently. Mix in a few scattered showers and it made for a crazy morning where I went down the wrong road on more than one occasion. (I actually biked 11 more miles than my mileage indicates) Just before Harrodsburg I got onto route 152 and stayed on that until I reached Springfield. Today was the first day when I looked out into the horizon and didn’t see mountains. I was so happy I almost cried.

The mountains have given way to rolling farm lands of corn and bales of hay. I’ve seen every kind of animal in Kentucky except for pigs. I’ve seen horses (of course), cows, chickens, sheep, goats. I’ve even seen buffalo. The trailer homes in the hills have given way to beautiful farm houses and modest but big, picturesque homes on the hills.

*Ascent average was calculated from actual miles traveled which includes ‘lost’ miles.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Day 10, Buckhorn, KY – Berea, KY 76 miles (756 total)

Time on bike: 8:14:19

Avg: 9.4 mph

Daily Ascent: 5014 ft (66 ft/mile)

Max: 30.5 mph

Desolate, dogs and roller-coaster hills. The day started off great with a hometown breakfast in a little country shop that sold everything from breakfast to auto supplies. I had sausage, scrambled eggs, biscuits & gravy and fried apples. Plus I was able to use their Wi-Fi and watch ESPN News! All this in a town with a population of 144! So, needless to say, I got off to a later start than usual.

The hills weren’t too bad but they were steep, roller-coaster hills. No sooner would I have gone down one than there was another steep one right in front of it. It felt like I was making no progress at all. I was also in a very isolated area. I planned on eating lunch around 1 but there was no where along the route to stop. I peddled through a valley for 30 miles and barely saw a car. I’ve never seen Deliverance, but I’ve heard it’s something like that. It felt kind of creepy, but the roads were smooth and relatively flat (after the roller-coaster hills) and I made it to Berea. My parents are on their way here and I’m in a hotel for the night. Warm shower, free Wi-Fi and it’s right next to a Cracker Barrel. What more could you ask for??

I met a group of 4 English chaps who are cycling from San Francisco (or was it San Diego) to Washington DC. We exchanged pleasantries (cheers, blokes!) and then swapped some stories about the terrain ahead. One of the guys had been to Malawi so we talked Africa for some time.

Some things I’ve heard along the way… apparently there’s a family of 4 ahead of me, father, mother and 2 children, who are on a bicycle built for 4 and toting a trailer… this I gotta see. Also, an old man stopped me to chat and he was telling me about a bloke (sorry, still in English mode) who passed through town going cross country several years back on a horse!! He said he had taken over a year and he was heading to New York… I’m assuming the state.

Day 9, Kentucky indeed...

First of all, check out Mark Nelson's blog to find out what this incredible picture is all about...

Day 9, Lookout, KY – Buckhorn, KY 96 miles (680 total)

Time on bike: 10:20:40

Avg: 9.3 mph

Daily Ascent: 6150 ft (64 ft/mile)

Max: 38 mph

Kentucky: Dogs, trailer homes, 4-wheelers and liquor stores. I was chased by a number of dogs today. Nothing too ferocious, but annoying enough that I had to bust out my doggie pepper spray (Halt!). One was particularly clever. It was a beagle mix and it would chase for a while, then look away, as to not get sprayed, and then chase again. It seemed to have the system figured out.

Trailer homes. I don’t ever remember seeing so many trailer homes before. They’re everywhere. What amazes me are the elaborate porches that are built around the trailer homes. That and the $30,000 vehicles parked in the driveway.

4-wheelers. As soon as I hit the state line I saw almost as many 4 wheelers and dirt bikes than dogs. People were driving them on the road, they were in the backs of pickup trucks, there were even a number of the kiddie, power-wheel 4 wheelers.

Liquor stores. I’d bike through the hills and go through several towns. The towns would have abandoned auto shops and abandoned general stores, but the one business that they did have that was still open was the liquor store. Several times that’d be the only store in the entire town.

On a side note, did you know that over half of Kentucky is covered in forest land and that they have more running water (rivers and streams ) than any other state other than Alaska. Cool beans, huh?

Can I just have a day of cycling where I DON’T have to climb over 5,000 ft!! Sheesh!

Most tempting piece of litter on the side of the road today: Twizlers. Least tempting: blue jean shorts.

I got a couple “Get off the road!” yells from the hillbillies today, but believe me, it’s NOTHING compared to what I’d been getting in Uganda as far as harassment goes! Try being the only white guy in an African village for 2 years. You develop some pretty thick skin.

My favorite was when a guy going the other way in a Chevy Cavalier with 2 different colored fenders, both were different than the color of the actual car. He had a cigarette in one hand and he leaned out the window which was either rolled down or busted out and hollered, “Dontya betya ‘s easyah ridin’ lahk dat d’n dey udder’s strait up er yah, ain’t it?” My response… “yeah.”

Day 8, Kentucky at last

Day 8, Damascus, VA – Lookout, KY 97 miles (584 total)

Time on bike: 10:24:39

Avg: 9.3 mph

Daily Ascent: 7146 ft (74 ft/mile)

Max: 34.5 mph

I left Damascus early this morning. It was a cold morning. I don’t know how cold exactly but I had to dig for my cold weather gear which I was saving for Colorado. I arrived at Hayters, VA and took a break there at the church. (Can you imagine going to “Hayters Church” every Sunday??) After cycling some easy terrain for the first 15 miles I came to a steep wooded incline and began to climb. Let me just say that it’s a good thing that these ascents wind through the wooded mountains, because if they were just laid out straight ahead, I’d have given up this trip long ago. Once you start to climb, all you see ahead of you is a turn. In your mind you think, “OK. After that turn it goes back down.” But it doesn’t go back down. It just goes to another turn. So you climb that one, hoping that it’ll go down next. And again it doesn’t. So you repeat this 30 times or so traveling at 4 mph. I refuse to walk up a hill. I have to conquer the hill, the hill cannot conquer me. It’s a battle of man vs nature. It’s about the struggle and the fight. Who will give up first. As long as I am moving, albeit slow, I haven’t given up. So an hour later, after all that climbing and all those turns, and at 4 mph that would mean that I’ve climbed for 4 miles straight, I reach the summit and proceed to coast down hill which seems to take all of 30 seconds before I’m at the bottom ready to climb the next hill!! Yikes!

It was a tough day today. There was a lot of climbing and a lot of hills. It’s awe inspiring to be cycling through the hills with steep rocks hanging overhead. It’s humbling in many ways also. I passed through the towns of Meadowview, Hayters Gap, Rosedale, Council, Bee and Birchleaf. I went past Breaks Interstate Park but didn’t enter. It’s not on an interstate highway, by the way. It’s called Interstate park because it’s between the states of Kentucky and Virginia.

Speaking of Kentucky, I’m in Kentucky now! Yipee! It’s GREAT to be in a new state! Already I’ve seen a bunch of Ford pickup trucks, tacky lawn ornaments and a number of double wide trailers. I think I’m going to like this state! I’ve heard the dogs are bad here and I’ve already had a few chasing me. Virginia, I’m told, has leash laws, whereas Kentucky doesn’t. I’d better have my doggie pepper spray handy!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day 7, Damascus Road

Day 7, Newbern, VA – Damascus, VA 92 Miles (487 Total)

Time on bike: 9:05:52

Avg: 9.8 mph

Daily Ascent: 6647 ft (72 ft/mile)

Max: 32.5 mph

Today was a day of long, gradual ascents through beautiful Virginia scenery. I peddled through valleys with wooded mountains rolling along side of me, covered with pine and oak trees. At one point I passed through a town around noon and the temperature read 68 degrees. Chilly compared to my home in Uganda. These hills today, though, weren’t as steep as yesterday. I can handle the long, gradual ones better, but to say the least, I’m looking forward to the flat plains of Kansas!!

It’s great to be doing this. Outside. On a bike. Great exercise. Sun shining. Listening to the birds, watching deer cross my path, hearing the bubbling brook I’m cycling next to. So the hills aren’t much fun. The experience is. It serves to remind me to enjoy life more, which I don’t do naturally. And to mingle more with people. Everyone has been incredibly friendly thus far. They’re interested in the bike and the trip. I know I’ve said all this before, but it’s so true. And the bike just starts the conversation.

By the end of my trip today, I had already covered 75 miles through the mountains and I wanted to reach Damascus for the night. Needless to say I wasn’t interested in climbing more hills, but as luck would have it I was on a road that paralleled a mountain stream that lead almost all the way into town. Downhill for a majority of the way! What a relief!

On a side note, I hate cooking! I brought some pots and a Whisperlite stove, but I dread busting it out. I’d rather eat cold food or eat out than spend the time necessary for cooking! After biking all day I just want to eat! Is something wrong with me??

Day 6, The hills just keep on coming

Day 6, Troutville, VA – Newbern, VA 70 miles (395 total)

Time on bike: 7:36:13

Avg: 9.8 mph

Daily Ascent: 5645 ft (81 ft/mile)

Max: 34.5 mph

I left Troutville, VA and headed for Nanny’s for sausage gravy ‘n biscuits. I wasn’t sure I’d found the right place. It was a log-cabin looking structure with gas pumps outside and 3 men sitting out front talking farmin’. “I’m looking for ‘Nanny’s’.” “You found it,” I was told. Inside looked like a convenience store, but there was a back room with a few tables for dining and a 13” TV in the corner. “Single or double order?” Nanny asks me. “Better make it a double.” I scarf down my delicious breakfast and Nanny asks me to tell my friends about the place.

Today was a roller coaster of hills. Up one, down another. It was better than my climbing yesterday, but still slow going. I went through back roads of Virginia today to be sure. Old rustic barns and silos dotted the valleys with fields littered with rolls of hay. It was beautiful and difficult all in the same day.

I gave my bike a name today too. “Betsy”. Ol’ Betsy and I weren’t getting along too great today. She wouldn’t let me clip my cleats into the pedals when I’d get started and she also won’t drop down into the lowest gear on the front. I could adjust my derailer to make it work right, but then I wouldn’t have anything to yell at Betsy about. I also named my trailer, Steve. I don’t really talk much to Steve. He tags along behind and doesn’t bother me much, except for the hills. He’s rather steady and reliable.

Just before Christiansburg there’s a steep hill called “Danger Hill”. It winds its way up to the city. On one corner it was just too steep and I lost my balance and had to hop off the bike and push it the rest of the way up, which suited me just fine. I looked in my guide book just now and it notes an alternate route. Wish I would have found that sooner.

I got an email today from Nick the guy who helped Chancy and I back in Charlottesville. He told me, “Remember, it’s not about riding the bike. It’s about the people you meet along the way.” Tonight, rain was coming in and I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it to the campgrounds, so I asked a family if I could put up a tent in their yard. They said it’d be ok and then they offered me a huge plate of spaghetti for supper. Their two little boys, 3rd graders, I’d imagine, had all kinds of questions about my bike and my journey across the US. Kevin, the youngest, insisted on sitting out on the porch with me while I ate.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Day 5, A century through the mountains!

Afton, VA (The Cookie Lady) – Troutsville, VA 100 miles (325 total)

Time on bike: 10:15:52

Avg: 9.9 mph

Daily Ascent: 6780 ft (68 ft/mile)

Max: 37 mph

Hills, hills hills. The day began from The Cookie Lady’s Bike House. I left around 630am and there was a thin fog on top of the mountain. After a short climb I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a beautiful, scenic drive along the Blue Ridge mountains as part of the Appalachian Mountains. The road is closed to commercial vehicles. I spent the majority of the morning climbing, and climbing and climbing. When you move at 4 mph you don’t cover a lot of ground, but the many scenic overlooks were breathtaking of the valley below. Land on either side of the road is maintained by the National Parks Service. It stretches for469 miles and is the longest, narrowest national park in the world and is the most visited park in the US National Parks System.

After what seemed like days of climbing mountains, I finally hit a long decent. One and a half miles later I hit flat land that took me into Lexington, VA. Lexington is a historic town where Stonewall Jackson and General Robert E. Lee (and his horse, Trigger) are buried. Upon pulling in to Lexington I was immediately approached by a cyclist named Rick. He eagerly asked if I was riding “The Trail” and then pointed out some places to eat as well as an ice cream shop around the corner. He then proceeded to tell me that he rode across the US on the Transamerica Trail as one of the original riders back in 1976 and then went on to describe the hills along the way leading out of Lexington.

I ate lunch and ventured to Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe for a treat. There I met Chris, the owner. Chris worked as a lawyer for a few years before he got burnt out “…ruining people’s lives with divorces and law suits,” he tells me. “Now I make ice cream.” Chris and I talked about cycling, Africa, religion (he was a preacher’s kid), and Tony Campolo among other things. He treated me to more ice cream than I could eat. Great ice cream, too! Homemade and very rich! (Hey Chris, tell Rick that I made it to Troutsville and got my century in!) It was great to meet Chris and stop in the ice cream shop and chat for a while.

I went out to get back on the trail when I found a small crowd gathered around my bike. People are fascinated by it, I have to say. I really half expected the bike and my trip to just be another biker going through town, but people are genuinely interested in me cycling across the US and curious about the bike. It’s quite different from my Uganda experience where they were just interested in staring at me. The big questions is, “is it comfortable”. And the answer is YES! I’ve been going for 5 days and my butt is fine. My legs have a dull ache to them, but that’s to be expected, but the butt is A OK.

From there I proceeded west. The big hills were behind me. Just some small ones to climb. I kept going and going. I wanted to get good miles in to make up for my rain day the day before. I’ve seen a number of animals along the route: deer, ground hogs, squirrels, turtles and foxes.

My route took me near the Natural Bridge in Virginia. It’s one of the 7 natural wonders of the modern world, so of course I had to see it. I’d seen pictures of it before my trip but nothing would have prepared me for the real thing. First off, the highway you take to get to it drives over the top of the bridge. Then you have to pay $13 admission to get in to see it (I skipped the additional package for the wax museum). The bridge is HUGE! 215 ft high and 90 ft wide! It’s much bigger than it looks in the pictures. 157 acres of land including the bridge was purchased by Thomas Jefferson in 1774 from King George III.

Finally, I pushed ahead to finish my mileage and bed down for the night. I reached Troutsville (population 424) at dusk and asked a passing couple out walking the dog if cyclists stayed anywhere in particular. They directed me to the city park. No sooner had I set up my tent and began to prepare my macaroni and cheese than Cecil, an older man wearing a sleeveless white shirt, blue jean shorts and tinted glasses approached me and welcomed me. He then told me he was the parks director and that he’d leave the men’s restroom unlocked for me and that I could shower across the street at the fire station. He also told me there was a restaurant 7.5 miles up the road called Nanny’s where I could get some good biscuits and gravy in the morning for breakfast for a reasonable price. He asked where I started from that morning and I told him. He said he couldn’t remember having someone biked there over 60-80 miles, including the “young, strapping ones like yourself” and that I had biked 100 miles. I was very happy with that! Very!

Day 4, The Cookie Lady

Charlottesville, VA – Afton, VA (The Cookie Lady) 32 Miles (225 Total)

Time on bike: 3:22:20

Avg: 9.9 mph

Daily Ascent: 2565 (80 ft/mile)

A tough day today for many reasons, but a nice finish to it all. I had to buy a cell phone in Charlottesville, VA because Chancy was the one with a phone. Charlottesville is a nice college town. Some people stopped on their way into Panera Bread there to ask me about my bike and where I was going. People seem so interested in my bicycle. They ended up giving me $10 and buying me coffee and a pastry. I finally left Charlottesville at 11pm headed up into the mountains. I climbed and I climbed and I climbed in the heat of the day, refusing to let the mountains get the better of me. I went for my first swig of water from my Camelpack only to find it empty. I had forgotten to check before I left. Now, I’ve run 20 miles before without drinking water in Africa before, so I wasn’t too worried. I bargained with myself that I’d ask the first person I saw outside their house. I pulled into a nice brick home with a beautifully landscaped lawn and asked the man for some water. He went inside and produced 2 bottles of ice cold water. “Is that enough,” he asked. I told him that I could use more so he went in and produced a pitcher of ice water. How refreshing!

The weatherman had said there would be storms in the afternoon, but I was headed for Afton, VA which is notorious for being the home of “The Cookie Lady”, June Curry. June has been helping bicyclists along the TransAmerica Trail for over 30 years. She provides a “Bike House” for cyclists to stay in and the walls are COVERED with post cards of appreciative riders who have sent her letters expressing their gratitude. I had read extensively of June and was expecting a nice old lady with a fresh batch of cookies. What I found was more of a combination of a museum and a shrine dedicated to those who have braved the TransAmerica Trail. Over 14,000 by June’s count.

June is 87 years old and doesn’t get around like she used to, she tells me. She talks up a storm, partially due to her inability to hear, but partially from years of stories from other cyclists. When I first arrived she pulled out her Polaroid camera and took my picture and had me sign my name, date and hometown. It then went into one of several photo albums labeled by year. I flipped back to 2004 and found my friend Chad who had biked The Trail and had given me the idea to do it. We were wearing the same shirt in the picture as I was wearing the one I borrowed from him. Stranger than that, I found that a month and 3 days ago a man named Brian Dunn from Chicago, IL had also passed through here. How random is that??

So here I am, at the Cookie Lady’s Bike House for the night. The storms did arrive so I crashed here. One could spend a month going through this place. It’s separate from her own house and it’s filled with memorabilia that cyclists have donated and sent to June. Each card has a story, cyclists from all 50 states and many countries. Her hospitality over the years has certainly been a lighthouse and an oasis for fellow trail riders.

A short day on the bike, I’ll make up for it tomorrow.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Day 3, Let the Hills Begin

Mineral, VA – Charlottesville, VA 54 miles (193 total)

Time on bike: 4:55:57

Avg: 11.6

Total Ascent: 3,084 ft (57ft/mi)

We left the town of Mineral, VA at 8am. A mile down the road Chancy forgot his gloves and had to turn back. We rode through the beautiful Virginia countryside . We passed several historic sites along the way: Ash Lawn Highland which was the home of James Monroe, the nation’s fifth president, Monticello, home of our 3rd president, Thomas Jefferson, and Michie Tavern, an 18th century tavern, originally located on a well traveled stagecoach route.

The cycling today was tough with us climbing over 3,000 feet in 50 miles. We stopped at a coffee shop that had free Wi-Fi internet. It was there that Chancy told me that his mother had called his cell phone to tell him that his father, who has had a history of health problems, was ill and that he should get home to be with him, so tomorrow Chancy will take the Greyhound back home and I’ll continue alone.

I was a little freaked out by this news at first. I want Chancy to do what’s right for him and his family and if his father is sick then there’s no doubt that he needs to go home, but I don’t know if I’m ready to do this alone. Chancy has been my bike mechanic and I’ve been the navigator thus far with my books, maps and GPS device. He’s been the kind of guy who is willing to go however far and eat wherever and whatever. Though we just met as we boarded the Greyhound in Indy for the first time, we’ve become fast friends on the road these past 3 days. He says that if he finds that his father stabilizes then he might re-join me on the road.

In the midst of all of this we got Chancy’s bike to a bike shop to dis-assemble it to take it on the bus. As chance would have it, a curious onlooker at the bike shop loitered and started asking us a number of questions about our bikes and where we were going. He then told us that he had traveled the TransAmerica Trail a couple of times with a number of side trips besides that. At that point I started asking him questions about his bike and his trekking. He was really, really helpful with information and tips and he also helped us take apart Chancy’s bike and even took us to the hotel where we were staying. His name was Nick and, seriously, without him I think I would really be feeling anxious and nervous about continuing alone but he kept going on about how he LOVED the trip he took across America and how incredible it was to do it alone. If you believe in angels, then Nick was my angel today. No doubt. Providing the right help and encouragement at JUST the right moment. So if you read this Nick… Thank You!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Day 2, the first century (100 miles) ride

Day 2

Charles City, VA to Mineral, VA - 98 Miles (139 total)

So much for taking it easy. We left Charles City and headed West past a number of beautiful plantations and rolling wheat covered hills. At times the fields of corn and the red barns and silos reminded me a great deal of Indiana. There were no restaurants in Charles City so we couldn’t get breakfast so we stopped at a convenience store a few miles up the road. We grabbed about $10 worth of trail mix and Gatorade. I then explained that we were riding for a cause (Bike for Compassion) and inquired as to whether he could give us a discount. “Just take it,” he told us, so we thanked him profusely and made off with our stash.

We stopped 35 miles down the road in Mechanicsville which is just north of Richmond at Panera Bread for an extended lunch which included free interneting. After 2 hours we were back on the road. We passed civil war battlefields with Union canons pointed towards the oncoming Confederate lines.

We biked and biked and biked. The hills started coming at around mile 60 and they kept coming for most of the rest of our trip today. I stopped along our route when I saw a sign that just said “honey”. I know from my running that honey is wonderful fuel for extended workouts, so I went for a squeeze bottle. A frail little old woman answered the door and took me to her garage which had wood working supplies and bottles for filling honey. “It’s not real formal around here,” she told me as she went to fetch the honey from what looked like a humongous coffee pot with a nozzle near the bottom. She filled up a bear-like squeeze bottle for me and then wouldn’t take any money from me for it. I thanked her and then noticed the her address on the label of the bottle. I’ll have to send her a post card.

We then began looking for a place to stop to refresh ourselves with a Gatorade and some snacks. The map showed a convenience store just up the raod, but when whe reached it it appeared to have been abandoned yaears ago. We continued on. A few houses lined the street, but no towns, no villages, no sign of organized civilization. The map again showed a convenience store, but again no. A third time and still nothing. We had water but in the muggy heat of the Virginia sun we were in need of more than water. Finally, over the crest of a hill, in the middle of nowhereseville, VA was a small store that said “Route 76 Mart”, meaning that it was along our bike trail. Parched, we parked our bike only to have a hefty man walking out with two sticks of pop-ice for us! How amazing! He invited us in and told us we could camp there for the night if we wished. We thanked him and ate our free snacks and guzzled some sports drinks while sitting in some cushy chairs provided with our feet on the throw rug. It was some oasis, I have to tell you.

Lastly, we circled up near Lake Anna as we closed in on our cycling day. The water looked so tempting that we had to take a short swim. The water was so warm that it felt more like bath water than a nice, refreshing lake.

Finally we arrived in Mineral to find a Firehouse that hosts cyclists with a kitchenette, TV, DVD player, laundry facilities, Air Conditioning, etc free to cyclists. It was a really nice place to stumble upon.

We’ll see how our bodies feel tomorrow after cycling 100 miles today!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And so it begins

Wednesday, June 11

Day 1

Yorktown, VA – Charles City, VA 41 miles

I woke up the morning of June 11th in the heat of the Virginia summer. I slept outside instead of in the tent which was serving more as a sauna than anything. Chancy and I had camped out just a stones throw from the Yorktown Victory Monument. On October 19, 1781 General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington. Afterwards we ceremoniously dipped our rear tires into the mouth of the James River and started our trip.

We stopped briefly in Williamsburg to walk around and see the colonial settlement. For lunch we visited 3 restaurants before we found one willing to offer us a deal on a lunch. It was a nice restaurant with no customers. The waiter promptly told us he could give us a discount by just not ringing up one of our meals. Great! So we ordered and only paid for 1 meal. We spent most of the lunch talking to him about his career with the Air Force and about his upcoming schooling at The College of William and Mary studying English Literature. He was a nice guy and I think he was just needing some customers to mingle with.

Minor disaster struck on the way to Jamestown. I had my first flat after only 25.8 miles on the road… After a quick 10 minute tire change we were off again to visit the first settlement in the US which was settled in 1607. We had some confusion as to where to go after Jamestown and headed down the wrong road for a short spell before finally getting on the right track. It was a small, almost country road that we spent the rest of our time on. We stopped off in Charles City which is a bit of a misnomer. Despite having a courthouse and church, it has only 2 residential buildings, only 1 of which is in use. We found some people outside the church so we stopped to ask if we could stay the night there. They made some phone calls and before we knew it we had our tent up in the back. At the church that night was an AA meeting. “We’re not doing anything else,” I figured so we might as well go. I asked if it was an open meeting and they told us we were more than welcome to sit in. I’d wanted to attend an AA meeting to see what it’s like since college but have never had the courage to do so. What better time than now.

It was amazing. If you’ve never been or don’t know anything about it, it’s about letting go. About realizing that you’re powerless to control your own drinking and that God and others have to help you. It’s about wanting to make the change and putting sobriety at the highest level of importance and fighting it with every ounce of your being. It’s about confessing, very openly, your struggles and successes and failures with it. It’s about helping each other but not in a way that is pointing fingers and telling people what to do but about sharing your own life stories and struggles. It was so powerful and fresh and open. I felt like I was a part of a powerful underground society that wanted solely to shoulder one another’s burdens and realized, like only an alcoholic can, what struggles they were enduring. It was a great ending to a great first day.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pre-Day 1

After a 22 hour, shady bus trip we made it to Williamsburg. It wasn’t so bad after those crowded Uganda bus trips. We arrived at the bus station and began assembling our bikes. Chancy got his up and ready after about 15 minutes. Mine took 2 hours. It’s a recumbent bike and I had to totally disassemble it to get it to fit in the box. Unfortunately my bike mechanic skills are moderate at best so I put the de-railer on wrong. That’s the thing that changes gears. So we headed for a bike shop first thing. Then a guy asked me right away if I was going to be traveling with THOSE tires on my bike!!?? What’s wrong with them?? I was in Africa trying to throw this thing together!! It was the best I could do! I was agonizing in the bike shop whether I had even made the right decision to do this thing. Finally we got the bikes on the road and headed to Yorktown. It was only 13 miles but it seemed like 20 for some reason. It was a beautiful, tree lined road all the way. Hot but in the shade the whole way. We arrived in Yorktown, population 200, and stopped at the first house we found to ask if we could pitch a tent in the back yard. He said that his mother was ill but he’d help us out. He walked with us down the block to the neighbor who was apparently a prominent figure in the town and friendly to boot. His name was Dan and he let us put up the tent in his back yard and explained to us a little bit of the History of Yorktown. Harvey, the first guy, gave us $20 for supper, which was super nice and we headed to a pub down the street for appetizers after a quick dip in the James river at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

“We’ve made it.” I felt like screaming. We’ve made it to the start point. Now the adventure can begin. Tomorrow we’ll dip our back tires in the Atlantic Ocean and take our picture at the famous monument her in Yorktown and head West, as the early settlers did, on our quest to bicycle across America! How cool does that sound???

Monday, June 9, 2008

Towns Along the Way

Here are a list of towns along the way of the Trans America Trail that I’ll be traveling through or near along the bike route. If you’re on the route or nearby, send me an email. I’d love to meet up with you!


Elkhorn City


West Eminence
Fair Grove
Ash Grove
Golden City

Rush Center
Scott City

Sugar City
Canon City
Hot Sulpher Springs

Jeffrey City
Moran Junction
Colter Bay Village
(Yellowstone National Park)

West Yellowstone


Halfway (, OR …no, seriously. It’s true)
Baker City
John Day
Eugene (Largest city along the route. Population 140,000)

Plus there will probably be an additional trip up the coast of Washington to Vancouver.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Ladies & Gentlemen, Start your Bikes

Well, it’s been some time since I’ve posted, but it’s soon to happen. My bags are packed and on Monday I’ll get on a Greyhound bus headed for Williamsburg, VA to begin the bicycle trip across the country. I’ll begin cycling on Wednesday, June 11th from Yorktown. I expect it’ll be slow going in the beginning as I get used to the cycling plus there are a number of historic sites in the first few miles: Williamsburg, Jamestown, Monticello (home of Thomas Jefferson).

I will be traveling with another cyclist. Chancy is a student at Indiana State and he contacted me several months ago telling me that he was interested in making the trip. “Sounds good to me,” I told him, not wanting to cycle alone. We’ll meet for the first time when we board the Greyhound bus in Indy.

The route I’ll be taking is the Transamerica Trail which is a series of highways marked out specifically for cyclists wishing to travel across the country. It begins in Virginia and ends in Oregon. The entire trip should take 6-7 weeks and is over 4,000 miles. We’ll be sleeping in tents and asking for restaurants and grocery stores to donate food which will reduce the costs of the trip which will enable more money to be sent to the Compassion International building project. For more information about the building project see the first post to the blog.

I will be taking my laptop along the trip and will be blogging the trip whenever the opportunity presents itself. Please feel free to check in and check it out. There will also be a lot of downtime I suspect so also feel free to send me an email. Below I’ve listed the equipment I’ll be traveling with.

Cycling Gear

Shimano SH-M035 Cycling Shoes

shoe covers

Shimano Cleats

Bike Pedals w/ clips

1 can Halt!

2.5 L hydration system

bicycle helmet (w/ plastic visor)

sunglasses w/ Rx insert

Planet Bike Dual Spot LED/halogen headlight

Lightweight lock

Adventure Cycling Association Maps

Light colored Backpack

Reflective Tape

Handlebar Rearview Mirror

Red LED tail light on bicycle and trailer


Tent - Eureka! Zeus EXO 3

Ground cloth for under tent (tarp)

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Pad

50' length of parachute cord

LED Headlight




Lightweight nylon bag for food

Stove - MSR SuperFly stove w/ AutoStart ignitor - 5.1 oz

2 canisters isobutane for stove at a time

MSR Blacklite cookset

lexan bowl, cup, utensils

Salt/pepepr shaker

Scotch Brite scrub pad

5 Gallon water container

egg holder

cutting board


3 pair Coolmax Alta shorts with liners

1 pair lightweight nylon shorts/pants (zip off shorts)

1 pair long cycling tights

3 short sleeve Coolmax Alta shirts

long sleeve Coolmax heavy weight cycling jersey


Flip Flops

microfiber fleece vest

rain jacket and pants

4 pair Coolmax socks (3 short, 1 long) (Wal-Mart)

3 pair synthetic underwear (Campmor)

arm warmers

baseball hat


First Aid/Personal Care

First aid kid (Liquid Skin, Neosporin, Band-Aids, ACE Bandage, non-stick gauze pads, kling gauze, safety pins, matches, Tylenol, Benadryl, Sudafed, etc)

Aquis pack towel (hand towel size)

Lip Balm

Sun Screen

Toilet Paper

Foot powder


Camp Soap

Bug Spray



3 - 20" spokes

Kevlar emergency spoke

4 - 20" tubes (bike)

16" tube (trailer)

2 tube repair kits

4 - Continental Top Touring 20" tire (for bike)

16" Primo Comet tire (for trailer)

pump w/ built in pressure gauge

2 spare chain links

Crank Brothers 19 Multitool

2 tire levers

chain lubricant

Duct tape (15' wrapped around a pen barrel)

zip ties

bicycle bell


Leatherman Micra (small pocket knife)

Credit card/debit card/checks/drivers license/passport


Laptop Computer

GPS Garmin Vista

Digital camera

Cateye Enduro 8 (Bicycle Computer)

8 Energizer Rechargable AA batteries & charger


Long Distance Cycling by Edmund R Burke and Ed Pavelka

Bicycling Coast to Coast by Donna Lynn Ikenberry


Rans Rocket Recumbent Bicycle

BOB Trailer