Slog Across America

May 16 to 31

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May 16, 2012 - Newton to El Dorado, KS

We had talked a little last night about maybe taking a rest day, but we decided this morning to keep going. This is our eighth day of riding in a row. The hotel’s free breakfast didn’t start until 6:30 so we decided to sleep in a little. We got up at 6:10, then were on the road a tiny bit after 8:00. The wind was coming due east at 9-15 mph per the weather report, and that seemed pretty accurate. It didn’t take long (about a half-mile) to get out of Newton, and the road turned into a little two-lane road with lots of weeds on the side and almost no shoulder. In places, the white line on the side had crumbled completely away. Except for the occasional big truck there wasn’t a ton of traffic and we just kept pedaling.

The headwind was pretty consistent, so it was slow going. I was in a lot better mental state than I was yesterday, so that was good, but boy is it rough having to pedal into a wind like we had. I think the wind is nothing for Kansas, but if we had it at home, people would really talk about it. The road did a lot of up and down and there wasn’t a lot to look at, but we did see signs for five or six different Mennonite churches.

About three hours later, having gone only 25 miles (with 13 to go to our first town, Cassoday), we came to the intersection of Highway 77, with a sign pointing south to El Dorado (pronounced El Duh-RAY-duh). I had seen this town on the map and it looked pretty big; when I Googled “Cassoday motels,” all the ones that came up were in El Dorado. I was excited about a possible route change. Plus, we had 3G coverage all of a sudden! Per the phone’s GPS, El Dorado was 16 miles away, out of the headwind. We could maybe stay there tonight and get in early and have a partial rest day! Or, if the wind miraculously changed direction so it was coming from the west, we could push on to our intended stop, Eureka.

Jay agreed to the change in plans so we turned right and headed south. Immediately my mood brightened at not having the headwind noise in my ears and being able to go more than 12 mph. We stopped after a couple miles for a bagel with peanut butter, then we came across “Walters’ Pumpkin Patch,” with a sign for its gift store, so we decided to stop in for a soda. The place was deserted, although there was a golf cart and a car out front. As we were pulling in, a big yellow lab got off the porch to see who we were, and then I saw a cute grey and white cat. Then a boxer-type dog came up, so we were petting everyone. The cat let me pick her up and she was normal and healthy and very friendly. Both dogs were friendly and like being petted. Jay opened one door to the store and yelled hello, but no one answered. He went around the side of the building to see if he could rouse anyone while I stayed on the porch and petted the cat.

I saw a man and woman walking up from a house that was behind another structure. I yelled “hello,” and then looked around for Jay. He came up just then and explained to the couple that we were our biking and so hot and were looking for a soda. They were super nice and said, “Come on in here,” taking us to a different building, which they opened. It seemed like it was the warehouse for the gift store; there was a refrigerator in there and the husband opened it and said “Take your pick.” He wouldn’t let us pay him! The couple explained that they were closed because it wasn’t pumpkin season, but we could sit on the porch and pet the animals while we drank our soda. They asked a few questions about our ride, then went inside the first building, where their daughter was cooking salsa to can for the gift shop. Then the woman came out with two bags of trail mix for us! So nice.

I kept petting the cat and Jay petted the yellow lab. Then we took our empty cans in to them, and chatted some more. Becky was recently written up in Forbes magazine in an article about women in agrotourism. She made a funny joke about how none of their friends and neighbors would ever see the article because they all read Grass and Grain and magazines like that. Her husband (Carroll?) and daughter (Amy?) and she were really nice to talk to, very friendly, intelligent, and super super nice.

Once we got back on the road (about 10 miles to go), I told Jay that I didn’t care what happened the rest of the day because meeting those people and seeing those pets was so curative. We pulled into town, stopped at a Walgreens for sunscreen, and met another nice woman who, after we asked her where to get a Kansas map in town, drove to her husband’s store to get a map for us! She said she used to hitchhike all over the world and she was always meeting new people. She gave us directions to a motel and was a hoot to talk to.

Now we’re in a motel with a great shower and great airconditioning and diagonally across the street is Braum’s, where we got ice cream last night (not this one, the one in Newton). We probably have a long day tomorrow and will most likely have a headwind, but this was a real mood elevator and just what we needed.

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May 17, 2012 - May 17 El Dorado to Yates Corner, KS

Last night, walking from where we ate dinner to Braum’s for ice cream, Jay stepped on a manhole cover near the sidewalk. The cover flipped down and sent his right leg plunging into a three-foot deep tube where the greenway irrigation controls were. It was frightening to witness—one minute he was walking beside me and the next he was sprawled face first on the grass with his leg below the ground. I made him stay down until we made sure nothing was broken, then he got up. He already had an angry red scrape on his leg (but still wanted to get ice cream before going back to the motel) and the injury looked pretty bad.

We got ice for it at the ice cream place, and then we put more ice on it at the motel until it was time to go to sleep. He said it really hurt, so we were bracing ourselves for taking a rest day today. After all, you pretty much use your quads all the time on the bike. But this morning, Jay said his leg was fine, so we got some breakfast sandwiches and headed out at 7:40. The weather forecast called for big winds from the south (the weathercaster said they would be “lane changers”), and we were headed due east. A gust from the south would blow us into traffic, so we were apprehensive about the day. Starting out, however, the wind was mild, so no problems. Also, my mind had calmed after yesterday’s short day and I was emotionally stable—always a big plus on a bike ride!

About two miles out of town, road construction started. The first half-mile or so, the road was down to one newly-paved lane. The construction crew let us go ahead of most of the traffic, which was nice. Then the paved road went away and in its place were two lanes of scraped asphalt. I think most of you know how jarring it is to drive on scraped asphalt. Cycling on it was exhausting. The rough surface provided a lot of friction for the tires so we weren’t able to go very fast despite pressing hard on the pedals, and every so often the deep divots would grab at your tires.

We saw two “Road Construction End” signs, but the road surface stayed the same. Jay and I were wondering why the highway department would grade so much road without paving it. This continued for 5, 10, 15 miles. Finally, after 17 miles (and a nice downhill), the graded road ended and a regular paved road took over. I told Jay that it felt like my tires were ice skating. It was soooo nice being back on a regular surface.

We were headed into the Flint Hills section of Kansas, which a few people had told us was pretty. It is very forested here, compared to the rest of the state that we’ve seen. It seems like there should be more squirrels than we’re seeing. We made it into Eureka (32 miles away) by 11:00, so we stopped at a café and split a sandwich and a cinnamon roll. The couple that owns the café (which just opened March 2) came to Kansas from Sacramento in 2005 and they love it here. We talked to them for a while and then got back on the bikes, headed to Cross Timbers State Park, where we were going to camp.

After a few miles, we saw another cyclist coming toward us who stopped to chat. His name is Felix and he’s about 60 years old, from the Netherlands. His wife is going to meet him in Portland, Oregon at the end of the route. It was fun talking to him and getting his perspective on the part of the route that we’re headed to. He said the Appalachians were tough, but partly because those were the first hills he came to and he kept wanting to speed through each one. We said goodbye after a few minutes and kept on going.

The scenery was pretty, but it was quite warm out (97 degrees) and because we crossed so many creeks and rivers, it was a bit humid. The south wind was picking up, and to go the campsite meant turning into the wind. So we looked at the Kansas state map we have and decided to push east to the next town another 12 miles, to Yates Center. So that’s where we are now. The motel has a nice 15-year-old orange cat named Ross, who loves petting. Sweet!

Our plan is to be into Missouri tomorrow. We’re looking at maps and trying to decide if we should stick with the Adventure Cycling route or blaze our own trail. We’ve given up on getting any assistance from the wind (thanks A LOT, Kansas), so we’re figuring out what way will be shortest and less hilly. There’s a lot to work out still…

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May 18, 2012 - May 18 Yates Center to Girard, KS

We had a really great supper at a barbeque place across the street last night, and this morning we got on our bikes to ride to a breakfast place we thought was far away. We didn’t have any gear on our bikes, and boy did it feel strange. I’m so used to having to muscle my bike around I felt like I could pick it up with one hand. I was super swervy until I got the hang of it. The breakfast restaurant was only a couple blocks away, so we didn’t have far to go.

I used to like eating breakfast out at a restaurant, but now that we’ve done it for almost five weeks, I’m sick of the following: eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, pancakes, biscuits, sausage gravy, toast, jelly, and oatmeal. I ate as much as we could and we went back to the hotel and packed up and hit the road. The good thing about staying in a motel is you can get ice for your water bottles, which staves off the heat for a bit. But, the ice machine was in the lobby, which didn’t open until 8:30, so no ice today, dang it.

Our first town was Chanute, 25 miles away. We had to head south into a monster headwind—the weather report said it would be 13-19 mph with gusts up to 40. That seemed pretty accurate. It was a mutha.

The highway was a good surface and we had a wide shoulder. We hadn’t gone far when we saw a turtle trying to get across, so we saved him by putting him back into the weeds. We’ve been seeing a LOT of turtle roadkill lately. We had about 13 miles of the headwind, so it was exhausting and slow-going. Jay rode ahead of me and I tried to draft, but it was difficult to stay so close to his back wheel for any length of time.

We finally got to turn east, so we were out of the headwind and just had a crosswind. It was warming up fast—it was 90 degrees at 10:00. We got into Chanute about 11:00 and stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I saw they had bagels and cream cheese for breakfast (served all day), so I asked for that. I was so excited to have a bagel!

But the waitress came back and said they were sold out. UGH. So I had a chicken club sandwich instead. While we were eating, Jay said, “How much farther are we going today?” I said “50 miles. Why, do you want to stay here? Are you too tired?” His eyes kind of lit up and he said “Do you? This town is cute. We could have a rest day.” I said “No, let’s keep going. We have four more miles south into the headwind and then a break for awhile heading east.”

We were having a tiny bit of trouble figuring out our bike map so I asked the waitress “Where’s Santa Fe Street?” It was the main street out of town, as it turned out. She said, “Oooh, I’m not from around here, let me check.” I was wondering how she made it to work---the town only had 9,000 people in it; it wasn’t that big. Does she take a helicopter or parachute in? She came back and said “The owner said it’s the street that WalMart’s on.” I wanted to say “In what universe would that response be considered helpful? If you came to MY town and asked me where El Cajon Boulevard was, and I said ‘It’s the street that Chicken Pie Shop is on,’ would that help you? No.” But I just said “Oh, nevermind, we’ll ask someone else.”

A local pointed us in the right direction and we headed back into the headwind. The winds here get stronger as the day warms up, so it was quite dreadful. Plus, there wasn’t a lot to look at. We made it to our turnoff only to find some highway signs that said “Bike route closed,” and “Bridge out,” and “Detour.” I flagged down a guy in a passing truck who helped us find an alternate route—we had to head west a mile to get to a main highway, then go ANOTHER four miles south, then turn east on Route 47. The little route to the freeway was through a pretty little town called Earlton, and we had a tailwind, so it was nice. The freeway had a good shoulder so if it hadn’t been so hot and windy, it wouldn’t have been too bad.

Finally we go to Route 47. We had gone 40 miles and had 36 more to go. It was 2:00 and we were looking at at least three and a half hours of pedaling. We stopped after a bit for me to wet my shirt, then we stopped for a bagel and peanut butter, then we stopped to wet my shirt again. The heat (it was 98 degrees) was just so energy-sapping. With about 15 miles to go, we stopped in a little town called St. Paul for a Gatorade and a snack. Gatorade has saved us several times on this trip. It is the best substance on earth, I think. It was getting late and we had been kind of thinking of trying to make it to Pittsburg (the last Kansas town on the map), but it was sooo hot and I was getting chewed up by bugs and that seemed remote. We came across the ruins of a neato limestone Catholic church that burned in 1982 (it was built in 1902) and stopped to look at that. It was about 5:00 and finally starting to cool off. We knew that Girard didn’t have a motel, so it looked like we’d be camping.

We finally got to Girard about 6:30, and asked a police officer where the city park was for camping. We rode the few blocks there. The park was very pretty, surrounded by modest older homes, and there were restrooms nearby (at the aquatic center, which has not yet opened for the season). The restrooms had only toilets and sinks, no showers. So heartbreaking. One of the best things about this trip is how much you love taking a shower at the end of the day, to get off all the sweat and road grime and dead bugs and spilled electrolyte water. We got as clean as we could with the wipes we have, then Jay had the good idea to call for a pizza to be delivered. Yay, no cooking! A couple locals came by and talked to us, then we got into the tent around 8:15 when it was almost dark. It was quite warmish still, so even after we grew drowsy (thanks to Tylenol PM), it was hard to sleep. Another day on the road.

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May 19, 2012 - May 19 Girard to Everton, MO

We woke up for the final time around 6:00 and started getting ready. Jay offered to make coffee but we decided to get packed up and head to a restaurant recommended by a local guy last night. We ate at the Peppermill Café, and the locals there were pretty happy to talk to us. The waitress let us plug my Garmin and my iPhone into a wall socket to recharge.

We headed south into a headwind (what’s new) and the day was pretty warm. At 8:00, it was already 78 degrees. We had to jog south and east to Pittsburg, where we stopped to brush our teeth in a restroom at a city park. It was about 10:00 already. Thankfully, the sky was clouding up so it didn’t rocket up to 100 degrees like yesterday. At the park, I called about possible lodging for tonight—Running Spring Farm Hunting Lodge and Inn. The owner seemed nice on the phone and said “Oh, were 60 miles away, you should make it here by 4:00 or 5:00.” I said “That seems optimistic, but we’ll see you at some point.” We stopped in the main part of town at a drugstore (can’t be without Tylenol PM) and to go to an ATM.

We headed east and crossed into Missouri. YAY, another state! We liked it better than Kansas already, just because it was cloudy. We knew we were headed to the Ozark Mountains, and we had been warned about the steep hills ahead. The first town we came to was Golden City, quite aways away. The terrain at first seemed the same (there were even wheat fields), but then it got a bit more rolling hills. Kansas has some rolling hills, too, but most were long and not steep. Headed into Golden City, we saw two kids selling lemonade so we stopped. There was only one lemonade left, so Jay let me have it and he had Kool-Aid. The kids (the girl will be a third-grader next year and is looking forward to the swimming pool her family is getting soon, the boy lives across the street and will be entering fourth grade) recommended Cooky’s Café a couple blocks away. I asked “What’s the best thing there?” and the girl said “I just always get biscuits and gravy.”

The café was a perfect locals’ spot. The food was great, and they had about 15 types of pie. I had cherry crumb and Jay had chocolate pecan—the best pie yet! The café owner had us sign a spiral notebook, where we saw entries from a few people we’ve met along the way. Some other patrons said they passed us on the way to town. I asked “Did it look like we knew what we were doing?” The man, who had this big laugh that makes everyone around him laugh too, said “You looked HONGRY.” But the woman said yes, we looked professional. She was nice!

Well-fueled, we headed back on the bikes. We had 28 miles to go and it was about 2:00, so it was possible we could make it to the Inn by 5:00. But the Ozark hills started in earnest just a few miles later—these super steep (15-16% grade) short hills, with, thankfully, some downhills. There was no long climbs but tons of ups and downs. Our climbing muscles haven’t been used a lot in a while and my glutes and hamstrings were all “WHAAAAA?” The sun kept trying to peek out, and the skin on the my calves was on fire from a combination of friction, bug bites, and sunburn. The climbing was brutal at times and quite a shock to the system.

Finally we got to Everton and the turnoff for the Inn. I forgot the exact directions so we had to stop on the gravel road for me to call. A friendly German Shepherd came up for petting from a nearby house. We found out we had another half-mile to go, so we got back on the bikes. We arrived at the Inn a little before 6:00 to find Bill, the innkeeper, waiting for us. He showed us inside—it was a real house! It’s a hunting lodge during the winter, but in the summer he lets cyclists stay there for $20 per night if you sleep on top of the bedcovers in your sleeping bag. The house was about 1,000 square feet and we had it all to ourselves. There was a dining table that sat 10, two bedrooms, a well-stocked kitchen, and a great bathroom. He had turned on the air-conditioning so it was delightfully cool. There was a lot of hunting stuff that I overlooked because the surroundings were just so great.

There was soda and beer in the fridge (the first was free, the next were $2). Bill said if we hadn’t brought food (we had, we always have a noodle mix and tuna or chicken to put in it), we could use his truck to go into town to eat. SO NICE! Jay said for me to show him the backs of my legs, and Bill said his wife was a would-be doctor and she would have something to put on them.

Bill left us to unpack. Jay started taking the panniers off the bike and I rinsed out water bottles. Bill brought back some ointment from his wife, which I used later and it really helped repair my skin. Jay fixed supper while I tried to blog (but no connection, dang it), and then we ate dinner in front of the TV like normal people (watching Pawn Stars). Then it was time to go to bed—it was already 8:45 and we were tired from barely sleeping last night in the tent. It was a hard day, but a good introduction to the Ozarks. And we couldn’t have picked a better place to stop.

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May 20, 2012 - May 20 Everton to Marshfield, MO

We woke up about 6:00 and got to have a whole pot of coffee to ourselves! I made it really strong and it was much better than the weak hotel coffee we’ve been getting on this trip. We made oatmeal on the stove and ate it while we watched the Weather Channel, which is usually the only reason we turn on the television in a motel. Bill came over when he saw Jay was getting the bikes ready. He joshed with us about not being on the road before 6:30. He said we should have good weather—a 50% chance of thunderstorms, which meant it would be cloudy all day and cooler than yesterday.

Jay said that we thought it had been plenty hot already, but Bill said July and August is even hotter, and he gets a lot of cyclists then. He said many of them ride from 2:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. to beat the heat. That sounds awful to me. I can’t imagine doing this ride any later in the year—I would fry. The weird skin condition I was developing on the backs of my legs was vastly improved thanks to Bill’s wife’s cream (some Neosporin Eczema anti-itch ointment) but he wouldn’t accept it back. He said he was put on this earth to help us crazy cyclists and I should just keep it in case I have another flare-up. SO NICE!

We got started finally about 7:45. It was a nice cloudy coolish day, but it sure was humid. We had a pretty good flat warmup for a couple miles and then the up and down of the hills started again. We climbed almost 3,500’ feet today, but I don’t think any hill was much more than a 200’ change in elevation. Jay took pictures of the elevation profile of our bike map so you can see what we were up against. We did the first three panels Saturday, the next two today, and will do most of the next three panels tomorrow. The bike map says “Exhausted cyclists have likened this part of the country to a self-propelled roller coaster,” and we think that’s a good assessment. Thankfully, there was no real wind today.

Our first stop was Ash Grove, a little crossroads with a gas station and a feed store. The guy at the gas station was a hoot! He was wearing overalls and sitting in a rocking chair. I really had to pee, and as soon as I walked in, he said “It’s over there,” pointing to the back corner of the store. I ran off and he turned to Jay and said “I’ve seen that look before.” He then started joking with Jay and telling him some local stories, like Nathan Boone (Daniel’s son) used to live in Ash Grove, and Ma Barker and the Dalton gang used to come through the area. Then he showed Jay some old tools from the 1800s. I barely got Jay out of there—he could have talked to the guy for hours.

After Ash Grove, we had some killer hills and the humidity was quite something. We varied our hill technique between going into a low gear and gutting it out, or staying in a higher gear and standing on the pedals, using the bike like a Stairmaster. Both styles have their pros and cons. Once in a while, the hill would be surprisingly gentle (only an 8% grade), but sometimes it would pitch steeply near the top (14% grade), or be a lot longer than you thought, and those would nearly kill you. At the top of every other big hill in the morning, I’d have to stop and wipe my face with my shirt to get the sweat off, the humidity was so bad.

We did get some great downhills during the day—my max speed was 39.1 mph and Jay’s was 37-something: super fast! The town after Ash Grove was Walnut Grove, where we got some Gatorade and signed the store’s spiral notebook. On the way there, a big friendly dog trotted up to us and Jay called out for it to run home. The owner came out and apologized over and over, and then got to talking about how the dog hadn’t been through “biking season” yet because they only got her in October, and they were trying to teach her to stay in the yard. Then he told us about the cats he had and his time in the service and a shortcut to town. We pedaled on after 10 or so minutes of chatting (mainly Jay), and then came to where he said the shortcut was. We were debating whether to take it and then saw a guy stopped in his pickup, so Jay pointed down the turnoff and asked about the route. Turns out, this guy took his granddaughters to Paradise Point Resort in San Diego last year for spring break, so then we (mainly Jay) chatted with him for a while. The guy said we’d be better to stick with the main route, so we did.

Next up (after 27 miles) was Fair Grove, where we got a sandwich from a grocery store deli. The weather was still holding. It only got up to 80 today, and we had a few raindrops after lunch, which were a good change. We had only 15 more miles to get to Marshfield.

Unfortunately, in my post-lunch stupor I misread the map and missed a turn. I realized my mistake after 2.6 miles, so we went 5.2 miles out of our way. UGH! We had been so hoping for an early day and now that was blown. The good thing was we were in fairly flat terrain, so it wasn’t horrible to turn around. The bad thing, though, was we were so close to being done for the day and I added an extra 40 minutes to our day. Jay was nice about my mistake and kept saying for me to move on and forget about it. He makes a good cross-country cycling partner.

According to the map, most of the trip to Marshfield was going to be way more climby than downhilly. There was a lot of climbing, that’s for sure, and we encountered our first mean dog who chased us. Bill (who has a lot of hunting dogs) said the best thing to do when being chased by a dog is to stop and get off the bike. We did that with this big lunkhead dog that ran under his fence to come after us. As soon as we stopped, the dog was like “Huh?” He barked and barked, but didn’t come up to us, and then finally got bored and went back to his house. Jay has a really effective mean voice he uses for chasing dogs, where he calls out “HUHHT! GET HOME!” and usually they do, but this one required more to turn him back.

The sun tried to poke out a couple times and I willed it back into the clouds. I don’t think it got over 80, which makes a big difference. We climbed and climbed and finally got close to town. We were lucky and ran across Wal-Mart on the way into town. We stopped for Clif Bars, another packet of pasta mix and chicken, and new shirts. The shirts we’ve been using have so much embedded grime that they don’t come clean anymore, and I’m still trying out new combinations of fabrics and sleeve length (on days when I wear arm coolers) to find one that will work. So now I’ve been to Wal-Mart more times on this trip than the entire time I’ve lived in San Diego. Chris, via text, pointed out the closest motel, which was just down the street and across Interstate 44.

Jay did laundry while I wrote the past days’ blog entries. I realized we didn’t take many pictures today, but I think that was because we were mainly going either uphill at 3.5 mph when it’s treacherous to get off the bike, or downhill at 30 mph when you don’t want to get off your bike. Very few level miles today. We were really lucky with the cool weather; tomorrow is supposed to be only partly cloudy. We’re headed to Houston, about 60 miles away, so it will be interesting to see how we do on this terrain when the sun’s out. Bill (from the Inn) said there was 1,000 miles of hills between us and the east coast. I hope he was exaggerating!

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May 21, 2012 - Marshfield to Houston, MO

After a semi-decent free breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express, we got on the road at a little before 8:00. We ran across a Walgreens after less than a mile, so stopped there for me to get some tissues (I’ve been allergic to something in the air ever since we got to Kansas) and Aquaphor and single-use laundry soap (the Soap Nuts can’t keep up with our filthy clothes). Then we made our way out of Marshfield (kind of a big town at 5,000). The road stayed fairly flat (for here anyway, that term is relative), then we had some giant climbs appear out of nowhere. Jay and I can’t tell if we’re really in the Ozark Mountains, or in the foothills, or on the plateau. We keep hearing different things from the locals. We climbed a lot more than yesterday, though, so if we are on the plateau, it’s not like any plateau we’ve ever been on.

The temperature stayed pretty cool for a while—in the 70’s, which was good because we didn’t get too hot after climbing. The scenery is really pretty. There are big trees, then prairies, then forests. We were headed to Hartville for our first stop, where we’d have lunch. We were about three miles out when Jay shouted “Look, to your right, a deer running through the field.” I looked and saw a deer running. It went behind a big building and then a deer ran across the road 50’ in front of us. And then three more deer! We probably saved their lives because a car had been following us, waiting for a safe time to pass, and if we hadn’t been there to slow the car down he probably would have hit one of them. It was amazing to watch how sure-footed they were. They just ran across and then up the hill. They were all big and handsome and seemed healthy.

We knew from the elevation profile of the map that we had a long steep climb to Hartville. The climbs so far had been a bit harder than yesterday’s because they were preceded, for the most part, by a flattish stretch, not a downhill. Some dogs started barking at us from a front yard so we pushed a bit to get past them (they were tied up) and went around a curve to find an enormous, super steep climb facing us. We got up it in our lowest gear; at one point we were going 3.5 mph. I didn’t even know my bike could go that slow and still move forward. At the top, we were rewarded with a nice view of the town. The town is built into the downhill side of the hill—all the streets are really steep. It’s the county seat, but only has 700 people.

We went to the Post Office and mailed back some too-warm shirts and a pair of bike shorts each, plus the maps we are done with (Nate and Kristi, when the package comes just throw it in the garage). The clerk in the Post Office recommended we eat at Subway, because he said heavy smokers eat at the only restaurant in town and we probably wouldn’t like it. So we did, and then got back on the road around noon. We had been making pretty good time up to lunch, averaging 10.6 mph.

My left hamstring started feeling weird after lunch (I think it was in shock from the big hill into town), so I had to go fairly slow and easy on the first few hills. Then the temperature got hotter (it got up to 89 today) so I was not doing too great on the climbs. I needed to go slow to make sure I didn’t injure something in my leg. We had 20 miles to the next town, so we stopped after an hour and a half to eat something and take a break for me to stretch my hamstring. We saw a private trash hauler pass on the road, then he came back the other way and picked up the trash at the house close to where we were taking a break. Then he pulled up next to us and asked if we were headed east or west. We said east, and he said “Ever been here before?” We said no, and Jay added “It’s beautiful country,” and the guy said “Yep, yep it is.” Then he told us about a store to get some food at in the next town, Bendavis, and said the guy that runs it, Ben, is used to having cyclists in the store and he’d treat us right.

We got back on the bikes and headed east. Just before we got to Bendavis, we saw a donkey in a field with three cows, right next to the fence. I called out “Who wants petting?” When no one responded, I said to the donkey “Don’t be an ass. Don’t you want to be petted?” And then he came up to the fence and stuck his head over. So I got off my bike and went up to him and scratched behind his ears, which he loved. I petted him for quite a while, until Jay said for me to stop. He was super sweet. His cow friends were a bit wary, though.

At the store, we each got a Gatorade (they only had Fierce Blue or Fruit Punch, so we each got blue) and a candy bar. When we walked in, I said to the clerk “Are you Ben?” He was pretty suspicious. He had the look of someone who’s been served paternity papers before. So then we explained that a guy in a white truck hauling trash had recommended his store to us, and that put him at ease. He said “Oh, that’s John. Where are you folks from? And where’re you headed?” Jay talked to him while I went to the restroom, then after I came back an old cowboy came in the store, and Ben said to that guy “These here folks are from San Diego and they’re biking to D.C.” So then the cowboy started chatting. Both men had really nice country drawls and were a crack-up to listen to. They warned us about the upcoming hills (which we’ll face tomorrow), and Ben said a lot of cyclists have told him the Ozarks are the worst part of the TransAm ride. I hope he’s right about that.

We got back on the bikes about 3:00 with 17 miles to go. It seemed possible we could finish by 5:00 today. The map indicated a lot of downhill, but the road didn’t seem like that. Plus we had a bit of a headwind, which took a lot of speed out of the downhills we did have. The highway we were on ended at a T intersection and we turned south for our last 7 miles into town. We came across the Piney River and stopped to look at it. There were kids on inner tubes in the water and it looked really nice. We saw two giant turtles swimming. We got back on the bikes for the last two miles into town only to discover I had a flat. NICE.

At least we were on the bridge, which had the biggest shoulder of any road we had been on all day. I patched the tube after Jay got it ready, and then we headed up the hill into town. After about a mile, there was a big hissing noise from my tire—the patch blew out and it was flat again. We pulled into the shade of a church, and Jay put on a new patch. We got ready to go, only to find the tire was flat AGAIN. So then Jay put in a new tube, and we headed out. Jay said “pedal fast before it goes flat again.” By now it was almost 6:00, so much for an early day. We had one last uphill slog into town, and dang it if Jay didn’t see two squirrels in someone’s yard. All day we had been in prime squirrel country with not a one in sight (except for roadkill, which doesn’t count), and he sees two in the last mile. Dang. We got a motel, went across the street for Mexican food (which I will say is not good in this part of the country—it’s not spicy AT ALL), then to the grocery store for ice cream, and back to the room.

We’re going to try to do about 70 miles tomorrow to get to Ellington, but we may have to stop early in Eminence. There are some scary-looking hills between here and there, so we’ll see what happens. I hope I don’t have to patch my hamstring, that’d be bad.

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May 22, 2012 - May 22 Houston to Eminence, MO

I had been awake for a while and couldn’t tell from the light behind the curtains if it was daylight yet. I finally looked at my iPhone to get the time: 4:31. I immediately had two thoughts. First, wake Jay up and see if he wanted to get an early start and try to get to Ellington today (70 miles away). Second, go back to sleep until 9:30 and then rent a car to take us and all our crap to Baltimore to pick up our bike boxes at Randy and Stacey’s house, and then fly home. I’ve been having hot flashes (mostly at night but once in a while during the day) that wake me up at night so I haven’t been getting a lot of rest. We’ve been riding 13 days straight and it’s taking a toll on both of us, mentally and physically (and as you all know from my rant about Kansas pets, emotionally as well).

Last night, we had pretty much decided that we would ride 42 miles to Eminence, which is supposed to be a cute tourist town on a river, and get a cabin for two nights so we could have a rest day. I tamped down the thought of quitting and tried to go back to sleep for a bit, which I guess I did because Jay woke me up a little after 6:00. There was no breakfast to speak of at the motel (which is operated by a gigantic weirdo who is thinking of moving to San Diego, where he has family) and the only place we saw open was McDonald’s, so we packed up, ate two breakfast sandwiches each, and headed out. We got a late start, 9:00, so it was already 72 degrees when we started.

The elevation profile for the portion of the route we were on today showed that there were a few climbs but then it was mainly downhill. I was clinging to that because I was so tired. My glutes are so sore that it is painful to sit in a chair at times. These hills are really providing a workout. The scenery was pretty, as always in the Ozarks, so at least there was something nice to look at. But after the fourth or fifth time we finished a descent a few yards from the next climb, Jay said “These downhills have lost their sparkle for me. They just don’t get you what you need.” I agreed. The elevation profile has proven itself to be unreliable, so I’m working on ignoring it and just facing what we encounter.

The day heated up (it would get to 98 today) and we kept pedaling. We stopped to pet a nice horse who was just begging for attention. Once we stopped to take his picture (he had been in an old barn), he came sauntering over to the fence for an ear-scratch. I do like seeing all the animals out here. I like how the cows are always so curious—you can almost see the thought bubble above their heads: “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” as we ride past. The mama cows with their babies are especially sweet.

The first town we came to was Summersville, 22 miles away. We had been taking it slow so we got there a little before noon. The convenience store clerk seemed surly at first but then she warmed up. She told us her identical twin was the park ranger at Alley Spring, which we’d get to five miles before Eminence. So we shared identical twin stories and then she told us all about her grandsons. People have A LOT of grandchildren in this part of the country. They always ask if we have kids, and when we say no, it seems like they either feel sorry for me being barren or act a bit suspicious.

After Summersville we had only 20 more miles, but we had to descend all the way to the river, back up, and then descend again. We had been warned by a few people about the giant downhill to the river. On the way there, we were on a pretty nice descent that passed a scenic overlook, and Jay yelled out “STOP STOP STOP.” Personally, I would not stop on a great downhill to pick up a sack of hundred dollar bills, but oh no Jay wants to get a picture. So we stopped, then slogged up the next hill and then a bit later came to the big downhill. You could tell it was going to be good because it had a warning sign for trucks. It was a 300’ descent, and we stopped at the bottom to go see the Old Mill at Alley Spring. It was a neat old building (closed) at a stunningly beautiful spring-fed pond that led into a little stream. Here’s what I learned from the information boards:

Alley Spring was the site of a grain mill in the [1800’s sometime] where farmers would bring their corn and [something] to be milled. Because the milling took time, they would bring their families and make a day of it. A town grew up around the mill and a store, school [and some other things] were built around the mill. Only the mill remains. In 1946 (?) [someone] devised a plan to dam the [something] river, which would have flooded Alley Spring and the nearby town of Eminence. But then [one of Richard Nixon’s daughters, I think] helped develop the Ozark National Scenic Waterways Park to save the rivers and blah blah blah.

We had five more miles to slog through and boy, was it hot. We crossed the Jack’s Fork river and started uphill. The first part of the climb wasn’t too bad (around here, an 8-10% grade is easy) but then the road tilted up dramatically and a car was behind us so we got off the road for the car to pass, and I poured some water on my head. The next part of the road was tough—my Garmin read 13% and 14% grade. You know how steep Juan Street (in Old Town) is? The steepest part is 11%. We stopped again in the shade with just a bit more to go, but we were at a 16% grade and I could not figure out a way to get on my bike and pedal without tipping over. I am confounded by how these roads could have been built like this. Standing beside my bike, I was tilted forward to maintain my balance and it seemed the road was almost arm’s length in front of me—that’s how steep it was. Jay’s bike has different gearing (and he’s better on hills and in the heat), so he rode up while I did walking lunges to get me and my bike up the rest of the hill.

From there we had more climbing and descending before descending again all the way to Eminence, which is at the level of the river. We got a cabin at the River’s Edge Motel and Cabins on the advice of the liquor store owner. Our cabin is really special—it’s very knotty pine and has a great view of trees and then the river. We walked down to the river and stuck our feet in—the water was cool but not freezing. We got showered and changed and headed into town to the “nice place” for dinner. They allow smoking there! In 2012! People can smoke where other people are eating supper! I took a picture of the locals smoking at their table to document this. A family of six came in, but then left when the locals lit up and the waitress explained there wasn’t anything she could do about it. We were already eating by then so we just finished our meals and left.

Back in the cabin, Jay went out on the porch around twilight and said “Hey, are those fireflies?” And they were! So very cool to see the little blinking flying lights appear and disappear. Soooo neato. You don’t get that in San Diego, that’s for sure. We are glad to have a rest day tomorrow and I am most looking forward to keeping my core temperature at 98.6 or below. Not sure what we’re going to do all day, but sleeping and reading in the air-conditioned room are top priorities.

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May 23, 2012 - Resting in Eminence, MO

Music selection provided by Uncle Rick, The Who - Eminence Front

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May 24, 2012 - Eminence to Pilot Knob. MO

The weather report said it was going to be hot today, so we set our alarm for 5:00 to get an early start. Jay suggested setting it for 4:45, but I think any time that starts with a “4” is barbaric. We ate breakfast in our room [a muffin from the place we ate dinner last night—we had a giant salad (mine had grilled chicken and Jay’s had sirloin), which was one of the best things we’ve had so far, and a banana) and got on the road (Route 106) at 6:20. It was already 72 degrees! So wacky.

Thankfully, most of our route in the morning was still shaded by trees. Otherwise, I would have died. The innkeeper had said that it was going to be steep and hilly and bad, and she was not exaggerating. I had to walk up one hill when it got to a 17% grade. Sweat was pouring off both of us because it was so warm and humid. At the end of our first hour of pedaling, we had gone only 7.6 miles. It wasn’t until our third hour of pedaling that I went into my middle chain ring. It was, in essence, pretty close to nonstop climbing. We had the road to ourselves for the most part, though, so that was good. The road was narrow and had no shoulder, so we had to rely on cars overtaking us to go into the oncoming traffic lane.

Because we were going so slow, it wasn’t hard for us to stop and save turtles who were crossing the road. We saved three turtles today. We stopped to look at the Current River, which seemed nice. That is also in the Ozarks Riverways national park, and I think part of it flows into the Jack’s Fork River that ran behind our cabin in Eminence.

At a little after 10:00, we had made it the 27 miles to Ellington. A lot of people have told us that “things flatten out a lot” after this town. We got a Gatorade and a sandwich at a convenience store and headed out, this time onto Route 21. Immediately we had a giant hill (the highest peak in Missouri is only 1,700’, so I don’t know why there are so many giant hills here) but the grade was only 8% at most. But hoo boy, was it hot. The sun was out full force and my thermometer read 99.5 degrees at 11:00, so I didn’t look at it anymore the rest of the day.

Route 21 seemed to be a newer road than 106, and it seemed like the highway department actually did some grading of it, instead of just pushing a bulldozer off a cliff and then spackling some asphalt to its tracks, like on Route 106. There were still a lot of hills, but none exceeded 12% grade. The road was still narrow but not as windy, and for the most part cars were good about going around us. The next town we came to, Centerville, had a small diner, so we went in there for a Diet Coke and a candy bar. A little girl about 9 or 10 came up to us and asked if we would buy one of her “pictures” that she had drawn. Two of them had a peace sign and one said “Good Luck” on it, so we bought that one.

In the diner in Centerville, a local came up to us to talk about our route and warned us against taking County Road N, which is the official Adventure Cycling route. He said for us to stay on Route 21, and that way we’d avoid semis and big logging trucks. Because we had to get off the road for those already (we run our bikes into the grass and brake when they come up behind us and seem like they’re not going to shade over into the oncoming lane), we agreed with his assessment. So we stayed on Route 21.

The next town was Lesterville. I was about poached by now, steaming in my sweat due to the humidity. We stopped at a grocery and bought a sandwich from the deli. Cajun turkey with cheddar on wheat, quite nice. They use Miracle Whip here (ewww), but this time the deli also had regular mayonnaise packets, so we lucked out. Jay and I talked to the owners. The wife didn’t look much older than me, but she has six kids, ranging from 32 to 9. When she was pregnant with the nine-year-old, two of her daughters and one daughter-in-law were also pregnant, so her youngest is an aunt to three girls her same age. Super wacky. Together she and her husband have nine kids and 16 grandkids, and everyone lives within 90 minutes of them.

We had 22 miles to go after Lesterville. I don’t know how hot it was, but it was HOT. And HUMID. Conditions unlike any I have experienced anywhere. The hills tapered off, but my legs were so tired from this morning’s efforts and so drained by the humidity that I just couldn’t go very fast. When I saw our statistics for today and saw how much we climbed (almost a mile), I didn’t feel so bad about being such a slug. We took frequent breaks, but I had to stop pouring water on my head to cool off because it just made my head feel like it was in a steam room. It was so humid that it formed low clouds, almost like fog, which eventually blocked out the sun, so that was good.

With six miles to go, I GOT ANOTHER FLAT TIRE. UGH. So hideous. Neither Jay nor I could find anything in the tire but sure enough the tube was punctured. He changed the flat while I rested. Luckily, a little bit after the flat the road turned downhill and the last five or so miles were not bad pedaling, and the road even had a shoulder once in a while. We got here, to Pilot Knob, around 5:30. Across the street from our motel is the site of the historic Fort Davidson, which now is just a grassy area with a dry moat around it. It was the scene of some battle toward the end of the Civil War. They have reenactments there, judging from some postcards in the motel lobby.

It looks like we can make it into Illinois tomorrow. We got buzzed by a few cars today and were starting to get freaked out by the traffic on these little roads with no shoulder. After supper, there was a deputy sheriff getting gas in his patrol car where we went to get ice cream, so we asked him the best route to Farmington (the next big town on our route) and he said “There’s no good way.” So we’ll just take the shortest route (Route 221) and forego the state parks on the windy County Road N and hope for the best. Looks like we’ll try for another early start to try to beat work traffic. The worse of the Ozarks are behind us, now we just need to get past the Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Appalachians. They’re supposed to be higher but not as steep. Stay tuned….

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May 25, 2012 - Pilot Knob to Farmington, MO

We had a bagel with peanut butter and a banana in our room today so we could get an early start. We were on our bikes by 6:36. We had decided, based on the advice of a local, to take Route 221 for the 17 miles to Farmington and skip seeing some state parks we could have visited by taking the long way, Route N. It was already 72 degrees and soooo humid that it was super hazy out. The road had a great shoulder, though, one of the best ones we’ve come across this whole trip, so we were ecstatic about that.

The terrain wasn’t too hilly. We were making good time; we got to the halfway point after 45 minutes. There wasn’t a ton to see, except that Jay had his Squirrel Vision going strong and saw nine squirrels before we even got out of town. So, we have come to the point in the Squirrel Game where the pupil has become the master. Very well. All good teachers are moved when their students take what they’ve learned and surpass them. I’m not worried. Not at all.

We got into Farmington early, before 8:30. This town seems pretty cute. It was established in 1789 and has some really beautiful homes. We stopped at the Visitors’ Center, which is in a converted factory, and ate breakfast at a diner there. We met Josh, who was eating with his son Nathan, who gave us a bunch of information about the upcoming route and also told us about the AAA office in town (he knows Jason, who runs it, because their sons play soccer together). We went over there (a mile and a half away) and the AAA people were super nice to us. They gave us the maps we needed to help plan a route east and then came out to look at our bikes. Based on talking to them, we are going to go north to Ste. Genvieve and take the ferry across to Modoc, Illinois, and then strike out on our own rather than doing the rest of the TransAm route. They were all really fun to talk to and they gave us good information. That’s been the highlight of this trip—getting to talk to the locals.

The west-bound cyclists we’ve met have all said how bad the dogs are in Kentucky, not to mention the Appalachian mountains. We hope to avoid the dogs and the poorly-graded hills by staying on roads that are a big bigger. I think the route will end up being shorter, too, which means we can do shorter days. Considering that it’s supposed to be in the high 90’s in this part of the country for the next few days, that will be good.

Once we got back to downtown Farmington (we were headed to the bike store here), we stopped on a sidewalk to check directions. The director of city parks came out to meet us (we had stopped in front of City Hall) and told us about Farmington’s cyclist hostel, which was a block away. An area cyclist who died from cancer set up the hostel in the building that used to be the town’s jail. It caters to TransAm cyclists like us. The city parks guy said that everyone who stays here says it’s the best hostel they’ve ever stayed in, and that European cyclists make it a point to come here on their trips. So how could we not go see it?

It is very nicely appointed with a living room, kitchenette, computer, laundry, and, what’s best, air conditioning. Jay was excited about staying here and meeting other tourists, so we decided to make today a short day and stay here. I am being brave and actually talking to people instead of pretending to be a deaf mute or autistic. We snagged the only “private” room (it has one bunk bed)—there are two other bedrooms with three bunk beds in them. The hostel provides linens for the beds, but you have to make them up yourself (no big deal).

We had been in the hostel about 90 minutes when Alex, a recent college grad, came in. He’s headed west. Then Dale and Daniel came in—two truck drivers who are also headed west. Just now, Jeff came in. He’s from Michigan and headed south to Texas, then west to San Bernardino. Alex, Daniel, and Dale seem like experienced cyclists and Jeff seems like he’s winging it. He was pulling a trailer (which is an alternative to panniers), which has broken and he needs to figure out how to fix it or buy a new one.

We went to lunch at a place down the block, and then to Hunt’s, a dairy bar, for ice cream. Hunt’s is a local institution. It’s a drive-up where the waitresses walk out to your car and take your order, and then bring you your food. It has hamburgers and hot dogs, too. I got a dipped cone and Jay got a hot fudge sundae. Even though we only rode 20 miles, it’s important to keep your glycogen stores filled.

Tomorrow will be a short day, about 46 miles to Red Bluff, Illinois. We’re not sure how it will go with taking the ferry, so we’ve allowed a lot of time for that. I think we have about 25 miles to ride to get to the ferry, then about 20 miles once we’re in Illinois. The TransAm route goes south through “wine country” then crosses the Mississippi at Chester (home of Popeye, the cartoon character, where there is a giant statue of him and a nice lookout over the river). Jay is a little sad about missing that, but he’s agreed we need to start heading north toward D.C.

We’ve struck out on our own before on this trip—we did northern Arizona and all of New Mexico on our own, so I think we’ll be fine. And whatever happens, it’ll work out. As our friend Skip says, “plan for the worst, expect the best, and take what you get.”

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May 26, 2012 - Farmington, MO to Red Bud, IL

We took Tylenol PMs last night at 8:00 to help us sleep in case the other hostel residents were noisy, but it turned out we didn’t need them. Daniel and Dale went to bed before us and Alex and Jeff were really quiet. We got up before 5:00 when we heard other people stirring, but somehow didn’t get on the road until 6:25. It was already a muggy 72 degrees, but the air felt better once you were moving through it. I had made oatmeal on the hotplate for Jay and me, but didn’t make enough so we stopped after an hour for a snack.

The road we were on, Route 32 to Ste. Genvieve, had a pretty decent shoulder and some rolling hills, but nothing too bad. I stayed in my middle chain ring for all the hills. Thanks to the good downhills and no wind to speak of, we were making pretty good time. It was just so HOT! And HUMID! We rolled into Ste. Genvieve, 32 miles away, about 10:00. The town is historic and looks very quaint. There are a lot of old buildings in it, but we didn’t have time to stop and look at anything because we were trying to get out of the heat. Plus we were excited about crossing the Mississippi River.

We rode to the ferry landing, which was at least two miles out of town down a little, broken-up road. Now we knew what Jason, the AAA guy, meant when he said the ferry was sketchy. It was just a flat area with a pilot-house engine kind of thing attached to it. The ferry landing is not a tourist area AT ALL, nothing like taking the ferry to Coronado from downtown. We got to the launch and the ferry guy waved us on. As soon as we rode onto the platform, the engine person started and we were off. We hadn’t gotten very far (like, one foot) when a motorcycle came up to the launch area. The ferry guy talked to the engine person and they moved the boat back and the motorcycle drove on. Then we were off.

It was exciting! Not because the ferry itself was so great (it has definitely seen better days), but it felt like a real milestone of our trip to get across the biggest river in the country. The trip took only about 10 minutes, and then we were in Illinois. There was no welcome to Illinois sign, though, so that was disappointing. Away from the landing, we went up on a levee road, which went through some farmland, then there was a little tiny town (Prairie du Rocher) strung out along the road, but the whole area seemed pretty deserted. There was a town called Modoc on the map, but that turned out to be nothing. According to our calculations, we had about 20 miles to go to get to our motel for the night in Red Bud.

The good thing was that the Illinois side was much flatter than the Missouri side. While we were going along the road, we started passing the bases of towering cliffs—they turned out to be on the National Register of Historic Places because there’s evidence that Indians used to reside there 8,000 years ago. Neato!

I knew we’d have to climb up to the level of the cliffs at some point. We stopped at a market in Prairie du Rocher, where Jay spotted cut watermelon in the produce section. Genius! That tasted great on a hot and humid day like today. Then he had a cookie and I ate some potato chips, and we both drank some Gatorade, then we started the hill climb. It wasn’t bad—apparently Illinois likes to actually engineer their roads, instead of just winging it like Missouri, so the grade wasn’t too steep and part of the climb was in shade. I had to go into my lower gears, but I got through it fine.

Once on top, we were in more farmland with a lot of dry wheat fields. We had to stop a few times in the shade for me to cool down a bit. I felt like every time I took my helmet off, a giant cloud of steam came off my head. I have too much hair for riding in this humidity. We had to angle over to Highway 3 in a tiny town called Ruma (it has a restaurant called the Ruma Mill—HA) and then we had about six more miles. I know we’re only 20 miles into Illinois, but I am reminded of a T-shirt I saw when we were in Chicago in 2009. It said “Illinois—Without Chicago, You’d be Nothing.” Funny!

After one more Gatorade stop, we made it to our motel about 12:45. We got to check in early, then we found out about the community pool that just opened today. The motel employee told us that Illinois is “completely smoke-free,” which we of course love, but she said she really likes to go to St. Louis so she can smoke in restaurants. Ewww.

Jay called the pool and got directions, so I put my sweaty bike clothes back on and we rode a couple miles over to it. The clerk let us in for $5 total instead of $5 each after I said “We rode our bikes from San Diego just to come to this pool.” She didn’t really buy that but she was impressed. The pool wasn’t crowded and the water was the perfect temperature—a tiny bit cold when you got in and then absolutely refreshing. We hung out there for 45 minutes or so and then pedaled back.

Jay is researching routes right now. Alex (from the hostel) will be starting grad school in hydrogeology and he indicated that we should probably avoid West Virginia. I think we’re going to angle northeast and pick up a rails-to-trails route that starts in Cumberland, Maryland (where we think the Cumberland Gap is, which means we’ll avoid the Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge or the somethings). There’s a lot to figure out now that we’re not using the TransAm bike route. Tomorrow we’re headed for Nashville, where we already have reservations at a hotel with a pool. Yippee!

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May 27, 2012 - Red Bud to Nashville, IL

Hoo boy, another hot day in the heartland. Our plan was to get up early and get packed up and then ride to breakfast at a place that opened at 6:00 so we could be on the road early. We woke up at 5:15 and were out the door a tiny bit after 6:00, but the restaurant was closed and so was every other place in town. So we ate a Clif Mojo bar and some Fig Newtons at an abandoned oil refinery on the outside edge of town and headed north, hoping the next town would have a place for breakfast. The squirrels were out in abundance today, so I think the score was Jay 6, me 4 before we even left town.

It was already 72 degrees when we started but a tiny bit less humid than yesterday. We got to the next town, Hecker, in about half an hour, but nothing was open. Saw a bunch of squirrels in peoples’ yards, though. We then turned onto Illinois 156. I saw a giant rust-colored rodenty thing in an open area of a corn field and was about to call out “SQUIRREL,” but then it turned and ran and we saw it was a fox! So handsome with his giant bushy tail. Then, only about a mile later, we were approaching a house when Jay said “Hey, look at that cat in the driveway. He just caught something!” and sure enough, a cute little black and white tuxedo cat had just pounced on a bunny. We stopped and watched him dispatch it and then carry it off toward some bushes.

When 156 ended, we were at a stop sign about to unfold our map to figure out which way to go when a local drove up. He told us that if we turned left, the next town up would have a place to eat. That turned out to be true. We had a buffet breakfast for $6.50 (full of the stuff I’m tired of, but oh well) in Freeburg, where Jay got to talking to a local about a nice place to camp at a lake outside Nashville (the town we’re in now). The guy was the campground host for the place last summer so he had a ton of information about it. I wanted to tell him, “I can’t camp in this heat and humidity. I have health issues!” but said nothing. Jay said later he could tell I wasn’t buying what the guy was selling, but if he didn’t know me I appeared interested. So at least I didn’t hurt the guy’s feelings.

We turned southeast onto Illinois 15 where we had a tiny bit of a headwind for a while until the road straightened out toward the east. We got a tailwind for a little while, but it was sure heating up. The humidity was rising too, although it was definitely better than yesterday by a few percentage points. There were a few big mounded hills in today’s ride but nothing that required my lower set of gears. For a while, with the tailwind, we were doing 16 mph. Early on, we had given some thought to going all the way to Mt. Vernon, about 25 miles past Nashville, but by the time we got to Nashville I was cooked.

We got a sandwich at a deli, where I ate really slowly to stay in the air conditioning as long as possible, and then rode up to the main intersection. A teenage boy and girl were running on the sidewalk and the boy yelled out “Where you went to?” I was trying to parse that sentence and couldn’t think of how to respond, but Jay yelled back “San Diego to D.C.,” and then we could hear the teens whoop and the boy call out “Good luck!” That was funny. Jay spotted a Kroger, where I went in to get a package of bagels, and then we headed three miles north to our hotel. When we stopped riding, it was 102 degrees. We were so looking forward to the pool, but it is either under construction or being repaired—it’s just a big concrete hole with pipes sticking into it. No es bueno.

We didn’t get a ton of miles in today, but I avoided heatstroke. It’s just so dang hot here. Chris (my sister who lives in San Antonio) texted me to let me know it’s hotter we are then it is in Texas. Is there any justice in that? No.

It’s supposed to be 96 degrees tomorrow but only 86 on Tuesday, and then gradually cool down for the rest of the week. So our plan is to do longer days when it’s cooler. At this point I’m not sure if we’ll turnaround and go south three miles to rejoin Route 15, or head north to pick up Route 50 and then head east. We have to do more investigating.

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May 28, 2012 - Nashville to Flora, IL

Happy Memorial Day to everyone, and if you’re a veteran, thank you very much for your service.

To try to beat the heat today, we set our alarm for 4:45. Wasn’t it only last week that I said a wake-up time that started with “4” was barbaric? Well, a few more days of cycling in this heat, and I am singing a different tune. We had a bagel with peanut butter and banana and were on the road at 5:38. It was 74 degrees and more humid than yesterday.

We headed north on Illinois 127 to Carlyle (16 miles away), where we stopped for a quick snack. The road was pretty quiet. Then we turned east onto U.S. Route 50 for the next 50 miles. Traffic picked up some, and we encountered a few hills. Carlyle had a sign saying that it had the biggest lake in Illinois, but Jay pointed out, “Wouldn’t that be Lake Michigan?” There is a big lake near Carlylye on the map, but it’s not Great.

With the hills and the heat, we were feeling pretty sloggy. We left before breakfast service at the hotel, so we had only one cup of coffee in the morning. After 24 miles, we came to Salem, where we stopped at a Circle K. As soon as we stepped inside, I was happy because it was so cold. I got a can of Starbucks Espresso and Cream and Jay got a can of Starbucks Double Shot, and we each got a Gatorade and split a small package of potato chips. We just hung out by the soda and coffee machines rather than go back outside. We filled our water bottles with ice and headed out for the last 26 miles.

The coffee drinks perked us up a bit, and it seemed like we caught a bit of a tailwind, because we were moving along pretty fast. Today was purely about getting through the 65 miles as fast as possible. I had made a motel reservation last night and asked for early check-in if possible, because it was likely we’d get in early. We really minimized our stops today (we were only off the bike for an hour and five minutes). We didn’t stop to take many pictures and there wasn’t a lot to see. Farmland farmland farmland rolling tree-covered hill farmland.

We did stop to read a historical marked beside an old wooden house. Jay and I couldn’t decipher the marker exactly, but the house was built in either 1779 or 1812 and served as the halfway point on some trail that was important in the Revolutionary War or not. It was a neat structure and had three horse stalls on the ground floor. There was a little bit of shade there and a breeze, so we stayed a few minutes to cool off and then got back on the bikes.

Slog slog slog, pedal pedal pedal. We just kept going and going. We passed something beige and stinky in a corn field and we stopped. I made Jay go see what it was. A dead fawn that had been hit by a car. I haven’t written about all the road kill we’ve seen, but there’s been a lot of it. Yesterday we saw a coyote carcass and today, in addition to the deer, we saw a dead black furry cat. We always see possums, raccoons, bunnies, squirrels, and tons of birds. So sad to see all these dead animals.

Finally we got to our hotel. I checked the thermometer on my bike, it read 103.5 degrees. Soooo hot. I deliberately didn’t look at the temperature while we were riding because I just didn’t want to know.

We walked in to the lobby, and the woman at the front desk said “Barbara?” I said “Why, yes, that’s me.” Jay said to the clerk, “Oh, do you recognize her because she’s been here so many times?” The woman laughed and then read aloud my comment on the reservation form: “We are touring on bicycles and would like a ground-floor room if you don’t have an elevator. Early check-in possible?” And then she said “I’d be surprised if someone else came in here riding their bikes in the middle of a heat wave.” Then she asked me for my license and a credit card, and slid the room key envelope over to Jay and said “Here’s your room, it’s all ready. You can go bring your bikes in. I don’t want her to have to do that.” FUNNY! It was a really nice greeting, especially compared to so many other innkeepers who see us ride up and then ask us for vehicle information because they’re so clueless. She’s pregnant and due August 9, the day before Jay’s birthday.

I actually DID help Jay with the bikes, and then we laid on the rug in the cool room and stretched for a bit. Then shower, wash out today’s clothes, go eat lunch blah blah blah. We are in a town with plenty of time to go do something (no movie theater, dang it), but we’re both tired and it’s really hot out. The hotel is on the main route, and the town’s a little ways away, so I think I might take a nap.

We have decided on our route for the rest of the trip: We’re going to use the RAAM route starting with the Sullivan, Indiana time station (RAAM has time stations across the country where the contestants have to check in by a certain time). The route from Illinois goes through Ohio, then West Virginia, then to Cumberland, Maryland, where we’ll hop on the C&O Towpath (now a bike trail etc.) instead of completing the RAAM route to the finish line in Annapolis, MD. If you want to see our path, go to, click on “Route” in the middle of the page toward the right side, then click on “Route” on the drop-down menu. Once there, you can download “Maps,” or just the “Time Station Statistics” document to see the main towns we’ll be going through. We’ll be on the route from a little before Time Station 38 to Time Station 48.

The men’s field starts June 13, so we will have to be off the course before then. Once we get to Sullivan, IN, we have 578 miles to go to Cumberland. We hope to get to Cumberland, MD on June 10 and start down the bike trail on the 11th, so if that works out we won’t get overtaken by the riders. How embarrassing would it be for us if we, having started from San Diego on April 15, got beat to the east coast by people who started two months after us? We really need to avoid that.

The weather report says there’s a 50% chance of thunderstorms tonight, and tomorrow’s high will be only 88 degrees, cooler than today’s expected high of 96. Then it’s supposed to cool off for a few days (the high on Friday is forecast to be 68!). I’m not sure where we’ll get to tomorrow, but we should cross into Indiana and pass through Sullivan some time on Wednesday.

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May 29, 2012 - Flora to Robinson, IL

We set our alarm for 4:45 today and were all set to get an early start, but when the alarm went off it was thunderstorming! So we decided to rest for a bit, get breakfast at the motel, and start after the rain left. We got on the road at 6:54. There were a few sprinkles for the first quarter-mile and then it stayed cloudy for a bit. It was 74 degrees, headed to a predicted high of 88. After two miles, I got ANOTHER flat tire, dang it, and by that time the sun was trying to break through the clouds. Jay changed my flat and we were back on the road, headed to OIney, about 20 miles away.

The road had a decent shoulder for the most part, but the departing storm made the air really humid. I wasn’t sticky from the heat, I went past that and into “gluey.” Today and the past couple days I’ve been able to stay in my big chain ring for the most part, so we were making good time. We were on U.S. Route 50, and once in a while you could see Old U.S. 50 to the north of us. That road had some really nice looking steel or iron and brick bridges, all of which were closed. It seems like that could be turned into a bike path without too much difficulty, and it would definitely be a nicer ride than the one we had, dodging WalMart trucks all morning (it turns out there’s a distribution center on Route 50).

We got to the outskirts of Olney about 9:30. We could see road construction up ahead, and Jay asked a local about it. Two bridges are under repair and the road goes down to one lane, so we decided to head north for a bit on Illinois 130 and work our way northeast to Robinson. Illinois 130 started out with no shoulder but improved, but the sun kept coming out from the clouds so it was getting quite warm and humid. We turned east on a county road, which was deserted but nicely paved, so we had a good run for a while. We flagged down a local to ask about the next turn north. There was a young woman driving who had the most amazing seafoam green eyes I’ve ever seen. Her passenger was an older man, may be her granddad? She was helpful and gave us good directions.

We turned north four miles later, right into a headwind. The weather report for our starting and ending cities had the weather coming from different directions, so it seemed we were in the transition area. Between the headwind, the sun, and lack of food, I started losing focus. I tried drafting behind Jay but couldn’t concentrate. The road was not very well-traveled, so that was good. We came across a cute little “village,” Sainte Marie, but there was no place to get lunch. So we went five more miles to the next “village” (that’s what it says on the welcome signs), Willow Hill, where we ate lunch at DJ’s café.

We were clearly out of place, but this was one of those times where EVERYONE, including the waitress for a few moments, acted like we were invisible. I placed my order at the counter (grilled chicken sandwich) and went to wash my hands. Jay had placed his order (chili cheese dog) but then had to change it because they weren’t serving those anymore. He got a Pork Manhattan sandwich, which was the waitress’ favorite. It’s a pulled pork sandwich with mashed potatoes on it and gravy poured over the whole thing. It was quite the undertaking but Jay pulled through. It also came with macaroni salad that wasn’t bad at all.

After lunch, it had clouded up again and cooled off to 78 degrees! That’s 25 degrees cooler than yesterday. It started sprinkling rain a tiny bit, so I was in heaven. After a mile, we turned east onto Illinois 33, the official RAAM route. The part of the road we joined is cracked and rutted, no picnic for our heavy bikes with wide tires, so I hope the racers are forewarned about the road. The next town up was Oblong, where Jay saw two cyclotourists stopped at a gas station.

We pulled over so we (mainly Jay) could talk to them. The tall quiet guy (name unknown) was from Belgium and flew to Philadelphia to meet up with the other guy, whose name I did not catch but it was something like Bodhi. They rode from Philly down to D.C. then up the C&O Trail (which we will be doing in a couple weeks in the other direction) and were headed to San Francisco. They are trying to stick mainly to bike trails, and Bodhi gave us a ton of information for bike trails in our future. In return, I told him about Red Hot Riplets (really hot barbeque potato chips) that you can get only in St. Louis. They mainly camp or stay with friends or go through (couch surfing for bike tourists) for free places to stay. They will be in St. Louis in two nights, and will then take the famous Katy Trail all the way down (I think it’s close to a 200-mile trail diagonally through Missouri, our friend Merle wanted us to take it, but it was too far north of us at the time).

When the weather turned cool after lunch, Jay and I tossed about the idea of going another 25 miles today, to Sullivan, Indiana. But while we were talking with the other tourists, the sun came out and things heated up again. It got up to 87 degrees in about half an hour. So weird! We got into the outer edges of Robinson around 2:00 and pulled over to decide what we were going to do. The sun was out and it was hot and I was sweaty and tired from waking up at 4:45, so I decided I was done. We had enough Best Western points that we got a free room, so that’s where we are now. Well, actually, I’m here blogging and Jay got cleaned up and went for a walk to see the town.

Now that we’re on the official RAAM route, we know how we’re going to get to Cumberland. I wrote earlier that we will be going through the Cumberland Gap in the mountains, but that was wrong. The Gap is farther south, in Kentucky, I think. We will be going through the Cumberland Narrows, in the upper part of the Appalachians. We have a bit of climbing in West Virginia before that happens, but I don’t think it will be too bad. Tomorrow we’ll be in Indiana, and the weather is supposed to cool considerably over the next few days, so I am excited about that.

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May 30, 2012 - Robinson, IL to Bloomington, IN

We got started a bit later than usual today, thinking we would have a short day of only 55 or so miles. Both of us are a bit out of sorts and ready for our adventure to be over. We started pedaling joylessly at 7:00. Jay routed us through an established area of town, where there were a lot of beautiful older homes. One thing about this part of the country, most of the houses have gigantic green lawns that would be the envy of almost every home in San Diego. We took a back road to avoid most of Route 1 north, then joined Route 1 for a few miles until we turned east to head into Indiana. Yay, another state line!

Indiana started out as flat farmland, mostly cornfields. Then all of a sudden, it became rolling hills and a few long inclines. We got to Sullivan after 24 miles, where we took a break at a convenience store. The temperature was only 82 degrees, so not cool but a lot easier to ride in than previous days. Our route took us on a divided highway for a couple miles, then we turned off onto Indiana 54. This highway was not particularly bike-friendly. The shoulder was 15” wide at most, sometimes going down to less than 6”. The map showed only a couple tiny towns, but the area was a lot more populated than we thought it would be.

As we approached Linton, traffic increased and the hills became bigger and longer. I am no geography whiz, so I don’t know why this part of Indiana is so hilly. Is it at the beginning of a mountain range? Or in the foothills? The topography is way different than Illinois. We saw a funny giraffe sculpture in the middle of a field and stopped for a break. The traffic on the road was stressful and it was getting hot—92 degrees so far, at around noon. Although we lost an hour coming into the Eastern Time Zone, we still thought we’d get into Bloomfield early.

The traffic and hills kept increasing, but finally we made it into Bloomfield a little before 2:00. We stopped in the courthouse square and asked a police officer about where to stay in town and where to get lunch. He said there was only one motel, so we went there and signed up for a room. The motel office was in a gas station convenience store.

The motel definitely looked like it had seen better days, but we’ve stayed in some sketchy places so I wasn’t too worried. The door to our room had more peeling than intact paint, not a good sign. Jay unlocked the door and I was immediately creeped out by what I saw. There was double bed that was about a foot off the floor, with two pillows so flat that you could have slid them under a door. The bed had a noticeable slant toward the head. I sat on the bed and could feel metal coils. The room smelled like ammonia. I told Jay, “I don’t think I can stay here. I’d rather ride another 30 miles than try to sleep in this room.”

I think Jay was like “Whatever, dude.” He went back to the clerk to get our credit card refunded while I waited outside. We got back on our bikes and headed out of town, stopping to wolf down a Mojo bar and an apple. The hills started almost immediately but I so wanted to flee that I took the first couple pretty easily. We stopped on one hill to rescue a turtle, who I could tell was unappreciative. There were a lot of cars and they were all going fast, so the ride was stressful. Once in a while the shoulder would widen around a span of driveways, which was a welcome respite and let us catch our breath.

The RAAM route turned off after 13 miles, onto a road that the Bloomfield police officer said was curvy and more dangerous than the road we decided to stay on. As we got closer to Bloomington, the traffic really increased and the hills did not diminish. Jay called out several times for us to get off the road and stop, so that an overtaking semitruck could pass us. We didn’t get honked at, but two cars swerved very close to us and it was a nerve-wracking ride. I can’t think of a two-lane road that is similar in San Diego, but imagine that it’s like a hillier version of a road in Rancho Santa Fe with a traffic density similar to that of Gilman Drive. I was going to take a picture at one point when we were stopped, but I decided against it because it would have made people question our sanity.

We stopped for a short rest break and a snack, then got back to it. Entering Bloomington, we passed Walmart, which tells you you’re on the outskirts of town. Then we crossed a four-lane highway and had a steep climb and a downhill into the city. We were on the edge of downtown when we stopped and asked a woman on a bicycle for directions to a motel. She gave us really crappy information and you could tell she had disordered thinking by her wacky sentence structure. I was hot, tired, and stressed out and wanted to say “nevermind” and keep going, but Jay was being polite and trying to have a real conversation with her. Jay finally told her “thanks, you’ve been a big help,” so we left, pulled into an alley and they Yelped a hotel within a few blocks. We had climbed over 2,700’ for the day, which is kind of a lot, especially when you’re not expecting it.

So we are in the Marriott Courtyard a couple blocks from the downtown courthouse square. We ate at Scholars Inn Bake Shop, which was cheap but not very filling. I think IU is close by, judging by all the college kids everywhere. The food was good but tiny, so after supper I Yelped an ice cream place, which turned out great. We went to The Chocolate Moose, which has been in business since 1933. I had a hot fudge sundae with Grasshopper ice cream and Jay had one with coffee ice cream. I think it’s the best ice cream we’ve had so far.

It’s supposed to rain and thunderstorm tomorrow so we will take a rest day. After yesterday’s stressful 82 miles, we need one. We have about 515 miles to get to Cumberland, then 184 miles of the C&O Trail, then three miles to get to the Washington Monument. So, the end is in sight.

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May 31, 2012 - Rest day in Bloomington, IN

I slept in until 6:37 today! Yippee! Jay slept a bit later. We went back to the coffeehouse/bakery place where we had supper last night to get a bagel. I have been dying for just your basic bagel with cream cheese, and they had that there and it was the best bagel I’ve ever had. It’s amazing how much you value little things like that when you go without for a few weeks.

After breakfast, Jay decided to ride up to the AAA office to get the rest of the state maps we need, and I decided to walk the mile or so over to Indiana University and go see the exhibit in the gallery at the Kinsey Institute. I had forgotten that Alfred Kinsey started his work here (the movie about his life, where Liam Neeson plays him, is pretty good), but there are posters up about the gallery so I decided to go see what’s up. IU is a beautiful campus, tons of old limestone buildings, and millions of big leafy green trees with tons of squirrels and chipmunks. If you went to school here and played the Squirrel Game with your friends, you’d have to have a rule that 10 squirrels equal one point to avoid everyone scoring in the hundreds every day.

As I was walking toward the campus, this cute guy on a bike came up to me and it was Jay! Such a funny coincidence! He was headed back to the hotel, so I told him what I was up to and then said I’d be back for us to go get lunch.

The Kinsey Institute is in a regular lecture hall, which the GPS part of iPhone didn’t tell me about, so I finally just chanced across it by entering a building and looking around. The woman at the desk was getting ready to go to lunch, so they were about to close, and she wasn’t moved by my now-standard “But I rode my bike from San Diego just to see this” argument. But she did say “I’ll ride down the elevator with you.” Um, thanks?

I walked back a different way to the hotel. Bloomington seems like a pretty nice town. It’s not terribly large, but there’s a lot of diversity due, I think, to the college here. Jay and I had lunch, then browsed through a couple book stores, then came back to the hotel and did some route planning and then read our books. Then the thunderstorm hit, it was not long, but it was neat to hear the thunder and see the rain pour down.

We just got back from supper (pizza at a place near campus, quite nice) and ice cream from the same place we went last night. While we were sitting on “our” bench finishing our cones, two men walked up and asked how we liked the ice cream. I said “We’re riding our bikes across the country and this is the best ice cream we’ve come across.” They were impressed and happy to hear that. Turns out, they are the owners. Jeff and (we think the other guy is his son?) Steve. They said that John Mellenkamp, who is from Bloomington, filmed part of the video for the song “Jack and Diane” on the bench we were sitting on. (The part about “sucking on chili dogs outside the Tastee Freeze.”) They told us a bunch of nice things about BTown and we told them it’s one of the best places we’ve been to on our trip.

Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy until 8:00 a.m. and cool, so there’s no reason to get an early start. We both feel a lot better having had a rest day. Martha Shumaker (on the Comments page) was right, there are hills ahead! We think the next nine days will be somewhat to a lot hilly, until we get to Cumberland. After that, it’s all downhill…

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