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 May 1, 2012 - Day 17 Socorro to Albuquerque, NM

YO YO YO bitches, me and my home boy are kicking it in the ABQ, representin’ the 6-1-9. (That sentence will be funny only to those of you who watch “Breaking Bad.”) Well, here Jay and I are in Albuquerque after a loooong day. Nothing was particularly hard today, but it was just super sloggy. We started off right around 8:00 (even though we slept in until after 6:00!) with 25 miles on Interstate 25. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a less-crowded freeway, so it was nice.

Before we set off, we tried to ascertain from the two motel desk clerks how far the frontage road went. The young woman said it ended before the next freeway exit. The young man went into a five-minute discussion of how he was pretty sure there was a road that paralleled the freeway (“It goes around the golf course, you know where that is? [Um, no.] And kind of up into the mountains, sort of by the [something] store, and I think you can take it all the way to Route 60. I’m pretty sure, anyway. You should try that.”) I responded by saying “Riiiight, but since we’re on bicycles, if we try it and it doesn’t work out, then we have to pedal all that way back to get on the freeway, so that would be a big waste of time.” He only sort of agreed with me. We run into that a lot—people trying to help us but not getting the whole “we’re on bicycles” thing.

Anyway, the freeway was pretty pleasant. There were a few rolling hills, but the good thing about a freeway is the grade of the hills isn’t killer. The temperature when we started was 70 degrees, not too bad. And for once the sun wasn’t directly in our eyes because we were headed north instead of east. There was an intriguing sign about high deer activity, but we didn’t see any, dang it. The freeway crossed the “Rio Salado” (Salty River), which was really just a dry river bed. BUT, the sides of the bridge was painted the most amazing blue color; I’ve never seen anything like it on a regular freeway.

After about 75 minutes (we were making pretty good time), we stopped at a rest area. We got the husband of an older couple there to take our picture. The wife asked us if we were doing Route 60 and we said “Huh?” She said tons of cyclists travel the whole length, it goes from [somewhere] to Los Angeles and is the oldest? Longest? First? Cross-country route in the states. We said we weren’t doing that and then she asked where we had come from and where we were headed, so we told her. She said “You know what you should do?”

We said “What?,” thinking she was going to give us advice on how to get to ABQ or what exit to take off the freeway, but she said “The [something] trail in Alberta, Canada. It’s beautiful! Lots of bikers go on that. It goes all the way from [somewhere] to Banff. You should really do that.” I wanted to answer her with this: “Are you on vacation? Where from? You know what you should do? Go to Hawaii. It’s beautiful. Everyone loves it there. You should really go there.” Another person trying to be helpful!

The rest area was on a hill; once we crested it, there was a sudden change in the landscape on the east side of the freeway—it was GREEN! With big trees! That lasted for a little while, then the river went farther away from the freeway and it was back to brown scrubbiness. We saw signs for road construction ahead, and boy, they weren’t kidding. The freeway went down to one lane in each direction. We skirted to the right of the cones, thinking we could ride on the under-construction part, but quickly came to a bridge that wasn’t quite done. Our two choices were (1) walk the bikes down a steep dirt embankment, then portage them across a wide sandy creek bed and lug them up the other side, or (2) ride in the very narrow shoulder between the cars and some K-Rail for a half-mile or so until the end of the construction. We were just about to get on the road when a construction worker pulled up in his truck and said “Wait for a break in traffic and then I’ll follow behind you with my flashers on until you get across.” Jay said, “Okay, thanks. We’ll go as fast as we can. Which isn’t very fast.”

So we waited for some semis to rumble by and then he waved to us to get started. We started off and sprinted our way across—it was a lot longer than we thought and we were both out of breath when we got to the end. The construction guy just waved to us and turned back toward the bridge. Yay, our hero! He totally saved us.

A little bit after that, we got off the freeway and took NM Route 116 for quite a ways, up to Belen. This was a delightful little two-lane road, usually within sight or earshot of the freeway, but it went through tiny towns. We saw horses, cows (including a mama cow suckling her baby!), goats, sheep, and lots of old broken adobe houses. We ran into some horses that Jay tried to pet but they weren’t as nice as the previous days’ horses. The road ended at an A&W, where we had lunch and a root beer float. While at lunch, I watched the flag across the street and it was blowing all different ways. We had picked up a bit of a headwind a little before lunch, then it turned into a crosswind, and the flag was bearing out the variability in wind direction. The road we were on changed to Route 314, which we stayed on to ABQ.

Route 314 was through bigger towns, but there was still livestock to look at, including llamas and some goats that flirted with Jay. We came across “The Old Mill,” a giant tack and garden store, so we went in to take a break and look around. They had funny things in there, including two batches of chicks that were super cute. The day was heating up (it eventually got to 100 degrees), and we were starting to get a little tired. In the town of Los Lunas (we had gone about 50 miles at this point with about 22 to go), we came to its transit center with a sign for the light rail into ABQ. I said “Hey, let’s see when the next train is.” Jay said “Are you serious? Why?” I said “Because I’m sleepy? It’s hot out? This road is kind of crappy with no shoulder?”

We pulled over and, I guess, luckily, the next train wasn’t for an hour and forty minutes, so we decided to keep going. Past the next intersection, we saw a bike path that ran the same direction we were going so we happily rolled over some weeds to get onto it. At the NEXT intersection, cars were in the way so we couldn’t see exactly where the path picked up, but there was a sign that said “Bike Path Use Ped Xing,” so we were heartened. Until the cars cleared and we saw there was no more bike path. So I guess Los Lunas is vying for the title of “Shortest City Bike Path,” I can’t imagine it would lose to any other town.

We pedaled on, sometimes with a headwind, once in a while with a tailwind, and often with a crosswind (which was blowing us off the road rather into traffic, so that was good). We’ve had pretty good luck with wind this trip and we knew it couldn’t hold forever, but it was exhausting fighting to keep the bikes on the road with some of the gusts we had.

Finally civilization started getting more dense. We turned onto Rio Bravo Boulevard, where we crossed the Rio Grande. Mike Moynier calls this the “Rio So-So” (funny!) but where we crossed it, it was wide but muddy. Jay is starting to wonder if there is any blue water in New Mexico. With Chris’ help, we found a motel. This is the first town we’ve been in since Phoenix that has more than one street so it was a bit stressful riding to the motel. At dinner tonight, we decided we’ll take a layover day here tomorrow, then ride to Santa Fe on Thursday and probably take a layover day there on Friday. We’re a bit tired from all the miles today (76 is a lot!) and a bit wind-burned and heat-rashy. This IS supposed to be a vacation, after all, so we are going to maybe rent a car and drive around and see things.

If any of you have suggestions for “must-see’s” in either city, please let us know.

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May 2, 2012 - Day 18 Hanging around ABQ

We had a good time being tourists today. Jay rented us a car (we are at a motel by the airport, which has a shuttle, quite convenient) so we searched for a Target (needed face-specific sun block and a couple other things--it will be a miracle if I don’t get nose skin cancer after this trip), REI, and then criss-crossed the town in air-conditioned comfort sight-seeing. We walked into REI and Jay saw an athletic older couple walk by—Colleen and Wayne (?). Colleen was wearing a Carlsbad 5000 T-shirt! Jay commented on that and Wayne overheard so he started talking to us. They live in ABQ but go to San Diego for the Carlsbad 5K and to visit, so it was neat talking to them.

Then we talked to Brent and Ken in the bike department. The email Jay got from the NM Bike Coalition (or something like that) guy had advised us to take the train (NM Rail Runner) to Santa Fe, as had a guy at the Trek store in ABQ. Brent and Ken talked to us about the different routes—there’s one that starts out crappy then gets worse, plus has a big hill, then there’s a kind of good road (NM 14) that is popular with road cyclists but has lots of climbing and isn’t the safest road either. It’s 62 miles long, so potentially doable, except it’s 14 miles from our hotel, so that would be a loooong day with a lot of climbing. Santa Fe is about 2,000’ higher than ABQ, so either way had climbing (which, of course now, we are not afraid of) but after hearing how much our bikes weigh, Brent strongly advised us to take the train.

So, we decided to do that. The train costs only $7 one way! It costs more than twice that to take the train from San Diego to Solana Beach! With that decision made, we took one of Brent’s decisions for lunch and went to Duran Pharmacy. It’s a regular pharmacy with a restaurant attached and been around forever. He said it was a great example of NEW Mexican cuisine. We went there and were the only tourists in the place, so you know it was good. As Alexa and Dan and Judi (all friends and neighbors) have told us, the “salsa” here is quite different from what you get in San Diego. The green chile sauce has a piquancy that is indescribable—it tastes kind of pickled and roasty or smoky at the same time. And the red sauce is equally hard to describe—it definitely tastes smoky but there’s something else going on too. I can’t say I like either better than a good hot salsa at home, but they are fun to keep trying. Our waitress (who had to have been in her 60’s) used to live in Lemon Grove.

After Duran’s, we walked around Old Town a bit (saw a 400-year-old church) and then went to the Rio Grande Nature Preserve, per Brent’s suggestion. The visitor center is partly built into a hill, so you enter through a corrugated metal tube. We saw turtles sunning themselves on logs and I saw a squirrel. Jay said it still counted even if we weren’t on the bikes. Then we walked over to the 18-mile bike path along the river, which seems nice but didn’t fit within our plans, and Jay saw the most gigantic frog ever. That was the best thing we saw today.

After the Nature Center, we did Brent’s other suggestion (he should totally be a tour guide) and went up the tram at Sandia (Spanish for watermelon, supposedly) Peak. You climb up a bit of a hill (1,500’) then take a tram up 2-1/2 miles to more than 10,000’ high, where you can look over the valley and see stuff. They have special lookouts with numbered tubes that you look through; the numbers correlate to a list of things that explain what you are looking at. That was very clever. The tram was built in 1966; there’s a ski area on the other side of the mountain, so you could ride the tram up, and then ski or snowboard down the other side. Then you could take the lift up and the tram back down to your car.

The “watermelon” comes from the color the granite in the cliffs look when the setting sun shines on them from the other side of the valley. We weren’t there for sunset (WE can see sunsets over WATER any time we want at home, so how could a desert sunset be anything good?) so I can’t vouch for that.

After the tram thing (totally worth doing), we got Chinese food to take back to the motel room. Jay dropped me off and then returned the rental car to the airport. We are glad we went to ABQ but neither of us is tempted to move here. Although they do have the Dodgers’ Triple-A team, called the Isotopes, which cracked us up. So there’s that. At the end of the episode of Breaking Bad that we watched last night, the last shot was a view from the tram ride that we had taken a mere three hours earlier. How fitting!

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May 3, 2012 - Day 20 ABQ to Santa Fe, NM

We got up kind of early today, ate breakfast at the motel (getting a tiny bit tired of that, but, hey, it’s free!), then packed up and rode the 3.5 miles to the downtown train station for the 9:35 train to Santa Fe. ABQ is supposedly a bike-friendly city, but we were on some less than friendly streets for a while until we navigated away from them. A nice couple we saw downtown on their recumbent bikes gave us directions to the train station and said they were envious of our trip. It’s nice to run into people who like what we’re doing.

At the train station, we had trouble navigating (all the entry doors said “No Bicycles” although you can take yoru bike on the train) and a funny guy, Odell, came up to help us. He kind of treated us like we needed special help, and walked us up to the correct platform using the bike ramp. Then he sat and chatted with Jay until the train came.

The train was super nice. It has a stylized road runner painted on the side. The ticket person, Anson, was friendly and really helpful. When the doors close, the cartoon road runner sound (beep beep) comes on, which is a cute touch. The countryside looked a lot like the part we went through on Interstate 25, and, strangely, the hill the train took didn’t seem that bad. Motorized travel sure is easier than bike travel!

We got to Santa Fe about 11:15. How lucky is this: There’s an REI right across from the train station! We took our bikes over because Jay’s is making a clunking sound when he brakes hard and my rear derailleur is dropping a couple cogs on the low end of my middle chain ring. (Doesn’t that sound like I know what I’m talking about? I asked Jay if it sounded good and he said “It sounded OKAY.” I said, “Well, at least I didn’t say to the guy ‘My shifting thingy is all BLEAH sometimes.” He said “That’s true.”)

So Fred started helping us—he looked at my bike and said it needed an adjustment, which he couldn’t do but could refer us to a bike shop a mile away (rather than waiting until 2:00 when the mechanic came in). He did something to Jay’s bike that seemed to stop the clunking (which appears to be coming from the front rack). Then we were discussing routes out of Santa Fe when Richard, another employee who is a bike technician, came in (although he wasn’t scheduled to work, he just showed up). Richard said he could do the adjustment on my derailleur and he totally fixed the shifting. Then he gave us some good route advice and good advice for restaurants. One funny thing he said was, when asked if you want “Red or Green” (the New Mexico state official question) sauce on your entrée, you say “Christmas,” and then you get both. Funny!

We went to Tomasito’s, right near the train station for lunch, and Fred said we could leave our bikes there while we ate. So nice not having to worry about the bikes! We ate at the bar that was totally filled with locals—Jay said it was like a New Mexico version of Cheers. (I got a burrito “Christmas.”) Then we got our bikes and pedaled five miles to our motel (Best Western). It was in a dull part of town, so we used their computer to find the place we’re in now, which is near the plaza and all the cute stuff. It’s a boutique hotel and has a lot of character. Neat art on the walls in our room. Time to go explore; this place looks neato! And it’s a nice temperature—low 70’s. We have tomorrow off, then the mountain states start on Saturday. Yikes!

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May 4, 2012 -

Spent the day in Santa Fe, NM

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May 5, 2012 - Day 20 Santa Fe to Taos, NM

OMG I cannot believe we made it here. Well, I can believe Jay made it but not me. A lot of the hills we rode were over 10% grade. I walked about 150’ of hills when they got to 16% grade and I was about to stall out. Jay rode up everything! Even though his bike is heavier than mine. We left at 6:37 this morning because we knew we were going to have quite the slog, but neither of us expected this. Plus, we were told that Taos was 70 miles away and the last 4 miles were into a headwind and emotionally draining. We took what is called the “High Road to Taos” and, while quite scenic, it was really tough. It would have been tough on my 16-pound road bike with no gear on it. It got up to 95 degrees at times, but we kept slogging. We were going so slow up some of the steeeep hills that Jay said we should have called our trip CRAAM, for Crawl Across America.

This will be brief because I’m exhausted and sweaty, but I want to mention two people who helped us today. The first was Vivian Trujillo in the High Road MarketPlace in Truchas (about halfway). We stopped there (an artists’ coop, filled with really neat things) and she said she had seen us down in Santa Fe and she was amazed we had come so far. She was really encouraging and nice to talk to, and she let us relax on the bench out front even when she closed up the shop for a few minutes to go fetch her granddaughter.

The second person is Nicholas, a fifth-grader whom we met in the parking lot of a Family Dollar store in Penasco. He was loading his family’s purchases into the car and noticed our bikes. We had stopped there to get a Gatorade when we thought we had about 18 more miles to go. He said “Are you guys bike riding?” And I said yes, then he asked us the smartest question we’ve gotten on this trip. He said “Isn’t it hard?” I said, “yes, it is hard. And today’s the hardest day yet.” I gave him one of our cards. He was smart, cute, and nice. I bet he grows up to become a doctor or teacher or a lawyer.

OK, that’s it for now. Will try to write more later. We saw two good things today: a young rattlesnake on the bike path who slid into some bushes before I could take a pictures, and two wild horses on the side of the road that got spooked by some traffic and then galloped across the (very sparsely-traveled) main road and turned down a side street. We stopped at a couple super old churches.

Addendum to Day 21 (Santa Fe to Taos) - Okay, here’s what I didn’t have time (or energy) to write about the ride. We started out of town with a slight uphill that turned into a climb of more than 400’ (the same elevation as Mission Hills or Normal Heights above Mission Valley). As I’ve said before, an uphill right out of the gate is tough on sleepy legs. Plus, we started at 6,900’, so Jay and I were both feeling the effects of the altitude—it feels like someone has stepped on your airhose so it’s hard to take a deep breath.

The uphill gave way to a few miles of really nice downhill. Too nice, as it turned out—we descended all the way to 5,800’ by Mile 18. Taos is only about 200’ higher than Santa Fe, so we knew we had a lot of elevation difference to make up over the next 50 or so miles. We had been told about the “High Road to Taos,” which is mentioned in several collections of epic drives in the country. The road goes through a LOT of small towns where artists live and sell their wares. Right before we started the High Road, we saw some road bikers getting ready in a parking lot and asked them for exact directions to the start. One of the guys, after looking at our bikes, said “Hoo boy, you’ve got a lot of climbing ahead of you. A LOT. You’re in for a tough day. The road to Truchas gets pretty steep, I’m talking 10, 12, 14%. After that it’s a lot of up and down, and then about 10 miles out of Taos you’ve got a long climb. It’s not steep, but it’s really long. It goes on forever. Then you drop down into the valley and you’ll be okay after that. But you’ve got a lot of climbing ahead. It’s gonna be tough on those bikes.”

We found the start of the road two miles later (just where the guy said it would be) and it immediately started climbing. It’s a little two-lane road, many times with a 4” wide shoulder, and it climbs and dips as it makes its way into the mountains. It was getting hot out (it got up to 95 degrees) and we would climb climb climb, descend, then start over. It was constant climbing and dropping, climbing and dropping, and the climbs were steep. We got to the outskirts of Truchas and the road biker was right---the grade of the road was just jaw-dropping in parts. The top of the hill looked like a little kid’s drawing of a hill—it was an upside down U. This is where Jay rode all the way up and I finally had to get off and walk (really, do lunges with my bike to get up the hill). We were at 8,100’ and I just didn’t have the leg strength (or sufficient oxygen intake to supply my muscles) to turn the pedals on my bike at a sufficient RPM to prevent stalling.

(Explanatory note for noncyclists: In cycling, Revolutions Per Minute is called cadence. An ideal cadence for most circumstances is 70-90 RPM. Any faster, and you should probably be in a bigger gear. Any slower, you should be in a smaller gear. A problem occurs when you’re in your lowest gear and, due to grade steepness or headwind or fatigue, you just can’t turn the pedals any faster. My cadence going up the steepest part of the hills dropped to 56, which is not sufficient to sustain forward momentum on a 16% grade.)

After our break in Truchas, we set off again, and that’s when the worst part of the hills started. We were in forest, so it was pretty, but the road was really twisty and turny so you couldn’t let yourself fly downhill safely---there was no way to tell what was around the next bend so you had to rein it in. We kept climbing and dropping over and over again, and the hills were soooo steep. It’s one thing if, for example, you’re riding your bike up to Cuyamaca or the Laguna Mountains. You know you’re in for a climb. But yesterday, the terrain was really mountainous only to get you 200’ higher than where you started 75 miles earlier, so I was quite despairing after a while. I lost count of how many times we would climb climb climb, then descend into a little valley (I started calling them swales) where there was a collection of five occupied houses and three closed businesses, and then start another climb at the other end of “town.”

After the break in Penasco (where, mercy me, the road stayed straight for about a couple miles), we made a sharp turn uphill to start the final climb to Taos. The road biker was right about this, too—we climbed over 1,000’ in about six miles with a constant slight grade of 2-4%. If this part of the road had been 3,000’ lower, it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge. Eventually, however,we got up to 8,500’, then started a six-mile descent into Taos. Except that when the road flattened out, Taos was nowhere in sight and there were no signs of civilization. We kept churning (now into a headwind), and finally the pueblo town of Tabla showed up and more than three miles later, the turn for the highway into town. Chris had sussed out a motel that, THANKFULLY, was on the southern edge so we went only about a mile before we came to it.

Once we got into our room, we literally collapsed on the beds. Both of us said it was the hardest day of riding we had ever done. We had spent more than eight hours pedaling our bikes, sometimes going less than 4 mph. It was grueling and exhausting, but we made it. I hope we can say, at the end of our trip, that that was the hardest day.

From Jay - One badass biker chick!

No songs today, just want everyone to know how proud I am of Barbara. Today was one of the toughest rides I’ve ever done. Tons of climbing, long hours on the bike, headwind at the end, and 3 or 4 extra miles we weren’t prepared for. A lot of you know how demoralizing it can be when you’re exhausted and have to pedal more than you planned. Barbara didn’t complain or whine at all. She just put her head down and cranked out the miles. I am so very lucky to have such a studly (and cute) partner to share the joy and pain with! (Song added by webmaster)

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May 6, 2012 - Day 22 Taos, NM to San Luis, CO

The day started out pretty well—I saw four prairie dogs before we had gone a mile! I hoped that was a good omen for the day. Our legs were pretty tired from all the climbing yesterday, so we took it slow for the seven miles it took to get all the way through Taos. Which, despite its reputation as a ski destination, seems as down on its heels as all the other small towns we’ve been through so far. We had a gradual uphill out of town and then for the next few miles, then at Mile 13 we had a monster downhill into Rancho Hondo.

Then started some crappy rolling hills that were murder on tired legs. At least with today’s hills, the road was pretty straight so you could go fast on the downhill to get some momentum on the uphills. That helped. We climbed a net 1,000 in elevation by going up 400’, then down 300’, then up 500’, then down 400’ over and over, and I was getting tired. The morning had started out nice but it got up to 92 degrees while we were climbing.

At Mile 27 we pulled into our first big town, Questa. Jay said the name of the town made him want to go to a restaurant and ask if they served Quisp (which I think was like Cap’n Crunch, but disc-shaped, but Jay thinks it was like Alpha-Bits). I said “you would ask that question?” Then we started saying all the words we know that start with “qu” and thinking up ways to work them into a conversation with the locals. We got Gatorade and some snacks at a gas station convenience store. The owners said that once we got up the hills as we left town, the road was pretty flat. I was thinking “I’ll believe that when I see it.” But it WAS! And at Mile 33 or so, a tailwind cropped up! And then we got a mild downhill grade, so we were cranking along at 24 mph with almost no effort. Suh-WEEEEET! We got all the way across the giant valley in record time.

At the end of the valley (Mile 47), we stopped at another gas station convenience store (really, that’s all we have a choice of a lot of the time) and the owner said the road stayed pretty flat all the way to San Luis, where we hoped to get to. There is a big thunderstorm system coming this way and we weren’t sure if we were going to make it.

A mile later we were in Colorado. Yippee! And we still had the monster tailwind, although once in a while it shifted on us a bit to blow across us, but we were still making good time. And some big puffy clouds sailed in so it cooled off the air and made shade once in a while. It was glorious riding---sooooo much nicer and more fun than yesterday. The wind became a headwind with about three miles to go, but then we had a tiny downhill that helped, and it wasn’t really that bad coming into town. It was nice to get into town in midafternoon and not be super tired and cranky for once.

San Luis is Colorado’s oldest town and has the state’s oldest continuously-operating business (a grocery). Almost everything is closed, though, because it’s Sunday. We had an early supper at the only restaurant open and are now in for the night. It’s actually a bit chilly here (60-ish) and the next town up (Fort Garland) is expected to have a high of 52 tomorrow. That sounds like good weather to climb La Veta peak, elevation 9,200. Then it’s all downhill from there. Yippee!

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May 7, 2012 - Day 23 San Luis to Fort Garland, CO

We woke up today to a cold morning. It was 47 when we started riding, but we were ready for it. Such a nice change from the heat!

About a mile out of town we got spattered with rain but nothing too bad. After the rain, however, the wind picked up quite a bit. We were headed due north and the wind was coming from the northeast. We could see snow at the far end of the valley where we were headed and some low storm clouds.

The wind came up even more the farther along we got. At one point, our speed was 5.1 mph, on flat ground where we should have been able to do 12.

We stopped a few times: for Jay to put on a balaclava, then for me to put on glove liners, then for me to put on my balaclava. It seemed like the temperature was dropping or maybe we were just feeling the wind chill.

Two and a half hours after we started, we had made it to Fort Garland. The temperature sign at the gas station read 39 degrees. We ducked into a cafe for breakfast while we mulled our options.

We were headed east, directly into the wind, to Walsenburg up and over La Veta Pass (elevation 9,300' or so, about 1,300' higher than Fort Garland). I'm not super great at estimating wind speed but I'm sure it was a constant 15 mph, gusting higher. At our regular bike speed, we would be traveling a net three miles backward.

We talked to a few people who had crossed the pass this morning and they said it was snowing and sleeting. We went to the local history museum (they're very big on Kit Carson here) and bummed around. It was freezing cold just walking around the grounds of the old fort.

We decided, on the advice of a local, to hang around the gas station and ask pick-up drivers if they'd give us a ride over the pass. We had been there about 20 minutes when Jay got an email from Jan (in Walsenburg) that said she would come get us. Yay!

So now where in a cafe where we just finished coffee and pie, waiting for Jan to drive the 49 miles to come get us and take us back to her house. Where we'll see horses and dogs. Can hardly wait!

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May 8, 2012 - Day 24 Resting in Walsenburg, CO

We arrived at Jan’s house about 4:30 yesterday. It was sure a good thing we didn’t try to ride over the pass. It was 29 degrees and sleeting at the top! A lot of the view up through the pass was like you’d see on a Christmas card—a snow-covered field with snowy cedars in the distance. Really pretty from a nice warm truck!

Going downhill, the sleet turned to icy rain, then regular rain, and it wasn’t much warmer in Walsenburg. We would have been frozen! Jan has two horses, three dogs, and four cats, so we were in pet heaven at her house. Two of the dogs were instantly friendly, but Sammy the German Shepherd had to get to know us a bit first (it took eight minutes, if it would have hurried things along I would have laid on the floor and exposed my white belly as a sign of submission).

Jan made us some ravioli and garlic bread with salad, then we went to bed, toasty under an electric blanket. The dogs helped wake us up on Tuesday. All the dogs are super friendly and like licking people in the face. We are happy to oblige. The cats are a little aloof, still. We got to meet the horses, Billy and Hobby, who are big and seem nice. We found out that horses go poo about 10 times a day, so that is a lot of work to clean up after them. The day was partly cloudy but not cold and not at all rainy—completely different from Monday’s weather.

Jan took us up the back way (on dirt roads for part of it) to a small ski town, Cuchara, which is hoping to become a big ski town. The little main street looks like Frontierland at Disneyland. Melted snow was dripping off the slanted shop roofs and made trails of wet sparkliness down to the ground. We ate a great lunch at the Dog Bar. On the way to and from Cuchara, Jan took us through La Veta, where deer come and go through everyone’s yard. We saw millions of deer, and also saw a young adult bear (running away from us up a hill), and some wild turkeys. (Jay thought he should get Squirrel Points for the wild turkeys. As if!)

Jan lives in a beautiful area; it’s all green now because it’s spring, and the snow-covered peaks in the distance are quite something to behold. She said spring in Colorado is variable and that two days ago, it was 92 degrees at her house. So we just had bad timing with the storm hitting La Veta Pass when we wanted to go over it—oh well, another asterisk for the record book. Once home from Cuchara, Jan had more horse chores and we finished up our laundry. I read two People magazines—so fun! We petted the dogs quite a bit (the cats are still reserving judgment) and then Jan made us pizza for supper, with Ghiradelli brownies (with enormous chocolate chips in them) for dessert. YUM!

Jan has totally spoiled us here and it will be tough to get on the road tomorrow. She gave us a bunch of snacks to take with us, so we are well-provisioned. We swapped out some gear with the stuff we had shipped to Jan’s earlier, so we should be set for the warm temperatures we anticipate. In the past week, we have had more rest days than riding, so we need to make up some time if we’re going to finish before Mara Preciado’s school year ends on June 13. C’mon, tailwinds!

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May 9, 2012 - Day 25 Walsenburg to La Junta, CO

We got up pretty early today, planning to leave by 7:00, which we did. Jan’s dogs came into our bedroom to say good morning before we got out of bed and one of them (Tori) got up on the bed with us. I forgot how fun it is to have a big dog on the bed. The day was really clear so the two mountain peaks outside Jan’s front windows were completely visible—absolutely stunning!

Jan put out cereal and fruit for us so we fueled up, then while Jay put the bikes and all of our gear in Jan’s truck, I filled up the water bottles. It was sad to say goodbye to the three sweet dogs. We’re gonna miss them. The four cats never really warmed up to us (their loss, we are excellent petters!), but they all seemed sweet too.

Jan drove us down the dirt road to the paved road. Along the way, we saw the band of wild horses that hangs around her house—two of the mares just had foals about a week ago! So we got to see super sweet baby horses, five mares, and the stallion. All the horses looked really nice, but Jan said the stallion has been in some big fights protecting his harem. A little while later, we saw two bachelor horses off by the side of the road and some free-range cattle. It sure isn’t like San Diego!

Once at the city road, Jan held my bike while I put the panniers on and Jay got his bike ready to go. We had a great time with Jan—she totally spoiled us. It’s tough thinking we have to plan lunch and dinner for ourselves again, dang it. We said goodbye and headed off into a slightly cool morning; on the road about 7:25. We rode the couple blocks through town and got on Colorado 10, which we took all the way to La Junta. The road started out flattish, then a couple pesky hills cropped up, then a few rolling hills. We stopped after about 30 minutes to take off our leg warmers, long-fingered gloves, and jackets. The air was still pretty cool, perfect for riding. I didn’t even whine too much about the occasional hill.

We had a slight tailwind and, in some places, a downhill grade, so we made pretty good time. The scenery wasn’t terribly exciting and the road was very sparsely traveled. We spotted some pronghorn antelope (which Jan informed us are not really antelope, but a type of deer). We passed a few groups of cows and a few horses. One group of cows we passed was kind of close to the fence; as we passed, a lot of them trotted up to the fence and stared at us, so we stopped to take a picture. Jay wouldn’t let me go up to pet them, though, saying that would make them run away. I said, “but they ran up to the fence for something. Maybe I’m the cow whisperer but I don’t know it.” Jay just shook his head and said “Cow whisperer. Mmm-hmm.”

We were really rolling up the miles. We stopped every 45 minutes or so for a snack and then got back on the bikes and kept on cranking. We got 61 miles done before noon! I think that’s a record for us. I never went into my small chain ring today, so I guess all the rest we’ve had lately has helped me get stronger. It got a little hot (92 degrees) but we made it into La Junta around 1:00. We stopped at a gas station to look at maps and consider our options. Jan had suggested we go to Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, which is a recreation of an Indian trading post near La Junta. We went to lunch and decided to get a hotel here and then visit the Fort first thing tomorrow (it’s about nine miles out of town). Our plan is to get back on the official TransAm Adventure Cycling route tomorrow by going up to Haswell (which is on Colorado 96, the AC route), and to be in Kansas on Friday.

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May 10, 2012 - May 10 La Junta to Eads, CO

Jay and I both thought La Junta was the cutest little town we’ve been in so far. We had an okay breakfast, walked to the Safeway to replenish bagels, peanut butter, and Fig Newtons, then walked back to the motel. Then we did something unusual today—we got started at 8:25 and rode 8 miles to the Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. We got there about 45 seconds before they opened the gates at 9:00 a.m. Jan had said this was really worth going to, and she was right! William and Charles (?) Bent, two brothers, created the fort as the equivalent of a truck stop back in the 1830’s for travelers. It had a blacksmith shop, doctor, supply store, and sleeping quarters. It was made of adobe, kind of unusual for these parts. An army guy visited and surveyed the place; his notes were used to recreate the fort in 1976 (it burned to the ground in 1846). There were tons of things to see and we spent about two hours there.

We got back on the road about 11:30 and rode to Las Animas, where we ate lunch. A little before our lunch spot, we stopped at the Route 50 overpass of Colorado Route 194 because there were about a thousand (maybe more!) swallows swirling around. They had made nests in the beams, it was neato! We each took a video of them, it was quite exciting.

We had a tailwind early on, but the wind swung around to the south so then we had a crosswind. After lunch our route took us to a left (north) turn, so we were hoping the crosswind would be a tailwind. But nooooo, the wind just died, and we had 26 long boring miles on a country road where there was pretty much nothing to look at. A few cows, that was it. And no shade—it got up to 107 degrees with no wind to speak of at all. According to my bike computer, this is where most of our climbing for the day took place. Only six cars passed us the entire time we were on this road. We stopped for a snack under one of the few trees we saw, but it was exhausting and the heat was taking its toll on me. Jay doesn’t have near the, ahem, “insulation” I have, so it was easier going for him. Plus I picked the wrong thing for lunch (a hamburger, that was about all the place served), and it wasn’t sitting well.

FINALLY we got to Haswell on Route 96, the official Adventure Cycling TransAm route. There was one tiny store open, but they had Gatorade. Hurrah! That revived me, but then once on the road again we realized we had a pesky headwind for the next 22 miles. So it was slow-going. We finally made it into Eads a little before 6:00, so we had a long day. Seeing the Fort was worth it, but it sure put most of our pedaling in the heat of the day. But, when else would we get to see it? So we had to go….

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May 11, 2012 - Eads, CO to Tribune, KS

Eads is a crappy little town with almost nothing to redeem it. The place where we had supper and breakfast was filled with locals, but I guess that’s because it’s the only restaurant in town. It certainly is not due to the food quality. We (mainly Jay) chatted with a Sheriff’s deputy last night at supper who was friendly; he said we had made good time to get to Eads already. That was nice to hear.

We had seen the weather report earlier and it said winds today would be from the northeast at 15-20 mph, with gusts to 40. We were hoping the weather report would be wrong (it’s happened before), but the first thing Jay said when he looked out the window today was “Holy crap.” Trees were being buffeted around and the wind was already full-force at 6:10. We got breakfast and were on the road by 7:43. We knew we were in for it before we got out of the parking lot.

The wind was just horrific, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in San Diego. It was hitting us at our left shoulders, so it was a crosswind and a headwind. It took us a while to learn how far to lean your bike to the left (into the wind gusts) and then over-correct to prevent from falling once the gust let up. The constant noise in your ears was like someone was running a vacuum two rooms away and wouldn’t stop. We couldn’t take our hands off the handlebars to grab our water bottles, so we just stopped every few minutes to get a drink, reapply lip balm, and, for me, blow my nose (the cold air was making my eyes and nose water).

We plugged along very slowly. The next town was 13 miles away. At about mile 10, the road made what’s called a “correction curve” where it headed south for about a mile then turned east again. That was the best mile of the day. Everything was quiet because the wind was at our backs, and we were going 20 mph pedaling in the same gear and at the same rate as when we were fighting the wind. Sadly, it lasted only a mile and then it was back to the fury.

We stopped in an abandoned building in Chivington for a snack. I am drawn to all these falling-down buildings we see, so I was happy to be able to look in one. We finished our snack and had been on the road for about two miles when we ran into our first fellow TransAm tourists (coming the opposite way)—three women in their 20’s, Cecilia, Yelena, and Sarah. Cecilia has crossed the country on the Southern Tier before, and this was Sarah’s second time doing the TransAm. They started in Virginia in mid-April and are going all the way to Portland, Oregon. They were nice and it was interesting to talk to them. Jay noticed that their bikes were 70’s era—Yelena said she bought hers at the Salvation Army! We talked for a while and then had to get back at it.

The next town was Sheridan Lake, where we stopped at a convenience store for lunch and a Gatorade. It was only 27 miles from Eads but it took us about three hours pedaling time to get there—the wind was so ferocious we were averaging 8.7 mph at that point. I kept crashing my bike into my leg, over-correcting from leaning into a gust, and my right calf kept hitting my chain and front derailleur, getting me all greasy. There’s a funny bike insult for that, it’s called a “Cat 5 mark.” Category 5 is the lowest category for men’s bike racing, so it means the person who has grease on their leg doesn’t know what he’s doing. For women, however, Category 4 is the lowest, so Jay teased me today about my Cat 4 mark. It was quite something to behold.

We just kept plugging along. The temperature was nice for riding (high 60’s), so I took off my jacket. I was still wearing my ear band thingy, but mainly to ensure my hair didn’t blow in my face and to knock back some of the wind from my ear canals. We came to an abandoned silo and stopped for me to go look inside. It was neato except there was a dead cat in it. We stopped for a snack at a silo in the last Colorado town, Towner, which is so deserted it should be called NonTowner. Then two miles later we crossed into Kansas, which had a tiny welcome sign that looked like someone made it in their garage. Then 16 more miles of slogging into the wind to get to where we are now, Tribune.

Tribune has a little less than 1,000 people. Everyone knows everyone here, judging by how things were at the restaurant where we just ate. The winds abated a teensy bit during the last 15 miles or so, so we were able to push our average for the day up to 9 mph. But still, we did only 58 miles and it took FOREVER. The winds are supposed to stay the same tomorrow, so it’s back to slogging. I guess the good thing is that people are telling us that the wind direction is unusual, so we hope that Sunday or Monday the winds come from the west LIKE THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO.

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May 12, 2012 - Tribune to Scott City, KS

We woke up at 5:30 today, thinking we’d go across the street to the convenience store at the gas station and get something to eat and then jump on the bikes early. But it was 43 degrees and raining! The weather report said it was supposed to get to 61 today, with wind from the northeast at 10 to 15 mph and light rain. We decided to give it a little while to warm up, although we knew we’d lose an hour in a few miles when we crossed into the Central Time Zone.

We got on the bikes a little before 8:00. It was still 43 degrees, and it was raining, but the wind wasn’t near as bad as yesterday. It wasn’t gusting at all and seemed to hold steady at about 10 mph. That, we can deal with. We started out in our rain gear and just started pedaling. We had 21 miles to get to the first town, Leoti. We stopped just a few times. The rain was mostly light—the sound of it hitting my rain jacket was like if you were immersed in a bowl of Rice Krispies about three minutes after you poured the milk in. Once in a while it was heavy, like right after you pour the milk in. But the wind noise wasn’t as bad, and there was hardly any traffic, so we agreed it was a better day than yesterday.

As I’m sure you all know, Kansas is in the prairies. “Prairie” comes from an Apache Indian word meaning “boring as hell.” I’m glad my glasses had big raindrops on them most of the day, because that shortened my vision. Jay said the gigantic never-ending fields here make the San Fernando Valley looks like someone’s backyard garden. He’s right! We just kept pedaling along. It was too rainy to stop and take pictures of things. There wasn’t a lot to see anyway. It wasn’t hard riding, but after the first hour our hands and feet were getting cold. It hadn’t warmed up at all, and our shoes are ventilated so water was coming in, and our gloves were soaked. We were making pretty good time, though, 12 mph, so it felt like we were making progress.

In Leoti, a cute town of about 1,500, we stopped at a gas station convenience store (really, that was our only choice) to eat something and get warm. I asked for a rag to dry my feet and shoes off. We stayed there for a while, sitting in a booth they had for lunch customers. Jay ate two packages of powdered sugar donuts, we split an order of tiny tacos that were like the ones you get at Jack In the Box (except they had only meat in them), we split a package of cheese crackers, and then I had Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls. We each had a cup of nice hot coffee. It’s hard to eat as healthy as we do, but we are trying.

Then Jay had the great idea to go across the street to the hardware store and get single-use hand and foot warmers. GENIUS! The workers there were super helpful and asked us about our trip. They said thanks for bringing the rain with us. We sat outside the store and inserted the warming insoles and glove inserts, and about 10 minutes later we were toasty. I still had water in my shoes, but now it felt like my feet were in a tepid Jacuzzi tub (much better than a cold bath). And my fingers were really warm from the radiating heat of the pad on the back of my hands. We had another 25 or so miles to go, it was still raining, and only 50 degrees, but the headwind was only about 5-10 mph.

At mile 39 the rain went away but the wind picked up. We stopped for a stealth pee and some horses in a field started teasing us—acting like they wanted to be petted, but then running away when I approached the fence. Then they’d run up ahead to the fence and wait for me to get close, then gallop away again. They were sure handsome and about the only living things we had seen that day (not counting the poor cows in the feed lots we passed, so sad---it’s making me rethink eating red meat).

About four miles outside of Scott City we saw a really cool-looking abandoned barn. There wasn’t a fence around it so we stopped so I could snoop. It was part stable and part open area, which now had drums of chemicals in it. On the way back to the road I noticed I had goat-head thorns in my tires. NICE! We stopped and picked them out of our tires and hoped we didn’t get a flat on the way to town. We made it, but my back tire seems a tiny bit low, so we’ll see what happens.

We got into town just as the high school graduation ceremony was finishing. People were walking to their cars with their happy graduates. It was neat to see that. It was graduation day in Leoti, too, so we were kind of worried about getting a hotel room here, but thanks to Chris we are ensconced in the Best Western. After the desk clerk saw where we were from, she told us she was born in San Diego at Donald M. Sharp Memorial Hospital. She said “I don’t even know if it’s still there—we left right after I was born.” I said it was still there but everyone just calls it “Sharp Hospital.” I didn’t know that it was named after a person.

The weather tomorrow is supposed to be the same as today, with a bit more rain. Jay just got us more hand and foot warmers so we should be set. I think we’re going to try to get to Ness City. Today was a pretty fun day—the rain wasn’t too bad, and it’s something we haven’t had before, so it made for a new adventure.

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May 13, 2012 - Scott City to Bazine, KS

We set our alarm for 5:15 today because we knew we had a longish ride ahead and we weren’t sure what the winds were going to do. When the alarm went off, though, we were still sleepy so we were slow getting started. After the hotel’s free breakfast, we got on the road at 7:24 and started out into pleasantly cool weather with a slight headwind. And there were clouds, so we didn’t have to pedal into the eyeball-searing sun. Yay!

The headwind grew a bit stronger but nothing like Friday’s. The road was flat and straight and we just kept pedaling. Our first town was Dighton, about 26 miles away. In every town, we look for a little coffee shop to take a break in, but we’re not having any luck with that in Kansas. It seems the only place to eat is inside the convenience store at a gas station. So we stopped for a cup of coffee and a pastry, then I had a banana and a cheese wedge, and Jay forced down a cookie. A couple locals asked us about our trip and then we hit the road again, about 11:00. Next stop was Ness City, 32 miles away.

The wind picked up a tiny bit, but, surprisingly, so did the landscape. We got into some bona fide rolling hills (although you can see by the elevation change today that they weren’t THAT rolling) so that was a nice change of pace. The clouds disappeared and it was warm at times (it got up to 87). Midway to the Ness City, we stopped for a lunch break on a side road and ate peanut butter on a bagel and a piece of fruit.

About five miles later I saw a brownish rust-colored something in a field and I wasn’t sure if it was a broken piece of machinery or what, but then it moved slightly and I saw it was an alpaca (or llama, not sure who’s who on that). He was in a field with two horses who seemed like they wanted petting, so we stopped for me to go up to them. Approaching the fence, I got bit by two horseflies, and as I went up to the horses I could see they were all twitchy from having a million biting flies on them. So sad! They let me pet them a little on their noses but they seemed like they were in kind of a bad mood. The alpaca was not interested in me AT ALL.

Back on the bikes, we had about eight miles to go to Ness City. We saw a train coming the opposite direction that was 9/10 of a mile long—neato! Ness City was closed up tight, I guess because it was Sunday, but we had a local take our picture in front of the “Skyscraper of the Prairie,” a three-story limestone building that looked neato. The main streets in Ness City are paved in red brick—really a nice touch.

We stopped at a convenience store (the only place open, REALLY!) for a snack. The store had three racks of sunflower seeds (BBQ, jalapeno flavor, Ranch, and others) and about as many types of beef jerky as Vons has cereal. Jay called Elaine of Elaine’s Bicycle Oasis to let her know we were about an hour away. The headwind was a bit stronger, but the clouds came back and the ride was pretty pleasant for the next 11 miles.

Now we’re here, in a bedroom of a house built in 1880. The house is charming and so is Elaine. Her husband, Ken, is “in the fields” and will be home for supper around 7:00. They have three golden retrievers (one is a puppy) and two rescued kittens. The kittens can’t be more than five weeks old (only one eats solid food, and that just started); Elaine got them from a farmer three weeks ago. She’s been bottle-feeding them since. I got to bottle-feed one of them today after we had been here a while.

I’m not exactly sure of where we’re headed tomorrow, but I know that it’s before a 58-mile stretch where there are no services. Jay and I thought there would be more little towns along the way with more things in them (like when we did RAGBRAI in Iowa), but the towns are really scattered. In 12 more miles, we finish with the map we are using now and then turn south of Route 96 in Alexander. Then we start a new map that will finish at the Missouri border. Puhleeeze let us get a tailwind before then!

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May 14, 2012 - May 14 Bazine to Lyons, KS

Last night Elaine made baked chicken breast, baked potatoes, garlic bread, and two kinds of salad for supper. One salad, Dan (I think I wrote yesterday that his name was Ken) called “Lettuce Soup.” Elaine said it was a German recipe. You take butter lettuce, thinly-sliced Vidalia onions, sliced boiled egg, and fresh dill if you have it, and toss it with buttermilk mixed with prepared mustard and salt to taste. She said it was supposed to be soupy but you could make it less soupy. It was very good and not like any other salad I’ve had. The other salad was a mixture of beans and peppers.

In the morning, Elaine made “porridge” with a seven-grain mix from Bob’s Red Mill, and set out raisins, syrup, and turbinado sugar to put in it. She also had bananas and yogurt. It was enough to get you going. We had to wait for Dan to fuss with the dogs before we ate. The dogs are kept in two 10’ square pens—Sebastian, the13-year-old, shares his with Eli, the three-year-old, while Libby, the little six month old puppy, has her own pen. Last night, Dan showed us pictures of his dogs retrieving pheasants, and gave us a book to look at that shows the whole pheasant-hunting routine. I figured out that these dogs aren’t exactly pets, they’re hunting dogs, but it pains me that they’re kept in the pens all day except for allegedly twice daily when Dan takes them to the country to run around.

The thing with the kittens also made me sad. The mom cat abandoned them at the farm where Elaine rescued them. The kittens were so young that one of them sucked on the other’s anus for solace, and now that cat has something seriously wrong with its hind end—it looks like a prolapsed rectum. Elaine didn’t mention that she took the kitten to a vet, but she said it was getting better. So now she keeps the kittens separated from each other to give the injured cat time to heal. I was really looking forward all day yesterday to getting to pet some cats and dogs, and then to show up and encounter dogs in pens and a kitten with an extruded rectum almost sent me over the edge.

I know that we’re in farm country (and a very religious part of the U.S.), but I almost could not abide this. I swerve when riding my bike so I don’t run over a stink bug in the road, which I admit may be extreme. But we see anti-abortion signs every few miles along the road, and I can’t help thinking that life that actually exists (like these kittens and the dogs) has to be valued too. After all, cats and dogs are a lot higher-functioning than a clump of cells inside someone’s uterus. I didn’t take any pictures of the pets because I didn’t want to remember them. It would have made me too sad to look at them.

We got kind of an early start (7:30); it was 57 degrees out and I was thrilled with the cool air. Jay had his jacket on, but not me! We had decided to stay on Highway 96 to go to Great Bend (50 miles away), where there was a bicycle shop. Jay wanted to get a new bicycle pump because ours is acting up. Great Bend is mentioned on the official TransAm map, but it’s 23 miles off the official route. Elaine had said there were six hills down the road and then it was flat. Right before the hills started, Jay and I started seeing these silver, shimmering orbs and columns along the side of the road. I think we each thought we were hallucinating because neither of us said anything until we came to a really big clump. It was a giant gnat cluster! Kind of neato.

Then we had the six hills, then we went back to flatishness. It was getting quite warm—in the low 90’s. And it was pretty humid. The weather report said it was going to be partly cloudy; when the sun went behind a cloud it was pleasant, but there weren’t enough clouds for my taste. I told Jay the weather reminded me of an old song—“Send in the Clouds,” but he said “No, it’s Clowns.” I’m all, I’d rather have clouds than clowns any day.

On the outskirts of Great Bend, we stopped to check the GPS on our phones to see exactly where the bike store was. The wind had been mainly calm with a hint of a tailwind, so we rode the 50 miles into Great Bend in about five hours. A local came up to Jay and gave him directions. Then we met two married couples who were really impressed with what we were doing. We pedaled the couple miles to the bike store, only to find it was closed. I was irritated that (a) the store was closed on Mondays (and Sundays, how dumb is that?) and (b) it didn’t occur to either of us to call ahead to see if they were open.

I called the store number and left a message just in case the owner checked his voicemail, then Jay and I went back to a sandwich place he saw a couple blocks away. There we met three local women, who were very friendly and helpful. One of them even went into the store to get its phonebook to look up the home telephone number of the bike shop owner. She gave that to me and I called, but there was no answer. We had a sandwich and decided to bike back a ways into town to go to WalMart (one of the women we had talked to said they had a big bike section).

We were on the main thoroughfare, which did not have a bike lane, so we rode on the sidewalks. Ugh. I hate riding on sidewalks; I would never do it in San Diego, but sometimes in these little towns it’s the safest. No one else was using them, so we weren’t interrupting anyone’s walk. WalMart had what we needed, so then we reapplied sunscreen and set off for the 35-ish miles to Lyons.

After about 15 miles, we came to Elinwood. Jay had seen on the Internet that this town had a tour of its underground city, along with a haunted hotel. You get the tour through the antique shop. It was about 3:00 already, so we couldn’t take time for the entire hour tour ($6 per person), so Jay offered the owner $5 if he would just open up the underground part and let us see it. He was very nice and said yes—he took us around the corner and into a garage, then down some steps to a basement, which used to be a blacksmith shop. The underground city was where the “men’s establishments” were kept, with the family businesses on street level. The blacksmith shop was connected to a barbershop, which led to a bathhouse where men could have their laundry done and be “entertained.” The city decided in the 1800’s to put these businesses below ground. Elinwood was on the Santa Fe Trail, so they had a lot of wagons come through, with men on them who wanted to be shown a good time and get errands done. The grandfather of the woman who owns the antique store building now left the businesses there when they stopped operating after the Santa Fe Trail era dried up with the railroad’s emergence.

When the granddaughter inherited the building, the first thing she did was get a locksmith to cut off the padlock to the downstairs. While the rest of the town had filled in the underground portion (it ran for two blocks and included bars and poker rooms), her granddad had just ignored the part under his building. Everything was like it had been in the late 1880s! It was really a treasure to see it and we got WAY more than our $5 worth on the tour. I think it was the best manmade thing we’ve seen so far.

Then we had 19 miles to go to Lyons, into a headwind. We stopped for a snack and that helped a little, but a few miles later I was really having a problem. It was hard to pedal into the wind and I was getting mopey, thinking “OMG we’re only at mile 75 and I might not make it. This is so hard.” Jay noticed my tire was low, so we pulled over for him to inflate it and that made a big difference. The tire must have had slow leak, though, because we kept having to stop to inflate it every few miles until we finally stopped for the night.

A few miles from town, Jay stopped to take a picture at an alfafa-seed seller that used a picture of Alfalfa from Our Gang on its sign. While he was situating himself, a really friendly dog ran up to him from the business and then rolled over to be petted. I went up to see the dog, and then the family that owned the business came up and started chatting (people in Kansas off the official route seem a lot friendlier than the ones we’ve run across on the route). The mom said the dog was really sweet, and that it was abandoned in the winter and was just skin and bones. It was still kind of skinny, but the dog (a German Shepherd/yellow lab cross, it looked like) had the sweetest face and the kindest eyes, and I almost started crying when the woman told us that someone had just dumped him there.

I had been trying ALL DAY to not think of those poor pets at Dan and Elaine’s, and to hear another poor animal story was almost too much for me. I just had to block it out and keep pedaling. We got into town about 6:00, picked up some provisions at Pamida (like a mini Walmart), and then got a room at a seedy motel. Once settled in, we ate at the Mexican restaurant next door, then decided to get some ice cream at the gas station a few doors down. On the way there, we came across a little seven-week-old calico kitten that had something wrong with its back legs. It went under a van and wouldn’t let us get it—the van was too low for us to crawl under, and when we tried to reach for the kitten, she acted like she was going to crawl up into the engine. I pressed my hands into my eyes to keep the tears in—we looked around for someone who could possibly help or might know where the kitten lived, but no one was around. Jay said what we were both thinking, “We can’t do anything,” but that just made me sadder. I didn’t want ice cream anymore so we just went back to the motel.

It is really rough out here seeing those kinds of things. I know that animals here are not indulged like all the pets I know in San Diego, and part of the point of this trip is to see stuff you don’t see at home. But still, it was a rough day.

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May 15, 2012 - May 15 Lyons to Newton, KS

I woke up today super sad about the animal situation yesterday and really missing my orange kitty, who is home with Nate and Kristi and doesn’t even know I exist anymore. Jay had changed my flat tire last night, but it was flat again this morning, and neither of us could find anything in the tire that caused the flat. Jay put in a new tube and we set off after a crap breakfast at the motel.

Before we could get on the road, I realized my rear brakes weren’t connected so we stopped to fix that. The driveway where we stopped was close to where we saw the calico kitten last night, so I avoided looking in that direction. I was already out of sorts and kept trying to put everything behind me so I could concentrate on riding.

I was wearing a new shirt—a blue plaid we bought at Pamida, the closest thing to Jackie King’s suggestion to get a big white all-cotton shirt, to wet down when it’s hot and take advantage of evaporative cooling. We started at 8:00, so we were still in the 90-minute cool part of the day. The first town we came to was Sterling, which was quaint and had some pretty streets. Then a few miles later we rejoined the TransAm route and were set to go to Newton.

We crossed the Arkansas river (called AR-Kansas, not ARK-an-saw) and things were going pretty well, even though we now had a headwind. What’s new? But then my tire started going flat again, and the new pump from WalMart wasn’t working that great. It was also pretty hot by now, 100 degrees or so, so we kept stopping for me to take my shirt off and Jay to pour water on it while I squished it around. We are in the part of Kansas that has a lot of creeks and rivers, so it was quite buggy and humid.

Jay finally decided I should just get new tires. We stopped after 30 miles to call a bike shop off route. They were open! So we pedaled downhillish away from the headwind into Hutchinson. At the bike store, Jay bought me new tires and tubes and gave the old tires to the bike store to give to someone else. The store was busy so Jay put them on outside. We also stocked up on ShotBlox, and then Jay found out they had an optical department, so he sent me in to talk to the clerk about lenses for my sunglasses. I thought I had the darkest lenses for my glasses, but it turns out they make a lens two shades darker that is polarized, so I bought some of those. My ophthalmologist has told me that people with light-colored irises (mine are grey-blue) are more sensitive to light, and their pupils don’t constrict as small as people with darker irises (Jay’s eyes are brown). I have had a lot of discomfort on this trip when the sky is bright blue and they are no clouds. The new lenses are a lot better.

I had gone to Subway to fill our water bottles with ice and get us a sandwich to split. Eventually, we got on our way. The new tires (1/4” narrower than my old ones) worked great! It was really nice pedaling on a bike with air in its tires. We had biked for 3 hours and 40 minutes (traveling 36-ish miles), but our travel time was already 6 hours and 20 minutes due to all of our stopping. The bike store guy gave us directions for the shortest way to Newton, which meant 30 miles on a highway.

Neither of us is bothered riding on a highway. This one had a wide shoulder but it was in poor condition and sandy. Plus it was super hot by now—107 degrees. Because we were both upset last night by the calico kitten and tired from the long day, we had forgotten to charge our Garmins so they clicked off after 45 or so miles. We rode the last 20 or so miles without any bike computer. For someone like me who loves to look at stats, it was torture. But it did prevent me from finding out the temperature in the hottest part of the day.

We stopped at a convenience store for Gatorade and ice. It was a hard day for me—for about 45% of it, I was about two seconds away from sobbing, due to how sad I was about the animals we saw yesterday and how hot it was and the constant headwind and how the people we’ve encountered today had not been that friendly. My brain was pretty well fried with me trying to keeps things together emotionally. Jay was very empathetic and supportive and a big help. He is really a great partner in all this.

With Chris’ guidance, we found a hotel in town. There is a college (?) golf tournament going on in Newton so we got the last ground floor room at the Best Western. We got in really late AGAIN, so all we had time for was a shower, laundry, supper, and then a tiny bit of TV before bed. Newton is a big town (17,000) so it should have had better cell service, but it is on AT&T’s Edge network (not 3G) so it took forever to send Chris the pictures from our phones and the Netbook wasn’t sending email. Sigh. Sometimes life on a bicycle tour is not that fun.

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