Day 11 - 7/8/11 (102 miles)
We started the last day of Chapter 3 rolling out of the hotel lot at about 6:45. It was almost completely overcast, and cooler than recent mornings, a great way to begin. We rode through the town of Farmington, and towards the Mighty Mississippi and Marion, Il. The first 25 miles had a fair number of steep climbs, but following our climb through St. Mary, and descent to the river valley floor, the terrain was largely flat.
Perhaps the trickiest part of the day was timing our crossing of the river on a bridge that was quite narrow, and had lots of truck traffic. We paused in a pull-off area just before the bridge, and when we could see a fairly long opening in the traffic behind us, we took off, and pedaled, as hard as we could, up and over the bridge. There wasn't any time to stop and savor the view, but we did see how full the river is, and a few boats traveling below. We reached the other side without a truck passing, and snapped this picture of Andy as we entered Illinois, our seventh state.
Negotiating traffic and a few steep hills as we climbed out of Chester, IL (the “birthplace” of Popeye the Sailor Man), was quite challenging, and made us grateful we travel by tandem. Andy was able to watch the narrow road and control the bike, while Kim was able to monitor traffic in both directions, and let Andy know if big trucks were approaching. This intense monitoring was required for almost the whole trip between Chester and Murphysboro, about 25 miles.
Upon reaching Murphysboro, we stopped for some lunch. We'd traveled nearly 78 miles, and were definitely ready for a break. After previous days, we were quite surprised that we saw only one other group of cyclists. The bonus was that two of the group members were riding a tandem, the only one we've seen on the road since the American River Trail in Sacramento.
After our break, we rode the last 23 miles into Marion, IL along a well maintained, and very busy highway. Kim kept Andy updated with a seemingly endless traffic report. Finally, we spotted the edge of town, and were delighted to reach the end of the day's work.
We enjoyed an early dinner at Applebee's, and were able to sufficiently deconstruct the bike to fit it completely into a Nissan Altima. We then drove to St. Louis, where we'll spend Saturday and Sunday with Kim's mom. Then, it's back to Grass Valley on Sunday evening.
Chapter 3 c'est fini!!!
Day 10 - 7/7/11 (60 miles)
We left Ellington just after 6:30 this morning, with what looked like fog (but was really mist from the almost 100% humidity) all around. As the sun began to burn away the mist and we pedaled along a smooth, but curvy and hilly road, we were glad to have the early start with limited traffic.
As we rolled through Centerville, MO, a white Jeep passed us after a friendly wave from Kim, and then slowed down as we entered a very curvy section. We waved to her, assuming that she was being our “angel” through the tight turns. After about a half a mile we saw what appeared to be a mini-mart and turned in. The business ended up being closed, and as we took a break in the parking lot, the woman in the Jeep pulled alongside and began to chat with Kim.
Rather than an angel, it turned out that she was actively seeking to end both bicycle and truck traffic on local roads. It was an interesting conversation, which we decided to keep brief and resume pedaling.
Just a few miles up the road, we met three cyclists (Rich, Mike, and Jerry) headed west. One, wearing a jersey with the CalPERS logo on the front, was a retiree from Ocean Side, CA, and told us that the jersey was indicative that he was now “sponsored”. He and his friend from LA are riding cross-country, and being guided through Missouri by a cyclist from Columbia, MO. They seemed to be having a great time, and provided hotel recommendations for tonight's stop.
The terrain was rolling, but nothing close to the difficulty of previous days. After a stop for water and Gatorade at a mini-mart that also offered “ammo and cammo”, we made great progress, and were pedaling into Farmington, MO almost before we knew it. As we rolled across the highway overpass into town we saw two familiar cyclists ahead. It was Laura and Rain, the mother-daughter duo we've seen numerous times. We stopped to talk with them and confer on the location of the local bike shop.
We agreed on the route and were glad to find TransAm Cyclery. We were even more glad to find a replacement bike computer that's exactly the same model as the one we lost yesterday. We plugged it in, and it worked perfectly. Kim was very pleased! We then walked across the street with Laura and Rain to visit the recently established honor-system accommodations for cross-country cyclists. It's a beautifully done floor in a historic building, in honor of “Al”, a local cyclist, complete with several bunk rooms, bathrooms, a kitchen, living room with TV, and Wi-Fi access.
As we prepared to head to our hotel, (yes, despite the nice group accommodations, we decided on the hotel), we met three 2011 high school graduates (Andrew, Matt, and Patrick) from New Hampshire who are headed for Oregon. We had a great conversation with them. One is headed to University of Vermont, one to Tulane, and one to Stanford. They had some suggestions for our last two days' routes, and it was a pleasure to talk with them.
After a yummy dinner at The Pasta House Company, we did some laundry, and some planning for Chapter 4 as we watched the rain from our hotel window, and were very grateful for another wonderful day.
Day 9 - 7/6/11 (27 miles)
After a comfortable night at the Shady Lane Motel, we enjoyed breakfast at Hills and Hollers restaurant, which is for sale, including all equipment and inventory - “A turn-key operation”. We were on the road just after 7:30. This was intentionally a short mileage day, since we'd heard, from bikers and locals alike, that it is a section of the route that is very hilly, with narrow, curvy roads, logging trucks, and lots of recreational traffic.
All warnings proved to be true. It was one hill after another with most of the grades exceeding 10%. The brief views from the top of each hill were lovely, but we're not sure they warranted the climbs. Kim had two turtle saves in just the first few miles.
After about 9 miles we saw a biker ahead, and pretty quickly caught-up with Peter, who's also riding the “western express” route from San Francisco. It was a brief conversation as we were climbing the hill a bit more quickly, and then sped downhill.
After a few more climbs, we experienced a data-gathering catastrophe when our bike computer - which tracks distance, current speed, average speed, max speed, time of day, and temperature - slipped from its bracket and tumbled to the ground before Kim could catch it. We stopped as quickly as we could, which took a bit of time, since we were cruising at over 30 mph.
Kim expected to find the probably-broken computer in the road, but didn't see anything as she raced back to try and grab it before any downhill traffic appeared. Then we looked along the side of the road, then the opposite side of the road, then together, walking very slowly pushing grass from side to side, then, the whole thing again. We searched for more than 30 minutes, and never found it.
During the search Peter passed by and offered best wishes, two couples also passed by, as they pedaled in the opposite direction, also offering support. Finally, we gave up, and continued our ride, with Kim very disappointed.
After about (since we didn't have the computer) 2:30 of very soggy pedal time, we reached the tiny town of Ellington, MO, our stop for the day. Kim has dubbed Missouri “H-cubed” for Hot, Humid, and Hilly. We had a terrific pizza at Saso's for late lunch, and Andy had at least 3 pieces of “amazing” baklava. Since we needed to hide in the mini-mart during a thunderstorm on the way back, we were fortunate to discover an interesting treat where the ice cream and the flavored sauces (Andy had root beer, and Kim had caramel) are swirled together out of a soft-serve machine.
Only 2 more pedal-days remaining in Chapter 3, then, we'll get some time to dry out.
Day 8 - 7/5/11 (43 miles)
After another early breakfast at McDonald's, we headed out on Highway 17 towards Summersville. Although we would not have thought it possible, it was actually more humid this morning than it has been. There was also a complete absence of wind or cloud-cover, so the swamp-cooler effect was zero.
About 9 miles out, over a stretch of rolling hills, we thought we saw bikers ahead of us. As we drew closer, it turned out we were right, and we caught-up with the mother-daughter duo, Laura and Rain, that had stayed at the same hotel we had last night. We waved and encouraged each other as we passed on the hill we were climbing.
A couple of miles later, we saw two bikers coming towards us. As we climbed up the hill closer to them, we pulled across the road onto a gravel area. They stopped with us, and we were glad to meet Spencer and Natasha, and their dog, Augustus, riding in his own trailer. They're riding from Kentucky to Utah to visit Spencer's family, riding mountain bikes and camping along the way.
As we talked with them, Laura and Rain joined us, and we experienced the largest gathering of cyclists so far. After sharing road and travel tips with each other for quite a while, and snapping this picture, we headed on. Overall, we had 4 turtle spottings, with two almost across, one in “need” of assistance, and one that was sprinting across the road, so Kim needed only to encourage him to the finish line.
We stopped for a break in Summersville, and as we were heading back out the door, we met another biker, Tom, from Florida, headed to San Francisco. He had some interesting tips for eastern Kentucky, and seconded Spencer and Natasha's opinion about carrying pepper spray to ward off the numerous dogs. As we wrapped-up our conversation with him, Laura and Rain arrived, our 4th meeting with them.
We continued on our way through the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which live up to their name, and loved the downhill coast to the Jacks Fork River park. We stopped there for a drink, and found dozens and dozens of hummingbirds visiting their feeders. This river area is a huge tourist attraction for canoe, kayak and raft trips. There are several, large springs which feed the rivers, and make them quite clear and cold - nothing that beats the Yuba River though. We did not enjoy the climb out of the river area, which was at least 12% grade, in the sun, with zero wind. We actually walked our first section of road since Monarch Pass at the Continental Divide!
After the climb, it was an enjoyable several miles of rolling hills into Eminence, MO our stop for today. Our small, but clean and air conditioned, motel room was easy walking distance to Ruby's Family Restaurant, where we again saw Laura and Rain. While we were checking-in at the motel, a fellow guest asked about our bike, our trip, and if Andy realized that Kim wasn't even pedaling. We're counting him as “Shouter” number 4.
We've set a relatively short mileage goal for tomorrow, since we've heard that the 27 miles ahead are chock full of very steep hills, and tailwinds don't seem at all likely.
Day 7 - 7/4/11 (67 miles)
After an early breakfast at McDonald's, (the oatmeal with fruit is pretty yummy), we headed out on Highway 38. It was actually more of a two-lane country road, but with excellent paving. Traffic was very light, courtesy of Independence Day. It was very humid, which means we could see clouds of moisture hanging in the trees and all the weeds were shimmering as if rain had just fallen. The good news was the almost complete layer of fluffy clouds which reduced the sun, and kept it feeling much cooler.
As fellow biker, Travis, had reported yesterday, there were two bridges under constructions, which were not passable by car, but we were able to use the construction pathways and cross both creeks without any trouble or wading required. We cruised by home after beautifully-maintained home, with lovely flowers and amazing stretches of perfectly-groomed lawn.
And, in complete contrast to previous reports, we were grateful recipients of, ready for this, Blessed Headwind! Given the trees and terrain, the headwind didn't impede our progress, but it did greatly enhance the cooling, which was much appreciated.
Early in our ride we passed a group of 5 local women out for their morning walk. They became Kim's instant MVPs of the day as they were picking up trash as they walked.
We counted no less than 6 turtles crossing the road, in about a 25-mile stretch, only one of which was in need of Kim's assistance. Apparently, the others had received the bulletin to make haste or be snatched into the air. We also saw our first Missouri deer, and a Missouri river otter, in addition to lots of happy, healthy-looking cattle.
As we climbed up from one of the creek-crossings, just before reaching Hartville, we noticed another biker just ahead. We caught-up to him just a bit from the top where he'd pulled into a driveway. We talked for a few minutes about our plans for the day, and then decided to go the next couple of miles into town and talk there.
Dean, we learned as we chatted in the mini-mart, is a 63 year old, retired from the Air Force, who now lives in Corning, CA, and has a sister with a house in Lake Wildwood. He decided to tackle the cross country trip solo this summer, and has been riding for about 9 weeks. He'd had some early health challenges, and had spent the last couple of days staying out of the heat in Marshfield. As Hartville was his scheduled stop for the day, we left him to setup camp on the lawn of the county court house (the approved location).
After about 22 more miles of rolling hills, we saw another biker headed our way. We pulled over and introduced ourselves to Manny, a young man from Cleveland, OH, who decided to complete the cross country ride before his last year of college and real life begins. He had some very helpful updates to the recommended route, including one which takes a major climb out of our itinerary. Behold, MVP #2 today! He also gave pretty strong negative reviews of eastern Kentucky and Appalachia, at least as far as hills are concerned. We'll find out if we agree during Chapter 4.
With traffic and heat picking-up, we were glad to pedal into Houston, MO (located in Texas County) at just about lunchtime. We're really liking the early start. We shared several conversations with locals in the Taco Bell/KFC over lunch - including confirmation that our hotel for the night was good, biking all this way is “kooky, but good”, “Maryland is a long way, even in a car”, and “there are more hills to come”.
Day 6 - 7/3/11 (57 miles)
We made another early start this morning, leaving the Oak Park Motel at just after 6:00, after a surprisingly solid night's sleep. Our first stop was just yards away, back to the Circle K for a nutritious breakfast. We enjoyed additional conversation with manager, Tammy, and her husband, about options for our route. As a true, professional truck driver, he had dozens and dozens of recommendations.
We pedaled 18 miles of rollercoaster hills, through beautiful countryside, with lots of trees and wildflowers. A few scary dogs bolted from their yards and chased us along the road with lots of barking. A couple got pretty close, and we were grateful to be headed downhill, instead of uphill, away from them.
Our first stop was in Walnut Grove, where we noticed “Road Closed” signs for our desired route along Highway BB. We turned into the local mini-mart, and talked with the clerks and two retirees there for morning coffee. They inquired regarding the status of the closure to replace a bridge from their many friends who entered the store. The general consensus was that the construction had been delayed, and one of the men counseled that, if the bridge were out, he was confident we could wade across the creek with success. We decided to give it a go, and headed out on the desired route with friendly waves from our new friends.
After about 5 miles we arrived at the construction site and found an intact bridge. We'd later learn that the detour would have added about 20 miles to our day because the Missouri Department of Transportation (MDOT) is required to use only State roads for detours. Thank goodness Andy asked for other opinions.
After more of the surprisingly challenging hills - so steep we've dubbed them The Ozark Rockies - we came to our next mini-mart, in the non-existent town of Bolton. We enjoyed A/C and cold water as we talked with a table of locals who were enjoying biscuits and gravy, about California Redwoods, and “why in the world would anyone want to do such a silly, long bike ride”. On our way out the door we met another local who talked with us about his work harvesting local walnut trees and sending them to Japan to be made into furniture.
We continued pedaling through the hilly, humid countryside towards Fairgrove, about 23 miles away. As we crossed Highway 64, we had to stop and capture this picture of Buffalo Springfield. During our next stop, at the Kum & Go mini-mart we met Conrad, a retired Green Beret who served our country in Korea and Viet Nam. At 78 years old, he still works hard to keep in shape on his treadmill (3.8 mph at 15% grade, everyday), and recently bought a 10-speed at a garage sale (for $60) so he can take up bike riding.
Back on the road, we'd completed about 12 of our remaining 15 miles when, much to his delight, Andy spotted another biker headed our way. He pulled to our side of the road, and we enjoyed talking with Travis, an Englishman riding the BikeCentennial route. He was riding without shirt, helmet, sunglasses, or gloves, camping every night, and looking forward to the section of his route that will take him through the Tetons and Yellowstone.
We entered our destination of Marshfield, MO, just as the day was beginning to really heat up, and stopped at the local Wal-Mart to pick-up an additional taillight. We also got some cold drinks and snacks and sat on a bench just inside the front door (near the official greeter) to enjoy them in the cool. We felt a bit like visitors from outer space as those entering or leaving the store checked out our matching Ben & Jerry's jerseys, and, Kim was confident, her amazing, helmet-made hairdo.
Day 5 - 7/2/11 (58 miles)
Following the “Mega Day “on Thursday, we decided to have Friday as a recovery day. This proved to be a solid decision given the continued heat and humidity, and the serious napping that took place. There was also time tp catch up on a few projects via our remote office technology.
This morning we made a very early start, leaving the hotel at 6:30. Given the holiday weekend, traffic on the first stretch of southbound highway was very light. The winds were also quite light. The roads were very smooth, and the wide shoulders were so clear it almost felt like a bike lane. After about 31 miles, we reached the junction of Highway 126 and started heading East again.
Although this was a more narrow road, and the shoulders were non-existent, the pavement was excellent, and the drivers very friendly and courteous.We stopped for a rest in the shade near a church in Golden City, and had a great conversation with Mark who paused on his way to town for a haircut. A CPA, he switched from public practice to corporate operations to obtain health insurance coverage for his family. He helped us with several ideas and recommendations for our route and a nearby mini-mart. Our stop there was very friendly, with both ladies in the store offering their help. The popsicles were perfect.
Back on the road again, we pedaled the last 15 miles into Greenfield, or destination for the day. Our first stop, of course was the Circle K. The manager, Tammy, and her husband, gave us recommendations for dining, and declined to comment on the only hotel in town, our home for the night.
When we arrived at the Oak Park Motel, we could understand their reluctance. Our room, to use the term generously, is a 10 by 11 cube of cinderblocks, circa 1955; the rust-colored shag carpet, approximately 1970; the shower appears constructed of spare parts, and the shower curtain is in an advanced state of decay. The flat screen HD-TV (go figure) works perfectly.
The high point of the day was lunch at the old fashioned, soda-shop-style restaurant, called That Place, located on the town square. You'll note in the photo that the building next door was damaged in the same storm that caused the Joplin tornado, about 60 miles away. The mom and daughter were excellent hosts. While the burgers, grilled cheese, and root beer floats were excellent, the handmade onion rings were the best ever. Don't hesitate to stop for by for some when you're in town.
We spent the rest of the afternoon watching TV, and reminding ourselves why we don't regularly watch TV in our “real life”. Tomorrow will be a big ride into Marshville, with expected temps in the high 90's, still humid, and lots of hills as we go deeper into the Ozarks.
Day 4 - 6/30/11 (81 miles)
We were able to get an early start again today, with the heat and humidity firmly in place, and no beneficent cloud cover to cool things down. We cruised through the corn and milo fields from Yates Center to Iola where we made our first stop of the day. We talked with several locals at the mini-mart who were interested in our journey, including one man who'd biked 3 miles to work every day, until he'd retired.
Between Iola and the town of Gas (no, we're not kidding, that's its real name, and Kim wanted to photograph Andy making a deposit at the Bank of Gas), Kim rescued another turtle. This one was much larger, and a bit less happy to be rescued. Kim's jog back along the highway to reach it also alarmed a highway worker traveling in the opposite direction, so much so that he turned around to check on us. This prompted Andy to point to Kim and make the “she's crazy” sign of spinning is finger around his ear. All ended with smiles and laughs and he let us continue on our way without calling authorities.
With the increased heat, we went though much more water, and decided it was best to stop every 30 minutes or so. Thankfully, for most of the stops there were min-marts, complete with air conditioning and ice cream. Our “recovery” stops included Moran, Fort Scott, and Deerfield.
In between Moran and Fort Scott, as the temperature approached 105 and the humidity hovered around 70%, we spotted a home near the road with a shaded front yard. As Kim walked to the door to see if we could rest a bit in the shade, Roann came out the door, and asked if we needed anything. We made our request, and she respondedby carting chairs from her back porch, providing huge glasses of ice-water, and filling our water bottles while we relaxed and cooled down.
She stayed outside to talk with us. As a native of the area, whose parents lived just a bit further down Highway 54, she filled us in on the farming and cattle-raising community, her work as a third grade teacher, and her daughter, who was a nurse in the Joplin hospital that was destroyed. She told of work she and her fellow church members had done to try to assist families in recovering precious mementoes from their crumbled homes.
Her generosity and kindness more than made her MVP of the Day, she was really Angel of the Day! Here's a photo of her “oasis”.
After waving reluctant good-byes to Roann, we continued pedaling towards Fort Scott. During this stretch, we could tell we were really entering the Ozarks, as the rolling hills increased in steepness and number. About 5 miles after passing through town we reached the Missouri border - our sixth state. Yippee!!
With about 15 miles left, it was a pretty tough go, during the hottest part of the day. It felt like 1,000 oven doors opening in your face - a striking contrast to being snowed on as we came over the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass. We continued our 30-minute stops, and enjoyed popsicles in Deerfield. After a few more steep climbs we reached Nevada, MO. And, as you may have guessed, they pronounce it NevAda. We easily found our home for the night, the Country Inn and Suites, had dinner at the next door Burger King, and are calling it a day.
Given the upcoming options for lodging, and the workout of today, we're considering staying two nights here, and having a rest day tomorrow. We'll see.
Day 3 - 6/29/11 (61 miles)
As planned, we got an early start, and pedaled out of the motel lot at 7:30 this morning. While it was already quite warm, and windy, and humid, there was a bit of cloud cover which was much appreciated.
The topography and scenery have changed. We've left the wheat fields and Flint Hills for rolling hills of green, many more trees, and lots of cattle grazing in the fields. This has resulted in some positives, and some negatives.
Heat (over 95 today)
Humidity (over 60% today)
More interesting critters - Great Blue Herons, bunnies, and armadillos
Wind (it slows us down, but creates a bit of a “swamp cooler” effect)
Along the way, in Eureka, we saw three other cyclists heading West. We had a great stop at Lizard Lips Grill and Country Store, which is located on a busy corner of the BikeCentennial route. The manager was very friendly, and asked us to sign their bike-rider guest book. They had 26 riders stop by yesterday as they participated in a cross-country ride to raise funds to cure MS.
After just over 4 hours of pedal-time, we reached our destination of Yates Center, KS. The motel was about the same vintage as last night's, but much cleaner, and with a much quieter air conditioning unit. We had a yummy lunch-dinner at the local Pizza Hut, and as the only patrons, we had lots of conversation with the one employee. He's the district manager, overseeing 8 stores, located in 8 different towns. He provided info on the upcoming towns and roadways along our route.
After checking the local mini-mart and grocery store (only one of each), we've determined that the town is devoid of yogurt, which had sounded like something that would be good for tomorrow's breakfast. Apparently, most shopping, at least for yogurt,is done in Iola, which we'll go through tomorrow.
Day 2 - 6/28/11 (42 miles)
We got an early start today, in an attempt to stay ahead of both the wind and the heat. We'd scheduled a shorter day today, into El Dorado (pronounced El DorAdo here in Kansas), to let us get back into pedal mode. We passed numerous wheat fields that had already been harvested and others with corn and milo still growing. As we experienced in Chapter 2 the Kansas drivers were friendly and the roads excellent
A little before noon, after three hours of pedaling we arrived at the El Dorado Motel, and had the afternoon to catch-up on projects, reading, and reviewing the maps for upcoming days.
For dinner, we walked across the parking lot of the motel to Bella Casa, and learned that the same couple that owns the motel also owns the Italian restaurant. Because only one other table was occupied, we had the chance to learn quite a bit about their family from the wife. They moved to town 35 years ago from Zambia, bought the properties, and had two daughters that were born here and graduated from the local high school. Both have gone on to impressive academic and professional accomplishments.
The older one attended Duke University (Go Blue Devils!!) for both undergraduate and medical school. The younger one attended Grinnell College in Iowa before transferring to Princeton to complete undergrad. Then she was on to Stanford for a Masters in Chinese and Korean, and then UCLA for law school. She currently works for a very large law firm with offices in LA and NYC, living in NYC. Who would have thunk?
We're going to attempt an early start tomorrow as well, since the forecast is for wind and temperatures in the 105 degree range. We're really glad we have so many water bottles.
Day 1 - 6/27/11 (4 miles)
The first day of Chapter 3 began with our flight from Oakland, CA to Kansas City, KS. It was an excellent non-stop, and arrived on time. We were quickly on the road back to Newton, about a three-and-a-half hour drive. We were warmly welcomed by John and Carol Sue Hobbs who had done a full maintenance on the bike and stored it for us during the weeks we were home.
The next step was to return the rental car, about a mile or so away. We were met there by our #1 Newton fan, Steve, who was also named MVP for today. After reading our online journal, he sent us an email, offering to assist with transportation when we returned to town. He was so kind and helpful, and patient with the changing schedule. He drove us back to the Hobbs' place, and sent us on our way with a friendly wave.
So, for the first day back on the bike, we rode about 4 miles to the Comfort Inn, conveniently located next to the neighborhood Braum's Ice Cream location. After a quick dinner, which, of course, included root beer freezes for both of us, we got the bike ready for tomorrow's ride.