Tales from the (remote) Lardbutt Peloton, September 24, 2005
Jack and Doc's route across the United States was mapped out by a group called "Adventure Cycling" back in 1976. This group decided that a transcontinental ride - they called it the "Bike-Centennial" - would be a dandy way to celebrate the 200th birthday of the USA. Adventure Cycling is still in business, and thousands of riders have done the ride since 1976. Jack and Doc report that people in the smaller towns go out of their way to take care of riders that pass through - which is really neat.
In Part II of this journey account, Jack and Dave leave the strange delights of Wyoming and enter Colorado, home of big mountains and moose. They also enjoy the company of the Sheriff and his deputies on Jack's birthday as they make their way through Kansas. It was then over the Mississippi into Illinois and onto Virginia before arriving home. The old guy with the gun from Part I has been replaced with some nasty dogs to contend with, as the moments rolled on with the miles.
We saw several airplanes in the sky as we neared Colorado. We then realised we hadn't even seen planes since sometime back in Oregon. Even the airplane traffic through the areas we were in were too remote. We saw a big bull moose in a roadside stream as we entered Colorado. We got back into forested areas and the snow-covered 14,000 foot mountain peaks we could see to our sides were something. Climbing Hoosier Pass (11,542 feet) was no big event. Coming from the west, we had been at 8-9,000 feet for about two weeks. We met what appeared to be a homeless guy walking his bike with a trailer up the pass. He told us his water bottle had gotten a hole in it and asked if we had any water. We emptied a peanut jar and filled it with water for him. That night we stayed in Fairplay which was at 10,000 feet and we got a little rain early that night. The next day we saw the same guy in a restaurant and he told us he did not get into town until 1am that morning and that when he reached Hoosier Pass it was hailing. He said when he got into town he pulled out his sleeping bag and slept under the entrance to a school. We had a great dinner and breakfast in the same restaurant. They had a sign in their rest room that read, "Cowboys with short barrels need to stand close to the target". A little western humour.
The next day we dropped from 10,000 to 5,500 feet and as we zoomed down the mountainside you could feel the temperature going up. It hit 91 that day. The first heat we had since leaving the Salmon River Valley in Idaho. Colorado had some good roads but it also had the worst roads of the trip. They had paved over many miles of old concrete that had defective joints that keep thump-thumping us to death as we bounced over them.
We entered Kansas on our longest ride day - 119 miles - that ended in the town of Tribune. There I saw Sara Hunt's name in a log the restaurant we had dinner in that night asked all bikers to sign and comment. Sara is the girlfriend of a neighbour's son who had ridden from San Francisco to the Mississippi River in the spring and who met with me to give me advice she had gained on her ride. Sara had to stop at the Mississippi because her sister became ill, but I understand she returned to her stopping point and rode home to West Virginia. Good for her, I'm not sure I would have returned.
Yes, Kansas is flat and we rode from one grain elevator to the next. They were spaced 15 or so miles apart along a railroad line that we followed and you could see them seven or so miles before you got to them. The wind in Kansas was normally from the south and we never got a good tail wind to push us across the state. The number of oil wells in Kansas surprised us. We saw quite a few in the western end of the state, some in the middle of the state and then when we thought there would be no more we again started seeing them in the eastern end of the state. We spent two nights at city parks in Kansas. These parks welcome all bikers and the two parks we stayed at were very nice and free. They both had a pool, showers, 24-hour restrooms and a skateboard park. One also had a fenced in waterfowl area, a rose garden, baseball fields with bleachers and a half-mile paved walking path.
The people in Kansas were also very friendly. In Hutchinson, Kansas we stayed in our third church. The local bike shop told us about it and gave us a key. The church had a shower, kitchen and air-mattress beds. A church member who happened to be there when we arrived gave us a tour of it and showed us everything, including the A/C controls. We ran into our only closed road the next day; it was being reconstructed and from what we could find out most of it was gravel. We had to detour, which added about 18 miles. We had also managed to dodge rain all that day (70% chance) but when we got into our hotel in the little town of Eldorado the sky opened up and they got four inches that night. It was raining so hard that we decided to eat what we were carrying and not to go out for dinner. The next morning we waited for the rain to stop which it was supposed to do mid-day and it did around 10:00. However, it started raining not long after we departed and it continued raining or drizzling all day. That was our worst rain day of the ride.
Kansas had the best roads, no visibility problems, smooth, good shoulders, and light traffic. Who could ask for more? However, I started getting anxious to get home in Kansas, about six weeks into the trip. The scenery in Missouri was somewhat similar to what you see in Virginia and Maryland; oak trees, green fields, etc. Therefore, not as impressive as the western states. Missouri roads didn't have shoulders and the rolling terrain gave me some safety concerns. Especially in the Ozark "mountains" where the hills got steeper and visibility as you peaked the tops was basically non existent. I prefer riding on flat roads. However, in Missouri we went up and down rather steep 300-400 foot high hills for several days. Sometimes you could see five or more humps in the road in front of you.
August 17, we spent the night in Hartville, Missouri in the county municipal building. It included the town library, other county offices and the sheriff's office. No showers, because the jail was full. However, after 4:30 when everything closed except for the sheriff's office, we had a private bathroom to clean up in. And yes, we had A/C, which we appreciated with the temperature hitting the low 90s and with the increasing humidity and not a lot of relief at night. So, I spent the night of my birthday with the sheriff and his deputies.
Crossing the Mississippi into Illinois was a milestone. We stopped at Popeye Park just on the riverbank, which is dedicated to the creator of the cartoon charter who was born there. There we met some guys from the St. Louis area who were on a 100+ mile ride. A vendor was selling watermelons so we all ate our fill. We followed a route where the roads were on top of some of the river levies. Pretty, neat, flat, and scenic. We were only in Illinois for a day and a half. We spent the second night on the shore of the Ohio River in a town called "Cave In Rock." We visited the cave on the riverbank, which was used by bandits as a hideaway to rob river travellers in bygone years.
The Kentucky scenery was also similar to around home, and having ridden from Berea Ky. to Ashland Va. in 1998 I had seen a good part of it before. However, there seemed to be less shacks and junk than what I remembered before. The Firehouse in Utica is kept unlocked for bikers to use and we stayed there two nights because we decided we needed a rest day after three consecutive 90-mile days. In Utica, Kentucky we met Larry Myles, who shouted at us as we rode by his house. Larry coaches a bike racing team. We were grumbling to Larry that the next day we were going to have to ride 100+ miles to the next place with lodging. Larry said his mother Claudia lives in a town we were riding through which was about 20 miles closer. He said that they had recently renovated their home into a guest house and he'd make arrangements for us to stay there. Claudia and her husband Charlie opened their home to us. Charlie's great grandfather built the house in 1897. Charlie was born and raised in the adjoining house that they there were currently renovating to accommodate weddings and other functions. The house was not only magnificently restored and renovated to accommodate guests but they have so many original furnishings, family photographs, and family history that made it so unique. If you are ever in the Louisville area, it's about 40 minutes away in the town of Sonora. I would surely recommend a night's stay.
We visited Lincoln's birth place national memorial and saw the cabin that he may or may not have been born in. We had one bad day with dogs in Kentucky, which is known for its dogs that chase bikers. They must have chased us a dozen times that day. And every time there would be a pack of two or three pitbull type dogs. I felt one hit my right rear pack and later when I looked at the rain cover it had a hole in it. I'm glad he bit the pack and not me. We had pepper spray to spray the dogs but the one time I tried to use it, I had it pointing in the wrong direction and sprayed my glove and some of the mist hit Dave who was behind me. Dave did spray one or two and they stopped dead in their tracks. Kentucky was the only state we had any problem with dogs.
In Berea, Kentucky we met Alan. Alan was on a ride from North Carolina to the Louisville area to visit his daughter. He was doing this ride as a shakedown ride with thoughts of riding the TransAm at some point. Alan is an Appalachian Trail through hiker. He has hiked the Trail from Maine to Georgia in one trek. I told him, in comparison, biking across the country would be a walk in the park.
It was great to cross into Virginia. However, Hurricane Katrina was supposed to leave the area we were in with 1 1/2 inches of rain and high wind. So we decided to hold up in a hotel for a day and let it pass. It didn't rain until 6:00 the next night and that was only a brief shower. However, as we started riding the next day, when it was supposed to be clear, it started misting, just enough to wet the roads and it keep it up most of the morning. I asked several people that day if they had gotten any rain the day before and they all said no. The wet roads made us ride our brakes down the winding roads of Big A and Clinch mountains. There are four guys out there reading this that I'm sure will remember those mountains.
Once we hit the Interstate 81 near Wytheville, Virginia, we decided to take Rt. 11, which parallels I-81 for the most part. The TransAm route uses Rt. 11 in some places and hits most of the same towns but staying on Rt. 11 cut off some miles. Rt. 11 is a great road to ride - four lanes in some places, shoulders on some of it, and except in areas close to cities like Roanoke very little traffic. The valley which Rt. 11 follows is flatter, and with the mountains on both sides I think more scenic and enjoyable to ride that the other eastern states. Maybe because it's almost home. We rode Rt. 340 through Luray and went over the mountain on Rt. 211 at Thornton Gap on Skyline Drive and spent the night in Warrenton. From Warrenton, it was only 60 miles around Manassas and through the Clifton area to home. We were home before noon on Sunday September 4th, exactly two months after leaving Astoria, Oregon on July 4th.
In general, the roads were great to ride. Little traffic and the cars and trucks we met gave us a wide birth. We only had two or three horns blow at us that were friendly toots and two or three people yell at us that were not friendly shouts. West of Missouri most of the roads had good shoulders and good site lines. In Missouri and the other eastern state for the most part the roads had no shoulders. Though traffic was light cars had to go around us. We didn't even have any close calls or other mishaps on the trip.
Several people have asked me if I would do it again. At this time, I think I will stick to shorter trips; maybe three to four weeks in length. I did miss Celia, Lisa and all my family and friends - I hope this hasn't been too much for you. We surely experienced a lot over our 4,347 miles and 2 months on the road to cover in a short summary. As I told Dave when we finished - I'm glad I did it but I'm glad to be home.
Happy trails to all,