Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ok, What Now?

Hello! It's been almost three weeks since I finished the tour, and it would seem appropriate for me to tell viewers my plans from here on out (ie getting back home).

I'll start where I left off...

After the first night in Santa Monica, I spent a day with my uncle in Los Angeles. The next night was back in Santa Monica, and the following morning I actually hopped back on the bike (crazy right).

I rode for another two days, stopping in Ventura county for the night. Then I reached Santa Barbara, where Joey from Redlands was starting his freshman year at UCSB. I actually dumped my bags back at his house, and carried only a change of clothes and a spare tube in my little backpack. That way I was as light as possible for the final ride into the city. When he moved in, he brought all my stuff in a trash bag. So basically, I incentivized continuing the trip by putting my bags 100 miles north of me.

Reunited with my stuff, I camped out on Joey's dorm room floor for a few nights. I imagined the conversation between him and roommate:

"Hey I'm Joey, nice to meet you. Listen man, is it OK if some homeless guy sleeps here too?"

Jackson turned out be a really great guy, and we all hit it off with other freshman. It was a brief taste of what college may be like next year. Of course, my stay there was limited because I was in constant fear of his RA finding out that there was an extra kid in his wing.

While Joey and friends went to class, I developed some fantasy of spending the rest of the gap year there in Santa Barbara, surrounded by waves and bikes and pretty girls. I printed off a few resumes from Joey's computer and began biking around the city, looking for some sort of employment. At the same time I scoured Craigslist on his computer, in search of reasonably-priced housing (the cost of living in Santa Barbara is absurd.) Get this: I found both! Yes, for a brief moment I was set on working in a bike shop full-time. I would barely make rent for a tiny apartment, but gosh Santa Barbara seemed worth it.

And... I left.

Yeah, I just didn't feel comfortable. Joey and my other friend Nick were my only contacts, and I needed to give them space anyway to branch out in their new settings. Santa Barbara indeed felt like a paradise, but I had to keep moving.

Screw the bike! I ditched it on campus (I kept the expensive broken-in seat) and took the next train up to San Luis Obispo. Actually, those are both lies; I loved that bike dearly, but I would be doing it a disservice by bringing it back to cold and hilly Ithaca. It will spend the rest of its life being ridden around by some UCSB student in Bike Heaven. And I missed the first train by seconds. It was dramatic. I took the one the following morning.

In SLO I stayed two nights with another friend from Ithaca. She's now a sophomore at Cal Poly. I explored the campus and decided it wouldn't be half-bad to go there. No geography program though.

Then came a train to the Bay Area (that's where I am now)

I should backtrack. The reason I didn't immediately fly home from Santa Barbara is because my great uncle lives in Berkeley, and offered me a place to stay for a while. He and his daughter Kate picked me up from the train station.

Anyway, that's where I've been for the past week: here in Berkeley. And I love it!

I found another job at a bike shop, I found volunteer work, and best of all I get a room for free.

I like this place... I think I'll stay here a while, or at least until the holidays. UC Berkeley's campus is beautiful too. Soon I'll take BART into San Fransisco and explore.

Anway, that's me! Yeah, I miss my family. But there's nothing for me to do in Ithaca right now besides get cold. I'll come back for Christmas, and then set off again! I'm thinking about South America a lot...

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day 48: Redlands to Santa Monica CA (90 mi)

There it is! The ride itself was hot and traffic in L.A. required all my concentration and previous urban riding experience. But the last 20 miles was an all-out sprint, weaving in and out of buses and cars. I got to the pier at dusk, and my host Lisa led me down to the beach so I could dip the front tire in the Pacific.

So... what now? 
The next few days are figured out: tomorrow will be with my uncle who lives in L.A., and Monday will likely be back here at Lisa's in Santa Monica. Then... bike up the coast? There are plenty of hosts, and it's only another few hundred miles to get to the Bay Area. Or, if I'm ready to go home I can take the next Amtrak out of here. I guess I'll figure stuff out as I go along, just like the trip.

Either way, I biked!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Day 47: Redlands CA

Great day here in sunny SoCal. I met up with friends and saw an old favorite middle school teacher. Got the bike checked out, and good thing I did! Apparently the chain was a few bad shifts from breaking... gosh that would suck for the last ride of the trip.

Ready for the final push into L.A. Let's do this, bike!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Day 46: Barstow to Redlands CA (80 mi)

Opted to ride from Barstow to Hesperia. However I totally forgot an important route note: Cajon Pass, my last climb of the trip, is closed to bicycles until 2016 due to a massive construction project. No shoulder with heavy traffic, definitely a cyclist's nightmare. So my would-be-host Theresa actually drove me and the bike the extra 40 miles into Redlands.

Remember how there had been no flat tires since Oklahoma? Yeah, pinch flat today. It was a bad one too and I saw it coming - some massive crack in the shoulder but I couldn't avoid it because of traffic behind me. Thankfully there happened to be a nearby grassy area where I sat and changed tires and tubes in 10 minutes.

So, I'm here in Redlands,  and the coast is beckoning me. But... I think I may take one day here in my old hometown. It's an awkward situation, but there is no rush. The ocean will still be there in two days.

Tonight and tomorrow I am staying with another old friend, Joey. He's going to college but just hasn't left yet (UC schools are on a quarter system and start really late compared to others nationwide). I'll take tomorrow to hang out with him, and bike around to visit old neighbors, old teachers, etc.

I can almost smell the coast!
(not really, it's kind of smoggy here in the valley)

"It's all well and good, this trip of yours. But you ain't done yet son, know that! No, not the ride. You'll be fittin' to reach the coast soon enough I reckon. But this journey, far from over..."

-Jebidiah "Jeb", random guy at an Arco. Or maybe not so random, depends how you look at it

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Days 44 and 45: Needles to Barstow CA (160 mi)

Sheesh, that was rough.

Actually, the first 20 miles through the desert wasn't too bad. There was more of a crosswind than a headwind, and decent cloud cover kept things relatively cool. Then the clouds grew darker, the air... heavier.

The worst rain I encountered was yesterday, in the desert. Oh, the irony! Nonstop, five hours straight. At some point I reached a "Route Closed, Road Impassable" sign, and upon checking the map realized I needed to get on I-40 if I wished to continue west. A couple hours into that, I stopped and just walked the bike on the shoulder; it was too dangerous with the amount of rain and low visibility for trucks. I actually stopped at one of those emergency call stations and dialed the operator. I told her I was biking and didn't feel safe, and asked if she had any information on when the weather would clear up (I had sketchy cell service). She asked "Why are you biking on the freeway?", to which I shouted half at her, half at the sky, expletives. Sorry, lady.

Another hour of walking and I reached an exit. I sat, soaked, under the overpass and cried/shrieked at the rain. I was out of energy and food to replace it, and just slumped on the cement incline, contemplating life and its many happenings.

I don't remember how long I spent under that overpass. Eventually the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and I felt the wind shift directions - a gentle tailwind! I got back on the highway and cruised down into the valley, almost no pedaling. The setting sun was gorgeous over the mountain tops. Two hours later I finally reached a gas station and motel. After eating my first ever DQ Blizzard, I passed out on my comfy bed while Fantastic 4 played on AMC.

Today was more of what I had prepared for mentally in the desert: sun and wind. Even though I put on chapstick, my lips still cracked and bled. I tied a handkerchief around my face to help. I looked like a desert marauder. Actually, I look like a grimy teenager on a bike. But I felt like a badass, and that's important for the trip.

So, two days ago I encountered the hottest heat (topped out at 105 in Oatman AZ) and the steepest climb through Sitgreaves Pass. Yesterday was the heaviest rain, and today the strongest headwind yet. Gosh, everything's reaching its max! In my mind it's one last gut-check - the country wants to see if I really want to finish the trip.

The wind set me back significantly and I am still 40 miles from my hosts in Hesperia. I would keep pedaling but I actually don't have enough daylight to complete the ride. They offered to come pick me up... I'm debating that now. To be this close to the end and accept a ride, I just don't know. There's always the option of getting a room for the night and just adding a day to the trip. I'll make a decision soon.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Day 43: Kingman AZ to Needles CA (70 mi)

Made it to The Golden State! This journey isn't over yet, though. Between the coast and me lies 150 miles of desert, and another 100 or so of the L.A. metro area.

I'm predicting the next two days to be  the hardest of the trip. Tomorrow will be 100 miles to Ludlow, about 3/4 of the way through the desert. Between Needles and there is one gas station at mile 40. Sounds ok, right? I've done longer rides with heat, wind, and hills. The difference now is the sheer magnitude of the above three factors. Tomorrow begins with a 2000ft climb over 18 miles. The wind is more intense than ever, so much so that the icon on my weather app is a little gust. Lastly, it's hotttt. Really hot. It's not uncommon for Needles to report daily high temperatures for the U.S., competing with places like Death Valley. Apparently a few years ago the rain was 115 degrees, and evaporated on contact with the ground.

Anyway, today's mileage wasn't bad at only 70 miles. I'll leave at 5 am to beat the heat, and maybe wait out the afternoon sun if I find a shady spot. Maybe even look for a ride...

I find myself frustrated that I'm dealing with such bad riding conditions this late in the trip. "Don't I deserve a break for making it this far?" That's a thought that ran through my head when biking up a steep mountain pass this morning. What a silly notion! It's not as if this terrain owes me anything; it's just a piece of land and I'm trying to get across it: up mountains against the wind and in the heat. In fact, I should be glad the desert is at the end; there's a smart way and a not-so-smart way to do a 100-mile ride, and I'm glad I learned the smart way before hitting the Mojave.
The bike doesn't owe me anything either. No flats since Oklahoma, the brakes work fine, and the shifting is adequate. What a champ. *knock on wood*

The sheriff's department here in Needles directed me to the Set Free Church. Here they graciously fed me and set me up on a couch in the nursery. About 30 other people live here at the church, mostly addicts and ex-convicts. I ate dinner with two guys: Ricardo and Smallz. I only know the spelling of the latter's moniker because it's stitched on a black leather vest he sports. A note: Smallz looks to be 6'5, 300lbs. Both he and Ricardo appear sufficiently menacing, but are really kind and funny. No talk of their pasts, probably best to avoid it around here. It's a given that everyone has had a troubled past. We all sang songs and prayed after dinner. I didn't plan this trip with a religious focus in mind (heck, I didn't plan this trip at all), but the amount of time spent in and around churches may speak for itself.

Tomorrow I go with food and water in my stomach, ATP in my muscles, and faith in my heart.

"Beans, rice, and Jesus Christ!" 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Day 42: Ash Fork to Kingman AZ (110 mi)

Long, hot, and hillier than I expected. I could have shaved an hour off the riding time by going on I-40, but was really tired of the highway.

For the next three nights I have no host. Since I got to Kingman with some sunlight left, I'll ride around and see if a church will put me up. There are three in town, and I bet at least one is open for Bible study on a Sunday night. Tomorrow it's imperative I get enough rest, because the following day will be the toughest ride of the trip - I may just go straight for a motel that night.

"That's a crazy white kid thing to do. If he were a smart black man like me, he'd take a bus to the west coast."

That quote is from Bruce, and was relayed to me by my sister Julia. Bruce is one of the senior-most cooks at AGAVA restaurant back in Ithaca (I used to wash dishes there and Julia is currently a hostess).

Bruce has a point; there have been several points during the trip where being  a young white male has helped in subtle ways like receiving food, shelter, and friends. Of course there's no Bruce pedaling behind me to show this difference, but I have my hunches.

Now more than ever is a time to reflect on what got me this far across the US (and this safely?!) on bike, because I don't think it's just pedaling.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Day 41: Flagstaff to Ash Fork AZ (60 miles)

Easy ride, mostly downhill. I'm beginning to "cash in" some of the feet I climbed the past 2 weeks. That said, there's a substantial uphill tomorrow into Seligman before cruising down into Kingman.

My host tonight (and my last known host until Hesperia CA) is Karen. The house is actually 10 miles north of Ash Fork, but today wasn't high mileage so there's no concern. Karen's a retired NPS ranger who spent 25 years in some of the most wonderful parks in the country. She's familiar with Petrified Forest and El Morro, so those were good points of conversation. Karen has two cute pugs, one sassy cat, and two sassier parrots. For dinner she made a really hearty chicken soup... Mmmm

We've been watching Doctor Who for two hours and Alfi, one of the dogs, is squishing his pug face against me. Life is good!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Day 40: Flagstaff AZ

Really nice day here in Arizona. I actually met an old friend from California, Mahala. She's now a freshman at NAU.  I hadn't really talked to her in more than 4 years, and I wasn't quite sure how I would react to the first familiar face in 6 weeks. I'm pretty sure I ran out of breath just talking and talking to her nonstop, but maybe it's because we were walking and Flagstaff is at 7000 ft. Nonetheless, we had a great time and I was really, really happy to see someone I know.

I got the bike checked out one last time (not too many shops until I reach the greater LA area), and walked around NAU campus as well. I was struck by the city, and may consider applying to the university for next year. Yeah, that much of an effect in only one day!

There's a host tomorrow in Ash Fork,
but after that I'll be winging it until California. 

Painted Desert and Petrified Forest

I considered taking some petrified wood with me (not stealing, Mom; there are free samples), but decided that the last thing I want on my bike right now is a block of silica.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Days 38 and 39: Gallup NM to Flagstaff AZ (215 mi)

Well, those were two back-to-back century rides to cover half the state. Definitely not a ride I would have attempted back at the beginning of the tour. Today had a net 2000 ft climb as well - I feel fit! In fact if I kept with this pace, I would reach the coast in five days. But... it wouldn't be very fun. I think I'll stay here in Flagstaff another day before beginning the last leg of the trip. Gosh this city is so beautiful, in a much different way than Santa Fe. Those two are my favorite cities so far.

Where had I left off...

My host in Gallup was Jami. She is actually from Schoharie NY (woohoo!) and came out to NM to teach 4th grade on the Reservation. It was the most unusual sight to come across her black and yellow license plate. She did a cross-country tour herself, and has a brother my age who is also taking a gap year, and also wants to bike the Pacific coast... needless to say we exchanged contact info.

Biking and staying on tribal land, talking with Native Americans about their experiences, and listening to Jami's stories about working with impoverished kids are all wrapped up in a pretty profound experience. Of course I already knew the Natives have been screwed over since day 1 - everyone does. The land is crummy, the infrastructure is crummy, alcoholism rates are higher than anywhere else - these are notes that everyone jots down in their 11th grade U.S. History course. There's a whole different understanding however that comes with being at the mission church, listening to these peoples' woes, and just nodding my head solemnly. What am I feeling... White guilt? These are issues I didn't think I'd encounter when I set off from upstate NY.

After Gallup was a little over 100 miles into the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park, where I camped using a free backcountry permit issued by the NPS. For the second time I had the whole park to myself for the night. However being a much more widely-used park than El Morro, Petrified Forest had rangers to talk to in the evening.

Today I got up before the sun rose and actually had to wait 20 minutes at the gate of the park for a ranger to let me out when the place opened. Long climb up to Flagstaff. Music and podcasts took care of it. My hosts tonight are Lori and Trent, both wonderful people.

 Here's a quote from Jami:

"Hmm... my favorite part about being a teacher... that's a hard question! I would say that the long-term payoff is much greater than that of the short-term, you know what I mean? It's just... it's hard to see good all the time when you're dealing with a bunch of noisy kids. Fourth graders are great though, it's the age when their personalities really begin to shine. There's this one boy, his Dad is in jail and his mother abusive, and I had a really hard time getting him out of his shell. But I noticed his math scores were decent, so I recommended him for the gifted program. And every day I would comment on how well he was doing in math, and offer help and everything. Eventually he became one of the best kids in the class - he really excels at math! So yeah, that right there is something I'm proud of. Not pride for me, for him"

Painted Desert and Petrified Forest were really cool - I'll post photos soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

New Mexico Photos

Santa Fe Farmer's Market

Branch and root art

Cafe in Madrid recycles glass by smashing it and laying it as part of parking lot... I kept my bike away

Highest point of the trip

A humble meal

Sunrise on El Morro Natl Monument

Ride into Gallup

Days 35 thru 37: Albuquerque to Gallup NM (200 mi)

Forgot that I wouldn't have consistent cell service or WiFi availability the past few days, oh well. A little break here and there from tech is relaxing.

Day 35 I left I-40 for some back country roads through pueblos and reservations. In late afternoon I stumbled upon a mission church that offered me food. Food turned into conversation, which turned into an offer for shelter - that night was spent in a community center belonging to the Acoma Reservation. Technically I am not allowed to take photos on tribal land without permission, but I snapped a few of the surrounding area and will include them in a photo dump.

Day 36 (Labor Day) was a relatively short ride past the continental divide at just under 8000 ft. I saw only one park ranger in the afternoon, and camped alone at El Morro Natl. Monument. So from yesterday morning until now, I talked with literally no one. It's an odd feeling, and in fact I don't think I have ever gone more than a full day without conversation with a single person. Day 36 was definitely an exercise in self-sufficiency too; I packed in and out all of my food, water, and shelter. Sleeping alone in a National Park was pretty eerie to say the least... I got little sleep and awoke at 3 AM to something rustling around near my bike. Clutching my utility knife and pepper spray, I unzipped the tent to find a couple of coyotes poking around for food. I shined a light and scared them off, relieved it wasn't one of the bears or mountain lions depicted on the warning signs near camp. Or some homeless guy... oh wait, that's me! There are rattlesnakes around here too, but my two encounters were just pedaling by them.

Day 37 was a quick 60 miles, mostly downhill, to Gallup. I am here for the night and have yet to meet my host. She is teaching middle school on the Navajo Reservation. Aside from parts of Gallup, pretty much everyone around here is Native American. Originally I was surprised by this, but upon checking my maps realized that almost all of the past three days has been in and out of tribal land.

Tomorrow I begin my ride into Arizona

"Sorry kid, you can't eat your own food here. DOH regulations... yeah I know they suck. Here, hand me your water bottles and I'll fill 'em with ice water. There's a park two blocks down, you can definitely eat there."

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Note on Doges

I was told about dogs chasing cyclists before starting the trip, but was still amazed at the number I've encountered. The majority were in Missouri and Oklahoma, but at least a few dogs have chased me in every state. I like dogs and I know they're more excited and curious than aggressively territorial, so I usually just slow to a stop and pet them until they get bored of a stagnant stranger. Really I just want to avoid getting them riled up so much that they sprint into the street where a car could be right behind or in front of me.

There was one encounter where it was pretty obvious the dog was angry;  deep growls interrupted the barks and he/she made a beeline right for my leg. I unlatched my foot and... bopped it in the nose. I felt bad, but decided I would much rather deal with the guilt of making a dog whimper than a big bite in my leg.

Day 34: Santa Fe to Albuquerque NM (80 mi)

Got a decent start on the road, but even gentle hills left me winded because I am still not used to the altitude. No worries - I stopped often to catch my breath and take pictures, and the ride was mostly downhill (Albuquerque is down at 5000 ft). The next few days will bring more hills; I think I'll change my mileage to exit New Mexico in three days instead of two. The mountains are beautiful too, no need to rush...

Scott and David are hosting me tonight in Albuquerque. I was told of Scott's cooking beforehand, and was not disappointed: ribs, potatoes, carrots, kale. Sure beats another night with the Chef!
your sauce is bland and your ravioli unpalatable

No hosts until Gallup. Maybe some camping, maybe some asking for a bed or couch or floor.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Day 33: Santa Fe NM

Today was as much a rest day as it was an opportunity to take inventory, stock up on clif bars, and get the bike checked out. The awesome team at The Broken Spoke cleaned and lubed the chain for free, and sold me a half-roll of bar tape (it's all I needed) for five bucks. They also helped identify the source of a really annoying squeak in the front wheel: some rubber dust protector that just needed a drop of lubricant.

I got coffee with Theo, a follower of this blog and fellow Ithacan. He has a cool pottery studio and gallery here in Santa Fe. We chatted for an hour about Ithaca, bike touring, a bunch of stuff. Man, it's really great to make these connections 2000 miles away from home!

I didn't get the opportunity to take many pictures of the city during the day, but will tomorrow when I ride out. Here's one of a really nice bike path along the railroad

So, the big reason I wanted to be here today was the burning of Zozobra ("Old Man Gloom"). It's an annual festival in its 91st year, with thousands of people attending from all around the region. Everyone got to write down their negative or gloomy thoughts on slips of paper, and it all burned within the massive effigy.

Zozobra from a distance

A dancing ritual...

Everyone shouts "BURN HIM!!!"

That's today's quote.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Day 32: Santa Rosa to Santa Fe NM (110 miles)

Made it to Romeroville by early afternoon before my host Susan came and picked me up. 40-minute drive over to Santa Fe, and I looked smugly at each mile of road that passed underneath us. Had I tried the full ride, I may have been able to reach the city by 9 pm.

Somewhere in the past month I biked from 500 ft in Ithaca to well over 7000 here in the southern Rockies - I'm now at altitude and will be for the next week and a half. I worried about acclimating to the elevation change, but the only effect I have noticed is some muscle cramping. Of course, high altitude can probably just get lumped in with wind, hills, and heat. I can lose water easily up here too, without even sweating that much. The air is thin and the sun intense. With all this said, it's probably a good idea to take an off day here, and scale back the mileage for a bit thereafter.

Santa Fe is absolutely beautiful and contrasts a lot with the plains I was staring at the past week. I'll take some photos tomorrow during my day off.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Day 31: San Jon to Santa Rosa NM (90 mi) *Photos Here!*

Spent nearly 14 hours on the road, stops and breaks included. I'll resist complaining about the wind, heat, and hills from now on. It's just the reality out here; harder pedaling for fewer miles. Why haven't I scaled back the riding with this new terrain? I have been told of a great annual event in Santa Fe this Friday, and I don't want to miss out.

Tomorrow entails tough climbs, and a 100-mile stretch with no water. I already have a safety net in place with my host, though: she'll come pick me up if I don't make it in time. Camping on the side of the road is... plausible but kind of dangerous.

Anyway, I rolled into Santa Rosa just as some heavy rains came in from the west. It got darker and wetter as I sat and ate dinner, and my hopes of finding another Zeke and Micky MacLeod faded promptly. I cracked and bought a room in a Day's Inn. So nice... So comfy. Damn, I'm really pampering myself here in the southwest!

The room has wifi, so I can finally upload some photos without fear of data charges skyrocketing.

A sunrise back in Oklahoma

Cadillac Ranch, just west of Amarillo

The beginning of a massive feedlot in Texas. I breathed through my mouth exclusively for about 20 minutes, but the air tasted thick. Gross, right?

These cows look happier

A decrepit shack a few miles off 66. I'm pretty sure it's empty, but did hear some sounds. Eh, it's that Lore podcast getting to me... Right?

An old abandoned bus here in NM. Reminds me a little of the one Chris McCandless found in the Alaskan bush.

Open road. I love stretches like these - no music, no podcasts. Just me and my own breathing as it mixes with that of the earth.

"We don't get much choice in how we live and how we die, Eric. Be sure to make use of the choices you have."
- Great Aunt Betty back in Cleveland

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Day 30: Amarillo TX to San Jon NM (100 mi)

Rough but gratifying day. Originally I planned a 50-mile ride to Adrian TX, the official midpoint of RT 66. But because I left so early from Angela's house, I made it there by noon. So... I doubled the mileage and ended up crossing the TX/NM border by late afternoon. 

Oh yeah, Angela is on strike from her job at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo. It's the U.S.' only site for the assembly and disassembly of its nuclear weapons. She talked to me about workers getting all kinds of cancers and diseases as a result of the radiation. That wasn't even the reason for the strike, though - just benefits being cut and a crappy renewed contract with the union.

The wind gets to be so bad from 10 am until 5 pm. It felt as if I were pedaling uphill the whole 100 miles. Wonder how it will feel when I actually am pedaling uphill...

Methodist church here in San Jon put me up for the night. In general, they've been more reliable than fire stations. A lot of the stations simply aren't manned at night. 

I have conversations with about a dozen people everyday, and for the past month I have received numerous bits of advice and general rhetoric from total strangers. Today my friend and confidant Pearse Anderson suggested I make note of some of these sayings on the blog. Pearse is a great amateur-turning-professional photographer too, I'll let him comment with preferred contact info if he so pleases.

Here's something Chris said to me back in NY. If you don't remember, he's the bike shop owner that put a rim strip on the rear wheel.

"Kid, I've seen an 80-year old man complete this journey, on a freakin' Huffy. One with 3 speeds and a wire-rim basket to hold all his shit. If he can do it, you sure as hell can."

So that's one that pops up when I'm biking against the wind on a blistering day.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Days 25 thru 29: Broken Arrow OK to Amarillo TX (400 miles)

Hello again!

Quite a few miles in the past five days, averaging around 80 per ride.

In the last post I described the problem of long stretches of country without potential hosts, with two  solutions. The first was attempting to leap from host to host, no matter the distance. The second was to... not do that. I ultimately opted for the latter.

Day 25 was a 130-mile ride from Broken Arrow to OKC. I left early in the morning and didn't reach my host Kara until after the sun had set. That's probably the limit right there given the load and my level of fitness, and the exhaustion was not something I wanted to deal with several nights in a row.

So I backed off and hoped for the best in terms of putting a roof over my head each night. In Hydro OK,  the cashier at a gas station put me up with her friend Jamie. In Elk City OK, the church and a local coffee shop pitched in to buy me a motel room. In McLean TX, the owner of a church put me up. My point: there are members in every community who are kind, generous, and willing to help a traveler. I don't need to worry about shelter out here, and it just took a few days for me to get over that mental barrier. So solitude wasn't really what I ended up needing, only the chance to focus more on communication with the people I met. Relative to the beginning of the trip, I'm more social and talkative than ever with locals, and it pays off. For example, in Elk City I wandered over to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, and my mediocre Spanish with the owner earned me a free meal!

Speaking of Spanish - racial demographics are changing dramatically on the route. Beginning in Oklahoma I started seeing many more hispanic people, and that proportion has grown since. Language skills will come in handy in this part of the country.

Hot! Hot hot hot. By mid-afternoon everyday the Sun pounds down on me unapologetically. I'm trying to outsmart it by getting up at 5 a.m and leaving as early as possible. This allows for an hour or so of riding before that hot orb peeks over the horizon. This has its pros and cons. I get to watch the sunrise and stay cooler longer, but this morning I mistakenly merged onto I-40 in the dark and was subsequently reminded of my mistake by many loud truck horns. Probably safer to start the ride when the sun is up, and just deal with the heat.

Typing from the Amarillo Public Library; I have yet to meet my host for the night. However I know she is currently on strike from her job - should be interesting!

Looks like this computer has restrictions on uploading photos. I'll include some the next time I post from phone.

Albuquerque by the end of the week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Day 24: Joplin MO to Broken Arrow OK (125 mi)

Ignore the mileage, I only biked about a fourth of it.

First two hours were pleasant enough. I went west into Kansas for about 10 miles, then south to the Oklahoma border. A few miles into the state I got another flat. Changed tubes, flat. Patched original tube, flat. Patched spare tube, flat. It was like days 2 and 3 all over again. The punctures were all against the rim too; I needed a shop to put on new rim liner. Fortunately according to Google, the nearest shop was a couple miles down the road. I walked the bike - it's surprisingly heavier when I'm pushing and not riding it.

Turns out the shop is a sporting goods store and has no bike equipment. My immediate plan was to hitch-hike all the way back to Joplin with the wheel, get it fixed, and hitch-hike again to Oklahoma. The clerk at the sporting goods store immediately extinguished that idea; it's strictly illegal to hitch a ride in OK, and I could face jail time for attempting it. Out of options, I gave my host Mike a call. He took three hours out of his day to come get me and the bike and bring us both to Broken Arrow. He's retired, but still.

Mike took me to a shop in BA so I could fix tire issue. Hopefully it works... bike shops are pretty spread out the rest of the ride.

Tomorrow is a similarly-long distance to OKC, and it will likely be my last host for a while. During that time, I may actually stop blogging. There's a certain component of solitude in the adventure I'm seeking, and staying connected everyday in social media may not be the best for that. Access to a computer and/or WiFi will be patchy anyway.

I know the last few posts have lacked photos. I'll make a note to take some.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Day 23: Springfield to Joplin MO (75 mi)

Another nice ride, with hills here and there. I'm still technically in the northern Ozarks, but my guess is that the terrain will flatten out in Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. I got a flat three miles outside of Springfield, but I hopped off, changed tubes, and was on my way in 5 minutes.

Hosts are getting to be few and far between as I progress west, and they're concentrated in a few major cities. That presents me with a dilemma: either increase the mileage dramatically in an effort to reach a host every night I can, or take it slow and steady, camping often. I may sample both strategies and choose one for the rest of the trip.

Tonight however I have the pleasure of staying with Shaun and Christy in Joplin. He works at the post office and a nice restaurant/bar in town, and she at a bank. Shaun treated me to dinner at the restaurant during his shift, and Christy drove me around afterward to see some sites around town. The town was hit by a pretty violent tornado last year.

Tomorrow is going to be the longest ride yet, all the way to a suburb of Tulsa OK. There are plenty of Warm Showers and CS hosts around, but I will actually be staying with my sister's friend's mom's family? I don't exactly remember, but it's awesome to have some connections.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Day 22: Springfield MO

Ended up taking my own advice and stayed an extra day with Doug and Rae. In the morning I took my bike to the shop to borrow a quality pump and use their stand to clean off dirt from the past week. Then to a library to spend a few hours downloading new podcasts, audiobooks, and most importantly, planning for the next few nights. 

This afternoon I sat in a coffee shop and read a book. Pretty soon the book turned into the back of my eyelids, and I awoke to a couple of Missouri State students asking if I was ok. We chatted over coffee for a little. 

Pretty flat riding for the next week into the Heartland. The mileage will probably go up after tomorrow. 

A Note on Food

It took a while to work out the kinks, but my diet is pretty much set for the trip.

If I'm at a host's house, I eat whatever they feed me for breakfast. This is typically eggs, bagels, toast, yogurt, fruit, normal breakfast food. If not, I'll use my camping stove to cook instant oatmeal.

Breakfast #2 usually comes at 10 am after the first couple hours of riding. This entails 2 pb and honey sandwiches, dried fruit, and some milk or juice from a grocery store or a gas station.

Noon: 10 min break for clif bar or lara bar. I love lara bars...

Lunch is around 3. Usually this is some baked beans with bread and more dried fruit, but sometimes I go to a fast food joint. No, the food isn't particularly good for you, but it's calorie-rich and places like McDonald's have free WiFi so I can check the route and write posts like this.

Through experience and conversations with other cyclists, I can confirm that it honestly doesn't matter a whole lot what you eat on the road, as long as it's not something like potato chips for days. Everything eventually goes in the burner. I think of Dora the Explorer's backpack, the one that gobbles up all the items Dora didn't choose. 

yumyumyumyum. ¡Delicioso!

After lunch I keep my blood saturated with clif bars and gatorade until I arrive at my destination.

Dinner with a host is when I get the best-quality food. This is when I can fill up on whole grains and vegetables. Either way, I've been taking a multivitamin every morning just in case I get... scurvy or something.

Note about fast food: No Taco Bell, no exceptions. It will screw you over later with a bumpy ride on the porcelain bus.

Day 21: St. Robert to Springfield MO (90 mi)

I started relatively late (9 am) to avoid the rain, but the clouds cleared and gave way to a beautiful ride through the northern Ozarks. Gentle climbs, sweeping views made for one of the best days yet. The last 20 or so miles were really flat, aiding my slow fatigue. I arrived around 7 pm in Springfield with a half hour to spare before the sun set.

My hosts tonight are Doug and Rae. They're both lawyers, avid cyclists, and have three rescue dogs. Doug's an amazing cook.

Chicken, polenta, roasted veggies, salad, and prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe... an absolute feast after a long day's ride.

The two have completed many tours in Europe and the U.S., and gave me some great info about what to expect during the upcoming weeks of riding. Apparently in New Mexico it is free for cyclists to camp in any state park.

The truth is that I have yet to find a host within 100 miles west of here; I may stay an extra night in Springfield to rest up, clean the bike, and scour the web for potential hosts and/or camping spots. I will give up a beautiful day to ride, but I bet that staying will be more beneficial.

Gone are the numbered county grids of the midwest. Now I mostly find double-letter state roads, though I have yet to study a map to see if they're arranged in any particular pattern. That would make 676 possible roads using this system, but I have a feeling that the state chose to skip roads like NO and EW. Just a hunch.

I made them unplug their microwave before entering the gas station. If you're exposed too long, the government uses the wavelengths to send secret messages to your brain.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Day 20: Sullivan to St. Robert MO (80 mi)

On a map, the distance between these two cities is only 70 miles. More on that in a bit.

Really nice day to start off. Most of the miles were done and behind me by noon. I even stopped in Fanning to see the world's largest rocking chair.

Not allowed to climb on it, bummer!

Route 66 used to be the main highway running from Chicago to California. When Interstate 44 was put in, the path was pretty much the exact same. Now 66 is used by local traffic, passing through each town and city center as it weaves through the country.

I am on the south outer road, and the two center roads comprise I-44

Given how parallel the two paths are, you'd think it's insanely easy to navigate. But 66 twists and turns and sometimes leaves 44 entirely to go into town and connect with other roads. So yes, back to my other point - I ended up going 5 miles off the the route and had to backtrack. And then the thunderstorms hit. And then I got lost on a dirt trail. And then I flew off the bike into a swamp. So what started as a pleasant day turned real nasty, real quick. At some point I had to trek with first my bags through 100 yards of dense brush before going back to carry the bike.  

But! I found the road, ate some jerky, swigged some Gatorade, and kept pedaling. I reached my host Lisa before the sun set. She's a chemical officer in the Army, and took me on a short tour of Fort Leonard Wood, which is right near town.

Springfield tomorrow

Friday, August 21, 2015

Day 19: St. Louis to Sullivan MO (80 mi)

Safe to say I can do 75+ each day now, no sweat. Actually a lot of sweat. But the stamina is there finally; I can do the rides and still have energy to walk around, meet people, and find my place to stay.

Also safe to say it was time to leave St. Louis. That city is all over the news right now, and I don't feel like getting caught up in riots. All good experiences while I was there however!

The urban sprawl is amazing coming out of the city. I spent at least the first 2 hours of the ride weaving in and out of strip malls in an effort to find countryside. Very stressful riding as I tried but failed to avoid rush hour. 

Once I escaped the hair salons, car dealerships, and crummy-looking restaurants, I met Virgil. He's a 68-year old thyroid cancer survivor who eats and drinks from a tube, and he was in the middle of a 60 mile ride. Never met anyone so committed to fitness at that age. He used to be an ultramarathoner and has completed three bike trips across America, including a race. Virgil lead me through some back roads and dropped me off about halfway to my destination - I'm grateful for the company.

Today was almost a repeat of day 2. I rode into Sullivan knowing I had no host, but immediately tried the fire dept. No response to buzzer... familiar feelings of panic, immediately qualmed by knowing I could always stealth camp in a park I saw a few miles back. 

Quick chain of events:
1) Man pulls up to fire station, introduces himself to me as Mike. Mike is a volunteer firefighter and a paramedic. I explain my situation.
2)Mike calls fire Capt. Mark. 
3) Capt. Mark calls Fire Chief 
4)Fire Chief calls local minister
5)local minister calls me, tells me to go to police station.
6) I follow Mike to police station.
7) bewildered, I fill out paperwork at the police station. Then the clerk hands me a meal voucher and a 1-night motel voucher, all paid through the church. 

I cried a little and felt embarrassed in front of Mike and the clerk. 

Mmmmmmm $10 to Cracker Barrel. I was mentally prepared for a dinner date with Chef Boyardee. 

The motel is a sketchy Super 8 across interstate 44. The first thing I noticed walking into my room was an old bath that was presumably left stagnant from the last occupant. I wasn't that grossed out - heck, it was probably cleaner than me. It did beg the question though, who takes a bath at a Super 8?

But hey, beggars can't be choosers. I'm filled with joy from the generosity of this town.

Ozarks! I'll post a picture of the new terrain tomorrow.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Day 18: St. Louis MO

First day not getting on the bike at all - it's sitting in the youth hostel right now. I slept for 11 hours, a sign that maybe a rest day was needed.

Speaking of the hostel - it's great! The normal price for travelers is $25 per night, but is discounted to $15 for cyclists. Apparently a lot come through during the summer. The hostel was pretty empty last night in the men's dormitory aside from me and Lars. He's a graduate student in Germany, and will finish his master's thesis in political science after a semester here in STL.

hostel kitty

There is good public transportation in the city, and a day-long pass is cheap. However the hostel is close enough to downtown that I opted for walking, especially on such a nice day.

The public library here is great. I think I'll spend an hour or so there this afternoon doing some route-planning and host-finding.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Day 17: Gillespie IL to St. Louis MO (50 mi)

Crossed the Mississippi today!

The only problem with big cities like this is that I have to keep my wits about me, or at least much more so than rural communities where the chance of getting a bike stolen or mugged is near-zero. 

The other issue can be loneliness. Crazy, right? Here I am in a city of 300k, yet I feel small because everyone is going about their day at their own rhythm. That's why going to a Cardinals game was at the top of my agenda; I knew people there would be getting off work and having a good time. I approached a group sitting near me, entered into awkward conversation, and they offered me beer they snuck in.
To Mom: I didn't accept the alcohol
To anyone else: I accepted the alcohol

The guy on the left, Andrew, is getting married in 2 days.

Cardinals won!

Day 16: Decatur to Raymond IL (55 mi)

Raymond wasn't supposed to be my final destination, but I arrived there just as some heavy clouds moved in and started dumping absolute buckets of rain. My host offered to pick me and the bike up. I accepted, knowing I am not a purist enough to insist on pedaling another 15 miles through a t-storm for the sake of legitimacy. Had that been the pointof the trip, I would have started at the Atlantic coast anyway, not 200+ miles inland. I waited in a cafe and ordered some food - a nice farmer picked up my bill!

Ken and Becky have a small pork farm in Gilespie. Their two sons are grown and have moved out; now they host many cyclists riding through the area with generous food and accommodations. I usually shy away from talking about the economy or politics (I am ill-versed in both subjects) with any of my hosts, for an irrational fear of sparking hot debate and being tossed out. Ken however had some good insight about the agrarian-based economy in the Midwest: farming practices, GMOs, etc. 

This was the first intersection I ever saw with no signs whatsoever. No stop, no yield. It's probably implied to just creep up and peek around. 

Every farming town around here is very cute. Each has its own small water tower, post office, a couple of businesses, a diner or cafe, and maybe an auto shop. Appended to each town are these: grain silos alongside the railroad. Big ugly towers in contrast with the scenery, but iconic nonetheless.

Here I climbed one and took a bad panorama

I initially felt lost riding through fields with no towns in site, but I caught on to the county road system after leaving Cleveland.

All the roads are numbered in normal increments of 100, and more uncommonly by 50 or even 25 if the fields are divided significantly amongst multiple farmers. It's typically good to stay on the even 100s - they're most often paved. Each country "block" is roughly a mile. Roads labeled N or S run east/west, and vice versa. It's tricky and counterintuitive because a road running east/west is a certain distance north or south of a zero point in the county - the whole thing is just a scaled-down system of lat/long coordinates.

Where are the towns within a county? I have no clue. But usually when I am near, one of the numbered county routes switches to a named road, and I know I am headed in the right direction and roughly 3-5 miles away.

Oh, and all the roads reset once you leave one county and enter another. Yes it's just a bunch of numbers, but they're kind of fun and I literally have DAYS to think about them.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Day 15: Catlin to Decatur IL (80 mi)

Got caught in a little rain storm about 60 miles in, but aside from that a real pleasant morning and afternoon! Thinking about taking one or two off days when I reach St. Louis. It would be a good opportunity to explore a city I otherwise may never visit, and maybe go to a Cardinals game. There's also a youth hostel in the city, and I am in dire need of conversation with kids my age. St. Louis is, by the way, the 1/3 mark for the trip. But hey, who's keeping track...

Tonight's host in Decatur is Phil. He treated me to a dinner out - some great BBQ at a local and independently-operated chain. It's very cool to observe the phasing in and out of different gas stations, fast food joints, etc.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Day 14: Lafayette IN to Catlin IL (65 mi)

A good ride, but a hot day. Thankfully I started carrying a 3rd water bottle.

After breakfast Malcolm donated a half hour of his time helping to clean the bike of yesterday's mud. He also adjusted the B-tension on the rear derailleur, an issue with which I have no experience. Ten minutes after hopping on and pedaling away, I noticed smoother shifting overall. My guess is that a similar cleaning and set of adjustments at a bike shop would have been at least 40 bucks (5 days of food), so I'm very grateful to Malcolm.

This was much of the scenery during the ride. Gentle hills, long stretches of green - very relaxing. 

My hosts tonight are Jamie and Angie from the small town of Catlin, IL. Food and conversation is all I can really ask for after a day of cycling, and these two are great at both. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Day 13: Denver to Lafayette IN (80 mi)

Today was off-the-map.
Not as in I'm biking to places unknown (I am), it's just that until now I followed a route from one of the dozen cycling maps I carry. Today was not one of those days. Today I trusted Google Maps.
This is where Google Maps put me.

Don't get me wrong, using Google Maps or even Apple's Map app can be incredibly useful, especially in navigating urban areas. 
It cannot, however, always be trusted with routing 80+ miles of rural Indiana, particularly with the bike function.
Maps is smart, but it's a computer program nonetheless. My guess is that the car function uses algorithms that find the shortest route time-wise, usually along highways. The walk function has the constraint of no highways or major roads, also preferential to walkways. The bike function is wild. It assumes you can get anywhere you'd otherwise walk (see above photo), and allows for most highways (just not some interstates). 
Needless to say, I left the woods with a good layer of mud on both myself and the bike.
Today was also the first day that I left my previous host without a real plan for the night. I had already contacted a couple potential hosts in Lafayette, so I figured by the time I reached town, one or both would respond with a "yes".

Instead I got one "sorry man, we're in Mexico right now" and one "bummer dude! Girlfriend's mom is sick so we have to leave town!"

So it was back to the drawing board in downtown Lafayette at 7 pm with a storm approaching. Think think think! 

I posted up near the fire station so that if no last-minute hosts were available, I could ask for some floor space and avoid the rain. Thankfully a Purdue graduate student was available on short-notice.

Malcolm studied computer engineering at the university, and now has a job working with cyberforensics there. He also used to work in a bike shop, and offered to help take apart and clean off the bike components caked with mud from my woods adventure.