Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back on the Bike

Today, I got back on the bike and went for a little ride. The rule I've created is that it is fine for me to have multiple bikes as long as they get used. So I grabbed the road bike for a spin. Man, was it awkward.

A bike is a bike is a bike. Bikes are a lot like people. We have a basic anatomy, but within that are so many variations. Some of us are tall. Michael Phelps has disproportionally long arms. Our frames are different: Bone structure, density, muscular development.

Let's not forget that I was on Bella, my Surly Long Haul Trucker almost every day for nearly two months. You get used to things. So today, on my K2 road bike, it was like riding a brand new bike:

- Man, the K2 is light. Somewhere around 13 pounds of aluminum and carbon unlike Bella's 27 pounds or so.

- I had to relearn clipping in as the road bike has Look pedals and the touring bike has Crank Brothers.

- I like the bar end shifters on the Surly, but I had forgotten how convenient and easy integrated shifters are.

- Brakes: on the touring bike, because of weight, I had to really squeeze to come to a stop. On the light road bike, too much of a touch can throw me over the handlebars.

- Speaking of bars: riding position is different and took some getting used to.

- No granny gear on the road bike; it has a compact crank.

I only did 12 miles over Davis Mountain and back up and over Finley Cove. One of my favorite quick loops-- because I can leave from my house and it has some challenging climbs and fast descents.

The other difference I am noticing is the conditioning. I climbed the first part of Davis Mountain Road faster than I have ever before. Further up, is a short, steep hill that I always have to come out of the saddle to clear. Not today. Stayed seated and cruised up. Finley Cove usually slowly wears me down by the time I get to the top. I was tired, but not as beat as usual. And I was able to climb in a higher gear than I usually do.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


On June 23, I left Cannon Beach, Oregon on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. 54 days and 3578 miles later, I arrived at Folly Beach, South Carolina.

It was the conclusion to an epic adventure. I was challenged in many ways, met countless terrific people, was pushed physically and recharged mentally. I got to visit old friends and made new friends. It was a lot of what I expected and then plenty of unexpected.
Welcome to SC

It took me three days to bike from Elberton, Georgia to Folly Beach. South Carolina is old plantations, Spanish Moss, dense forests, slow rivers and small communities. The heat and humidity made the ride difficult. John Williams, who assists me in wrestling, his wife Wendy and their daughter Sophia made things easier by picking up the trailer and panniers. I could ride without the burden of pulling an extra 50 or so pounds. I estimate that I was about 3-5 MPH faster without the weight; the biggest gain came in climbs. So I got to ride unencumbered and John, Wendy and Sophia hung out at the pool or beach. It worked out great and I can't thank my friends enough for coming down.
Spanish Moss
Wendy and Sophia

So I make it a bit over 50 miles when John and Wendy catch up with me on Thursday. They grab the trailer and feed me fresh fruit and drive on. I pedal the next 40 miles and meet them in Aiken, a great town when it's not 180 degrees outside. The next day, I am off riding early and John, Wendy took Sophia to Edisto Island for her first visit to the beach.

The final day, Saturday, was about 60 miles from Walterboro to Folly Beach. Matthew and Erica Johnson drive down with their five month old, Eliza, so that Matthew can ride the final day with me. It was nice having the company of a great friend and awesome athlete. Matthew is a friend from church, a sick Ultimate player, the lead teacher at Glen Marlow Elementary and the guy who has given me scars mountain biking. Matthew and I always ride the trails together, so riding the pavement with him was a new experience. But we took turns drafting and just tore up the first 40-45 miles until fatigue started setting in.
Last day

Funny thing is that in 54 days of riding, I've never had to ride in the rain. It has rained at night, but not when I was on the bike. I was totally prepared for the rain-- I've got Goretex gear, fenders, drybays and they weren't called on. Matthew and I are trucking down Folly Beach Rd with the end very near in sight when the skies just open up. Not a just shower; it was a deluge. I turned and asked if he was okay with this and he replied, "Yeah! We're so close." So we trudged the last mile and half in an absolute downpour. When we got to the town of Folly Beach, the streets were flooded with 4-5 inches of water. We're totally saturated... and we're loving every moment of it.

At the Holiday Inn, John is waiting along with Chris Stevens (and here), a Georgia Tech Superfan, and his buddy Victor. Congrats, high fives and hugs are given all around. When the clouds break, we head to the Atlantic, where Bella and I step into the ocean to conclude our trek. After that, champagne toast courtesy of Chris's foresight and thoughtfulness.
Finished and drenched

It was a great way to finish. Exciting ending in the rain, super friends, champagne on the beach.

And how do I know it was a great ride? I don't hate my bike. After almost 3600 miles, I'm ready to get back on a bike and ride. So call me up-- we don't have to go cross country, but I'm up for a road ride or some singletrack in Dupont or Bent Creek.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Halfway to Heaven

"This fool's halfway to Heaven and just a mile out of Hell, but I feel like I'm coming home..."
Better Days, Bruce Springsteen

I'm coming home. I'm close, but still have some running-- er, pedaling, to do.

This is a great song. Lots of philosophy packed into 4:49.

The Home Stretch

Yesterday, my brother joined me in north Georgia. We got to hang out and camp. It was nice. Today, he hauled my trailer and gear while I biked the 68 miles to Carnesville, GA. He hiked, took pictures and toured in the car and we met up for a late lunch. It was nice not having the extra gear. Especially after I crested Neel's Gap and could go down the other side like I was in the Tour de France. After lunch, I hooked up the trailer and reattached the panniers and was off for the last 30 miles to Elberton.

Tomorrow, John Williams, my assistant wrestling coach, his wife Wendy and their daughter Sophia are gonna come and join me on the trip. John is gonna take the gear and I'm gonna ride hard. Wendy might join me for a few miles also.

I've got another friend (or two) who are deciding if they can come join me for a few miles at the end. I hope they do. The plan is to arrive at Folly Beach on Saturday afternoon. I can almost taste the salt water and feel the sand; something I haven't done in over 3200 miles.

And here's Tyrone Rucker, from Elberton, GA. He loved the idea I was riding across the country. He didn't want to take a picture of me; he wanted me to take a picture of him:
Tyrone Rucker


Middle and Eastern Tennessee wore me out. Sunday got off to a bad start because I wasn't three miles into the day and I ran over something that cut a 1 inch gash in through both the tire and tube of the trailer. Replacing the tube was easy, but the tire was an issue. I glued and taped the tire together to try to create something that would hold a shape until I could get to Cleveland.
Tire fixed

Sunday was brutal. It was hot and there was a lot of climbing as made my way to Smithville. In Sparta, I made a decision that I would kind of regret. I decided to push to Fall Creek Falls State Park. It was another 30 miles or so and would put me closer to Cleveland in the morning. I did not realize that there was going to be a climb of over 2200 feet to slow me down. By the time I got to the turn off for the park I was toast. I stopped at an inn and had dinner with a family from Greensboro. My plan to camp across the street in the community center was spoiled by a sketchy car parked there. So I rode the 4 miles to the campground at Fall Creek Falls-- in the dark. I never like to ride after dark, even though I have lights. But I made it. The campground was nice enough and the park has lots to offer-- waterfalls, a golf course, hiking and backpacking.
Bridge-Fall Creek Falls

Monday was more of the same. I got an awesome downhill to come out of the Cumberland Plateau and a break in Pikeville, but then it was more climbing (photo below)to get to Dayton. 6 miles, 2000 feet and lots of heat. From Dayton, it was about 30 miles to Cleveland. I had to hustle because I wanted to get there before the bike shop closed. I spent all my energy trying to make it to the shop, which I did. They were super nice at Scott's Bikes and let me hang out and cool off. And I got to replace that tire on the trailer.
Range I have to climb

Yesterday was another day that involved lots of climbing. And descending. And then more climbing. I followed the Ocoee River, which I've rafted a few times and which hosted the whitewater competition during the 1996 Olympics. Did you know it was the first Olympic competition held on a natural river? The ride was fine, it was the traffic that was bad. The trucks gave me no room, I was run off the road twice! I've gotten comfortable being passed by 18-wheelers, but these trucks far surpassed my comfort level. They literally scared me off the road.
They want to raft

But I did break into North Carolina. It was nice to smell my homestate. I love the Smokies. I wasn't in North Carolina for long. Dropped down US 19 towards Blairsville, GA. My third state of the day. More up and down. Luckily, my brother found me along the road. He took the trailer and panniers off me and it's amazing how much more efficient I am without the extra weight. I met him down the road at a campground where we set up for the night. Vogel State Park is an excellent park that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a nice outing.
Welcome to NC

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Covering Ground

I'm in my third state in three days. I took a short route through Kentucky and I've also had consecutive days of 112 and 102 miles.

Yesterday was a very easy day. The temperatures were in the lower 90s; a huge relief compared to earlier in the week. I felt strong. The terrain was hilly, but not difficult. I got a ferry ride across the Ohio River into Kentucky. Ate really good fried fish at Dutton's in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois. Passed through some neat little towns in Kentucky and lots of corn, sorghum and tobacco fields.
On the ferry
Kentucky Farm

Here's Matt from Lafayette, CO. That looks like Bella and Bob behind him, but it's actually his bike. Smart guy.
Matt and Baron

Today, I reached Lebanon, TN. Today was harder. I guess yesterday caught up with me. I did, however, regain my legs in the afternoon. Second wind, if you want to call it. I needed it too. Lots of up and downs, some long climbs and more traffic today. Had a great lunch at a very nifty cafe in Springfield, TN. You have to climb this massively steep hill to get to the courthouse (below) and downtown though. Stopped for Happy Hour at Sonic in White House and was a semi-celebrity. Every other person wanted to talk to me and ask about my trip.
Springfield, TN

Earlier in the day, as I was leaving the nice town of Adams, TN, a car pulls up beside me and tells me to stop at the school. I'll be honest, I was a little hesitant. But I talked myself into stopping, because what would anyone want with my stuff, right? Turns out, Allan's wife saw me riding by and Allan jumped in his car to catch me. He had a heart attack last winter and has been in recovery. Next spring, he wants to ride from his home Adams to Moline, IL, where he has family. Allan wanted to pick my brain and talk about bike touring. I think what he wants to do is awesome.

I am so close to being finished. My mindset has changed some. I've become less caught in the journey and more looking at the destination. Part is because I've been on the road for over 6 weeks. I think since I am back in the south, the novelty has worn off too. I'm familiar with where I am, it's not as new a place as Kansas or Idaho. Finally, I am sure I am ready to be done with the heat and humidity.

But I've decided I am going to push past home and go ahead and ride towards the Atlantic. There's gonna be some tough days since I have to climb into the Appalachians and the heat is gonna crank up. But if things go well, I hope to be on the coast by next weekend.

Cross your fingers and continue to keep me in your prayers.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Friends in the land of Popeye

Chester, Illinois is where I crossed the Mississippi River. It's the home of Elzie Segar, the creator of Popeye.
Chester Bridge
After riding 57 miles in triple digit heat, I decided I was going to get a hotel instead of trying to go another 35 miles or so to Carbondale. I stopped into a McDonalds for snacks and because I can get lots of refills easily. While I was sitting there, a lady asked where I was riding to and from. After I told her, she let me know that she had an extra apartment that didn't have a tenant I could stay in that night if I wanted.

They were renovating the apartment, so there was no shower but new carpet. After consulting with her husband, she offered me to stay in a horse trailer in their barn. It was free, she seemed nice enough and she had a little girl with her (Kyleigh) so I said sure.

That was my introduction to Laurie York. After her husband, Louie, got done working, he and Kyleigh (granddaughter) came and picked me up. We loaded the bike in the truck. Louie asked me if I was an axe murderer. I asked Kyleigh if she was an axe murderer. Kyleigh proceeded to talk my ear off-- in the short ride, I learned their entire family history and then some. She's definitely not shy. Very smart beyond her 6 years.
Kyleigh with Cliff and Baron
Laurie and Louie have just moved into this small house in the country that they used to use for a vacation rental. They did not have a spare bedroom, so Louie plugged in the horse trailer and I had a nice air conditioned unit that they use when they take their horses places.
Friends Laurie and Louie
We had a lovely dinner and conversation. We stayed up too late talking. I had a great night of sleep in the trailer. In the morning, a severe storm rolled in so I did not get to leave with Louie like we had planned. Louie had work and Laurie had an appointment and they told me to just stay as long as I needed. By the time the Laurie was ready to leave, the storm had passed and the radar looked clear so I went ahead and left.

I have learned so many lessons from this trip. I have been able to see the best in America. One lesson I have taken is that we should not be too quick to give up on humanity. The Yorks prove that. Holly in Hope, Kansas; Elaine and Dan; the Dejongs; Charlie from Oregon; Justin, Heather and Violet in Idaho help remind me that strangers are sometimes just friends you haven't met yet.


I haven't looked it up, but I think "Missouri" is French for "misery". The last few days were easily among the hardest of the trip.

First, the temperatures have been near record. Triple digits for the last three days. And I've entered humidity, so the heat index has been as high as 115. Even riding at 6:00 AM, while better, is the beginning of A LOT of fluid loss. Somehow, I put in 90 miles on a day where my on bike thermometer read 108.7.

Second, the terrain is tough! The hills are steep and abundant. I was told that Missouri was tough, but I didn't realize how hard it was. For the first time during the trip, I pushed my bike. In the Rockies, I stopped and rested, but never pushed. This grade I estimate to be 13-15 percent and I had not legs and too much weight.

Third, I haven't encountered any canines until Missouri (not including the grey wolf crossing the highway in West Yellowstone and the red fox I spotted near Tribune, KS). In one day, I was chased by four dogs. I don't think any were serious about biting, but still not fun. Two pit bulls cornered me because I happened to stop for a break across from their house.

Not to say everything about Missouri is bad:

Missouri is home to the Katy Trail, which I believe is America's longest rails to trail. It runs from over 220 miles from St. Charles (near St. Louis) to Clinton on the west side of the state. I took it from Sedalia to Boonville, about 45 miles. It's scenic, there's no traffic, relatively flat and takes you through small towns that cater to the trail. I'm still waiting for our trail to get built between Hendersonville and Brevard.
Katy Bridge
I got to visit with Laura Alexander Page, a great friend from high school. She and her husband, Tyler, work for the University of Missouri and came to Boonville and picked me up so I could spend a day with them in Columbia. We had great pizza at Shakespeare's, took naps and went to a cookout.
In Gerald, Missouri, I camped outside the fire station. They called the police chief for permission for me to camp in the city park. The chief said he would come over to talk to me and never showed. So they told me to camp outside the station (which was right next to the park). It was fine, except even with the fly doors open, I could not sleep because it was so hot and muggy.
Farmington is where I got back on the Transamerica Trail. There's a bike hostel there in their old jail. They renovated the upstairs and created one of the nicest hostels I've ever stayed in. It's dedicated to Al Dziewa, a local businessman and cycling enthusiast who lost a battle with cancer. It had clean sheets, laundry, air conditioning, internet, clean baths and secure bike storage. No attendant, you just call the police department for an access code and put a donation in the cash box upstairs. And there were other bikers to share stories and enjoy one another's company. Lots of cities could take a nice lesson from Farmington.

Here's a link to an AJC article about Al's Place.
John and Justin in Farmington
Farmington Bike Hostel