Monday, November 30, 2009
The next morning we awoke, excited to explore the Bay Area. Joe and I had some much needed bicycle maintenance to catch up on but Clancy was ready to go, so he bid us adieu and left us to our work. After getting our steeds in order Joe and I cruised over to Golden Gate Park. I had been to San Fran once before but I had never checked out the west side of the city - it was incredible. Our ride through the park took us alongside the botanical gardens, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the de Young Museum. The shot you see here is of Stow Lake, also inside the park. What marvelous green spaces - the most impressive we had seen since Central Park in NYC. The view of Twin Peaks (the highest point in the city) from this same spot was other-worldly. The silhouette of the hill and the homes built on it’s steep grade looked more like France than something you’d expect to find on the West Coast. This glimpse of the hill cemented our decision to pedal to the top of Twin Peaks to catch the sunset.
The steep climb to the top of the city was worth every once of energy expelled. To the west rested the sprawling Pacific Ocean and to the east the urban backdrop of Northwest San Fran. Watching the sunset on the west coast was as fabulous as viewing the sun rise on the east coast. Nothing was in the way so it appeared as if the sun just fell into the drink, slowly being extinguished and swallowed up by the vast body of water. By this time it was downright chilly so we descended the hill, hit up the intersection of Haight and Ashbury, and hooked back up with Clancy. Clanc had done an impressive amount of sight seeing as well. He had also checked out Golden Gate Park and had ridden from Fisherman’s Wharf to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge all along the coast. Moving once again as a group of three, we jumped on the BART transit system and headed for Neil’s house, Bradley’s brother whom we met in Philadelphia.
Neil lived across the bay in Berkeley with his wife Helise and their two delightful children, Sam and Noah. Upon our arrival they welcomed us warmly and encouraged us to eat, do laundry, and make ourselves at home. Five star treatment I tell ya! After dinner the kids got ready for bed and the rest of us weren’t far behind. The next morning we had a family breakfast and visited some more before Sam got ready for his soccer game. Sam and Noah had time to play some basketball against Clancy - here you can see the players in action. The teams were pretty equally matched, I’m not sure who won in the end. We said our goodbyes and the Berkeley family jumped into their minivan and headed off the to game. What fantastic people.
Next we cycled through town and the magnificent UC Berkeley Campus. Filled with wooded areas and picturesque buildings, the campus was a real treat. From here it was onto the BART and back over to San Fran. We hit up Fisherman’s Wharf for a sourdough bread bowl lunch (filled with clam chowder of course), a San Francisco must. Overstuffed, we continued our ride along the coast towards the Golden Gate, the same route Clancy had taken the day before. Along the way we stopped to check out the Palace of Fine Arts (pictured), a building constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Though I’d been here before I couldn’t help but be wowed by the architectural masterpiece. More was in store on the coastline, including a fascinating wave organ and eventually the red suspension bridge that captivates all that marvel at it. Here, at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge we said farewell to Joe. He planned to visit his brother in Nevada City and it was time for us to make our way up the coast. It was a sad, sad moment indeed. It felt like losing part of yourself - that’s the kind of bond you form with someone when you spend nearly three months biking cross country with them. Sigh… Adios Joe, Godspeed.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
As our train began to climb the Rockies we saw an ever increasing amount of snow. Between the elevation and the white world closing in around us I became quite thankful that we were in the comfort of a climate controlled, engine powered vehicle. Our trip to the top of the continental divide culminated in the Moffat Tunnel, a 6.2 mile shaft bored through the mountain. After ten minutes of darkness we arrived at the other side of daylight to witness a true winter wonderland. Trees and mountaintops lay snuggled deep under thick blankets of snow. It’s worth mentioning that we were only at 9000ft, 2000ft below Monarch Pass, the route our bicycle route would have taken us. Brrr! Our subsequent drop in elevation found us in a series of gorgeous canyons alongside the Colorado River. From towering walls exceeding 1000ft to brilliant red sandstone that gave Colorado it’s name (Colorado means “colored red” in Spanish), we were delivered to Utah by way of these spectacular canyons.
By this time we had familiarized ourselves with our fellow passengers for better or worse. Most all the people on the train were fantastic company and seemed to be enjoying the experience as much as us. One adorable little boy befriended Joe - more specifically Joe and his Iphone. The little dude not only provided conversation for Joe but also an abundance of photos and random train video clips. I reckon that’s what happens when you set an eight year old free with a camera phone for a toy.
As daylight was lost we retired from sightseeing and tried to get some shut eye. Easier said than done perhaps. Sleeping on a train with the constant rumble of the tracks isn’t too easy - luckily we each were able to sprawl out and take up two seats, making it possible to get comfortable enough to snag a few hours of rest. As we dozed the train kept on a rollin’ past Salt Lake City and the Bonneville Salt Flats. We awoke just outside of Reno, luckily minutes before the overly-enthusiastic and exceptionally irritating 8am wake up call provided by the café car attendant. If my waking moments came under the power of her voice I definitely would have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, er… reclining chair. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so bothered by the morning announcement if the Amtrak folks didn’t insist on overheading you the status of the dining car every ten minutes. I guess since food is the only thing they have left to sell you once you’re on the train that they push it pretty hard. This along with the fact that the food is drastically overpriced to the point that you wouldn’t buy it if you weren‘t constantly hounded to do so. We opted to pack PB and J supplies on the train rather than pay 25 dollars for a marginal chicken dinner. In one attempt to kick the PB & J routine I assembled a Frito/mayo sandwich.
In Reno we stopped at a station and were joined by a couple railroad museum tour guides. These folks pointed out notable landmarks and explained historical tidbits regarding the creation and use of the railway. I asked one of the tour guides if he had ever spotted hobos hitching a ride aboard a freight train on the other set of tracks headed east. He verified that he had and to my surprise went on to explain that he had hopped the rails for many years of his life. “Up until about ten years ago I recommended that everyone that was interested in hoping a freightliner go ahead and do so,” he said, “but after 9/11 things got a bit more tricky - now there’s minimum jail time if you’re caught.” This fact might be enough to deter Clanc and I from jumping into a boxcar one day, but I doubt it.
As we began climbing once more, this time up the Sierra Nevadas, we entered the state of California. The snow atop these mountains rivaled the display found on the Rockies - simply beautiful. Upon making our summit at Donner Pass the tour guide recounted the story of the Donner Party and their doomed trip from Illinois to California. I’m glad that we weren’t faced with a similar situation, I’m not sure who would have survived by resorting to cannibalism among the three of us. The thought didn’t sit well, especially since I tend to do pretty poorly without eating.
Before long we arrived in Sacramento and eventually Emeryville, the last stop on the line. From here we had to take a 20minute bus ride over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. We were happy to be getting off the train having spent the last 35 hours on board. We were not happy to deal with the less than helpful Amtrak staff and bus driver. They almost failed to load our bikes on the bus and were downright rude when we enquired about the bus stop closest to our final destination. We ended up jumping off at the first stop which was the Ferry Building, nearly getting into fisticuffs with the driver as we disembarked. Not the best welcome to San Fran.
Friday, November 27, 2009
The next day Clancy, Joe, and myself set out to explore what Denver had to offer. We walked our bikes down 16th street, the pedestrian and bus thoroughfare, steeping in the city atmosphere. It’s interesting the different vibes you get from areas when you slow down and take time to listen. For instance, Boston feels different than Chicago, New York is a world away from Philadelphia, etc. Anyway, Denver had a good feel to it. After wandering the strip and checking out some architecture we headed down to the Auraria Campus, home to three Denver colleges. The walkways were bustling with students and activity. All this roaming about eventually made us hungry (and thirsty!) so we opted to grab a bite and head down to the Great Divide Brewing Company. This award winning establishment gave tours of their small operation which was a definite plus. After the tour we sampled several of their taps and each decided on our favorite pint. I selected their “Yeti” stout, one of the most delicious dark beers I have tasted to date. Luckily the fun for the evening was just getting started. We returned to Andrew’s place and made a store run in preparation for a get-together later that night. Clancy and Andrew acquired a “dirty 30” of Pabst and Joe and I went out for groceries. As night closed in, people filled the backyard and we started a fire in the pit out back. A jolly time was had by all as we talked bicycles and partook of more Pabst than necessary.
In the morning, Andrew offered us a Denver tour which we gladly accepted. The day started with the best breakfast we had eaten all trip from a restaurant called the Watercourse. Everything was homemade - from the bread, to the preserves, to the most amazing home fries I have ever tasted. They even produced the ketchup in-house, incredible! Needless to say my eggs were cooked to perfection. With full bellies, Andrew led us downtown on some great bike routes. He asked us if we wanted to bomb 18th street. Sure, why not? From the top of the hill we picked up speed and began catching light after light for over 20 blocks. I didn’t look down at my speedometer as we weaved through traffic but I can tell you that we were moving along at a decent clip. When we got to the bottom I only had one question - can we do that again!? From here we dropped by Coors Field (pic) and Union Station before stopping in at Cycle Analyst, the bike shop where Scotty works. Scotty gave us a full tour of the establishment, even the buildings in back. I lost count of how many rooms of parts, frames, forks, and wheels we wandered though. There was enough hardware to build an army of cycles. Hats off to Scotty for sharing his workplace and knowledge. After Scotty got off work we all met up and had dinner at the Vine street Pub. More good food and beer, oh dear! I could get used to this. That night we stayed up late and socialized some more, attempting to put off the fact that our train was set to leave early the next morning. We said our sad goodbyes and hit the sack. We felt like we were leaving home.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
It wasn’t long before we spotted the sign you see here. We took it as a healthy perspective - only later did we find out that this area had suffered a disastrous fire less than two years ago. The reconstruction is still in progress. We had a chance to visit extensively with a lady that lost her previous home in the blaze. Actually, she hosted us! Her name was Gillian and we had the pleasure of meeting her through the super awesome clerk at the library. Once at her place she put us up proper in her 5th wheel, a setup especially for folks doing work exchange and cross-country cyclists like us. Speaking of work exchange, Gillian introduced us to helpx.net, a site that allows you to connect with folks around the globe. Work and Travel in New Zealand anyone? We had the pleasure of doing some work around Gillian’s place, which is great since we are rarely able to repay our hosts. Clancy and Joe dug and backfilled the electrical trench you see here. I got off easy and helped Gillian install some sliding glass doors. Ah teamwork. Also worthy of mention, her place was a wildlife refuge of sorts, home to dogs, goats, horses, and a large number of injured and recuperating turkeys and geese. Gillian was indeed an awesome lady and quite the adventurer herself. She had traveled all over the world and sailed extensively. We had quite the time socializing and cooking spaghetti in her house that evening.
The next day we rolled into Pueblo, Colorado. We had been in contact with Chris and Danny, attendee and pastor of a local church that was happy to put us up for the night. We scurried through a sketchy section of road construction as nightfall was closing in, arriving at the church just in time to join the potluck in progress. Let me tell you, people pulled out all the stops for this dinner. We sampled everything from cornbread and chili, to pasta, to more than our share of desserts. Funny how food seems to find us (or is it the other way around?). After overstuffing ourselves we enjoyed a bible study before watching a couple VHS movies and proceeded to crash out from fullness and exhaustion. It had been a number of days since our last rest day so we opted to lay low the next morning. We watched a De Niro flick over an extended breakfast and eventually filtered outside. Clancy explored Pueblo on bike while Joe and myself took advantage of the library. A lazy day felt great for the legs.
In the morn we mounted up on our rested steeds and started making our way north to Denver where we planned to catch the Amtrak to San Fran. The scenery did not disappoint. We were surrounded by mountains for the first time following the Ozarks and boy did it feel good. In addition to the terrain we laid eyes on the world’s largest rocking chair - 21 feet and weighing over 9,000 pounds, it seemed like a proper chair for Paul Bunyan. That night we scoped out the Colorado College campus in Colorado Springs. While we were enjoying a live funk bank in the student union a fellow approached us and introduced himself as Luke. Having toured himself he was easily able pick us out as bicycle traveling types (I’d normally chalk it up to us not showing frequently but we were each fortunate enough to have taken one that morning). Luke invited us to the Synergy House just down the way where some people were gathering that night. We kindly accepted and showed up a bit later in time to meet Jack and his fellow housemates. Everyone was super friendly and excited to have us. We had the pleasure of meeting Daniel and Lisbet at the Synergy House as well. Daniel had traveled from Argentina clear up to New England over the last year and a half on bicycle. What an epic Journey! He couldn’t say enough good things about South and Central America despite some people’s hesitation to visit such areas. Before saying our goodnights Daniel, Lisbet, and Luke offered to accompany us on a ride out to the Garden of the Gods the following morning. We graciously accepted and found ourselves on some great bike paths on the way to the garden the next day. The Garden of the Gods is a geological masterpiece. Fault lines have stood horizontal bands of sandstone vertically, resulting in a series of rocky spines that must be seen to be believed. The sight was the most impressive since Glacier National Park. Check out our photo gallery for more pictures - definitely worth a look. Departing from the garden, we pedaled toward Manitou Spring where we enjoyed naturally carbonated mineral water and some music from a character named “Grandpa Taylor.” Soon afterward we said our sad goodbyes to our tour guides and new friends. After grocery shopping and hitting up REI we began riding once again with daylight quickly fading. We opted to ride late into the night on a dirt path that cut through the Air Force Academy. This might not have been the best decision in the end. I foolishly rode ahead of Clancy and Joe using only moonlight to illuminate my way given that my headlight was on the fritz. I ended up ramming straight into a low gate that snuck up on me; sadly it was chained solidly to a concrete reinforcement so there wasn’t much give to the sucker. As I came to an abrupt halt the rear end of my bike lifted clear up, attempting to catapult me over the gate. I still don’t know how I didn’t end up flying over the handlebars. Instead I found myself awkwardly dismounting the bike to the left while still holding the controls. The arse of the bike came crashing down next to me, both of us standing upright. I was lucky to escape with only a sprained thumb. The bike didn’t fare as well and suffered a severely smashed (but still rideable) front wheel and a bent frame right behind the head tube.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
As we rolled through the small town of Dighton we heard some hoots and hollers coming from the opposite side of the road. At first we thought the locals were just razzing us but one of the gang was yelling: “Come have a beer for the road!” He had our attention. We introduced ourselves and found their hospitality and Keystone Light quite delightful. We talked about Halloween Plans (today was the 31st, yikes!) and nearby things to check out. One of the fellows had a Ripstick, half skateboard-half rollerblade doohickey that we all tried to ride. Ripstick skill seemed to be positively correlated with alcohol consumption. Can’t blame us for trying! Before we departed the gentleman operating the barbeque on the porch asked, “You guys ever had an armadillo egg?” No sir, never have - I was under the impression that they didn’t lay eggs. Turns out he was referring to a jalapeno popper (mmm cream cheese) wrapped in bacon. It was the perfect parting gift. That night we had a low key Halloween in a nearby hostel of sorts. Nothing seemed to be going on in town. We couldn’t help but sigh and think of last year’s awesome Eugene Halloween. At least the sunsets in Kansas are beautiful.Something funny happened the next day as we entered Tribune, Kansas. As you can tell from the picture, Main street was completely torn up. Not too odd I suppose. Not a single person was out on “the strip.” Again, not super creepy in itself. What was disturbing: music was blasting from every lamp post mounted speaker (see pic). Not just any music - Britney Spear’s “Hit me Baby One More Time.” As we rolled past all the motionless buildings with our three loaded down bicycles we couldn’t help but wonder if we were on some kind of reality TV show. Ok Ashton, we‘ve been Punked, now come out from behind one of the buildings! He never showed. The shot you see here is us waking up the next morning - I wish the white dusting was another prank, one done with confectioner’s sugar. Instead it was very real, very cold frost, which explains why Clancy and I remain in larva form (thanks to Joe for the chilly photo credit ;).
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The following afternoon John made contact with a gentleman named Charles through a friend of a friend. Charles was eager to have us and we rolled in late that evening. We were greeted by warm hellos and offers of cigarettes. Though we declined the cancer sticks, the hospitality was indicative of the entire household. We conversed with all the roommates about topics from stand up comedy to Salvador Dali and Surrealism. Turns out everyone who lived under the roof was a teacher, all of them raised as Mennonites, which mixed up a fine cultural cocktail that we happily partook of. Speaking of cocktails, we also gained more insight into 3.2% beer and the mess of liquor laws across our country that vary by state. It made me miss Oregon where you can walk into the grocery store (even on a Sunday) and buy an honest to goodness brew. Maybe I’m just an alcoholic.
Just down the line in Seward the next night we began speaking with a fellow on the street named Bryan. We got to talking about Kansas, all the places he had lived, and the Seabee’s (a military unit he was part of). Fascinating character; turns out he owned the better part of the commercial and residential buildings in this municipality. When he learned that we were hunting for a camp spot he offered us a house he was fixing up just down the lane. A warm fireplace and a fridge full of beer awaited us. He gave us a brief tour, told us to make ourselves at home, and said he would be by later to hang out for a while. When he did return we were well into the beer (don’t worry, we made a run to the liquor store - we didn’t want to drink all of his!). Our new travel companion John, quite the musician, had already been playing us some tunes with a harmonica, guitar, and tambourine. Talk about a one-man band! Then Bryan dropped into the jam session. It was one of those moments that wish you had a video camera with a boom mic setup. The musical creation unfolding in front of our eyes and ears was something to behold. Bryan played us some songs he had written himself, as did John afterward. The scenario made me wish I could contribute something - then again, my ears were having such a great time just soaking in the surroundings. We wound down the evening with some discussion of religion and politics (the two generally forbidden topics) and crashed out happy.
The next day we woke up and rode our bicycles - surprise! Excuse the sarcasm - what I’m getting at here is that we ride our bikes nearly every darn day so I kind of take it as a given. I’ve read too many blogs that do little more than regurgitate the details of the daily ride. I’m thinking (and hoping) that you might be more interested in other aspects aside from how many times our pedals circle the crank each day. Plenty of interesting stuff does happen on the road however. For instance, on this particular day John treated us to some roadside yoga while Joe practiced the art of Zen and bicycle maintenance in the form of changing a flat tire. Both John and Joe are Yoga masters of sorts (though they wouldn’t admit to more than taking a few classes) and we appreciated their sharing of knowledge. Here you can see John flying Clancy like some kind of upside-down bird. How’s that back feel Clanc? Better now I’m guessing. I also mentioned that John is a talented musician - this is a skill that doesn’t stop working when John jumps on a bicycle. He was known to wear his harmonic holder, mount a tambourine on his handlebars, and have a bucket on the rear of his bike as a makeshift drum, all so he could continue the melody while he was riding! I can’t imagine trying to make anything resembling music while riding down the road, I fall off enough as it is. My hat is off to you John.
That night we crashed at the Zion Lutheran church in Hutchinson after Joe dropped off his new bicycle to have the derailers adjusted. Having yet another indoor place to sleep that included a kitchen was really beginning to spoil us - perhaps we were getting a little soft? We had some couscous and veggies, hit the sack, and tried to have dreams that we were snow camping and still hardcore (not really). We awoke the next morning with no intent to get started at the crack of dawn (did I mention it was cold!?) and took our time gathering our things and Joe’s bicycle. On the way into town the previous day we had passed a huge air and space museum called the Cosmosphere - why not check it out while we were here? The facility had been compared to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC so we were certainly glad we decided to drop in. As soon as you step into the lobby of the building you are greeted by real-life SR-71 spy plane, the fastest aircraft on the planet at mach 3.3 (2,200 mph). I was impressed - I think the little guy in the picture was too. Other exhibits included rocket engines, lunar rovers, art murals, and space suit underwear (think pampers). Heck of a place for a world-renowned space center if you ask me.
The following day we were afforded another touristy treat. Larned, Kansas, site of Fort Larned, was a reinforcement established in 1860 to safeguard traffic on the Sante Fe Trail. Everyone back home is familiar with the Oregon Trail but we didn’t learn about the flow of goods and people between Independence, Mo and Santa Fe back in grade school. The acquisition of land from the Mexican-American War and early gold rushes served to boost trail traffic. Native Americans didn’t take kindly to the new interstate through their front yard and in response to their retaliation the US Military became involved. The preserved and renovated fort provided fascinating insight into the daily lives of Indians and soldiers of the era. Empty barracks and hospital quarters illustrated the seriousness of the situation and frankly were more than a little creepy. I bought an “inedible souvenir” portion of hard tack at the gift shop, the infamous cracker of yesteryear that soldiers were rumored to be less than fond of. I didn’t think it was so bad - then again I didn’t have to eat a pound of it a day in place of fresh bread. I’ll let you judge for yourself based on Joe and Clancy’s facial expressions.
That night the hosting streak came to an abrupt and tragic halt. Frozen and soaked from the persistent rain, we crawled into a tavern in the little “town” of Rush Center around 5 PM. Not one of the locals spoke to us that night, excepting the not so friendly waitress and the downright hostile bartender. Perhaps we were sitting and drying our wares at the favorite corner table. We attempted, unsuccessfully, to warm ourselves up with round after round of Keystone Light before slipping into a combine garage five hours later (a regular two-star sleeping setup). In the morn we faced more sadness. John had decided that he was to continue riding over the Rockies, the rest of us already having made up our minds to not gamble on the weather (and frostbite!). With a decent looking forecast ahead, John reasoned that he shouldn’t dilly-dally any longer than necessary and charged onward, once again making us a party of three. We wished him the very best and a safe trip over the mountains.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Though it treated us well, Kansas was not all daises and daffodils. Joe’s bike began acting up once more as soon as we crossed the state line, the rear wheel again at fault. By this time it was nickel-and-diming him to the extent that money for replacement parts might be better spent on a new bicycle. We flagged down a truck so that Joe wouldn’t be forced to ride on his crippled wheel and continued riding without him, on toward Pittsburg, Kansas. Along the way Clancy and I were faced with a road outage. The detour around the construction zone was a full eight miles so we thought we would proceed as usual, riding straight through on the closed road. This might or might not have been the best approach in retrospect. The tricky part of this scenario was that the missing section of road we needed to use was an overpass that crossed over a busy interstate. We began by riding up a muddy slope where the ramp to the bridge would have been. Clancy managed to plow through despite accumulating a substantial amount of mud. I didn’t fare so well; the minimal clearance between my wheels and fenders soon proved to be inadequate and my forward progress ground to a halt. I was soon kicking my front fender trying to free the wheel of accumulated earth, cursing like a sailor all the while. Having eventually made it down to the four lane thoroughfare we were now faced with a real life game of Frogger. Luckily, the road crossing went smoothly and the bank on the other side was not as treacherous as the first. Next time we arrive at a detour we might think twice about short-cutting (but I doubt it).
Once we arrived in Pittsburg we met back up with Joe who had since decided to order a brand new touring bicycle. Exciting news! This meant that we had a few days to kill while awaiting delivery of said bicycle. We made a beeline for the post office as we were expecting a slew of care packages. We were not disappointed - in addition to clothing and snacks sent from home, Craig and Ronda (from Kentucky) had sent a parcel weighing over ten pounds, chalk full of goodies. So impressive was the bounty that we felt the need to catalog it. Huge thanks to our parents, Craig, and Ronda! It was at the post office in the process of loading up our loot that we met Charles the dental technician. He inquired about our travels and was tickled to discover that Joe was indeed a dentist. This prompted him to invite us over to his lab/clinic for a tour - what a treat! After giving us some hands on experience in the dental laboratory Charles asked us where we were staying for the night. We shrugged our shoulders and explained that we more often than not camp in an out-of-the-way location. Almost immediately he marched us down to the basement. “This is where you guys are sleeping for the night,” instructed Charles, “How long are you in town for?” We explained to him the predicament of Joe’s bike and that we would be around until Thursday. “The place is yours until then,” said Charles with a smile. Exceedingly grateful to be sleeping indoors, we thanked him enthusiastically. We walked back up to ground level and were introduced to Charles’ grandson, Ian. After shooting the breeze for a while we inquired about his killer looking WRX in the parking lot. “You guys want to go for a ride?” he probed. We hopped into the sleek, white STI (top trim level of WRX) and found ourselves scooting swiftly down the highway. I soon realized that this was one of the quickest cars I had ever ridden in; that’s when we found the beautifully banked 90 degree corner. Our bodies tensed as we wondered if the forces of gravity and the all-wheel drive would hold us against the tarmac. I was at full pucker. It was apparent that Ian had competed in a local autocross competition earlier that day, our knuckles white as the car’s paintjob from gripping the armrests.
The next morning we headed down to the bike shop for some routine maintenance as well as to wrap up Joe’s bike order. A fully loaded bicycle laid against the outside of the building, stacked with more gear than any of our mounts. A bearded fellow stepped outside and approached the compilation of steel and cargo. His name was John and he was riding to San Francisco on the same route as us. After learning this tidbit of information he inquired if we would mind some extra company. Not at all good sir, not at all - we welcomed the opportunity of being four strong, especially considering John’s intriguing background as a sailor and musician. He had already crossed the Atlantic four times under sail and played most instruments found under the sun. While John wrapped up some business at the bike shop us three amigos headed down to Pitt State University to check out the campus and dining hall. With the intent of relaxing over the next couple days, catching up on the blog, and consuming some pop culture in the form of movies, life was good.
That night Charles extended us a most unique opportunity. “You guys should head out to my lake house and stay there a couple nights if you’d like.” Still in awe, we unanimously decided to accept. We loaded up in his El Camino and motored down the road to the next town over. Arriving after dark, we settled in, fixed some supper and watched the movie “Gran Torino,” the newest Eastwood flick (highly recommended). The next morning the crew headed back to Pittsburg to pick up Joe’s new steed and I took the day to explore the property and catch up on some writing. The placement of the house on the lake was magnificent indeed but perhaps the most picturesque feature to be seen was the tree in the back yard, aglow with the fiery colors of fall. The vacation house was like a sanctuary for our souls that last night. So very peaceful indeed. We awoke the next morning and reluctantly peddled off , Joe on his new bicycle, journeying away from a piece of paradise in Kansas.
Luckily it didn’t take long for us to stumble across another warm and delightful set of accommodations. That night we cruised into Chanute where John struck up conversation with a young man outside the Fire Escape Coffee House. Turns out the warehouse sized facility was home to a Christian youth center and recording studio. The coordinator, a gentleman named Mark, gained word of our travels from the fellow John had been speaking with and invited us in out of the cold. He showed us around the giant building, complete with massive rec room and four bedroom apartment where we would be staying (this space is typical occupied by Christian bands that come to play in this venue - several of which we had heard of). Mark also told us the inspiring story behind the youth center, namely how it was funded by donations from the local community. From the sounds of it, the area really needed a place like this to positively influence adolescents given an abundance of nearby drug activity. Mark and his wife Marilyn deserve a medal for the blood sweat and tears they have put into making the center a reality. We stayed up late that evening hanging out with youth group, playing games like pool, foosball, and ping pong. In the AM we departed, taking a moment to scope out the fascinating sculpture you see here before leaving town. It was dedicated to Octave Chanute, the gentleman that wrote the book that the Wright brothers used to construct their flyer. The whole framework behaved as a giant mobile, moving with the wind. What a fascinating tribute.
From Popeye’s home it was just a skip over the Mississippi river into Missouri. Here you can see the largest barge arrangement we have witnessed the entire trip, proving the waterway is still vital to interstate commerce. It should be noted that while the sign for Missouri bears the slogan “The Show me State,” we were unable to determine the origin of this clever nickname (though we thought of some inappropriate examples). Perhaps it indicates that we should have booked a tour guide before entering the commonwealth? Maybe one day I will consult Wikipedia.
One thing you don’t need a tour guide to discover in Missouri is a plethora of armadillo carcasses. Prior to this trip my only hands-on armadillo experience was a horrific basket fashioned from one of the critters that sat on our entertainment center. Judging by their numbers, the poor creatures really seem to struggle with crossing the road safely. In addition to loads of expired armadillos we also spotted a number of ancient looking miniature turtles and even one tarantula. Who knew Missouri roadsides harbored so many intriguing species?
As the flat levees of the Mississippi gave way to rolling hills we found ourselves climbing into the Ozark Mountains. The fall colors were beautiful and served to keep our minds off of the seemingly endless roller-coaster terrain. Unfortunately, the roads lacked any kind of overlooks and the one magnificent clearing was atop a ridge where the rain was pouring down and I dared not pull out my camera. You’ll have to make due with this dozer snapshot. It was also in the Ozarks that we met Ian, fellow cycle tourist and adventure traveler. In addition to making his own panniers (see pic) he had hopped several trains in the not so distant past, something that Clancy has taken a fancy to lately. We invited Ian to ride with us since he seemed like a really chill guy. To our chagrin, he accepted our offer and rode with us for a few hours until his bike began experiencing mechanical difficulties. Since he wasn’t too far from home he was able to call his mom who was kind enough to come pick him up (mom’s are great like that!). We were sad to loose our newly acquired fourth riding buddy but were thankful that he had transportation. Luckily, we hadn’t seen the last of Ian. That night we pulled into the small town of Eminence and began sorting out food and lodging arrangements. While we were standing in front of the market Ian walked up to us with his mother (and savior) Lisa. “Hi Guys!” chimed Ian. “Would you care to join us for dinner, I just ordered a pizza,” followed Lisa. Hardly in a position to refuse, we graciously accepted and soon found ourselves inhaling some fabulous pizza pie. Despite our poor manners and the fact that we hadn’t showered in days, Ian and Lisa put up with us astoundingly well. We were thrilled to have the company and were sad when it came time to say our farewells. They even offered to have us crash at their place but they lived a full 40 miles away. We probably should have taken them up on their offer though; we ended up spending the night in an exceptionally sketchy picnic shelter. Numerous cars pulled up throughout the night, likely surprised to find us in “their spot.”
A couple days later down the line in the little town of Ash Grove we had much better luck finding shelter - this time at an Orthodox church appropriately named “Unexpected Joy Chapel.” Father Moses was happy to have us in the recently constructed sanctuary. We soon found out that he wasn’t your average Father of the faith. Moses had lived on a commune, had a son working in Antarctica, and was related to Daniel Boone. He extended an invite to the local Afro American Heritage Museum for the following morning and left us to our dinner plans. We promptly loaded up at the grocery store and returned to start cooking a feast of monumental proportions. There were chicken breasts, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, vegetables, and a beautiful salad prepared by Joe. Clancy made sure we didn’t go hungry for dessert by whipping up some brownies. It was the most proper family dinner that the three of us had created together. The next morning after some omelets we made our way down to the Afro American Heritage Museum. What Father Moses failed to mention was that he is the establishment’s curator and sole proprietor. He had set aside his morning just to give us a tour of the museum, and boy howdy did we get a tour. The downtown building was brimming with slavery artifacts, underground railroad memorabilia, and books containing family history that really belonged in the Smithsonian. You see, Father Moses is a direct descendant of slaves and his passion is sharing with others the lives of those that were held in captivity and some of their ironic freedoms. It would be easy for someone in his position to perhaps be angry, accusatory, and resentful but Moses didn’t come off like this in the slightest. His presence was something to behold - I suppose that’s why National Geographic had done a special on his museum and a biographical documentary narrated by James Earl Jones is in the works.
In Berea, just after Craig and Ronda’s, we were put into contact with Jessica and Charlie, students at Berea College. Our new found friend Enchanta from DC had made the arrangement actually - we heard from about five of her friends in town, all of them excited to visit and put us up for the night. We owe you big Enchanta! We had a great time socializing with Jessica and Charlie that evening and the next morning they wished us a fine farewell before our departure with hugs for all. On campus we had the opportunity to visit with Ben, a fellow that had ridden to Alaska where he worked for a summer. He was part of the bike co-op on campus and made sure our steeds were all set before we departed. There were some cool bikes being built at the co-op, we wished we could have rode away on a couple of them.
In Springfield, KY we visited the Lincoln homestead where Thomas and Nancy Lincoln (parents of Abraham Lincoln) were married and first settled. Later down the line in Hodgenville we scoped out Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Park, the location of the family Sinking Spring Farm. Both sites offered fascinating historical nuggets but the spring and the memorial at the birthplace site were the real highlights in my opinion. Gaining insight into the life of one of our most beloved presidents was certainly a delicious sample of culture.
In Bardstown we were in for quite the treat. The town is regarded as the bourbon capital of the world. Several top distilleries can be found here including Makers Mark, Jim Beam, and Heaven Hill. We visited Heaven Hill, maker of over 200 varieties of whiskey and winner of the 2009 International Whiskey Visitor Center award. We watched an informational film and took a tour of the rick-houses where they age the bourbon. Then came the fun part; we shuffled into the tasting room and were each seated in front of two small glasses of gorgeous amber liquid. Our tour guide explained the characteristics of the flowing gold that we were about to partake of. He then covered the procedure of adding just a few drops of water to the bourbon (they call the water “branch” in this case - probably because “bourbon and branch” sounds cool like “water and whiskey“). Turns out that adding a touch of agua is the preferred way to enjoy bourbon, as a small amount helps to enhance the aroma and flavor of the beverage. First up was the Evan Williams (aged 12 years), which can be enjoyed as a mixer or sipping bourbon. The flavor was bold with substantial bite. Next up was the Elijah Craig (aged 18 years - the oldest single barrel bourbon in the world). The Elijah is regarded as a sipping bourbon and we soon found out why. The extra aging had not only increased the alcoholic content but also mellowed out the finish substantially. The distinct vanilla flavor contributed by the white oak barrel helped to make the drink smoother than Clancy in a room full of NFL cheerleaders. We ended up enjoying the Elijah Craig so much that we felt compelled to buy a bottle. Here you can see us pictured with our prize outside the Bourbon Heritage Center. Another round anyone?
West of Bardstown we soaked in the beauty of more fantastic Amish farmland. We had the (mis)fortune of getting stuck behind an Amish carriage which actually turned out to be quite comical. The horse was clipping along at the same pace that we typically run at so we were hesitant to pass, fearing that we might be tailgated by a 19th century buggy. Instead we decided to be the tailgaters. We rode behind the Amish family for a good six miles. Once in a while we would spot the little boy’s head peeking out the side of the carriage, just to make sure we were still there.
In the middle of (somewhere) we happened across a go-cart track that was closed down. Testosterone was involved, some mild trash talking ensued, and a good old fashion tire-squealing race took place as a result. We must have looked like a few middle school hooligans skipping out of class. A great time was had by all. Joe was crowned the ultimate victor but there was some debate as to the legitimacy of his course cutting, er… route selection. Clancy won the award for dirtiest racer, nearly putting me into the wall in turn three. Seriously though, we hadn’t had this much fun since our shenanigans at the Troutville city park.
Prior to entering the Shawnee National Forest we dropped by Cave in Rock State Park. Though by no means a Mammoth Cave, the cavern was quite large and unique. The main chamber looked like it would make one heck of an amphitheatre; party anyone? Judging by some of the litter it looked like someone beat me to the idea. Another cool thing about the park was that we had to take a ferry to get to it - we never say no to a boat ride!
On some random farmland we saw the biggest horns I have ever laid eyes on. They happened to be attached to a rather large bull, one that I was not in a hurry to jump in a pasture with . Though impressive, I didn’t envy his masculinity ornaments - can you imagine the weight involved and the resulting neck-aches? I hope he has a good chiropractor.
Friday, November 6, 2009
As the rain started to fall in the Wal-Mart parking lot our savior came and rescued us from it all. Her name was Ronda, and with her husband’s (Craig) permission they invited us to their empty nest for the night. Because that bad storm lasted multiple days we were able join them for several great home cooked meals and a coal production tour. Between being spoiled with wonderful food and an in-depth hands on experience in the coal field, we were both spoiled rotten. Home cooking is hard to come by on the road so we had to stock up. Ronda prepared something called drunken chicken which is cooked vertically in a contraption that holds a can of beer. Boy did that taste great with all the fixings, it was quite the treat! The next morning she proceeded to outdo herself again with savory omelets that were to die for. These were only a couple of the great meals that stuck out. Craig shared with as a great song by Andrew Kerr (album: Rock Start) which depicted his life and the life in the HR department of Consol Energy. The song is about Andrew (former investment advisor) going with Craig to the coal mines to talk about the investment opportunities and the funny stories that followed involving gun collections (Craig showed us about ten of his thirty guns - I liked his Colt 1911 best), speeding, and of course hunting for Mr. Big. You can listen to a clip of the song here - I would encourage you to purchase it, it's only a buck on Amazon! *Author's note: You might notice that Joe is not pictured with Ronda and Craig because he had to ride ahead to pick up a package. Poor, poor Joe (we met back up with him for the next section).
Mammoth Cave National Park detour was really worth the extra effort and time. On the 85 mile spur route there were a lot of interesting sideshow attractions, all of them trying to extract the money from your back pocket before you got to the caves. There must have been a hundred billboards - ranging from dinosaur parks, rocks for sale, and all sorts of other cave tours and the like. Once in the park we made our way to the ticket booth and purchased a lantern tour which turned out to be really amazing. The tour was actually not even a part of Mammoth Cave, but a separate cave system called the Great Onyx. It had a wide range of features from dry and sparkly to wet with a lot of formations. The second tour was of the New Entrance to Mammoth Cave (largest cave system in the world!). It also had diverse wet and dry areas but what was most spectacular was the last room, Frozen Niagara. This room was filled with all sorts of formations like draperies, stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstone. It was absolutely stunning.
The last great meal of Kentucky should have been called Thanksgiving dinner. There was a complete Thanksgiving feast in the oven staying warm for us when we rolled up. What a treat! Bob and Violet have been cooking for bikers and letting them stay in the First Baptist Church of the Sebree youth center for a very long time. They were recently recipients of the June Curry trail angel award. This honorable form of recognition is given to one host annually, reserved for people that go above and beyond the call of duty and really make bikers feel at home.
The last night in Kentucky was spent on the rim of the “Grand Canyon of the South” in Breaks Interstate Park. This park was absolutely grand, not only in sheer size but in absolute beauty. Definitely a great way to end the state of Kentucky, being that the start was not too positive.
On a completely unrelated note, it was recently brought to my attention that our charity donations were temporarily closed. The issue has since been resolved and donations will be processed all the way up through Christmas day. Thanks to everyone that's contributed!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Upon returning to the bike shop we picked up Joe’s now healthy steed and headed over to Perrin JR’s place, the reason we came to Blacksburg in the first place (Perrin is the Daughter of the Thompson‘s, the Montana Family that adopted us). Her and her three delightful roommates are VTech students that just happen to have a stripper pole in their front room. When we showed up they were working out (not on the pole - don’t worry, this isn’t going where you think it is). We got a tour of their place and I got to play Perrin in a game of tennis. She beat me without much trouble but my ego escaped relatively intact (unfortunately). Perrin was a great host, offering us all sorts of refreshments before giving us all a hug and sending us on our way to the bicyclist get-together we got word of earlier.
We arrived at Don’s house after checking in with Bret, excited to visit with a group of fellow cross country cyclists. The function that night was a housewarming party of sorts. A gentleman by the name of Mason was temporarily moving into the sag wagon (support trailer) that the group had used to transport gear during the latest cross country voyage. For this reason the shindig was coined the .5 party (.5 referring to the address of the trailer currently parked behind Don’s house). Don’s story is an incredibly inspiring one. His mother has been living with MS and he found a way to turn his passion for bicycle touring into a fund-raising effort aimed at battling the disease. His first tour was an unsupported one across the Northern Tier and since then he has coordinated two crossings with the mentioned support trailer and a larger group of people. Don tells me that he already has five people signed up for the next tour set for this spring - more info here. Anyhoo, we had an incredible time helping empty the keg of Pabst that night and visiting with all the awesome folks in attendance. We talked to Don’s boss who showed up, a hippie turned manager. He was quoted as saying “I grew up hating ‘the man,’ now I am the man.” I suppose you would have to see his driver’s license with his shaggy long hair to get the full dosage of irony associated with this statement. Kristen, one of Don’s terrific roommates, had a number of pets including a tortoise and a couple of foster dogs. Don also had an awesome salt water fish tank (pictured) complete with tropical fish, shrimp, and an abundance of beautiful coral. The .5 party is also where I met Sara, one of the most awesome gals you’ll ever have the pleasure of getting to know.
In the morning we awoke late (and quite slowly if I might add) to have Don prepare us a fantastic blueberry pancake breakfast. What a way to start the new day! The Nebraska Corn Huskers were in town for a football match up so we figured we might blunder down to the stadium and check out the tailgating scene. Fans were out in full force, not a single one of them sober. We didn’t walk 50 feet before being offered a beer, then another, then another. Needing to get some more food in our bellies by this time we stumbled into some gentlemen that had barbequed two whole pigs overnight. There were also beans galore, chips, and dessert to be had. These fellows had already fed close to 75 people I would guess. In the process of gorging, our festivities were interrupted when a few police officers ventured up with some questions. “We got a report that three bicycles matching this description were recently involved in a purse snatching,” said one of the officers. Another larger (read: porky) officer on bicycle eyed us simultaneously - it didn’t look like he had on bicycle patrol very long if you catch my drift. I nearly broke out laughing, thinking to myself how many bicycles on campus might actually resemble ours (loaded down with pounds of gear) and what terrific get away vehicles they would make at 12 mph. They ran all of our information and we came out clean (except for one hiccup with Joe’s record - did I mention he was running from something? Joking of course!). Having done their job for the day, the cops helped themselves to some food as well - seems like they could have saved themselves (and us!) a lot of trouble by just asking to dine in the first place. In the end we can’t complain, Blacksburg treated us ridiculously well.