Friday, August 11, 2006

Day 79: 14 miles, Aug 5

These 14 miles were the slowest and the fastest of the whole trip. Because the end was so near, they seemed to go on forever, but when I finally reached victory monument in Yorktown, I found myself wishing there were more miles to do.

It was a beautiful way to end. The weather was certainly warm, but the extreme heat had abated a little. The Colonial Parkway, which covers most of the ride between Williamsburg and Yorktown, is about as scenic as it gets. And, as I entered Yorktown, it dawned on me how well Adventure Cycling has planned this route. Here, at the end, was the place that the British navy surrendered to the combined naval forces of the American colonies and France. I had, in effect, just traveled backwards through my country’s history. Wonderful!

Just as the last 14 miles were a dichotomy of speed, so have these four days since the end of the ride been an oxymoron of time. Day 79 feels like last year, yet I cannot bring myself to empty my handlebar bag. That bag was all I needed to contain my important daily items for 80 days (wallet, snacks, pellet gun), and now I have to think about deck furniture?! Whatever objections my adventurous spirit may raise, however, my life inexorably returns to its former state of complexity, but I know that, as the months pass, I’ll continue to long very much for that simple way of things where all I had to do was eat, sleep, and ride.

Ode to my Mojo

I’d like to take a moment to thank my faithful friend, the tiki mask wired to the head tube of my bicycle. It was a gift to me from my parents and sister while we were vacationing in Guatemala. I had the real version of Montezuma’s revenge. Tiki was there.

The tiki was also there during my stint as a Manhattan bicycle messenger. He was attached to the head tube of a different bike, my aluminum Cannondale, and saw me through three collisions with taxis and countless deliveries.

I’m not really superstitious, but I guess it’s good to have a little rabbit’s foot every now and then.

Day 78: 50 miles, Aug 4

I can’t believe that I don’t have any pictures from this day. It was very eventful! Maybe there was just too much happening for me to remember to get out the camera.

We awoke early at the church and got going around 6:30. By noon we had covered 45 miles – I was very impressed with my dad’s fitness. He is 62 years old after all! The rides was virtually ruler-flat as it proceeded towards the James River area. There were many plantations along the way.

We got to Williamsburg and had lunch near the historic colonial area while I performed the motel search routine. The Bassett Motel seemed a good deal, but they were replacing the air conditioner. After suffering through this heat wave for the past month, such news was pretty discouraging, but we decided to go for it. The owners were very friendly, and, I’m happy to say, the AC was working just fine.

By the time we got back to the colonial area it was late afternoon. We had both been there before, but this time we were on bicycles, an ideal way to see the place! We didn’t bother buying tickets, but I did manage to talk our way into seeing the woodshop.

That evening we supped on excellent wine and cheese as we anticipated finishing the ride the next day. It was hard for me to believe.

Day 77: 37 miles, Aug 3

Well, after two lovely days, I suppose you’re bound to have a bad one. The scenery was less than stellar today since the route skirts Richmond and proceeds through the I-95 corridor. It was mostly congested suburban traffic all day.

One bright spot was catching up to Mike and Devin, the two Arizona riders with pellet guns. Neither of them rides with a mirror, so I was able to quite easily sneak up on them in ambush. They were surprised, and had wondered what had happened to me. They rode on into Yorktown to finish the ride today, but it was good to see them (shoot them) again.

Despite getting a bit of a late start from the motel (7 pm), we suffered through the heat and arrived at the destination I had intended for today, Glendale, before 2 pm. Perhaps my dad was getting into shape pretty quickly, for he argued in favor of going on. Glendale is nothing more than a gas station and a church, so we’d be quite bored to stay here, he felt.

In the end, I won him over. A good friend from my hike once told me that “a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail should last 6 months. Eight months if you do it right.” I was in no hurry to finish my ride. Who wants to rush back into the world of cars and monthly bills? Besides, if we did another 30 miles, he’d likely be exhausted and regretful the next day.

Turns out my dad’s pretty good at not riding, too. The Willis United Methodist Church isn’t plush, but that didn’t keep him from napping for 3 hours of the afternoon! I entertained myself with the sanctuary piano. In the picture we’re enjoying a gourmet hot dog and wine dinner!

Day 76: The patron city of cyclists

Day 76: 44 miles, Aug 2

An even better day – the terrain gets ever more beautiful! It was tree tunnels and corn fields for most of the ride today, except for the portion along the banks of the beautiful Lake Anna. It was another early start, too (around 5:30).

We arrived in Ashland for lunch and made full use of the tourist info center in the old train depot to locate a cheap room for the night. Lunch was a slow affair (to relish the air conditioning) at a coffee shop, and then we finally got to the motel. It had a pool, and I must say I enjoyed it. Most cyclists I’ve met seem to seek out pools as often as they can, but for some reason I’ve never been much of a fan (maybe it’s my lily-white complexion). I watched my first Groucho Marx movie that night in the room – I’m hooked!

In the photo I’m hanging on a TransAm sign – now ubiquitous along the route.

Day 75: 33 miles, Aug 1

Fearing the extreme heat, we got going around 6 am this morning and made it to Mineral for lunch. Having left the mountains behind at Charlottesville, the terrain was gently rolling, but the heat made for a big obstacle as I have learned. I found that my dad, who hasn’t been riding for 74 days and developed the habit, needed to be reminded to hydrate, especially after the vineyard visit!

We had two huge milkshakes and sandwiches for lunch and mosied on over to the fire station where we would sleep. The area coordinator, Mr. Schlemmer, happened to be driving by so I flagged him down. He showed us in and gave us the tour. What a comfortable break room! We did suffer through radio scanners and phone calls, but otherwise it was another wonderful stay in a fire station.

Day 74: 23 miles, Jul 31

My first day with my dad! Perhaps I neglected to explain earlier that my dad met me in Charlottesville to finish the last 190 miles of the route with me. This day was purposefully quite short since we both wanted to spend a lot of time at Monticello, or “Thomas’ house” as he affectionately calls it. Thanks to my aunt Kay in Fort Payne, AL, who knows a donor to the home, we got some special treatment upon arrival: the curator’s secretary led us up to the third floor and dome room, which was closed to the public some years ago. Very cool! Thank you very much, Kay. We also took all the regular tours we could: house, garden, and plantation.

The short distance to Palmyra we rode in the evening, after the temperature had fallen from nuclear to sweltering. There was no longer a B&B there, so I asked at the excellent deli and convenience store whether there was a place to put up a tent. The owner suggested Pleasant Grove County Park, just a mile away. A few phone calls later, and I had permission from the sheriff to camp there. Fortunately, a storm front came through just in time to cool things off for the night.

Pictures from the Cookie Lady's house in Afton

That's Mrs. Curry and Peggy Rennolds in the middle picture.

More shots of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Can anyone identify the flowers?

Day 73: 64 miles, Jul 30

The climb out of Vesuvius was indeed tough, but I think it has been talked up a lot. I did it in about 45 minutes and was rewarded with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Once I began riding the BRP, I took my time. As the pictures show, it’s beautiful!

I didn’t want to delay too much, however, because today was the day I was going to meet a Trail legend, the Cookie Lady. Known as June Curry to non-cyclists, the Cookie Lady has hosted TransAm riders at her “bike house” since the inaugural ride in ’76. I had been hearing stories of her conversation and memento-filled bike house since Colorado and was quite excited.

Little did I know I was in for a special treat. When I arrived I was greeted not by Mrs. Curry but by Peggy Rennolds, an original ‘76er! Peggy was a riot to talk to and was, to me, as much a celebrity as the Cookie Lady herself. I must have asked a million questions about that first ride, which has always fascinated me. Peggy, as I quickly learned, was indeed a special cyclist – she did her ride with her four-pound poodle Pooh!

I spent over two hours talking to these two ladies, and I heard so many stories in those two hours I wish I had had a tape recorder. I did have to go before too long (my dad was expecting me in Charlottesville that evening), but wanted to express my pleasure in meeting them and offered to sing something. I explained to Mrs. Curry that I have sung opera, and she asked, “Oh, heavens, do you sing anything else?”

Laughing to myself, I thought one of Copland’s Old American Songs would be best and sang “The Boatmen’s Dance.” I am proud to say that she and Peggy enjoyed it and that Mrs. Curry commented she had never heard an opera singer before. I suppose it’s a rare thing to share something new with an 85-year-old!

It was one of those moments I didn’t want to end, and so, wanting it to last, I asked Peggy whether she’d like to have dinner with my father and me in Charlottesville that evening. I thought she and my father would get along well since they both enjoy cycling and both have lived on sailboats in the Caribbean. She agreed.

I met my dad, Don, where the route goes through the campus of the University of Virginia. He’s a big fan of Thomas Jefferson and was communing with Thomas’ genius when I found him. It certainly was surreal to meet my “Diddo” after riding 4000 miles. We went to the hostel room he had already rented, showered, and proceeded to the outdoor mall in downtown Charlottesville for dinner with Peggy.

Peggy was no less ebbullient with her cycling and sailing stories that evening than she had been in the afternoon. Though it was 30 years ago, she has a remarkably clear memory of her ride and recalls names of towns and locations of climbs readily. It’s obvious that her ride is still very much with her, and I can certainly relate. My Appalachian Trail hike remains a big source of daydreams for me. No doubt I’ll be processing this adventure for many years as well.

Thanks, Peggy, for the great company!

The picture is of the climb from Vesuvius.

Day 72: 64 miles, Jul 29

This was quite a fun day! I awoke feeling, and I quote from my paper journal, “like a rocket.” I think I covered the first 17 miles of the day in less than an hour, even though there were perhaps seven or eight railroad crossings.

Dave, the guy from Pittsburg who shared the misery of Missouri with me, finished his ride on the 27th I believe and called me a few days ago to say he could meet me in Lexington, VA, a charming and historical city close to his parents’ home where he was spending the week. So, I got to Lexington around 3 pm, and there he was! Maria, his girlfriend (whom I’m sure was very glad to have him back safely!) was also with him. We had coffee for about an hour and swapped stories about the steep climbs of the Appalachians.

After saying our good-bye’s, (doesn’t an apostrophe belong there?) I rode onwards to Vesuvius. I honestly don’t know how the town got its name, but I did decide to end the day there because it’s at the foot of the steepest climb of the entire route – best to tackle it in the morning on fresh legs. Wait. That sounds like a frog dinner or

There’s a convenience store marked on the map whose owner is supposed to allow camping on the property behind it, but, as I discovered only upon arriving in Vesuvius, the store is a mile away. Again, I was loathe to ride those extra miles, and happened to notice that there was a group of people exiting the nearby Baptist church.

Now, more than a few riders I have met have spoken of great luck begging the hospitality of churches, but I have never been one who likes to impose (or beg). Well, steeling myself for dirty looks and rejection, I approached the nearest fellow with a friendly, “Howdy!”

I am not kidding when I say that I believe the next words out of his mouth were “I think the pastor puts up cyclists in his spare bedroom. He’s next door – just knock.”

Besides their excellent company, Dan and Lynn Stanley fed me, let me take a shower, and did indeed put me up in the oh-so-air-conditioned spare bedroom. I also went along with them to Lexington to pick up their daughter and so got to see quite a bit more of that beautiful city.

The Stanleys are truly some of the most friendly and talkative people I met along my trip, and I can’t adequately explain how valuable a good night’s sleep is on a trip like this, especially before a monster climb! Thank you!

The photo is of the church as I left the next morning.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Day 71: 63 miles, Jul 28

I rolled over 4000 miles today but forgot to take the picture of the cyclometer. For the record, it wasn't raining. The country here is very pleasant: rolling farmland mostly, with no big climbs. The heat has returned, however, but fortunately for now I'm still at a bit of an elevation (about 2000 feet) so it stays somewhat cool at night.

My destination today was Troutville, another Appalachian Trail intersection. Though it looked nice, I desperately did not want to camp in the city park since I thought it'd be too hot to sleep. However, the only hotel was about a mile off route, and that seemed too much. Funny how I could have traveled over 4000 miles and an extra two is unfathomable. Well, as I came into the park, I met the vice-mayor of the town and the groundskeeper for the park. They both assured me it was a safe place to put up a tent.

I guess it was safe, but, yes, it was hot. I believe I eventually fell asleep at midnight.

The picture is the best I could come up with. I think the sky is that color because of the haze. Anyway, the countryside is very pretty (just insert a blue sky and cool breezes).

Day 70: 43 miles, Jul 27

Fairly easy day today on the way to the home of Thad and Sarah Lee in Radford. He is a physician who did the TransAm a few years ago with his two sons (both of whom are now fighter pilots: F-15C and F-22!!!) and has opened his door to cyclists ever since. As soon as I arrived on his property (I had called earlier after receiving his number from a westbounder) he began telling cycling stories. And what stories! I'm afraid I nearly had to interrupt him to have my dinner they were so numerous. I thorough enjoyed his company, and the sleep was some of the best I've gotten on the whole trip.

The picture is of a church and graveyard, a sight I am finding more and more often now that I'm in Virginia.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Day 69: 58 miles, Jul 26

This qualifies as one of the best days of the whole tour. The weather was perfect: 75 degrees and dry. The scenery was the best that the southern Appalachians has to offer: the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. And, it was all very familiar to me!

I lingered in town for quite a while. Damascus is a very cool little town of about 1000 people who, because of the annual Trail Days festival held on the summer solstice, are very likely to know a bit about what you're doing when they meet you.

My destination today was the lovely city park in Wytheville, VA. The picture is self-explanatory, though I'll point out that the white stripe, or "blaze," on the tree in the upper right-hand corner of the frame is the way the Appalachian Trail is marked for its 2167 mile length. And, no, the AT is not covered with gravel. This is just a place where it crosses a road with an area for parking. You don't really need a map to do the hike, though I did manage to get lost once....

That hasn't happened on this trip. Yet.

Day 68: 79 miles, Jul 25

This was perhaps one of the more difficult days of the trip. The terrain is now quite hard with frequent steep climbs, and I have also lost the companionship of that large group (they stayed in Breaks for a day off today). The toughest climb, from Rosedale to Hayters Gap, was towards the end of the day when calories are running low, and I now believe I experienced my first "bonk" just afterwards.

The climb itself I did just fine, actually. The descent was very fun -- lots of curves and switchbacks. However, about 45 minutes later I got dizzy. I figured I was bonking and pulled over in a shady area to eat some granola bars and drink water. Fortunately, I was only 15 minutes from my destination, and the 30 minute break was enough to set me aright. Lesson learned: eat before you're hungry!

The destination was the best part of the day. Damascus, VA is the southern Mecca for thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail. I came through the town on my thru-hike seven years ago, so it was very nostalgic to arrive again by bicycle! I stayed at the obligatory hostel run by the Methodist church called simply "The Place."

Day 67: 70 miles, Jul 24

Another fine day in the western part of the Appalachians. Again, I saw the group at various points throughout the day. We all have our own paces, but we all tend to congregate at gas stations and restaurants. Edwin and I (I believe I forgot to mention him earlier) rode on to Breaks Interstate Park (on the VA line) while the rest of the group camped at a church in Lookout, KY.

Day 66: 65 miles, Jul 23

Very fun day. I leapfrogged with various members of the group all day. It's fun to run into people you know. The route passed a Wal-Mart, and I broke a 4-year boycott on the behemoth and purchased some sweatbands for my wrists (slippery handlebars!) and, yes, a BB gun. I can't let Mike and Devin have all the fun!

OK. I'm 30, but there is still a boy inside of me. For goodness' sake, I'm riding a bicycle to begin with!

Today's destination was a B&B in Hindman where the operator has many-toed cats. You know, the Hemmingway kind? One of them had so many toes it looked like a Clydesdale version of the feline.

After the last post, I want to assure everyone that I no longer correct strangers' grammar. Yes, I confess I actually used to do that. I suppose I occasionally cannot resist "improving" the writing and speech of my loved ones, but most of the time I bite my tongue unless someone asks. It does make for poor conversation, after all.

In fact, I think I have a decent sense of humor about the issue. Take this sign, for example. What a funny sign it would be if you just removed that superfluous apostrophe from the previous mural and added it to a certain place here?

Another rant

I can take it no longer! Why, oh why, is the poor defenseless apostophe so maligned and abused?!!!

I know that the English language is difficult with all it's irregularity's, but folk's, the pattern for forming plural's is just about as reglar as it get's:

Add an S to make a plural.

OK, OK. Sometimes its "es," but never an apostrofee!

Serusly, Ive seen sign's scrawled on cardbored in the grocery stor sellin: "Tomato's, banana's, apple's, and onions." My queshtion is, why does "tomatos" need one and not "onions"?

Look's like them Helper's 'r' needin' helpin'.

Day 65: 61 miles, Jul 22

This was a great day! The territory is now completely familiar-feeling to me, even though I've never been here before. I don't think the heat rose above 80 degrees today. I ran into a couple of guys from Arizona whom I met back in Missouri, Mike and Devin. They started one day ahead of me in Astoria, so I've been just behind them the whole way. Early on, I remember hearing people telling me I was just a day behind two young guys with beards.

Well, they're a fun pair. They don't usually start riding until noon or later, but they can certainly put on the miles when they need to. Back in Kansas, to cure the boredom, they each bought airguns that fire plastic BB's and are quite fond of shooting each other while riding. Just like cowboys and Indians from third grade! You never know when one of those white dots is going to sail by your ear when riding with these two!

(Don't worry folks, these things are quite harmless, and we all wear sunglasses.)

To top it off, I met five more (!) cyclists when I arrived in Booneville: Tom, George, Edwin, Susan, and John. They each began in slightly different places in Kentucky and are going to Yorktown. We all camped at the Presbyterian Church together. It's really nice to have someone to share the adventure with!

This picture is of the first of the few remaining signs from the inaugural TransAmerica ride (Bikecentennial) in 1976.

This speaks for itself

I'm know I'm an elitist snob, but I couldn't resist getting this shot. The shop was out of business. Do you think that poor orthography and bad entrepreneurship are related? Or, don't you reckon that you don't need to be able to spell it in order to fix it? Nobody was around to ask (or kick the crap out of me for asking).

Day 64: 48 miles, Jul 21

Great day! Cooler yet, mercifully, and my destination, Berea, is considered the gateway to the Appalachians. Along the way, I chatted with an old tobacco farmer about the Kentucky method of barn curing. He was mostly interested in telling the story (once he learned I was from Tennesse) about the time that "Kentucky beat the @#$% out of Knoxville" in basketball. This was 1993, and I believe he said the score was 101 to 40. Anyone remember this?

I also thoroughly enjoyed seeing downtown Berea, which is greatly influenced by Berea College. The Artisan Center, where this picture was taken, was really great, too. The lamp is handblown glass and blacksmithed steel by a local artisan.

Right as I was about to leave the center, a familiar face appeared before me. It was Tony with whom I rode in Wyoming! He and his wife and family fed me dinner one night, and then I lost track of them without exchanging contact info. He's from Knoxville and was visiting relatives in KY. Turns out he arrived at the next day's destination, Jackson, WY, and decided not to stay. His wife was driving the truck and RV trailer, so it was an easy matter to move onwards. Glad to see you again, Tony!

Tony mentioned to some of the staff there how we had met and that I am an opera singer. I don't suppose it really does take much, so they managed to goad me into singing. Being a large public space, the sound was pretty good and, well, loud. A few moments later, I excused myself to get a drink from the center's deli and discovered that, according the cashier, anything I wanted was free. Turns out one of the ladies who had heard me phoned the deli and paid for my dinner. Thanks!

As I left the Center I had intended to go to the local campground, but it "came up a cloud" as my grandmother would say. And what a storm! In the 90 seconds it took me to get the the Days Inn, I was nearly blown over from the wind! As I discovered the next day, this storm was to mark the end of the intense heat.

Day 63, 53 miles, Jul 20

This was a very pleasant day as the heat abated somewhat. Don't get me wrong; it was still hot enough to fry an egg in your pants, but at least the sweat stayed out of my eyes for once. I spent a while walking the grounds of the Lincoln Homestead Park. This is a picture of the forge where Abe's father worked (or a replica of it). I'm looking forward to the mountains of the eastern part of the state. Even though they're touted as the most difficult part of the TransAm, I figure that at least they'll be cooler!

Day 62: 79 miles, Jul 19

I guess I'm going to sound like a broken record, but it was hot again today. Somehow, I think I'm actually getting used to it. My destination on this day was Bardstown, and during the day I could think of nothing else other than the air-conditioned room I stayed in. There were certainly some great stops along the way, like the meal I had in Sonora, KY. Authentically Southern: fried cornbread, pork BBQ, coleslaw, and cherry cobbler. The iced tea was more than brown water, too! I believe I slept 10 hours in the motel this night -- my body just claimed it without consulting me.

Day 61: 52 miles, Jul 18

Camped at the Axtell Campground on the Rough River Lake today. This was a mistake -- it was so hot I can barely describe it. I thought that swimming in the lake would make up for the weather, but the shallow water must have been 85 degrees! I later found out that the air temp had still been 87 degrees at 10 pm that night. No wonder I couldn't sleep!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

State lines

Here are the pics to prove I've crossed two more state lines!

Day 60: 70 miles, Jul 17

Another easy ride, at least inasmuch at the terrain was concerned. After hearing for weeks about the hospitality of the Baptist preacher in Sebree, KY I met him today. I was rolling through town when a van pulled alongside me and out jumped the man. He asked if I was planning to stay the night in town (he puts cyclists up in the church), but I explained I needed to go on to Utica. It seemed to disappoint him a little -- the people here are quite set on sharing their hospitality! Too bad I couldn't have timed my arrival differently.

The accomodations in Utica, however, were quite amenable. They keep the volunteer fire station open, so I just went right in and, lo and behold, there was air-conditioning! It has been so hot the previous two nights I didn't fall to sleep until midnight. Not so in Utica, thank goodness! Thanks VFD Utica!

Day 59: 72 miles, Jul 16

Due to the easily rolling and beautiful countryside, I was able to ride a fair distance today, but the heat continues to increase. I stop about every 15 to 25 miles to rest in an air-conditioned gas station and probably drink over a gallon and a half of fluids. My destination was the city park in Marion, KY after I crossed the Ohio River on a quick, free ferry.

Day 58: 78 miles, Jul 15

I rode to Ferne Clyffe State Park. There was no rain today, but it was even hotter. My clothes are soaking wet at the end of the day. Rode alongside the Mississippi River levee -- that's what the picture is.

One amusing part of the day was being asked by a total stranger, the Sandwich Artist at Subway, whether or not I believed in God. Well, I suppose I shall have to redraw the boundaries of my mental map of the Bible Belt to include southern Illinois!

Day 57: 50 miles, Jul 14

After returning the rental truck to Farmington, MO I cycled across the Mississippi to Chester, IL, home of the creator of Popeye! The ride was very pleasant and was routed alongside the levee and next to cornfields. It may look as if I was rained on, but that's actually sweat. Very hot day. Fortunately, the swim instructor at the pool in the park let me take a dip.

Day 56: Rest day in St. Louis

I did as little as possible today. Tom had insisted I check out various attractions in the city, but somehow I just didn't feel like being a tourist. Go figure. Actually, I saw Superman. Excellent! The best part of the day was dinner with my friends -- I made my first sushi rolls!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

3000 miles!

I guess it's a little predictable, but here's the obligatory shot of me and the cyclometer turning over again. Perhaps the 4000 mile shot will actually be sunny?!

Day 55: 55 miles, Jul 12

Dave and I stopped cycling in Farmington, MO today, he to get new bicycle supplies, and I to rent a car to St. Louis. Yes, it rained even more, unbelievably. We said our good-byes over a meal at the Chinese restaurant. Good luck man!

The picture is of Camille McClean, daughter of Tom and Iku, the friends I'm visiting in St. Louis. I met Tom during my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 1999, and we hiked through the state of Pennslyvania together. He had just come out of teaching English for three years in Japan where he and Iku met. The last time I saw them Camille was just 5 months old. Look how beautiful she is now!

Perhaps the best part of my visit is sharing Tom's and my cat stories. He got his trail name, Katmandu, from doing exactly the same thing I did, rescuing a cat! He found a young cat in the middle of the Virginia woods (before I had met him) and carried him in his pack to the nearest road. He stuck out his thumb to hitch a ride for the kitty and eventually found a taker. I love funny coincidences!

Day 54: 89 miles, Jul 11

It was very nice to have good company today. Dave and I actually rode together, which is usually a difficult thing to do. Most people's paces are just a little different. I certainly needed the moral support and distraction of conversation to propel me through yet another day of torrential rain. Luckily, he and I always seemed to find shelter right as another storm band passed overhead.

Nevertheless, we were both dead set on sharing a room in Ellington that night and try to dry out.

Here's Dave in front of the Ozark Mountains (are they really mountains if they're just 1500 feet high?).

CAT UPDATE: I called Wanda today at the diner to check in. I figured the first night would be the toughest, and that if the little one lived through it it was a good sign. I'm happy to report that is that case. Wanda remarked that the cat, probably no more than a week old, looks quite different when dry. Very fluffy! She said she could email me a picture, which I'll post as soon as I can.

Day 53: Part 2

Wanda, Janine, and I chatted a bit. Wanda said that the cat would be OK since she already had a mother cat who was nursing. Wanda is half Cherokee and from the west coast. She just opened the diner, and things were going well. We traded contact info as I paid for the meal and thanked her profusely. That's her above in the storeroom of the building with the new family member.

As I passed the Subway on my way out of town, I spotted another bicycle there and went in to greet the rider. Turns out, this one was going my way! Dave is from Pittsburg, PA where he just graduated from Carngie Mellon. We agreed to head to the town of Bendavis for the night.

Now, Bendavis is literally about three homes and a convenience store, behind which cyclists can camp. The store was closed by the time Dave and I waded through the rain to get there, so I knocked on a neighbor's door to make sure it was OK. The neighbor, Ron Smyres, said we could camp in his yard. Great! As Dave and I set up the tents, Ron came out saying that if we'd like a hot shower we could help ourselves to the trailer in the back. Even better!! Later, when the sky started looking very Wicked-Witch-of-the-East-ish, Ron said it'd be OK for us to sleep in the trailer for the night. Wow!!!

The trailer was a double-wide and very nicely appointed. Beds made, showers clean, towels ready. I suppose Mr. and Mrs. Smyres keep it so for visitors. It was infinitely preferable than staying in the storm. Dave had ridden through the thickest part of the storm earlier during the day while I was taking care of kitty, and neither of was was eager to be carried away in a flood. I heard some locals mentioning over five inches of rain in two days. Thank you very much Mr. Smyres.

As I lay in my sleeping bag that night, the image of the cat between the wheels of the truck kept replaying itself through my head. I didn't sleep well.

Day 53: 49 miles, Jul 10

This was, without a doubt, my most remarkable day so far. No, that's not a baby alien I'm holding. Read on....

To begin with, I awoke in the motel to a thunderstorm. A real gully-washer, as my Mom says. The rain and lightning were too intense to ride in, so I took a slow breakfast and tried to wait it out. Well, after waiting an hour and half, all it would do was stop to start again. I just had to put on my big boy britches and get out there.

I was soaked before leaving the city limits of Marshfield, but at least being wet was cooling! Fortunately, the morning brought me many cyclists: Bill from Savannah, and Mo and Katie from Austin. They were all westbounders, and I chatted with each. We encouraged each other, and that definitely makes the ride easier.

The day's main event began, however, when I spotted a small beige object in the road about 25 miles from Marshfield. I see all sorts of debris in the road, so I just steered clear of it, thinking it was a chunk of tree wood washed up from the hard rain. As I passed, however, the grapefruit-sized chunk uttered a sound.

"Rrrroooooowwwwwgh," it said.

"Holy @#$% what IS that?!" I said out loud and circled around to get a closer look. Folks, I'm not lying when I say that, though I've seen newborn kittens before, I honestly wasn't sure that this wasn't some strange Missouri critter, certainly when viewed through foggy and rain-bespeckled sunglasses. Well, deciding I should investigate, I pulled off the road, with some difficulty since it was still raining quite hard, and got the bicycle settled, again with some difficulty. A 70 pound bicycle is sometimes weird to balance.

By the time I was ready walk over to what I was now sure a soaked kitten, my heart sank to discover that there were three cars coming. The first of them was a semi truck. With only a few seconds to react, I knew I couldn't risk making a dash for the creature. The road conditions were too dangerous, and the truck could have an accident. I decided to just wave my arms violently and point at the cat. Pretty futile, I know, but what else was I supposed to do? I felt helpless, and I quickly realized with horror that I had very possibly done the wrong thing. See, the cat was in the center of the lane where, presumably, it would pass between the wheels of a vehicle, and I had just caused the truck to swerve about two feet into the oncoming lane.

You know how it feels when you think you're about to witness something horrible and that you should just turn away and wait for it to be over but you somehow can't avert your eyes? That's how it was. I watched, through the crack of my fingers, as five tons of steel and rubber hurtled towards eight ounces of fur and fleas.

Miraculously, kitty went right between the tires of all three vehicles! The draft from the truck caused the poor, wet thing to roll over a few times, but it escaped OK. I went to the road, picked it up, carried it back to the shoulder and promptly burst into tears.

I had saved the life of another creature. I've ever done that before, and the sudden realization that the cat's life was totally owed to me was overwhelming. Anyone who knows me knows I don't really go for cats -- I'm allergic to them, in fact, but certainly I couldn't have acted any other way.

Once I collected myself (put on a new pair of big boy britches) I knocked on a few doors. No one answered, and the cat seemed OK for now. I had initially thought that it was injured because it couldn't walk, but I then remembered that newborn kittens can't walk. That's probably what saved this animal -- it couldn't move more quickly than a slow crawl from its lucky position in the center of the lane. The little furball's eyes were barely open.

It dawned on me that I was stuck with this cat, at least until the next town, so I wrapped it in my only towel, and put it in my rear left pannier on top of my tent, closed it (it was still raining hard, and took it for a ride! Hartville was very close, less than a mile, and I'd figure something out there.

As I parked at the Conoco in Hartville, my bag was talking to me.

"Mmmmreeooow. Mrow. Rrreooow."

I peeked inside to make sure kitty was OK, and it clung to my fingers each time I reached in. It was lonely and cold. The lady at the gas station said there was no vet or animal shelter nearby but pointed me towards city hall across the street, suggesting that they take care of local feral animals. As I stood, moments later, dripping on the carpet of city hall, explaining my situation ("I'm on a cross-country bicycle ride, so I can't really take the cat with me..."), the receptionist seemed not to know what to do. Go figure! I asked for a phone book and called the nearest vet, 15 miles away. The vet reluctantly said they'd take the cat and that I should get some goat's milk and a dropper to feed it. Kittens need nourishment every two hours.

Next stops: grocery store and pharmacy. Coming to the grocery store checkout in soaking wet cycling clothes and carrying a can of goat's milk, the cashier said, "Will that be all for you, then?" The humor of the situation suddenly struck me, so I replied that "Yes, but it's actually not for me. It's for a kitten I have in my bicycle bag. Would you like to have a cat?" She said "no" but that Wanda at the Lollipop Diner might take another cat. She has over twenty already.

My hopes for the cat's future brightened as I anticipated meeting the town ailurophile, Wonderful Wanda. The Lollipop is a new venture, decorated with Elvis memorabilia and oldies tunes, a good place for lunch out of the rain at the very least, I thought. I introduced myself. "Wanda, my name is Oliver, and I hear you're a cat person."

She nodded, a little suspiciously. "Well, I have someone you'd like to meet. Would you follow me outside?" A curious customer and another on the wait staff, Janine, followed as well. I produced the bedraggled and mewling kit, and told my story to the little audience. The customer, a local man, remarked that perhaps the mother panicked while crossing the road and dropped her package there. Wanda agreed to take the cat, and explained that there was a large feral cat problem in the area, and that she has taken it upon herself to care for as many as she can afford. She mentioned that she spent over $2000 last year getting the herd spayed and neutered and reassured me that this cat would have a good home.

Relieved, I sat down and ate my burger.

Day 52: 82 miles, Jul 9

Having been warned from westbounders about the discourteous Missouri drivers, I have been keeping a constant eye on my rearview mirror. No troubles, yet, knock on wood! Anyone have a spray can of Bubba-be-gone?

I am, proudly, a direct descendant of a close friend of Daniel Boone, so I was interested to see his son's homestead today. Nathan Boone was a salt-producer, and raised his family in the house you see carefully restored here.

While roaming Mr. Boone's grounds, I got a voice mail from an opera-singing friend of mine in Stuttgart. Wow. What a small place the cell phone makes the world! Thanks for saying "Hello" Lucas!

It drizzled all day today, so I didn't hesitate to pull into the Plaza motel in Marshfield, MO.

Just east of Pittsburg, KS

This goes out to the Ohio Light Opera crowd, specifically those who I imagine are now engaging in various bovine-related shenanigans. It all began four years ago when Sandi Ross, Jackie Lengfelder, and I put a 60 pound concrete cow on the front porch of our director, Steven Daigle. He soon retaliated by secreting various small cow objects in strategic places on the stage. I'd find, for example, a small cow face staring at me from a prop tree during a chorus number.

Certainly I've seen enough cows on this trip to last me a lifetime. However, even though I'm now more than halfway across the country, I still cannot resist the urge to moo at them as I pass. No, they don't speak back to me. They just stare back with that strange, vacant, but somehow knowing cow-expression. What ARE they thinking?

Day 51: 72 miles, Jul 8

A lovely day today. I spent much of it in Pittsburg, Kansas, where dwell many friends of mine who are all, unfortunately, out of town in Wooster, Ohio. Well, it's good for them, but too bad for me that I didn't get to see them! Pittsburg is a fine small city, a bastion of civilization in an otherwise rural area. I say that because for the past week in Kansas I have been traveling through field after field. The towns are often nothing more than a collection of buildings around a grain elevator...

I ended the day in Golden City, Missouri and went to the famous Cooky's Cafe. OK. It's famous among us TransAmers. They have a menu of about 30 homemade pies. I had two slices: lemon cream and apricot.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Day 50: 60 miles, Jul 7

Again I slept in. This campground was a state park, so it was the first real camping experience I've had in a while -- I slept very well and quietly. As I was wrapping my handlebars with much-needed new cork, Megan from Wales pulled in. She is perhaps the friendliest person I've met thus far. She had never toured on a bicycle until last December when decided she wanted to do the trip.

And she's doing it right: taking her time and enjoying each place. She's headed west and has alloted six months for the trip. I think she is the sort of person who gets the most out of an adventure like this. She recounted all sorts of hardships to me, but ended each story with an optimistic chuckle saying, "Well, I've got great stories to tell!"

A real lesson: Someone who rolls with the punches of life and goes wherever the adventure leads her will, undoubtedly, be happiest.

As I rolled into the small town of Walnut, KS, I was delighted to be greeted by three young cyclists: Maya, Rose, and Justin. Great to have some company for the evening! We all went out for beers at the local bar pictured above, and ended up talking to some local guys. One of them, Randy, is a local farmer who really wanted to be an astronaut. He could tell you the year and month of every Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo mission!

Meeting local people is one of my favorite parts of the trip. I think in order to learn about a place you have to not only see it but also interact with it, too.

Day 49: 64 miles, Jul 6

I rode to Woodson Cove on Toronto Lake today. The terrain is getting somewhat hilly! It dawned on me as I was descending that my cyclometer hasn't registered more than 18 mph for the past week. Nice to feel some speed again! Actually, I think I do better in hilly areas -- I tend to get so distracted on the plains I just forget to put any power into the crank and end up going slower and slower. Hills remind me that I have to work a little, and then I get the reward of a descent.

The climate has gradually become more and more humid. Western Kansas is dry -- about 10 inches of rain a year. Here, however, where there's close to 40 inches yearly rainfall, I'm noticing sweat on my shirt at the end of the day for the first time since western Oregon. No kidding! That's one definite plus for these arid places I've been -- things stay dry.

Here's the sunset over the lake where I took a much-needed swim.

Day 48: 39 miles, Jul 5

Well, I guess I was still recovering from those two big days, because I slept until 9 this morning in my motel room in Newton. I went to the PO to pick up the maildrops containing supplies to overhaul my wheel hubs and a new chain. It took me about three hours to do all this, so I didn't get going until 4 pm. I camped in the city park of Cassoday, KS, which was filled with fireflies, or, as we Hendersons call them, lightning bugs. These, and the cicadas, were the first suggestion that I'm nearing familiar territory.

Passed my town on the way...

Day 47: Part 2

Well, my Independence Day got even better! As I was pulling up to an intersection near Buhler, KS, I looked each way trying to decide where I might find a convenience store that was open. Looked pretty grim. After all, it was the Fourth, and everything closes in small towns on this day.

As I rode through the intersection, a car came up beside me, going so slowly I wondered what was going on. The driver rolled down the window and said, "Looking for a place for lunch?"

"As a matter of fact, I am," I replied.

"OK. Just follow me," she said. I expected her to show me the only place in town that was still open, some obscure hole-in-the-wall that only the locals would know about. Instead, she led me right to her driveway, where all her husband's relatives were congregated for a Fourth of July dinner!

The McIvers (no relation to the Rochester, NY family) were a very friendly bunch. Jim is an experienced cyclist himself, and so his wife knew he'd like the company. He and I swapped war stories, trying, as guys do, to one-up each other, but he's got a few years on me and always had a better story to tell! :-)

Later on I asked about farming and cattle ranching. Learned a lot: wheat is a two-year proposition. Cattle have to be grazed on a pasture for about a year before they go to the feed lot where they get fattened up by several hundred pounds each!

I commented on how these feed lots stink to high heaven, and they replied that, to the cattle farmer, that stench smells like money!

It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. Mrs. and Mr. McIver, thank you!

Day 47: 49 miles, Jul 4

But butt hurts! Also, my body just claimed the rest it needed after the past two days, so I didn't get an early start today. No matter, however, since I only needed to get to Newton, KS, where a few maildrops awaited me the next day.

Turns out it was a great day, however. The first person I met was just about 10 miles east of Nickerson. What stopped me what this unusual house with a wind turbine above the roof. Also, it has large south-facing windows with just enough roof overhang for passive solar heating in the winter and shade in the summer.

As I looked and the house, owner Terry Galyon came out to greet me. Turns out, he's the designer and manufacturer of the wind turbine. He and I talked for a while about 12 volt systems, diodes, etc. -- my dad had exactly such a system on his sailboat -- and I asked him to pose for this picture. He's proud of the house, and rightly so; he only spent $40 on wood to provide additional heat last winter!

Both Terry and I can't figure out why more people don't build houses like this these days. According to him, humans have understood the power of passive solar heat since ancient Egyptian times!!!

Visit his website at

Day 46: 107 miles, Jul 3

It rained today, so it was MUCH cooler. I managed to make it to the city park in Nickerson, KS, where the townspeople had a rollicking good time with firecrackers until midnight. Again, I called the sheriff, and again they paid me a visit, this time it was a friendly deputy, who assured me that, although the locals would be rowdy until midnight (the fireworks curfew), they were good poeple.

I'll confess I'm pretty exhausted after these two big days. But at least I made that cyclist's rite of passage: the century! Fortunately, the scenery was nice!

Day 45: Near Leoti, KS

I should have gotten a picture of the owner of this car. He was just as colorful as his four passengers! Check out the flames on the rear window.

Day 45: 99 miles, Jul 2

Another early start, this time with a slight tailwind (10 mph), so I was nearly able to do my first 100-mile-day, or century! It is so hot at night, I sleep with next to nothing on -- I think it didn't go below 75 degrees last night. My destination today was the rest stop in Alexander, KS. A very nice facility run by the state with air-conditioned bathrooms! Incidentally the bathrooms were spacious and had a good acoustic -- I sang for a while.

One of the things I've gotten into the habit of doing is calling the sheriff when I camp in a municipal park alone. Just to let them know I'm there. Well, the folks in this county are so friendly, and the sheriff himself came out to greet me!

The photo is of sunset from the campsite.

Day 44: 80 miles, Jul 1

After yesterday's heat, I vowed to follow in Michael and Kristen's footsteps and begin riding at sunrise. Voila! I did 60 miles by noon! The remaining 20 I did later in the day to get to Leoti, KS.

I forgot to mention that I met Albert from Holland yesterday. A friendly guy and an experienced cyclist (all Dutch are!), he rides with no helmet and a LOT of gear. He even carries his special rock with him to pound tent stakes!

There was no "Welcome to Kansas" sign, so I'm including this picture of a typical road sign in the breadbasket of the country. You see, the county roads are spaced in one-mile blocks out here, so this sign is saying, "Go one mile north and then turn one mile west to get to Whithan Farms."

Seriously, the map for this area looks like plaid.