It took me 100 days to ride from Yorktown VA to Portland OR. That is a lot of time to get to know myself and the people I rode with. It also put a lot of stress on my body and equipment. I learned a lot while riding day after day for 4,710 miles, so I thought I would share some of that knowledge. I will be identifying brand names of the equipment I used, but know that I have not received any compensation from the companies I mention. This blog is not intended as a commercial; I just wanted to share with you what worked for me.
Surly Long Haul Trucker with Surly racks – I could not be happier with the performance of my bike and racks. I bought the bike in the fall of 2013, and had about 3,500 miles on it before I rode the TransAm. It performed flawlessly. I only had to replace the chain and rear brake cable during the trip.
Brooks B17 saddle – If you have read my blog on the Brooks B17 saddle, then you know that I love this product. It is the most comfortable saddle I have used.
Lights – For improved visibility, I always rode with flashing front and rear lights. I used a Cygolite Hotshot 100 rear light in daylighting mode with slowest tempo. The USB rechargeable battery would last 3-4 days in this mode before recharging was needed. It was very bright, even in daylight. In Kansas, a driver slowed down and rolled down his passenger window to tell me that he saw me from miles away, and that all bicyclist should use one of these lights. For the front light, I used a Cateye Volt 700 in flashing mode. The USB rechargeable battery would last 5-6 days before needing a charge. This light made me readily visible to oncoming traffic; so much so that I think it significantly reduced the number of times an oncoming car would try to pass another car and force me onto the right shoulder as the cars passed two abreast.
Tires – I used two Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires (HS382, 700×35) and Schwalbe tubes for the entire trip. About half way through, I rotated the tires. I had only two slow leaks caused by small punctures from wires from steel belted radial tire debris. I was able to patch the tubes in camp, and never had to patch or replace a tube on the road.
Sun protection – I had never used arm protectors before, but thought that they might be good to have for long, hot days in the sun. I brought along Canari UPF 50 arm protectors, and started using them the second week of the trip. They were one of my best purchases. Not only did they protect my arms from too much sun, they also kept my arms cool as my sweat evaporated off the white surfaces.
Shimano sandals with cleats – For all of my previous touring, I used shoes (Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek V or Giro Rumble VR). The problem for me was that when it rained, the shoes would get soaked and take forever to dry out. I hated the feeling of water sloshing around in my shoes, too. In Carbondale IL, I purchased a pair of Shimano SD-5 sandals. I immediately fell in love with them. Except for one cold, wet afternoon in Wyoming, I biked in sandals every day. My feet kept cool and dry, and I was able to power up steep hills without any problems.
Rear view mirror – I have used many types of rear view mirrors: bike frame mirrors, helmet mirrors and eyeglass mirrors. The one that works best for me is the Bike Peddler Take-a-Look mirror that fits on my eyeglass frame. It adjusts easily, stays put, and gives me a clear view of what’s behind me. I use this mirror 100% of the time when I am on the bike.
Tire pump – I had used a Zefal frame pump for many years, but the rubber attachment at one end of the pump split, so I needed to get a new pump. I bought the Topeak Road Morph G because it was small enough to fit in my pannier, and it had a flexible hose which eliminates stress on the tube valve while pumping. The pump got a lot of use from the group, and it performed very well. The gage, while not very precise, was good enough to tell me when I had the right amount of air pressure.
Light weight sleeping bag – For the TransAM, I recommend packing a light weight sleeping bag that is good to 40-50F. I started the trip with a North Face 20F Dolomite sleeping bag, and it was way more insulation than I needed. I shipped the bag home, and bought a North Face 50F Aleutian sleeping bag. I also packed a cotton sheet that I used for warn nights, and as extra insulation for colder nights. For the coldest nights in the Rockies, I put on extra layers of clothes and stayed warm inside the sleeping bag which was covered with the sheet.
Tent and Air Mattress – I have been using the same MSR Hubba one-person tent and Thermarest NeoAir Camper air mattress for five years. The tent was able to handle 50mph winds and rain and still keep me dry. The tent did leak a little from the bottom one night when heavy rains created a one inch deep pool around the tent, but the air mattress kept my sleeping bag from getting wet. I have never had an air leak in the mattress.
Backup battery – I recommend bringing a backup battery to charge your phone battery and other electronics. There were campsites that did not have outlets, and I did not feel comfortable leaving my phone in a bathroom unattended all night long (a Garmin was stolen from a bathroom while it was charging overnight). I used the Mophie powerstation USB-C XXL battery. It can charge an iPhone up to seven times on one charge, and it gave me plenty of emergency power when I needed it.
First aide – Besides the standard items in a first aide kit, I would also suggest bringing along the following. A tube of anti-fungal cream (tolnaftate 1%) can be helpful with heat rash or jock itch. Even with showering every day, there can be fungus among us! If you start to feel the beginnings of a saddle sore, then a tube of zinc oxide (like Desitin for diaper rash) can be helpful to dry out the skin after a day’s ride. For me, a chamois cream was mandatory. I have used different brands, and they all seem to work for me. I usually apply the product once or twice a day, maybe even a third time on a long ride when it is hot and humid.
Joining the TransAm Westward tour gave me a chance to experience for the first time riding with a group as opposed to touring alone, which is what I have done for the majority of my touring. I was very happy with the group experience. I did not have to cook every night, and all of the camping/hotel reservations were made in advance by our tour leader. This freed up hours of time each day for me to enjoy the ride and visit with the other group members. I learned to enjoy visiting with others during the day’s ride, and recapping the day’s experiences in the evening. Another benefit of the group was the power of problem solving. With ten heads focused on a problem, there was nothing we could not fix or remedy.
The benefits I gained by being part of the group required that I abide by the rules and norms of the group. For example, I am an early riser and like to be on the road by 6am or 7am, but the group decided that we would leave at 8am. I abided by that rule, even though I wanted to leave earlier. The same goes for when I was assigned cooking duties. I did not shirk my morning responsibilities and leave before my responsibilities were finished.
I learned to be flexible with my diet. I am vegan because the diet significantly reduces the pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis in my righty knee. I was the only vegan in the group, so I needed to be flexible with the foods I ate. Occasionally I would eat eggs or ice cream, and twice I ate hamburger that was part of a spaghetti sauce or sloppy joe. I chose not to make a big issue out of these departures from my diet because they were not that big of a deal.
If you cannot be flexible and compromise, then I strongly suggest that you do not sign up for a group tour. In a group of ten people, it only takes one or two individuals who refuse to cooperate to cause unnecessary impositions on the rest of the group.
My bicycle ride across the USA was at times challenging, exhilarating, frustrating, and grueling. It was everything I had hoped it would be, and sharing it with a group of nine other people made it much more enjoyable than if I had traveled solo. My equipment was reliable so that it never became a distraction. Seeing the country on a bike is special, even more so now that I have 100 days of memories to cherish.
Florence OR to Astoria OR (Days 93-100, 322 miles/4710 miles total)
Charlie, Bonnie, Tom and I retraced our previous day’s ride back north to Beachside Campground. This time we stayed at the Hiker/Biker site. For $8, you get a tent site and can use all of the campground facilities. The best part is that you do not need a reservation. It is a fantastic (and necessary) offering that I wish all local, state and federal campgrounds would adopt.
On Day 94, we stopped at Depot Bay on our way to Lincoln City to do some whale watching. Sure enough, whales were out in the bay feeding on whatever it is that they eat. A few times we saw their tails as they dove towards the sea floor.
Our group size continued to dwindle on Day 95. Charlie and Bonnie took a rest day in Lincoln City. Charlie bought us all breakfast (thanks again, Charlie!), and after saying our goodbyes, Tom and I rode north. We had second breakfast in Rockaway Beach, where a steam locomotive was waiting for passengers to board before heading south to Garibaldi. The engine cannot turn around, so it does the south bound leg backwards! Click on the link below to see a short video of the train.
On Day 97, we rode our last leg to Astoria. We were following the route on Map Section #1. When we started our trip in Yorktown VA, we were on Map Section #150. Wow! On the way to Astoria, we stopped at Fort Clatsop National Memorial. It has a small museum and a replica of the fort where Lewis & Clark and the Corp of Discovery stayed the winter of 1805-1806 before returning to the East Coast. In the afternoon, we crossed our last big bridge into Astoria and rode to the end of the TransAmerica Bike Trail, which is a round-about at the west end of the peninsula. Mission accomplished! My bike odometer registered 4,603 miles.
The End (Part II)
Tom and I took a rest day in Astoria, as we had been riding without a break for fourteen days. We stayed at the Norblad Hotel/Hostel, and enjoyed dinner at the Fort George Brewery across the street. I don’t think it matters were you stay in Astoria when in comes to being close to a brewery. You are pretty much guaranteed to find one without having to walk more than one block in any direction. There are also a few hard cider breweries. I tried a flight of four different flavors at the Reveille Brewery and Bar. My favorite was the Astoria English Pear.
On Day 99 we left Astoria for a two day ride to Portland. It was one of the few days of the trip that we were rained on. We were pretty much soaked by noon when it finally stopped raining. The good news was that by the time we arrived at camp at 1:30pm, we had dried out.
After 100 days of biking, Tom’s path and my path finally diverged in Beaverton OR. Tom headed downtown to Union Station to catch a train the following day to San Diego CA. By the time you read this blog, he will be preparing to ride the Souther Tier from San Diego to Jacksonville FL. As for me, I rode to the Bike Gallery to meet my sister and brother-in-law, and to drop off my bike to be boxed and shipped home. As I pulled into the parking lot, my odometer registered the last mile of my adventure, rolling to a final tally of 4,710 miles.
What a blessing to have Anne and Mark meet me at the bike shop. They had driven down from Marysville WA (just north of Seattle) to see me and spend a few days together. I was chauffeured around Portland where we shared meals with Mark’s brother, visited the city rose garden and arboretum, and sampled many pints of locally brewed beer and cider. On my last day in Portland, I was able to meet with friends from High School. I had lunch with Steve and Debbie (thanks again for buying me lunch!), and dinner with Mike. We ate vegan pizza at the Virtuous Pie, complements of Mike (I could get used to all these free meals!), followed by sampling local beers at different breweries/bars. It was a perfect ending to the cross country ride.
Baker City to Florence (Days 83-92, 483 miles/4388 miles total)
Days 83-85 Eastern Oregon Desert and 4000 miles
Day 83 was a rest day in Baker City. We definitely needed one because the next two days would be some of our longest and hardest rides.
Day 84 was our longest mileage day of the whole trip at 84 miles. We were up at 4am and on the road at 6am to try to beat the afternoon heat. The day’s route included climbing up and over three passes: Sumpter Pass (5082 feet), Tipton Pass (5124 feet), and Dixie Pass (5279 feet). There were lots of pine trees at the higher elevations, which was a nice change from the sage brush.
Day 85 was one of the hardest riding days for me. There was a 25 mile uphill grade that we climbed in the 98F afternoon heat. It took four hours to get up to the top. Was I ever glade to finish the 75 mile day with a short downhill ride to Mitchell. Hey, we passed 4000 miles!
Day 88 McKenzie Pass
Our last big climb of the trip was McKenzie Pass, where we left behind the arid lands of eastern Oregon and entered the rain forests near the coast. A fire the previous year had burned much of the forest on the eastern slope as we approached the top of the pass.
At the top of the pass, there are 1,500 year old lava flows that still do not have much vegetation growing amongst the jagged rocks.
There is a lookout built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp. What a great spot for a group picture (minus Marie and Wally).
Days 90-93 The Pacific Ocean, Goodbyes and the End (Part 1)
Day 90 was Tom’s and my turn to cook. While we were buying groceries in Alsea with the chore of having to carry the food six miles to camp, we found out that the owner would deliver the groceries to our campsite for only a $5 charge. Not wanting to waste a perfect opportunity, we started adding more necessities, like three six packs of beer, a styrofoam cooler, two bags of ice, firewood, and all the fixings for s’mores. We had our first (and only) campfire of the trip that night. Tracy quickly established himself as the expert marshmallow roaster, and Tom clearly was the most energetic consumer.
On Day 91 we arrived at the Pacific Ocean. We pushed our bikes across the sand (no small feat with a fully loaded bike!) to the sea’s edge and dipped our front wheels in the water. High fives were shared with everyone. Even Chuck was there! Well, kind of, with the help of Roger (Jennie’s significant other) and a picture of Chuck’s face.
With our cross-country goal completed, the group (or should I say family) started to disband. We said goodbye to Jennie that afternoon.
On Day 92 we had our final dinner together in Florence.
On Day 93, we continued our farewells. Wally and Steven (and Steven’s cousin, Greg, who joined us in Sisters) rode their bikes to Eugene, while Tracy (and his wife, Mary) and Kent opted for a more civilized mode of transportation and rented a van. Marie rode her bike south to rent a car. Charlie, Bonnie (Charlie’s friend who joined us in Coburg), Tom and I rode our bikes north towards Astoria, where the original BikeCentenial route ends. The four of us were not quite done yet.
Missoula MT to Baker City OR (Days 75-82, 425 miles/3905 miles total)
Day 75 Cookout at ACA HQ
We were treated to a cookout at Adventure Cycling Association HQ on our day off. The entire staff had lunch with us, and we talked about all things related to bicycle touring. It was nice to put faces to names of people I had talked to or emailed over the past few years.
Days 76-80 Riding the Roads of My Childhood
Days 76-80 were very specials to me. I was riding my bicycle on roads that I had traveled by car with my family since I was five or six years old. The reminiscing began at Lolo Hot Springs, and continued as we rode through Idaho County. We camped at Powell Campground next to the Locksa River, and enjoyed $5 showers and an evening beer at the Locksa Lodge. Just below Powell Campground is the Jerry Johnson Hot Springs. A few uf us hiked the trail to the rock pools, where we enjoyed a short break.
That next night found us at Syringa, where we had the best huckleberry pie for dessert (well, almost the best, as my mom and grandma probably made the best). Next stop was my home town of Grangeville, where we were treated to chicken fajitas and burgers prepared by Linda and my Dad. Then it was up and over the old Whitebird Grade, which has 13 switchbacks as it depends to the Salmon River. A few miles down the river we stopped at Skookumchuck Creek to swim in the river, before we road to Pollack to camp along side the Little Salmon. This is a picture of Kent after taking a dip the the Salmon.
Each day was full of remembering memories from my past, with new memories being made, this time with my new cycling family. This part of my trip will be the highlight of my adventure across America.
Days 81-82 Oregon Trail
On Day 81, we descended to the Snake River and road past the Brownlee and Oxbow Dams. I took a dip in the Snake to complete my trifecta of river baptisms: first the Clearwater, then the Salmon, and finally the Snake. After crossing the Oxbow Dam, we entered Oregon, the last state on our journey. On our decent into Baker City on Day 82, we crossed the old Oregon Trail. You can still see the wagon wheel tracks in the desert even though it has been over 150 years since the trail was first used.
When we pulled into camp that afternoon, we were greeted by the van supported tour group. They treated us to cold beer and a birthday party for Tom, who turned 58. What a nice surprise. It was the best ending to a biking day that I have had on the entire trip.
West Yellowstone MT to Missoula MT (Days 68-74, 347 miles/3480 miles total)
Days 68-69 Two Layover Days in Yellowstone
I awoke the morning of our first day off to my first flat tire. Sometime the previous day, my tire and tube were punctured by a 1/4 inch piece of wire from the remnants of a steel belted radial tire. Luckily, the leak was slow so that my tire did not flat during the ride. It was a quick patch and the tube was as good as new.
With so much to see in Yellowstone Park, our itinerary allowed for two layover days. Our tour leader made reservations for us to be picked up by a tour bus driven by a tour guide named Dan. We loaded into the bus and spent the day hitting all of the tourist spots along the south loop, which included Old Faithful and Beehive geysers, the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, Upper Yellowstone Falls, and local wildlife (mostly elk and bison).
Grand Prismatic Spring
After the tour, we were able to have dinner with two other ACA tour groups (van supported TransAm West group and a week long Tetons/Yellowstone group), who happened to be camping at West Yellowstone the same day as us. Here is a photo of all of us after dinner.
The second day off was used as a much needed rest day. Most of us stayed at the KOA outside of West Yellowstone and caught up on laundry and sleep.
Day 71 The Cattle Drive
We left Ennis and climbed over a pass with no name. I was looking forward to a rapid decent, but was immediately stopped by a pickup truck waving an orange flag. Turns out 200 head of cattle were heading our way. We had to go very slow, or sometimes come to a complete stop, so that we would not collide with the cows. After we passed the cows, we still had to go slow because there were still many fresh, slippery cow pies to avoid.
Day 74 Mecca
On Day 74, we arrived in Missoula MT, the headquarters for the Adventure Cycling Association. We were met by the staff, who offered us cold drinks, ice cream, and an air conditioned lounge. One of the rituals at ACA HQ is to weigh each cyclist’s bicycle and gear. Our groups’ weights ranged from 79 pounds to 110 pounds. Unfortunately, my bike was the one that weighed the most.
Lander CO to West Yellowstone MT (Days 61-67, 315 miles/3133 miles total)
Day 61 4th of July
Our 4th of July started with pancakes hot from the griddle, complements of Jennie, to celebrate the day. Tom and I rode downtown after breakfast to watch the parade. It was a classic small town parade, with over 100 entries. About one third of the entrees were politicians, which was about one third more than I would like to see! There were a number of Native American entries from the Shoshone and Arapaho Nations.
Lander has a unique way of ending their parades. After all the floats had passed by the announcers’ stand, all of the fire trucks stopped in a tight bunch and started spraying water up in the air. This was a sign for all of the local kids and adults to run to the area to get completely soaked under the downpour. What a fun way to end a parade.
Another unique Lander custom is that on the 4th of July, there are no laws restricting the private use of fireworks. All fireworks are fair game, including the big ones that shot off from a heavy gage pipe driven into the ground. During the day, local residents told us that it was not uncommon for many of the Lander residents to spend thousands of dollars on the big stuff. As dusk arrived, we were treated to a city-wide light show, with huge explosions taking place all across the town. Our tents were set up on a bluff overlooking the town, so we probably had the best viewing site possible. I watched until about 10pm, at which point I put in ear plugs and got some sleep.
Day 63-64 Grand Tetons and 3000 Miles
Our route allowed us to spend two days in the Grand Tetons National Park. The second day’s ride paralleled the east face, which is by far the most dramatic and rugged. This was my first time visiting the park and seeing the mountains. What a treat.
Just before entering Jackson, we passed the 3000 mile mark. We took a picture commemorating the achievement at the Jackson City Square.
Day 66-67 Teton Pass, a Moose, and Idaho
We left Jackson and immediately ascended Teton Pass via the Old Pass Road, which is now a bike path. The grade was 10% and took about an hour to climb. On my way, I was lucky enough to pass a moose as he browsed along the bike path.
A few miles down the other side of the pass we entered Idaho.
I have never seen this part of Idaho before, so it was interesting to ride along side Idaho potato fields that are it’s claim to fame. We camped in Ashton ID (seed potato capitol of the world), and rode to West Yellowstone MT the next day. Looking forward to two days off, and a tour of Yellowstone Park.
Royal Gorge CO to Lander WY (Days 51-60, 394 miles/2818 miles total)
Day 51 Royal Gorge Layover
Hidden from view, but just five miles away from our campsite, was Royal Gorge Park. It is a 955 foot deep canyon with the Arkansas River at the bottom and a foot bridge that spans the gap. A group of us visited the attraction, rode the gondola across the gorge, then walked across the bridge back to the visitor center. The winds through the gorge were strong enough to sway the platform back and forth. It reminded me of trying to walk on the decks of a cruise ship in rough seas. Do not cross the bridge if you are afraid of heights or get motion sickness!
Day 52 South Park
Day 52 was our first introduction to Rocky Mountain climbs. We climbed a total of 4,500 feet to the Current River Pass (elevation 9,404 feet). At the top of the pass, we got our first look at South Park. (The term “park” is used to describe a relatively flat area surrounded by mountains.) I discovered that at around 9,000 feet, I start to feel a bit light headed. I was happy to start down the other side of the pass to get to lower elevations.
Day 53 Hoosier Pass
We reached the highest point of our journey on Day 53 by climbing to Hoosier Pass (elevation 11,539 feet). The last 3.5 miles to the top was the toughest. I had to stop three times along the way to catch my breath and rest up for the next section. While the grades in the Rockies are not a steep as the Appalachians, the higher elevation makes the climbing just as tough. After stopping for a picture, I was anxious to ride down the other side. It was a fast and winding decent of ten miles to the resort town of Breckenridge.
Day 54 Breckenridge Layover
We stayed at the Fireside Inn B&B, run by Andy and Nikki, two Brits who have made Breckenridge their home for the past 18 years. I highly recommend this establishment if you are in town. This is the view from their front door.
The elevation is about 9,500 feet, which did not help my physical condition. I felt tired, did not have my usual appetite, and thus got a little dehydrated. I am looking forward to getting below 9000 feet as we head towards Wyoming.
Day 55 Hot Sulphur Springs
We stayed the night in Hot Sulphur Springs. What a treat to go to the resort by the same name. For $20, we had the use of all of the different hot spring pools, and the use of the showers, too. I could get used to soaking in a hot spring at the end of each day of riding!
Day 56 North Park
We climbed up and over Willow Creak Pass (elevation 9,621 feet) to get our first view of North Park. The obvious difference between the two parks is that North Park is green with huge hay fields and pastures.
Day 57 Cowboy to the Rescue
We entered Wyoming the morning of Day 57.
As the photo shows, there was a storm ahead of us. Since we had no cell phone service, we did not know the size or direction of the storm. Tom and I stopped at the entrance to Big Creek Ranch to wait for the others in our group to catch up, so that we could all decide to wait out the storm or ride through it. We were told by one of the ranch hands that we could use their hay barn if the storm got any closer. As the others arrived, we decided to take cover in the barn. The temperature had dropped from the 60’s to the 40’s and it had begun to rain.
As the weather deteriorated, some members of the group got so cold that they could not bike the remaining 40 miles to our destination (Saratoga WY). I decided to ride to the ranch house to ask for some help. Luckily, a man (Adam was his name) was outside in the process of unhitching a horse trailer from his truck. I explained our predicament, and he generously offered to drive some of our group and their bikes to Saratoga. He re-hitched the trailer, loaded the bikes in the trailer and off they went. Turns out Adam was an accomplished cowboy with plenty of stories to back up his expertise.
The rest of us continued riding our bikes to Saratoga. We got in so late that we could not visit the Hobo Hot Springs, a free hot springs for all to enjoy. Oh well, I now have a reason the come back to Saratoga.
Days 58-60 Wyoming Headwinds
It turns out that I should have been more concerned about winds in Wyoming than in Kansas. We have had to fight headwinds and crosswinds every day since crossing into Wyoming. Days 58-60 were especially fierce. Steady winds of 15-25 mph were common, with gusts up to 40-50 mph. Watching riders in front of me, I have never seen a bike lean so much into the wind without falling over. On Day 59, we rode past Split Rock, which was a navigation landmark for emigrants as they rode the Oregon, California and Mormon trails, which were all one path at Split Rock.
On Day 60 (July 3), we rode into Lander WY, exhausted from the constant battle with the winds. We have the next day off to enjoy the 4th of July Wyoming-style, and rest our tired muscles for the days to come.
Newton KS to Royal Canyon CO (Days 41-49, 517 miles/2318 total miles)
Day 41 Layover Day in Newton
I have a new respect for our US Postal Service that was earned while on this trip. Sometimes it is not possible to pack 100 days worth of something that has a short shelf life. This is true of the homemade protein powder that I eat every day. Michiko was kind enough to make up a batch and mail it to me in Newton. She addressed the box to the Newton postoffice, with a note that I would pick it up sometime around June 14. When I went to the Newton postoffice, all I had to do was show my I.D., and the postal worker gave me the box. That is a valuable service when you need something important while on the road.
Day 42 The Explosion
We had ridden about 15 miles west of Newton KS when we heard a deafening sound like we were right next to a commercial jet aircraft just starting to take off. I knew we were not near an airport, so I did not know where the sound came from. Then we saw a huge fireball rise up above the tree line southwest of us. It was only about 1.5-2 miles away. We continued to ride our route, while police cars and emergency vehicles went screaming by. The route brought us to within one mile of the flames. We knew then that a natural gas pipeline had exploded. A CBS news story that afternoon indeed confirmed that it was a Southern Star Central natural gas pipeline explosion. Near my hometown, Duke Energy wants to put a high pressure gas pipeline right through densely populated towns, despite the fact that the region does not need the gas. Having been up close and personal with a pipeline explosion, I cannot imagine the death and destruction that would ensue if there were such a disaster in one of out towns.
Day 43 Harvest Time
The wheat fields of central Kansas had already turned to gold by the time we arrived. On Day 43 I saw my first combine harvesting a wheat field. We grew accustomed to being passed by convoys of large semi’s hauling combines, headers and grain trailers to different parts of Kansas. They are called “custom cutters”. They rent out their harvesting equipment to farmers and follow the ripening wheat as it moves north from Kansas.
Day 45 2000 Miles
We completed 2000 miles of our journey on Day 45. We celebrated with the obligatory photo.
Day 46 A Celebration
We continued to fight strong side winds from the south. It was difficult to keep the bike on a straight line as gusts of up to 30mph would hit us. Occasionally, though, our route would turn north for a few miles. That was when the fun would begin. We would reach speeds of 20mph with light pedaling. On Day 46, I set a personal speed record of 20.1mph over a 25 mile stretch of road between Scott City and Tribune. The strong (and uncommon) east wind was the result of a huge supercell that dropped five and a half inches of rain on Scott City in just three hours. The highway that we used to leave Scott City that morning turned into a river that afternoon. We were very lucky to have missed this damaging storm.
Day 46 was also a special day for Chuck. Five years ago, Chuck was riding the TransAm from West to East. Just before he reached Tribune KS, he was struck by a car going 65mph. The impact broke 20 bones in his body. The EMT’s, who luckily were very close by, arrived within 90 seconds of the impact. Chuck was not breathing, but the EMT’s were able to revive him. It took seven weeks in the hospital and multiple surgeries to get Chuck put back together again. Five years later, Chuck was able to complete the other half of the TransAm with us going east to west. Chuck did not know it, but his wife, Joy, who flew in from Rochester NY, and all of the hospital personal and EMT’s had a surprise dinner for Chuck that evening. We were all invited, and had a great time visiting with Joy and our new friends from Tribune.
Day 47 Conquering the Beast Named Kansas
On the morning of Day 47, we crossed the boarder into Colorado. We had conquered the beast named Kansas! Kansas threw a lot at us: a storm strong enough to roll a tent, 100 degree heat, 30mph side winds, and monotonously straight roads with no turns for 100’s of miles. It felt good to be on the other side of this state, but I think Kansas was just playing with us. We did not experience westerly headwinds, nor were we hit with storms like the one in Scott City. I am glad we were spared the worst.
We arrived at Eads CO that afternoon, which is officially the half way point on the TransAm. There was a sign along the road letting us know we had reached this important milestone.
Day 50 Rocky Mountains
On Day 50 we reached Royal Gorge CO. We have officially left behind the flatlands of Kansas and eastern Colorado. We are all excited to tackle the Rocky Mountains after almost two weeks of flat topography. This was the view from my tent at our campground.
Eminence MS to Newton KS (Days 33-40, 432 miles/1801 miles total)
Day 33 Layover Day in Eminence
The Circle B Campground rents rafts, canoes, kayaks and inner tubes to float down the Jack Fork. We rented three rafts and had a blast floating down the river for about 2 hours.
Day 34 Alley Springs and a Fire Watch Tower
In the morning, we passed by Alley Spring and an old mill that was built right next to the spring to take advantage of the 80,800,000 gallons of water that gush out of the ground every day. That is not a typo. 80 million gallons!
A little farther down the road was a fire watch tower. I climbed the stairs to just below the observation deck (it was locked) and had an amazing view of the Ozarks to the east, and the flatlands of Kansas to the west.
We camped at the Houston City Park, which had a city pool, and it was open! This was a real treat, because three previous city parks were supposed to have pools, but they were either not open yet for the summer, or they were permanently closed. Most of us quickly changed into our swimming suits and joined all of the kids cooling off in the water.
I alway stop at places that have anything to do with roosters, since that is my Chinese astrological sign. I stopped and took a picture of a gate to Rooster Ridge Farm. If I had a farm, I think that’s what I would name it.
Days 35-38 Hot, Humid and Kansas
From Day 1 of our trip, we have experienced unseasonably hot weather. Every state we have cycled through had record breaking heat in May. The heat and humidity continued to follow us into June. We routinely have highs in the mid 90’s with 60-70% humidity. When we have long milage days (~70 miles), we get up an hour earlier so that we can depart by 7am to get an extra hour of cooler morning riding. On Day 37, we climbed our last hill of the Oarks. No more roller coaster rides.
We entered Kansas late in the afternoon on Day 37 after a tiring 72 mile ride. The good news is that we have been blessed with side winds (SSW, S or SSE) for the last few days. No headwinds yet.
Day 39 The Storm
At 2:30am on Day 39 we were awakened by thunder and lightning. A quick look at the radar image on my phone showed a large storm heading our way. This was a surprise, because the night before, the skies were clear with only a 50% chance of storms. Within ten minutes we were hit with torrential rains and wind gusts up to 50mph. The storm lasted for two hours, continuing to hit us with wind and rain. My tent survived the storm, with just a little bit of water seeping through the bottom of the “waterproof” tent. It was laying in a one inch deep pool of water for over four hours, so I guess that was not too bad. Other folks in the group were not so lucky. At the height of the storm, Jennie’s tent was pulled from the tent stakes. The tent, with Jennie and bike panniers inside, rolled end over end twice and ended upside down in a pool of water. She was able to get out of the tent and re-stake it to the ground, but she did not get back inside. She spent the rest of the night sitting on the floor in the women’s bathroom. A second storm, much smaller than the first, arrived at 5am. We were finally able to step outside around 7am when the rain stopped. This was the strongest storm any of us had ever experienced with just a tent between us and the elements. It definitely was scary. I jokingly thought to myself as I unzipped my tent at 7am, would I step out to see Kansas or the Land of Oz.
Carbondale IL to Eminence MO (Days 28-32, 201 miles/1369 miles total)
Day 28 Layover in Carbondale
It sure is nice to be staying in a hotel that has breakfast included. I got up when I want to and went down to the lobby for a hot breakfast. After breakfast, I took my bike to Phoenix Cycles for a tune up and a new chain. I also bought a pair of Shimano sandals that allow for cleats to be attached to the bottom. The main reason I bought the sandals was that I hated sopping wet shoes when it rains. Hopefully, the next time it rains, my sandals will handle the water better.
Day 29 The Mississippi River
Hot, humid weather was still with us as we road down to the Mississippi Valley on our way to Chester IL. We caught our first glimpse of Old Man River as we crested a levy to ride parallel to the river. A big storm hit us at 9pm, with strong winds and lightning.
Day 30 Missouri
We awoke to much cooler temperatures and lower humidity. What a nice change. Tropical Storm Alberto had finally moved out to sea, and a high pressure system with winds from the northwest was finally able to set up camp above us. Before we left Chester, we stopped at the bridge over the Mississippi River to see a stature of Popeye. Elsie Segar, the Popeye cartoonist, was from Chester, so there are statures of all the Popeye characters throughout the town. We crossed the bridge to enter Missouri and started climbing the famous Ozark Mountains.
Day 31 The Black River
Today was probably the best cycling day of the trip so far for me. Temperatures were in the 60’s-70’s with low humidity. We had a short mileage day (45 miles), and camped at the Parks Bluff Campground, which was on the banks of the Black River. As soon as we set up our tents, we changed into our swim suits and jumped in. What a great way to end a day of biking. Bikers beware, though, because the Black River will shrink a hot body, as Charlie found out the hard way.
Kent required solar heating after a few minutes in the cold water.
Wally is enjoying watching the river roll by.
Day 32 Eminence and Jack Fork River
We rode the toughest part of the Ozarks today. Constant accents and descents much like a rollercoaster. This is the first time I have biked in the Ozarks, and they are becoming one of my favorite regions. Everything is so green. Each small valley has large hay fields framed by the mountains, and the spring-fed streams and rivers are crystal clear. We camped at the Circle B Campground just outside Eminence. It was a short walk to Jack Fork River, where we cooled off after the long, hot ride.
A Worthy Cause
One member of our group, Stephen, is riding to raise money to fight cancer. He writes: “I’m riding with Bob on the Trans Am and raising money for cancer research because I have advanced cancer. The ride has been some of the best treatment I’ve had. New medication is keeping my cancer down, but I need something new to keep cycling. If you’d like to learn more or donate, please view the site at http://tinyurl.com/steven2018/. Thanks.” Please consider donating to his cause.