Saturday, November 10, 2012

Last Post

Ah... it's good to be home.

It was 66 degrees today. Seems like the weatherperson has a cruel sense of irony. All the same, I am glad to be home.

General Thoughts

I'm really glad I did the trip. I have no regrets whatsoever. And -- best of all -- I only had to wait a year from the time I started planning. I met boatloads of people, most of whom I had no idea I would meet, most of whom were incredibly kind to me. I came out with lots of stories (more than could even fit on this blog), have two new friends from Bosnia, have leads on a few jobs, can say I've taken a bath outdoors in the back yard of someone I met less than an hour beforehand, and the list goes on. I'm really happy I did this, and I can't wait to do it again. I mean, I kind of have to wait, unless money starts growing on trees or coming out of the hot water pipe. Not to mention there are other things I want to do first.


Both for fun, for my own curiosity, and to appease your inquisitiveness, here are the stats of the trip -- those I can remember, anyways.

Date departed: August 20th, 2012
Date arrived: November 2nd, 2012
Total number of days: 74
Total number of break days: 12 (9 of which were spent in Jeff City, CO, while waiting for Lisa to arrive from CT)
Nights with Warmshowers hosts: 14
Nights invited on the property of a complete stranger: ~6
Nights in a motel: ~3
Nights in a church: 1
Nights stealth camped: ~50

Total miles: 4,032
Average miles/day (excluding 12 break days): 65
Longest day: 144 miles -- Pueblo, CO to Sheridan Lake, CO; 6 AM departure, 8 PM arrival
Estimated revolutions per wheel: 3,268,164
Estimated pedal strokes: 2,513,972
Continental Touring Pluses (Tires) replaced: 1
8-speed chains used: 2

Total amount spent on room and board: $1460
90 day budget: $1800
Proportional budget for 74 actual days: $1480
Average amount spent per day (including break days): $19.72
Daily budget: $20

Next Up

After I spend the holidays at home enjoying my last "real break" before entering real life, I plan to visit India, Guatemala, and Zambia, to volunteer as a bike mechanic. I'm keeping a blog for this one too -- be sure to follow it at This month starts more fundraising, trying to get airlines to sponsor me, and applying for an Indian visa! Don't miss out.

As far as careers go, I have an interview lined up with Epic, a healthcare technology company in Madison, WI. The position is a perfect fit, so I'm hopeful. I could end up there for a while, or I could get into bicycle advocacy and education. As far as I know right now, I would be happy doing either. Bottom line, I want to make a positive impact on the world. Maybe that makes me naive... I'm okay with that. If there is one thing this trip has done, it has shown me that kindness can never go too far. I already wanted to make the world a better place, but now I kind of have to -- all those people who gave me food, company, a place to sleep, they all said one thing:

Pass it on.

Tell me... what is it you plan to do with your one wild, precious life...?
Mary Oliver

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Iowa City, IA to Minneapolis, MN: I'm not dead -- I'm home!

Greetings devoted followers! I apologize for the delay between this and the last post -- a lot has happened, as always. For starters: Yes, the title of this post speaks true, I am home! Apparently some people have been worried that I might have died. Not the case.

So, that means this blog is quickly winding down. There will be two more posts, this being the first. It will focus on the last few days of the trip. The second post will be an overview and have a small "What's Next?" -- because you can't just stop at biking the country. Be sure to tune in a few days from now for the final post! And until then, on to business...

The business of pedaling!

We left Iowa City at 8:30 with an encouraging text from Anne (our host) ("Get your asses out of bed and in the saddle!"). Aside from passing an old-fashioned Diary Queen (see FB) and a car wash called "Rubber Ducky Car Wash" (complete with smiling rubber duck logo), it was a pretty standard day. Heck, it wasn't even that cold.

Thanks to Anne, we have a route picked out for the next day and a half. There was a bike trail from Ely, IA to Waterloo, IA. The trail would turn out to have some hiccups, but nothing major.

As we came into Cedar City, IA, we saw some pretty cool houses, and some pretty cool art. There was one house I neglected to photograph that had a gazebo built into it. We saw a birdhouse made out of a cowboy boot, and another made out of a bicycle helmet. It was all quite swell.

Before we went into the maze of bicycle trail throughout Cedar City, we smelled... delicious.


An intentional wrong turn led us to a Czech Village with a Czech bakery. It was the most delicious choice we made ever. Okay, maybe not ever... but having lunch at a bakery is definitely on my do-more list.

We continued on to make it about 20 miles outside Waterloo before stopping for dinner at Joensy's Tenderloins in Center Point, IA. It was one of the three places to eat in town, next to a pizza place and a gourmet snack shop -- eg, Joensy's was the cheapest and the least greasiest.

And unbeknownst to us, also the hugest.

After letting our stomachs settle we decided to head out and look for the first place to stealth camp we could find. Despite having just taken a break day, we were exhausted... somehow. So we found a place. And crashed. At 7.

And woke up and were cold.

We woke up and thought about getting going... and then decided it was too cold. We didn't get going until 9, at which point all our stuff was still frosted (see photos on facebook). We had to stop frequently to rub our toes, change into warmer and/or colder clothing, etc. etc. It was all rather annoying, and not something we really wanted to repeat. But really.

We had set ourselves up to stealth camp for four out of the next six nights... and weren't really looking forward to it. We weren't meeting a heck of a lot of people (since, at that time of year, most of our meeting happened via Warmshowers), and oh yea... did I mention it was cold?

When I first left Tacoma, the point of the ride was to get to Minnesota. Sort of. I wasn't really sure what the point was, but I decided that a significant part of it was to have fun, and to meet people. We weren't meeting a lot of people, and it was so cold that it wasn't fun -- at least between the hours of 4 PM and 11 AM. So we decided not to continue.

Somehow my Grandma was able to come get us that same day. We were expecting to have a day to change our minds, but alas -- quick-acting Grandmas. In any case, we were glad to be warm. We spent a few days with Arlene (my Grandma) and Caleb (my first cousin) before my sister came to pick us up and take us home to Minneapolis.

"Yo! It's cold in here!"

So... thus ends the story of my bicycle trip across the country. I have a lot more to say... which I will say in my last post. Check again in a few days. For now, I'm being called to cook dinner and watch the election! My dog is here, my mom, sister, and best friend are all here... oh, and did I mention -- it's warm indoors?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bowen, IL to Iowa City, IA: Cold days, Warmshowers, and Gravel Roads

Some point shortly after crossing the Continental Divide I had thought the universe couldn't keep making ridiculous things happen. Then I met Rattlesnake Jim. Well, since taking a break in Jeff City, I haven't doubted the universe; I guess I just... forgot? Or was more excited about biking with Lisa than anything else. But since leaving St. Louis, I have been given free postage, offered a place to sleep in a barn, camped out in a torrential downpour, slept in a bathroom, met Gene, and... well, yes, there is still more to be told. Bicycle touring at its finest.

Before leaving us to our fish, Gene offered to bring us some breakfast, an offer which we graciously accepted. Remember, we only had 26 miles to go into Keokuk, so we had all the time in the world to close camp the next morning. Gene showed up about 8:00 and helped us get the fire going again. We decided to let it simmer down before cooking breakfast, so we headed out to help him feed the cows while we waited.

"Feed us! Feed us!"

They chased us through the pasture for a bit before we got to the feed area. We helped Gene distribute grain before trying to pet some of the cows, but they were too shy for that. We didn't want to make them uncomfortable, so we headed back to the fire, and got a cookin'.

Mmm... camping in the midwest.

That's not a picture of our breakfast, but I decided you'd like it better than one. We had eggs, bacon, and toast. Thanks, Gene!

The rest of the day was pretty standard riding. We did encounter a lot of dogs, but none that wanted to bite us, so no harm done. Oh and remember, we had all day to do only 26 miles, so we took it super easy.

Flying a plane is super easy.

We also found the COOLEST PLAYGROUND EVER in Hamilton, IL. They had a wooden plane, train, truck, and tractor along with the regular playground. Okay, the playground wasn't terribly awesome (I have high standards about my playgrounds), but I was super excited to have found a giant wooden airplane. Those of you who can see all of my photos via Facebook... beware.

Then we went to Iowa...

One of these things is not like the other.

...and met our hosts for the night, Stephanie, Bill, and their 2-year-old son, Grant. We had a grand old time. Dinner was salad and pizza, all from scratch; dessert was snicker-doodle and pumpkin butterscotch cookies, again from scratch. We took a walk around the neighborhood, which was really interesting. Keokuk was apparently one of the first cities to build a bridge across the Mississippi, so at one time it had the largest concentration of millionaires in the world. Since 1976, however, the population of Iowa has decreased every single year. This means you can buy a beautiful riverfront home in Keokuk for anywhere from $30,000-$100,000 (most of them need some $100,000s of work, however). It was ridiculous.  Bill and Stephanie knew a lot about the houses in the area and how they were built, so it was a swell tour. Back at their house, we watched a video of their bicycle tour of France, complete with castles and stunned Frenchmen ("Vous etes de la!?" -- "You're from where!?"). Anyways.

"Eat me..."

We took off the next morning hoping to make it halfway to Iowa City, where our next host was. This included a 10 mile ride along the Mississippi River, which we then departed, not to meet again until the last day of the entire tour.

Lisa is pretty satisfied with herself right about now.

Iowa isn't exactly made for bike riding. Remember that we were off the ACA route and making up our own. We also didn't have a road map of Iowa since the tourist center in Keokuk was closed. So, we had to resort to Google maps.

Don't ever use Google maps to tour Iowa.

We found ourselves on some gravel roads and even at one point (as pictured above) on a road that wasn't a road. It had been removed a few years ago (most of Google maps is dated 2007, I believe), but we only had 0.3 miles to do on it, so we did anyways. The other option was riding along a four lane divided highway with no margin, so... I keep trying to tell myself it wasn't too bad.

Also, to the left of the not-a-road was a cider mill, where we stopped for lunch and bought fresh bread and fudge. No complaints there.

Aside from the unconventional directions it was a pretty standard day. We made it to and left Mt. Pleasant, IA (the halfway point to Iowa City) about 5 PM, looking for a place to camp.

We didn't camp here.

Not ten minutes out of town I looked back to see Lisa holding up traffic. There was an SUV next her with its window rolled down. A bit confused and a bit worried, I motioned to her to get out of the way so it could pass. We were in the Midwest, so it would be unusual for someone to cuss you out, but better safe than sorry. The driver waved as he passed me and pulled over just ahead. He got out, opened his trunk, and lo and behold...

a bicycle.

So we had a place to sleep for the night. Mark gave us directions to his friend's farm, where he was headed for a party of sorts. This is the type of party where old men drink lots of beer and talk about nothing in particular for hours. It was swell.

From right to left: Circuit Breaker, Iron Man, Geek Squad, Cobra Leader, General Lee, Gator, Camel Kid, and Silent Partner.

You can't make this stuff up.

They had a lot of food which they didn't eat, but offered to us instead, which we graciously took for the following day (wanting hot food for dinner that night, we cooked). I also got to try out Mark's (Iron Man's) bike, a special type of bicycle made for riding in "extreme conditions --" gravel, snow, etc. This model was made by Surly and called the Moonlander, and featured 4" wide tires at 4 psi. It rode like a semi with jacked up suspension. It was awesome.

We awoke the next morning to frost on the fly and got going early, around 8:30, with 60 miles to do and a constant headwind. Google maps kept us on gravel roads for about 25 miles. We were put on some roads with "Level B Maintenance," which I think means "we don't touch it unless a tree falls on it, and then we just leave a chainsaw nearby," but they were actually packed dirt and not gravel, so an easy ride. At one point we were told to turn on a road that dead-ended into a cow pasture, so had to ask for directions. This sort of thing continued until lunch.

Lunch changed everything.

We happened to pass by some fields owned by Iowa State University, which was 200 miles away in Aimes, IA. But hey -- no complaints. They had a picnic area shielded from the wind and picnic tables in the sun. Just as we were getting ready to go, a gentleman in a picnic pulled up. He happened to have a state road map with him (THANK GOODNESS) so from there we dropped Google's directions and only had to do 3 miles of unpaved road for the rest of the day.

That unpaved road was quite the ride... but oh well. See, after lunch, the wind picked up to 10-16. Also, unpaved roads are ungraded, so they hit 20% grade easy... and also I have tires made primarily for riding on pavement. Lisa had no problem on her cross bike, however.

We made it into Iowa City around 8, and our hosts were happy to have us. They understood our needs exactly: "Sit. Eat."

Anne and Larry are fantastic. They own at least ten bikes between the two of them, bike to work every day, and have a huge garden. For dinner we had omelettes with all the ingredients either from their garden or bought locally; for dessert, homemade pie. They graciously offered to let us take a break day in their home, which was much needed after 61 miles into a headwind, 20 of which were on gravel roads, and three hours of which had the wind at 16 mph. So here we are... relaxing... updating blogs... reading... enjoying the Midwest. Oh, and did I mention we're only about a 7 day ride from Minneapolis?*

I'll just leave you with that.

*We're about 300 miles from Minneapolis, which we could chug out in two or three days if we really wanted to. We encourage you not to underestimate the cold, the wind, or the hills, however. Also, Lisa is still getting into the swing of things. So we're going to take our time. Sort of. It is going to get super cold eventually. And possibly snow. Hm.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

St. Louis, MO to Bowen, IL: Bad Luck, Good Luck, and Gene

So Lisa and I didn't have the best luck right off the bat. For starters, her bike was missing a few things -- not that they weren't there when she bought it, just that the shop that boxed her bike for shipping, you know, forgot to include them in the box.

The first thing that was missing was her front quick release. For those of you who aren't terribly bike-savvy, a quick release essentially holds the wheel onto the frame of the bike -- you can't ride without it, at least not without a lot of luck. So after enjoying a complimentary breakfast (okay, hotels are expensive, but at least they give you free food) I took off to the nearest bike shop to barter for a quick release. Fortunately, they had one. Many bike shops don't carry them as they are supposed to come with bikes of the floor, so I consider that we got lucky.

The second thing that was missing is hard to describe in detail; let it simply be said that she didn't have a front brake. That was something we could live without (as the bike had a working rear brake). I asked the feller who sold us the quick release if they had this part, but they didn't.

Anyways, I got back to the hotel just in time to get Lisa's bike in working order. We packed up, and took off.

Lisa rides a bike!

We essentially decided that we couldn't get far enough out of St. Louis for dependable stealth camping given the late departure, so we would instead bike the 15 mile ride to Rachel's apartment, and spend the rest of the day in St. Louis. Thanks again, Rachel!

Also, it rained. A LOT. So my rain gear was put to the test for the first time since Colorado. Er, there were some lame rains in Kansas, but no pours. It poured. By the time we got to Forest Park (a huge park right in the middle of St. Louis), though, it was beautiful out. Don't know how that worked out, but I'm not complaining. We also had some time to kill until Rachel got out of class, so we stopped in front of the art museum (which looks more like a castle, complete with fountain) for a nap.

Our bikes napped too. Also my sister broke her ankle on that hill over there.

Small world, right?

Before arriving at Rachel's we stopped at a bike shop and got Lisa's front brake working again. Yay. After dumping our stuff we took the Metro (light rail) to the riverfront (where the St. Louis Arch is located) and walked to the arch. It is possible to take egg-shaped elevators that curve their way up to the top of the arch, but apparently they sell out about 3:30 every day. We didn't arrive until 5, so they had been sold out for a while. I've been to the top of the arch before; Lisa had not. She was disappointed and insisted this was "just her luck" along with the issues with her bicycle.

We did enjoy the weather though.

I see it! I see the arch!

Since we didn't get to go to the top of the Arch, we opted to walk around a bit. We encountered a cobblestone street and decided to walk down it, at which point we found an Old Spaghetti Factory inside a really cool building. Dinner, check.

Awesome building, check.

Apparently it used to be an old hotel. Anyways -- win.

We took the metro back and promptly crashed.

- - -

The next morning we said goodbye to Rachel and went on our way, for real this time. All was well until just before we stopped for lunch, when Lisa's bottom bracket (the part where the pedals connect through the middle of the bike) started making a racket. If you take a spoon and bang it against an empty tin can repeatedly, that's about the sound it was making. I did the best I could to diagnose the problem without a full set of tools, and decided that nothing would break further -- she'd just have to live with the sound until we could get it looked at.

A few hours later we made it to St. Charles, MO, just south of the Mississippi River crossing into IL. Lisa decided she'd had enough, so we attempted to stop at the bike shop in town, only to find that they were moving. Not closed... moving. So had we been a few days earlier or later, we would have been fine. Lisa attributed this to her bad luck as I went around the parking lot (full of bicyclists, luckily) asking for tools. With no luck, I sat down and promptly got stung by a bee.

So, neither of us were really having a great day at that point.

Then we met Steve and Rob.

What's up guys.

They drove us to a nearby bike shop that had the proper tools, and we found, lo and behold... lack of grease. Thanks, Raleigh (the company that made Lisa's bike) -- a notorious problem you have yet to fix.

Things turned up from there.  Steve and Rob were good company and, while they didn't have a place to stay, they did point us to a nearby campsite that recently opened. We got directions from the bike shop and paid only $10 for the night. Aside from the good company, biking with someone else is good 'cause you get to split things like lodging fees... so check $5 that night for me.

They had some pretty cool art, too.

Also -- when leaving the bike shop we stopped to talk to a woman interested in bicycle touring. She showed up at our campsite around 7:30 (it was dark) with her husband, saying she was worried about us and wanted to make sure we had a place to stay. Apparently they had driven around for a bit hunting us down... it was pretty ridiculously swell. We assured her we were okay, and talked for a bit before saying goodbye. Thus ended day 1 with Lisa. A good ending to a not-so-good start.

- - -

The next day was pretty standard, except that it was windy in the morning. We took the ferry to Illinois... it was a pretty cool ferry. The engine compartment could detach and rotate from one end of the cargo float to the either depending on which direction the ferry was headed... I was impressed. Some engineer somewhere knew what he was doing. Or he just wanted to design something awesome. Or both. *ahem*

Excuse me while I turn around half the ferry.

There was, sadly, no "Welcome to Illinois" sign. I mean, that's okay. We hadn't thought of a pose yet. So we rode on. The Mississippi River Road was supposedly a direct route up the riverside, but it was also very hilly, so we only stayed on it for about 15 miles (PS -- from St. Louis onward we were making up our own route using road maps) before cutting over to the Illinois River. The rest of the day wasn't terribly exciting so I won't write too much about it -- just know that we saw lots of houses on stilts (presumably for when the river floods) and an old showboat. Lisa was pretty exhausted so we found a place to camp about five. The timing was perfect as there was a torrential downpour just a few minutes after we got the fly up, so no complaints from me. Anyways... thus ends day 2 for the Lisa-Kyle team.

- - -

Day 3 started well.

Day 3 was pretty standard except that Lisa had her -- well, her hump. See, every cycle tourist hits a hump at some point. It's a bit difficult to explain, but essentially, bicycle touring is as mentally challenging as it is physically, and usually a percentage of the way in, the tourist wants to give up. It happened to me in Oregon. It happened to Lisa. I don't blame her; it was a good day for a hump to prevail. Cold. Windy. The timing was perfect as far as time without having showered, without having contact with the outside world... anyways, you get the picture. So that morning was sad. I tried to remember if there was anything anyone could have said to me during my hump that would have made it better, and I couldn't. I think it's just something that has to be pushed through.

Or you have to meet someone. For me it was the Bosnians. For Lisa it was Gene. Gene comes later.

That day we passed through a town called Griggsville. Griggsville liked birds.

So many birds.

Oh and the grocer gave us free bananas because "they were going to be overripe soon" and free grapes because... okay, I didn't actually catch a reason for that one.

We stopped at the library to arrange some warmshowers stays, and then went on our way.

Our goal for the night was a city called Mt. Sheridan, IL. A while ago we had tried to set up a warmshowers stay, to no avail -- both nearby hosts were busy... or something. One of them informed us there was free camping north of town, though, so no problem... except for the cold. Lisa did not like the cold. We stopped at a corn dog stand on the way into town to get a snack before making camp, and I dropped the hint that we were looking for a place to stay. We weren't hopeful, and didn't find a house to stay at, but the corn dog stand did let us sleep in their bathroom.

You heard me. We slept in a bathroom. It was actually a very nice bathroom -- for all intents and purposes, it was just a 10'x10' room. Oh, and it was heated. That's why we accepted. Actually, we were woken up multiple times because it was too hot.

So, that happened.

Oh, and we had left to let them close so we didn't take the bathroom from their customers. When we got back, they had some leftover food. So we didn't have to cook dinner that night.

Um, yum.

For the first night since I can remember I wasn't able to finish all the food I was offered.

Quick, everybody go "like" The Corn Dog Stand on Facebook!

- - -

From there we had two days to do 72 miles into Keokuk, IA, where we had a warmshowers stay. That's only 36 miles a day, so we took it pretty easy, stopping in Camp Point for about a two hour lunch break, listening to everybody stop at Casey's (the gas station/general store franchise of the Midwest) and talk about the upcoming high school football game. Apparently that's the thing to do in Illinois. Go to high school football games.

We made what was supposed to be a quick stop at Bowen, IL before continuing on to finish our 36 miles. It was only about 2:00 and we were intent on continuing forward, but then we met Gene. He said it was only about 25 miles to Keokuk, and I double-checked the map -- correct! Must have measured wrong that morning... anyways, this was important because suddenly we were okay with stopping! And then Gene offered us a place to stay. He had some land two miles outside of town, and showed us the way. Oh, and then we went fishing.

"Yea, come sleep in my field and fish in my lake."

It's, like, a thing.

We all caught one fish -- okay, Gene caught the first, Lisa the second, and it took me an hour to catch a third, which wasn't even big enough to eat. Lisa then filleted her bluegill, and then walked me through how to filet Gene's bass. Yes... I can filet a fish now. All the while the three of us entertained each other. It was swell. Then there was a fire.

And PUPPY (named Rocky).

For an appetizer to our usual just-add-water pasta, we cooked the fish over a fire. Gene stuck around for a bit before taking off; shortly after, Lisa and I took off to bed.

Then in the morning -- no, wait... that will be part of the next post.

I think some thank yous are due at this point. Corn Dog Stand -- thanks. Gene -- thanks. Oh, and the people hosting me while I type this, Stephanie and Bill -- thanks.

More soon!

K-dawg... out.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jeff City, MO to St. Louis, MO: Slow going at the End

So, it's been a while since my last update, and yes, I've only (...?) made it to St. Louis. I do have a few updates and wanted to give them in order to stay on top of things, but long story short, I'm still waiting for Lisa. She gets in today! I am very excited.

So I think I may have mentioned this previously, but I know I didn't post a picture. One of the cool things about the Katy Trail (formerly known as the Missouri-Kansas Trail, or MKT, by the way) -- aside from the fact that it's, you know, 260 miles of fairly well maintained fairly flat bicycle trail -- is that there are stations. I doubt if they are all the same building that was there when the train was running in the 1970s, but either way, the idea is pretty cool. There's tons of facts and history about the trail and the city you're passing through, including places to visit (and eat!) and maps of the trail and the area.

In case you missed it, this photo was taken from Tebbets, MO.

Just wanted to share.

In any case, I left Jeff City nice and early, not wanted to bike in the dark that day, as I knew I had some highway riding to do towards the end. The Katy Trail greeted me with open arms, and all was back to normal. I mean, if you consider riding 50+ miles a day normal.

Admittedly, nothing terribly special happened that day. I did discover that Missouri doesn't have any no-smoking laws when I stopped at a bar for lunch. The chili they had was delicious though, even if it came with a slight smell of smoke in the background.

I made it to the MKT station at Dutzow, MO where my warmshowers host was to meet me that night. He had said he was going to "escort" me across the bridge. I wasn't quite sure what that mean, but I did know the bridge was busy and marginless, so I was okay with it. That was the original plan, anyways -- after telling me a few harrowing stories and really pushing the busyness and lack of margin of the road, I was convinced to let Jerry give me a ride. He also offered to give me a ride back to the trail the next day, so technically I would still be biking the whole way (the original plan was to get on MO-100 straight from his house, not to take the trail to St. Louis).

In any case, it was nice to have two hours off that I thought I was going to spend pedaling. Jerry and I spend the rest of the night talking about everything from gardening to woodworking to photography to boomerangs. Okay, admittedly, he did most of the talking -- roughly 98% of it. The company was nice, regardless. And oh yea, I can throw a boomerang now.

The next day I took off from the MKT Dutzow station about 9:30 AM, much earlier than I had anticipated as I only have 55 miles or so to do that day. I never object to getting an early start though. And also, it was a nice morning.

Lots of views were had that day.

Almost immediately after taking off, a fellow named Bob caught up to me. Bob was from St. Louis and was out on his weekend ride. We talked away about 15 miles (and this time it was closer to 50/50) and ended up trading contact information before he took off. He hadn't started in St. Louis, but in another city called *ahem* about 30 miles west. After seeing him off, I stopped for lunch at a bar just 50 feet away from the MKT station there. There were no smokers in this one, and the prices were good -- I paid $12 for a burger, two orders of fries, and a 9" pizza. Uhuh.

I don't know what magic happened that day, but after leaving the bar, there were a lot more people on the trail. I think it was a combination of the weekend, the weather, and the proximity to St. Louis. In any case, I had a few good conversations, and about 1 PM, 2 hours ahead of schedule, got to cross the Missouri River again.

Only after going up the super awesome bicycle elevator to the top of the bridge.

Yea, that would have been cool.

It was a pleasant ride to Creve Coeur Park, which included a lake and a shared use path all the way around. It reminded me a little bit of my bike rides around Lake Harriet while home in Minneapolis... but I wouldn't be home for another two weeks. In any case, I stopped and had lunch on the beach, and then continued to weave my way through the St. Louis suburbs before finally getting to my destination for the day:


(not Lisa) -- okay, Rachel herself was not the destination, but her dorm room was. Rachel is a friend from college who is currently enrolled as a graduate student in the OT program at Wash U. She graduated from UPS a year before me, so we hadn't seen each other in quite a while and were happy to be reunited. I spent two nights there, so we also had ample opportunity to check out the dining in St. Louis's Central West End. This included a restaurant called "Pi," (yes, like the ratio of a circle's diameter to it's circumference), one called "Crepes, Etc.," for dessert, and a fancy-ish sushi place that we accidentally went to during happy hour, meaning anything on the Happy Hour menu was half off. Score.

Today (Sunday, 10/22) I left Rachel's to bike to a hotel in Maryland Heights. Lisa's flight just landed, and she's on her way! So we'll spend the night building her bike (she had it shipped to the hotel), splitting our stuff weight-wise, and watching a movie. We were originally going to head into Illinois tomorrow, but we've decided instead to visit the Arch and the City Museum, so we'll be heading back to Rachel's tomorrow. I'll update from Illinois in three or four days. 'Till then -- go watch the debate!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Osawhatsitcalled, KS to Jefferson City, MO: Murder Cabins, Capitols, and Couches

Okay, so when we last left off, I had just stuffed myself to near-explosion status with Chinese food, and then I had biked 50 miles to Osawatomie, KS, 20 miles from the Kansas-Missouri border. Not the best combination ever, but hey, I wasn't about to turn down a buffet.

As I was coming into Ross's (my host's) house from the south, Tim came in from the north. The timing was uncanny. Actually, he had passed Ross's house, so we were a bit confused about where it was, but we did find it eventually. Ross and his parents were great hosts, and they even had air mattresses that didn't leak (those of you that have leaky air mattresses, well, you know who you are). So that night was a night of story sharing between Ross, his parents, Tim, and myself. It was a good night. The next morning we awoke to the smell of a most excellent breakfast:

Moms are awesome.

So let's see, that's sausage, eggs, yogurt with granola and strawberries, and waffles with homemade blackberry syrup. Yea... it was a good morning.

Right before heading out, Tim broke his sunglasses. Fortunately, Ross's mom had a spare pair of green aviators, so Tim became Tim the rock star. Unfortunately that photo didn't come out too well, but I'm sure you'll be able to pick him out in a future photo. In any case, we took off for Missouri. About mile 15 of that day, we passed a cider mill, and gratefully stopped for cider. Oh, and fresh donuts too. No big deal.

A LOT of donuts. Infinite donuts.

Okay, so it was actually pretty great. You could watch them make donuts through a window in the side of the room, and when they came out of the oven they'd put them on a metal tray, and carry the metal tray to the glass display in front of the register (yes, the same display in the photo), and from there they'd put them in a bag and give them to you. I hadn't had cider nor cider donuts in a while, and it was the perfect fall day for it, so this was really quite the treat. Tim had never had cider donuts before ever -- apparently it's not a thing in Germany -- and he wasn't terribly impressed, but he is always happy to expand his knowledge of American culture.

After enjoying half a dozen donuts each (at $0.50/piece, no less), we continued on our way. I admit I saw a sign that said "State Line 4" and thought maybe it was the fourth state line... like... if you label the sides of a four-sided state as you might the quadrants of an xy-plane in mathematics... but I decided if I was wrong about that it would be embarrassing  Sure enough, four miles later (*ahem*),

I think I'm setting too high a precedent for awesome state line photos.

Interestingly enough, as soon as we got into MO, the quality of the roads decreased almost instantly. They were still rideable, but once a mile or so there would be huge holes in the margin, forcing us into the middle of the road. Fortunately the roads weren't too busy. It was also quite windy that day, blowing 10-16 with gusts up to 20, from the south. This wasn't too bad, and was much better than having the wind coming from the north, as it meant we didn't get face-slapped by any passing semis. The road did turn south a few times, which was painful, but hey... win some, lose some.

After the cider mill, it was a pretty standard (albeit windy) day up to Harrisonville, MO. It was 40 miles into a 95 mile day, and about 3:00. We weren't feeling like we could crank out the other 55 by dark, but wanted to do so, as the next was to be a 100 mile day into Jefferson City (in retrospect, I don't know why we were pushing ourselves so hard -- perhaps for the promise of a place to stay, and a break day, in Jeff City). We were getting ready to go after lunch when someone came out and started talking to us. We told him about our trip and that we were planning on taking the Katy Trail when he said, "Oh! Well, I've got a cabin in Sedalia. Would you like to use it?"

*jaw drop*

Only if you've been on a bicycle tour do you expect this sort of thing. Anyways, he handed us the key, and off we went. We made it about 9:30, well into the dark of the night, but it was okay, because we had a place to stay.

A pretty sweet place to stay.

It was a barn-turned-cabin, which was pretty cool. We were unable to figure out the hot water, so couldn't shower, but were grateful to have a safe, warm place to stay all the same. There was tons of bicycle art around, including a penny-farthing wine rack, a bicycle blanket... and more! Since we got in at 9:30 though, not much more story to tell. Oh, except we sort of thought he wanted to kill us in our sleep, so we slept upstairs with the bear spray close at hand.

Breakfast the next day was oatmeal and fruit, all of which we had with us (we did borrow some butter from the fridge -- thanks John!). Then we walked 10 yards to the Katy trail, turned left -- for all intents and purposes, our only turn for the day -- and began 100 miles of a fairly flat day.

(and thanks, John, for the cabin. And for not murdering us in our sleep)

And colorful, too.

The first part of the trail was pretty hilly, unfortunately. Actually, it all felt uphill... not sure how that works. The scat trail obviously wasn't as smooth as we were used to, which may have had something to do with it. Anyways, we made good time, keeping an average of 12 or 13, I believe (note: while one might regularly go 12 or 13, the hillier places have him or her going 5-8 uphill, so he or she averages more like 9).

We stopped in Boonville for coffee and road maps, which we didn't have yet (coming into Sedalia we stayed on MO-2 the whole time, and we were only on the Katy Trail after that). The only coffee shop was a local bakery where there was also a Bridge tournament happening. Learning to play Bridge is on my to-do list, and I had checked off a lot of other to-dos on the trip, but this one was not to be, not on a 100 mile day. I accidentally made lunch of the place, we talked routes for Tim past Jeff City, and then we went on our way.

The second half of the day was much flatter, being that the Katy follows the Missouri river once east of Boonville. You aren't always right along the river, but within 100 yards or so. In any case, when there wasn't miles of farmland, it was quite scenic. We passed a few cliff faces with caves... caving, again, is on my to-do list, but that will have to wait for another time (side note: apparently the St. Louis area has one of the highest cave densities in the world. The caves are significant for their natural coolness and thus ability to store alcoholic beverages before the spread of the refrigerator. The longest walkable cave complex is 22,000 feet end-to-end, which was allegedly used as part of the Underground Railroad).

We reached the Jeff City outlet about 8:30 and headed into town, foolishly believing we were done with hills for the day.


The ramp up to the bridge crossing actually wasn't that bad, as it was handicap-graded. I'm pretty sure we set a speed record on it simply because it was so nicely paved... but then we got to the city, which was hecka hilly. It was painful. But the end of the day was near! My sister has a friend in Jeff City named Ron, who was happy to host us. He even made noodle-hamburger galosh. Okay, I'm sure there's a better name for it, but it was improvised and delicious and filling and exactly what we needed, and that's the bit that matters. Thanks Ron!

Tim and I both took the next day off, and decided to cook dinner for Ron as a thank you for hosting. I wasn't about to let go of the German I had with me without making good use of him, so I -politely- requested (and didn't at all insist) that we have something German for dinner. We settled on schnitzel and potato salad and after a trip to the grocery store got to work. Tim was the head chef, working from memory, and I was the assistant chef, working at his beck and call.

You know it's going to be good when you get to beat it with a pan.

I didn't mention this, but earlier that week Tim's wheel had practically fallen apart. I put my mechanic skills to use and trued it enough to make it to Jeff City. We found that Ron had a truing stand, so I was able to finish what I started. Once again, thanks Ron! Oh, he also gave us a tour of the capitol building, where he works, which was awesome. It's apparently one of the most artful capitol buildings in the country. We also got to see the chamber of the House, the whispering room (where you can stand anywhere and speak in a whisper and anyone else anywhere else in the room can hear you), and the view from the spire on the outside of the building. Yea... it was pretty swell.

The next day, Tim and I said our goodbyes, and he took off to finish his tour. My girlfriend, Lisa, was to arrive on Monday, October 22nd, in St. Louis, so I had a few days (read: 11) to kill. I'm not sure if I should be embarrassed or not, but I spent most of my time in Jeff City on the couch watching movies and How I Met Your Mother, one of my favorite TV shows. I mean, I had just biked 3600 miles, I needed to put on some weight... *ahem.* In my defense, my legs are still a bit sore as I type this. Obviously it wasn't long enough...?

During the stay, I got a package from my dad containing a jacket and a new tire (thanks, Dad!), cleaned house for Ron, and did some yard work for someone on Craigslist. Nothing worth more detail, I don't think -- bottom line, here I am, day 9 in Jeff City, getting ready to go again. I'll spend the weekend in St. Louis with a friend from college, then Lisa arrives on Monday... and I finally get to turn north! Minnesota, here I come!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Great Bend, KS to Osawatomie, KS: Warmshowers all the Way

So this will be a good post. During this part of the trip, I met a lot of interesting and exciting people. Kansas got a lot more interesting (no offense to those I'd met already!), and to top it off, I have some extras for you. I'll start with one of those, actually.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I had met Rattlesnake Jim, who, in his spare time, milked rattlesnakes and sold the venom to the government. I was skeptical about how the venom got turned into antivenom, but I recently read about the procedure, and it's pretty cool, so I'd like to share.

After being milked from the snake, the venom is diluted and injected into horses, goats, or sheep. The immune systems of these animals are able to produce the necessary antibodies to keep them from harm. After the antibodies have accumulated, blood is extracted (which now contains the antibodies) and centrifuged to separate the red blood cells from the antibodies. The antibody solution is then purified into a powder (for oral consumption) or bottled (for injection). Notably, the animal antibodies may (and often do) induce an allergic reaction in the patient, but this is better than death or crippling.

So there's your fun fact for the day. Back to my tour...

I had just spend the night beside a church in Great Bend, KS. I slept pretty well despite being in the outskirts of a city, perhaps because there was a huge brick building on one side of the tent and a fence on the other. In any case, I was woken up at about 7:15 by the garbage truck, and took it as a sign that I might have overstayed my welcome. The citizens of the nearby suburb would no doubt be heading off to work soon, and I didn't want to freak anybody out.

The good thing about big cities is this:

Big donuts... small prices.

Okay, there are a few other good things, like... things... that are good... honestly, when biking, big cities aren't exactly on your to-do list. But it was nice to have donuts for breakfast. Cheap donuts -- $0.50/piece is the cheapest I've found them so far. Usually they are $1.00 or a bit more.

I also saw something interesting during my morning of city life:

Well, glad it wasn't my birthday.

I had known about the helium shortage and it's impending doom for a while now, but didn't know when the crap was going to hit the fan. See, due to the 1996 Act, or the Helium Privatization Act, the US Government is required to privatize (sell to corporations) all of its helium reserves by 2015. That's really the only reason filling up a balloon is (and still is, despite rising prices) so cheap. I read somewhere that without certain regulations encouraged by the 1996 Act, it would cost about $45 to fill up a standard size birthday balloon (about 4.3 US gallons) with helium. 

The short of it is that in the 1960s, the US Government was like "Dude, we can use this stuff to win the cold war!" So they bought a bunch of it. And then after the cold war they were like, "Dude, we're broke!" so they decided to privatize it. So then some corporation was like, "Dude, let's get rich!" so they lobbied like crazy and got the 1996 Act in place. So now we're going to run out of helium. Which isn't just used for birthday balloons, but also in MRI scanners, telescopes, and arc welders. So if you need an MRI, get 'er dun.

In my research for this tidbit I also came across California's Balloon Law, which I thought was interesting. It has to do with selling balloons such that they don't cause power outages by snagging on power lines. But you can read up that one on your down.

Tequila is also in a similar situation, but that would be way off topic. All I'm sayin' is a basement full of the stuff might be a good investment.

- - -

That day was, by far, the windiest day of my trip. Remember how western Kansas looked all the same? Here's what that entire day looked like:

Angry eyes included.

But seriously. It blew. And it blew. And it blew. Winds were 10-16 with gusts up to 24. And it blew from the northeast, which wasn't the worst direction it could have blown from, but it was about the 2nd worst. See, it wasn't a headwind (which would have been from the east), but it did blow from ahead and across the road, so every time a semi passed me I got thrown about a little bit. Semis coming head-on slapped me in the face with their drafts, often slowing me down by 3 mph or more. Semis coming from behind slapped me from behind and did often give me a noticeable push, but because they blocked the wind, it was tricky not to suddenly be steering into the middle of the road. In any case... it was a rough day.

I called my warmshowers host around 1 to say I had 50 more miles to go. He said, "Great! So you'll be here around 5:30 or so" (dinner was at 6)! I laughed, telling him the wind was pretty bad. I got in at 8:30. Dinner was great. And as with many other hosts, Charles had great taste in art:

In case you don't know, I have a thing for ducks.

I was graciously invited to take a break day at Charles's house, but had already setup warmshowers for the rest of Kansas, and wanted to make it to MO so I could take an extensive break, instead of many short ones. I did allow him and his wife (and his dad) to have me for breakfast the next morning, which was delightful. It's always nice to have a homemade breakfast -- often when camping, "breakfast" means "bread with peanut butter." But that day I had eggs, toast, bacon, hash browns, coffee, and juice. Delicious! Thanks again to my host for both the good food and the good company.

I had set up a pretty easy day for myself that day, as I knew I'd be worn out from the wind. I biked about 60 miles, 20 with a light (2-6 mph) headwind. I also spent the windy part of the day in the Flint Hills, which are the hilliest part of Kansas (and nothing compared to the Rockies), so I hardly noticed the wind. For the record, I actually like rolling hills. Even if you can't always keep your momentum, you almost always feel like you're making progress. I mean, to see this ahead of you --


-- and then to look up again in half an hour or an hour, and see something completely different... it just makes me feel accomplished, I guess.

In any case, I spent the night in Council Grove, KS, a gem of a town smack dab in the middle of the Flint Hills, complete with trees, lakes, and historical markers admitting that we pretty much screwed over the Indians that were there before us. My hosts for the night were, again, most gracious, and we had a nice chat about sewing machines and quilting. I even acquired some fabric with bicycles on it, with which I will complete my first quilting project, a pillow, upon arriving home. I'm pretty excited. And yea, you do acquire a lot of things while on tour... fortunately, anything not immediately necessary I have been able to mail home.

So once again I enjoyed a warm shower, a warm bed, and (always the best) warm company. The next day I took off for an 85 miles day with the wind at my back. My host had said, "This is one of those days we don't want people to know about;" indeed, it was the perfect day.

The hills are alive with the sound of AWESOME.

Nothing really to report on that day, except for the $6.25 Chinese buffet I found with the hilarious waitress. If you don't recall, I was off route at the time, and when you're off route people don't really know what to make of you.

"You ride motorcycle, yes? That's why you have helmet?"

"No, I'm on a bicycle actually."

"A bicycle! That's why you so skinny!"

And, whenever you leave anywhere,

"Be safety!"

Okay, most people you meet have perfect- or near-perfect English, but you get the point. Did I mention the $6.25 buffet?

Round 1: Everything.

Needless to say, I made it to where I was going that night.