Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day 44 to 49, Colourful Colorado and over the continental divide a couple of times

Day 44 was my Pueblo rest day and it was well earn't. Started off with a couple of episodes of NCIS, followed by writing my last blog post (essay), raiding the complimentary breakfast (bagels, cream cheese, coffee and donuts - trying to limit my items though as there isn't enough for everyone), and going for a swim in the pool. I eventually left the motel in the afternoon. Pueblo city centre has some great public arts statues, a cool river walk, some top notch coffee shops and baking 109 degree weather. After walking around with the guys I went back to my room in the afternoon to watch more American crime shows, another swim and some boring laundry duties. My brain and body are much relieved to have the down time though.

Day 45 Pueblo to Canon City was a great day. In fact all of them have been great, but this day was a taste of how beautiful the Colorado scenery can get. Ben and I cycled out through the leafy city park and western suburbs before getting out onto the main road to Canon City (pronounced Canyon). The arid rock formations and view of the Rockies in the distance left our gobs smacked for the entire route. The first good view of the mountains filled me with excitement as we got closer. The first stretch was extremely hot and I ran out of water before Wetmore and I got dehydrated. There was only a water pump there by the post office (all shops closed) and I had to drink over a liter plus have a nap before I started to feel better. Pushed on after 2 to Florence where I got a good shepherds pie at the cafe and then cookies in the coffee shop where an open mic evening was in full swing. Norah caught us up here and we went the last flat easy 9 miles to Canon to stay in the RV park for $15 a tent (where we met a couple of Dutch cyclists also staying). We bivouacked to save costs but got eaten alive by mozzies!

Day 46 Canon City to Hartsel starts with insect bites on my face. From now on I will always pitch my tent! Anyway we cycled out of town, at one point next to a guy cycling with his pit bull running alongside, up the first 9.5 miles to a rest stop by the river gorge. This took a couple of hours of steady climbing. Excellent rock formations, deep red with more scrub vegetation on the hills as we climbed out of the valley. I caught up to the Dutch couple on a hill later on with Ben as we headed to the town of Guffey. A great spot with a cool bar at over 8000ft of elevation. Lunch and a couple of beers dragged to a 4 hour rest stop. We eventually decided to go 26 miles further to Hartsel and started in late afternoon. We got our first taste of Rockies rain as a big storm front erupted on the way as the valley open up significantly. We entered, went through and out the other side of some heavy rain and black skies. Hartsel has a pavilion where we could pitch our tents. In the restaurant there we met a group of Great Divide endurance racers. It was great to hear about the race (Banff Canada to Mexico) and their experiences.

Day 47 Hartsel, Hoosier Pass, Frisco. The pass is the highest point on the trail and I woke up feeling a little anxious about the upcoming climb. The road leading up to it was gentle though and had superb views. The valley was ringed with mountains, some of which were snow capped. A quick stop at the supermarket in Fairplay where I chatted to David, an Englishman who runs a b&b, about the Great Divide race (the winner did it in 15 days!). Onto the pass via the cute town of Alma. Stopped in the medical marijana shop to hear from the owners about how the recent law changes affect them and their business. Then the pass - in the end it wasn't that difficult. The grade was relatively gentle but the traffic was scary and came very close at speed. Pictures at the top and then down the other side. Another short heavy out burst of rain on the downward hairpin lined slope reduced visibility hugely. Dripping wet we stopped in a brewery bar in Breckenridge to dry. After a couple of hours the skies cleared and we pushed to Frisco along quiet and beautiful cycle paths. The Peak One campground on the edge of the reservoir had superb views of the mountains and was an amazing place to pitch. A quick jump (like 15 seconds) into the reservoir to help clean off after a good days riding.

Day 48 Frisco to Hot Sulphur Springs. Today ranks as one of the most beautiful days riding of my life. The camp ground was even more beautiful at dawn and then bike paths took us right around the reservoir. Clear skies, bright sun light and tree lined bike paths make a great combo. Coffee stop in Silverthorne and then onwards through the river valleys threading through the various mountains. More reservoirs to take in along the way until we hit a headwind (and more scary traffic) for 10 miles to Kremmling. There we caught up with the Georgian boys that I hadn't seen since Kentucky. I rode with them to the town of Hot Sulphur Springs. Again more canyons (the head of the Colorado river is near) with stunning sheer rock faces and a short harsh hail storm as we got into town. Tents were pitched in the city park in a blaze of mosquitoes (these are massive - like half an inch long) and then I went to the springs. $14 entry to soak in 24 pools ranging from 99 - 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Very relaxing (and dehydrating) and then to sleep.

Day 49 Hot Sulphur Springs to Walden. What a nights sleep?! Train tracks a good 20ft from the tent and the heavy, loud, horn blaring trains ran frequently through the night. Not the best nights sleep. The loudness of the train is almost comical! Anyway good breakfast at the local 'Glory Hole Cafe' in town and then out. Dave broke a spoke 12 miles in and had to repair whilst we pushed on into the hills past Shadow Mountain. More super scenic views, this time with the hills covered in Pine trees. Seems like a lot have died, apparently from a beetle infestation. Even so this area is rugged and beautiful to ride through. We crossed the divide for a second time before Christophe (Swiss chap in a recumbent trike) and I pushed to Walden. Bumpy cracked road jarred my bones and slight headwind exhausted me. The valley changed again, more of a high altitude altiplano that reminded me of Bolivia, but green rather than red. Big dinner in the Moose Creek Cafe as I bonked. Then chocolate and donuts for a super rush to help motivate me to do laundry. City park for camping. No train tracks nearby thankfully!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Day 37 to 43, all of Kansas and deep into Colorado

Day 37 Pittsburg to Toronto
Pittsburg has been great and my bike is feeling brand new after its thorough service. The drive train is silky smooth and silent. Toronto was a fair distance, close to 80 miles away but looked to have a good number of camp sites surrounding a lake in a state park. We took a slight detour for a few miles on a gravel road which tested my bikes skinned tires before we got back onto Tarmac. We rode with Christian, a Swede that I had been in contact via the ACA cycle website. We made good time until another patch of gravel and then having to walk our bikes around construction of a bridge. We consoled ourselves to massive ice creams in Chanute where Ben elected to stop for a couple of hours to beat the heat of the day. I myself stopped in Benedict for a snack and stretch break whilst Norah and Christian pushed on. It's fun to ride alone and I made the last 22 miles to Toronto by 7. A surprisingly good brownie in the Italian restaurant and then we pitched our tents in the nearest campsite (which was deserted) and which ended up not costing a dollar.

Day 38 Toronto to Newton
Christian and Norah kicked on ahead so I took my time. Today's target was a total of 98 miles, including a section 38 miles long with no shops/services. Also today was the first day that cross winds from the south took effect. Gusts between 20 - 30mph can destabilize a bike loaded with panniers so caution is required, especially when large trucks pass within a couple of feet and seriously disturbed airflow. Breakfast in Eureka where a random man with duct tape on his boots gave me a novelty belly button brush (?!). Afterwards a nasty section riding on the narrow shoulder of highway 54. 19 miles of being knocked about by the wind and scary trucks. Happy to be off that. Lunch at Rosalia where Linda made me a burger with meat from her farm (no soy additives apparently) and told me about her grandsons prize winning goats. Stocked up in Cassoday with extra liquid for the barren stretch after chatting to Ken the Ford model A owner who was in nearby Wichita for a convention on the 80 year old vehicles. Last stretch was mentally and physically tough, the wind slowed me down a lot but eventually made it to Newton around 8. Checked into a Best Western on the outskirts of town as a reward for roughing it out and getting to Newton.

Day 39 Newton to Nickerson
Felt great after a sleeping in a luxurious queen bed and going for a quick swim the night before. I wanted to get to Nickerson today which was the last town before another section with no services. Total of 46.5 miles so should be relatively easy. Started well with a quick gas station stop for coffee and snack bars (bottled Starbucks cappuccino packing 200+ calories). Then 10 miles onto the small town of Buhler were I had a fantastic hummus sandwich with a pot of black tea at the Mustard Seed cafe. This was the first vegetarian sandwich (on good bread) that I have had in weeks. Kansas is proving to me to have a higher standard of food than the previous 4 states with much more fresh produce options available. I signed their guest book and then finished at my destination at 4. Met Ben who had come from Hutchinson and we grabbed dinner in the local Sunshine diner (goulash followed by peanut butter pie and ice cream for me). Met two East bound riders, Thomas and Corey, and we all pitched tents in the city park near the local grain elevator. These structures heat and store the wheat grain that is being harvested all over this part of the state. They are very noisy but luckily it either shut down over night or I drifted to sleep with its hum in the background.

Day 40 Nickerson to Larned
This was a killer day. One of the hardest. Strong cross winds gusting to 30mph or more again. The first stretch of 58 miles with no services on route was going to be hard going. Coffee and provisions bought at the gas station (after Ben had stopped talking to two local brothers) and off by 7.15. First couple of hours were manageable with low wind and heat. Around 10 both started to climb. We alternated drafting to keep our speed up. A positive was that the roads were pretty empty. We went off route to Seward with 19 miles to go for a water and rest stop around 11.30. We were pretty beat but the local diner welcomed us, fed us and refilled our bottles. It also had wifi so we ended up wasting an hour there. We plucked up the motivation to carry on through to Larned and in the face of strong winds we arrived around 3.30. On the way in I passed my first cattle feeding lot, possibly even worse smelling than road kill. Norah had run over a dog earlier in the day and come off her bike breaking her helmet so was already there in Scraps coffee shop. We chilled there for a while recuperating, Ben decided to push on and I retired to the city park to set camp. I wasn't keen to ride further today. Cyclists get in free at the city swimming pool so I went in for a few lengths to loosen up. A great place and good vibe. I set up my tent under the pavilion and talked to a family about the trip (and they offered me ice cream that I didn't refuse). Later on Eric who I'd met in Chester came in and camped at the park too.

Day 41 Larned to Scott City
I started the day riding with Norah around 6.30 and the winds were behind us so we made great time. The Great Plains are super flat, so a tail wind allows you to really fly even with a heavily loaded touring bike. The first 62 miles to Ness City went in a flash. The only issue was finding food on the way there (it was a Sunday so most places in these small towns were closed). It was 12.30 so we went into the Cactus Club for their lunch buffet. Perfect - massive plate of rice, chicken, pulled pork please. Ness City was actually my original goal for the day but it had taken little time to get here. Norah pushed on whilst I digested my lunch for another 30 mins. Tail wind all the way so I kept going, through Dighton at 4 (where I passed Paatvi a Finnish west bounder), eventually to Scott City at 6.30 where I called it quits (still 119.5 miles travelled). I checked out the city park and then an RV site before deciding to stay at the local Athletics club. Bill let me in and for $12 I could sleep in the office where the trophies for local kids are kept next to a TV. Hot showers also available! Spent a while in the laundromat before settling to sleep on the carpet. My can of WD40 leaked onto my sleeping bag liner so I may have slept due to mild solvent inhalation.

Day 42 Scott City to Sheridan Lake (Colorado)
This day was spent riding completely solo. If I thought I had had hard days they paled in the face of this one. Head winds for half the day wiped me out. Some of it my own fault for getting out late (around 7.30) and then having a leisurely breakfast for an hour in Leoti. By the time I was on the road again at 10.30 the winds were against me. Slow going all the way to the town of Tribune 21.5 miles away (took 2.5 hours) and then to Sheridan Lake (27.5 miles). Frustration got the better of my patience at two points during that section and I physically shouted abuse as I peddled in one of my lower gears punching into the wind. As the land is flat you can see miles into the distance. When it takes an hour to travel 6 miles, that grain elevator is barely getting closer, and your back and knees are straining it can be really tough to keep the willpower to keep going. Around 6 the winds started to subside just as I hit my target. The pastor in the town allows cyclists to sleep in the church. Vonnie and her daughter Victoria showed me around the place which I had to myself. A pizza from the gas station and some other snacks perked me up and I read till 9 to relax my mind and prepare for tomorrow.

Day 43 Sheridan Lake to Pueblo
The earliest start of the tour today at 5am. I wanted to avoid a day like the one before if possible. Getting out early before any winds picked up and being able to get some good mileage in before lunch seemed the prudent approach. Almost immediately the environment had started to change from agricultural fields to scrub land. The bright azure sky and the barren landscape was beautiful in the early morning. I travelled the 28 miles to the town of Eads before getting a cooked breakfast By 8.30. Slight cross wind but nothing terrible. I carried on and made it to Haswell by 11 to stop at the gas station for more food and water refills. The heat picked up to over 90 and I had 35.5 mile stretch to the next available water source (cafe in Sugar City). Managed to get through without running out of water by 3 and stopped for meatloaf and iced tea. At 4 I decided to keep going, hopefully to Pueblo which was still 55 miles distant, a tough ask before nightfall. The winds were favorable though so I kept going, stopping once for a water refill in a liquor store, getting into Pueblo at sunset. Brutal day, total 135 miles and 15 hours. Knees and back feeling sore. Straight into a motel ($50 a night) and to sleep. Rest day earn't I think after this week!

The Great Plains have been both a grueling challenge and some amazing long mileage days. Mostly I will remember the good nature of the Kansas people. Especially those that stopped their cars on the road to ask if I was ok (when taking quick snack breaks). A very pleasant state to cycle in - apart from the wind if its against you!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day 30 to 36 blowing through Missouri and into Kansas

Day 29 Finished in a Patrone and Whisky blur. After going to the Popeye museum I went into the Eagles bar for lunch and a pint of Amber Bock. I ended up talking to Valentino, a local horse rider/hostage negotiator. After he left, ex eagles president Mack came and helped us do lots of shots. In bed by 8.30 (I think) with a few drunken bruises. New rule - no more drinking on rest days (and possibly for rest of trip?)

Day 30, Chester to Farmington was hot and hungover. Breakfast at the country store in a daze then waited a short while whilst a car crash further down the route was cleaned up. Around 12 we crossed the mighty Mississippi (on a narrow busy bridge) and entered Missouri! Slammed straight into cross and head winds and our first taste of the rolling hills that would become the trademark of the Ozarks. A slow day grinding out the miles in 90 degree heat finished in Farmington. A cool town with a great vibe - a local showed us the way to the swish cycle accommodation by letting us follow her from the city limits. 'Al's Place' was like a nice apartment and allowed us to watch game 1 of the Stanley Cup and do laundry.

Day 31 Farmington to Ellington started with top coffee and breakfast burrito at the Baukus Kaffee, the first real good coffee shop we've been in since Christiansburg. First half of the day was pretty easy and then the steep grades started. I also had my first puncture just outside the town of Pilot Knob - a kind couple from Oregon kept me company whilst I swapped out the tube. There was also a cool civil war museum in the town that I had a quick browse around. We kept going after a petrol station lunch into Centerville where I got another sandwich. We headed on after a local (meth addict?) on a bench near the diner started shouting at the trees. We stayed in Ellington at the Brawley city park with three guys heading East. The park had a group of bored teenagers talking and revving their 4x4s till late! Bastards.

Day 32 Ellington to Alley Spring = Ozarks proper! Had what seems to be the delicacy here, biscuits, sausage and gravy for breakfast at Halls Deli. Must be 1000 calories in that concoction and def feels like a stone in your gut. Either way I needed the energy. Took it very slow and steady up the hills. Almost all of them in my lowest gear. They aren't as bad as the Appalachians in terms of difficulty, rather there are many of them so you get worn out. The flip side is that this area is very beautiful especially on the scenic river ways where the rivers are fed by clear spring water. Also we really feel the change in culture now - definitely a mid western vibe. Also the roads have no shoulders and the drivers are impatient - we had one scary moment with a logging truck overtaking on a blind corner at speed. We stopped in the town of Eminence for long lunch and tried to get going around 3 after chatting to 2 other riders, Dana-and Christian. Another big hill and brutal heat meant we gave up after 5 miles. Alley Springs campsite was beautiful though and allowed for me to have a good swim in the Jacks Fork river.

Day 33 Alley Spring to Hartville started with the realization that at this point I would have to average at least 55 miles a day with no rest days to be able to catch my flight. So we got on the road at 7.15. First hill was brutal! The next 30 were fine except for the trucks hauling horse trailers overtaking again at bad points. We stopped in Houston for lunch were I was asked if I had been on tv talking about riding (which I hadn't) and then I ate a massive plate of pasta. We kicked on with dark clouds that stayed on the horizon the whole afternoon. We got into Hartville after an 80 mile day and I demolished a double cheeseburger and milkshake (which took revenge the next morning) and then we went to pitch tents. We first looked at the city park but it was near a sewage plant so it smelled and didn't have running water. We tried to find a church but ended up at the court house. We hoped to sleep inside but no luck. In the end we had some teenagers messing around near the tents and lots of traffic through the night - not the best nights rest.

Day 34 Hartville to Ash Grove was another 6.30 start on the road after coffee at the gas station (attendant loves Dr Who) and then riding into light rain which turned into a mega full on thunderstorm 20 miles in. We stopped in Marshfield to warm up and eat breakfast (a 'country bowl' which was all ingredients in a bowl with gravy all over). A great cafe where everyone wanted to make sure we were ok, needed towels and wanted more hot coffee. A good spot to consider the options. We elected to go on to the town of Fair Grove where there is a pavilion and showers for cyclists. As we got there the sun shined and it was up to 85 degrees and super humid. We spent 5 hours there resting and doing hand washing. We decided to get back on the road to Ash Grove as another cyclist (Eric from Michigan) had told us there was better accommodation there. We rode into the twilight over very hilly terrain and arrived at 9.30. The last hour or two we kept an eye on the huge storm clouds and frequent lightning flashes. The storm hit whilst we were deep in sleep. Ben also pepper sprayed the first dog today. The bull terrier wouldn't stop even after I had squirted it with my water bottle.

Day 35 Ash Grove to Pittsburg (Kansas) started around 8. It hadn't started raining yet as per the forecast so we got on the road. Ben stayed back so Norah and I pushed on. We heard part of route 126 was flooded so we decided to go through Jasper. More rollers but not too bad. Constant rain though so we did get wet through. I've started to wear plastic bags on my feet to keep the rain out - hobo style! We took a long lunch in jasper where there were a bunch of Midwestern farmers eating. We took our time to dry and eat (and for me to write the majority of this post). We waited for Ben and a local guy offered to drive back 10 miles to look for him (but didn't see) so we decided to push to Pittsburg and wait for him there. Ended up that he had heard from an east blunder that the road wasn't flooded and so had beaten us to the town and got a motel room. I ended up camping in the city park, very humid and hot, but free! The scenery has definitely started to change already, large fields of wheat or grass land stretching to the horizon.

Day 36 is a rest day. Mainly so I can get the trek fully serviced and also new brake blocks, bar tape and chain. I spent the day sweltering in 96 degree heat as I walked to the cinema to watch Star Trek. The afternoon doing laundry and investigating Australian work visas. Relaxing back at the city park before tomorrow - hopefully a big riding day.