Number of flat tires: 0
Mechanical problems: 0
Number of crashes: 2
Number of bee stings: 4
Bugs accidentally ingested, in tons: 1
Weight lost: 13 lbs.
Well, um, that's it then. Three months and 4,800 miles. A lot of the entries here make the ride sound harder than it was.
Hardship makes more interesting stories, and writing, "Sun is shining, everything's marvelous" every day would be boring. Most days were like that, though - boringly marvelous.
There are lots of stories that I didn't write down, and I can't wait to start boring you with them in person.
Just smile and nod, and let me blab on. I'll stop talking about it so much in a few months.
Thanks for reading!
Leaving Charlottesville, I stopped at Thomas Jefferson's house. It turned out to be at the end of a long winding driveway, protected by multiple gates and manned security checkpoints. From the visitors parking lot, you can't see anything, only trees. The guard in the lot, leaning against his truck, said the only way to see the house itself is to pay $22 for the tour.
Then he asked if I was one of those cross-country cyclists. When I said yes, he thought about it a second, and popped open the door of the truck, telling me to take off my bike helmet and hop in.
I did, and he gave me an unauthorized tour, driving through the security checks, where I nodded as they waved us through, straight up to the house.
The security guy said, laughing, that he was a retired cop. If they fired him he still had his pension.
Here's the photo that normally costs $22.
At the base of a huge mountain,June Curry the "Cookie Lady" has been letting cyclists stay at her house for free (and making them cookies) since the inauguration of the TransAm Trail in 1976. There is an unofficial museum there filled with memorabilia from all the people who have stayed.
I knocked on her door yesterday and a tiny, frail old woman answered and invited me to sit on the porch. She is 90 years old now.
There was an aura around her, like being in the presence of a saint. It felt like a scene from a movie, when the hero meets the wizard or the aliens, and finally gets to ask his question.
After we sat down, she asked me which direction I was heading, and said, "So, you're almost done."
Then there was a long, quiet moment before she asked, "Was it everything you'd hoped for?"
I couldn't think of a reply.
"I don't know," I answered.
"Were you disappointed?"
"No, not at all. It just feels like..life."
The dogs of Virginia are delightfully well-behaved. I've barely heard a bark since crossing the stateline. It's possible that word of my victories in the bloody dog wars out west has preceded me, and now the curs cower silently until I pass.
Western Virginia is like a gentler, well groomed version of Kentucky. A land of genteel farmers and friendly evangelists, happy to chat about the weather, or Jesus, or their cousin's motorcycle trips.
I stayed in the master bedroom of a magnificent Victorian mansion. The sweet old lady who lived there fixed us a huge Southern breakfast in the morning. All of us guests sat around an ornate table in the parlor eating cheese grits and biscuits and fried tomatoes, among many other things.
It was so good that I stupidly rode off in a food-daze, forgetting to take a picture.
After the pitbull attack I was kind of PTSD'd. Every noise sounded like a bark and every movement looked like a dog running out toward me. I had trouble falling asleep the night after.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the only dog that attacked me in Kentucky. I was attacked again later that day, and many times in the following two days.
Most of the dogs were bluffing and would chase me, snarling and baring their teeth, but not really wanting to catch me. Others were more serious. They all frightened me.
The Appalachia mountains are spooky, with deep misty valleys and thick wet woods. Being alone, with creatures constantly charging out of the murk, made them terrifying. Like a nightmare.
There's a scene in Private Ryan where Tom Hanks character explains that he's able to keep fighting despite being scared, because each mission he completes brings him closer to home.
That became my new credo.
After the first attack, I bought a can of wasp spray, which the Internet claimed works like mace. When I spray dogs with it, they don't yelp in pain, but they do stop chasing.
For 3 long days, I fought a Dog War in the hillbilly hollows of Appalachia. I sprayed countless dogs, Dobermans and Dachshunds and Dalmatians, every furry fuckhead that came after me, attempting to block my way home.
Both the route map and several westbound cyclists have warned that dogs in Kentucky are especially aggressive. There are few fences for some reason, so farm dogs just wander around unsupervised. I've been chased a few times but either outran them or scared them off by shouting "No!"
A pitbull came racing out at me from a house at the bottom of a steep hill. There was no way to outrun or avoid it. I shouted, "No!" and "Bad dog!" but it didn't hesitate. It came up fast, snarling and biting as soon as it reached me.
I usually carry pepper spray but, in one of those terrible bike tour coincidences, only 3 hours earlier I'd noticed that the canister looked like it was about fall off, but got distracted before I could secure it. So it fell off somewhere, leaving me defenseless.
When the pitbull reached me, it bit first into my wheel, which is covered by a steel fender, and not very bite-able. It let go, and I lifted my leg, to keep away from the dogs mouth, and to kick it in its fucking head. It bit next onto my rear pannier, but the waterproof fabric is tough and the surface rounded, so it couldn't get a good hold. It kept snarling and biting down, but couldn't get a grip.
Meanwhile, I'm still pedalling forward up the hill, but also turning, keeping the rear of the bike between me and the dog. It wasn't close enough to kick, my bags were between it and my legs, so I kept turning the bike to keep it that way.
The dog was biting everything near its mouth, too stupid to focus on me. It bit my wheel again and again, and chewed on the panniers some more, but I kept turning the bike, avoiding its jaws, still climbing the hill, and eventually it gave up.
Just outside of Popeye's home town,a series of levees and dams separated the Mississippi river from miles of planted fields. Tributaries of the river flowed through the fields, forming ponds and marshes, and in places spilled across fields and submerged roads and people's driveways, making it appear as though the crops and houses and farms grew directly out of the water. A waterworld.
The bike route followed a road through the waterworld, and when the muddy water swallowed the road, it was both fun and scary continuing forward where the road dissapeared, descending who knows how deep. The only way out was keep peddling and aim for where the road reappeared, nervously watching as the warm brown water rose - first over the ankles, then up over the chain to the bottoms of the panniers. Boat or bike?
On one section in this wet route, the road ahead seemed to be covered in gravel, but as I began riding through, the "pebbles" began frantically and hilariously hopping away. Hundreds of tiny frogs jumped left and right, leaving an amphibian wake streaming to either side of the bike like a boat. I had to go slowly to avoid squashing them, like Bicycle Moses in some weird scene from the Old Testament.
In rural Kentucky, towns have names like Falls of Rough and Cave in Rock and no stores sell alcohol. Every quarter mile or so there is a church, and people are very courteous. I stayed in the basement of a Baptist church one night, and am happy to report that nothing bad happened to either the church or myself.
Currently, I'm directly across the highway from Lincoln's birthplace, staying in a motel that smells like black mold and dead people. I'm grateful though, I arrived 10 minutes before a raging thunderstorm.
Unfortunately, my internet/phone connection is so tenuous I can't upload any photos.
I'm in Chester, IL, a cute town of brick bungalows strung along a bluff, overlooking the Mississippi river. It contains both a prison and a mental institution. Housing people against their will must be very profitable. The small towns that do are often the prettiest, while the ones relying upon other industries have empty Main Streets and boarded-up storefronts.
I slowed down to meander around the Ozarks, which are much too fine to hurry through. Fireworks are legal in MO, and on July 4th every town large enough to have a post office set off megatons. Their combined explosions filled the sky to each horizon with smoke and fire. I tried to sleep in my hammock, tied next to the river amid cicadas and lighting bugs, but the booming, kaleidoscopic sky continued early into the morning.
Thanks for everyone's offers of money. I obtained a new ATM card by signing up for a new checking account, and I can transfer money around via the Power of the Internets®, so I've got cash again.
I'm just inside Missouri now, and wish to extend my thanks to Kansas for its flat-ass roads and lack of freezing temperatures. Kansas, you're the best!
Here, at the foothills of the Ozarks, the country is leafy and dotted with ponds. The green hills roll steeply up and plunge steeply down, like a rollercoaster, getting roller-coastier the farther east you go. Best of all, at night there are fireflies.
I stayed at a hunting lodge with 2 other cyclists, both also riding solo and both heading east. Good guys, it will be great to see them on the road ahead.
This evening in a supermarket checkout line, I performed a magic trick. I swiped my ATM card through the reader, put it back into my wallet, punched in the PIN, and the machine told me the card was unreadable. I opened up my wallet to reswipe the card, and the card had disappeared!
I have a second, credit union account and debit card, but that PIN is long forgotten. The CU insists over the phone that they can only issue a new card, they can't reset the PIN, so I no longer have an easy way to get cash.
I'm heading to Joplin, MO where there is an affiliate CU branch who can hopefully give me enough cash to last the rest of the trip.
Oh, I also took these pretty pictures.
Yesterday was difficult. 82 miles, 90 degrees, 90% humidity, 20 MPH wind, no shade anywhere and only a single gas station in the entire 10 hour ride. I drank 7 liters of water over the course of the day, refilling my bottles from farmers taps.
At one point, there was an oasis of shade trees and long grass and flowers (in the pictures below). I stopped there to rest. As I was chewing some trail mix, I noticed a small bug climbing one of the stalks of grass near my leg. There was another bug climbing another stalk near him, and another near that one. Ticks! They were everywhere, including on me. I picked off the ones I could see, and left as fast as I could.
As the long day went on, exhaustion forced me to stop with increasing frequency, eventually every 3 or 4 miles. Demoralizing delays that pushed the end of the ride farther into the future.
At the height of my discouragement, I saw a someone walking along the shoulder of the road, pulling a bike trailer like a wagon behind him. He was 20 years old, had left Delaware in February and was crossing the US on foot, walking not hitchhiking, headed toward San Francisco.
I'm proud of SF sometimes, which offers all the world's misfits a home, and encouraged that they are still making their way there, even on foot.
A couple of days ago, a few miles outside of town, a man on a mountain bike with a small cloth bundle bungie-corded to the rack was stopped alongside the road. He seemed distressed, and his wet red head looked like it had been boiled, but when I asked, he said he was OK, so I rode on.
The next morning I saw him again and he asked if he could draft behind me, since it was hot and the next town was 58 miles away. He explained that the day before he'd run out of water and he was worried that today he wouldn't be able to complete 58 miles on the 2 water bottles he carried.
So we rode toward the next town together. He'd ridden from Denver and didn't have a destination. He had a lot of stories about bike rides he'd taken all over the US, and an archaic way of speaking: "Let's stop and visit some with those fellas."
His bicycling stories sounded true, but he seemed so ill-prepared for today's trip that I only half believed them.
After 12 miles, he'd drank 1 1/2 of his 2 bottles and we'd had to stop twice so he could rest. On his 3rd break request, I gave him a bottle of Gatorade and told him I was going to keep going alone.
I continued for an hour then found him ahead of me, filling his bottles from a tap in the yard of a church. A farmer had picked him up from where I'd left him and given him a lift. He told me that this spot marked the end of his trip and I haven't seen him since.
Soon after, two cyclists waved me down. They were two brothers from W. Virginia who'd driven out to Kansas to do half the TransAm route. They were on the road only a couple of days and one of them had broken a spoke. They had no tools, and no knowledge of bike repair.
I replaced their broken spoke with one of my spares, but it was too long so I couldn't true the wheel. Luckily the town they were headed toward, 30 miles away, had a bike shop. The semi-repaired wheel was wobbly but usable, and hopefully it carried them there safely.
All this farting around caused considerable delay and I did not arrive at the town until about 7. The only lodging there turned out to be in an exotic animal park, and I fell asleep amid zeebra and ostriches!
Hot, so hot. My arms and neck look like dried tobacco leaves. To reach Lared, KS (58 miles) required 6 hours and 4 liters of water.
In the photo below the fenceposts are made from limestone. Since there are so few trees in Kansas, the original homesteaders used stone instead of wood, and many of their old fenceposts are still in use 120+ years later, as they last forever.
I've always wanted to see Kansas, land of the Wizard of Oz, and it does not disappoint. Its flatness and endless fields of grain are not exaggerated and are not at all boring, in their infinite geometry. Miniature towns stick up above the patterned planes of the fields, then grow slowly life-sized as you cycle towards them. It's a mesmerizing effect, and under a warm sun with a favorable wind, some of the most pleasurable riding I've experienced so far.
Red-winged black birds have returned. They were replaced for a while in Colorado by brown birds with mustard yellow bellies. I also see a new kind of insect, a black thumb-size beetle with gigantic jaws, and new very graceful brownish silver colored snake.
The building in the photo below is the "restroom" of a local park, an outhouse with 2 holes. I can't imagine when the 2nd hole would be useful.
I typically meet one cyclist, or group of cyclists, per day. They've always been heading west, until today when in the tiny town of Ordway, I ran into four, all heading east like me. They are two groups, a mother and her daughter who started in Colorado a couple days ago and have already had 6 flat tires, and 2 college-aged guys who seem like frat boys. The "dude, bros" caught up to me by skipping Montana and cutting through Idaho, to avoid the mountains, the big sissies.
I'm kind of dreading having the dudes around for the next 2,200 miles, and hope that they, or preferably me (ahh, it'll be me, haha) will be faster and put some distance between us. I suspect the mother/daughter team will quit. They seemed pretty discouraged already.
The terrain out here is hot, flat and brown. It's gonna be like that for awhile. A little competition would liven things up.