Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day 58 - A Stupid Magic Trick

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.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 57- The Kid

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.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 55 - Companions in distress

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!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 53 - Blazing Saddles

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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 51: Kansas

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.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 49: Some fellow cyclists

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.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Days 46 - 47: Colorado Towns

Cañon City was, from the top of the hill, a pretty little town nestled in a leafy green valley with a river running through the center. Coming down the hill though, the first thing you see, just before the town sign, is a large prison.

I've noticed that in prison towns, people are meaner. Drivers are more aggressive, store clerks more surly. This was true of Cañon City, which should've been a charming place but seemed collectively deranged by having human misery be the town's main industry.

Pueblo is weird. I'm there now. The town looks as though there were once many thousands of people living here, but some horrible catastrophe wiped most of them out.

Vacant and semi-vacant buildings stand everywhere, and businesses drape hand-lettered signs in their windows saying "We're Open" as in, "The Plague Did Not Kill Us", while the storefronts around them lie deserted.

Below is the road I cycled on for 5 hours to get to this forlorn place, the end of the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Days 44 - 45: High Altitude

Colorado is great. I'm glad to be back in the woods again, in rolling hills away from the wind. It's surprisingly warm during the day, in the 70s, considering that the elevation is around 9000 feet.

I camped a few miles north of Breckenridge last night. It got down to freezing just before dawn, an impressive 72-degree change in temperature. My nose would hurt when it stuck outside the sleeping bag, causing me to wake up and pull it back inside the bag. Soon as I fell asleep, it would stick back out again. I need to get a smaller nose.

In the morning I rode over Hoosier Pass -11,542 feet, the highest point in the Trans-America route.

Piece of cake!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 43: Colorado

I've left Wyoming and entered Colorado. I was under the impression that CO was a yuppie state, but several of the people I met just after crossing the stateline were missing teeth, and when talking would wiggle their tongues around in the empty sockets in a very unyuppielike fashion.

As a white guy, I'm kind of astounded at how many different kinds of white people there are. In fact, I've seen so many variations in size, shape, skin and hair color that I can't figure out what we all supposedly have in common.

I feel a little bit like Charles Darwin, sailing through a caucasian Galapagos, astonished at the rich biodiversity surrounding him.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 41: A Haircut

I got a haircut in Rawlings,WY. There was a salon next to the motel, but they had no appointments available, "until Wednesday," the lady behind the counter told me.

"There's a good barber over in the Great Western Bank building. Sixth and Cedar Street."

After a brief search, I found it near the historic Wyoming Penitentiary, on the ground floor of a squat old red brick building, with a striped pole out front.

The barber was a tall, thin older guy of about 75 years.

"When I went to barber school," he said, "the schools were always located in skid row. So the guys you learned on were all bums. The first guy I had to shave was an old drunk who came in dirty and smelling like wine. I was so nervous my hands were shaking. I thought I was going to cut his throat. I cut him up all over, but he was so drunk he didn't even notice."

The barber then cut my hair really short and used a straight razor to clean up the back of my neck and behind the ears. It was the best haircut I've ever had.

BTW, in the photo below the white stuff on the ground isn't snow. It's salt.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day 38: Two German Girls

Several days ago, just before pulling into the motel at Togwotee Pass, I saw two female cyclists leaving the parking lot. They were too far ahead to say hello to, and the clerk there said they just stopped for water.

The next morning, I stopped to chat with a couple of cyclists coming the opposite direction, and the lady cyclist told me that they'd camped with her the night before.

Since then, I keep expecting to catch up with them, and in many lonely hours of pedalling have constructed a happy fantasy life for the three of us whose complexity rivals any TV soap opera. One favorite scene has us camped on the open prarie, snuggled beneath a mound of dirty sleeping bags and discarded boxes of macaroni and cheese, whispering tales of adventure to each other under a wide sky full of twinkling stars.

Anyway, today as I rode towards Rawlins, a black and frightening thunderstorm followed ominously behind me all day, getting gradually larger and closer. I hoped to be indoors before it caught me, but soon it was only a couple of miles away, dropping lightning bolts and filling the air with the smell of wet sage, the whole Wyoming sky going dark.

Then, far in the distance ahead, almost at the horizon, I saw two brightly colored dots. The German girls? I immediately speed up, hoping both to outrun the storm and to realize my dreams of European free love.

That I am spending the evening typing this story should inform you as to its outcome. The two girls were just an orange road sign, and the storm dumped it's full bucket of wet upon me.

Tonight, in real life I'll sleep in a trailer behind a gas station, but I'll also be camped out on the prarie, under a sky full of twinkling stars.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Days 36 - 37: 2nd largest peak, WIND

Made it over Togwotee Pass, the second highest peak on the route. I cheated a little by stopping at a motel about 3/4 of the way up. It was sunny and 72, but there was still about 6 feet of snow everywhere.

In the morning, I climbed over the top of the mountain and rolled downhill for 22 miles. At the bottom, I entered a new landscape and a new climate.

The wind continuously blasts this section of Wyoming's high desert. 60 MPH gusts are frequent and the direction varies. Hell for bicyclists.

In Yellowstone, I met a Norwegian cyclist coming the opposite direction who complained bitterly about Wyoming's wind. A couple days later at a gas station, the attendant told me that he'd met the Norwegian and they'd had the same conversation. The day after that, the front desk clerk at a motel told me that the Norwegian stopped there also, and that he'd been considering quitting.

So I've been nervous about this section.

The wind certainly blew ferociously today, but luckily it was against my back almost the entire way, propelling me effortlessly forward. Tomorrow, though, I could easily be the Norwegian.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Days 33 - 35

I rode out of Yellowstone and into Tetons National Park. The weather is sunny and warm now. Little streams of melted snow trickle everywhere, forming up into rivers and ponds, filling up blue lakes.

I also made a side-trip to Jackson Hole. The road follows a river running between the base of the massive Tetons and a wide, breezy plain. I felt like a speck of dust carried by the wind.

I've been listening to an audio book, "Sailing Alone Around the World" in which the author describes his voyage in a little boat on an endless ocean. A pleasant disorientation comes from listening to it in this landscape, where the endless sky and the endless sea become two facing mirrors that I can tumble between for whole afternoons.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 32: Old Faithful

It's like a church, with a ring of pews surrounding it. Then a ring of motel rooms, and a ring of restaurants, and a ring of gift shops, and finally a ring of parking lots. Then every 78 minutes, SPLORT.

The morning was cold and snowed a lot. I rode about 20 miles in it before ashamedly giving up.

Quick, are these photos of Siberia or Yellowstone Lake in June?

Day 31: Yellowstone

The ride out of Montana was difficult, like most rides in that difficult State. 55 miles, all uphill, in unceasing wind.

Goodbye Montana: cold, pretty and cruel!

Thankfully, Wyoming gave me a warmer welcome and I rode into Yellowstone under a cloudless blue sky.

There are a lot of buffalo in Yellowstone. They're as common as insects. The landscape is so huge that the buffalo appear tiny milling around upon it. Like giant brown ants, or fleas on a shaggy dog.

Tourists love buffalo and nearly equal them in number. Earlier today, a buffalo was walking along  the road and a tourist was following slowly alongside it in a car, filming. This caused a long backup in traffic. I managed to reach the car filming, but there was no way to go around. There was a gap between the car and the buffalo, about 7 feet, and I attempted to squeeze between them. The buffalo didn't want me that close and trotted faster to keep ahead. I sped up to get past it, and the buffalo went faster. Meanwhile, the car is keeping pace with us, so I'm wedged between the car and a galloping buffalo with only a couple feet of space on either side. We all keep stubbornly speeding up until finally the buffalo breaks off to the right, the car slows down, and I win!

Call me He Who Rides With the Buffalo.

In the picture below, there's a cave with bones scattered on the floor and some kind of white handprint marking...home of the Bigfoot?