Saturday, August 8, 2015

The End of All Things (Part 2): Tuolumne Meadows to San Francisco, CA

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” --Albert Camus

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.” --Thomas Paine

I rose from sleep early on the morning of the 22nd and headed down to the small store and cafe near my campsite. It was only about 6:30 and the place didn't open until 8 am. I had a nice long talk with a fellow camper about everything I'd seen and experienced on the trip and she told me a little about life in San Francisco. When the cafe opened I ate a nice breakfast to fuel myself for the 40 miles to Tamarack Flat Campground while my new friend headed off to do some hiking. I took off around 9:30 and was enjoying the ride until I came upon a traffic snarl. There was a highly inefficient road crew painting the lines on a new stretch of road and we were stuck in a (not particularly scenic) part of the road. I arrived at Tamarack Flat to find the campground full. I'd kind of expected that and had a backup plan to ask a camper there if I could give them some money and camp out on the same site. There weren't many people hanging about the campground but I found a very friendly couple from the UK. They'd already given a couple from Mexico City on motorcycle permission so things were a bit tight but there was quite enough space for all of us. They wouldn't accept payment, though, so I got a free place to stay the night! The couple from the UK was heading out just as I arrived but the Mexican couple offered me some of their mac and cheese and then we all went on a hike together. They'd just started their journey and were planning quite the elaborate trip taking them all over the place but ending up in Alaska. El Capitan was a 12 mile round trip and it was mid afternoon when we took off so we only went a couple of miles before turning around. They planned to make the full hike the following morning before heading off to San Francisco. We returned and hung about the campsite for a couple of hours before our hosts returned from Glacier Point. I wished I'd known that's where they were going as I'd have asked if I could come along. We enjoyed sharing travel stories and other conversation while our campfire burned until about 10 o'clock. I had a 100 mile day tomorrow to Modesto so I went to sleep quickly.

The following morning I wanted to leave early. Even though most of the trip was downhill I knew from previous experiences that 100 miles was still 100 miles and there would be some decent uphill stretches from time to time. I stopped at a convenience store just outside of Yosemite and grabbed a coffee and a bite of breakfast. The ride was beautiful and since I was going downhill I got to enjoy it without the physical exertion. The 29 miles before Oakdale were pretty intense, though, and there were no services between Chinese Camp and there. The golden hills of California were gorgeous but I was starting to get really thirsty by the time I pulled into Oakdale. I had 15 miles to go before hitting Modesto but I let Robyn know I was getting pretty close. On arriving in Modesto I breathed a sigh of relief. But when I typed the address in I found it was almost 9 miles from where I was. I hadn't banked on Modesto being such a big place. Grumbling a bit, I pedaled off and made it to the Heisel residence at about a quarter past 5. Took a load off, relaxed for a few minutes, got cleaned up and enjoyed a delicious dinner of meatloaf.

I started getting uneasy the following morning as I copied the turn by turn directions onto a piece of notebook paper. I was used to taking one or two highways the entire way to my destination. To get to the West Oakland BART station required about 4 different freeways. Nevertheless, I set out to get on the first major stretch. When I arrived at the on-ramp to CA-99, I was dismayed to find a sign saying bicycles were not permitted. So I pulled up the cycling directions on Google Maps and started heading down that route. It was almost 10 am at this point (I hadn't left the house until 8:30.) and then I ran across an unpaved road. I didn't know how many times this might happen and was worried about arriving in San Fran after dark so I got back in touch with Robyn and decided to stop in at the local bike shop to get help with directions for the following day. The owner essentially advised me to simply utilize the directions from Google Maps. Spent the rest of the day relaxing.

The following morning I left the house at about 6:30 am, excited to be finished. The cycling route was about 87 miles to the BART station which I would use to cross the bay. From the Embarcadero station it was about 7 miles to the beach. I'd gone about 25 miles and reached the outskirts of Tracy when my front tire went flat. I angrily replaced the tube (took about 25 minutes) and got back on the road. The angriest I'd been on the whole entire trip came next. I'd ridden 2 or 3 more miles when my back tire went flat. I don't think I'd ever been that angry in my entire life. I had no more inner tubes with me. It took me a good 10 or 15 minutes to calm down to where I could make a decision about what to do. I called Robyn and asked if she could stop by the bike shop and run a couple of tubes out to me. She did and I was able to get back on the road around 12:15. For the whole rest of the ride the headwinds were strong and unrelenting. There was one more mountain called the Altamont just before I would reach Livermore. My pace was reduced to probably 5 miles/hour for a couple of miles on that road. In fact, on reaching Livermore around 4:30 I seriously considered calling my friends, the Watts, and staying a night in Livermore, finishing on Monday. But I knew I would just feel amazing if I finished the whole entire thing that day and rested afterwards. And I knew Monday morning would be a bad time to try to get into the city. So I kept going. I was so happy to reach the BART station and get into San Francisco proper. I last few miles were agonizingly long. There are some intense hills in the city and I expected to see the beach as I approached each and every crest. When I finally saw the ocean I was so, so happy. The sun was in the West and sunset was fast approaching and people on the streets likely looked at me funny as I pedaled giddily towards the beachfront. On reaching the sand, I eagerly picked up Fledge and ran the few hundred feet to the water's edge not caring how sandy my shoes were getting. And then I was there. I stood in the surf, my shoes getting completely soaked, with a broad grin on my face while others looked on the maniacal scene. I flagged down a beach walker, explained what I'd just finished and smiled as she snapped pictures on my cameras. It was all over. 3 months to the day. 12 states. More than 3,000 miles. I didn't cry like I thought I would. I was so tired but so, so happy. The hardest thing I'd ever done in my life. But I'd done it. A cashier from Walmart. A guy who'd never set a goal and seen it through to completion. Except for this. I don't have any more words now. In fact I think the scope of this achievement eludes even myself. I can scarcely take in the whole experience as a unified whole that's able to be commended or celebrated. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this is a tremendous achievement and I saw it all the way through.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The End of All Things (Part 1: Cedar City, Utah to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park)

I write this blog entry much as Frodo would have written the final chapters retelling his tale in The Lord of the Rings. When one is in the midst of a struggle, most of what one can see is purely negative; the frustration, the aggravation, the disappointment, at times the unbridled wrath at the status quo. It's when we perceive that we have at last transcended our difficulties that our spirits calm. It's only through adversity that we realize the strength lying within each of us. It's in the hard times that most of our growth happens. Pleasure, ease and comfort do almost nothing to transform us and it's the transformation that opens our souls to deeper, purer joys that run deeper than whatever situation we happen to find ourselves in.

Now I don't want to paint the picture that I didn't have a great time riding from Cedar City, Utah to San Francisco, California! Sorry if I was laying it on a little heavy there talking about difficulty and struggle. I did, in fact, have a fantastic experience on a lot of the ride. But I must confess that Nevada was quite likely the most physically difficult stretch of the whole trip. Here was my itinerary:

1. Cedar City, UT to Caliente, NV (93 miles)
2. Caliente to Rachel (83 miles)
3. Rachel to Tonopah (took a rest day in Tonopah) (110 miles)
4. Tonopah to Benton, CA (81 miles)
5. Benton to Lee Vining (53 miles)
6. Lee Vining to Tuolumne Meadows Campground (inside Yosemite National Park) (21 miles)
7. Tuolumne Meadows Campground to Tamarack Flat Campground (still in Yosemite) (40 miles)
8. Tamarack Flat Campground to Modesto (took a rest day in Modesto) (97 miles)
9. Modesto to San Francisco (with a quick retreat to Livermore) (94 miles)

I set out for Caliente the day after arriving in Cedar City but got a flat tire before leaving the city. Got it patched up but then a problem with my chain arose and I wasn't able to pedal. Decided to take one extra day in Utah. I got Fledge fixed up at the bike shop, checked out the local library and wrote my last set of postcards before finishing. I swung by Walmart that evening and picked up a few backpacking meals and miscellaneous supplies I'd need to finish the trip.

The next day I made it the 93 miles to Caliente. The scenery was nice but nothing quite so breathtaking as what I'd seen the day or two previous. It was about 80 miles of nothing from Cedar City to Panaca, NV; good practice, I thought, for the barren couple of days to follow. Caliente was, of course, a fairly small town with only a couple of restaurants but enough motels that you wondered how they all stay in business with so few tourist-type places in the area. I ate dinner at a pizza place and decided on a small, very reasonably priced motel for the night.

As a whole, Nevada was the one state to measure up very closely to my expectations. The scenery wasn't anything great; just dried up, withering vegetation, no water, sand and a couple small tourist traps for UFO enthusiasts. I expected the ride from Caliente to Rachel to be easier than the previous day but it actually was considerably harder. I suppose the cumulative effect of the heat and dry air was getting to me on top of the conspicuous lack of striking scenery. I had adopted a special motto for the duration of my ride through this state, "Never turn down water if it is offered to you in Nevada." It didn't matter if all my hydration sources were full, I would always accept water if someone offered it to me while riding here. So I naturally accepted when a motorist pulled off the road on a downhill stretch to offer me a refill. "My name is Billy Peacock," he declared. "I didn't want to bother you on that uphill stretch back there so I pulled off on this downhill to see if you need any water."

"If you've got extra, I'll definitely take some. Thank you!" The uphill he referenced was absolute misery. It was a high grade and I had a strong headwind the whole entire time. My speed had been reduced to perhaps only 5 miles/ hour for a good bit of it. I gulped down some of the water he offered me. My parched throat was in agony. He told me about how he wanted to do a trip like I was doing. After that uphill, I wanted to scoff and tell him that only idiots like me take trips like this one but I refrained knowing that it would be worth it in the end. We parted ways and I made it the rest of the way into Rachel.

I'd never been in a place like Rachel before. My heart sank when I first saw it because it seemed that almost nothing was there. The campground had been abandoned and I could see no human activity anywhere. It seemed like a ghostly trailer park with a post-apocalyptic aura hanging over the place. On the west end of the "town", though, I spotted some people sitting outside a small bar/restaurant/"motel" establishment. The owner was sitting outside talking with some people and smiled at me as she informed me that cold drinks and air conditioning were inside. I was in misery. Quite possibly the beginnings of heat exhaustion. I staggered inside and enjoyed some ice cold refreshment. There was no campground here so I took a room. The way the "motel" was organized was that there were all these trailers behind the bar/restaurant and each trailer had 3 rooms in it. The kitchen, bathroom and living space were all shared if there were others staying in the trailer but due to the very small number of people in Rachel I had a trailer all to myself. I retired to my room and relaxed for a good, long while before taking a shower and heading over to get dinner. I was pleasantly surprised at how low all the prices were. I had them prepare a sandwich for the following day's lunch as well.

The ride from Rachel to Tonopah (pronounced tone-uh-paw) was extremely strenuous, probably the single hardest ride in the entire trip. 110 miles with no services or places to refill water. I left very early the next morning. Now the route I'd looked at on Google maps showed one tough climb soon after leaving Rachel followed by two challenging but not overly difficult climbs. As I rode, though, I recognized that something was off. The climbing just seemed to get worse and worse. I would say there were at least 4 substantial summits I attained. And when I say substantial I mean these were *hard* climbs; steep grades, climbing again and again and again. The headwinds weren't quite as bad as yesterday's but they were still aggravatingly strong and my progress was made much slower than I'd hoped. About 40 miles from Tonopah I came across a cyclist trying to head in the opposite direction but who was experiencing recurring flat tires. A state police cruiser showed up right at the same time as I did. The poor guy was out of inner tubes and in need of help. Had the police officer not been there I certainly would have stayed with the guy for moral support but he was able to get a ride back to Tonopah in the cruiser. I can't express how hard the last 20 miles of the ride were. I had plenty of water but all I wanted was to get to town so I could relax. My whole focus was on continuing to pedal and just get there. My throat was parched and every hill drew curses from me. The wind was strong. The heat was bad. I was praying for strength. At last I reached the sign informing me I'd reached Tonopah's city limits. I didn't care how much a motel room would cost, I just wanted a bed. My legs were exhausted; my throat screaming for a drink of something besides warm water. Something cold. Anything cold. I felt like Aron Ralston dreaming of all the things he wanted to drink while his arm was pinned between the boulder and the canyon wall. The first motel I came to charged the unbelievably low price of $37/night. I drank an ice cold root beer. It was amazing. Instead of showering, I went immediately over to the restaurant knowing that if I waited I would simply lie down on the bed and not leave my room until the following morning. I had a nice big steak and some potatoes and veggies for dinner.

The following morning I made a judgment call to wait one more day. My legs were still very sore and it was more than 80 miles to Benton, California. Another 80 miles of pretty much nothing. I spent the day relaxing and enjoying the Lord of the Rings marathon on TNT. I picked up some supplies at the local grocery store but other than that I just rested.

The ride to Benton went well enough and I arrived at my host's house in the mid afternoon. They were off hiking until about 9 o'clock at night so I had lunch at the small cafe and ate a backpacking meal for dinner. When my hosts arrived they invited me in for a beer and access to their internet. We hung out for a while sharing cycling stories and other shop talk. I had planned to plow straight from Benton to Tuolumne Meadows the following day but altered my plans to include Lee Vining right on the edge of the park.

The foothills of the Sierras were much harder than expected. The scenery was nice but I was so excited to get into the park where I knew the scenery would easily trump it. I arrived in Lee Vining without too much trouble. The place was jumping with people from all over the world. I pulled into the first campground I found and prayed they had a spot available. All the individual tent sites were full but they were able to offer me a spot in a group campground if I didn't mind camping near a large group of French teenagers. Of course I accepted. I grabbed dinner at a local restaurant and hit the sack at a reasonable hour.

The next morning I only had to cover 20 miles but I wanted to get into Yosemite early so I left around 7:30. The 20 miles were tough but I got to Tuolumne Meadows by 10 am. I set up camp in the backpacker's area and set off to catch a shuttle. I took the bus to Olmstead Point to the west and got some nice pictures. That was the furthest stop on the shuttle line. A hiker's bus was offered from Tuolumne to Yosemite Valley but it only ran 3 times daily and was intended for people interested in a long hike followed by a bus ride or a bus ride followed by a long hike. I didn't have the energy for a hike of that magnitude so I was limited to things I could see on foot from my campground. I decided to hike to Dog Lake (about a 6 mile round trip) but took a few minutes hiking up part of Lambert Dome first. The scenery was spectacular!

On the return trip from Dog Lake I heard the sound of wood snapping. I paused and looked around. About 70 yards away I saw something rusty brown but couldn't see it very clearly through the foliage. I did make out the top of something's head. I cleared my throat loudly a couple of times to let the animal know there were humans around but he either didn't hear me or didn't care as he kept ripping at the tree with his teeth. I wasn't sure if it was a bear or something else but I kept going. About 10 minutes later I bumped into a family and let them know what I'd seen and heard. About another 15 minutes after that I met up with another hiker. I told her about my encounter but she hadn't planned on going that far up anyway. We walked back together and she was thrilled to hear me talk about my trip when she found out what I was doing. After dinner that night I attended a campfire event hosted by a ranger and learned about the history of Yosemite. At the beginning of the event we had a chance to talk about any wildlife encounters we'd had. I brought up mine and posited that it could have been a beaver as it was going after a tree. The ranger said there were no beavers around and told me I'd more than likely seen a bear. Really exciting! After the campfire was over I went immediately to bed.

And since I don't want to rush through the events of the final 4 days of the trip I'm going to do another blog entry in a couple of days. I promise it won't be as long as your wait for this entry! In fact, I'll probably do it on the 8th. Cheers!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ouray, CO to Cedar City, UT

Well, this looks like it may be my last update until the end of the trip! I'm 8 days away from San Francisco! Here's the latest info...

The day after my last update was focused on simply resting and letting my wounds heal. I dawdled around the KOA campground, messed with my phone and ate BBQ brisket for dinner at the camp restaurant. I was feeling stronger the next morning but that was July 3rd and the forecast for Telluride was thunderstorms all afternoon. I decided to take Kent (the bike shop owner in Montrose) up on another night staying in Delta, this time with his parents. I rode the 35-ish miles back to Montrose and hung out at a coffee shop down the road a piece from Papa Wheelie's Bike Shop. A few minutes before 6, I was back at the shop with Kent when we realized that my chain and rear cassette were in pretty bad need of replacement. The shop was closing in a few minutes and we just had no time to do anything. Amazingly, Kent offered to come in the following day (July 4, his day off) and do the work that needed to be done.

The forecast for Telluride the next day was more rain and thunderstorms but I didn't want to take more time and realized that if I were to wait for ideal weather I wasn't going to be leaving Montrose for a good long time. So Kent drove back to Montrose, did the replacements on my bike, and then drove me to the top of the Dallas Divide so I could beat the storm. I was nervous. Notwithstanding the storm, I hated to leave such a great friend and a real sense of community. I hated plunging out into the unknown again. Nevertheless, I started riding from the top of Dallas Divide and reached Mountain Village, CO without any problems. As I moved further into the last of the Rockies, though, the lightning and thunder got the best of me and I decided to simply pitch my tent by the side of the road. It was 1:30 pm and I remained there until the following morning.

Approaching Lizard Head Pass on my route to Dolores was an intense climb considering I was coming off of almost 10 days without any serious riding. I walked a good bit of the way. The weather was chilly and gray but thankfully without any serious rain. If it had started raining I would likely have had to stop and get out of the weather as I had no good rain apparel with me and at those temperatures I would surely have started to come down with hypothermia. After descending the pass, though, everything started getting a little nicer out and of course the temperatures climbed a bit. I pulled into Dolores in the early afternoon and found my hosts house without any problems. Tom and Becky both work at the Walmart in Cortez, Colorado and were perfectly wonderful hosts! We watched a couple of movies, ate spaghetti and relaxed all evening.

The following morning I set off for Blanding, Utah. I grabbed lunch at the Dove Creek Dinner Bell about 8 miles before getting into Utah. At the border I bumped into two gals on a road trip and got them to take my picture in exchange for taking theirs. They were quite impressed that I'd arrived on bicycle from the east coast and I'm pretty sure that at least one of them was disappointed when I didn't ask for her phone number. That evening in Blanding I walked to a grocery store and picked up an extra 3 liters of water for the 74 mile trek into the Utah wilderness the following day, got dinner from an A & W restaurant and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.

The following day was actually a lot of fun. A couple of people had warned me about the long distance and were worried about the potential for dehydration. I found it wasn't a terribly difficult ride  and the scenery was striking. Canyons, mesas and plateaus abounded. There were a couple of good climbs but nothing compared with what I'd encountered thus far on the trip. I arrived at the Hite Recreation Area about 4 o'clock and immediately met a couple of German guys (a father and son) who had ridden from Hanksville where I would be headed the following day. The whole area had the aura of being abandoned. Lake Powell had suffered through such a long drought that it was reduced to a mosquito breeding ground. The convenience store appeared to be closed but on closer inspection the proprietor informed us he was working in a nearby location and we could find him if we needed to buy something. We bought ingredients for sandwiches, beer, and a couple of other things. Their ice machine was broken so we ate sandwiches and drained the 12 pack of beer within a half hour or thereabouts. No showers were available so I set off for the lake to see if there was enough water there to clean up with. There was not. By this point, the temperatures were starting to get to us. I improvised a shower by dressing in my swimming suit and holding a water bottle over my head.

The following day's ride was a bit harder for me. The 74 mile ride plus another 50 miles was beginning to wear on me. I arrived in Hanksville in the early afternoon and spent an hour or so relaxing at a burgers and shakes restaurant. On rolling over to the campground another touring cyclist spotted me. Joon was from Korea but grew up and still lives in the San Francisco area. He had started from Washington DC shortly after I did and we decided to ride together to Torrey the following day. We hung out at the campground restaurant and talked shop about cycling, touring and life on the West coast.

The following morning we left camp and headed west from Hanksville. Another hard day for me. Joon was considerably faster considering he had no injuries and no subsequent recovery time. A little more than halfway there my shoelaces got caught in my chain and I took a very minor tumble scratching up my leg again. On arriving in Torrey we at a late lunch/early dinner at a burgers and shakes place with the best shakes ever! Trying to decide where to stay the night we settled on a hostel just up the road a mile or so. We drank beer and relaxed. This had been a very trying day. On top of what had been going wrong, I was simply tired of riding my bicycle. My day had been bad enough that I decided a rest day was warranted.

Joon took off the next morning but I grabbed breakfast at a place just a stone's throw from the hostel. I had a Capitol Reef Omelet with potatoes and a cappuccino. The rest of the day was spent doing laundry, relaxing and fiddling with my phone. I decided I needed light at the end of the tunnel and tried to make a finalized itinerary to San Francisco. I punched in the data and came out with roughly 12 days of riding. I was thrilled. 12 days away. I've been on the road since April 27 and have simply gotten weary of this lifestyle. "12 days" became my mantra on the next day's ride. And every day since I've gotten through hard climbs by remembering how many days out I am.

The following day I set off for Calf Creek Campground just south of Boulder, UT. I don't remember much from the ride but the campground was fantastic! Upon arriving, the park official (a gal named Lissy) promised me that even if the campground were full she'd figure something out for me to be able to stay the night there. As it turned out, though, there was a single campsite left. I didn't have the $15 fee on me but she told me to just get as close as I could and it'd be okay. As we were talking, a lady approached me having heard that I'd arrived on bicycle. Her son had done a similar trip in a previous year and she was thrilled to meet someone else riding for a good cause. We got a picture together and she gave me the $15 to camp there, a bottle of unsweetened iced tea (nice and cold) and a bag of delicious dried mangoes. On venturing down to the creek I met a bunch of friendly adults and their excited kids. We talked for a while and when they found out how far I'd come they were so excited to have crossed paths with me. They gave me some cold water and soda and I gave them one of my business cards to take along. On telling one of their little girls that I'd ridden my bike there from the beach her eyes got so big they looked like they were going to pop. I spent the rest of the evening relaxing and reading C. S. Lewis' The Silver Chair.

The next day I set out for Cannonville. After a couple of days progressing mostly north and south I was thrilled to plunge west once again! Cannonville was a tiny little village whose only claim to fame was the short distance to Bryce Canyon National Park. I arrived in the mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing. The reason I've been spending so much time relaxing when not on the bike is I feel the need to give my remaining injuries as much time and as many resources to heal as possible.

Yesterday morning I was packing up to make for Panguitch Lake North Campground when a Korean family spotted me loading Fledge. Curious, but unsure of how to communicate it in English, I understood them well and pulled up a map of the US on my phone. I'm sure they understood what I was saying when they excitedly began to chatter in Korean and their eyes got very wide. We bid each other farewell and I set off. The ride was a tough one with lots of climbing. But the banana milkshake I had with dinner more than made up for the strenuous exertion.

The ride today finished the climb I'd started yesterday. The downhill into Cedar City was a tough one. Since my fall in Montrose, CO I seem to alternate between enjoying downhills and being very nervous about them. The way my nervousness plays out is I essentially ride the brakes the whole way down. Well when the descent lasts as long as today's did, your hands get very sore and you have to stop every couple of minutes to give them a rest from squeezing the brakes. I was thrilled to find I have cell phone reception here in Cedar City, though, and I enjoyed a nice conversation with my dad this evening. I also made a run to the local Walmart to get food and supplies for the rest of the trip. I'm 8 rides away from San Francisco now! And here's my itinerary for those who are interested:

Wednesday: Cedar City, UT to Caliente, NV
Thursday: Caliente to Rachel
Friday: Rachel to Tonopah
Saturday: Tonopah to Benton, CA
Sunday: Benton to Yosemite National Park
Monday: Yosemite to Modesto
Tuesday: Modesto to Livermore
Wednesday: Livermore to San Francisco

That's the plan, anyway! Who knows... I may decide to book it 100 miles from Modesto to San Francisco if the mood strikes me and I'm feeling up to it! I'll make sure to do at least a couple more updates after the trip is over to let you know how life is going and let you know what's next for "Wes Across America"!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What a story, Wes! (My adventures since Pueblo)

First and foremost, allow me to apologize for not writing for so long. There have been a number of factors but no really good reasons (as far as I know) for not updating this blog in the past couple of weeks. It's been quite a ride. Literally. And now I'll just plunge right in and start telling you about life since June 18th.

After resting for 2 days in Pueblo I expected to easily best the next several days of riding but I had not taken the increasing altitude into consideration. Climbing from Pueblo into Westcliffe on my first day back on the bike was tough. The foothills of the Rockies were noticeably harder than the Rockies themselves. I found myself huffing and puffing despite the fact that the grade wasn't quite as bad as the Appalachians or Ozarks. For a little while I was feeling nauseous and had to focus on my breathing technique to get more oxygen into my lungs. It was hot out also and that didn't help much either. After a while, though, I finally caught my first glimpse of the snow capped Rockies and knew that the tough ride had been worth it for this scenery. I ate lunch at a pizza place in Silver Cliff which is so close to Westcliffe I honestly don't know why they don't just merge the two towns together and call it Silver Westcliffe or something. There's literally no distance between the communities. After eating, I pedaled the 1-1/2 miles to a campground and RV Park. The scenery was simply spectacular as the tiny community lies right before a long span of snowy mountains rising up into the sky. I charged my phone outside of a Dollar General and then went to sleep shortly after dark.

The next day's goal was Salida, an easy 48 mile ride. It was a Saturday. The day was going great until I rolled into town. It was hot. There was a river festival going on and all the motels, campgrounds, etc. were either booked or charging outrageous rates to stay overnight. In addition, my handlebar bag was damaged. The zipper was in really bad shape and I needed to either have it fixed or replaced. I went to a local bike shop to find out what was available for cyclists in need of lodging and where I could get my bag fixed. One of the shop workers told me that if I couldn't find anything else he'd put me up for the night but it would be after 11 when he finished his other job. For the bag, they pointed out a vinyl/luggage repair place nearby so I headed over there next. They were out for lunch so I hung out at a coffee shop for a while. When I came back they told me the disheartening news that it would cost at least $40 for them to fix the bag. They recommended another establishment in town that makes bike bags and might be able to do it for cheaper. As I stepped out the door and started heading over to the other shop a friendly, hippyish looking guy on bicycle asked me how my day was going. I explained my situation to him and he really empathized with me. I noticed some signs on his bike reading "Jesus can set you free." and "Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." I told him I loved his signs! Turns out Will and his wife Theresa have been on tour for a LONG time. This is their lifestyle now. They left Sacramento, CA on foot and not knowing Jesus and they met him on the way as he supplied all of their needs and brought them into communities of faith on a fairly regular basis. They've been all over the place and crossed huge distances in the past 3 years and have declared the mission of their ride to be pointing people to Jesus and serving wherever they can serve. They'd been in Salida for the past few weeks and had gotten a place to stay right on the river. They offered to let me camp out in a disused RV adjacent to their place. Of course I jumped at the offer and we pedaled across the small town to their little patch of ground. After getting situated I headed off to the bag shop and the nearby bike shop which offered showers. I dropped the bag off with two of the friendliest people you'll ever meet. Lane and Monty own Oveja Negra Threadworks in downtown Salida and we really hit it off. The initial estimate was actually higher than the other place but when it didn't take nearly as long as they'd thought they took $5 off the other places estimate. AND get this! This is crazy! These people are so generous! They threw in an extra top bar bag that was marked $50! If you're in Salida, go to these people and buy things from them! Such a great couple! That evening I had dinner with Will and Theresa and went to bed early. The next day I would be riding over Monarch Pass on the way to Gunnison, CO. This is the continental divide; the highest elevation I would attain on this trip.

The next day's ride was great! Grandeur, snow capped mountains, some really good climbing but nothing too difficult until the last half mile of the climb. I took a gondola ride to the top of Monarch Mountain and saw the Rockies stretching out for as far as my eyes could see; a real highlight of the trip. Arriving in Gunnison I looked up the Wanderlust Hostel (a fantastic place to stay, BTW) and spent the evening discussing my route after Cedar City, Utah with a fellow boarder named Demming. Everyone at the hostel was so friendly and curious to hear about what I'd seen on my adventure so far and where I was headed in the coming weeks.

The next day I was headed for Cimarron, only 45 miles away. I headed to a local bike shop called the Double Shot Cyclery which had a couple of breakfast items and a nice selection of coffee. I ended up leaving around 12:30 or so and arriving in the tiny little town of Cimarron around 4:30. There was a campground right on the route so I stayed there that night. Not much to report from this place.

The following morning is where things get really interesting. I was intending to reach Ridgway, CO, another 45-ish miles. Right after leaving Cimarron there's a nice climb up to Cerro Summit followed by a long downhill into Montrose. The climb went fine but as I was coming down into Montrose one of my bags somehow became detached from the back of my bike. When the bike becomes *that* unbalanced it doesn't matter if you have good reflexes to balance yourself. I started wobbling all over the place and there was about 10 seconds where I knew I was going down and was essentially waiting for it to happen. I was going about 25 mph I think. The resulting fall gave me some nasty road rash on my shoulder, my elbow and on my belly. My helmet (thank God I was wearing one) sustained major damage. If I hadn't been wearing it I would not be writing this blog post right now. I was stumbling around in a daze for a minute or two trying to get my things together when a guy in a pickup truck pulled off the road. He'd been heading away from Montrose when he saw my accident so he had turned around knowing I needed help. We loaded my bicycle and gear into his truck and headed into town. Now I don't want you to think I was bleeding profusely or anything like that, I didn't need to be taken directly to an emergency room or anything. I knew I was pretty scraped up and needed to see a doctor but I wasn't on death's doorstep. We drove into town looking for a bike shop. I knew the owner of a bike shop would pluck me into the cycling network in town and I'd have access to the resources I needed there. There were 3 bike shops in Montrose but I didn't know where they were. We just drove down Main Street hoping that at least one of them would be there. There was. Papa Wheelie's Bike Shop is a one-man establishment owned by a guy named Kent Schmidt. We wheeled Fledge through the front door and after telling me where the nearest urgent care was he set to work looking to see if there was any significant damage to the bike.

I walked the 0.7 miles to the urgent care and got looked at by the doctor. They didn't have an x-ray machine so they advised me to simply keep an eye on my wrist which was rather sore. They prescribed some burn cream to apply to my road rash and some pain medication for the coming days. Returning to the bike shop, I was pleased to hear that Fledge hadn't really suffered any significant damage. I booked a room at The Briarwood Inns on Main St. This area of Colorado is horrendously expensive so I paid a lot for that room even though it was probably the cheapest in town.That evening, a gal named Sarah with connections to some close friends from my home church got in touch with me and offered to bring me along to a dinner with her and a couple of her friends. We had a great time and it was comforting being around someone with ties to Hanover.

The next morning a guy I'd gotten in touch with on Warm Showers came over to the motel and helped me load my stuff into his truck. I would just be spending a few hours there as he had no bed to offer me. I would be staying the night (and the next couple nights) with the owner of Papa Wheelie's but he didn't leave the shop until 6 pm. I had lunch with Sarah at her place and then she dropped me off at a store to pick up more bandages and I walked back to the little farm I'd found on Warm Showers. That evening my host for those few hours dropped me off at Papa Wheelie's and Kent and I drove to his home in Delta, CO which lies north of Montrose. On arriving at Kent's house I make the heartening discovery that he and his family (His wife and kids were away visiting relatives in Kansas.) were Mennonite believers! We had many good conversations over the coming couple of days and even though I was in a bit of pain it remains a highlight of my trip.

The following day I decided to take it very easy and spend time resting and relaxing. Nothing really to report. The day after, though, I was invited to dinner with Kent and his pastor's family. Had a wonderful time, enjoyed delicious food and more good conversations and left in high spirits. We swung by Walmart after dinner as I needed to buy some new clothing since a couple of shirts were not in good shape after the accident. The next morning was my planned departure so we wanted to make sure to get home so I could get a decent sleep.

The next day's ride to Ridgway was only 25 miles and there were no major hills but it was still hard with my injuries. The sunscreen was running in my eyes also. I pulled into town and headed to The Adobe Inn which was both a Mexican restaurant and a hostel for travelers. The hostel had no rooms that night so I reluctantly got a room at The Ridgway Lodge which, with a 10% discount, was still eye-gougingly expensive at about $120/night. I needed a bed, though, and this was the cheapest after The Adobe Inn.

I thought that riding to Ridgway would move my body into the "ready zone" where I was able to continue riding but when I attempted to leave town the following morning I got very lightheaded and felt like I was going to pass out before I'd even made it out of town. The path to Telluride was going to involve a significant climb over the Dallas Divide so I knew I was in trouble if I was feeling lightheaded before leaving Ridgway. I made a u-turn and headed back to the Lodge where I reluctantly shelled out another small fortune (for me) on the room I'd just vacated. I'd intended to try the Adobe Inn again but got confused when a friendly lady told me that the Lodge was the cheapest place in town. I later found out that a lot of people don't know about the lodging at Adobe Inn. So I spent the rest of the day resting in my room, drinking a good bit of water and watching TV.

The next morning I packed up again, hoping to reach Telluride after a quick doctor's appointment at the local clinic. The first appointment they could offer me, though, was for 3 pm. I headed to the Adobe Inn and reluctantly paid a (smaller but still unfairly large) fee to stay the night. I'd lost so much money in the last couple of days that, on doing the math, I realized I would not make it to San Francisco on my budget. I lamented on Facebook that Ridgway looked like the end of the line for Fledge and me and I was going to start figuring out how to get back to the east coast unless large amounts of money started coming in.

That's when large amounts of money started coming in. The first wave brought $395. The second wave brought $300. The third and final wave brought in about $250. I was overwhelmed. I recalled a sermon by Pastor Drew back home where the message was that God's design in providing is that we would stop trusting merely in the provision and start trusting in the Provider. Deeply ashamed of my doubting heart, I wept as I meditated on God's love and the constant supply of grace that was mine whether the doubt was there or not. His grace is so much greater than my sin but my sin is still so black. I'm so prone to doubting grace and thinking as an orphan that I'm in this situation alone and that any real change rests on my shoulders and not on his. Okay. Enough sermonizing for now.

The doctor told me that I needed more time to rest. My scrapes weren't healed enough to start riding long distances again and I should take 5 days or so to recuperate. I just took it easy for the rest of the day as the Cascade Bicycle shop had already closed and I couldn't find where to stay the next few days until the following morning.

Early yesterday morning I woke up and wheeled my bike over to Cascade Bicycles. The owner, Andy, shared some options with me and recommended I reserve a spot at the KOA near Ouray, CO which was only about 8 miles south of Ridgway. So that's what I did. I arrived at the campground in the early afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing. Nothing really to report besides that.

This morning I woke up from a somewhat poor night of sleep and headed into Ouray, whose nickname is The Switzerland of America. Nestled between gorgeous mountains, some snow capped and others densely covered in trees, Ouray is a fantastic little town. I ate breakfast at a Cajun restaurant named Cavallo's right on Main Street. I had never had an omelet with crawfish and shrimp before and it wasn't my favorite thing in the world but I might try it again if offered. After that, I headed over to Ouray Public Library where I'm typing this! Kent and his family as well as his pastor and pastor's wife are bringing dinner down to my campsite later on where we will all enjoy visiting a little bit more. On Friday I'm trying to reach Telluride again followed by Dolores, CO and Blanding, UT on subsequent days. Thanks for reading!
Atop Monarch Mountain on the Great Divide!

Epic photo!

Near Sapinero, CO on my ride to Cimarron

My helmet after Cerro Summit

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Celebration in Pueblo, CO!!!

Hey, everyone! Wes here! I've been in Pueblo, CO since Tuesday afternoon. I'm taking some time off just to celebrate how far I've come. More than 7 weeks on the road have brought me through Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. I've ridden more than 2,325 miles atop Fledge and am well past the halfway point of my trek. I have a very bad tendency to downplay my personal achievements and felt that I needed to recognize the monumental accomplishment I've achieved. Tomorrow I'll be starting the Rocky Mountains and some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen. I don't have many details to share since Dodge City but thought I'd take a small slot of time to share what has gone down the last few days.

After leaving Dodge I rode about 70 miles to Lakin, KS. Got another flat tire on this ride but other than that it was great to be back on the road. The only public service building I could find open in Lakin was the hospital so I inquired if I could contact the police department using their phone (Mine had no reception.) The police referred me to a place about 2 miles south of town called Beymer Park. I ate dinner at the Subway sandwich place and then pedaled off to set up camp. That evening I listened to a podcast from my church back home, did some reading and then went to sleep. The park was far enough from town that I got my first glimpse of western stars that night. Had I not been so tired I'd have spent some time drinking in the night sky but after a 70 mile day I just needed rest.

From Lakin, I set off for Lamar, CO and Mountain Daylight Time! I was in a great mood by the time I reached my destination for the day. I pulled into Lamar's Walmart Supercenter, took a nice hour long cool down period, topped off my tires with a pump in the store (or at least I thought I'd topped them off, more on this later), and pedaled off to an RV park about 3 miles west of town. The RV park was miserable. There was standing water all over the ground, hordes of mosquitoes and deer flies, grossly overpriced soda in a vending machine, and no running water next to my tent so I had to use a hose in front of the office (The water tasted like rubber). Like I said, miserable. They did, however, give me a $5 discount since I was riding for the ALS Association, although I'm of the opinion that charging me $10 was about $10 overpriced.

The following morning I set off for Fowler. Glad to put that RV park behind me, I was in a pretty decent mood. That's when *another* flat tire happened. That pump at the Walmart was apparently a piece of garbage they'd mistaken for merchandise. It read that I had put a good amount of air into my tire but I must have actually lost some as it was a pinch flat that did me in that morning (A pinch flat happens when the slightly deflated inner tube gets pinched between the tire and the rim of the wheel.). Anyway, I changed the tire out on the side of the highway and just as I was finishing a friendly lady in a big van stopped to offer Fledge and me transportation if I needed it. As the tire was already patched up I thanked her then simply continued on my way. Made it to Fowler without any further complications. Fowler was nice! I caught my very first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains about 15 minutes before reaching my destination and was pumped to get into Pueblo the following day. For dinner, the lady recommended I order an eastern Colorado specialty at the nearby grill restaurant. The dish is called a Slopper and consists of fried beef patties topped with green chilies. Good stuff! After dinner I picked up a couple things at the Dollar General and headed back to the campsite. As the sun set, I drank a cold one and quieted myself for sleep.

The 35-ish miles to Pueblo the next day seemed long and drawn out. Time seemed to pass more slowly than it had on previous rides. After what felt like 2 hours I found I'd only been riding about an hour. After passing the Pueblo City Limits sign it felt like another hour before I actually started getting into town. I stopped at the Barnes and Noble on the north side of town and drank down a Starbucks S'mores Frappuccino. I contacted a guy on the Warm Showers cycling network. He lived towards the west side of town but was working until the next morning. He gave me instructions on how to get into his house so I pedaled over there and took a nice break before heading out for dinner. Mi Ranchito Mexican Restaurant. Best. Mexican. Food. Ever! Had a cold Dos Equis and hands down some of the best food I've eaten in my life! Came back to the house and crashed on the recliner.

Yesterday morning, Eric came home, we had some inspirational conversation together, ate eggs for breakfast and took some time to relax. Eric is an inspirational person to meet! He runs an organization that gets blind and visually impaired persons on tandem bicycles. Later on, Eric, his son Garrett, and I went kayaking at San Isabel Lake in the foothills of the Rockies. On the way home we stopped at Bishop Castle, pretty much the largest building built by a single person in the world. Great day!

So here I am laying low today in Pueblo, giving my muscles one more day to recover before tackling the Rockies. The most visually striking part of my trip still lies ahead! In other news, I've made the decision to cut the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas out of my route. Money is simply too tight and it's just going to tack on too many more miles and take too much time to justify the southern dip. My slated arrival in San Francisco is still the middle of July. It's going to be hard enough dealing with the heat in Utah and Nevada as it is. So that's where we stand now. Take care, everyone! Don't forget to take a gander at the pictures below!

Bishop's Castle; This place is amazing! Constructed by one single (very eccentric) individual! Not a team, no help from friends. Alone. He built this place!

He's extremely kooky but I definitely appreciate his passion. He's extremely anti-government! 

Kayaking on San Isabel Lake in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Bad Weather in Dodge City, KS

Well here I am roughly a week after my last rest day and I'm in Dodge City, KS. I wasn't planning to take a rest day until I reached Colorado but the weather is keeping me from making progress.

After leaving the Holiday Inn Express in Marshfield I headed west bound for Golden City, Missouri but after about 15 minutes of riding I saw that I was definitely heading directly into a darkly clouded horizon and reports of serious thunder and rain. I made a U-Turn and headed back to hunker down for a couple more hours indoors. When I finally got on the road it was almost 11 o'clock and Golden City was too far to reach that day. Instead, I rode for Ash Grove. It was a pleasant, pretty uneventful ride but I was glad I'd waited that couple of hours as the weather turned out to be absolutely beautiful. On arriving in Ash Grove I pulled into an empty parking lot to get my bearings and figure out where to stay the night. As I was monkeying around on my phone a friendly lady named Brenda pulled in to talk to me. She identified herself as a former mayor of Ash Grove and asked if I needed any help finding something. She told me how to get to the town hall where they could get me registered for staying the night in the park. When I told her I was planning to pick up a few things at the grocery store to cook my own dinner she insisted on giving me some money to go out to eat with and recommended a pizza place. The people at Town Hall were super friendly too and gave me a key to stay inside a small house on park grounds as more adverse weather was headed in later. I got settled in and then walked to the little pizza restaurant on the edge of town. Good food and more friendly people. Four other cyclists arrived that evening and stayed in the house with me. Headed out early next morning for Girard, Kansas.

Since my last flat tire I'd been running with only the inner tubes I had in my wheels and was praying I'd make it to Pittsburg, KS where the next bike shop was. On Saturday morning I found out the guy closes on Saturday at around 4 pm and is closed Sunday. I wasn't really panicking but I was concerned and pedaled the 70-ish miles to Pittsburg in only 5-1/2 hours. As soon as I turned onto the street where the bike shop was I got my 3rd flat tire. I was praising God that it hadn't happened 10 miles previously. Got to the shop around 1:30, left Fledge in the care of the mechanic and walked down the road to an All You Can Eat Chinese buffet. On arriving back at the shop I was disheartened to receive a bill of about $180 for two new tires (which I did need) and some spare inner tubes. Having decided not to shoot for Girard that day, the owner of the shop recommended a campground that was free to cyclists on the edge of town and directly on the route I'd be taking. I swung by the Walmart to pick up dinner fixins and then pedaled off towards my campsite.

Sunday's ride was daunting. I made the questionable decision to try and make up the distance to Girard and then ride the full distance to Eureka, KS. The grand total was slightly over 120 miles. So I rode. And I rode. And then I rode some more. The headwind was annoying but didn't keep me from making acceptable progress. There were a couple decent hills, though, and I was super, super proud of myself when I arrived in Toronto, KS having completed my very first century on Fledge. As I took a breather a guy and his daughter or granddaughter pulled up next to me in a pickup truck. "There's a convenience store and grill about 2 miles down this road. You ride up there and I'm going to buy you a Gatorade!" "You're sure they're open?" "Yep! They're open! You ride up there and I'm going to buy you a Gatorade!" So I rode a couple miles and sure enough there was the place he'd mentioned. They were relaxing inside and when I stepped in I was told to pick out what kind of Gatorade I wanted and rip it open as he'd already paid for it. Talk about friendly people! The owner let me fill up my water bottles using the water and ice in her soda fountain and told me the swimming pool was open in Eureka and would still be open when I got there. Those last 20 miles were miserable. I shifted in my seat trying to find a comfortable position but my buns refused to be comforted and just wailed in pain from time to time. I knew there was no way I could camp tonight so I pulled into a motel on the edge of town and got a room before wandering over to the Pizza Hut to enjoy a protein-rich dinner of chicken wings and the salad bar.

The next day I was shooting for another century to Buhler but when I arrived in Newton I'd had enough. 75 miles was an amazing feat after 120 the day before. I went to the fire department and they directed me to this amazing bike shop that called itself the oasis in the grass desert. It truly was an oasis! Newton Bike Shop is probably the best place I've stayed at so far on the entire tour. They offer two separate packages for cycle tourists. I picked number one which simply included the bed, an unlimited supply of beer on tap, a load of laundry and use of the kitchen all for less than $15. The other package was about $50 and included a bicycle tune-up, cleaning the drive train and a couple extra things as well as what was included in the other package. If I hadn't had my drivetrain cleaned the previous week I'd have considered doing package number two but riding for charity dictates I keep my personal costs to a minimum and a bed with some beer well suited my needs. For some added excitement I got to hear a loud, angry customer chewing out the manager of the Dollar General where I picked up some groceries. Made me miss Walmart. haha

The next day I was really sore. I mean really sore. I knew 100 miles was well out of the question for the day so I decided to take it easy and pedal to Hutchinson which was just down the road about 30 miles. On talking to the owner of the bike shop I decided to deviate from Adventure Cycling's route and just take US-50 most of the way to Pueblo, CO for the next few days. So I took 50 to Hutchinson and took in the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Museum which had a great exhibit on the story of how we reached the moon. Fascinating history! Nazi missiles were the first serious attempts at rocket science and had Hitler never come to power we may still not have reached outer space. Also, the more I learn about John F Kennedy, the more I think the guy had some serious balls! Something I hadn't realized was that when he started talking about putting a man on the moon the vast majority of United States attempts to get things *into orbit around the earth* ended in serious embarrassment and failure. Russia was kicking our butt at the space race! The idea of not only getting a rocket into space, not only getting an animal into space, not only getting a human into space, not only getting a human to orbit the moon but to get a man ON the moon must have sounded like JFK was losing his marbles! But that's what happened! Unbelievable!

The next day I was planning to ride from Hutchinson to Offerle. The longer I rode, though, the more I thought Offerle wasn't a good plan. From what I'd seen on Google Maps there wasn't much there. Tiny little town without any grocery store or restaurant. So I decided to stop after 84 miles in Kinsley. Not a large town by any stretch of the imagination but they had a grocery store, a campground, a couple restaurants and a little hospital. So I picked up a couple things just to refresh myself at the grocery store and then rode to the campground where I cooked up a little sack of backpacker's food I'd bought a few days ago. As I was finishing my dinner a young man walked in and we chatted for a while about the insanity that I was doing of riding my bicycle across the country. Kinsley was a nice little place to hang out.

Early yesterday morning I hit the road trying to get to Garden City. There was a brutal headwind out, though, and I was riding about 7 MPH despite the fact that it was completely flat terrain. About halfway to Dodge City I decided my original goal was no longer tenable and that I'd go for Dodge instead. Of course after I made that decision the wind got a lot more reasonable and I felt like I could make it significantly past Dodge. But I'd heard the reports of bad weather by this point and felt that Dodge would be my best bet to stay safe. It has a population of about 20 thousand, several churches, a police station and other things that make me feel a bit safer in the face of heavy winds, rain and lightning. Plus there were things to see and do if the weather wasn't so bad that I had to stay indoors. The weather looks poor for the next few days so I'm just going to hunker down here until Monday or Tuesday. There's a shelter in town called The Manna House which the police recommended to me if I need to get in out of the storm. It's a homeless shelter but I'm sure they'll understand my situation and give me some kind of help. Right now, it's just cloudy outside and it looks like I may not get hit as hard as I was thinking. Still, it's best to be safe and be able to take cover in the event that things take a turn for the worse. One thing's for sure, the first chance I get to get out of Dodge I'm taking it and riding as far as my legs will carry me! With a couple days for my muscles to heal that might be a good long way!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Rest Day in Marshfield, MO

When taking a rest day today crossed my mind my initial thought was "Your last rest day was much too recent to take another one!" I can't believe it's been 9 days since my last break! It feels like 4 or 5 days ago! Honestly, the days have seriously started to bleed into each other. My routine is so similar every morning. When I'm camping I always hit the road by 8 am regardless of how far I'm riding. My endurance energy levels have taken a dramatic upturn too. The thought of a 50 mile ride often sounds too short and I find myself setting goals of 65-75 miles instead. Instead of a piddling 7 mph my speed has increased to about 10 mph and I'm able to cover the same amount of ground in a noticeably shorter time. Of course that has as much to do with the terrain as it does my leg strength. Looking back, I truly believe that the Appalachians were the hardest part of the ride. The Ozarks may be almost as bad but I find that, generally speaking, the roads are not as curved. I remember riding the ascent out of Hayter's Gap, VA. The road twisted and turned as I ascended. You'd see a seriously high grade ahead of you for about 300 feet and think "The road can't keep ascending at this grade much past that bend." But you'd get to the top, turn the corner, and find that the ascent continues another 300-ish feet. Often, there would be between 5 and 6 of those curves. By the time you hit number 4 your legs would be seriously feeling the burn and when you hit numbers 5 and 6 you'd often use some choice words to express your surprise at the length of the ascent. In the Ozarks, you see almost all of the ascents at once and can prepare yourself mentally for the full stretch.

Anyway, on to the details! On the ride to Sebree I bumped into 2 other touring cyclists named Monica and Rachel (and I am literally just now realizing how funny it is that they were named thusly!). They were sitting atop a hay bale just for the fun of it. Chatted for a couple of minutes and then departed leaving them behind. After arriving in Sebree, KY I stopped at a local church which had set up a hostel for cyclists in the basement of their building. Showers, mattresses, a full kitchen, etc. Another cyclist named Devin was there. The pastor, a friendly guy named Bob, informed me that all the cyclists were welcome to dine with him and his wife, Violet, following the Wednesday evening program at the church. I went to a small prayer group that evening. All we did was pray over a printed sheet of all the prayer needs in the congregation and over myself and the other cyclists with me for safety and for the Lord to use my ride in the fight against ALS. After that, Monica and Rachel arrived, having been spotted by Pastor Bob and talked into staying the night at the hostel. Dinner was fantastic! After eating, Violet brought out hordes of cycling memorabilia starting all the way from the 70s when they'd first started hosting cyclists. It was inspiring to hear all the stories of people they'd met headed across the country on bicycle and made me feel not quite so small or crazy.

The following morning I finally exited Kentucky! Taking that ferry across the Ohio River was a memorable event. I met a cyclist named Steven and his wife, Mary. Steven was riding unloaded along the route while his wife navigated more major roads in their RV. They'd started with a larger group but gradually all of them had quit and gone separate ways. Mary had never driven an RV before and with the obscurity of most of the small towns we pass through she was having an adventure of her own trying to figure out how to get such a large vehicle to the destination. About 3 hours into the ride we stopped at a small café in Clay, KY. 3 other touring bicycles were outside so we jumped at the chance to meet more cyclists! Turns out it was Megan (whom I'd been in contact with for several months about this trip), her friend Kristen and Devin! I camped out on Steven and Mary's campsite that night in Cave-in-Rock, IL at the Cave-in-Rock State Park. Having learned about my cause, they paid for my dinner in the quaint little diner that night and got me some dessert too! After dinner we went down to the eponymous cave right on the river front. It was a sight to behold! Robbers had used it as their headquarters back in the 1800s. They would pretend to offer help to weary travelers and proceed to fleece them of many of their possessions. The cave was their hangout and where they stored their loot.

The following night was spent in Ferne Clyffe State Park just down the road a piece from Goreville, IL. Steven and Mary were taking a different route after that day so we wished each other well and parted ways. They generously donated $50 to my cause on our parting. I swung by the grocery store to pick up some dinner to cook and on the way to my campsite I bumped into Devin who told me that Megan had had a semi-serious accident on a gravel road and was taken to a doctor's office. They were trying to find a cheaper way to transport her to a hospital than an ambulance. She wasn't in critical condition or anything, just a little bit cut up and unable to ride for a little while. They ended up renting a car and transporting her to a hospital in Indiana. Real bummer. She won't be able to ride for a little while but is planning to resume the trip after recovering.

I think I'd forgotten to mention the elderly couple from the Netherlands whom I had bumped into in White Mills. They were nearby when I had my accident with the dogs and we all stayed the night in Fordsville. Well I bumped into them again in Ferne Clyffe. They'd had to order a replacement part for one of their bicycles and were stuck there for about 4 days while they waited for it to be shipped to a local gas station in Goreville. Ferne Clyffe is a nice little park. If you ever get a chance to camp there, take it! The site comes with showers but they are a pretty long walk from the primitive sites so be prepared to walk about 1-1/4 miles. I got incredibly frustrated and spent almost an hour and a half walking around the blasted area trying to find where the showers were. I was about to give up when the couple from the Netherlands came along and they were headed to the showers themselves and offered to show me where they were.

The next morning I was debating whether to try for Chester, IL or Murphysboro (which was considerably closer). There was a Walmart in Carbondale that had asked me to stop by and say hello to them and a bike shop that I wanted to stop at before hitting the Ozarks so I opted to shoot for Murphysboro instead. Had a fantastic lunch at Moe's Southwest Grill with the manager of the Walmart and one of her assistant managers. Then I headed off to find the bike shop. The shop was across the street from an Amtrak train station and as the mechanic was looking over Fledge, a train pulled in. The last bit of the trip had been hard, lonely and less than ideal in terms of weather. When the train pulled in, a large part of me wanted to simply leave everything in the bike shop, jump on that train and then find out what transfers I needed to make to get back to Baltimore, MD. I didn't, though. That night in Murphysboro, it started to pour. I found myself in a Taco Bell/KFC franchise feeling cold, wet, alone and very discouraged. When I posted about all this on Facebook the supportive comments started flowing in and customers in the restaurant probably looked at me funny as I got all sniffly and teary-eyed reading the kind, gracious, supportive words of my friends. I pulled up my Warm Showers app and found, miraculously, that there was a lady in Murphysboro who was willing to host traveling cyclists. I had no running water apart from a spigot next to her house but I had a warm, dry place to stay the night and charge my phone up.

The following day I set a new record for myself! 83.5 miles from Murphysboro, IL to Farmington, MO! Bumped into Devin at the tail end of the ride. I made my way to a cycling hostel called Al's Place. Fantastic hostel! $20 donation requested but it's so worth it! A bed, a shower, laundry facilities-- essentially a cycle tourist's dream! Nice homey atmosphere! I grabbed the second to last bed as a group from Adventure Cycling was staying the night there also. After getting settled I enjoyed a large meal at a local Chinese restaurant and had a nice chat with the delivery guy. Great sleep that night!

By this point the weather had been cool and cloudy/rainy for 4 days. Cloudy is a great condition for riding in mountains but it has serious emotional side-effects as well. I'd been fighting gloominess for a while. I reached Centerville around 4:30 and set up camp near a couple of other cycle tourists from Switzerland. We were in the town park which has no bathrooms or showers. The gracious owners of the only restaurant in town let me bide my time after eating and I dove into Lord of the Rings for a few hours and went to bed shortly after dark.

While I was staying in Centerville the Adventure Cycling group had stayed a few miles east of me in Lesterville. They caught up with me during the ride from Centerville to Summersville, though, when I got my second flat tire. One of my inner tubes was unusable so I ended up having to use both spare tubes to get back on the road. They helped me get ready to roll again and I rode a good distance with them before they stopped in Eminence. I kept plowing ahead to Summersville and arrived there in the mid-afternoon. Found out about a friendly motel owner who lets cyclists take a shower in one of her rooms for $5. I jumped at that chance and then set up camp in yet another town park. Met another cycle tourist named Lydia at the tiny little library in town. She had left Colorado Springs and was headed for Florida. I grabbed my dinner at the tiny little grocery store in town and ate it back at my campsite. A word of advice: NEVER eat canned, room temperature asparagus. Nasty! Yech!

The following morning, I was planning to hang out at the library in town before taking off to Bendavis, MO but when I found out the library wasn't going to open until 11 am I decided to make a mad dash for Marshfield. Long ride! Longer than I was thinking! 86.8 miles according to Google maps! A new personal record! I was thinking it was about 77 miles but ended up tacking almost another 10 on top of that! Arrived in Marshfield around 6:30, set up camp at some fairgrounds and then decided to reward myself with a nice dinner at Pizza Hut. Afterwards, I hit the hay as soon as I got back to camp.

Woke first thing this morning and headed over to the Holiday Inn Express in which Rising Sun Snacks rented a room for me. Now to spend some time napping and watching TV!

From the shores of Illinois, looking back at Kentucky!

I've made it out of Kentucky!

The beach leading up to the cave

A sheer rock face bordering the cave

Nice and big inside!

Perhaps Steven is standing right where the robbers once stood!

The bridge from Illinois into Missouri!

Fledge and I are about to embark on Missouri soil!

Chester, IL-- the last small town before entering Missouri-- is where Popeye was created!

The mighty Mississip! Lewis and Clark camped out near here with the Corps of Discovery!