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Delaware
Sunday, January 24, 2021

Justin Field's Pedaling Against Hunger

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Editor’s Note: Wilmington native Justin Field is a 2011 Honors graduate of the University of Delaware and currently a medical student in Philadelphia. This summer, Justin completed a TSD-sponsored bike ride from Dewey Beach to San Francisco to raise money for the Food Bank of Delaware, a journey which readers followed here at TownSquareDelaware.com. One month ago, Justin submitted his final entry as he rolled into San Francisco. Today, we’ve pulled together all of his diary entries for one long look at a trip across the nation.

Take it from here Justin:

Thanks guys. For the next sixty days, I will travel across the Delmarva peninsula, over the Appalachians, through the Great Plains, atop the Rockies, and brave the Nevada desert, finally ending in San Francisco, California. I will not spend a penny on gasoline, however –  this trip will be on a bicycle. I’ll be joined by Dean Hansen, a student at James Madison University, from Herndon, Virginia. We’ll travel West, following the path of the pioneers and camping along the way.

In this series I will write about my experiences on the road: the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, the beautiful, and the not-so-beautiful. Through pictures and words, I’ll show you what America looks like from a bike saddle, as I experience the ups and downs of life on the road.

However, as a future medical professional, I wanted to make this trip more than a leisurely ride through the country, but a crusade for a worthy cause. Throughout my journey I will raise money for the Food Bank of Delaware and awareness of their important work. The Food Bank provides emergency assistance to over 240,000 people in Delaware by working with a wide network of non-profit relief groups. Relying on donations, they help prevent hunger and educate the community in making healthy food choices on a limited budget. Anybody interested in joining this fight against hunger can make a donation at this webpage.  

 

DAY ONE

Finally — after months of planning this expedition, dealing with the whirlwind of exams, graduation, moving out of my apartment and making final preparations, the cross-country trek finally began.

With my friends and family watching,  I dragged my bike to the ocean near Dewey Beach to complete the ceremonial dipping of the back tire in the Atlantic (to be followed by the dipping of the front tire in the Pacific).

Unlike my riding partner, Dean, I did not have the foresight to take my brand new bike shoes off, and as my tire got wet, my shoes and socks got soaked, forcing me to put on flops until they dried.

Then we were off.  We then bid Delaware goodbye with an unceremonious photo at the border between Fenwick and Ocean City.

After twenty miles or so of comfortable paradise, we turned inland, and suddenly felt the 90 degree heat we had been hearing about. On the other hand, it was easy riding as the roads of the Delmarva are flat as pancakes, and filled with vistas of wide open fields and farmhouses, surrounded by tall pines so it was scenic too.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t prepared for the heat, and quickly ran out of water. After deliriously making PB&J’s, we did manage to find a convenience store and rehydrate.

We realized weren’t going to make it to our campsite by sundown, so we rolled into a small town that will remain nameless, and knocked on the police station door. We told them our story, making sure to include the biking cross country thing, and they said “Yeah just find the [city park], and set up your tent somewhere out of sight.”

That stroke of luck was soon followed by a family at unnamed city park offering us the rest of their Memorial Day barbecue spread, since they hadn’t finished it and needed to leave. We couldn’t believe our luck!

We spent the rest of our tougher than expected first day lounging by a slow moving creek, grateful for the kindness of strangers.  More soon……

Day 2: Pocomoke City & Tangier Island

Justin Field bikes through eastern Virginia
Justin Field bikes through eastern Virginia

We woke at 5:30 a.m. so we could get out of the city park before anybody noticed us (since only the Mayor could officially give permission to camp there). We rode into Pocomoke City, Md. and feasted at the Pocomoke Diner for breakfast.

With full stomachs, we started towards Crisfield, Md. about 35 miles away, to catch the ferry across the Chesapeake. We arrived at Crisfield at 10 a.m. with plenty of time before the 12:30 p.m. ferry. With nothing to do, we walked into the town museum and asked the woman at the info desk what there was to do.

“On a Tuesday? Well, to be honest not very much,” the woman said.

We walked through the small exhibit next to the desk and began to learn about crabs. An employee of the museum saw us reading and explained the difference between hard shell and soft shell crabs (they’re the same animal, just in different molting stages) and brought us out to a crab shanty.

We learned how differentiate crabs by gender, and how to tell when a crab is about to become a soft shell crab. Crisfield has depended on the Chesapeake for hundreds of years, first harvesting oysters, then hard shell crabs and now soft shell crabs.

At 12:30, we boarded the ferry at the city pier to head over to Tangier Island. On the island, we hopped on the next ferry to head to mainland Virginia.

Tangier Island
Tangier Island

On the ferry, we sat around a large table and plugged in our phones and basked in the glorious air conditioning. A little old lady sat down next to us, and we invited her to join us in a game of Bananagrams (its like Scrabble). As she proceeded to beat all of us at the game, we chatted and she told us about her daughter, who lives on the secluded island.

She said the island is suffering from a decline in the crab harvest and many people are deciding to give up their crab licences. It was fascinating hearing that the tiny island with more crab pots than people was affected by the variability in the abundance of crabs.

As we stepped off the boat in Reedville, Va. we said goodbye, and set out to find a campsite for the night. The landscape was much more lush on the other side, with huge fields of golden wheat beside the roads we biked on. After 15 more miles of biking we stopped at a library, to check Facebook and write this blog post.

Day 3: Gimme Shelter

Although the heat was definitely a factor in our first two days, our first full day of riding coincided with a heat index of 105 degrees.

The unseasonable heat was reaching its peak we were getting a little delirious.

Our general hydration regimen had us refilling our water bottles and Camelbak water packs at a gas station when we realized we had run out.

As we pedaled through the blazing sun on highway 360, we realized that method was not going to cut it, so we adapted a new routine. We stopped every ten miles in a gas station and sat inside until we felt ready to go.

We pulled over to the side of the baking road every once in a while and poured water down our shirts to supplement sweating.

Justin cools off in the heat
Justin cools off in the heat

It all was barely enough to keep us going, but we had a great motivation to persist: Dean’s friend Lydia lives in Mechanicsville, VA and was willing to host us for the night.

After we entered her family’s home, we quickly introduced ourselves and apologized for the smell; we were quickly given towels and shown the location of the showers.

We could not have asked for more gracious hosts in Lydia and her parents. Her mom made us a full pasta dinner, complete with garlic bread, salad, and sweet tea. Afterwards we made a quick run to Walmart and got ice cream at Brusters.

After some bumpy first nights, this shelter was like heaven. We passed out on beds, in air conditioning, and woke up to ham, eggs, oatmeal, and English muffins. Once again, we were amazed by the outpouring of generosity after a tough day.

Well fed and totally recharged, we set out on our fourth day.

Day 4: Picking up a trail

After a full breakfast, we hopped on the bikes and rode out of the Sanford family’s Mechanicsville, Va. neighborhood.

The heat was finally breaking, with a forecast high of 90 degrees, with much less humidity.

Having already traveled three days by blazing our own trail, we picked up the Adventure Cycling Association’s Transamerica route. The ACA is a nonprofit organization that supports bicycle travel and publishes detailed maps of various routes across the country, tailored to the needs of bicyclists.

We picked up the route just outside of Mechanicsville and immediately found ourselves on shady roads with wide bike lanes. We were on biker cloud nine, no longer having to fumble around with Google maps and GPS to try to figure out which roads to take and where to find a place to sleep.

Justin outside Ashland, Va.
Justin outside Ashland, Va.

We reached Ashland, Va. as the train rolled through town and we chased the train, also headed west, down a road that paralleled the tracks. Outside of Ashland we rode once again past rolling fields of wheat and corn, occasionally interrupted by old churches of all denominations.

In Bumpass, VA we saw our first fellow bikers. A group of bikers from the charity Bike the US for MS (multiple sclerosis) had just started from Yorktown, Va. the day before. It turned out we were headed to the same free campsite on the lawn of the Mineral, Va. Fire Department.

It was extremely nice to talk to other people doing the same trip as us, although they were supported by a van that carried all their stuff and followed them cross country.

Camping with bikers from bike the US for MS in the backyard of the Mineral volunteer fire dept.
Camping with bikers from bike the US for MS in the backyard of the Mineral volunteer fire dept.

Later that afternoon, we rode past Lake Anna, a man-made reservoir.

We weren’t going to miss a chance to swim, so we pulled our bikes past a fence and through some trees to the water’s edge.

We jumped in and were pleasantly surprised that the water was bathwater warm.

Swim break in Lake Anna
Time for a swim break in Lake Anna.

After sitting in the lake for a while, we headed to our campsite in Mineral, Va. wondering why the lake was so warm. We soon found out when analyzing the map for a correct turn down the road and realized we had been swimming in the water that cooled off the local nuclear power plant. Whoops.

That night we camped in the yard of the Mineral Fire Department hoping to get some much-needed rest.

Day 5: Trip to Charlottesville

For the first time on the trip, we woke up to temperatures below 70 degrees and needed to put on our rain coats for warmth.

The cool morning temperatures were perfect for riding and the first 30 miles breezed by.

Our destination was Charlottesville, VA, about 60 miles away, and today was the last day before we would begin pedaling the grueling Appalachians.

Getting closer to the Appalachian mountains.
Getting closer to the Appalachian mountains.

We saw on the map that there was a convenience store that would coincide well with our regular lunch time. We arrived at the country store to find that it had recently gone out of business.

After reaching the rural areas outside of the beaches, we’ve noticed a lot of recently abandoned buildings. Even basic services like gas stations without local competitors were going out of business.

Though it may have been the effects of the recession, the level poverty and financial misfortune seemed more severe in rural areas than what I am used to seeing in the cities.

As we approached Charlottesville, we decided to make a pit stop at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home (it’s on the nickel). It had a fancy entrance and reminded me of Longwood Gardens. There was a huge hill before the entrance where we walked into the ticketing office, dripping with sweat and decked out in biking gear.

The concerned looking lady at the desk informed us it was a 22 dollar admission to see the mansion. We passed—freedom is free.

A view of Charlottesville.
A view of Charlottesville.

We frightened more women and children at the next colonial attraction down the road: the historic Michie Tavern. Though this location had a 9 dollar fee for the tavern tour, we weren’t terribly interested and moved on to downtown Charlottesville.

We walked down the Main Street which was like a pedestrian mall and caught a free bluegrass concert in the town’s pavilion.

Upscale downtown Charlottesville citizens, dressed in their preppy clothing, contrasted sharply with the simpler folk and buildings in the Virginia countryside. As nice as it was to be able to be grimy all of the time, we felt a little underdressed for the town.

The view of downtown Charlottesville.
The view of downtown Charlottesville.

This night Dean’s parents came down from DC to take us out for dinner. Dean’s mom shared some advice from her trip across the country last summer as I carbo-loaded on pasta.

As we’ve noticed from seeing other riders, especially in the Bike the US for MS group, people of all ages make the trek across the country every year. It seems like most people are either college grads or recent retirees.

For the second time on our trip, we spent the night with a friend of Dean’s, understanding that the perks of air conditioning, free laundry and showers were going to become very rare.

Day 6: Charlottesville to Vesuvius, Va.

After hearing about them for days, it was finally time to start taking on the Appalachian mountains.

We had spent the night at another of Dean’s friends from school’s house. With clean laundry in hand we got a ride back to the trail in a pickup truck.

As we moved from the suburban developments to the rural back roads, the mountains loomed in front of us.

Mountains loom ahead.
Mountains loom ahead.

According to almost everyone we talked to who knew about the transamerica route, and even some who didn’t, today was supposedly the toughest day of climbing on the entire route (the Rockies are considered comparatively easier to bike because the grades are gentler and more consistent).

Our legs were fresh in the morning and we powered up the first major hill with ease. We thought we must just be in really good shape, because it wasn’t too bad.

At the top of that hill, a little old lady dubbed the “cookie lady” by bicyclists gives out food and opens her home to bikers to rest, use the bathroom, or even sleep. She is a legend on the trans-america route so we had to pay her a visit.

She told us she was 90+ and had recently been having some medical difficulties, but she felt a duty to help out the passing cyclists in any way she could.

After she suffered a stroke, the only way she was able to pay a nurse for at home care was through donations from bikers who had met her and heard about her troubles. She talked for about a half an hour in a thick southern accent and with a twinkle in her eye, eagerly giving us all the good spots to stop on the upcoming portion of the route.

We moved on and reached the Blue Ridge Parkway. For a while we were in heaven, stopping at every overlook and taking in the land we had just conquered. But as would become the trend in the Appalachians, the joy was short lived.

Even though we had made it up to the Parkway, the road climbed and then fell and then climbed again. After twenty miles, I was totally exhausted and had run out of food because there were no roadside services on the parkway.

Entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway
Entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway

Dean was farther behind so I couldn’t have any of his food. Just when I was pretty sure my body was
digesting all my muscles for energy, I happened on a group of bikers going for a day ride. I was too hungry to be subtle and after saying hello, outright asked them if they had any food. They immediately produced a variety of Cliff Bars and energy gels.

The ride ended with a four mile downhill. At the top of the hill a passing biker warned me to pump my breaks continuously.

If I didn’t brake enough I would speed out of control the biker said. If I braked continuously, he said, my tires would get so hot from friction that they would explode.

I felt like this was probably not the best time to be learning how to brake and corner for the first time, but I proceeded with caution and made it to the bottom.

We camped behind Gerties Country Store in Vesuvius, VA, again with the twenty or so other riders from Bike the US for MS. It was nice to see other bikers but the group overwhelmed the tiny store, which nonetheless kept up with orders for BBQ with slaw sandwiches.

One of the many diners found across America.
One of the many diners found across Virginia.

Day 7: Vesuvius to Lexington

We took a break day from serious riding today and made the quick 18 mile ride along a stream and railroad tracks to historic Lexington, Va.

As we entered the city, we saw the clean looking Virginia Military Institute. Everything seemed to be closed, since it was a Sunday, but we found an open coffee shop and camped out, plugging in everything electronic and changing in the bathroom.

While we tried to figure out what exactly to do with our rest day, I brought up the issue of pace.

We started with very different bikes, I was on a steel frame road bike designed for touring and Dean on a hybrid bike with shocks. Because of the August first deadline for school in Philly, I had to pick up the pace.

Dean and his bike.
Dean and his bike.

However, we were getting further into the Appalachians, and that was no easy task. We decided the best option was going to have to be to split up. I stocked up at a camping supplies store for the things that we had been sharing and then rode to a KOA campground.

It was the first campground I’d had to pay for all trip but the showers, pavilion, and air conditioned indoor area made it worth the price.

Day 8: First day solo

I got up extra early so I could pack in the miles. I rode past the Natural Bridge tourist attraction which looked like it was more of a trap.

Outside of Buchanan, Va. (pronounced Bukanin) I rode through a heavy fog rising from the mountain valley,  Riding solo didn’t bother me, and I had the freedom to stop and take in the surroundings as much as I liked.

I had no idea where I would stay in Blacksburg, my destination, but I knew I should be able to find something, considering so many Delawareans go to Virginia Tech. I posted on Facebook asking if anyone knew of a place to crash, and sure enough my friend Melissa said that her boyfriend’s friend would be willing to host me for the night.

After a great ride through rolling fields past long mountain ridges, I was greeted to Blacksburg by a 2.5 mile steep uphill.

Hills near Blacksburg.
Hills near Blacksburg.

My legs were angry at me by the end of the incline, but I made it up and found Nate and Marc. I felt at home in their college apartment and got treated to Nate’s cooking, which was much better than the college standard.

I fell asleep, anxious but excited for my second day as a “free agent” rider.

Day 9: Blacksburg to Wytheville

I woke up earlier than my Blacksburg hosts and tried to be as quiet as possible while leaving the house.

I picked up the Huckleberry rail-trail to leave the town on my way to Christiansburg and then on to Wytheville. I was heading Southwest, through the mountain valley. When I hit the town of Radford, VA I almost found a new person to ride with.

 

Coal trains leaving Blacksburg
Coal trains leaving Blacksburg

 

 

I was making my way down the town’s Main St. when I saw a lanky guy on a bike pulling a sleek trailer asking for directions to a bike shop from a local. I quickly pulled over and introduced myself.

The man was from Sweden and was heading to San Francisco.

We both shared a common need, because I needed to pick up some extra things since I was on my own now so I went too. He needed new brakes since his had worn out in the mountains, but the shops here didn’t have them in stock.

We got some breakfast as he tried to figure out what to do, and he decided to hang out in Radford for a day or two while the shops had the brakes ordered.

I couldn’t hang out that long so I pushed ahead. I left Radford and headed southwest to Wytheville.

My extended time in Radford put me out on the roads in the heat of the afternoon and it was a tougher ride than I expected.

I was in the foothills of another range of mountains and even though there were no major climbs, I would go up one very steep hill only to have another one waiting at the end of the downhill. It was frustrating and I wasn’t enjoying being by myself. I finally made it to Wytheville after riding truck heavy roads and went straight to the air conditioned library.

Mountain roads in Virginia
Mountain roads in Virginia

 

 

I was only sitting there for a half hour when three girls with handlebar bags, spandex shorts, and tanktops walked in. We immediately recognized each other as fellow riders.

We introduced ourselves to each other and I found out that Lauren, Kersten, and Katie were from Dickinson College.

After a trip to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for dinner, we headed to the city park, where the police department allowed bikers to camp out.

It was awesome to have people to hang out with after a hot day alone. They welcomed me into their group and we woke up early the next morning to cross the next ridge of the Appalachians.

Day 10: Getting to ‘The Place’

The girls kept the same early rising schedule I had been keeping and we were on the road by 6:30AM.

We decided to ride ten miles to Rural Retreat, Va. where we would get snacks for the day.

It was supposed to be another hot day so we wanted to get as many miles in before the afternoon.

The Rural Retreat gas station we stopped in was also a truck service station and we got the usual stares and questions in the store.

The road up the mountain to Troutdale followed a mountain stream and there were not many cars on the road at all.

The mountain was tall and the climb looked huge on our elevation maps, but the grade was so gradual that it wasn’t bad at all.

We got to the top and realized the Special-K bars weren’t gonna cut it for the rest of the ride to Damascus, so we stopped in the restaurant in the tiny mountain-top town.

Some locals lounged watching the T.V. and we ordered Gravy Biscuits and eggs.

The girls had a siesta in the afternoon so I decided to just meet them in Damascus.

I pedaled a little further up the mountain to the highest point and then found out my favorite part of mountains: the killer downhills. I had finally figured out the braking techniques and cornering so I let loose going downhill and (safely) exceeded the suggested speed limit for cars.

In Damascus I headed to “The Place”, a hostel reserved for Appalachian Trail hikers and Transamerican Bicyclists. It was run by the local Methodist Church and was located in an old house

The Place
The Place

 

All the rooms hadbeen cleared out and fillled with bunk beds. The hikers that were leaving told me that about 30 boy scouts were on their way so when the girls got there, we locked our bikes to two bunk beds to claim them.

The boy scouts never ended up showing up, so we had the house just about to ourselves. As we made our dinner on the front porch, a police officer showed up. It seemed like the town wasn’t thrilled with the open house and had it checked on often.

We appreciated the security though, and talked to the police officer for a while. He lingered longer than expected, and we figured there wasn’t much crime to fight in a small town fueled by bikers and hikers.

Justin's riding companions
Justin's riding companions eating dinner on the porch of The Place

Day 11: Damascus to Council
After a great stay in “The Place” we were sad to leave Damascus, but today was another big day of Appalachian climbing. It was also expected to be as hot as the day before.

We made the morning push into Mountain View, VA northwest of Damascus. We all had some things we brought with us that we ended up not needing so we headed to the local post office.

I stuffed the bag I didnt need in a bag and off it went,back to Wilmington. We got more of my new favorite food—biscuits with gravy—at a gas station combined with a market and restaurant, and headed toward Hayter’s Gap, the hardest climb for the rest of the entire trip.

When we told the lady at the post office we were climbing it, we pronounced the name of the landmark as “Hater’s Gap”, and she cringed at our mispronunciation and corrected it, informing us that is was called ‘Hi-ter’s’ Gap. We thought perhaps “hater” was more appropriate, because we definitely hated it while we were climbing. It seemed to last forever, and once we got around another switchback, there was another waiting for us.

Mountains in Virginia
Mountains in Virginia

Finally, we got to the top and headed down to the valley. We took a break in the backyard of a church that provided open facilities to bikers.

We lounged a little too long, and as we napped, storm clouds rolled in. We needed to make it to Council, VA which was about 24 miles away, and at the top of another mountain. At about 3:00 p.m. we headed out, and raced the storm clouds to as far as Honaker.

We couldn’t pedal fast enough and as the storm errupted, we took shelter in a laundromat. Council was still another 10 miles away, completely uphill, and it was now 5:30 and the storm was taking its time.

There were no campgrounds or motels in Honaker and before the storm had gotten bad we could ask a church if it would allow us to camp on their lawn.

We were stuck. As we sat there trying to figure out our next move, a middle aged lady walked into the laundromat and unloaded some soot black clothes into a washer.

I struck up a conversation and asked if she knew of anywhere to camp in Honaker, since we were stuck. She said no and looked very concerned.

We needed to get to Council and I asked if she thought hitch-hiking was a good idea.

She thought about the idea for a second and then said “you knowwhat, if you just wait I’ll go get my truck and give you all a ride to
Council.”

She was a lifesaver. As her laundry washed she went home and got her truck. When she got back she grabbed the laundry and we loaded our bikes into the back and got in.

On the way up the mountain she pointed our her house, which was at the edge of a stunning cliff. She explained that she was washing her husband’s clothes, because he worked in the coal mines.

Miners, according to the woman,  make a minimum of $70,000 per year, and with overtime can make around $100,000.

She was extremely nice and talkative, and wanted to know all about our trip. She even stopped at a lookout point so we could take pictures.

Overlook in Western Virginia
Overlook in Western Virginia

We finally got to the town park in Council nestled between two mountaintops that allowed bikers overnight We said goodbye and thanked her for being so kind and taking the time out her day to help us out of a tight spot. Once she left, the park caretaker showed us the bathrooms and told us we could camp anywhere in the park, so naturally we picked the enclosed wooden pirate ship playground.

Day 12: Council, Va. to Hindman, Ky.

We got up early and were on the road by seven. We were headed northwest towards Breaks Interstate Park, the place we would cross the border into Kentucky.

I could not wait to leave Virginia behind. It was a beautiful state, but it had taken forever to get through it.

The first ten miles were downhill, and I needed my arm and leg warmers in the chilly morning air.

Breaks Interstate Park
Breaks Interstate Parks

We took our morning break at a gas station and snacked on Otis Spunkmeyer muffins.

 We headed towards the border, with palpable excitement to move on to a new state.

The Breaks park brought three major climbs followed by steep down-ward sloped hills, but the efforts were rewarded with great views at the top.

On one hill, I whizzed around a corner and out of the corner of my eye spotted the Kentucky State Border sign. It was tiny.

I slammed on the brakes and started yelling at the girls to stop because I thought we had to document it.

We took pictures because we were a little puzzled as to why the sign was so small.

Welcome to Kentucky Sign
Welcome to Kentucky Sign

Once we had thoroughly photographed the moment, we rode on and 200 feet down the road found the fancy sign.

While we were Riding into Elkhorn City, the girls said they wanted to stop for breakfast.

 In the back of my mind, I knew I needed to push ahead today.

I had talked it over with them and said that I needed to keep a faster pace to stay on schedule. This was the place I would have to separate from them so I could make it to Hindman, Ky. by late afternoon.

We pulled into a restaurant and immediately noticed a loaded bicycle outside–another Trans-Am rider!

 As we walked in, he walked out, and I followed and introduced myself. He was headed to Hindman too. It was incredibly lucky.

I said my goodbyes to Katie, Kersten, and Lauren and hit the road. Karey is from North Carolina and is part of a two man team raising money to install water purification in Ethiopia.

The day before his riding partner left for a pre-scheduled family fishing trip, so Karey was going to be riding alone for about two weeks.

It was a pretty incredible coincidence that we ran into each other. Kentucky was a lot more rugged than Virginia.

Many of the mountain tops had been totally blasted off for mining operations, leaving ugly but impressionable scars on the landscape.

Between the day’s many climbs, we whizzed past homes with people out on their porches. We waved hello and they always waved back.

I had been warned about the dogs in Kentucky, and the warnings were definitely merited. As we biked by certain homes, the homeowners’ dogs would come barreling after us.

Usually they were the little ‘yippy’ kind, and seeing them behind us was just funny. Sometimes they were bigger and made the adrenaline kick in.

After a day of hot climbing and thrilling hills, we finally approached Hindman. As we got close, the skies darkened and we knew we needed to get there quick.

Our destination was a biker’s retreat set up at the local Historical Society.

As we got closer to Hindman, we could see lightning and hear thunder, so we asked locals where the society was located.

We finally found it at the top of a hill. We were greeted with iced teas and ushered inside, just as it started to pour.

Bikers Retreat
Bikers Retreat

The Knott County Historical Society had set up this “Bed and Breakfast” for the bicyclists passing through.

For $25, we had a shower, laundry service, a loaded baked potato, a beer (in a dry county), an ice cream sundae, wi-fi internet, continental breakfast, and a place to set up our tents. We also got to talk to a bunch of different bicyclists. It was an oasis for everyone there and a great place to stop after a 93 mile day.

Day 13: Hindman to Booneville

After a huge breakfast provided by David, the man running the Bed and Breakfast, we were headed out of Kindman in the direction of Booneville, and it was going to be another intensely hot day.

The first 10 miles were a breeze, but then the route dumped us onto a four lane road in full sun, with rumble strips alongside the roadway, and a large shoulder riddled with sharp looking objects.

The highway was headed through a hilly area so we were going either 6 mph or 25. We finally got to Hazard, and made a pit stop at a Walmart. After restocking my PB&J, sunscreen, and Gatorade, we moved on.

After the climbs of the day before, we were hoping for an easier day, but we didn’t get it though, because here were hills with endless switchbacks.

As the day went on, we got to about 15 miles outside of Booneville. We were in a very rural area, and were about to head up another long climb, when the skies got dark again.

Storm Clouds Brewing in Kentucky
Storm Clouds Brewing in Kentucky

We had two options: head up the mountain and hope that we made it across before the storm started, or backtrack until we found some shelter. Possibly because of some great intuition, or maybe because we wanted to put off the next hill as long as possible (likely), we decided to go back and find some shelter.

Along the windy back road, we saw a house with a large barn and a long porch. Karey walked up and knocked on the door. I figured they must not get too many strangers knocking on their door so I was a little wary.

When the woman who lived there opened the door he explained the situation and they invited us to sit on their porch.

Taking Cover Under a Porch
Taking Cover Under a Porch

As we sat there, she asked us if we wanted anything to eat or drink, which we politely declined, not wanting to take advantage of their hospitality. She insisted, however, and eventually we gave in. We were invited inside, and talked to the man of the house, named Connor.

The couple looked to be in their fifties and had a 4 year old daughter. Connor talked about the difficulty in finding work in the area, and said that although Booneville had gotten a lot of rain in the past month, the valley he lived in hadn’t seen a drop.

Watching the Storm Pass
Watching the Storm Pass

It seemed like today was going to buck the trend, as heavy rain began to fall. As the rain fell, he told us that he had lived in the area his whole life.

The man said “when a hillbilly lays down his roots, he doesn’t budge”.

We talked for a good hour and a half, and then the rain stopped and the sky cleared. We moved onto Booneville and the big hill seemed like nothing after a long break and two chicken patty sandwiches.

Because Karey was going to be riding alone for two weeks, his parents had planned a road trip, roughly following his route. They were on their way to Boonville as well, and invited me to stay in the Bed and Breakfast they were staying at.

The Digh family greeted me with friendliness and hospitality and we grabbed dinner at a local restauarant.

Back at the Bed and Breakfast, I hopped into the soft bed and was out within seconds.

Day 14: Booneville to Berea

After a few days of tough climbing that we hadn’t really anticipated, today was going to a be a short ride (45 miles) to Berea, Ky.

We had heard Berea was a college town, which generally means coffee shops, restauarants, lots of wifi, and nice lodgings.

It was a Sunday morning, so traffic was light when we pushed off for the morning.

The roads today weren’t as hilly: we were finally leaving the Appalachian mountains behind.

When rode along uninterrupted when we came to a road closed sign. We had heard that the road was closed here due to the construction of a new bridge. Most people just pushed their bikes through the tiny stream underneath.

Today, however, the tiny stream was a rushing muddy creek because of rainfall overnight. We didn’t feel like riding with wet shoes, so we opted to go over the unfinished bridge.

Walking Across Rebar
Walking Across Rebar

A layer of rebar had just been laid down over the bridge surface so we unloaded the bikes, brought the bags across, then walked over with our bikes. Further along the road, we rode past a crumbling house with a sign saying it was built in 1880. We didn’t see any ‘No Tresspassing’ signs so we explored.

The house was divided into two sections with a breezway and outdoor staircase in the middle. We walked up the creaky stairs and found that the upstairs was gutted from a fire. We later found out that the house had been occupied until a few years ago when it burnt.

Abandoned House
Abandoned House

We headed westward to Berea, passing through towns named Sandgap and Bighill. The climbing was gentle compared to what we were used to. When we got to Berea, Karey’s parents graciously invited me to stay with them again.

We stayed at the historic Boone Tavern, a recently renovated hotel run through a partnership with Berea College.

Boone Tavern
Boone Tavern

Berea College was established as a center of learning for Appalachian youth in 1855. It was established by an abolitionist and admitted black and white students, until it was forced to segregate by the Kentucky legislature in 1904 until 1950.

The town had a nice city center and Boone Tavern especially stood out. I camped out at a café having a coffee (which has been rare during the trip) and blogging, as the Digh family explored the town. It was disorienting to be in the café because it was the first time in a while that I was surrounded by people my age in hipster clothes, talking without southern accents.

Justin and the Digh Family
Justin and the Digh Family

My legs were sore from the past few days and it was nice to have an early end to the day. We ate well at the Tavern restaurant for dinner, preparing for a long day the next morning.

Day 15: Berea to Bardstown

Today was going to be big.

We were finally out of the mountains and decided to start making some major pushes to increase our mileage. We headed out around 7 a.m. from Boone Tavern, and prepared ourselves for some “flat” riding.

We figured that since we had passed the mountainous terrain, it had to mean everything else was going to be easy, right?

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

During the first hour, as we rolled through the fields of Kentucky Bluegrass, I thought to myself, “well this is the life.”

I should have been more cautious with my thoughts.

After a few rolling hills, we hit a steep downhill towards a river bed. One thing I’ve learned on my trip is that downhills always indicate an uphill in the near future.

After battling through the subsequent uphill, we realized that we had missed a turn and needed to backtrack 2.5 miles.

Blasted mountain roads in Kentucky

A woman planting her garden told us that it happens all the time to bikers and she wrote to the county to fix the sign.

At least we didn’t feel stupid. We looked at Karey’s GPS and decided to take a shortcut to the road we needed to be on, which was another mistake, because the shortcut involved possibly the steepest hill I’ve encountered so far on the trip. We battled the relentless hills up until lunch.

When I walked into the restaurant we picked, I only had one thing on my mind: milkshakes.

Walking into the small diner-like restaurant I spotted a milkshake machine gleaming with radiant light behind it on the counter. When asked what I wanted to drink I eagerly said “a water and a vanilla milkshake, please!”.

The waitress looked at me like I was crazy and said “well I can get you the water, but we don’t have milkshakes.” I guess it was just for decoration.

After a big lunch we set out again, and the food had made me sleepy. We still had another fifty miles to go before our destination, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it.

To make things worse, I got my first flat tire of the trip. The flat somehow shook off my bad attitude, and I began to see the day as a challenge I needed to overcome, rather than the cakewalk I expected at the beginning.

Patriotic barn in Kentucky.

We pedaled past beautiful barns and fields, and had vistas of endless countryside at the tops of hills. The second fifty miles of the day went by much easier and were a lot more enjoyable than the first.

As we approached 100 miles, we arrived at the motel Karey’s parents had found. Again they generously offered me a place to sleep in their motel, and took me out to dinner in town.

 

Day 16: Bardstown to Elizabethtown

After more than two weeks of rain free riding, our luck started to change.

Karey and I wanted to bump up the mileage, starting in Berea. We had been pretty succesful so far. Today, the destination was Sonora, KY, only fifty miles away.

We planned to do a quick morning ride to get there, and then meet up with Karey’s parents to go to the Mammoth Caves National Park, which was very closeby.

I had to get a prescription filled so I hung around waiting for the pharmacy to open, and then started out on a shortcut to Sonora.

On the way I double checked the map, and realized we had misread it and that there was no place to stay in Sonora. I texted Karey and we met up near Hodgensville, KY.

After a little while, we decided to go a little out of the way to Elizabethtown, KY, a bigger town with definite lodging options.

After 14 miles, we checked into the hotel with Karey’s parents and hopped in the car to Mammoth Caves.

We got there minutes before the last tour started and it was sold out.

We went as far as we could get without a tour, which was enough for me anyway. Cold, wet air flowed out of the dark cave opening. It wasn’t something I felt like hanging out in for two hours. At least not today.

We headed back to Elizabethtown and slept.

 

Day 17: Elizabethtown, KY to Falls of Rough, KY

After not covering much ground the day before, we wanted to have another 100 mile day today. We woke up at 6:00 and got our bikes ready to go, but while we were eating breakfast, a nasty storm rolled in.

This was the worst storm I had seen so far on the trip. Huge bolts of lightening filled the sky and made it clear we were not going to be going outside for a bit. We sat in our hotel room and watched the sky and the radar.

Just as the sky would lighten and it would seem that the storm had passed, another storm cell would form just behind and the thunder and lightening would start up again.

We were antsy and annoyed that we had woken up at 6 a.m, only to be delayed, and just wanted to hit the road. Finally, at around noon we got our chance. The front moved on and we started riding.

The terrain was gentler and we made good time. We made a few stops: one at a bike friendly country filling station. We got complimentary freeze pops and signed the biker log book.

Buck collection in a convenience store.
Buck collection in a convenience store.

Down the road we stopped at another filling station and were astonished because this one crammed several different services into one building. It was part gas station, part restauarant, part country store, part convenience store, and amazingly part tanning salon.

As we approached the Rough River State Park, where we would stay for the night, another storm menaced us.

When we were two miles away, the storm looked like it was just about on top of us, and we decided to try to beat it to the park. Just when we were half a mile away, it started to rain and thunder.

Around the next corner there was a huge, open dam we had to cross. I pedaled like crazy, half expecting to be taken out at any second by lightning.

After we reached the other side, we pulled into the Army Corps of Engineers building. We took refuge while the short lived storm passed and moved on to the park for the night.

Day 18-19: Carbondale & Justin’s Birthday

Illinois State Line
Illinois State Line

After about a week pedaling through Kentucky, we finally made it to the Illinois state line where we were greeted with a highway full of coal trucks that didn’t seem to care much to give bikers their space.

After a nerve wracking twenty miles into the wind, we found a Pizza Hut. Again, our timing could not have been better. As we parked our bikes, it began to drizzle and then the sky turned black and a huge electrical storm began.

As we calmly ate our lunch inside, the rain poured down and lightning struck all around us. Just as we were ready to go, the sky cleared and we were on our way to Carbondale for the night.

The next day was my birthday so we slept in (until 9:30), and took our time hitting the road.

Today’s ride took us along the Mississippi River. We rode through the flat plains bordering the river, where houses are literally surrounded by the overflow water from the river.

We stopped to fill our water bottles at a tiny bar where the locals told us our planned route was no longer viable because the road was underwater.

Pedaling Against Flooding
Pedaling Against Flooding

The locals rerouted us to a road with a little less water on it, and we had to ride our bikes through about a foot of water. With waterlogged shoes, we continued up onto a levee, which is a large earthen wall that keeps the Mississippi from flooding the plain next to it.

The views were fantastic, and we rode for a few miles with Gerry, a local out for a bike ride on the levee. He told us the last major flood was in 1993, and the levee was breached. After a nice, flat ride, I had a nice Birthday dinner with Karey and his parents at an old (and apparently haunted) Inn on the river.

Justin's 22nd Birthday
Justin's 22nd Birthday

Day 20: Crossing the Ozark Mountains

We had heard differing accounts about Missouri. The state is home to the Ozark Mountains, a mini mountain range between the App’s and the Rockies.

Some bikers claim it is the hardest to bike, because of the intensely steep hills. I crossed the Mississippi (for the first time) and pretty soon found out what these people were talking about. The hills were steep, and just when we had finished one climb, another appeared right behind it.

Crossing the Mississippi
Crossing the Mississippi

That was the story of the Ozarks. At one point on our first day in Missouri, we passed a brewery, and had to stop for lunch.

Pizza and beer were not the best mid-day nutritional decisions, and our muscles didn’t want to move after. As we moved further into the mountains, the gas stations became more scarce. During one 27 mile stretch in full midday heat, battling intense hills, we both ran out of water.

We tried to push ahead to the next town, but with 3 miles to go, we needed to figure out another option. As we rounded a corner, we saw a newly constructed house, with a hose out back. Karey walked up and rang the doorbell. The couple that lived there invited us into their luxurious air conditioning and filled our water bottles (three times) as we gulped down the water and talked to them about our trip. Afterwards, we headed back out into the heat ready to face the hills again.

Entering the Ozarks
Entering the Ozarks

Later that day, when I was completely ready to be done with riding, but still had 18 hilly miles left, a wasp found its way into my shirt on a long, fast down hill. I felt the sharp stings but thought that gravel must be hitting my chest and getting embedded in my skin. When I looked down, I saw a large stinger and the dead wasp. We pulled over and I plucked the stinger out with tweezers and popped a Benadryl.

Somehow, I guess I figured it can’t get any worse from here, and I faced the rest of the ride with a better attitude, and barely noticed the 14% grades and endless hills. After three days in the Ozarks, the steep slopes eventually gave way and we found ourselves on gently rolling hills. We eagerly awaited the total flatness of Kansas and crossed our fingers that the winds would blow in our favor.

An appeal to readers from Justin:

To all reading this series, I hope it is fun to read and follow my progress across the country. The trip certainly hasn’t been easy, but it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve gotten to see some amazing places and meet some incredible people. I wanted to take this opportunity to ask for your help.

My goal for this trip is to raise money for the Food Bank of Delaware. This non-profit helps gather and distribute food to people in need throughout the State of Delaware and the surrounding region. They not only help make sure at-risk families have sufficient food, but they also work to ensure the food is high quality, and that the individuals receiving assistance have access to information about good nutritional decisions.

Throughout this ride, I have been able to see a much wider part of the country than I had seen before. While I have often been impressed by the regions I have gone through, I am very proud to be from Delaware, and I think Delaware has a lot to offer.

Organizations like the Food Bank help make Delaware the great place it is. It is an outstanding organization, and one Delawareans should be proud of. Please join me in helping eliminate hunger in Delaware by making a donation to the Food Bank. Feel free to donate whatever is possible for you. If a monetary donation is not possible, please help by spreading the work about the Food Bank and referring others to this page.

Twenty or thirty dollars may not seem like much, but it can help the Food Bank in a huge way. As a non-profit, the Food Bank depends on donations.

Please consider making a donation and enjoy the rest of the blog!

Day 25: Ash Grove, Mo. to Pittsburg, Ks.

We woke up early after spending the night indoors at a city park. We were  joined by a group of older cyclists who woke up early, ensuring we were wide awake at 5:30 am.

Hills in Missouri.
Hills in Missouri.

About 50 miles before the border, the hills disappeared and we were surrounded by fields of wheat and corn. We didn’t have to worry about wrong turns, actually we didn’t have to worry about turns at all, since we stayed on the same, straight road for 60 miles into Pittsburg, Ks.

"You call that a state sign?? Dissapointing, Kansas."
"You call that a state sign?? Disappointing, Kansas."

For the second day in a row, we were met by our new nemesis, the wind. It blew steadily in our faces, and kept our first day on flat ground to about 70 miles total. It was okay because we stopped in a sizable town of 20,000 people, a rarity on the Transamerica Trail.

Day 25, Part 2: Joplin, Mo.

After we had settled into our hotel in Pittsburg, Ks. we decided to make the short drive to Joplin, Missouri.

After a 40 minutes from Pittsburg, we entered town from the north, heading down its grand Main Street, with impressive old facades.

Without having yet seen the destruction, it was hard to sense what had occurred. As we headed down the thoroughfare, however, the vista opened up almost instantly into a vast nothingness of twisted metal, shredded trees, and demolished structures.

Destruction in Joplin
Destruction in Joplin

I sat in stunned silence as we drove through the destruction. It is hard to put in words the scale of destruction. Where a one mile by six mile wide portion of the city once thrived, now lays in ruins.

Trees that survived the winds have been bent and stripped of their branches.

The six story hospital suffered a direct blow and stands without windows and siding.

 

A view of the hospital.
A view of the hospital.

Entire neighborhoods and shopping centers were flattened and still lay in piles of rubble.

It was a hard scene to stomach and it was painful to think of the sense of terror the citizens of Joplin must have had the moment the massive tornado made its terrible move through the area. My heart goes out to those affected and those in town helping the in effort to rebuild.

More destruction.
More destruction.

There is reason for hope in Joplin. In our brief tour of the destruction we saw countless signs of hope and encouragement, vowing to rebuild. The Home Depot store that was destroyed has reestablished itself in a huge tent, helping provide supplies to remove debris and repair damage.

It’s clear that Joplin needs help. Please continue to keep Joplin in your thoughts. As I found out today, news reports don’t do the destruction justice. The hopeful people in this town can use any help they can get, and I will never forget the sights I saw in our short drive through Joplin.

Day 26: Pittsburg to Eureka

After a few days of riding into the wind, we were crossing our fingers for a tailwind today.

After we got up, we ate a quick breakfast at the hotel and headed out due west from Pittsburg. We quickly realized what we had hoped for had come true: the wind was blowing west.

Pittsburg, Kansas.

For those not familiar, the winds can have a dramatic impact on the effort of pedaling. Pedaling into a 15 mph wind can make a 40 mile day seem like an 80 mile day. Pedaling with the wind can make a day with huge mileage easy.

We glided along the straight roads at 20 mph without much effort. As much as possible I made comparisons to those awful days of huge hills in the Ozarks and Appalachians and it felt great.

However, the first day in Kansas was not completely what I expected. There were trees and even hills.

The afternoon heat, which got rose as the day went on, was occasionally broken up by shade cast over the road by trees. At one point Karey was talking to a man at a gas station, who said he should enjoy the trees now, because west of Wichita, they weren’t going to be there any more.

The second surprise we ran into that day, was the fact that Kansas actually has some hills. The eastern portion, the Flint Hills region, has rolling hills. They weren’t hard to pedal, but we couldn’t help but feel a little deceived.

The rolling hills were at least interesting to look at, and the wind was helping us keep a very good pace, so there were no complaints. At the end of the day, we rolled into Eureka, having gone 117 miles.

Hills...in Kansas!
Hills...in Kansas!

I was totally wiped, and after we grabbed dinner at the Copper Kettle restaurant, I was asleep within
minutes back at the motel.

Day 27: Eureka to Hesston

This morning Mr. and Mrs. Digh left us to return home. I had been very blessed to have met them and receive their endless generosity and hospitality.

We grabbed the breakfast buffet at the Copper Kettle and said our goodbyes, and they headed back to North Carolina.

Our goal was to ride another 100 mile plus day today. Leaving Eureka, we again encountered more rolling hills, and with the winds blowing at our side this morning, and didn’t make incredibly great time. The next town was 20 miles away, and when we got there in need of a restroom, the only restaurant in town was closed.

Thankfully, a kind soul painting the side of her house saw us hopping around looking for plan B and invited
us into her house. After chatting with the mother of three young boys about our trip, and the three little kid birthday parties she had to attend this weekend, we headed on our way.

We made it to Cassoday by noon, and stopped in the General Store where decided to figure out our next steps.

Entering Casoday.
Entering Casoday.

This particular day would require some strategic planning, because the next place to gets food or water after this town was 38 miles away. We ate a snack and filled our water bottles and camelbaks and started out again.

This time we had a tailwind and the 38 miles were really no problem. When we had made it to about 88 miles, we had to make another decision.

Making good time through Kansas.
Making good time through Kansas.

The next town was another 20 miles away, and had very little inside of it. We were worried that if we spent the night there, everything would be closed the next morning (Sunday), and we would have to pedal the 20 miles to the next town for breakfast.

So we decided to stay where we were in Hesston, and camped in an RV campground.

Day 27:  Hesston to Larned

Today was possibly the toughest day so far on the trip.

It was a Sunday so it was hard to find anything open in the beginning of our ride. There were two factors that made Karey and I nervous about the day: the temperature was expected to ride above 100 degrees and we had a stretch of 58 miles through rural Kansas without any public place to refill water.

The beginning of the ride was uneventful and consisted of forty miles through now standard country roads with strands of trees here and there separating individual plots of farmland. The 58 mile stretch began in Nickerton, a small town with a classic western main street.

Grabbing our midday meal at the Sunshine Cafe, a main street diner, we were warned gruffly by an older man that the road ahead was very remote, and we best bring a lot of water.

We had already filled all of our available water containers, but just for good measure we bought some extra Gatorade at the Kwik Shop convenience store.

Because of the availability of camping, we had to make it to Larned, the next town down the road, and we started down the road in the heat of the day.

After the first 15 miles I started to feel just how hot it was. I wasn’t even sweaty because the sweat evaporated too quickly. I went through my Camelbak water supply and then my two water bottles.

At one point we went past a natural artesian well that seemed to me like it was placed there for the sole purpose of cooling off semi-overheating bikers.

Taking a break at an atrtesian spring.
Taking a break at a an artesian spring.

Further down the road I needed a break, and our maps indicated a restaurant about a mile off the route. I looked it up on my phone, and despite the town’s lowly population of 68 people, the restaurant listed a phone number online.

I called, and even though they had closed over two hours ago, the owner answered the phone and offered to let us fill our water bottles and cool off. We took about forty five minutes to cool off, and we waited for our bodies to recover as the temperature peaked at 105 degrees.

Mom's Bar and Grill
Mom's Bar and Grill

We finished the day by biking past fields intentionally set on fire after the wheat harvest, which was an impressive sight, but heated the air around it even more and increased the difficulty of the last few miles.

After finally making it to Larned, we found the free campsite in the city park, and were invited to use the city pool, which was about to close. A cold pool never felt better.

Burning harvested wheat fields.
Burning harvested wheat fields.

The hot day gave way to strong Kansas winds as we fell asleep for the night.

Days 28-33: Through the end of Kansas

After Larned, we rode to Dighton, Ks. and were in pure flat country, where I could count the number of trees between towns on my hands.

While riding through the endless plains, we could see the next town coming from 8 or 9 miles away. Towns seemed like islands in an ocean of wheat fields.

Throughout the rest of Kansas, the days consisted of long 20 or 30 miles stretches between towns, and we averaged about 100 miles per day. Almost every town allowed camping in the city park, which was nice, although we found that town parks varied greatly in niceness.

Last few miles in Kansas.

Soon the redundant terrain got boring, however, and we powered our way to the Colorado border. At this point, Karey’s original riding partner, Cam, rejoined us on the route, with his wife Amy driving along.

We were in a very dry area, and Amy would drive ahead and make sure that the next town had a convenience store to stock up on water. The flat land started to turn gently hilly, with small scrubby bushes instead of wheat. It was exciting to see the terrain change into a western scene.

We reached Pueblo, CO by the last day of June. I couldn’t wait to get there, because my aunt was picking me up to bring me on a vacation from the bike, for a visit to her family in Denver.

At the Colorado Border

Days 34-38: 4th of July in Denver

After a month of nothing but riding my bike, with only new faces, it felt great to be with family. I spent four days with my family, traveling to Denver and their vacation home in Grand Lake.

On my first day in Denver, I was tempted to try out the system of bike paths I had heard so much about. Sure enough, they were well organized, well used, and extensive. However, after about a half hour of exploring by bike, I realized my legs and my mind especially, did not want to be biking, no matter how exciting the venue.

Downtown Denver
Downtown Denver

On the Saturday before the 4th of July, we traveled into the mountains to Grand Lake. For the first time, I saw the Rocky Mountains close up, and was surprised to see that even in July, they still had snow on them.

Grand Lake is a vacation town that thrives in the summer, so traffic was slow winding through the mountains.

The elevation, at 8500 feet, was noticeable, and briskly walking up stairs seemed a little harder than it should have.

Rocky Mountains at Grand Lake
Rocky Mountains at Grand Lake

Another reminder that I was not in my element was a water skiing adventure on the lake. I had been warned that the water was cold, and I should have taken the warning more seriously by the fact that none of my cousins wanted to get in.

I had to get my water skiing fix, however, so I pulled on a wet suit and went for it. I jumped in the 50-something degree water and immediately my breath was taken away. My muscles clenched and I as I was floundering in the water trying to catch my breath, I realized I had forgotten my life jacket.

I swam back to the boat sheepishly and got all the necessary equipment and then tried again, this time with more success.

Justin waterskiing.

The weekend with my family flew by, and on the 4th, I took a bus back to the route, in Salida, CO.

On the bus ride, I noticed the terrain become more dry. The bus stopped midway through the ride for a 10 minute break, and as I made a purchase at the convenience store, I noticed a small donations jar for the South Park fireworks display.

That’s right, I was in South Park.

Since Karey had gotten pretty far ahead while I was relaxing in Denver, I figured I would now be on my own. I got off the bus in dusty Salida and headed to the Hostel in town, hoping at least to find some people to watch the fireworks with.

Waiting at the Bus Stop

Day 33 (cont.): Bamboo Riders

I walked into the hostel and the first person I saw was a guy I had rode with during one of the days I was in Kansas.

Marc is part of a team of four cyclists riding bamboo bikes across the country. They are supporting a new initiative to create bamboo as a cash crop in Alabama, and spent a week building their own bikes out of bamboo and carbon fiber.

Marc invited me to join the team for dinner in downtown Salida, and for the ride the next day. We ate and watched the fireworks that were launched from a nearby hilltop overlooking the dusty city.

Fireworks in Salida
Fireworks in Salida.

We were surprised that they were still having fireworks displays, considering the general fireworks ban in the state due to wildfires. And we were equally surprised that nobody seemed concerned when the falling embers from the fireworks caused mini-fires to pop up on the hillside.

With three fire trucks parked next to the launch area, I guess they had it under control.

Day 34: Salida to Gunnison:

The next morning we set out for the trip’s highest climb. We would scale the Monarch Pass, an 11,500 foot pass over a portion of the Rocky Mountains that marked our crossing of the Continental Divide.

I would finally find out if the Rockies were easier to bike than the Appalachians, like almost everybody said.

We left Salida, and the roads were just barely noticably uphill for about 10 miles. I could see the snow capped peaks ahead of me as we entered the mountain valley.

Biking into Monarch Pass.
Biking into Monarch Pass.

We passed pine and aspen trees and the despite the morning progressing, the air temperature stayed in the mid sixties.

The grade increased to about six percent, and stayed at that level for the next twelve miles. As I climbed, I realized that this mountain was no big deal. I found the right gear and chugged away, finally reaching the top by noon.

The whole group joined up and we ate lunch on a picnic table at the top, with that gleeful excitement only felt when one knows that a 10 mile downhill awaits them.

Getting to the top.
Getting to the top.

After having our fill of PB&J’s we rolled our bikes to the point of the Continental Divide, and started down.

I averaged 35 mph down the mountain, at some points having to slow down for cars.

The mountains opened up to wide valleys, flanked by hills and small mesas.

During the late afternoon, I experienced my first Colorado afternoon storm. I had been warned by my cousins that I should really get off the road around 2:00pm and hang out while the storms passed. But as 2:00 came, the next town was still 15 miles away. As we rode along, the clouds grew over the mountains to our South.

We made it to a store selling cowboy boots, still 12 miles away from Gunnison, our destination for the day.

I thought we had made it past the bad weather, so Marc and I headed for Gunnison. But it turned out I was wrong. A patch of black clouds hovered in the distance, seemingly directly overtop Gunnison. Then I watched as clear bolts of lightning zapped the ground beneath the clouds and that was enough to get me off the road.

As I pedaled, I looked frantically for some sort of shelter, and found it in a huge enclosure for storing hay. I waited there for the storm to pass, hoping that I wouldn’t meet the owner of the farm.

When the lightning calmed down, I continued towards Gunnison. We decided to continue on to a campground 10 miles further down the route, in the Curecanti National Recreation Area.

Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Curecanti National Recreation Area.

Following the Gunnison river as it wound through a small canyon, I felt amazed that one state could have such varied landscape within a relatively small area. Around every turn, there was a new incredible landscape to see, always different than the last. We camped by the Gunnison river, surrounded by mesas dotted by scrub.

Day 35: Gunnison to Hotchkiss:

After a slightly later than usual start, we headed down the road, following the river through the Curecanti National Recreational Area.

I figured I would probably have to head out on my own at some point today, since the group was not following the same route as me through Utah. They were planning to visit a non-profit in Green River, Utah and would head north through Grand Junction, Co.

The Gunnison river.
The Gunnison river.

We reached an intersection of two major westbound roads, and while chatting with a local at a convenience store, the group was told that they could reach Grand Junction by following Route 93, a winding scenic road through the Black Canyon.

If I was to continue my route, I would have to peel off and head southward. I was having a lot of fun with the Bamboo bikers, and I knew either way, I would eventually get to where I needed to be in western Utah.

I decided to deviate from my planned route and join them on their trip to Green River. We set off into the canyon. The rocky cliffs plunged almost vertically down hundreds of feet to the river below. It was hard to make good time, since the views were so incredible.

Black Canyon.
Black Canyon.

The road climbed to the top of the canyon and winded around, following its rim. To the south, there were the snow topped San Juan mountains, which created an incredible sight.

The road finally turned north and went out of the canyon. We stopped in Crawford, Co. for food and continued to our destination.

A great view of the canyon.
A great view of the canyon.

On the way to Hotchkiss, we again experienced the afternoon storm. It poured and we took shelter in a library. But the library closed eventually and we were kicked out, back into the storm.

During a lull in the rain, we set back out, but heading downhill to Hotchkiss, we saw another storm in the valley ahead.

Jason, another one of the bikers, convinced us that the lightning would only strike the mountains and hills around us, and that we were too low to be in danger. That was good enough for me, and we made it to Hotchkiss, camping in an RV park.

Hotchkiss to Colorado National Monument: (July 7th)

We got up and headed down route 92, heading downhill for 20 miles (we were leaving the mountains) to Delta, C.

After chowing down in a Safeway grocery store, we continued to Grand Junction on highway 50, a four lane divided road.

The surrounding landscape had turned to desert, so we made sure we had plenty of water for the 40 mile stretch. The environment was beautiful, with harsh looking cliffs and grand mesas.

Canyons everywhere.
Canyons everywhere.

Unfortunately, the road was a little treacherous. The shoulder was littered with debris, which I tried unsuccessfully to dodge.

Twenty miles in to the forty mile stretch, I heard the whooshing sound sound of air leaving my tire. I pulled to the side and plucked a small but nasty piece of glass out of my rear tire. This was flat tire # 3 for the trip. Not that bad for over 2000 miles, but it was still annoying.

I quickly changed the tube, and decided it was time for a new rear tire. After we arrived in Grand Junction, we got some business done: I got a new rear tire to replace my overly worn one, and Jason and Marc got a water filter for the desert.

We decided to camp in the Colorado National Monument, a national park on top of the mesa outside of town. The ride up the mesa was a four mile winding road, continuously uphill, but the views were worth the climb.

Colorado National Monument.
Colorado National Monument.

For the second day in a row, I decided that I was seeing the most impressive landscape I had ever seen. The eroded red sandstone has created a variety of rock formations, totally new to my eyes.

At the campground, our tent site overlooked the towns in the valley below, and we watched as storms rolled through, creating an intense show of lightning.

Being the only touring cyclists around, we were invited to two different campsites for food. One couple from California was taking the summer to see the sights of the Southwest. They lived out of their SUV and cooked us Brat’s and Italian Sausages. We crawled safely into our tents just as a storm came over top the mesa.

A view from the top.
A view from the top.

Colorado National Monument to Moab, Utah: (July 8th)

It was now time to really get into the desert, and today’s ride would be a century (100 miles) to Moab, Utah.

We headed down out of the park into Fruita, CO, and stocked up on water and Gatorade because we would be riding 90 miles without any access to civilization.

Jason is a Utah native, and his parents were going to drive through the area to see him and make a visit to Moab. Jason warned us that they could be slightly unreliable, so we shouldn’t depend on them for our water.

We started through the desert, on a road paralleling Interstate 70. We had a tailwind, and flew down the nicely paved road, approaching the Utah border.

Into the desert.
Into the desert.

The miles flew by, and riding in the still cool morning air, we hardly noticed we were in a desert. But, as we crossed the Utah border, the nicely paved road turned into a nightmarish rutted and gravel-filled trail.

Jason had been sure it was paved, but I guess that was relative. The next 15 miles consisted of careful weaving to avoid deep potholes, and trying to find the most “paved” section of the rocky path.

We finally made it to the next intersection of the road with I-70, and decided to tough it out on the interstate. Unlike Interstates on the East Coast, bicycles are allowed on I-70, probably because of the very roads we had just ridden on.

The shoulder was huge and mostly debris free and we made quick time to our exit.

Jason’s parents came through big time, and met us in Cisco, a ghost town of crumbling buildings just off the interstate. Cisco had been a thriving town until the railroad lost its importance, and now has a population of 5 people.

An abandoned building in Moab.
An abandoned building in Moab.

They brought snacks and huge water cooler, and we ate and filled our bottles.

Leaving Cisco, we headed towards the Colorado river canyon that we would follow into Moab. Until we got to the canyon, though, we were on a high plain, and a storm was directly ahead of us. The road headed straight towards the dark sky, and I saw more than one bolt of lightning.

Just as the winds began to pick up and we started to get stung by sideways droplets of rain, the road turned sharply left and we headed downhill into the Canyon, away from the storm.

Once in the canyon, I was on cloud 9. The road hugged the Colorado River, and the canyon grew deeper. We were surrounded by staggering red cliffs with all kinds of rock formations dotting the tops. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to ride through such an awesome landscape, and for twenty miles we rode wide eyed until we decided to take a swim in the river.

Taking a break in Utah.
Taking a break in Utah.

The last twenty miles to Moab brought more deep-red cliffs and in Moab we stayed with friends of Marc at the town’s Multicultural Center.

At the local diner, I chowed down on a Chile Verde burrito, feeling like I made the right decision to stick with the Bamboo bikers.

Day 38: Moab Rest Day

We decided to stay in Moab for an extra night, since we had people there to give us the grand tour of town.

Moab is a tourist center, and people come from all over the country and the world to see the rock formations at Arches National Park and go hiking, mountain biking, and ATVing.

Our hosts were locals though, and took us on a hike to the swimming hole. I felt pretty cool hanging out with the locals, and even found myself looking down on the tacky tourists.

We rode our bikes to the trail’s head and our host Christian led the way to the swimming spot. He wanted to bring us over top the canyon side, and then down into the canyon, which he promised would be more scenic. Unfortunately, we lost the trail and had to improvise, walking along the top of the canyon until we could find a spot with a slope gradual enough to slide/climb down.

A rock formation.
A rock formation.

After swimming in the creek that formed the canyon, we hiked back to our bikes and went back to make dinner.

Day 39: Moab to Green River, Ut.

The next day we had a short ride of 50 miles from Moab to Green River, Ut. The ride went through the desert on a busy two lane road out of Moab, filled with trucks and RV’s.

As usual, the scenery was awesome, with tall cliffs and rugged desert scrub. We rode thirty miles to the Interstate 70, and found a truck stop there. We had expected a whole lot of nothing until Green River, so anything we found was a pleasant surprise.

The Mexican themed truck stop reminded me of an attempt at South of the Border on I-95, and it even had its own mini tourist trap: a replica of the Mystery Mobile from Scooby Doo.

We ate lunch and moved on, riding along I-70 until we spotted a frontage road. It was paved just long enough for us to leave the highway well behind, but then turned into what can only be described as a series of gravel filled potholes for the next 15 miles. We limped into Green River, and were met by our hosts for the night.

Alabamboo team members Marc and Nicole were both involved with a nonprofit called Epicenter. The organization is made up of young designers that use their design skills (and any other relevant skills) to improve the economically depressed community of Green River. We stayed in Epicenter member Maria’s house (in beds) and were welcomed with a potluck dinner.

Epicenter project in Green River.
Epicenter project in Green River.

Day 40: Green River to Hanksville, Ut.

The next morning the team wanted to take their time leaving Green River. After all, we had a comfortable place to stay, and there were people to hang out with. We drank coffee, read emails, sent postcards and bought groceries, so we didn’t leave until about 2:30PM for the 50 mile ride through complete desert to Hanksville.

We rode along a two lane road, with a fair amount of RV traffic because of the national parks. As we reached the summit of a gradual mesa, my stomach dropped when I saw a big storm directly ahead, about 10 miles down the road.

I rode on, hoping it would pass to the side–but it didn’t. As we approached the storm, the lightning grew more frequent, but my riding partners rode on seemingly unfazed.

I, on the other hand, was getting nervous. We were definitely the tallest things out there, since there were no trees and we were on flat ground. Also, I had a large metal object (lightning rod) underneath of me.

I decided I needed to try to get a ride. I told the crew I was going to wave down a car, but they decided to continue on. I could only manage to get a ride back to Green River, from an Australian couple heading to Moab.

Once in Green River, I knocked on our host Maria’s door. She answered, and smiled and said “Oh hey!”, and then as she realized I should not be in Green River, the smile turned into a look of concern and I explained what happened.

I knew the rest of the group was fine, since they texted me that they found a ditch and hid in it while the storm passed. I got a ride from a friend of Maria’s back to the group and we finished the ride in the post storm calm to Hanksville.

*Side Note: A few days later, we found out that a hiker was struck by lightning and killed in the same vicinity as where were got caught in the storm. That happened a few days before we rode through the area.

Day 41: Hanksville to Boulder Mt.

Today was another day of incredible riding through the otherworldly Utah scenery. We started out in middle of nowhere Hanksville and rode through the Capitol Reef National Park.

The park got its name from the huge domes of white stone that are common formations throughout the area.

Riding in a group of five tended to make for slow going, and I knew that the afternoon storms would be coming, so I went ahead of the group and we decided to meet up in Torrey, UT about 45 miles into the ride.

Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef National Park.

I rode through the impressive canyons of the park, sure that I would beat the storms. As I got within 10 miles of Torrey, sure enough the sky grew dark and cloudy and it started to rain.

Just outside of Torrey I pulled into a Mexican restaurant as the ritual of rain and lightning began. When it stopped storming, I quickly rushed over to Torrey, as another storm rolled through.

I was glad I made it before the storms, but I waited three hours before the rest of the group arrived. They had to wait out the storm in the visitor center of the park, without any cell phone service to coordinate meeting back up.

A road in the park.
A road in the park.

Frustrated with the interruption of these violent storms, we pushed on to our campsite, about 3000 feet up in elevation on Boulder Mountain. My legs were good to go, since I hadn’t really been able to do much
riding during the day, so the climb wasn’t terrible.

As we climbed, the terrain changed dramatically from barren red rock canyons, to an alpine wilderness. On top, we had to put on almost all our layers to keep warm as we ate our dinner of powdered mashed potatoes and macaroni (good thing I brought a multi-vitamin). I crossed my fingers for better weather the next day.

Day 42: Boulder Mt. to Escalante

In the morning we had another 1000 ft of climbing to go before a long downhill into the town of Boulder, UT. Although the climbing went by quickly, and while I was hoping for a roller coaster ten mile downhill, the mountain also doubled as a cow pasture, and every two or three miles, I had to dodge cows in the road, who seemed totally confused and tended to walk the wrong way when the saw me coming.

At the bottom of the hill, I saw Marc’s bike at a restaurant and we sat and waited for the last rider, Rose.

We waited for an half hour or so, not concerned yet, because she tended to stop for picture breaks a lot. After an hour, an incredibly early 10 am shower came through. We felt bad for Rose, probably coming down the mountain still.

Just as the rain stopped, she rolled in, with a great story to tell. Apparently, her chain had gotten caught up in the derailleur as she was trying to navigate through a sea of cows, and she ended up colliding with one.

She kept her balance but had to pull over to fix her chain, as the cows stared and moo-ed indignantly.

After breakfast, we moved on, riding down a road called the Hogsback, with steep drop offs on both sides, no shoulders, no guardrails, and 14% downhill grades. This was the roller coaster I had been waiting for.

Going down Hogsback Road.
Going down Hogsback Road.

While riding through Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument, we managed to dodge the afternoon storms, which we could see in the distance at the tops of hills.

We rolled into Escalante, UT, where Rose fixed her bike, and we camped by a reservoir.

Day 43: Escalante to Red Canyon

Today I rolled out of the campsite before the others, since I liked riding in the early morning a lot better, and the group tended to leave around 8.

I had another 2000 ft climb out of Escalante, over to the next valley.

The terrain was again totally different than before. I rode through a green mountain valley that reminded me of the Appalachians. Once at the top, however, the terrain turned into a bare rock face canyon, that apparently houses tons of still-unearthed dinosaur fossils.

I dropped back into the canyon, with walls of yellow, white, orange, and red layers, and stopped to wait for the rest of the team in Tropic, UT.

Morning ride out of Escalante.
Morning ride out of Escalante.

Marc rolled up, and said that the others would be a while, so we ate lunch and headed up to Bryce Canyon National Park. We pulled into Ruby’s Inn, the unofficial entrance to the park, and ditched our bikes for a shuttle.

We picked a short 2 mile hike that dropped into the canyon. The canyon looked completely different than any other, with tall spires of weathered orange and red rock lining the walls down into the valley.

We hiked down and back up, and were impressed. On drying that struck me as strange was that we barely heard any English being spoken. Almost all the tourists there were either French or German.

Jason, who is a Utah native, said that a lot of Europeans have a fascination with cowboys and come here to get the full experience.

After eating dinner in an overpriced fast food joint, we went for a night ride to a campground in the Red Canyon.

It was a full moon, and as we rode downhill, we could see the landscape bathed in the moonlight.

Days 44 and 45: traveling to Reno

We spent the morning riding to Panguitch, UT, a small western town.

This was where I would say goodbye to Team Alabamboo. Because of my time constraint, my choices were to either ride quickly alone through the hot desolate Nevada desert or to take a train. I decided to take a
train.

If I had the time, I would have preferred to ride through Nevada with the group, but I didn’t, so a train was necessary. Jason’s friend Melissa had been riding with us for the past few days, and was
headed back home to Salt Lake City, so I got a ride with her.

Team Alabamboo and I part ways.
Team Alabamboo and I part ways.

Once in SLC, I would take the Amtrak California Zephyr line to Reno, Nevada. It sounded great in theory, but when I got to SLC at 6PM for my 11:30PM train, I found out it would be delayed until at least 4AM
because of bad weather in the Plains.

I spent the evening riding around downtown SLC and then taking my bike apart so it would fit in the required bike box. I didn’t have the right wrench needed to take the pedals off the bike, and had to call up my new friend Melissa to see if she had one.

Luckily, her friend lived downtown and had a full set of wrenches. He rode down to the train station at almost midnight on his moped and we took the pedals off. At the same time I found out that the train was delayed another three hours.

I took out my sleeping bag and managed to get about three hours of sleep under a bench outside the station. The train came at around seven and I was off through the Nevada desert to Reno.

Despite feeling guilty for “cheating” by taking a train, the ride was great. I had my options of the lounge car, the dining car, or my seat in coach. All the cars were multilevel. I felt like I was on the Hogwarts Express.

Train to reno from Salt Lake City.
Train to reno from Salt Lake City.

After a ten hour ride I was dumped out in Reno, Nevada. Because the train was so delayed, it was now 4:00 PM, and I still had to make it to my lodgings for the night on Lake Tahoe. My friend Nick was living
there during the summer while working for a nonprofit that maintains the Tahoe Rim Trail, a trail over the mountains that circle the huge alpine lake.

Between me and the lake was a thirty mile ride and 3500 feet of climbing to get over Mt. Rose. I didn’t want to stay in Reno, so I decided to push on to Nick’s apartment.

Because I had to reassemble my bike and load up all my gear, I didn’t get on the road
until 5:30. As I started up the mountain, the sun began to dip lower and lower on the horizon. By the time I was halfway up, it was sunset. I was going to have to finish climbing this mountain in the dark.

I turned my bike’s lights on, and rode on. The mountain was over 9,000 feet above sea level, and towards the top snow still laid on the ground.

Once the sun was gone, the temperature dropped and I put on more and more layers. I was sweating because of the exertion, and when I reached the summit I was freezing.

Cars whizzed past me, and I could only imagine what they were saying about the crazy guy biking up Mt
Rose in the dark. The long downhill was brutally cold because of the added windchill, and I could barely see with my dinky little light.

After what seemed like forever, I made it to Incline Village, and Nick’s place. I was glad to have put that behind me, and I began the defrosting process with a hot shower and lots of food. After a
certifiably miserable ride, I was glad to be in famous Lake Tahoe, and I felt like I had put the hardest part of the trip behind me. Now I could relax.

After leaving Lake Tahoe, I just had a few climbs left. While crossing the border into California, I climbed back out of the mountains that surround the Lake and rode through Truckee, Ca.

The Sierra Nevadas were much like the Colorado Rockies, with snow still on the top of the mountains. Outside of Truckee, I crossed Donner Pass, of the Donner Party fame.

After this final climb, the downhill stretch to the Pacific began. I rode down through the pine forests, enjoying the high speeds and great views.

Leaving the Sierra Nevada range.
Leaving the Sierra Nevada range.

I stayed in Grass Valley, CA and then Sacramento. Outside of Sacramento, I went over a small range, past Lake Berryessa, a large reservoir.

Afterwards I entered Napa Valley, riding past the famous vineyards and wineries in the area.

In a 95 mile day, I made it to Healdsburg, a town north of Santa Rosa, where my Aunt and Uncle have a house.

Napa Valley vineyard.
Napa Valley vineyard.

Once here, I only had forty miles left till the Pacific Ocean. The next day, I relaxed, until I went to the airport to pick up my dad. In 1975, he and his friend Blue flew to San Francisco to bike across the country back to Delaware.

They headed up the California Coast to Oregon and cut west, following a more Northerly route back to Delaware. Thirty six years later, he was going to ride with me on the final day of my trip as I reached the Pacific.

The next day we set out, following the Russian River valley, stopping for a wine tasting in an area world-renowned for its Pinot grape. Further along, we rode through a Redwood forest and stopped for lunch in Guerneville, Ca.

The Russian River.
The Russian River.

As we finally got close to the coast, the “marine layer” started appearing. Along the coast, there is usually a layer of dense fog, depending on the weather conditions. As we climbed the hill to get across to the beach, we were enshrouded in mist. It was eerie riding through it, and we could see the rough surf down the cliffs below.

We rode Route 101, the two lane highway that follows the coast, briefly retracing the route my Dad had began his cross country trip on.

At about 4:30PM on July 23rd–after 3,500 miles–I reached the Pacific Ocean at Goat Rock State Beach.

I was greeted by my Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin with a bottle of Champagne and a beautiful rugged and misty Pacific beach. After a long journey filled with amazing locations and people, and a fair share of challenges, I had made it to the other side.

Finishing the ritual started in Rehoboth Beach, I dipped my tire, this time the front one, in the water.

Dipping the wheel in the ocean.
Dipping the wheel in the ocean.

The rest of the trip was spent exploring the California Coast with family, riding across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco a few days later.

On July 25, my trip officially ended as I stepped off the plane at the Philly airport, greeted by my family. It was a trip that was well worth the challenge, and I will never forget what I saw and learned along the way.

 

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A view of the Golden Gate Bridge.


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