TABR16- Day 22

I got up early in Berea and gathered my things quickly. I had big intentions for the day. I wanted to make it to the final state- Virginia. The first order of business was a quick stop at the gas station across the street for some grub and a shot of caffeine. On my way over, I saw the Italian pair leaving the Motel 6 next door. They went on down the road and I figured I would be chasing them all day. I ate something quickly and took off. I was on the road before 3:45AM.

It was a cool morning and I felt good in the pre-dawn darkness, but required my rain jacket. I settled in right away on the aero bars and started cranking it up. A mile or so down the road I glanced at my GPS and saw that I had missed a turn already. Ugh! I turned back around and got on the right track, scolding myself for not paying better attention.

As I rode along Main Street in Berea, I saw the light of a cyclist coming up from behind. I was surprised to see Irena Sosinska, the Polish girl. We said our hellos and carried on into the downtown of Berea. As we turned left and out of town, I decided to up the pace and went on ahead.

I have heard Berea referred to as the entrance to the Appalachians and I experienced that right away. Just a few miles out of town, the road turned up and up. It was very foggy and it seemed like I was on another planet with the kudzu covered steep slopes shrouded in fog everywhere my light shone. I climbed that first hill well and came off the other side cautiously in the dense fog. It was so thick that within 30 minutes of riding, my freshly cleaned and dried clothes were soaked through. The water condensed on everything and made it difficult to see as my glasses continued to get droplets forming on them. When I would pull the glasses down so I could see, drops would form on my eyebrows and lashes, dripping into my eyes. It was a challenging just to see, much less ride.

As I approached McKee, I saw a rider ahead. It was Jimmy Bisese. As I caught up to him, he stopped and I went on. Just up the road I saw another rider in the dark in front of a shop that was closed, but didn’t know who it was. I carried on into town and stopped at a gas station for a snack and to dry out a bit. I grabbed some paper napkins to dry my glasses and face. I was stalling a bit, waiting for the sun to come up and burn off the fog. A quick check of Trackleaders showed that there were 9 racers, including myself, within approximately 10 miles either direction of where I was and 7 of them were in the little town of McKee. While I stood there at the station, Piero rolled by and waved. I figured the racer I had seen in the dark was him. Jason and George were in town somewhere as well. It looked like they had stayed there for the night and were still bedded down. I decided to get rolling and right away saw Michela and Stefano. As usual, there was a round of “hi” and then “ciao”. I was happy to have passed 7 out of the 8 other racers near me. I went on ahead, once again repeating to myself the mantra from the day before: stay moving.

The sun came up and the fog lifted. Soon I was plenty warm and had stowed my rain jacket. About 10 miles out of McKee I passed Luke. That made 8 for the day and it was only 6:30AM. It was shaping up to be a good day!

When I got to Booneville, it was 7:45AM and I was 52 miles into my day. It was time to eat. I stopped at a gas station, but was unimpressed with their fare. I asked the attendant if there was a diner close by to get breakfast. He said there was, but the directions I got seemed sketchy at best and the diner was off route. I decided it was better to grab some snacks there and move on.

The heat was cranking up again and the humidity was omnipresent. Added to the hills, it made for a chore. Once again, I came across a place where the signs and the GPS differed. I followed the signs and went off out into the seeming middle of nowhere. As I rode along through depressed areas with rundown mountain shacks, I came across a general store where I never would have expected one. I took that opportunity to grab a few things to eat and re-fill my drink stores, then took off into the hills again.

Before long I made my way back to civilization and into little town of Combs. I found a McDonald’s and went in to grab burgers to go, as I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my bike unattended there for some reason. I got my food and went back outside to eat while standing next to my bike. I kept the stop short and got moving again quickly.

Heading out of town, the road turned up and up again,following the folds of the steep mountains around me. Upon reaching the crook where two mountains met, it was then down the other side and into yet another valley. This process seemed to happen over and over with no end and made everything look the same ad infinitum.

When I reached Hindman, I was getting smoked by the heat, so I stopped at a station there for cold drinks and a snack. I stood inside a bit to cool off in their air conditioning. I was 120 miles in on the day and the hills just kept getting bigger and more numerous. As I stood there, trying to cool down, I chatted with the two ladies that ran the store. They asked in their drawl if I was doing the cross country route and I said yes. Then they asked where I had started that day and I told them Berea. They didn’t believe me. Just to add fuel to their disbelief, I added that I planned to make Virginia before the day was out. They replied, “Yo crazah!” I had to agree.

The next stretch of road was much more enjoyable than the earlier parts of the day had been. The road rose gently over 5 miles, then fell gently for 10. It was a nice respite in the mid-afternoon heat and should have served as a warning sign for what was to come.

At the junction to SR7 and CR1091, I stopped at the Marathon gas station/deli/post office/local hangout. I grabbed some food and sat in the shade. I knew that the tranquil ride along streams that I had been enjoying for the last few miles or so was about to end. From where I sat looking up CR1091, I was looking straight up a valley that ended in a wall of mountains. I finished my snack and got back to the saddle begrudgingly. Immediately the road turned up and I was reduced to a crawl.

On either side of the road were the most run down homes I had ever seen. Trash was strewn everywhere and most of the cars that were in the drives were on blocks. Many of the homes were actually small portable buildings that were intended to be used as sheds. Almost every house I went past had the door wide open, folks inside struggling to stay cool in the mid afternoon heat. These folks were literally dirt poor. The further I climbed, the steeper the road got and the closer the houses got to the road. Toward the top, most of the places you could sit inside and spit to the road. I just kept my head down and kept the pedals turning over. I felt a bit guilty that my bike and all the kit I carried was likely worth more than many of the houses I saw. Those thoughts occasionally turned to fear as I wondered if someone might come along and decide they wanted my stuff more than me. But with every person I saw, those thoughts would go away. These people were poor, but they were kind. You could see it when they looked at you.

The climb was, in my opinion, the hardest climb of the entire route going East. It took everything I had to make it without putting a foot down. As I reached the top of the climb and started off the other side, I was thankful for the relief in topography. The top of the hill not only meant easy street for me (at least for awhile), but the change in lifestyle of the inhabitants was drastic. Every home on the Eastern slopes was well kept and sat back off the road with manicured lawns and nice new cars in the driveways. It was a completely different world. I don’t know the reason behind the difference, but there was certainly a boundary of class and it was at the top of that hill.

The ride down into the valley was a short and fast one. Once at the bottom, the road turned up again, this time headed up the even bigger Abner Mountain. It was a leg breaker of a climb, but not as bad as the previous one. Either way, the compounded efforts of hill after hill had me beat down and I spent all my time in the little gears, just trying to stay moving. Once over and back down the other side, I stopped at a BP station in the next valley for supplies and a break.

I was in the very heart of coal country and very thankful for the day of the week. It was Saturday, which meant most of the trucks that normally flood the roads with traffic through the week were not operating. What a relief! I got back on the road after my stop and headed for the next climb. They just wouldn’t quit coming.

Up and over two more climbs as big and as steep as the previous two, I finally started down into the valley toward Elk Horn City, the last town on route in Kentucky. At this point, I was absolutely spent. I felt as if I had nothing left to give and didn’t care if I made it to Virginia that day or not. I rolled into EHC about 7:30PM with the intent to get something to eat and then grab a room at the little motel on the East side of town that I had stayed in back in 2011. I found a Subway right away coming into town and went inside to feast. I ordered big and ate while I chatted with my wife on the phone. I sat there chilling out a bit long, but it had been a big day and I wasn’t too worried about spending a little bit of time. When I finished I packed up and headed across town to a gas station for supplies. I knew there wasn’t anything on the East side of town and I would be leaving early the next day anyway, headed off into an area with little services.

At the station, I grabbed a bunch of stuff, preparing for my morning ride into Virginia. In passing, the attendant asked me where I was headed and I told him the little motel across town. Much to my dismay, he reported to me that the motel had closed several years ago. I was gutted. I had my heart set on a bed and had ridden 180 miles of tough hills. I asked the guy if there was another motel in town. Nope. “But there is The Gateway up toward Breaks.” He looked up the phone number for me and called, but got no answer. He then called the motel in Breaks Interstate park. They were full. I got the number for the Gateway and went out to my bike to pack up my supplies I had bought. While doing so, I called Gateway several times without an answer. It didn’t make sense to me. It was 8:30PM on a Saturday night in June. Why would a motel not answer their phone?

Frustrated and feeling I had nothing else I could do, I started riding that way. Surely there was someone there. I would just have to go see them in person. The sun was getting low in the sky, I was smoked  and I was heading off into “the wilderness” again without a solid plan. To make matters worse, Elk Horn City is down in a hole. The only way out was up. I wasn’t happy.

About 5 miles out of town, I crossed the state line into Virginia. My last state. It was somewhat bitter sweet as I didn’t want to ride any further that night, but I had made my goal for the day and I was now in the final state of the Trans Am. I carried on another mile up the road and found the Gateway Motel.

I got really excited when I pulled in the lot because there were less than a half dozen cars in the lot and the building looked to have 30 rooms or more. Vacancy! As I got closer to the office, I saw a sign that said closed. Closed?!?! There was a family playing frisbee in the parking lot and I asked them if they knew where the office person was. They told me that the old lady that ran the place had left before 8:00 and said she would be back to check folks out in the morning. I was floored. They also said that they had tried to get a room at Breaks and it was full. The thought honestly crossed my mind to start trying doors and see if I could get into one of the rooms that was vacant. I could always pay the lady later. My conscience made the better decision and I got back on the road to continue climbing.

As if a curtain was pulled, upon leaving the Gateway Motel, the sun went down. I rode up and up, watching for the turn to Breaks Interstate Park. I planned to see if they had any cancelations. Anything. It was either that or ride on through the night and I didn’t want to do that.

I finally made it to the entrance to the park about 9:30PM. I made the turn, rode the mile or so up to the motel and went inside. At the desk was the nicest lady I could imagine, but when I asked about a room, she had bad news. They were in fact full and had no place for me. I begged and groveled a bit. Surely they had some folks who had not made it there to check in yet? She said that there were 3 rooms reserved for folks coming in, but each one had already called and said they were on their way. The rooms would be filled for the night. I groveled a bit more shamelessly and explained that I had ridden the 190 miles from Berea over hill and dale and more hill. I was too tired to go on and needed a place to stay. She had an idea about a camping spot and called her supervisor. When she got back with me, she said, “I may have you a room.” The heavens parted and angels sang!!! Upon further review, they in fact had a room. It was an older room that they kept on reserve for volunteer workers with the park service. The maintenance man on duty would have to check it first to see if it was truly available.

I waited as patient as I could. After about 30 minutes, she got a call that the room was good to go. I would get to stay. I was stoked! She spent another 15 minutes or so trying to figure out how to get through the computer system so that she could rent me the room. Being a room for volunteers, they don’t typically rent it. Soon enough, I had keys in my hand. I thanked her over and over, then rode up the hill to the room, went inside, showered and got in bed. It was 10:30PM. I wouldn’t get to clean my soaked clothes, but I hung them over the air conditioner to dry the best they could. I had a monster day. 190 miles and 13933′ of gain. Sleep found me easily.

TABR16- Day 21

During the night, I heard Michela and Stefano get up and leave. I went back to sleep. When Luke got up, I figured I better get going. My alarm went off about that time and I gathered my things. I stumbled sleepy eyed with my bike, back over to the gas station for some breakfast and then hit the road by 5:45.

I was still wet from the rain the day before and the humid air clung to everything like glue. My cycling gloves and bar wraps were soaked. Everything I had was wet, but also had a certain slimy quality to it. It was a mix of rain, sweat and who knows what else. I just felt gross.

Although Luke had gotten out ahead of me, right away I caught him and kept moving along. I was on a mission to have back to back decent days. I didn’t need to be epic at this point. Just decent. I could deal with that. The key to a decent day was to stay moving!

I rolled into Sonora and stopped at a truck stop next to I-65. I grabbed some grub and rolled on. Stay moving. Just down the road I found another discrepancy between the GPS and the signed route. I chose the signs and made the determination that I would follow the signs when in doubt.

Further on, I made a quick station stop in Buffalo, but I didn’t stay long at all. I just bought some drinks and snacks, then hit the road. Stay moving!

Not far ahead, I caught up with Michela and Stefano. Then I headed into the hills that surround Howardstown. Howardstown is one of my favorite places on the route in Kentucky. The Rolling Fork River valley meanders through the Appalachian foothills and creates a beautiful setting of farmland surrounded by steep little forested knobs. My wife and I have driven through the area in autumn and it is even more stunning with the fall colors. I carried on, staying moving and enjoying the scenery. It was a beautiful day.

As I came into Bardstown, I passed Pierangelo Rivoira, another Italian racer. His name was a mouthful for me and I was glad when I found out he goes by Piero. That was much easier! I went on ahead into town and stopped at a McDonald’s right on the route. It was 10:00AM and I was almost 70 miles into my day. Not bad. Just stay moving! I made quick work of a Big Breakfast and some apple pies, then hit the road again.

I saw Piero again as I rode out of Bardstown. I said a quick hello and carried on. The rural rolling hills of Kentucky sprawled out in front of me. Thirty miles or so ahead I stopped at the Rosehill Food Basket, a little country convenience store. I ate something and stored things up for the ride ahead. I had put that stop on my original plan to keep me out of Harrodsburg that was just another few miles down the road. As Mike Hall says, pick where you won’t stop.

When I got to Harrodsburg, I rolled straight through town. It was then on ahead to the burg of Burgin (see what I did there???? :)). As I left Burgin, I saw Jason and George up ahead. Seeing them ahead lit a competitive fire in me and I poured the coals to it. Down in the aero bars, I hit it hard and caught them. We rode near each other, chatting for just a bit and I then went on ahead.

Just down the road, I went through the outskirts of Bryanstville, where I stopped at a gas station. I kept it short, but needed to supply up. Jason and George didn’t stop and I once again caught them as I left town. This time I didn’t hang out at all. I was feeling a bit frustrated that they were riding with each other and proceeded to take that frustration out on myself by hammering ahead. I stayed down on the bars and rolled along at a good clip for a long time.

When I came into Kirksville, I saw something that made me stop. There is a little gas station there that is run by an old farming couple. They have had the store for decades and I got the opportunity to sit and chat with the old man in 2011 when I came through touring. He was a kind old soul who told me stories of cyclists coming through, riding the Trans Am from all over the world. He had met so many interesting people and was happy to say that he had the chance to help them in some way. When I saw that the store was still open, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see if he was there. Sadly, he wasn’t, but his wife was! She said that he was out bailing hay. I told here that I remembered him fondly and to please tell him I said hello. I was certain he wouldn’t remember me, but I wanted him to know that I was thinking of him. She said she would and I rode on, happy that I had made that connection from 5 years earlier.

From Kirksville, it was about 10 miles of rollers to the northwestern outskirts of Berea. I remembered from 2011 that if I passed up the services there as I came into town, I would have to travel off route a couple miles to find anything. The first thing I saw was a gas station with a Subway. Perfect. I went in and ordered a big sub, chips, drink and cookies.

As I sat and ate, George and Jason came in. They were on a mission to put more miles down and asked what my plans were. It was only 5:15PM, but I had 153 miles on the day and was sick of being soaked. With the humidity, I had never dried out all day long. I planned to go across the street to a hotel and get cleaned up. We all ate, they went on down the road, I went next door to the gas station and then to the Red Roof Inn across the street. I washed and dried my clothes, got a shower and slept. It was much more comfortable than a soaked bivy in a defunct car wash. Much more.

TABR16- Day 20

After two days of not feeling my best, I woke in Marion in my hotel room with the intent to make things better. I was up and out of the motel at 4:45AM, then made a short stop at McDonald’s just up the street for breakfast. After breakfast, I was on the road by 5:15 after stopping at a gas station for supplies before leaving town.

The morning went well and I was rolling along good, making few stops and feeling much better, both mentally and physically, than I had the last couple days. I felt like I was out of my funk and ready to finish the race. I made my first stop in Dixon. When I came into town and found no sort of services, I asked a young lady who was having a rummage sale if there was a gas station or something close by. She said that there was one just right up the street a ways and I headed off in search of it. Unfortunately it was nearly a mile off the route to the station and all down hill. I found the spot, grabbed supplies and headed back up the hill to the route.

The sun was heating things up rather early and it was so humid. The humidity had been a factor since Missouri, but it was one of those things that crept up slowly as we traveled east and I didn’t notice until it had been day after day for a bit. The biggest issue with it was that my bibs and jersey were soaked and would never dry. It made it miserable to live in and frankly unsanitary, but there was nothing to be done. I would wash and dry them as I could, but that wasn’t possible every day.

A little before 11:00, I went through the tiny burg of Utica and stopped at the general store there. The old woman that runs the store makes sandwiches and I had one as well as filling up on drinks. By this time, it was getting pretty hot and the break inside her neat old store while I waited for her to make my meal was welcome.

Not long after leaving Utica I came to a fork in the road, of sorts. My GPS was showing that I was supposed to stay straight on the road I was on, but the signs that Kentucky had recently put up to designate the official Trans Am route showed I should turn right. There had been a few times where the GPS file had differed from what I knew to be the route, so I wasn’t 100% confident in it. With the road signs being brand new, I figured I would be fine to follow them. I found out later that the ACA had recently re-routed a few places prior to KYDOT putting up the signs. The signs are the official ACA route. As for the race, some folks went one way and some went the other. It depended on what form of navigation they were using. In the end, I’m not sure that it made much difference, but I could only imagine that it had to be very confusing for some of the racers.

I stopped again in Fordsville at a gas station there. I needed to cool off and fill up on fluids, so I went in, sat down in there deli area and ate. I didn’t stay too long and once I was cooled off a bit, I hit the road again.

On down the road I stopped at a gas station at the turn off for Rough River Dam State Park. I ate an ice cream and chatted with a touring cyclist that was headed west. He was a talker, and if you know me and my extroversion, that is saying something. When I could get away from him I did and headed on down the road. Just a couple miles ahead, the sky was really darkening and a storm was threatening. I saw a family restaurant and went in to eat and hopefully escape the storm. It looked like a thunder boomer that would pass fairly quickly. I sat at a table that had a view to the south and west so I could watch the weather.

As I waited for my food and ate, I was checking the weather on my phone. There was quite a bit of nasty thunderstorm action coming, but at that moment, I seemed to be in a lull. The storms were just little blooms of orange and red with small outlines of green around them on the map. About that time, I saw Luke Kocher ride by. That spurred me to finish my food quickly and I got back on the road.

Not two miles down the road, the rain came. It was a slower, steady rain that didn’t seem too offending and from what I had seen on the radar, it was not the part I should be worried about. I kept riding in the light rain, keeping an eye on passing cars and the darkening horizon to the southwest.

That southern sky was really looking bad and the wind was picking up, which was quickly getting me to a point that I wasn’t comfortable riding any further. I noticed a gas station just 100 yards or so past where the route turned to the south and toward the looming storm. I decided to stop and wait it out.

I stepped inside the store to buy a soda. While making my purchase, I mentioned to the old man running the store that the weather was looking pretty rough and I hoped he would let me hole up there for a bit. He said that would be fine, but he was closing in 5 minutes and would be locking up. At that point, I would have to leave. Hmmm. Well…. I thanked him and said that if he didn’t mind, I would just wait outside under the canopy that was over the gas pumps so he could lock up and go on home. He gave me a wary eye and said ok.

I went back out to my bike and the sky was starting to look apocalyptic. Dark swirling clouds were off in the direction I needed to go and the wind was buffeting hard. I took cover under the eave of the building as the wind picked up all manner of debris and blew it across the lot. Then the rain came. Water flooded from the sky in a fashion that could only be described in buckets. There was no way I would ride in this. I just waited.

After maybe 30 minutes, the wind subsided and the rain slowed to a sprinkle. I thought that it would be my chance to move on, so I hit the road again cautiously. The road was a really small lane that looked more like something from Europe than America. It was barely wide enough for two cars to pass and wound through farms and farmhouses with tractors in front of them. The sky still had a very menacing look, but I was hoping that I would be able to scoot down the road in between storms. Soon it was obvious that the storms were no longer the seemingly solid bubbles of precipitation that I had seen on the radar. Everything was coalescing into one big green glob with nastier bits strewn about.

I rode on through the rain a bit as it increased. Soon I could barely see for the monster drops falling. I saw a small country church and rode over to it, taking refuge on the porch. No sooner than I stopped, the rain slowed some. I stood under the porch for 10 minutes or so, wondering what to do, then decided to take off again. A few minutes later the buckets came again, only this time it was accentuated heavily with close lightening strikes and massive booms of thunder. I saw a structure along side the road that looked like a picnic pavilion, except under the pavilion was electric and phone boxes. It was the best thing I had, so I rode underneath it and parked. The wind howled and the lightening got very close as the deluge came with abandon. I was very thankful for my hiding spot.

After another 30 minutes or more of waiting things out, the lightening subsided and the rain slowed to a steady pour. I was getting cool sitting still and with the threat of a lightening strike seeming to be gone or at least slightly muted, I got back on the road. I rode along in the rain wiping water out of my eyes constantly. I looked up a drive way to a house and saw Luke standing on the front porch, so I turned and went there to meet him. He had been riding along in the rain and much like me, sought refuge where he could. We knocked on door to see if anyone was home, but nobody answered, so we just sat there and watched it rain awhile.

Of course, just minutes later a lady pulls in the driveway. When she got out of her truck, I fully expected her to be freaked out that two strange, scraggly looking guys were waiting on her porch for her, but I was wrong. We explained why we were there and she was super nice. She said that we could stay as long as we liked, but did point out that there was a gas station a few miles down the road. She also mentioned that she thought they closed soon. The problem we hadn’t considered was that we had just crossed into the Eastern Time zone and lost an hour. We thanked her for her porch and the information. Then right on cue, the rain started to slow. We took off together, riding in the light rain.

Luke and I rode near each other and chatted a bit, but then the rain started coming heavier again and so did the lightening. Good grief! Right away we saw a church and once again sought refuge on the porch. Another short break let the lightening let up and we set off in the rain again, hoping to make it to the station before they closed.

A few minutes before 9:00PM we pulled up at the gas station. Soaked, a bit cold and tired, we went inside and gorged on junk food and gas station pizza. While eating, I checked the radar. It wasn’t good. The rain was set in and the storms would intensify over night. I asked the station attendant about any motels. He said that there were places to the north or south off route, but they would be 12 or more miles one way to get there. I wasn’t going that far off route. He then offered to give us some cardboard and we could sleep in the “old car wash” on the north side of the property. I was leery about it. He then mentioned that the Italian pair were over there sleeping as we spoke. Luke and I both decided that it would be best to stay and at least be out of the weather. While we sat and ate, Jason and George came through. They said they planned to ride on. I thought they were nuts.

Luke and I took the broken down cardboard boxes that the attendant gave us and went the direction he pointed. Just 50 or so yards away was what remained of an old car wash. The walls still stood, but the floor was dirt. At least it was dry. I leaned my bike up against the wall, laid the cardboard down and then my bivy on top of that. I crawled in my bivy, still in my wet clothes and set my alarm for 5:30AM, which was when the store would open. I had made 153 miles on the day. It was nothing stellar, but much better than the prior two days.

TABR16- Day 19

After having eaten a ton and slept for about 12 hours, I woke in my motel room in Murphysboro still unsure of myself. Before I went to bed, I was seriously considering calling it quits. I was exhausted and simply done. After sleeping, I didn’t really feel any better. I was still sore, still tired and certainly not excited about racing my bike another 1200 miles. All that said, I couldn’t imagine quitting after having come that far. I had invested a huge amount of time, effort and money in the race. I couldn’t give up on that. I gathered my things, dressed and hit the road.

As I rode, I soon found that I frankly didn’t feel any better than the day before. Sluggish legs would be the flavor of the day. I tried not to worry about anything. The weather, wind, other racers location, the hills, the traffic- none of it mattered. I just rode. Fortunately I was going through an area that I really enjoy. I had cycled those roads on training rides quite a few times. Going by Devil’s Kitchen and Little Grassy lakes was wonderful. I was enjoying the scenery and rolling along.

I stopped at a convenience store in Goreville, lamenting that Delaney’s was permanently closed and I couldn’t have pie. I sat outside the store on a picnic table and ate while I people watched. After a short break, I hit the road again.

I kept on through familiar territory, riding past Tunnel Hill bike trail and on to Eddyville, where I made another stop. It was 2:30PM and getting pretty hot out. I ate an ice cream and refilled all my drinks. While I chilled inside the store, Michela and Stefano came in. The last time I had seen them was at Newton Bike Shop in Newton, KS. We said hello and chatted just a bit. The language barrier was sort of a challenge, so the conversation was short and limited. With them being there, the competitive part of me urged me to get going, so I moved on.

As I left the station and headed south on Eddyville Road, I really wasn’t looking forward to the next few miles ahead. With sluggish legs, the hills that I knew were there would be harder than I wanted. I took it easy on the flat parts and went immediately to easy gears for the hills and found them to not be as bad as I thought they would be.

My next stop was Elizabethtown for food and drinks at yet another gas station. I didn’t stay long and headed off again, through town and onto Tower Rock Rd for the pretty ride to Cave-In Rock.

Cave-In Rock is a significant spot on the Trans Am for a couple reasons. First off, it is the last town in Illinois. It is also the site of the only mechanized transportation that every TA rider uses- the Cave-In Rock Ferry across the Ohio River. The ferry runs from 6:00AM-9:30PM and historically has been a spot that can lead to a little racing excitement if someone gets there too late or too early. Although I didn’t really care, I was fortunate that I was there at 5:15PM, so I wouldn’t have to wait too long. When I came down the hill toward the ferry ramp, the ferry was on the Illinois side and had just unloaded cars, so I was able to ride right on.

On the ferry, I took the opportunity to sit down and chill. I leaned my bike up on the railing, sat down on the deck and pulled my shoes off to let my feet rest. The ride was short overall- maybe 10 minutes or so, but it was nice to just sit and watch the river go by.

Once back on “dry land”, I was in Kentucky! State number 9 and only 1 more to go!

While on the ferry, I had half expected to see dot watcher Michelle Hodge on the Kentucky side. Many times she will come out to the ferry to meet racers and welcome them to her state, but she wasn’t there. I rode the 13 miles to Marion and found Michelle and her husband Brian waiting for me near the center of town.

I had been waiting to meet Michelle for over a year. As a dot watcher, she has a pretty good presence on Facebook and we had gotten hooked up on there prior to my DNF of TABR15. This time around I wanted to be sure and meet the dot watching legend! She did not disappoint and had an Inspired to Ride poster she has the racers autograph. She had me sign as well andI’ll admit it felt pretty cool to get to be a part of her memorabilia. I thanked them for coming out to see me and then headed down the street a couple blocks to a Subway to eat.

I ate big at Subway and got cooled off. It was still quite early really at 6:30PM, but as I looked ahead, there wasn’t going to be much in the way of a place to stay out in front of me on the route for quite awhile and frankly, I wasn’t feeling like sleeping in my bivy. After eating, I decided to go to a little motel there in Marion and get a room for the night. I would then get up early and get a good start to the next day.

I ended my day in Marion with only 108 miles, but I was still racing. That was all that was important to me. I just needed to stay moving and finish this bad boy up.

It’s been way too long

Here we are again. It has been 8 months since I last posted and obviously A LOT has happened since. It is funny how life click-clacks along and before you know it, time gets away from you.

When I last posted, I was smack dab in the middle of a week-long bike tour vacation through Southeastern Missouri and Southern Illinois. In an effort to immerse myself in the trip, enjoy my time out and not get too worked up about things, I ended up letting the blog updates for the trip slip through the cracks. I figured I would catch them up when I got home. Before I knew it, a month, then two months were gone. After that long, it just didn’t make sense to me to go back and do them. Over time, I keep telling myself I should finish it. So without further ado, let me quickly wrap up that trip for you.

I left Judy Cureton’s house in Cape Girardeau, MO on Wednesday morning, 5-21-14. I crossed the Mississippi River and headed across the windswept farmland of Southern Illinois to Golconda, on the Ohio River. Mileage for the day was 83.8 miles. I camped at Deer Run Campground, just south of town a couple miles. I was the only one there and it was a wonderfully quiet evening. The next day I struck out on the road and just north of Golconda, got back on the Trans Am and headed west for home. I stopped for the night after 79.8 miles in Murphysboro, IL. Originally I had planned on a shorter day, with a stop about 20 miles before Murphysboro, but I got there too early in the day and decided to push on. That left me with 86.2 miles home on Friday. I hit it early, dodging a rain storm and made it home by mid afternoon.

My little tour was a success in that I got to get out and enjoy the road, but alas, my thirst wasn’t quenched.

Soon after, the Trans Am tourists rolled through by the dozens. Every day, Jeneen and I would watch for riders. We met a few personally and enjoyed the company of some during dinner at some of our local restaurants. It is always a treat to hear stories of the road and offer a little bit of trail magic for folks when we can.

The highlight of the summer was the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race. This was an unsupported bike race along the Trans Am route from Astoria, OR to Yorktown, VA. Imagine Tour Divide, but on the TA. 43 riders lined up in Astoria and hit the road. First one to Yorktown wins. No entry fee, no prize money. All guts and glory.

Jeneen and I quickly became “dot watchers”. That is, someone who follows the racer’s progress on trackleaders.com. Each racer carries with them a small device called a SPOT tracker that sends tracking data to the website. As the racers neared Farmington, we got the opportunity to go out along the road and meet them. How cool!

Of the 25 finishers, I got to see 18 of them as they came through. I went out and rode with race winner (in 17 days!) Mike Hall (winner of the World Cycle race in 2012 and 2013 Tour Divide winner) for a few miles as he passed. What a humble and likable soul. I gave 3rd place finisher Ed Pickup a high five. Jeneen and I enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant with 4th and 5th place finishers Jesse Stauffer (first place American) and Julianna Buhring (first place female and record holder of fastest female to cycle around the world in World Cycle Race 2012). I also rode with race organizer and 13th place finisher Nathan Jones for about 20 miles. My interactions with the racers were something I won’t ever forget. Each of the TABR riders that I got to spend time with were so friendly and showed great sportsmanship. Kudos to them all.

As the month of June came to a close, most of the racers had not only passed through Farmington, but had finished in Yorktown. The month long storm of excitement surrounding the race and our following of it came to an abrupt halt and the only thing I could think of was how bad I wanted to be one of those racers.

The remainder of the summer, when not working, I was usually riding my MTB preparing for the inaugural OT100MTB. September came and I toed the line for my first ever MTB race. 100 miles of Ozarks single track might not be the way most people kick off their racing career, but I am not most people!

It was an awesome event! Great support, the trail was pristine and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. I rolled into the finish at BASS River Resort in just under 19 hours- slower than I wanted, but I finished. That was really all I was looking to do. It was a blast!

In October, I did the Trail of Tears century, a road ride near Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. I hadn’t been riding like I should and this one was a bit of a slog. My only road century of the year, unfortunately.

Halloween weekend brought the OT100 endurance run. Crazy folks run the 100 miles of single track that we raced our bikes on back in September. No, I didn’t run, but I helped sweep the course, picking up temporary trail markers for the race. It was a great chance to get out by myself in the woods. I ended up riding 28 miles one day and 31.5 the next.

Prior to that weekend, my plan had been to bikepack the 60 miles of trail that I was going to sweep. In the end, the forecast called for temps dipping to a very unseasonable 20F or so. Without the gear to bikepack at those temps, I bailed on the idea and just went out for the day both days. It was a good decision!

Over the winter months I have been MTB’ing some, but mostly focusing on hiking and backpacking, namely changing from a ground dweller to a hammock camper. There will be more about this later. 🙂

So that brings me to current. I have some big things coming! I don’t want to belabor you with too much right now, but I will say I have committed to two big bike races as well as a few smaller ones and plans are in the works for big things in 2016 as well. All of it will amount to an amazing ride. I can’t wait! Stay tuned!

Getting beat up in the mountains

When I left Elk Horn City this morning, there wasn’t any getting warmed up. Straight to work climbing. I had over 1200′ in the first 10 miles. Within that 10, I crossed into Virginia. I’m now in my last state!

I stopped at Breaks Interstate Park, which is part in Kentucky and part in Virginia. Beautiful views there. My reason for stopping was it said on the map that the state of Virginia likes for all cyclists to stop and sign their log so they know how many cyclists cross the state and then can use those numbers to allocate funding for cyclist specific improvements. Whatever. I signed in, just about had to hit the park ranger in the head to get away from him and then got back to the road.

Today was more of the same from the last couple days. Very small and mostly poor communities nestled here and there in the mountains. It’s a backward way of life that they lead really.

I stopped in Haysi for lunch at a gas station that had a Subway. After eating, I hit the road again, but before I left town, I missed a turn but didn’t realize it. The road I stayed on led out of town along a river and came to a dead end two miles out. Good for me. Otherwise I might not have caught my mistake! I turned around, retraced my “steps” and got back on track. Just a 4 mile detour.

Back on course, I kept slugging along. My legs were just beat all day. Hard to keep a good pace and the climbing seemed to be relentless. No sooner would I have a downhill and I was back to climbing again.

After what ended up being my biggest climb of the day, Big A mountain, I was beat. I rolled into Honaker questioning what I was going to be able to do the rest of the day. I checked the map and saw that I had 40 miles left to Damascus and in that, I had 2 pretty good climbs, then one big one and then 3 more pretty good ones. I decided to see what I could do with it. Not much choice as there was nowhere to stay there anyway.

Right outside town I hit the first climb and realized my situation. I was spent. I could carry on to Damascus, but I would be very late getting there. Way after dark. So I decided to cut my losses and find a place to stay. 7 miles south of the route was Lebanon with a couple motels. So off I went.

I ended up getting the last room at the Super 8. Evidently this place is full of guys doing fiber optic cable work. I ordered delivery from a local pizza joint and chilled in the room all evening. Tired and sore, but looking to the end that is coming soon.

Not only did I make it into the last state on my trip today, I also broke  the 4000 mile barrier. Just about a week and I’ll be finished!

Stats:
Mileage-64.70
Total-4010.83
Trip time-5:10
Avg speed-12.49
Max speed-46.34
Climb-5733

Almost finished with Kentucky

This morning I was up at 8 and after taking a little too long to get going, out the door at 9:30. After asking the girl at the front desk last night about traffic on my route, I was pretty worked up and worried. 

My maps showed that I was to be on 80 for 7 miles then turn onto back roads from there. The front desk girl said if it was her, she would ride 80 the whole way to Elk Horn City (EHC) and that the back roads would be a good place to get killed by a coal truck. 

So I set out on 80. It’s a 4 lane state highway with shoulders. The traffic was absolutely insane. 70 mph and nobody even trying to get over even when there was nobody in the left lane. I even had a coal truck come over onto the shoulder right by me. I think it might have been on purpose, but I’ll never know. I was so glad to get off that highway. 

The back roads, although crooked, hilly and no shoulders, had very little traffic and what traffic they did have, got over and gave me room. Much better. 

After having asked locals for their ideas on routes several times now, I’ve decided to not do that anymore. Trust the map. It’s made by cyclists for cyclists and has been tried and tested repeatedly for 35 years. Trust the map. 

I wanted to stay moving today, as I was not real sure what the hills would be like and I wanted to have plenty of time to get to EHC. I really only took 3 breaks today, all at gas stations. Just quick food and back on the road. 

Most of the first half of the day was quite easy actually. A couple hills, but mostly winding roads along creeks and rivers. Great riding!

The second half had many more hills and the hills continue to get bigger and steeper as I go east. I thought one hill late this afternoon was going to get me. Long and extremely steep. I wish I knew what the grade of that one was. It wasn’t too bad at the bottom, but it had to have been close to 20% for about a half mile toward the top. 

About 3 miles outside EHC, I came around a corner and could see it pouring up ahead. I stopped to put on my rain gear, but it got to me before I could get suited up. Those last 3 miles were very cold and extremely wet. Downpour. 

I checked into the only motel in EHC, the John Moore Motel. It’s old, but not buggy. Seems to be kinda clean. Most important thing is they have cable so I can watch the game!

I don’t feel like getting into it now, but in the near future I want to discuss a couple of issues I have with Eastern Kentucky. Stay tuned!

Stats:
Mileage-86.49
Total-3946.13
Trip time-5:55
Avg speed-14.59
Max speed-46.34
Climb-5321

Into the Appalachians

After staying up entirely too late watching the baseball game and seeing the forecasted low of 35, I decided to sleep in a bit and let it warm up. Up at 9:00, breakfast, gather everything and prepare for the day. Out the door right at 10:00. 

Berea is quite the neat little city. Beautiful actually. I think it would be great to come back and visit. Riding out of town along the rolling countryside was very relaxing and afforded nice views. 

Just 7 miles into the day and I found the first real hill marking the start of the Appalachians. The climb got me warmed up nicely and I stopped at the top to shed my jacket and long pants. The temperature was climbing as well and had reached the upper 50’s. 

The more difficult climbs continued to come around every so often. It’s a nice change from the rolling hills and let’s me know I’m getting closer to the end! 

I stopped in Booneville for lunch at a little dinner. Cheeseburger and fries did the trick. After that the waitress asked if I cared for anything else. I asked what they had for dessert. Along with an assortment of pies and cakes, there was banana split cake, which I chose. There was also “better than love cake” as she said. I almost lost it, but managed to keep my cool. It’s amazing the difference in moral view here. It’s so much more conservative, which is refreshing. 

After lunch it was back to the road. I was concerned that my late start might put me in a bind on daylight so I wanted to stay moving. More and larger hills kept coming and the views got better and better. I’m really looking forward to the next few days as I reach the real mountains!

Come to find out, my time concerns were not warranted. I had plenty enough time to stop in Chavais for a break and a snack and talked to a local for a good 30 minutes. Then rolled on down the road to Hazard where I checked into the Super 8 and had Taco Bell for dinner. 

What a day. Almost 100 miles and almost 7000′ of climb. Basically today matched my hardest day of the trip, which had been from Houston, MO to Johnson Shut-Ins. Probably going to be more of the same over the next two days as well. 

One of the best things about today was the stroke of luck to be where I am when I am. Today I rode right through the heart of some big coal mining areas and on some really crooked roads with no shoulders. Any other day of the week they would be teaming with semis hauling coal as well. Being Sunday, I saw not a truck one. According to the guy in Chavais, the farther east I go from Hazard tomorrow, the farther away from the mines I will get. I know there are other areas I will have to watch for, but it was nice to be able to skip a day of stress. 

Oh, I forgot to mention yesterday that reaching Berea put me at the end of map 10. Starting map 11 today means there is only one more to go after this! 

Stats:
Mileage-95.72
Total-3859.64
Trip time-6:24
Avg speed-14.94
Max speed-47.54
Climb-6958

A nice day in the bluegrass

The morning started out pretty cold, but it slowly warmed to cool by afternoon and the sunshine was amazing! Kentucky’s rolling hills have been great.

With the cooler temps (35), I waited to leave until 9:00. It was really brisk, but I warmed quickly climbing little hills. At 10:00, I was sweating pretty good and decided to peel layers off. It felt great to get the extra clothes off, until I got moving again! The little bit of sweat chilled me, but after that I realized it just wasn’t as warm as I thought. I decided to leave the layers off and just tough it out. It kept me moving!

I stopped for lunch in Harrodsburg. Ate at a cool old pharmacy turned coffee shop/cafe/ice cream and candy store with a guy playing piano for entertainment. He was extremely good and my burger wasn’t bad either.

The afternoon went well and I was anticipating arriving in Berea a little early. My pace was good and daylight was on my side. Just outside Buckeye, which is little more than a couple houses along the road, I stopped at an oasis of sorts. A little bitty store with few options. I decided on a soda and a bag of M&M’s.

The older couple there were the owners and surprise, I got to talking to them. They are the Millers and have been there many years. Seen lots and lots of cyclists over time. I had a great conversation with them and ended up spending near an hour there.

Once back on the road, the last 20 miles to Berea went well. Pretty quick and not too bad. In town, I stopped at Burger King for supper, next door at the gas station for snacks and drinks for the evening and then the motel I had a reservation at. The evening was spent talking to Jeneen and watching the Cardinals open up a can on the Rangers! I hope the media keeps giving Pujols a hard time. Wow!

Stats:
Mileage-94.51
Total-3763.92
Trip time-6:03
Avg speed-15.61
Max speed-43.63
Climb-5669

Know when to say when

So last night I stayed in a really nasty place. It was top two of the worst on the trip. If you are ever in the Hodgenville area, don’t go anywhere near the Cruise Inn, just sayin’.

Although the place was nasty enough for me to not take a shower, with my cold, I really needed rest so I ended up sleeping in till 9:00. I quickly gathered my things and headed up the road to have breakfast at Hardee’s. I met another cyclist there. Cindy Savino from Fort Collins, CO. She left from her house and is headed to North Carolina to visit her sister. We had a nice chat and she is my 10:00 pic!

After breakfast, I intended on leaving town, but decided to go ahead and stop by Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace just south of town. I wasn’t really that interested in seeing it, now that I look back and think about it. I really think I was just looking for ways to keep from getting on the bike. I was feeling slightly better today, but all I really wanted to do was just lay down and rest.

After checking things out at the birth site, I finally hit the road about 11:30. I wasn’t too concerned with time as I only planned on going 87 miles today and figured I could do that in about 6 hours pretty easy.

The trip was a slog. The terrain wasn’t too bad and the wind was fine. I just didn’t want to ride. At all. I made several stops at stations and just kept putzing along. The only thing I kept in mind was I wanted to get to Bardstown to have lunch.

When I rolled into Bardstown, it was a little after 2:00 and I was craving a chicken tendercrisp from Burger King. As I sat and ate, I was checking things out on my phone. Facebook, weather and maps. I noticed several motels within a mile or so of my location on the map. That’s when I decided. I’m not going any further today.

Why continue to fight it? I don’t feel well, I need the rest and I have time built in my schedule. So I checked into the Days Inn, got a CLEAN shower (yah!) and vegetated in front of the tv. As I type this out, I am feeling much better and I look forward to getting back on the road in the morning. Sometimes you just have to take a break.

On a different note, because I was vegetating, I caught E.T. and Invictus. Both excellent flicks!

Stats:
Mileage-46.18
Total-3669.41
Trip time-2:52
Avg speed-16.07
Max speed-43.63
Climb-2142