OT100MTB 2017

After having no races on my calendar since the TABR finish in 2016, I was really looking forward to the OT100MTB on 9-30-17. It is a 100-mile, point-to-point mountain bike race on the Ozark Trail here in Missouri. The race is 98% single track and a big ask of the bike, body and mind with lots of elevation gain along a rugged, remote trail. With two finishes of this race in 2014 and 2015, I felt like I had a good grasp of what it takes to get to the end and was excited to give it a go. Of course things would be different this time as I made my attempt on a single speed after breaking the frame on my geared bike a month before the race. In an effort to make things a little easier, I took advice from several SS guys and put what I thought would be an easy gear on the bike. The only thing I could do would be to ride what I could, then walk. It is a single speed after all!

Getting to the start proved to be a bit of a challenge for me. Registration and bike drop were on Friday afternoon before the race started on Saturday morning. My youngest son is a senior in high school this year so we have made every effort to be a part of as many things as we can. Because he was an escort for one of the homecoming candidates at his school, he was in the parade Friday afternoon and also a part of the homecoming queen crowning ceremonies during half time of the Friday night football game. This threw a little wrench in my Friday, as I needed to drop off my bike at the start of the race and go through the registration process at the campground where the race would finish. In the end, I wrapped up my half day of work and headed for the parade at 1PM, saw the boy in the parade, drove the hour to the campground, got registered and dropped off my items for my drop bags, set up my camp, drove the hour and a quarter to the start, dropped off my bike, drove the hour and a quarter back home to see Brad at the football game, then wrapped up the evening with another hour drive back to the campground, arriving a bit after 10PM. It was a crazy Friday, but a good one. If I could do it all over, the only thing I would change would be to use the bike drop off service the race offered. Yeah, I have to admit to being a bit of a control freak. I wanted to drop it off myself. It worked out. My day ended with a cold beer and I crawled in my hammock for a few hours of sleep.

Race day started early as it always does for the OT. It didn’t help that I hadn’t slept well. There was a bit of noise in the campground through the night and I was wound pretty tight anyway. I drifted in and out until the fitful sleep ended with my 4AM alarm. I got up quickly, grabbed my duffle bag and headed to the bathrooms to change. Once dressed for racing, I put things away in the car, grabbed what I needed for the day and got on the bus.

It was a long ride to the start, but it helped to chat with some of the folks around me on the bus. The air could be described best as nervous chatter. I found it interesting to see other’s reactions. Strangely, I wasn’t really nervous. I probably should have been, but my experience with some big races over the last few years has worked to tame the nerves. Most everyone else seemed to be excited, yet nervous, but that is to be expected. The last twenty minutes or so of the drive, the bus was quiet. A few feigned sleep. The time was approaching.

When we arrived at the starting location, it was still dark and the air was cool. With more than 30 minutes before we would start, I decided to sit on the bus. Several others did as well. There didn’t seem to me any reason to go out and just stand in the woods waiting and the bus was at least a little bit warmer than the ambient air. With about 15 minutes to go, I put on my helmet and went out to my bike.

The usual pictures and well wishes were had with folks I knew. We milled about for a few minutes and soon Jim Davis, the starting official, gave us the command to head on down the fire road a bit to where we would actually start the race. Everyone staged according to where they wanted. I chose to line up a little back of the middle. A few words were said and quickly we were off. It was a surreal experience really. The start of my two previous OT races were much more intense in my mind. This one was like I was heading out for a long ride. I’m sure that had something to do with my multi-day racing experience.

Being on a single speed and not having a lot of saddle time on it, I had decided that I would keep things very tame and not push hard. I wanted to make sure I made it and climbing like crazy was not a good plan, especially considering my lack of training and fitness. It doesn’t help that the OT starts on the Karkaghne Section, which is considered to be one of the most difficult parts of the trail for mountain biking. Steep, relentless climbs come over and over and beat you into submission. I took advantage of the descents taking what speed I could from them and tried to settle in to the climbs with an easy pace. When it got steep quickly, I didn’t hesitate to get off and walk. I stayed moving though and when I got to the first water stop at Sutton Bluff, I felt pretty good. I was 17 miles in and had a good outlook for the day.

Shortly after leaving Sutton Bluff, things took a turn for the worse quickly. Not 2 miles down the trail, the hills suddenly seemed to be more than I could bear. I found myself walking almost every hill and I couldn’t seem to recover. My first thought was that I had gotten behind on water and/or food. I drank regularly and ate more to no avail. Each mile seemed to pile on me and I went slower and slower. By the time I reached the crossing of J Highway (mile 26.5), I was toast and didn’t know if I had what it took to continue. I carried on to the checkpoint at Mack Road (mile 28) and upon arrival, just couldn’t bring myself to quit. It was way too early. Surely I would come back around. I ate, filled water, drank and refilled again. I set off down the trail with intention, looking to re-find my groove.

The next 9 miles to Barton Fen were the most grueling miles I have done in a long time. I felt ok on descents and flats, but I walked every hill. As soon as the trail started to turn up I had nothing in my legs except jelly. I was frustrated and broken. Soon even walking was difficult. As I plodded up the steep slopes, my heart rate raced and I couldn’t find recovery except to stop and rest. I rolled up to the water stop at Barton Fen (mile 37) and flew my white flag. I was done. I just couldn’t see walking up every hill for another 63 miles of single track. I was disappointed, but done.

After chatting with the volunteers at the water stop, I found that teammate Adam Clarke was ahead of me on the next section to 32/DD. His wife Rebecca and fellow teammate Chuck Sevick were driving sag for him, meeting him at each stop. I bummed a ride with one of the volunteers up to 32/DD with the hopes that Chuck and Rebecca would let me tag along until such time I could get back to the campground and my car. They were more than accommodating and took me in. My race then turned into a great time hanging out with friends and helping other racers. Another friend, Stacy Hagan was sagging for her husband Dave and was there as well. Dave and I have ridden together a couple times before and it was a treat to see them. Come to find out, Dave was riding very near Adam and they would end up riding together later in the day. It was a blast hanging out with them at the checkpoints and seeing a side of the race that I haven’t seen before.

After a few hours of sag with the crew going from checkpoint to checkpoint, we got close enough to the campground that they could run me back to my car without interrupting their work. I thanked them profusely and they headed back out to meet Adam again. I changed clothes, broke my camp down, packed everything up and left early. It felt a bit like I was stealing away in the night as I went. All the 50 milers were hanging out at the finish and having a great time. Some of the first 100 milers were coming in and a party was on. I didn’t want to be mistaken for having already finished. I felt a bit ashamed of quitting and left after a quick chat with a couple friends.

On the way home, I would pass within a mile of the Berryman Camp checkpoint. I figured I would be close to seeing Adam, Dave and the crew again, so I swung in there. Sure enough, they were all there. I saw Adam and Dave off as they headed for a late night finish, then hung out with the sag crews around the fire for a bit before driving home. It was a nice way to end the day.

The next day I sat down and loaded up my Garmin file for the race. It was then that I realized my issue. I had ridden the first 23.6 miles (a Strava segment) faster than I had before. If you keep in mind that my training wasn’t what it should be, so my fitness level is less than in the past, you find that is a terrible plan. I didn’t mean for it to be that way. It was just the nature of the single speed. When all you have is one gear, you ride it. I blew myself up without realizing it.

My OT experience for 2017 was a far cry from what I expected or wanted, but I can only take my lumps and move on. My final assessment is that I was severely underprepared, undertrained and at a major fitness deficit. Add all that to the hurdle of switching to single speed a month before the race and you come up with a bad plan. I am chalking this one up to a learning experience. It was a great time in some respects, but I will aim to be better prepared next time.

TABR16- Day 18

When I woke up at the hostel in Farmington, I felt like I had been beat with a bat. I was not looking forward to getting up and moving, but knew I needed to. I had texts from several people. One was Dustin. He wanted to know what my plan for the morning was and was considering riding out of town with me. Another was from fellow Team Noah member Matt Johnson. He had the same plan- to ride with me. Before I could answer either, I had a call from Matt. He was on his way to Farmington and wanted to know what was up. I was getting frustrated in my exhausted, just- woke-up-after-5-hours-of-sleep-and-245-miles-the-day-before state. Folks were excited to see me and be a part of my race, but I wasn’t feeling it. I let everybody know that I was heading to The Factory Diner, a great little breakfast place in town, and they could meet me there.

Matt and his son parked their car near the hostel and were there when I came out to leave for breakfast, as was Dustin. We all rode over to the diner and sat down for some breakfast. Another local cyclist friend, Wayne Linenbringer, was there as well as Enrico. Enrico had slept in Ellington, then gotten up early and made the trip to Farmington. We all ate and shared stories. It was a nice meal.

After breakfast, Enrico headed across town to the local bike shop. The morning had gotten away from us a bit. Dustin, Wayne, Matt and his son all had things they needed to do, so I headed out of town on my own, but not before stopping just down the street to see my wife. The bank she works at is right on the route and she was outside waiting when I came by. I gave her a kiss and set off reluctantly. I honestly didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t stay and finish the race though, so off I went. It was 10:15AM.

The ride east from town is one I have done many times. Of course most every ride I have done through there ended with me coming back home. It felt strange to be setting off for the coast some 1800 miles away. I rode along mindlessly with dead legs that I had earned from the zealous ride the day before. There was no power in my pedal strokes and each hill felt steeper than the next with my jello legs.

About 20 miles out of town there is a hill that I affectionately call Turkey Mountain that is a mental boundary to me of my home area. On the map it is named Madden Hill, but the entrance to Turkey Run Estates is near the top so I call it Turkey Mountain. That is much more fitting I believe. As I rode up toward the crest of the hill, thinking about how I was leaving my home turf, a car came zipping past and then pulled over just ahead. It was my good friend John Robinson. He and I have ridden together a lot. In fact, I’ve likely ridden more miles with him than any other person. He had been stuck at work and decided that he just didn’t want to let the opportunity go by without coming out to wish me luck in person for the rest of my trip. It really meant a lot to me that he made a special trip to see me! We chatted just a minute and I headed on over the hill and eastward.

The ride to St Mary seemed quick. I stopped at the gas station there for some food and then rushed down the the hill a half mile or so to the bank. I was out of cash and in my exhausted state, I had forgotten to grab some at the bank in Farmington. Fortunately I caught them just before they closed- it is a very small branch that has limited hours and closes early.

After St Mary, it was up and over a couple hills before dropping down into the river bottoms for 10 miles along the pancake flat farmland that stretches out next to the Mississippi River. Right before crossing the river there is a gas station that I did not intend to stop at, but had to for a restroom break. It annoyed me to stop there as I wanted to stay moving, but it had to happen. Back on the bike, I crossed the river and was in Illinois. Only two more state lines to cross after that!

Right by the river is the town of Chester, known as the home of Popeye. The creator of the Popeye cartoon is from there and there are all sorts of statues and murals memorializing him around town. I skirted through the town quickly and didn’t stop, trying to stay moving.

As I rode out of Chester, I continued to feel sluggish. I just didn’t have any power in my legs. The prior day had really taken it out of me. I slogged along the rolling hills until reaching the relatively flat roads around Wine Hill. From there, I had my sights set on a gas station ahead where I had a planned stop.

When I rolled into Campbell Hill I found that station and took several minutes there to rest, eat and store up fluids. I was a bit frustrated that it was already 3:45PM and I had only made 67 miles. Granted the later start didn’t help, but my will to move was a bit broken with my tired legs. I once again reluctantly set off, contemplating what the rest of the day would hold.

I rode on, through the little town of Ava. I felt like I was struggling for every pedal stroke. As I rode, I was pretty dejected with my performance on the day and my lack of ability to bounce back after the difficult day before. I felt like I was fighting myself and decided that there wasn’t a point in beating my preverbal head against a wall any more. Murphysboro was ahead and I would get a hotel room. I rolled into town, grabbed drinks and snacks at a gas station, then headed to the America’s Best Value Inn for a room. I had only made 87 miles.

Once in the room, I ordered delivery pizza and gorged. Then I slept. I received a bunch of texts and calls that evening from friends wondering what was up. I answered vaguely. My day across Missouri had done some damage and I needed some recovery, but in retrospect, I have to admit that I was really not into the race mentally at that point. Going through my hometown was really hard. There are so many instances in a race like this that make you doubt or want to stop. Being that close to my own bed had made it even harder. I was close to quitting, but knew better than to make a decision when tired or hungry. I would see how I felt in the morning.

TABR16- Day 17

My last day in KS/first day in MO had only been just OK, and I don’t mean Oklahoma. The heat and humidity were killer, but in the end, I had to admit it and say that the root issue was I didn’t stay moving. Too many stops for too long of time. My plan leaving Ash Grove was to do the opposite. I would do my very best to stay moving with a goal of busting out a monster day through the Ozarks.

Enrico was up and out the door at 4AM. It woke me when he got up, but I wasn’t ready to go immediately. I slept another 30 mins or so and then began my day. I was on the road by 4:45. Leaving Ash Grove, it wasn’t long before I made Walnut Grove. I rolled on through with the intent to stop in Fair Grove. Yeah, that’s a lot of Groves, all within 30 miles!

The rolling hills at the edge of the Ozarks were all around me. This felt more and more like home as I honed in on familiar territory. The punchy climbs may have been familiar, but they still made my legs scream. I knew what lay in front of me for the day. There was nothing to do except attack and move forward.

I made a quick stop in Fair Grove at a gas station right as Enrico was leaving. I choked down some food and supplied up for the morning, then was off again.

Some 20 miles further down the road, I caught up with Enrico in Marshfield, but he went on when I made a quick stop for drinks. I was only stopped for a couple minutes and then headed out of town. I was now within 200 miles of my home town and had been on these roads many times before. The recognition of my surroundings helped to keep me moving.

Somewhere in the morning I started getting texts from friends wondering when I would make it to Farmington. I wasn’t really sure what I would do, so I didn’t give too many hard answers. On one hand, I wanted to see folks I knew and be cheered on. I imagined a group of family and friends coming out to cheer me on as I came through town. There had been a dozen or so that had done just that when I toured the route in 2011, coming out to ride into town with me. On the other hand, this idea made me think that I might get hung up, spending too much time with people and not stay moving like I wanted. Add to all this that I was now over 2800 miles into the race and literally exhausted in every fashion. There were parts of my brain that said I just needed to make it home and then I would be done with the race. After all, I had nothing to prove. I rode the route in 2011 and raced half of it in 2015. I had “been here before”, so why push on and be miserable for another week? Living only 5 blocks from the route, it would be really easy to just ride up to my doorstep, go inside, shower and go to bed, giving the ole Trans Am the proverbial bird and being done. “I’m finished!” The mental game was messing with me.

One of my friends and fellow cyclists from home, Dustin Washam, is a school teacher. It being summer, he was off work and available more so than other folks. He texted me and said he wanted to come out to meet me and ride into town together. I agreed that I would keep him abreast of the situation. Where I ended up for the night would all depend on how the day went. I had a very difficult section of the route with lots of climbing coming up between Houston and home. He said he understood that the plan could change on the fly and I said I would just have to keep him informed.

Just outside Marshfield, I caught up with Enrico again. We made our pleasantries and I went on ahead. I wouldn’t see him again the rest of the day.

30 miles or so down the road, I made it to Hartville. I had planned to stop here at Subway to eat. It was early for lunch yet at 10:30, but I knew there weren’t any other options for awhile. I grabbed a foot long cold cut sandwich, ate half and packed the other in my bags. I was on a mission and was only stopped for maybe 10 minutes tops.

The hills continued to increase in intensity as I plowed ahead. As the hills went up, the heat and humidity did too. By midday I was nearing Bendavis, where I knew there was a little roadside store. Horse flies were out and I kept having to swat them off my backside as I rode. It is one of the things I hate about summer in Missouri. I had one spot on my bum that felt like one had really gotten me. The more I felt the sensitive spot, I realized I had a hole in my bib shorts. When I pulled up to the store at Bendavis, I got off the bike and craned my neck around best I could to see, but it was no use. I just couldn’t make it. I then took out my phone and snapped a picture of my backside. Sure enough, I had a hole about the size of a quarter in my shorts. I was really concerned about it because I didn’t know if it would bust farther open. I only had one set of kit and had no intention of buying something new along the way. That could be a recipe for disaster and saddle sores with a new chamois I wasn’t used to.

I went into the store and bought some drinks and food. Further inspection of “the site” showed that I didn’t have a horse fly bite, but rather a pretty nasty little sunburn the size of a quarter on the lily white skin of my right cheek. This is an area that never sees the light of day and now it was exposed to the blazing rays of the sun as I stuck my rear out, hunched over my handlebars riding down the road all day every day. What could I do with that? I ended up asking the Mennonite woman who owns the store if she had any old cloths she would be willing to part with and explained my situation. She went to the back and produced a brand new wash cloth and gave it to me for free. The folks along this route are so nice! Once I was in a more private place, I shoved the cloth in my shorts so as to cover the hole and thus my skin that had been shining through. I would keep an eye on the hole in my shorts and deal with it later. I just needed to stay moving.

It was another 20 miles to Houston, over hill and dale. The scenery along the way was bucolic and brought me back to meeting three Englishmen as I came through that area in 2011. Good times!

In Houston, I went to Hardee’s to eat and cool off. The sun was baking at this point and I needed food. I ordered, ate and pondered what I would do while I sipped soda and cooled off. I ended up spending an hour there, but was ok with that. It was the heat of the day and I could always ride late to make up for it. While sitting there, I called my wife and made the decision that I would press on to Farmington that night. I figured I would get there in the wee hours of the morning and that might keep the folks who would come out to see me to a minimum, thus helping me to stay moving. I also texted Dustin and let him know. Then I was off again in the hills and the heat.

The ride out of Houston isn’t bad at all. It’s just nice little rollers that go on for about 35 miles. It isn’t until you drop into the Jack’s Fork River valley near Alley Spring that the Ozarks begin to rear their head in earnest. I have ridden from Farmington west to Alley Spring several times as training rides and knew all to well what I had in store. From there it would be 100 miles to Farmington with plenty of elevation gain.

I made it to Eminence a little after 6:00PM and went to a gas station there for food and drinks. I wasn’t really looking forward to the 30 miles ahead, but figured that my knowledge of it would at least prepare me for it. I left Eminence and got to it.

The 30 mile stretch from Eminence to Ellington that is what I would call the very heart of the Ozarks (on the Trans Am route anyway) isn’t epic climbing. Instead it is constant up and down on leg-breaking steep hills. The longest climbs are little more than a mile long, but the sum of them punch you in the throat. With my experience on the TA and knowing the long steady climbs out west and the steeper climbs of Appalachia, I can’t say that the Ozarks are the hardest part of the Trans Am, as some have suggested. I think you just get a break from the mountains of the east or west as you come across the midwest from either direction and most people don’t expect what the Ozarks have to offer.

As I rode into the evening, munching on hills for supper, I had one thought on my mind- I’m almost home. That was what fueled me in the nasty parts. The climb up from the Current River valley was brutal. I ended up getting off and walking at one point. My legs were just dead.

Somewhere between Eminence and Ellington, I got a text from Dustin. He said he would start riding at Johnson Shut-ins(JSI) and be heading my way. JSI is 35 miles from Farmington and I was 50 miles from JSI. I assumed he was driving to JSI and would come out to meet me, then ride back to his car. I texted him back that I would see him soon. I was excited to see someone from home!

I rode on to Ellington and stopped at a gas station for supplies. It was 9:00 and I had about 60 miles to Farmington. Being that time of night, there would be no services ahead. I loaded up, despite being very tired. I just kept thinking, “not far now”.

I left Ellington with a watchful eye. I had made a quick check of Trackleaders and knew that Andrej was up ahead. A few miles out of town as I passed a roadside park, I thought I made out in the dark a bike and someone in a bivy. I figured it was him. I never saw him after that, so I couldn’t confirm if it was or not.

Just up the road a ways as I descended a grade, I saw the headlamp of a cyclist coming from the opposite direction. I slowed and sure enough, it was Dustin! It was so cool to see a friendly face. He turned around and we rode together through the night, chatting about the race and what not. Much to my surprise, he had his father-in-law drop him at JSI and he intended to ride in with me, whether I camped for the night or not. Dustin had never bikepacked before and had borrowed a Viscacha seat bag from a mutual friend. He stuffed it with a bed sheet and an air mattress so he would have something to sleep on. I thought it was so cool that he wanted to get a bit of the flavor of bikepacking! I explained that the only reason I planned to stop was if I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. He said he was fine with whatever I wanted to do and we rode on into the night.

The ride through Centerville and on to JSI was uneventful. We stopped at JSI to use the restrooms there and fill a water bottle from the water fountain. Leaving there, it was more of the same- rolling hills through the pitch black night. The only excitement we had was snakes on the road, trying to retain heat in the night. They didn’t bother me, mostly because I was a zombie at this point, but Dustin was none too excited about them. I found it funny and we kept riding.

Coming into Pilot Knob, I was absolutely smoked. My legs were spent and I was exhausted. The thought crossed my mind to bivy at the Fort Davidson historic site, but I was only 17 miles form Farmington and wanted to see my wife. We trudged on. I would make it.

As we rolled into Farmington, I saw another cyclists light up ahead coming to meet us. It was my beautiful bride! I was so happy to see her and what a trooper for coming out on her bike to meet me at 2:00AM!!! I love that woman! We rode on ahead and into town and I found my daughter waiting for us at a gas station. She and my wife had made a sign for me and Madi was waving it, flagging me down. There were hugs and kisses with my family and they asked what I was going to do. I said, “I need to eat!” The McDonalds at the edge of town that I thought was 24 hours was actually closed. The only other option was Steak n Shake across town. Madi drove home to go to bed while Jeneen, Dustin and I rode over to the restaurant.

Jeneen and Dustin sat while I ate. It was oh so good to get food and even more so to be sitting with my wife. Once I was done eating, Dustin headed for home. I thanked him over and over for coming out to meet me. He had ridden about 80 miles to come out with me. How cool!

Jeneen and I rode back to the route and on into downtown Farmington where the bike hostel is. I would stay there so as to be within the rules of the race. I really wanted to go home, but I never got any closer than 5 blocks away. Jeneen gave me a kiss and rode on home to get some rest. She had to work the next day after all and it was after 3:00AM.

In the hostel, I threw my clothes in the wash and grabbed a shower. Once the clothes were in the dryer it was off to bed for me. I had ridden a monster day- 245 miles and across the vast majority of the Missouri portion of the Trans Am. My Garmin Etrex always calculates the elevation gain a bit short as compared to other GPS’s, but it showed 11,477′ of gain on the day. I set my alarm for the morning and fell asleep fast, spent and happy to have made it to my home town.

TABR16- Day 16

Sleeping in my bivy behind the Toronto United Methodist Church, I was awoken by something on the ground near me, rooting around. Coming out of sleep, I first thought it was someone, then realized it was someTHING and my brain was thinking a dog. I sat up, turned my light on and looked around to find an armadillo scavenging around. Knowing they are harmless and that I had spooked it anyway, I laid back down and tried to fall back asleep. A short time later it was back. I shooed it on and slept again until my alarm went off at 5:30AM. I ended up with about 4.5 hours off the bike , which was about 4 hours of sleep with the interruptions.

As I got up and riding, it was still dark out. I was glad to be rolling out of town before anyone noticed me camped out in the church yard. I felt kind of like a thief in the night. I hadn’t taken anything, but I came in after the townsfolk were in bed and was up and gone before they got up. Not a soul had known I was there.

As the sun came up I warmed up and the legs were feeling good as I rolled along. The terrain was becoming more rolling hills, which felt like home and gave me encouragement. I was really looking forward to getting to my home state and I would make it there that day!

Just before 7:00AM, as I rode into the bright, early-morning sun, I noticed two riders approaching from the opposite direction. It was none other than Neil & Adi Coventry-Brown! They are from New Zealand and Adi was a fellow TABR15 veteran. It was great to see them just because I wanted to see them, but also nice to see fellow racers. Although there were 50-something others racing West-East, due to us all being strewn about on the route, it was rare to see anyone other than the few folks who were riding near. The three of us stopped to chat a few minutes, exchanged pictures and then carried on. It was a treat to see them!

I got to Chanute about 8:15 and stopped at a gas station for supplies and some breakfast. I loaded up the best I could and got back to riding quickly.

As I rode on through the morning, it was really starting to heat up. The respite from the heat and humidity we had the day before had been short. Things were setting up for another scorcher. I made the title town of Walnut about 10:30 and found a convenience store where I went inside to take a break in the air conditioning. I ate an ice cream and drank some cold drinks while listening to some locals chat. After about 30 minutes I hit the road again.

I stayed moving for the next couple hours despite my desire to stop in the heat. I knew I needed to stay moving in order to make a good day. When I got to Pittsburg, I decided to take another good break to cool off and eat. I found a mom & pop style diner on the main drag and went in for lunch. The owner was there, a old man of almost 80 years. He made conversation with me while I ate. It is always nice for me when I get to chat with folks. After a little over an hour, I gathered myself and headed back out in the heat. I stopped at a gas station for drinks and snacks as I left town and set my sights on the MO-KS border, just a few miles away.

In no time I saw the welcoming sign for the Missouri border. It felt so good to be “home”! I snapped a pic and called my wife to let her know I had made it to the line. Each little delineation was another goal marked off in my head and this one was a little more special to me than most folks, I would imagine.

The extreme Western part of Missouri is pretty flat, filled with nothing but farm land, which means one thing- no shade. The sun was baking the road and me. Only having made about 10 miles into my home state, I was feeling cooked. I came up on a farm house with a nicely cut yard and a pretty little shade tree near the road. I did what I had done several times along my journey when wanting to rest out in the open- I laid my bike down in the shaded grass, then laid myself down in the grass with my legs draped over my bike. If for whatever reason someone decided to come along and try to take my bike while I slept, they would have to roll me off of it to get it! I laid in the shade for about a half hour, cooling off a bit and trying to nap. Almost the entire time there were biting flies that wouldn’t leave me alone. I don’t think I ever really slept much, but eventually got tired of shooing flies and hit the road again.

Once up and moving, I was looking ahead to Golden City and the iconic Cooky’s Cafe. I wasn’t sure when they closed, but I thought I might be cutting it close. I got to town about 5:45PM and found them open. It made me happy to see! Cooky’s is a tradition for touring cyclists on the Trans Am. Despite the fact that I was racing and needed to stay moving, I still needed to eat and I planned to do it there. That would also give me the chance to eat some of their world famous pie. I leaned my bike up outside and went in to feast on a burger, fries, Coke and pie.

When I finished my meal, I came outside and started to take off, only to find that I had a flat. Upon further inspection, I saw that the valve stem had been ripped where it meets the tube. That really disappointed me as I felt like it didn’t just accidentally happen that way while my bike sat leaning against the building. I figure someone did it, but I didn’t see anyone around. I changed the tube out and pumped it back up. Then it was across town to a gas station to get supplies for the road. Night was coming and I would be going through some unpopulated areas. Likely any stores I would come across would be closed and I would need to have things to make it through the night.

Between Cooky’s, my flat and the station stop, I had spent way too much time in little Golden City. By the time I left town it was 7:15. I had spent an hour and a half there. Add that to my other stops for the day and I just wasn’t making great headway.

I rolled on into the evening and away from the sunset. I quickly got out of the flat areas and started hitting the hills. The hills weren’t really a problem and actually were welcome after all of the plains. What wasn’t welcome were the bugs! The amount of bugs that came out after dark was amazing. All sorts of flying things. So many that I had to make sure to keep my mouth closed while riding. That can be an issue when you are climbing punchy little steep hills and get out of breath!

As I rode on through the evening, I was contemplating what I would do for the night. My day hadn’t been as productive as I wanted it to be, but I was in Missouri. One part of me wanted to ride on late into the night and another wanted to stop, sleep and hit it hard the next day. As I rode through the spot in the road that isEverton, there were some young kids out in their pickups driving crazy. I hoped to make it through unnoticed, but that wasn’t the case. They drove by closely and smoked me out with their diesel smoke. If only I could get my hands on one of them….just once!!! I carried on out of town and a couple miles down the road, they came back around for round two. I was frustrated and tired. I made the decision to stop and bivy at the next place I could.

Remote Missouri highways don’t have very many places to bivy. The sides of the roads are grown up high with weeds, which means ticks and chiggers if you crawl off into it.I didn’t want any part of that. Most every spot where you can find cut grass is actually someone’s yard, so that doesn’t work well. The best idea I had was to find a park in a town or something like that. I rode on and was coming close to Ash Grove. I figured I would find something there.

Right before I got to town, there was a guy on a bike that came out to meet me. Greg Hoffman had driven from Ozark, MO up to Ash Grove to come out and ride with me for awhile. Unfortunately he had no idea that I planned to stop just a mile down the road for the evening. I felt terrible that I wasn’t able to oblige him for longer, but it was what it would be. We rode into town and found a local couple who had come out as well. They were the keepers of the local hostel in the park in town and were a pleasure to meet. They gave me directions to the hostel and Greg rode with me up to the park.

The hostel was simple, but everything I would need and then some. I arrived about 10:30 and Enrico was there sleeping. I went out back to the shower house, got cleaned up, then went back in and spread my bedding out on the floor in the common room where Enrico was and went to sleep. It hadn’t been my best day by far at 169 miles, but I was back “home” with big plans for the days ahead.

 

 

Cedar Cross 2015

To be perfectly frank, after my disappointment in the way Trans Iowa V11 went, I was feeling pretty down. Poor weather conditions couldn’t be helped, but I felt like I severely underprepared, both in training and in getting my bike ready for the race. I was also upset with myself that I didn’t go any farther into the course than I did. Overall, I just wasn’t happy with the way it all went down. I had anticipated that it would be a stepping stone to Trans Am Bike Race and I felt as if I had stepped backwards. Not good.

On my way home from TI, I got a text from Jason, one of the other TI riders from St Louis that just said, “Cedar Cross?” I didn’t even know what that meant. Was it another race? Did he send it to the wrong person?

After a quick Google search, I found out that Cedar Cross is a 113 mile gravel and single track race in the Jefferson City area just one week to the day after TI. At only $30 the price was right. I had really hoped to move on to more pavement riding in prep for TABR, but I already had everything set up for gravel.  I decided to give it a go. At least I would be able to get the “quit monkey” off my back and move on with a more positive outlook.

I texted Jason back and found out that all three of the TI riders from ST Louis were not going to Cedar Cross. Things had come up for each of them preventing them from attending. I really wanted to go do this with someone else, so right away I contacted my 3 friends in Farmington that would ride gravel. Two of them weren’t able to go, but one, Lucas, said he would like to go. As we discussed travel, it was determined that we would drive separate. I couldn’t leave until Saturday morning and with an 8:30AM start, that would mean leaving town about 4:30AM to have time for the drive. Lucas isn’t exactly a morning person and was free Friday evening to travel, so decided to go up early and spend the night. This turned out to be a blessing.

So Friday evening, I found myself staying up WAY too late. As usual, I was gathering things late and didn’t get to bed until midnight. Ugh. My 4AM alarm was not a welcome sound, but I was excited to get moving and get racing! I left the house right on time at 4:30, stopped at a local gas station for coffee and hit the road.

I rolled up into the parking lot across the street from Red Wheel Bike Shop about an hour prior to the start. Plenty of time to get dressed, hit the can and get my number plate and cue sheet. Once ready, I quickly found Lucas and lined up with everyone in a behind the shop in preparation for the group rollout by 8:30ish.

After the National Anthem and some encouraging words by the race organizer, we all took off behind a pace bike for the 2 mile roll out. Across the Missouri River bridge and down some paved roads we went. Soon we passed the official starting point and quickly hit gravel. The race was on!

Lucas and I stayed together, chatting and navigating through the crowd, but we weren’t hitting it hard at all. The course was fairly hilly early on- lots of rollers. My choice of ride (Stompatron is my MTB, loaded up with rigid fork, WTB Nano 2.1’s, a Fred Bar and Profile aero bars) was proving to be a bit of a challenge along the hills and gravel as compared to the majority of the riders’ bikes, which were cross bikes with skinnier tires. No biggie. I’ll get mine when we hit the single track!

And at 14.8 miles, that is what happened. The course went through a portion of Mark Twain National Forrest land that was basically cow field. Through the fields it was dirt road or double track. Just a bit down the trail, it went to a short section of fast single track and then back to gravel. The double/single track had been only about 2 miles, but when I looked back, Lucas was nowhere to be found. He was on skinnier tires and just couldn’t navigate the rougher stuff as fast as I could on Stompatron. I was feeling good and wanted to stretch my legs so I went on.

Over the next 15-20 miles, the course went through two sections of trail that I would call single track in earnest. That first section early on had been more like a cow path. Not the next two. Now we were in the woods on true trail and there were places where it was really pretty rough. I found myself passing quite a few cross bikers and it gave me a surge of adrenaline, or at least in my mind, to go harder. I was racing! There were some places where horseback riders had demolished the trail by riding when it was wet. These areas were just covered with 6″deep hoof sized holes that beat you to death. It would have been difficult had I been riding with suspension. With my rigid fork I was still being beat up, but not near like the cross bikers. Most were waking. I rode the vast majority of it and kept moving forward, feeling good.

About 35 miles or so, I hit a wall. Bad planning strikes again. I SWORE that I had seen online that there would be a convenience store somewhere in the first 40 miles. With that in mind, I had brought a few snacks, but not much. I had stretched those calories out, but now I had burned through them and needed food. It was also getting hotter and I hadn’t been drinking as much as I should. I could tell that my body was dehydrated and bonking so I backed off my pace a bit. Hopefully there would be a stop where I could refuel soon. Nothing came along. I was struggling and still had 80 miles to go! I just kept going. There wasn’t another choice.

On the cue sheet, there showed a drop bag station at 46 miles. A note on the sheet said, “grab a sammitch and a beer”. I figured there would be something there. I just needed to nurse myself to that point. With roughly a half mile to go to the drop bag spot, I got a puncture in my back tire. No problem, I thought. I’m running tubeless so the sealant in my tire should close up the hole and I can keep riding. When that didn’t happen, I stopped to give it a few seconds to seal. Every time I would get it to seal and try to take off again, it would pop back open. After several attempts to get it to seal and continue riding without success, I started walking the bike to give it more time to seal. I figured at least I was making headway and with me feeling so crappy, it gave me a break.

It wasn’t too long and a bunch of the riders I had passed on the single track were passing me as I walked. One of those that passed was Lucas. He asked if I was ok, I said I was and they went on. After walking about a quarter mile, I hopped back on and the tire held. I had lost an estimated 15 minutes, but now I was going again and I was almost to the bag drop.

Upon reaching the bag drop, I realized my folly. Having thought I would pass a convenience store early on, I didn’t do a bag drop. I also read too much into the note on the cue sheet to “eat a sammitch”. The only things at the bag drop other than the bags that others had for themselves was a few water bottles and a few beers. Quickly weighing my need for calories over the possible dehydration associated with in-ride alcohol, I drank a beer and also a water bottle. I finished off what little bit of food I had left, bummed some water from my better prepared friend Lucas to fill my Camelbak and rested in the shade. The next 30 miles or so (to a known c-store on the route) would be rough at this rate.

After resting a bit, off we went. This time I stayed with Lucas. The break at the bag drop had been good for me, but I was not doing well. I knew I needed to drink, drink, drink to get back in it. The break had also been good for the sealant in my tire. The tire was fine and I was ready to roll, albeit slowly.

Right away we hit the last section of single track on the course. We had been warned at the drop that it was rough. That was an understatement. This was the most horeback-destroyed section of trail I have ever seen. So rough that I couldn’t ride most of it on my wider tires. I rode when I could, but it was miserable. I was beat up both mentally and physically and feeling like I was ready to quit. This was my lowest point in the race and I made the decision that I wouldn’t do this race again.

Eventually this 2-3 mile section ended and we came out on more gravel. There was a little country church there and I leaned my bike against the fence to wait on Lucas. He was quite a bit slower on the single track and I didn’t want to run off on him again. Several minutes later he came out of the woods and was not a happy camper. Actually, everyone around us (3-5 riders) was not happy either. One guy mentioned something about taking a turn off course up ahead and calling it day by riding back. We were roughly 50 miles in and that turn was about 10 miles ahead. Lucas said he was seriously considering it.

Over the next ten miles, I was feeling pretty beat. I couldn’t keep up with Lucas and it was irritating me, especially knowing he was considering quitting. Despite not feeling well, after my disappointing showing at TI, there was no way I was quitting. I just couldn’t.

Around 60 miles in, we came to a left turn. This was the point where Lucas had to make a decision- turn left and head for the finish or go straight and ride off route back to Jeff City. We stopped and he checked the map app on his phone. It seemed like it took forever to me, but I know that was just me bonked out and crabby. I didn’t want to leave if he was going to carry on so I waited. After several minutes, he decided to call it a day. We said our goodbyes and rode off in different directions. It sucked that we wouldn’t finish together, but in reality, it was probably the best thing that happened for me. Now I was riding my own pace and could do what I needed to do to get back in it.

Since the bag drop, I had been drinking regularly. I needed to get my hydration back up enough that I could eat without getting sick. It was working, but the headache from not having enough water in me and the lack of food for fuel was hurting me.

About 65 mile in, we passed a house that had coolers with water out front. Earlier they had been BBQing hotdogs, but because I was so late, they were all gone. I drank more water, popped some ibuprofen I remembered I had and took a rest in the shade for a bit.

Back on the road, I only needed to cover 5 miles to get to the Hamm’s Prairie Gas station. I was literally looking at this as an oasis! I needed fuel and I needed it bad. I was rolling along and feeling better. I just needed to eat. Then I got another puncture.

This time it was the front. It was the same story though- it just wouldn’t seal. After a few attempts, just as before, I started walking. Quickly though, I decided to just sit in the ditch and give it some time. To pass time, I called my wife and chatted. I told her how it was going and said that it didn’t matter what happened, I was finishing this even if I had to walk it in. We talked for maybe 5 minutes and I saw the one and only Derrick Boos of Orange Lederhosen come over the hill toward me. I met him last year at the OT100 and he is a hoot. I got off the phone, grabbed my bike and hoped my tire would stay sealed.

I rode with Derrick a short bit. He was feeling bad with stomach cramps and just wasn’t very talkative. I understood how he felt! Different issues, but the same result for me. You just feel crappy and don’t want anyone messing with you. At the next hill, he needed to get off the bike. I made sure he was ok with me leaving him and carried on. I needed to stay moving. Time to get to the oasis!

I rolled into Hamm’s Prairie and my mood did a 180. Dropping the bike, I ran inside, ordered a big double cheeseburger and fries from the kitchen, refilled my Camelbak, grabbed a whole bunch of snacks and candy, including an orange juice, a Poweraide and a can of Mt Dew. When the burger was done, I paid, went outside to a picnic table and proceed to chow down. It was like manna from heaven! Exactly what I needed! I ate the burger, the fries and drank the Mt Dew. The rest went in my bags. I was not going to run out on the way back!

I rolled out of Hamm’s Prairie feeling like a million bucks. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you have fuel in you! The first 70 miles of the ride had been fairly hilly. I knew I would have a rough time along the way if there were more hills, but at least I was fueled and as ready as I could be for it.

The first 4 miles or so out of the station were flat and on pavement. I cruised in the aerobars, munching on Sweetarts here and there. When it went back to gravel, there were a couple rollers, then a monster downhill to river bottom farmland. Across the valley, over a bridge and up a monster hill! At 75 miles in, this was probably the steepest hill of the day. I just got in little gears and kept my head down. I didn’t know it, but this would be the last hill. Once at the top, the road rolled along fairly flat and then BOOM! Smack dab in front of me was the Calloway County Nuclear reactor facility! That’s pretty cool! Not something you see everyday.

A winding flat gravel road led me south and east of the reactor to another monster downhill. This time, the downhill brought me to the much bigger Missouri River valley and the Katy Trail. My legs would have felt it had I needed to climb, but the flat of the Katy meant I could cruise at high speed. Once I was wound up, I just kept rolling.

The next 30 miles or so were on the Katy and other river bottom farm roads between Hwy 94 and the Missouri River. The gravel was good and fast, I felt great and the sunset was spectacular! As the sun went down and I still had 10 miles or so to go, I had a bit of remorse on being slow for the day, but I really felt good. I just kept cranking it out.

I rolled back onto paved roads shortly before getting back o the Missouri River bridge. Following the course, it was up the pedestrian ramp, across the river and down the hill to the bike shop and a cranked up party of finishers and their friends. Everyone cheered for me, just as they did for each finisher. Cowbells clanked, I got high fives and it was over! 113.6 miles of course with about 2 miles of rollout made for 115-116 miles (my Strava showed 118, but who is counting). 🙂

It was a long grueling drive home. I finally rolled back up to my house at 12:15AM. I unracked my bike, stumbled inside, showered and hit the sack. What a fantastic day!

My biggest takeaways from this event were that I was able to nurse myself back from a pretty bad place to carry on and not only finish, but feel like a rockstar doing so. I wasn’t fast. I finished way in the back. No matter. I finished and that is what I went to Cedar Cross to do! The quit monkey has expired! Oh, and I will go back. This one was a winner of an event in the end. Good times!

 

 

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!

A glimpse into the past, or is it the future? GRS/TA day 3

Cherokee Pass to Cape Girardeau

After having not slept well Sunday night and the massive climbing of yesterday, I fully expected I would sleep log a log, but it wasn’t to be. The wind was blowing and gusting something fierce all night and with it blowing the trees and my tent around, I had a hard time falling asleep and staying that way. After tossing and turning for hours with little shut eye, I finally resorted to ear plugs about 2:00AM. I wish I would done that from the start! I slept well from that point, so well in fact that I slept through my 5:00 alarm, which I had set to get a head start on the day and woke at 6:00.

The forecast for the day was for a warm one with stiff winds out of the south that would build throughout the day. I hoped to hit the road early to beat the heat and wind as much as possible. Losing an hour early on with the alarm thing bugged me, but it is small beans and nothing to worry about too much. I’m on vacation!

I quickly gathered and packed my things, with the intent to make breakfast in camp before I left. However, even with the wind blowing, there were a lot of little gnats buzzing around that where just too resilient. I decided to pass on camp fare and head to the truck stop a half mile away in Cherokee Pass.

Breakfast was a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, a honeybun and a cup of coffee. Breakfast of champions!!! I ate it sharing a bench outside with an elderly local man, Dave. As I chatted Dave up (who wasn’t real interested in talking, but I forced the issue. Imagine that), a couple rolled up on their Harley that knew him.

The guy said, “well, how you doin Dave?” Dave’s reply was a sullen, “waiting to die”. I don’t know if I helped or hurt his demeanor! They asked where I was headed, I told them Cape and offered to race them. He said he would only do it for $50. I told him I would love the chance to race him, but I wouldn’t bet. 🙂

I rolled out of Cherokee Pass and enjoyed a fantastic ride to Marquand. The hills weren’t too bad, the morning was cool and the scenery spectacular.

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I stopped in Marquand for a couple pics of the river. I also did a “drive by of the historic log cabin in the park, then headed to the grocery store across the street for a Power Aide. I drank a bit, then strapped the bottle with the remainder in it to my rack for later.

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The highway from Marquand leading to Highway 51 has some big climbs on it that I had been anticipating. They definitely got my pulse rate up, but I made them without issue.

I then had a short 2.5 mile stent on 51 headed south. Unfortunately, that was exactly where the wind was blowing out of at a good clip and most of it was uphill. I made fairly quick work of it and made my left turn on to M, which leads to Scopus. This would be the first road of the trip that I had never been on.

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The miles clipped off easy and I started getting pretty hot. When I rolled into Scopus, I found the mercantile there and stopped for a break. I had a nice cream sand which and chatted with Elaina, the lady who worked there. She was nice enough and asked me where I was from and headed to. She thought the idea of me touring was neat, but said she has no desire to go anywhere at all. She has lived all her life in Scopus and doesn’t plan to go anywhere, not even on vacation! “It takes all kinds”, was what she finished with. How true.

I hit the road again and made my way to Burfordville, where I went to the covered bridge park to make myself lunch. I whipped up some oatmeal and had half a bagel with peanut butter on it. Feeling stuffed, I took off and headed toward Cape Girardeau.

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On the way, there were plenty of hills and the wind that had been forecasted was pumping along too, right in my face most of the time. I just put my head down and pedaled.

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I made it through Gordonville and on to Cape. Right away, I headed to Cape Bicycle to grab a new computer for my bike. Mine was a fairly nice one at one time. Wireless mounts with a heart rate monitor and altimeter, it served me well for about 3 years. Awhile back, the heart rate function quit. Yesterday on my way from JSI to Cherokee Pass, the rest of it’s functions ceased as well. It is quite demoralizing not to be able to keep track of your distance actually!

I spoke with Don at the bike shop, bought a very simple wired computer model and put it in my handle bar bag to install later. Leaving the shop, I was starving! My early lunch had burned off covering the hills and fighting the wind. It was just 2:30, which was way too early for me to go to my host’s house, so I went to Wendy’s for a late second lunch. I had a burger and fries with lemonade. Their lemonade is the bomb!!!

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After hanging out and cooling off awhile at Wendy’s, I left, called Judy, my host for the night and headed toward her house.

Flashback about a month ago. I had stopped by Cape Bicycle while working in the area. I spoke with Don and explained that I would be coming through on tour soon and wondered if he knew of anyone in town that might let me pitch my tent in their yard for a night. He gave me names and numbers of a couple people, but Judy’s was the first. Come to find out, Judy is a Warmshowers.org host and regularly hosts cyclists who are traveling through. I had heard many times about Warmshowers, but had never used it before.

Judy Cureton is a staple in the cycling community in Cape. She grew up in Cape and has been involved in the bike club there for a long time. There are many things that I could say about Judy and her storied life of cycling, but by far the coolest to me is that she rode in the Bike-centennial celebrating the bicentennial of our country in 1976!

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She told me the story of how after not having ridden as much since childhood, in 1974 she went to a bike shop in St Louis to buy a 10 speed because she thought they were really neat. It was at that shop that she saw the flyer posted about the upcoming bicentennial tour. She decide then that she was going to go. 🙂

This was the original Trans Am and what started the route that Trans Am riders follow today. About 4000 people rode, mostly in groups of about 12. It was a bike touring event that had never been matched in scope and size, nor will it likely ever be again.

My evening with Judy was spent discussing her many cycle tours (she has toured every continent except Antarctica), her beautiful home (designed by her grand mother and built in 1904) and her family. Judy has a daughter and 4 grand kids (in their teens and twenties) who live in Indiana.

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Judy gave me the grand tour of her beautiful old Victorian home. I even got to explore the attic and the roof!

One of the coolest things was looking at her scrapbooks from her cycle tours. The Bike 76 scrapbook had many pictures in it that looked just like my pictures from my 2011 trip, just 35 years older! What a treat for me to meet this lovely lady and get to share in her memoirs. Very, very cool and the highlight of my trip!

A side note of coincidence that I thought was really cool- Judy hadn’t toured or rode that much before her Trans Am, just like me. She was 38 when she went, just a year younger than I was when I went on my trip. She said that after her Trans Am, “I was hooked.” I couldn’t agree more. Judy has went on to have wonderful adventures by bike all over the world, be involved in the community in support of cycling and has lead a life doing the things she loves to do. She inspires me and I look forward to what is to come with my life and cycling.

Judy and I stayed up way too late chatting. She went to bed about 11 and I stayed up another hour catching up on Facebook and the like. A long day, but one I won’t soon forget. I made a new friend and I look forward to making the drive down to Cape to introduce my wife to Judy.

 

I take the road less traveled- GRS/TA day 2

Johnson Shut-Ins to Cherokee Pass

After the nice evening Sunday, the night turned cold. Much cooler than I thought it would. My sleeping bag is rated at 45 degrees, which actually means it is probably better suited for 50 and above. I’m pretty sure it got down into the upper 30’s overnight. If not, it certainly was below the recommended range for my bag. It was a long cold night and I was very cold. I even wore my sweatshirt, long pants and socks in the bag, but it did little good. I didn’t sleep much at all from being uncomfortable.

Once morning rolled around, I had little interest in getting out too early. Better to let it warm up a little. I ended up laying around until 7:30. Then I got up, made breakfast and took my time getting going. When it was all said and done, it was about 10:00 before I rolled out of camp. Still sight unseen of any camp attendants!

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Right out of the gate I had a pretty good climb going up out of the park. Not too bad, but it got my pulse up quickly. It wasn’t long and I came to the end of N highway. The Trans Am goes right and the Great Rivers south route turns left. Two roads diverge in a wood. I took the one less traveled. 🙂

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The ride to Lesterville was pure joy. Almost no traffic and the beautiful scenery of the Ozarks. The same could be said of the ride from Lesterville to Glover and on to Annapolis. There were some pretty good climbs and plenty of sweat spent getting up them, but overall, it was a treat to ride roads I hadn’t ridden before, even if I have driven them.

I stopped in Annapolis for lunch at the local general/convience store. A BBQ pulled pork sandwich and potato salad with a Power Aide hit the spot. Then it was off again.

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Just outside Annapolis, I followed the map and turned on C highway toward Cherokee Pass. I knew from driving this road that it would be a long, hilly ride. You know, you just don’t realize how big and steep those hills are in a car!

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There were lots of rollers, but nothing too bad all the way to the St Francis River bridge. I stopped for some pics of the river and Bullseye.

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Now the climbing begins. I knew it was coming. I went up and up, each turn bringing another stretch of road to the heavens. I thought it might not end, and finally I saw what I was looking for: the point where C turns to the left and N goes straight. I now had a reprieve!

With my turn to stay on C, I started down. BIG downhill! So big it was scary with a loaded bike. I went down for what seems a mile or so. So very nice to go downhill! Then I realized…. I will have to go back up.

At about mile 50 for the day, the up started. It was a very nasty, steep climb and it went on and on. Even more so than the stretch coming up from the river. Then when I thought it was over and I would get a little stretch of down, I would go up twice as far. When the day was done, I would see on my graph that I had basically 10 miles of upward inclination from the base of that nasty hill. It was hot, I was tired and I just wanted it over with for the day.

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Finally I saw my oasis, Pinecrest camp. Pinecrest is owned and run by the Nazarene church and is a beautiful facility. They were so very gracious to allow me to stay and I am thankful for it. I had a nice spot to pitch my tent in their RV campground and a great shower! Oh yeah!

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After rehydrated supper and resetting the network settings on my phone (if you have tried to reach me Sunday or Monday by text, I didn’t get it. Resend please!), I hit the sack. It was really noisy with lots of wind in the trees, but I hoped for a good nights sleep. What a day!

On the road again- GRS/TA day 1

What a day! I started the day off bright and early with a mountain bike ride with my buddies Ben and Lindell. We took off before 6AM and drove to Council Bluffs lake to do the lake trail. 12 miles of premium single track to start the day is the bomb!

We I got home, I finished packing and got ready for my son’s graduation at 2:00. I didn’t know how I would react to seeing my oldest graduate high school. Would I be a blubbering mess? Turns out, I was just beaming with pride. It’s been a rocky road at times, but I am excited to see what Mark chooses to do with his life. Way to go buddy! I love you!

After graduation, I changed clothes, threw my stuff on Bullseye, said my goodbyes to the wife and kids and headed out of town. Sing it Willy! “On the road again…”

After 2 1/2 years of not riding my bike loaded with gear, I had completely forgotten what it was like. A totally different animal to balance and steer. An added challenge is I am carrying more weight this time, mostly due to food. Feel free to crack a joke there. I am certainly carrying more weight around the middle now! But seriously, I have close to ten pounds of snacks and dehydrated food with me. The plan is to cook the majority of my meals to save money and practice for backpacking and bike packing on the MTB. More on that later.

I left Farmington and had a beautiful, uneventful ride to Pilot Knob. It was pure joy to be on the road! The only improvement I could see making would have been to have Jeneen with me. 🙂

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I found myself paying particularly close attention to traffic. Not to say that I ignore traffic on a regular ride around home, but this was more than normal attention. I remember reacting like that on the first few days on my 2011 trip. I’m not sure why that is.

Knowing that I wouldn’t have cell service at camp, before I made the turn off 21 to N highway, I called Jeneen to let her know everything was going well. Then I turned south toward Johnson Shut-Ins.

Along the short 15 miles from 21 to JSI, you will find some of the prettiest scenery in this part of the country. Rolling hills and streams make for great picture ops, but I missed them. I was hurrying to get to camp before dark. Hope to not be doing that anymore this week!

Also along that same 15 miles, I had a young guy in a truck holler obscenities at me and two separate people flip me off for no reason. All three instances were pick ups going the opposite direction with no other traffic around at all. I wasn’t impeding there way or in any way doing anything to disturb them. I can only assume they are locals that just don’t like cyclists on the road, or they assume that cyclists shouldn’t be on the road.

Of course the law states that cyclist are considered vehicles on the road and should be approached and passed just like a car. Passing should only take place when it is clear to pass and in a safe manner. Also a cyclist has the right to take the lane, meaning cyclists can ride in the middle of the lane if they deem it necessary for safety (bridge crossings, poor or no shoulder, to avoid debris that would be hazardous).

The reactions from those three were disappointing, but I have come to expect that from a few people in this region. Whether it is selfishness, entitlement or ignorance, I am not sure, but there are some that just have no regard for others. From my experience, it does seem to be an issue concentrated here. It saddens me really.

Back to the road. I rolled into the campground about 7:30 or so. There wasn’t anyone at the gate, I didn’t see a host anywhere and didn’t all evening. I had a pre-paid reservation, but it looks like I could’ve just rolled in, camped where I wanted and rolled out without a fee!

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My reservation was intentional and nostalgic. It was for Lot 409, where I camped with the English guys on my Trans Am trip in 2011. I pulled in, set up my tent before dark and scooted to the shower house to bathe. Afterward, it was back to camp to make dinner. My meal was two courses. The first was corn, rice and potatoes. The second corn rice and chicken Stove Top. That left me full and warm. Good stuff!

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After dinner, it was now dark and I walked about a half mile to the general store here in the park to catch their wifi and leave Jeneen a Facebook message. I met a couple there using the wifi as well. They are from Cape and questioned me a little on my trip (and my sanity, I think).

After telling them I was riding my bike for a week long tour, the guy’s first question was, “I assume you are armed with some sort of weapon?” I replied with a truthful no and proceeded to watch them be completely astonished. He had a large hunting knife and a side arm on him and was quick to point that out. I guess there is grave danger in our state parks.

Before he left, he said, “Be careful. There are lots of crazies out there.” I wonder if he was warning me about himself. As grandma said, It takes all kinds I guess. The armed couple left, I sent J a note and I then walked back to camp and went to bed, thoroughly ready for sleep!

Overall, it was a great first day on the road and I can’t wait to ride roads I have never ridden tomorrow!

Best day of the trip

Back on the road! After 17 awesome days at home, I hit the road again. It really seemed like longer than that and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Time didn’t drag at all. It just seems like a different lifetime that I traveled the trail from the west coast to home.

While at home, I spent some great time with Jeneen and the kids, visited with friends and family, rode the Ride the Rivers century in St Louis and attended my wife’s 20 year high school reunion.

As for the bike, I got new tires and tubes, new bar wrap with some gel inserts underneath and I had my back rack welded as it had broken in a couple spots. I also trimmed my load significantly. Realizing that I only actually used my camping gear about a half dozen times on the first leg of the trip (which is totally against my original intent, I know), I decided to leave all of that at home. My plan is to travel light and fast and finish this up quickly. I estimate that I am now carrying just under 20 lbs.

The reduction of gear also meant less storage space was needed, so I don’t have my panniers on anymore. Just my handlebar bag up front and my dry bag on the back rack. I’m unable to organize my things as well, nut the bike is lighter, better balanced and more agile. Much better.

So after a long morning of errands, finishing packing and saying goodbye, I finally set out about 11:00. Although it felt nice to be back on the road heading toward completion of this trip, I hated leaving Jeneen. I’m sure it is just my mind not wanting to leave, but I was having thoughts like I might not see her again as I road out of town. Big time dislike.

Realizing that I was being silly and the only solution was to ride, I resolved to put my head down and grind. It might take a couple days, but I would get back in the groove and be fine soon.

About 5 miles out, I looked up as a car passed and saw Jeneen, Madi and Brad drive by (no Mark as he was at a college fair). My first thought was that something was wrong and she had come to find me. But she hadn’t called, so I quickly ruled that out. Up ahead, as I topped the hill at Twin Oaks (locals know what I’m talking about!), there was my wife and two younger kids on the side of the road cheering for me and waving! It brought tears to my eyes. I stopped for what I thought was another goodbye and she surprised me by offering to meet me for lunch. We decided on Chester and I set off again, excited to get to see them in a couple hours!

With the combo of favorable winds, renewed spirit and my new lighter more aerodynamic load, I averaged 20 out the hills and wine country to Ozora. The bike no longer shimmies as it used to at about 40, so I was pushing  almost 50 on some of the bigger down hills and felt comfortable.

I stopped in St Mary for a candy bar and to refill my bottles. I called Jeneen and found out she was close as well. Onward to Chester!

Crossing the Mississippi River bridge was not near as bad as I thought it might be. I anticipated some trepidation, but it was actually quite serene. Jeneen and the kids met me on the other aide of the bridge cheering. So very cool.

We met at McDonald’s for lunch. I didn’t care if it was healthy or not. I was just glad to have them there. Afterward, we said our goodbyes again and I set off, happy and confident. So nice to spend portions of this day with my family.

A couple miles down the road, imagine my surprise to see our van pass me again! Jeneen wanted to see me one more time. Of course I offered for her to go get Mark and then come back and drive sag for me the rest of the way! Not happening, but that’s ok. With this last goodbye, I rolled down the road and couldn’t keep the smile off my face. I sent her a text joking that I was going to end up with all kinds of bugs in my teeth now!  She is so awesome to me and I love her so much.

Carrying on, I only had about 30 miles or so to my intended destination of Murphysboro, IL. Most of it went well, other than a stretch of 10 miles or so in the middle where I wasn’t feeling well. I think I’m coming down with a head cold. Boo hiss. Everything ended up fine and I rolled into Murphysboro about 6:00, plenty early enough to be able to get some food and get a room in time to watch the Cards win the pennant! World Series bound!

Thanks to my wife, kids and the Cardinals, today was the best day of my trip, without a doubt. I love you babe!

Stats:
Mileage-88.70
Total-3316.72
Trip time-5:13
Avg speed-16.95
Max speed-48.14
Climb-4261