TABR16- Day 24

I woke early in Wytheville and had great aspirations of a huge final push of 420 miles, straight through to Yorktown. I dressed in my still wet clothes (again) and was out the door at 4:00AM. Jimmy was rolling out at the same time. It was dark and cool as I headed off into the farmland north of town.

Almost immediately I was dealing with sleepy eyes. It was still very dark out and a couple hours before sunrise. Riding through the countryside, there wasn’t any streetlights or other sources of light to keep my eyes tuned into. With the small tunnel of light out in front of me on the pavement from my headlamp, it was like I was being hypnotized and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I struggled along, trying to keep moving the best I could. When I got to Fort Chiswell, although I was only 9 miles into my day, I stopped at a gas station for caffeine and a snack to hopefully jog my brain awake. Piero was there grabbing some breakfast as well. We chatted a bit as we stood by our bikes eating and drinking coffee. After a few minutes I decided to get going and took off.

I crossed over the interstate and started to turn left on the outer road when I heard Piero calling out to me. He thought I was going the wrong way. A quick check of the GPS showed he was right and we both headed back across the highway to the outer road on the north side, which was the correct road. If it hadn’t been for him it is hard to tell how far I would have went before I realized I was off course. What fantastic sportsmanship to come chase me down to let me know! He didn’t have to do that, but I am grateful he did!

Once on the route again, Piero and I leapfrogged back and forth a few times for the next 14 miles or so. As the sun was coming up and I neared Draper, I saw a rail-trail trailhead adjacent to the route that had sufficient facilities so I went over for a personal pitstop. It is nice when everything works out and you have a place to go when you need to go, if you know what I mean. That isn’t always the case and frankly, it is rarely the norm.

Back on the road a bit lighter and faster (hehe!), I was moving along nicely and in short order caught up to Piero again right as we both caught up to Michela and Stefano. The three of them were chatting in their native tongue and I went on ahead.

About 7:30AM I made it to Radford. I was only 41 miles into the day, but I was starving. I found a convenience store that had a paltry supply of food. Nothing sounded good. I was getting pretty tired of junk food, but when that is all you have, you eat or starve. I scavenged up a few things and got a little creative. They had little portable Cheerios cups, so I had one of those and some milk as well as a few other snacks for a makeshift breakfast. Shortly I was back on the road riding again.

On my way to Christiansburg, I passed Piero, Michela and Stefano, as they had all gotten by me again while I ate in Radford. I didn’t stop in Christiansburg and just rolled on through, planning to make a stop further up the road in Catawba. I got down on the aero bars and cranked along at a good clip, feeling good and confident that I had pulled a fast one on the others by planning where not to stop and thus moving ahead on them.

About 27 miles up the road when I reached Catawba, I was bumming. When I came through touring in 2011, there had been only one store in the little spot-in-the-road that is Catawba. Much to my dismay the Catawba General Store was no longer open. Flustered that I couldn’t get supplies and feeling the super high humidity, I rolled up the road a quarter mile or so and found a pretty little spot of well kept grass under a shade tree next to the road in front of a school. I laid my bike down and plopped down next to it in the grass for a nap. My ‘nap’ lasted less than 5 minutes as I quickly realized I wasn’t having a hard time staying awake. I was just pouting. So I got back on the bike and took off before any of the others came along.

Just 2 miles up the road I was presented with a conundrum. There were barriers blocking the road, big arrows pointing me to turn left on a gravel road and a sign that read: Road Closed Ahead- bridge out 6 miles ahead- no thru traffic- use detour. Now, I have seen these sort of signs before while riding. Not once have I went off route and not once have I not been able to get through. I could take my chances and likely make it, or I could get there, have to turn back around and do the detour anyway wasting 12 miles. I quickly made my decision based on experience (which hadn’t done me much good just 2 miles back) and stayed on the route.

As I rode along, I kept hoping to see someone. Maybe someone who lived on the road or a car that had went to the dead end and couldn’t get through, but I saw not a soul. That is, until about a quarter mile from where the road was supposed to be closed. There was a man walking on the road. He said he lived at the house just back a ways. He said that they weren’t allowing anyone at all through at the construction site. He thought I would be smart to turn around and go all the way back around. I told him that I had come this far, I would ride down there and see what the guys working had to say. He eyeballed me like I was a trouble maker and I went on.

When I got to the bridge, there were 3 men working. They smiled and waved as I rode up. I was super nice hoping they would return the favor and let me pass. The said, “Sure! We let all the bikes that come through go on past. There was just a few that came through earlier today.” I thanked them and walked my bike thought the rough bits. I also asked them how far it was to town, as I needed water. They said 9 more miles to a gas station. I thanked them again and took off, victorious and proud that I had made the right call about the bridge. Yeah, it was luck, but hey, I’ll take credit for it. ūüôā

I road on into Daleville and made a much needed stop at a gas station. Once I was supplied back up, I hit the road again. It was just a couple miles to Troutdale and then before I knew it, I was back out of town again. I say ‘out of town’, but the fact is in most parts of Virginia, you may be ‘out of town’, but you are always in sight of at least one or two houses. Someone trying to stealth camp or get off the road to do some natural business has a hard time finding a spot. As I rolled out of Troutdale, I was in need of just such a spot once again and there were none to be had. I almost turned around and went back to town, but decided that surely I would find something. I thought I had found just what I needed when I saw a sign for a park of some sort. I turned off the paved road onto a gravel drive that went up a steep hill, only to find that it was actually private property and basically a big flower garden. I didn’t want to get caught with my pants down, so I got back on the road and went in search of something more private.

Just 4 miles down the road I came across a convenience store. I was very happy to to find it and make use of the facilities. I didn’t want to just use them for what I needed and not buy anything, so I bought an ice cream. I really didn’t need anything at that point, but it served the purpose.

By the way, I say these things about potty stops, not to share with the world all the dirty details, but to give those folks who tour or race these sorts of things a small idea of what it is like out on the road. Our bodies have natural processes that you have to attend to despite the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere OR maybe right smack dab in the middle of EVERYWHERE and you wish you were in the middle of nowhere!

Back on the road, it was only 14 miles or so to Buchanan. I hated to stop again, but it would be another 30 miles to Lexington and I didn’t want to get hung without supplies again. I ran in a gas station for a few things, ate a little something and got back on the road.

The next 10 miles after Buchanan were just horrid riding in my opinion. The route goes along the outer road of I-81. The surface is fine, but you are just a few yards away from he constant buzzing of high-speed interstate traffic. The din is atrocious. Once the route turned away from the highway, it was back to serene country roads.

Over the last 20 miles into Lexington, I ran into a few rain showers. Most of the rain that I got was light, but it served to turn the already hot and humid conditions into a sauna. Steam rose off the road as the sun came back out and the effect was oppressive. I found myself hoping it would just set in and rain, hopefully cooling things off. Soon enough the sky was looking dark on the horizon and the sounds of far off thunder could be heard. Storms were coming.

I rolled into Lexington right about 4:30PM. I found a little burger joint just down the street from the Virginia Military Academy and went in to eat. As I sat waiting for my food I checked the weather. It didn’t look good at all. Heavy rain, high winds, hail and flooding were forecasted. Particularly on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Afton, which is where I was headed. Things weren’t going to let up until the wee early hours of the morning. If I was going to ride on and make that huge push to finish in one go, I would have to ride through some really nasty storms.

My food showed up, I ate, called my wife, and tried to decide what to do. In the end, it just didn’t make sense to me to risk going out in it just to gain a few hours on my overall time. I had set some really big goals for myself prior to the start of the race, all of which I had not met. The only goal left that I could make at that point was to finish and riding through the night in a big storm wasn’t going to improve my chances of doing that. I decided to grab a room and sleep. I finished my meal and road up to the Best Western to get a room. Next door was a gas station where I grabbed some snack and drinks. I took them to my room where I ate more and filled up on fluids, then slept as it rained. I ended the day with 146 miles and 6910′ of gain.

TABR16- Day 23

I had my alarm set for 4AM, but when it went off, I looked out the window to even heavier, denser fog than the day before. Being tired, I was an easy sell for myself to stay in bed rather than fight the moisture and visibility issues. I slept until the sun came up about 6:15. I gathered my things, put on my still wet clothes and headed off into the soup. The fog was so thick I couldn’t see more than 20′ in front of me. I crept down the hills as slow as I did going up them.

Fifteen miles down the road through the fog, I rolled into Haysi. I stopped at a gas station and grabbed some breakfast. Jimmy was there. He had bivied along the road overnight. I told him about my groveling for a room the night before as we both ate. Soon enough, Piero came in. He sat down to eat, I finished my food and then I took off. I had stayed in bed way too long and needed to make up a bit of time.

The hills were only getting taller and my legs weren’t recovered from the day before. In actuality, my legs were toast from 22 days of riding across the country, but the big day before didn’t help matters. All I could do was stay moving and try to maintain some sort of momentum.

The ride to Council was all uphill, but not too bad- just a gentle grade. After Council it was straight up the monster that is Big A Mountain. I have my assumption of what the A stands for, but it is called just plain Big A on the map. It lives up to its name. It felt like the climb wouldn’t end. On the bright side, when it finally ended, it was all down hill to Honaker.

I stopped at a gas station with a deli in Honaker and ate big. It was Sunday at 10AM and they had loads of fried chicken in preparation for the church crowd coming a bit later. I had a couple chicken breast with mashed potatoes and gravy, then followed it up with some junk food dessert. The big meal was heavy on my gut, but I knew it would translate to more energy later.

After Honaker, there were a couple good sized little hills to get over before Rosedale, where the route took me down the shoulder of a four lane highway for about 4 miles. I always hate riding big highway shoulders and was glad to get off it and onto the smaller two lane that was leading up to Clinch Mountain.

Clinch is a big climb, going up about 800′ in just a mile and a half, but it is a pretty one. I remembered having to stop and take some rest breaks when I climbed it in 2011. This time I stayed on the whole time, but I don’t want to give the misrepresentation that I was killing it. In reality, it was killing me, but I stayed moving. Once I topped out, the ride down toward Hayters Gap was amazing. It felt so good to have yet another big climb down as I rode the switchbacks through the¬†rhododendron.

After Hayters Gap, it was a much shorter, or at least it seemed so, climb up to Meadowview. This would be the first of many times I would cross paths with I-81. I stopped at a truck stop with a McDonalds and ate big. It was 12:30 and the after-church crowd was there in full swing. I felt like everybody was watching me like a psycho, but they probably were just amazed at my stench. I only stayed long enough to inhale my food and then got back to the road.

Just a mile or two down the way, as the route took me on some gorgeous country back roads, some crazed redneck came by at an alarming speed for such a small road and almost hit me. I was apocalyptically angry. It just hit me all wrong. I then rode on ahead hoping I would see the truck parked outside a home. I am so glad I didn’t.

Next up was Damascus, the infamous trail town that can sucker you in and have you spending way too much time there if you aren’t careful. I stopped at a gas station for supplies, then made a stop by Crazy Larry’s Hostel to meet the man himself. It was a treat to meet and chat with Larry for a bit. He asked if I was staying, but it was only 2:30 in the afternoon. I had to be going and did so pretty quick, but was glad I made the stop to meet him.

Leaving Damascus, it is about 10 miles of beautiful riding, albeit gradually up hill, along the Virginia Creeper Trail and Whitetop Laurel Creek. It is one of my favorite stretches of the Trans Am in Virginia. After making the climb up from Damascus, I made a stop by a convenience store in Konnarock. It was a little warm out, but mostly I was looking for an excuse to stop and take a break. I was tired. I sat for 15 minutes or so eating an ice cream and then realized I needed to get moving again.

The next 10 miles were along the valley just to the West of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. It was a beautiful ride up the valley to Troutdale.

At Troutdale there had been a store I stopped at in 2011. It was now closed and run down. I peaked in the door and it looked like it had been vacant for years. It seemed strange that things can change so much in such a short period of time.

From Troutdale, it was a little bit of climb up to a big drop down into the Jefferson National Forrest. After that, it was all down hill to Sugar Grove, where I found a gas station to stop at for supplies. I also found Michela and Stefano there. We all grabbed the typical gas station fare and loaded up on drinks. I took the opportunity to chat with them a little while I ate a snack and sorely wished I knew some Italian.

We all left about the same time, but I got out in front and rolled on down the road. It was an easy 15 mile ride to Rural Retreat. I saw a Subway and went in to eat some dinner. I had it in mind to stop at Wytheville for the night, but I figured I better eat before I got there. While I was eating, Stefano and Michela came in and sat down to eat. About the time I finished up, I saw a racer go by outside. I wrapped up my meal quickly and headed out to try and catch whoever it was.

A few miles down the road, I came up on Jimmy. We rode the last 5 or so miles together into Wytheville and chatted as we went. Both of us planned to get a hotel in town. It was getting dark and I was pretty well spent. I figured I could get an early start the next morning.

We got to Wytheville about 9:15PM and went to a truck stop to grab some drinks and snacks for the evening and an early morning start. Then it was across the highway to a Super 8 where we both got rooms. I grabbed a shower and hung up my still wet clothes to dry out best they could. Some were draped over my bike and some over the air conditioner. I had made just 137 miles on the day, but had 9675′ of gain. The Appalachians were rearing their head and the elevation gain was proving difficult on legs worn down by over 3 weeks of cycling big days. I organized my things for a quick morning exit, set my alarm for 4AM and went to sleep.

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.

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.

 

 

TABR16- Day 15

When I went to bed in Larned, the stage was set for a stormy evening. I set my alarm to leave in the night, but when I woke, the storm was still getting after it pretty good. I rolled over and went back to sleep. This happened a few times through the early morning hours until things started to clear up about 5:30AM. I got up, packed up, went across the street to a convenience store for some breakfast and then hit the road. I saw Enrico at the store as well. He left before me, but I caught up and passed him in just a couple miles.

The overnight storms had pushed through and left me with fantastic weather! Cool temps, gentle winds and blue skys were the order of the day. A cyclist’s delight! I rolled along eating up miles. I had my sights set on Newton, for several reasons, but mostly to replace my severely worn tires, particularly the rear. It was so thin that threads were showing on the tread and the tube was almost visible in a few spots. I should have swapped it out with the front in order to even out the wear some, but I felt it was too late for that. Being so worn, I was concerned about it not being safe on the front. I would much rather have it blow on me on the rear.

I was rolling and feeling good. The big meal I had the night before and the extra sleep I got trying to stay out of the overnight thunderstorms were paying dividends. A few miles before Nickerson, I caught up with Andrew Stevens-Cox. We made pleasantries and I rode on. I was on a mission!

A little before noon and about 72 miles into my day, as I passed under the Hwy 61 overpass just outside Medora, my rear tire gave up the ghost. I was a little more than concerned. I was still between 35 and 40 miles from Newton, where my tires I had shipped ahead were waiting on me. When I took the wheel and tire off and saw the gaping holes in the tread I wasn’t encouraged. The tube had poked through the holes and burst. I did the only thing I could think to do. I had about 3 feet of duct tape folded over on itself in my repair kit. I used it to boot the inside of the tire casing in the spots where it was missing worst. I didn’t have enough tape to go all the way around, but made due with it the best I could. I then remounted the tire with a spare tube and pumped it up. It held, so I took off down the road again thinking, “it just has to make it 35 miles”.

Immediately I recognized a difference in performance. The duct tape boots made the tire out of balance. A lot! It produced a thump-thump sort of bump with every revolution as I rode. It was super uncomfortable, but I just kept telling myself that it was better than walking!

I rode on, just praying my fix would hold. It made me quite nervous as I thought about it. After awhile I came to the determination that I had no choice and there wasn’t a point in getting worked up about it. I would just have to ride it out. If the tire went down on me, I would try to figure out another solution or walk to Newton.

I rolled straight through Heston and on to Newton, feeling every revolution of my wheel. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. A little bit of calculation tells me that my tire and wheel size rolls out at  762.7 revolutions per mile. That means it thump-thumped approximately 26,695 times in 35 miles and I felt each and every bone-jarring one.

As I came down the street toward Newton Bike Shop, James and Heather were outside waiting on me to get there. Knowing my thread-bare tires were done and I would be throwing them away, I came sliding in, locking up the brakes for fun. The rear tire just shredded! I didn’t care. I had made it to Newton!

Newton Bike Shop(NBS) was fantastic. Jay P and Mark had arrived just a bit before me. I didn’t bother with introductions right away though. First things first, James took my bike inside and Heather showed me the direction to the showers at the civic center just down the street. Once I was clean (and wearing their loaner clothes), my bike clothes were washed for me while I ate. After eating, I found the box of parts I had shipped ahead and was given the go ahead to use the shop tools to go to work. I replaced both tires, my chain and replaced the repair items I had used in my kit. I then gathered up anything I didn’t need, including some of the things I was carrying, like my cold weather gear, and boxed it all up for shipment home. For just $20 plus the cost of shipping my box, I was given quite a royal treatment. Something that doesn’t happen anywhere else on the route.

I am not sure how all the racers that were there came in, but the list of riders at NBS while I was there was significant. Jay P & Mark were already there when I got there at 2:15PM. While I was at the shop, the following came in: Enrico, Jason, George, Andrew, Michela and Stefano. That is a whole bunch of crazy, exhausted, stinky, tired and wild-eyed endurance racers in one place at one time! We all got some pretty spectacular service.

Quite a few guys planned to stay and sleep a bit at Newton. I knew if I stayed I would ¬†quite possibly end up getting sucked into the cush that was there. It was nice, but I needed to be moving. I tried to be as nonchalant as I could as I packed up. I didn’t want a mass exodus going with me. I would rather let them all stay to eat and sleep awhile. ūüôā

While I was gathering my things, Enrico started doing the same. Mark was having some terrible issues with Shermer’s Neck, a nerve problem for endurance racers where you can’t physically hold your head up. He was in pain and wouldn’t be able to carry on. Jay decided to carry on solo and was gathering his stuff as well. I thanked the Barringers, got the obligatory photos and took off right about 6:00PM. I was the first of the group out and planned to make tracks.

I grabbed some supplies at a gas station on my way out of Newton and put the hammer down, as much as a guy who has ridden 2500 miles over 15 days can. I knew Jay would be coming and I wanted to make as much ground as I could before he caught me. I had no elusions of staying in front of him, but I didn’t want to just roll over either.

It was about 40 miles to Cassoday from Newton and James had said that the little store there closed at 9:00. I kept the pedals turning and made it to the Cassoday store just north off the route a block or two at about 8:35. I grabbed a sandwich and some other supplies. I fully expected Jay and Enrico to pull up at any moment, but I never saw them. About 8:55 I hit the road again, excited that I was still out in front of them.

As I got back to the route, I noticed a couple tail lights of cyclists out in front of me. I assumed Enrico and Jay had caught up, but chose not to stop at the store! I stayed at it and eventually caught them a few miles out of town. Much to my surprise, they hadn’t skipped the store on purpose, but rather didn’t know where it was. My previous experience touring the route in 2011 had paid off for me this time and I had supplies when they didn’t.

The three of us rode on into the night staying somewhat near each other. I took the opportunity to ride near Jay some and chat with him. It was really cool to get to pick the brain of someone with such a rich endurance racing pedigree. We carried on and the miles ticked away.

The three of us rolled into Eureka about 11:30 and stopped at a gas station for food and drinks. We all ate and packed things on our bikes knowing full well we wouldn’t have any services for the rest of the night.

I was a bit amped up. There had been plenty of times over the previous two weeks where I felt the pull of the race, but being near Enrico and Jay took it up a few notches. We had all talked about plans for the night. Jay let on like he wouldn’t stop and just ride through. I liked the idea, but was a bit concerned about the ramifications on my body over the next couple days after that, knowing there was still 1800 miles left in the race. I grabbed enough food to last if I decided to ride through. The three of us hit the road again and rode out of town into the dark Kansas night.

As we rode on, I was starting to get tired. It was late, I had ridden nearly 200 miles and the more I thought about it, the last thing I needed to do was get in a pissing contest with Jay Petervary in the middle of a race. About 25 miles down the road, we came into the little burg of Toronto. It was about 1AM and the sidewalks were rolled up. There wasn’t even a dog out moving around. Everything was still. I had made my decision not to chase Jay, so I figured Toronto was as good a place as any to hole up for the night. I said my goodbyes and good lucks to the Jay and Enrico, then shut off my lights and started coasting, letting them go on ahead. It was a bit defeating watching them ride off into the night, but I had made my choice.

I rode around a couple streets until I found a church. I went around the back of the building, leaned my bike up and laid my bivy down right in front of it. It was pretty humid and warm in my bivy, but the mosquitos were out and I didn’t want to wake up a corpse having lost all my blood to the pests. The bivy would be a good barrier. I fell asleep quickly, having completed 204 miles on the day.