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.