Sunday 27th July
I had a good week in Washington. Did a lot of resting, saw the sights, and even rode the bike a bit! It was quite entertaining turning up to the local group ride on the Bike Friday in touring guise - pretty much everybody else were on full racing machines - don't think I've ever seen so many titanium bikes on one ride. Big turnout, 60 or 70 riders. Having not ridden hard for five weeks, I wasn't sure how I would be going, but it was very encouraging to be going through at the front and pushing the pace on the climbs: Definitely surprised a lot of people with the performance of the bike!
But then on Monday it was back on the road, and the humidity had returned too (after a pleasant cooler few days in DC). Did 120 miles, pretty heavy roads. More of the same on Tuesday, but with rain - fortunately still warm so it didn't really matter; waterproof panniers are great (thanks for the loan Dan!). Cranked out 155 miles, and had just managed to shower, eat and get in the tent when the rain came back and really started hammering down! I was camped on dirt, and the rain was coming down so hard that it was bouncing off the ground and I was getting a gentle spray of water and grit into the tent! Still very warm so I left the sleeping bag packed away and it didn't really matter. Another 120 mile day on Wednesday - disaster in the morning when the computer wasn't working! Had to ride 30 miles without the speedo until getting to a bikestore where I was able to replace the wire and fix it; got to see the end of the Tour stage whilst I was there too, which was nice (incredible ride by Tyler Hamilton!). The rest of the day was tough, but got through it, and only had 95 miles to do on Thursday, which I rattled off in just over five hours to arrive at my mate Alex's in Claverack, NY. Then Friday it was only 60 miles or so up to the Berkshires in Massachusetts, back on my old training roads. I was to stay with Bruce, but he had been having phone trouble and I hadn't been able to get hold of him. But he tracked me down at the bikeshop later on, so it wasn't a problem.
My timing was quite good - yesterday was the annual Greylock go-around mountain bike ride. So Friday night I put some knobby tyres on Bruce's old rigid Fat Chance (he has it set up for road touring usually), and we went to do the ride. Lots of fun out in the woods; the bike is similar to my steel Stumpjumper, and I was floating up the climbs. I had wound the pedal tension up a little high though - whilst playing silly buggers at a rest point I fell over and heavily bruised my left hand. Then on the very steep and rocky descent of Stoney Ledge, I hit the ground really hard - Bruce's saddle is wider than I am used to and I just couldn't get back enough on the bike, and as I started going over I couldn't get out of the pedals. And BAM! Smacked my head on a rock. I have never knowingly hit my head that hard before (when I had my big crash I lost two hours memory, so didn't know about it). Felt slightly dazed but was able to finish the ride - It took until much later that evening to feel normal again, so I obviously had a mild concussion. And yes I was wearing a helmet, which took some of the blow, but most of the force hit me on the side of my cheekbone. Anyway, feel fine today, apart from having a sore hand, so no worries.
I've got another couple of days hanging out here, then it's the last two days riding up to New Hampshire and over to Boston. My mum asked me if I'd had enough of bike riding now - she should know better than that!
Tuesday 15th July
Well I made it! 3900 miles, 179,400 feet of climbing, 36 days, San Francisco to Washington DC. Okay, I’ve still got to ride up to Boston, but I’ve got six days off here first, and will be visiting various folk on the way up, so the cross-country bit is basically done now.
So, skipping back to last Wednesday; From Berea I headed into the start of the Appalachians. The roads and scenery were very reminiscent of Western Massachusetts – not too surprising since it is the same mountain range. Very hot and humid again to start with, but it cooled off a little with a big storm at lunchtime – fortunately I was stopped for food at the time. Met some Westbounders – more English folk! – a couple from Manchester, and the only other riders I met without helmets (not wearing one myself on this trip). They had far too much kit, and had already spent $100 mailing some home...... Back on the road, and I got a fair way before the rain started again. Used my overshoes for the first time – having carried them for 3000 miles already! And as the temperature gradually dropped I had to dig out my armwarmers and windshell too. When I paused in Chavies I wanted something hot to eat, so decided to dine early and knocked back a large pizza (I checked there were no steep hills to come first!). Back in the rain to complete 130 miles to the hostel at Pippa Passes.
The three girls going West I had met earlier had given me the number of a family in Radford, Virginia who liked to host cyclists. But in order to get there I needed to pull a big day to make it to Damascus on Thursday – plus there is an Appalachian Trail hostel there, so somewhere inside to stay again. So 140 miles to do, not all that far, but the terrain was very hard – over 10,000 feet of climbing, and most of it very steep. Just got on with it, and once I cleared the last big climb I had an awesome descent which kept a grin on my face and my spirits high for the final 20 miles. Unfortunately no one else at the hostel; I had hoped to meet some AT through-hikers (it’s a 2000 mile trail from Georgia to Maine). But I did beat the rain – it started chucking it down shortly after I arrived, and continued all night and the first two hours of riding Friday morning. Nice easy day of only 100 miles – and after I’d climbed for the first 18 there was a lot of downhill. So made it to Radford fairly early, and found the Lee’s place. But no one there. But this being small town Virginia, I just let myself in and made myself at home. Then there was a knock on the door, and it was another cyclist – a Dutch girl heading West. So when the family arrived home there were two guests waiting for them! Very nice folk – Thad rode the TransAm in ’98, and they’ve been taking tourists in since then – they took us out to dinner and made us very welcome.
I had considered trying to do 160 miles on Saturday to get to ‘the cookie lady’ in Afton, but decided against when I woke up, and instead just trundled 90 mile to Natural Bridge. This is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, a huge span carved by the river. And also the site for an adventure race where my friend Christine was volunteering. I eventually found the HQ and met with some people I had previously met at a similar event three years ago. Cool to hang out with them, ended up riding another 25 miles and spending the night at a checkpoint, didn’t get a whole lot of sleep though! Sunday morning I found Christine and she took me out for lunch, then later on I headed north on the Blue Ridge parkway, 60 hilly miles to Afton. After going down the hill and having to ride back up again, I found the cookie lady – she is an awesome 82 year old lady who has been catering to passing cyclists since the TransAm was first routed in 1976. She has a house you can stay in that is just packed with memorabilia from the 11,000 cyclists that have passed through. So another night sleeping indoors, very nice.
I decided I wanted to finish with a big day, and having had a couple of easier days, felt up for it. So on the road at 6:15, destination Washington. I cleared 90 miles by midday, which was my schedule to make it to Christine’s before dark. The traffic lights through Dale City were very annoying – a loaded bike is a hassle to keep accelerating, and it was just too hot to be stopped in the sun. But made it down to Mount Vernon, then I had 25 miles of great bike paths along by the river and up Rock Creek Park – fun to go blowing by people after 160 miles! The last ten miles were pretty tough, but I made it to Chris’s just after 8pm for an 189 mile / 7200ft / 11:30hr day! My second longest day ever – this trip has definitely made me fitter because it wasn’t really that big a deal to ride a day like that. And now time to rest! I’ll be chilling out here until Sunday, then heading North next week.
Tuesday 8th July
Kentucky is pretty nice - rolling roads make it slightly hard going, but very green and scenic. But the humidity is somewhat draining, the sweat just has no where to go. The last couple of nights camping I haven't bothered with the tent fly or the sleeping bag - just been lying there trying not to sweat and attempting to sleep! But things are still going well; the end is in sight now, which is nice. I am going to head straight up to DC instead of going out to the coast, and hang out with my friend Christine for a few days.
I ended up staying with the folks in Farmington for another day - since it was the 4th July and all, and the break was good. Hung out with them and watched some fireworks, then it was back on the road on Saturday. Did 140 miles that day, 130 the next and 150 yesterday. Only about 95 to do today (halfway there right now) to get to Berea; then it is into the Appalacians tomorrow. Sunday night I stayed in the Volunteer Fire Station at Utica - they very kindly let cyclists spend the night there, so somewhere out of the heat with a kitchen, TV and bed. Very much appreciated, although there was no-one around to thank, I just wandered in and helped myself! Yesterday I crossed my last timezone to finally get onto East coast time, and also clocked round 3000 miles; be time to change the rear tyre again soon.
Time to get back out and get sweating again - I think I will get a motel tonight to get a decent rest before hitting the steep climbs tomorrow.
Thursday 3rd July
This morning my legs were so dead I was struggling to ride at 12mph! So just a slow 35 miles and I am taking the rest of the day off! I am in Farmington, Missouri, being hosted by a family who very kindly provide shelter for passing cyclists - I first heard about them from Dave who I met in Kansas, and then again from two guys I met yesterday. So nice to be inside in the cool, with internet access and a bed for tonight! Also a chance to do laundry and dry kit out - with the humidity everthing just gets so damp. And then it will be on into Illinois tomorrow for Independence Day.
I'm actually ahead of scheldue, which is nice - due to not taking a day off since Utah! The roads in the Ozark Mountains got pretty hard yesterday - at times I was out of the saddle in bottom gear, doing less than 5mph and trying! But the climbs are all short - the highest point in the state is only 1770ft. Despite that, with the constant up and down I climbed 8500ft yesterday, over 138 miles - fairly big day, but fun, beautiful roads winding through the forest. But that does explain why my legs didn't want to work this morning!
Tuesday 1st July
Well we're not in Kansas anymore Toto..... yep, made it to Missouri, and finally on some twisty, rolling roads - like the route details say, it is a self propelled roller coaster! Makes it hard work, as the climbs are short but steep. And the humidity is pretty high, but it is very nice after the plains. Right now I am in Marshfield, got about another 30 miles to do before I stop tonight. Last week was my biggest ever in terms of mileage - clocked 900 miles Monday to Sunday, which might explain why I am feeling a little weary. I've been thinking about taking a day off but haven't got around to it yet.
Sunday I had my first wet day of the trip; finished in torrential conditions, with lightening getting rather too close for comfort. Got a motel for the night - the roads were underwater; camping wouldn't have been a lot of fun. In several places there are signs saying 'Unpassable when flooded', with level indicators going up to 3ft! When it rains out here it really rains!
Been seeing a few more riders on the route, mostly going West. Nice to compare notes on what is coming up. Most unusual so far was a kid called Will, riding in flip-flops with a skateboard across the rack! He was making pretty good time though. Plenty of mad folk about - though I have been the only foreigner so far. I've been camping in town parks the last few nights - which is nice because it is free, but not always that peaceful. Last night there were kids throwing firecrackers around (fireworks everywhere right now - took me a little while to realise it is because of 4th July), and then playing basketball right next to my tent. So I went out and played ball with them for a while, good for a laugh, it was too hot to sleep anyway.
So about three fifths of the way now - only three States left I think. Perhaps I'll even be able to find some fuel for my stove before the end.....
Saturday 28th June
Fourth day of plains.... only another day and a half and I'll be done with Kansas! Hasn't been too bad, but you are such a slave to the wind out here. It has mostly been from the South, which isn't too bad. Thursday I finally had a tailwind though, so made the most of it. It wasn't super strong, but enough combined with some effort to make for a fast day. I did 167 miles at 20.6mph, lots of fun! Bit of Kruder and Dorfmeister on the walkman and watch the fields fly past! You can see each town from a long way away because they all have a grain elevator that hovers on the horizon ahead. Currently harvesting time, so lots of combines around, in the fields and being carted up and down the roads. It is starting to get more humid now - it's been up in the high 30's still too though, so can't drink too much.
I was getting rather bored this morning - 50 miles of dead straight, dead flat road, and no helpful wind. Read the field notes on the map for a few miles, listened to some music. Then eventually it got a little more interesting - rolling roads, trees, cows, camels (yes really - I was rather surprised too!). Also met a tortoise crossing the road, so stopped to help him to the other side.
Having trouble finding a gas cannister for my stove - hoping to find one here in Newton now, otherwise it'll be sandwiches tonight. Speaking of which I had better scoot in case the shops shut, plus I've got 8 miles to ride to the campsite yet. So ciao until next time - over halfway now, so far so good!
Wednesday 25th June
Well yesterday I said goodbye to the lovely mountains and today had my first taste of the plains - complete with, you guessed it, a headwind..... Ah well. Monday I actually had the wind behind me for a fair amount of the day - from Telluride I covered the 60 miles to Montrose in less than 3 hours, including a 13 mile climb. Went on to reach Gunnison, making 130 miles. Very hot again too. But my legs are pretty settled in now - and felt great after that half day off.
Tuesday was a big day - the second longest ride I have ever done - 164 miles with 9000ft of climbing. Took me 10:40 riding time, so a long day in the saddle. It started easily enough, happily rolling out of Gunnison to the base of Monarch Pass. Then it was up the 10 mile, 2800ft climb to peak at the high point of the route at 11,312ft! All downhill from here.... I met two groups here - the first of three folk who I had previously met in Eureka, Nevada. And a large cross country group of 23 riders, who were three weeks out of SF. Included in their number were a recently married couple aged 68 and 76! So cool - hope I am still fit enough to ride across the country when I am their age!
After a beautiful long downhill - got my maximum speed 0.2mph higher to 56.2 - it was back into the wind, a very strong and gusty cross/head wind for about 40 miles. Saw a 5ft snake basking on the road - I took it's picture and suggested it should move before it got run over, and it slid off into the grass. At 115 miles I finally turned East, with the wind behind me. I had planned to stop here, but I couldn't resist continuing with the wind, so fueled up and set off for Pueblo - another 50 miles.... they thought I was crazy in the cafe! Got up the last 1200ft climb okay, then on the descent I got the familiar 'whoosh, whoosh, whoosh' noise of a puncture.... braked down from 40mph to find it was the rear wheel - the tyre had worn through to the casing almost all the way round and just ruptured. So a rear heavily loaded Stelvio is only good for 1625 miles. That means three for this trip then. Anyway, installed my spare tyre and carried on with the downhill. Saw a family of mountain goats in the road - they scrambled up the cliff, like only a mountain goat can, to get out of my way. And a deer almost ran out in front of me, but fortunately went the other way. It was just getting dark, and I didn't have far to go when from nowhere the wind swing right round to hit me right in the face for the last 12 miles. REALLY not amused, that last bit took forever, I eventually rolled into the campsite at 9:30.
So today has been an easy 60 flat miles (despite the wind), a chance to chill out a little before getting on with the plains tomorrow. I called Bike Friday to have them send two new tyres out to a bike shop about 600 miles up the road, so I should be able to pick them up next week; don't like being without a spare.
Almost halfway, enjoying it pretty well so far. At the end of the day, the bad bits don't seem to matter, it is just really satisfying to keep making forward progress. Now if the wind will just cooperate I can try and beat my 200 miles in a day record.....
Sunday 22nd June
Greetings from Colorado! Yes I am on to my fourth State, despite a week of headwinds.... Utah was amazing - I rode through four national parks, and the scenery was simply spectacular. I had to limit myself to just taking a few pictures, otherwise I would have run through several rolls of film! But that wind - I had a major sense of humour failure several times, especially when reduced to 8mph on the flat for long periods of time. But as my winter training partner Cameron was fond of reminding me, headwinds make you stronger! This may be true, but they also make for some very long days - over 9.5 hours sometimes.
So today finds me in Telluride; I hadn't planned to stop here, I was going to have a half day tomorrow in Montrose, but as I came over the 10,222ft climb of Lizard Head Pass, I met a mountain biker who kindly offered me a place to stay here, and there is a Blue Grass festival going on, so a cool town to hang out in for an afternoon. Plus the library is open on a Sunday, which is nice. Marked difference in scenery once again - I went from the barren desert in Nevada to the coloured rocks in the desert of Utah, and now I am in green mountains with snow capped peaks above me. Very cold this morning - I camped at 7500ft last night, and it was only 2 degrees when I rode out first thing. In two days I should be crossing the high point of the route, going over 11,000ft which should be a good climb.
Unlikely coincident: Bill, the chap who is kindly hosting me tonight, grew up in North Adams, and owns a business there. He used to live at the bottom of Mount Greylock; what are the chances! Cycling is great for finding friends wherever you go. I have seen a lot more riders around today too, I will have to come back here with the mountain bike at some point. Yesterday I saw a sign for Moab, and was very tempted - one of the Meca's of mountain biking for those that don't know. But I could spend too long exploring such places round here; the road keeps on beckoning.
Two weeks in and I am on scheldue so far - almost 1400 miles in two weeks, which includes one day off completely and only 30 miles the first day round San Francisco. If the wind finally co-operates then I should be able to pull some big days across Kansas - after all, if I can do successive days of 130, 115 and 130 miles out here in the hills and wind, then the cornfields should be easy!
Okay, time to go find some lunch and relax to some mellow music, catch y'all next time....
Tuesday 17th June
Well Bike Friday did me proud - after I called them yesterday they overnighted me a new shifter and it is now fitted and I have fully functional gears again! Just in time to tackle the 4500ft climb out of Cedar City and into the parks of Utah. Today has been all about resting and recovering - not that I have had the energy for anything else anyway! I got a motel room for two nights, as it was only a little more money than the campsite, and it is great to have someone cool to lie during the day. Tomorrow it is away from the comforts of town and back into the wilderness for a while - I don't think there is much out there until I get to Colorado, so this may be the last time I get to a computer in a while, we'll see.
Monday 16th June
Alright, so my first chance to get onto a computer in a week, sorry there's been no news earlier! I am currently in Milford, Utah, taking a midride break from the 38 degree temperatures outside. Nice and cool in the air conditioned library. I'm feeling pretty tired today, planning on getting to Cedar City tonight then taking a day off - I'll have done over 800 miles since leaving San Francisco a week ago. Things are going well so far - great to be actually getting somewhere everyday, rather than the incessant going round in circles of training at home.
Crossing Nevada went okay - had a tailwind the first couple of days, but then a headwind the last three, which isn't so funny. The desert is really quite enthralling, with surprising variations in terrain. The scale of it is what gets to you on a bike though - you can look up the road and see a turn 15 miles ahead! Makes navigation pretty straightforward though. My first day across California was reasonably flat which was good for settling in. A couple of cyclists I met on the road to Davis took me in for lunch, which was very nice, then I pushed on to do 120 miles to finish at Folsom Lake. Day two (Wednesday) was all about climbing - I had to get up over the Sierra's to drop down to Nevada. A big day - only just over 100 miles, but 12,000 ft of climbing and 9 hours riding time. Then it was onto HWY 50 across the desert - pulled a 130 mile day at 19mph with a glorious tailwind. But didn't feel quite so good the next day, and also didn't eat enough, meaning I crawled into Austin 90 miles later a complete wreck!
But in Austin I met another tourist, who must have been just ahead of me for a couple of days. We shared a motel room that night, then set off together the next day - into a pretty strong headwind. I was riding somewhat quicker than him, but we met up again at the next town, and hung out for a couple of hours before contemplating the next leg to get to Ely - long gaps between services, so this was to be a 150 mile day. I was on a mission that afternoon though, and powered over the four climbs and 77 miles to get to Ely just after it got dark, to give a 10 hour day. My right Ergolever picked the last two miles to break - not too bad timing considering, but not useful! So Sunday morning I visited the local bikeshop, and was able to sort a temporary fix with a mountain bike thumb shifter - hopefully I can find a new Ergolever in Cedar City tomorrow. Last night I rode until it was dark again, and camped wild in the desert - definitely ready for a shower tonight now!
So that's it for now - I might write more on my day off tomorrow, but for now I have another 56 miles to go in the heat..... Two States down, several more to go.