For several years, I had planned to make a bike trip across the USA, but the trip kept getting postponed by other responsibilities. Finally, in 1988, I was able to make the crossing. What I did was not unique; tens of thousands of other cyclists have made the same journey. Still, many years from now, the trip will probably stand out as one of the highlights of my life.
I wanted to leave my mark (and also my address) with people I met along the road, so I compiled "Wisdom for Cyclists," a pamphlet of proverbs and parables based on the sport of cycling. The sayings were rather cryptic to most people, but I thought they would be well understood by most other riders I met on the road. For weight reasons, I had all eight pages reduced to fit on both sides of a standard letter size sheet of paper. When properly folded, it proved to be a smart and portable little production. The weight penalty for 100 sheets: about a pound.
Although I had been planning the trip for years, and accumulating supplies for months, the actual packing did not begin in earnest until about two days before leaving. Gear for both my fiancée and myself needed to be boxed. I would never have finished were it not for the help of my close friend Clay, who stayed on until about 2 am on Saturday night.
At that point, my eyes starting to bug out, and my head starting to buzz, I realized that I still had to put away the laundry, take a shower, eat, do the dishes, and finish up instructions for my housemates. (After all, I'd be gone for three months!) I finally got to sleep at 5 am on Sunday morning.
At 6:30 am, my alarm went off. Time to get up! Merrianne met me at about 7, and my housemate, Sandra, drove us to the airport in my truck.
We landed in Eugene, Oregon, about 60 miles away from the Pacific Ocean. Since I was intent on going "coast-to-coast," we drove to Florence, which was actually on the coast. Once in Florence, we checked into a motel and took a nap. Merrianne had slept five hours the previous night; I had slept closer to one hour.
The next day, we did sightseeing in Florence, and camped at a very moist and green campground, about 15 miles inland. We were pleased to see that it had flush toilets, rather than pit toilets as stated in the brochure. There would be ample opportunity later to experience pit toilets.
Tuesday was our first real day of riding. It was hot, and somewhat humid. We reached Eugene late in the afternoon.
While we were standing around at a Safeway, a woman approached us and said, "Excuse me, I just thought I'd offer my home if you'd like to stay there tonight."
We weren't too proud to turn THAT down.
Ila James, and her fiancée, Don Ausland, were incredible. Ila's enormous house was lavishly appointed with elegant works of art. If that house were in San Francisco, it would easily be worth $5 million. A true woman of the renaissance, Ila quilted, cooked (had a home ec. degree), had a pharmacy degree, gardened, played the French horn, and cycled. And taught at the U. of O. Don was semi-retired, teaching sometimes at the Dental School.
We had dinner there, then slept on their sofa bed, then also had breakfast there in the morning. At breakfast we talked with another houseguest, Sybille from Germany. Sybille commented on how much Americans waste in water, energy, food, and packaging. She also said that where she lived, someone would NEVER take in a pair of unknown cyclists.
After stopping at a mall for Merrianne, we continued on. The next stop was Fry's Double J motel, just before McKenzie Bridge. I guess it was called the "Double" motel because it had two rooms.
The following morning, we had an incredible tailwind, and screamed past McKenzie Bridge at over 20 miles per hour. Then we hit the climb to McKenzie pass. It was only moderately steep, but long. At this point, on our second day of real riding, Merrianne was firmly convinced that we were the only ones on the road, and that we would never meet any other cyclists. Just then, Brian Hamilton appeared, cranking up the hill in steady rhythm. He and his touring partner, Debbie Ford, were both from the Chicago area.
We stopped at a campground to look for water and take a restroom break. It turned out that there was no water there, but a van stopped and gave us some. The woman in the van opened the pit toilet door while Merrianne was inside. I didn't know that Merrianne had such a loud scream.
The top of McKenzie pass was windy and cool. The lava fields were a familiar sight to someone from Hawaii, but must have appeared pretty stark to Brian and Debbie. Descending was fast and treacherous, due to the large amount of gravel that had been scattered for snow traction.
The four of us camped in Sisters, where there was an authentic country produce store. There were no showers at the city park, but the caretaker gave us cardboard disks so we could stop up the sinks.
"Almost as good as a shower," he proudly remarked.
We all made fun of it, but one by one, we eventually conceded that a sink shower was better than none at all.
Our group of four continued on to Prineville the next day, and camped at a city park with a pool. Merrianne enjoyed the swim. I did one lap and quit.
The next day, we stopped at a city park in Mitchell, Oregon, where there was a very friendly welcome cat. Showers were available in the laundromat for $1.50 each. No one was actually in the laundromat. The sign said to pay at the general store across the street. Well, everyone up to then had dealt straight with us, so we decided to deal straight with them. We each paid the required toll for the shower. At first, the tub was filthy, and there wasn't really a door to the bathroom. Fortunately for me, the women took showers first, so the tub was clean and scrubbed by the time I got to it.
In the evening, we also got to meet Dennis and John, two students from UC Davis. Everyone was carefully deciding where to place their tents. We were all experienced enough to know that the worst place to pitch a tent is where there is lush green grass (because that's where the sprinklers go on at 4 am in the morning.)
The next morning, Debbie and Brian stayed late at the Blueberry Muffin cafe while the rest of us took off. In a couple hours, Dennis and John had outdistanced us, and again, it was just Merrianne and I.
Suddenly, the chilly desert morning flashed into penetrating heat. We understood how the terrain could be so dry. Merrianne and I decided to take a detour to the John Day fossil beds, mainly because Merrianne had to go to the bathroom.
The visitors' center was an unlikely oasis in the desert - green grass, shade trees, a southern plantation house. At a shaded picnic table, we had our lunch of apples, crackers, Vienna sausage, and deviled Spam. We also picked the earwigs out of our grapes and ate them.
After lunch it got muggy. I wanted to stop at Dayville, but oddly, Merrianne wanted to go on to Mt. Vernon. Probably she wanted to camp with Debbie and Brian again, who were supposed to be staying there that evening. The road to Mt. Vernon (which isn't actually a mountain) was flat, but the 23 miles seemed awfully long in the scorching heat. I drained both my oversize bottles, and couldn't manage to do better than ten or twelve miles per hour. About halfway, some heavy clouds rolled in. It was as if the very hand of God was shielding us from that merciless sun!
It's amazing how quickly one's strength returns with a cold, large size drink. I drank a big one at every town, and still didn't go to the bathroom all day.
As we were relaxing outside the general store in Mt. Vernon, Debbie rode up. She looked devastated from the heat.
"Where's Brian?" Merrianne asked.
"I don't think Brian and I will be riding together, anymore," Debbie stammered, choking back tears.
I excused myself to get something in the store, letting the expert (Merrianne) talk with Debbie.
Everyone thought that Debbie and Brian were the perfect couple. Debbie wanted to be a couple. The problem was, Brian didn't. It reminded me of Pee Wee and Dottie. What was Brian's problem?? Debbie was a wonderful person, and pretty, too. And women who cycle are hard to find. Apparently, Debbie was encouraged when Brian agreed to ride across the country with her, but couldn't bear to be near him if they weren't more than friends. Brian liked her. But only as a friend. Debbie decided that it was too painful being around him, so decided to break off traveling together.
At the campground at Mt Vernon, it was drizzling steadily. It never did rain hard, but neither did it stop. We also noticed that they had the sprinklers on, in typical bureaucratic fashion.
I met a man at the information post, mentioning to him that the church in Dayville was a hostel to bikers.
"What!! What's this world coming to! That's all we need, some goddamned convent that's hostile to bikers. Why, can't a guy..."
I had to stop him and explain that I meant "hotel."
Mosquitoes at the campground were vicious. I realized that we had seen more species of insects in the past week than we had in the past year in the San Francisco Bay area. We quickly girded ourselves in repellent, but not before I got two bites on my privates.
That evening, Debbie came to the realization that she was suddenly alone on the trip, so decided to sprint away early the next morning to try to catch Brian.
Merrianne and I rested on Monday in a town called John Day. My wonderful plan was to carry a Cirrus bank card, and find First Interstate banks along the route to restock my wallet with cash. Well, we found a First Interstate, all right, but it had no electronic teller. This was a problem, since I didn't actually have a FIB card, but a card from another bank that was Cirrus-compatible. In fact, most of the banks along the way had no electronic tellers. Why would anyone in a small town want money at 8 PM at night? Where would they spend it? I carried a directory of all national Cirrus machine locations with me, and must have stopped at every available one, usually withdrawing about $100. In retrospect, traveler's checks would have been better. My VISA debit card came in handy, but only for luxuries, like fancy meals and motel rooms. It wasn't any good for ordinary expenses.
Tuesday was an eventful day. On our way to Austin Junction, we met another couple, Peter Furcht and Diane Sweeney. They had actually been married for years, but Diane had kept her last name. She mentioned being embarrassed at motels because their names weren't the same.
Austin Junction turned out to be just a single store. While we were having lunch there, who should come coasting in, but my friend Stewart Lee from California. Stewart and I had ridden to L.A. together before; now he was going transcontinental with two friends - at twice our pace. We chatted for a while, then parted, knowing that we probably wouldn't see each other again for the rest of the trip.
That day, we also met Jay, a P.E. teacher from Virginia who was touring with two of his students. Jay later earned a reputation as the horniest cyclist on the road. Good example for our young students.
While going up a hill, we saw a woman walking her bike. She wasn't exactly fit-looking, and had about a hundred pounds of gear on her bike. At the campground, we met Letty. Her name was actually Maria Letticia Parra, a woman that had put an ad in the BikeCentennial magazine looking for riding companions. I had responded to her ad previously, offering to team up, but I think my expected cost for the trip scared her off. She was used to traveling much more cheaply.
Letty was peculiar. She carried a huge tent on her bike, big enough for four, a coffeepot, stuffed toys, a pillow, several other cooking pots -- even a tiny washing machine for her clothes. We later found out that she had originally brought even more gear than she had with her -- she had mailed back forty pounds of stuff at the start. Instead of buying food in small quantities along the way, she went to a sporting goods store ahead of time, and bought her entire trip's worth of food in freeze-dried meals. Then she had her sister mail it ahead to towns on the route. One's immediate reaction might be to think that she was green as a frog, but in fact, she was a seasoned tourist, having logged thousands of miles previously on a loop of the United States.
Two companions, Alan and Stephanie, had started out with Letty for the first few days, but later decided to move faster.
"Oh," I remarked to Stephanie, "is Alan your husband?"
"NO!" she shouted emphatically, with that tone of 'How could you possibly even suggest that?'
Steph was the darling of the road. News of her spread far and wide along the trail. A charming and attractive girl in her early twenties, she was exactly what one would expect of a Blue Ridge mountain maid (although, in truth, she lived and worked in town). Stephanie Robinson carried only one change of clothes, no stove, no cooking utensils, and no food. She just ate wherever she stopped. If there was no food where she stopped, she simply didn't eat. Her budget was about $5 a day, which was more than adequate for one so tough. Besides, who could resist those enchanting green eyes? I suspected that she got many unsolicited handouts-- I did, and I wasn't half as cute.
We rolled into Baker on Wednesday morning. This was Merrianne's destination, but she didn't have to leave until Saturday. Well then, what could we do? We started with breakfast at the Blue and White Cafe. The most expensive thing on the menu was $3.00. Coffee was ten cents.
First things first. We got a room at a motel, then picked up a box at a local bike shop. Then we rented a storage locker (a month's storage was the cheapest way to go, even though we would only use the place for two days). In Baker, $30 buys a huge locker. It was big enough to store two cars in. We packed up Merrianne's bike, left my bike there, too, then drove away in our rented car. We were fortunate to get the rental car in Baker. There were only two in town. Whew! Business out of the way, we rested.
The next day, we drove out ahead along the route, so that we could say that Merrianne touched Idaho. We passed Letty, who was struggling up a hill. A few minutes later, we came upon Peter, then Diane, ahead of him about a quarter mile. Then, up ahead in the distance, two riders -- a man and a woman. Debbie and Brian had united again! Merrianne was so happy to see them riding together.
At Cambridge, Idaho, everyone stopped. Then we heard the story of what happened. Debbie had rented the same car that we had, drove ahead to catch Brian, then admitted to him that she didn't want to ride alone.
The museum in Cambridge was exceptional. Louise Preston, our octogenarian guide, was in reality, a part of the exhibit. She told us stories of the things she used when she was a girl, and stories that her grandmother told her about the Indians.
That night we had a big barbecue under the water tower. Nine cyclists camped there (well, technically, seven, since Merrianne and I had driven). In addition to Debbie and Brian, Peter and Diane, and Merrianne and myself, there was Norman and Linda Deveraux, married two weeks that day. Their honeymoon was to bike to Bampf.
We also finally met Alan Levinson there, and saw why Stephanie had issued such a vehement 'No!' the other day. Alan was an ex- Wall Street accountant. He once had a successful practice, then decided to cash it in and travel the world, writing a book. He looked about forty years old, like a Hippie left over from the sixties. The man was deceptively strong. I drafted him once for two hours at 22 miles per hour. And it was NOT downhill. Oh yes, and he smoked.
Instead of driving back, we pitched our tent right alongside the rest of our friends.
The following morning, we had breakfast with Brian and Debbie. A cute little dog came by the camp, wagging its little tail and sniffing around. It took a piss on Brian's panniers.
Good-byes were tough, but we finally started on the road back across the Oregon border. On the way back, we saw Letty again, and also Steph, whom we stopped to chat with.
Halfway to Baker, who should we see but Stewart and his friend Bob. Bob's knee had blown up (not surprising for anyone trying to ride with Stewart), and Stewart was escorting him all the way back to Baker (about 70 miles). Boy, were they glad to see us! We tossed Bob's bike in the trunk, and refilled Stewart's water bottle. Stewart decided to head on, and try to put in a few more miles. An exhausted Bob was extremely pleased that we showed up, as he would have otherwise had to force out excruciating stokes for the rest of the day. Instead, it was a pleasant air-conditioned ride to Baker, lasting a little more than an hour.
Merrianne was sad after the Greyhound pulled away with Bob on it. Once again, it was just the two of us. And soon, even we would be apart. We had our last dinner at the Kopper Kitchen. Two filet mignon dinners, complete with salad and pasta, cost $9.95. We stayed at the YMCA that night. For $2.50 apiece, we got the run of the place. In fact, there was no one else around. The lady in charge just gave us the combination to the door.
The next morning, Merrianne got on Greyhound #1898 for Portland. She began to get emotional on the bus, and started to cry, forgetting that I still had her airline ticket in my pack (it got resolved, later). I didn't think too much of it, since the large majority of the adventure was still ahead for me. At 9:15, I was "on the road again."
It was exhaustingly hot that day. Just after Richland, there was a long, steep climb up the parched mountain. I felt like an ant scaling one of the great pyramids. Dropping into my bottom granny, I started to douse myself to ease the heat load. I looked around for some shade, in case I got heat exhaustion, but there was none. No trees grow where there's no water. It could have been the Davis Double again, without the trees, rest stops, and sag wagons.
Even though I started with three full oversize water bottles that morning, by noon I was nearing the bottom of my last bottle. Fortunately, I had the benefit of an excellent BikeCentennial map, and my Cateye cyclometer. I knew that the climb couldn't go on forever, and yet, every turn seemed to be a false summit. There was a slight breeze - about five miles per hour. I could tell, because the dead grass was barely wavering. Unfortunately, the wind was right at my back, so I was riding in dead air. For all the times when I had cursed the headwind, I could have used even a little one, then.
Right in the bike lane, in letters too small for a car to read, someone had stenciled word-by-word in Bromo shave fashion: ICE... COLD... DRINKS. Wise guy. It wouldn't have been so bad if I had company to share the misery with. But there was nobody to complain to. I screamed obscenities wildly, but the hills had no ears.
Just then, something lifted my spirits. On the side of the road, I spotted a fresh banana peel. It was sitting just two feet to the right of my line of travel, and was still completely yellow. It could only have meant one thing. There was another cyclist on the road ahead. And not far ahead, either. No banana peel could stay yellow for more than an hour in that scorching heat! With renewed strength, I plowed ahead to catch my unseen companion. "Perhaps I can get a glimpse of him or her (oh please, let it be a woman) in the distance when I crest the hill," I thought to myself.
Soon, I began to feel the gentle breeze that always seems to foreshadow the top of a mountain. I had reached the peak! Unfortunately, I couldn't see any other cyclists up ahead. To maximize my chances of catching them, I didn't stop to rest.
As I zipped down the mountain at 40 miles an hour, my exhaustion evaporated as quickly as my sweat. On that extended 7% grade, pedaling would have been superfluous. The steady roaring of the wind was punctuated by the regular taps of bugs ricocheting off of my helmet and goggles.
I felt good. No, I felt ecstatic! I was so happy I wanted to sing! The only praise song that came to mind at the time was the Hallelujah Chorus, so I belted it out in my best operatic voice. Right as my mouth formed the "O" in "Lord of Lords," a bug flew in. Remembering how dangerous it was to be distracted on a fast descent, I chewed quickly and swallowed. It wasn't as bitter as a beetle, and only slightly crunchy. It must have been a leafhopper or a small cricket.
The mercury hit ninety-five in the shade that day -- I knew, because I carried a little thermometer with me. I sought a room for the night, but there was not a single vacancy left in Halfway. After all, it was the 4th of July weekend. Furthermore, the city park was closed off to camping because of the festivities. Fortunately for me, I was able to camp on the lawn of the Winter Creek Inn. The owner, Audrey Moore, was especially nice.
As usual, I did not ride on Sunday. I ate my breakfast of hamburger buns and V8 on a bench outside the motel, then went to church. The small Baptist church there had about 20 people in attendance. Everyone was wonderfully friendly. After church, we all went to an ice cream social. Actually, it was a joint event between all the churches in town. There were no denominational lines. Such a thing would have been rare in the city.
That afternoon, the BikeCentennial group rolled into town. I tried to socialize with them a little, but they weren't too friendly. Perhaps they were so self-sufficient, they had reduced needs for social contact. They seemed to have a well-established routine of setting up tents and cooking. I was somewhat glad, truthfully, that I had not gone with the guided tour. I would see far more adventure on my own.
At 11 PM, I called Merrianne back in San Jose. It was good to hear her voice, even though it had only been a few days. I went right to sleep after that, so I could get an early start across the border into Idaho.
Everyone I had met warned me to start early, to beat the heat in Hell's Canyon. Sufficiently frightened by the name alone, I started out at 5:48 am the next day. At about 10 am, I crested the summit, barely escaping the scorching Idaho heat.
There was a sense of deja vu as I passed through Cambridge at 12:30. Everything was closed, it being the Fourth of July. I continued on to Council, and puttered around there for the afternoon, trying to decide whether to take a motel room in town, or continue on to the campground 13 miles ahead.
On a side street, I came upon a shop called "Merry Anne's Gifts." This was a mandatory picture stop. As I focused on the sign, the couple that owned the store came out to say hello. I explained that my fiancée's name was Merrianne, and soon, we were talking as if we had known each other for years.
Tom and Marianne Lawrence invited me to stay at their bed and breakfast inn. How could I refuse? Their price was $10 for a bed, a shower, and two meals. I also wanted to hear the stories of the last few days, for by sheer coincidence, Peter and Diane, Norm and Linda, and Stewart and Stephanie had all stopped there.
Tom was quite handy with wood, having restored most of the Heartland Inn on his own. Marianne was a great cook; she made us macaroni and cheese from scratch.
They were Christians like myself, and I enjoyed sharing experiences with them. They gave me advice on my upcoming marriage: "remember the word: commitment." After dinner, they taught me the card game of Skee-bo. We ended at a reasonable hour, so that I would be able to get an early start the next day.
In the morning, Marianne made a wonderful breakfast of blintzes, pancakes, muffins, fresh fruit, bacon and eggs, juice, and home blended tea. Tom permitted me the honor of asking the Lord's blessing on our meal.
I decided to retape my handlebars that morning, so I wasn't ready to leave until 8:30. As it had been drizzling all morning, Tom and Marianne asked if I wouldn't want to stay another day. They were such great company, it was hard to decline, but I did, and I reluctantly started off again.
For the next two hours or so, I sloshed through cold, driving rain on a roller coaster road. I looked down at my thermometer and saw that it read 48 degrees. Of course, the wind-chill on a soaked body made it a bit cooler. I stopped at Pinehurst to warm myself by the fire in a country store. That was a mistake, as it was twice as cold when I got on the road again. After that, I didn't stop until lunch.
Riggins was my lunch stop. The lady at the restaurant said that a couple had passed through two days before, a couple whose description matched Stephanie and Stewart perfectly. Apparently, Stephanie needed to pick up General Delivery at White Bird. Inspiration! Maybe I could catch them.
It was sunny for a while along the Salmon River gorge as I continued on, but I could see the blackness in the distance. Within minutes, the full fury of the storm crashed into me. I clocked the headwinds at 15-20 mph, using the ride-in-reverse-direction-until-dead-air technique. That wasn't the bad part. The rain didn't come down in drops, or even sheets. It felt as if someone had turned a firehose on my face. That wasn't the bad part. Then the hail started. That was the bad part. There were no trees, not even rock overhangs for shelter. I had to keep going. If I stopped, I would face hypothermia.
Several miles down the road, I took shelter at Kilgore's Salmon River Fruit Company, a roadside stand. My entire body was cherry red from hail stings. I removed my wet shirt and tried to dry myself off as best I could with a saturated towel. After consuming about two pounds of fruit, I was ready to go again. By then, the rain had reduced to a heavy downpour.
Once again, I had warmed myself, and the rain felt painfully cold as I started again. I pedaled hard, hoping to get warm soon.
I had logged 87 miles on my cyclometer when I finally reached White Bird. Stewart and Stephanie were not there. No problem. I wouldn't expect them to sit around for a day doing nothing.
The rain had either soaked or frozen my camera; it didn't work anymore. All I got was the low battery warning. All the high-tech advantages of my Olympus Quickshooter Zoom had been instantly nullified. I knew that simpler technology of a mechanical camera would have survived the rain. I wasn't about to be discouraged. I had the ultimate in simple and robust technology right at my fingertips. I took out my pen, and sketched the scenery. This turned out to be my only sketch for the entire trip.
White Bird was so small, it didn't even have a restaurant. Fortunately, it was large enough to have a motel and a general store. I sat in my $18 motel room, eating my dinner of rolls, crackers, and deviled ham, planning what I would do the next day. Fantasies of catching up with Stewart and Stephanie spun through my head. Stewart alone I could never catch. But perhaps Steph had slowed him down. Was she slow? I didn't know. She was a pretty tough lady.
The next morning, I took the scenic route up Old White Bird Road, a long, steep road that had been an engineering marvel in its day. It was washed out in many places, covered only by gravel. However, because of this, not many cars were present. For the entire climb, I only saw one car. In fact, that one car pulled over to chat with me for a while.
Even though I never saw any cleanup crews, Idaho had hardly any litter on the road. Perhaps the people there were taught to pick up their things when they were little.
The fingers of modern technology seemed to be encroaching on even the most isolated heartland of America. Every farm seemed to have a satellite dish, and even the most rural general stores rented videos.
I stopped at Three Rivers campground in Lowell. It was there that a pattern began to emerge: Good SamParks, like that one, were good places to stay, with reasonable prices. KOAs, on the other hand were rip-offs. Oh, the KOAs had everything necessary for living, but they were all so commercialized.
On my cycling map, there was a special box with a warning printed in it: "NO SERVICES NEXT 66 MILES." This seemed intimidating during the preparations for the trip. After all, why would BikeCentennial put such a warning on the map unless it was a big deal? There were no other such warnings in the whole set.
Other cyclists had warned me that the danger on that stretch was not the uncivilized distance, but the logging trucks on the road. Fortunately for me, there was a mill strike on when I passed through that Thursday, and there were very few trucks on the road. In fact, there were very few vehicles, period. This stretch of road, originally part of Lewis and Clark's route, was one of the most pleasant on the whole trip. Except for the pavement, there were absolutely no signs of civilization. The road was fairly flat, following the streambed, and I was going upstream, which meant that I had a slight tailwind (the wind always seems to go opposite to flowing water). Before I knew it, the services started again. I stopped at Lochsa lodge.
Just as I came out the door of the general store, who should come rolling up but Stewart Lee. He had hooked up with Stephanie on the previous Friday, which explained why he wasn't about 500 miles further down the trail. Apparently, Steph had made quite an impression on Stewart. He talked about changing his lifestyle, living more simply, and less selfishly. Was this the yuppie who owned a condo? He claimed that he had to break away, because he was starting to like Stephanie.
Stewart tried to convince me to stay at Lochsa, to keep Steph company (she was supposed to be lagging behind). I decided that I would rather tag along with Stewart, instead. He wanted to make Missoula, Montana, by nightfall. As this was still 40 miles away at 4 PM (over Lolo pass, no less), I was less enthusiastic about this goal.
Lolo pass wasn't very bad, as mountain passes go. What was bad was taking it at Stewart's pace. I couldn't maintain 10 mph on the grade, especially not with full packs. About one-and-a-half miles from the crest, Stewart started to pull away, and I gave up. Between gasps, I shouted good-bye to him as the gap between us widened. Stewart wasn't even breathing hard.
Just over the Montana border, I stopped at a campground. It was still near the top of Lolo pass. The campground was green and mossy. Cute little birds flitted among the bushes. Chipmunks and furry little rabbits danced between the tents. I felt like I was in the middle of a Disney movie.
As I was talking with the rangers, a car sped up to us and came to a scraping halt. The frantic woman inside pleaded, "Can you help me!! My little girl is lost!"
She had taken her eyes off her two year old daughter at a distant campground, and the daughter had vanished. I got to take part in the rescue effort. As the rangers drove along, I scanned the wilderness for signs of a little girl, especially in the river. We went in about four miles into the wilderness, then came to a tree lying in the road. Clearly this would have been unpassable by their family as they went camping. We turned around.
Thank God, the little girl was all right. She had just wandered over to the stream, and was totally oblivious to the panic in the family. By the time we found the campsite, everyone was back together again.
At the chilly campground, my dinner companion was my usual reading material: the backs of the cans. I had a can of spaghetti, which claimed, '2 servings.' Likewise, the ordinary can of fruit cocktail also said '2 servings'. I had 1.6 servings of tuna, according to the can. I was still starving. I wondered if there wasn't some tiny mouse in the corporate headquarters of General Foods deciding how many servings were in each can.
Knowing that I had a short ride ahead, I stayed in my tent until 7:30 in the morning. Even so, it was 40 degrees inside the tent, according to the little thermometer attached to my pack.
By 11:30, I reached Missoula. Once again in the big city, I felt restricted. For the first time since I left home, I put my watch on my wrist. Somehow, it seemed important to know what time it was in the city.
Missoula, Montana was sort of a Mecca for cyclists, since BikeCentennial headquarters is located there. One of the first things I did was locate the place and visit. It was nice to see the real faces behind the operation. All of them were friendly, casual people. No one was heavily dressed.
I left my signature in the register, of course, and noticed that Brian, Debbie, Peter, and Diane had all signed in two days earlier. The BikeCentennial person said that they had rented a car to drive up into Glacier National Park, and would probably be back that day or the next. I decided to wait an extra day, besides my usual Sunday rest, on the outside chance that I might team up with them. They had mentioned possibly taking the Northern Tier (a different route). If they did, I would never see them.
Just by chance, I went into a place called "Hansen's Ice Cream Store," and found that they had Gazpacho that was as good as any I'd ever had.
I was becoming an expert at spotting cheap motels. This time, however, I looked for a slightly nicer room. After all, Steph might turn up. A very nice room at the Thrifty Western Motel was $26.95 -- or $29.95 for two. Okay, if she insisted, I would let her give me $3 to share the room...
As it turned out, I didn't see any of Stephanie or the two couples. It was a fun town, though, and I stuffed myself silly at the Bonanza buffet next to the motel. The food bar was only $3.99! All the pickled herring I could eat!
On my way out of town, I spotted Alan. He confirmed that Debbie, Brian, Peter, and Diane had rented a car and gone up to Glacier. They were supposed to be back soon, but I wasn't going to wait on the outside chance that I might see them. Instead, I sucked Alan's wheel for the next few hours.
I related to Alan the story of how Stewart broke away from Stephanie because he was starting to like her. Alan told me that Stewart had expressed his sentiments more bluntly.
We stopped at the Tipi hostel in Darby, Montana. It was Saturday. The proprietress of the hostel was Jenny Sweet, who was 13 years old. She had started the hostel on their family's farm when she was nine.
Alan gave me tons of advice on the road ahead, which I eagerly took down in my journal.
The next morning, Jenny took Alan and I to milk the goat. Jenny made it look easy. Actually, it was quite difficult to do. She must have had strong hands.
Alan left, but it being Sunday, I stayed over for a day of rest. There were no churches to my liking in town, only the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. There was a Seventh-day Adventist church in the next town, but it would have been too much work to get there. After all, I was resting.
In the shade of a pavilion at the city park, I met Norton Bell. Small world! He was a Western Wheeler.
After he left, I had a great time talking with the local children, showing them my bike and camera. The children outside of the big cities were fearless; no one ever told them not to talk to strangers.
On Monday, I hit the trail again. It was a pleasant and scenic ride over Chief Joseph pass. I stopped at Big Hole Battlefield, and attended a presentation on the Indian battle there. It brought tears to my eyes.
I ended up in Wisdom that afternoon. That town of 160 held the record for having the most vicious mosquitoes. As I stood outside the general store, I could see the swarm converging on my unprotected areas. Immediately, I put on repellent. It didn't help. Three of them bit right through my clothes.
I went into the bathroom, took off everything, and doused myself heavily with repellent. I even thought about getting a motel room. But no, I remembered the adage, "comfort is an inconvenience."
Over in the city park, I set up my tent quickly. The repellent seemed to be working, but the little biters kept swarming, hoping to find a window in my defense. I unzipped my tent, threw my things inside, jumped in, and zipped the bug-proof seal.
Finally, I was safe from mosquitoes, except for the few that had come in the door with me. I spent the next half hour killing the 48 that were in the tent. These were sealed into a small zip-loc bag and sent back to Merrianne, in case people didn't believe my story.
After all that fun, I realized that there was still about an hour of light remaining, and that I was trapped in the tent. My writing paper was outside in my packs. Further, it would be an uncomfortable sleep without my inflatable pillow, which was also in the panniers. Inconveniences! I wasn't about to let 48 more mosquitoes in. Good thing I didn't need to go to the bathroom.
It was COLD the next morning. Good! There were no mosquitoes. I ate at Fetty's, the local diner, and talked with Dave, a real life cowboy. He was such a charismatic character. Dave was an individual who seemed to have developed the wisdom of the open range. There was nothing artificial about him. A bright and intelligent gentleman with an 8th grade education. Dave knew a lot more about living than most people with college degrees.
I left Wisdom in good spirits. The weather was hot, but dry. As I zipped down the road to Jackson, I discovered a new insect: the ground bee. I felt a buzzing sound on my forehead, which I assumed to be a fly. Somehow, the insect got trapped under my goggles, and was buzzing around there.
That's when someone touched a hot match to my left eye. The pain was incredible. Even more incredibly, I didn't lose control of the bike. On that lonely stretch of road, I had to pull the stinger out of my eyebrow with the tweezers from my Swiss Army knife, and nothing more than my one-inch round helmet mirror.
Coming down from Big Hole pass, I had a 31-mph tailwind. Even though the road was not all that twisty, I had to keep braking to keep control of the bike on the vicious downhill. On my way down, I passed a couple. It took about a hundred yards before I could come to a complete stop and turn around.
Scott and Maria had come from Denver. I felt sorry for them. My tailwind was their headwind. Not to mention the climb that they were soon to face. They were already in their grannies. However, they did have each other, and I was all by my lonesome. Perhaps their situation wasn't so bad, after all.
The following day, I made it to Virginia City, Montana. I knew it was a tourist attraction when I saw that film was $6.29 a roll -- twice the reasonable price. Virginia City was a restored wild west town, complete with Vaudeville show. In that wonderful show, I picked up my motto for the trip: "I can't tame wild women, but I can make tame women wild." I decided not to stay at the hotel there, which was $28 (expensive for the area), but instead opted for the campground, which was $2.50. The campground was loaded with flies -- small change next to the killer mosquitoes of Wisdom. Crickets were common, too -- they sounded like electric wires arcing.
My stop the next day was the Slide Inn, near Quake Lake. Ferocious winds tore at me all day. I played the mental game of count my blessings to distract myself. Here were some of the reasons why a headwind is good:
At just before 10 am on Friday, I left Quake Lake. I wanted to try to get to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, because I was expecting general delivery there.
At 1:30 I made it to West Yellowstone (or "West," as the locals called it). I was a tourist, so I tried the local tourist food -- Buffalo burger (made from Genuine Buffalo!) It was what you would expect of hamburger with not more than 2% fat. From West Yellowstone, or 'West,' as the locals called it, I had thirty miles to Old Faithful. Thirty miles. Three hours till the probable closing of the post office. Ten miles an hour. Hilly.
How I wished that I had someone to draft. All I could do was tuck and spin. I didn't look up at the geysers -- I knew I could do that later. At 4:27 PM, I reached the Old Faithful post office. It had closed at 4:00 PM. There were no rooms available there, so I had to bike back to Madison Junction Campground.
On the way to the campground, I met Brian Gillette, a UC Davis student. Just as we reached the campground it started to rain cats and dogs. In our campsite, we raced to set up our tents.
The next day was short. Brian and I did some riding around the park, looking at the geysers and other natural wonders. We met a group of thirteen touring with a youth hostelling group. They all appeared to be college age or younger. Brian and I parted at the Norris Geyser Basin. He went north; I went back to West.
Soon after, I met Marge and Sid, a couple from Sacramento that who was going to be married the next month. They were on the American Lung Association bike trek up to Jasper in Canada. We shared lunch and stories back at West.
That night, I stayed at a motel. At over $40, it was probably the most expensive stop on the trip. I resisted going to a restaurant, and instead, went to a supermarket and brought back a roast chicken from the heat lamp section, a box of chicken-in-a-biskit, and some plums. I finished it all.
Right after dinner, a fierce wind came from nowhere, and caught everyone by surprise. Not five minutes earlier, it had been perfectly calm when I walked to the soda machine outside. The blast whipped up great clouds of dust and rain in the street. Everything was swaying: stet signs, the motel sign, even buildings. The sliding glass windows of my motel room rattled violently. Screens were torn off from the outside of the motel. People in the streets were running in all directions, trying to find cover. In the fluorescent sky, lightning bolts danced about and battered the nearby hills.
Then, as abruptly as the storm had come, it left. All was calm again.
I awoke early, and walked the streets at 6:30 am. The town was certainly different at that hour. There weren't any tourists crowding the streets and souvenir shops. A look at the weather channel showed that the barometer was 30.35, the temperature 40 degrees, and the humidity 0-1%. I certainly felt dry, but that might have been a result of eating an entire salty chicken and a box of chicken-in-a-biskit the previous night.
As it was Sunday, I went to church. Afterwards, I decided to go back to Norris campground in the park. Staying in a motel was too expensive unless I was going to church the next day. The campgrounds in Yellowstone had special bear-proof lockers to keep food in, and special sinks that flush. Before bed, I attended a campfire talk given by a smiling, slow-speaking Mr. Rogers type. He never seemed to blink or stop smiling. He was the kind of guy I would expect to be a psycho or rapist.
On Monday, July 18th, I started afresh, hoping to put in a lot of miles. Zooming down a grade on my way to West Thumb, I hit a barricade dead on. It was one of those A-frame folders, weighted down with sandbags. I smashed into it at considerable speed, and in fact, bounced back about five feet. Incredibly, I didn't fall off the bike. My front wheel was still true. The only thing that had happened was the frame of my bike was bent so that the front wheel was closer to the down tube. I had always wanted a shorter wheel base, anyway.
Upon closer examination, I saw that the barricade had been put there to warn motorists of a small pothole there, about the size of a pot pie. That was my first incident on the road.
As I left Yellowstone, I noticed a fire. My journal recorded, "1724. Saw what looked like a forest fire on the far side of Lewis Lake." This later developed into the great fire of 1988.
My stop that night was Flagg Ranch, just outside the park border. It was undoubtedly the worst park I'd ever stayed in. I suppose that I had no grounds for complaint. They were technically full, but offered to take me on "overflow." Translated, this meant that I paid the regular price of over ten dollars to pitch my tent in a parched area next to the sign, without a picnic table, campfire, or water of my own. They even beat KOA for worst deal.
The showers were fun. Since the campground was so full, the toilets were flushing almost constantly as I was showering. As a result, the water was too scalding to bear, even on maximum cold. I couldn't even reach under the water to turn it off -- it was that hot. Then, the toilets stopped flushing. All of a sudden, the water turned glacial. Everybody in the showers was constantly screaming.
Since I had no picnic table, I went over to ask my neighbors if I could share their table. Jerry and Liz were a wonderful young couple from Nebraska. I enjoyed their company for dinner. They were friendly, simple folks, who heated their beef stew right in the can over the fire.
In the morning, as I started out again, I was mesmerized by the jet black butterflies fluttering just a few inches off the road. Black as living shadows of the deepest night... and then, I hit a truck.
I sure was accident-prone. Fortunately, the truck was parked. It was right in the bike lane while the occupants were looking at a flock of geese. Just like the barrier, I hit it straight on, and bounced back. I didn't fall off that time, either. And the bike was okay, thank goodness.
Lunch was a can of Vienna sausages and pita bread. The sausages fell in the dirt while I was trying to shake them out of the can. After a few weeks on the road, that sort of thing wasn't even an annoyance. I barely even brushed them off before eating.
In the afternoon, I climbed to Togwotee pass. At 9658 feet, it was the highest I had been on the trip. I had no trouble with the grade or altitude; I just took it at a leisurely pace. Some other people were also slowly working their way up the hill.
About halfway up, I stopped to talk to some other people who were touring. One of the women suddenly cried, "Ow!" and slapped her leg. This was my first introduction to the Black Deer Fly. As long as I was near the women, the flies didn't bother me. Whatever made me last choice for mosquitoes apparently also made me last choice for the flies.
I continued on to the crest. There at the top, there were no fly-decoys around. A black fly landed on my thigh. It hesitated for a while, then I felt like I was being pinched with long-nose pliers. It was BAD! I slapped the fly and stunned it. A local man later told me that the deer flies didn't suck blood -- they ate meat. They would bite out a small chunk of flesh, then go away to chew on it. "But they're slow," he said, "so you can kill 'em without too much trouble."
Dubois (DOO-boys) was my stop for the night. The Circle Up campground had incredibly nice showers. Such a contrast from Flagg Ranch. And the price was only $3.
I met lots of people going west the next day. Why did I always meet people going the opposite way? I sure wished there were more going my way so I would have some company. Everyone I met raved about Ma's Boarding House in Lander. As it was 72 miles from Dubois, it would make a good stop. I decided to go for it.
Arriving in Lander, I followed a little map that a cyclist had given me. The directions said to go up 2nd street. What it didn't say was that 2nd street was a vertical wall. I was in my bottom granny, and still had to stop and rest along the way.
Then, at the top of 2nd street -- more climbing, this time up a steep, winding, gravelly road. At the top of this hill, two Dobermans came out to chase me.
It had been miles. I began to wonder whether I had gone the right way. Finally, I saw the sign. I followed Focht road to an apparent dead end. That couldn't be it. I turned around and started up a driveway back on the road.
Just then, a car came by and told me I was going the wrong way. Ma's boarding house was at the dead end. Actually, it wasn't a dead end. It was an extremely steep dirt-and-pebble road leading up to a farmhouse. My mind had automatically eliminated that road as a possibility, earlier. Only a mountain bike could have navigated the driveway. And even one of those would have trouble, with my load. I dismounted, changed my shoes, and started walking.
The earth was as soft as the green foam that they use to set flower arrangements in. My feet sunk in about two inches. About two hundred feet from the top, I saw a solid barrier of fresh horse shit across the road. There was no walking around it. I had to go through.
It was all worth it, though. Pat "Ma" Focht immediately gave me a glass of cold lemonade. The grandkids, Ray and Natalie, were wonderful. They loved to talk and show me things.
Outside, there were about 7 barn cats, which gratefully ate the milk-soaked bread that Ma set out for them once a day. There was also a small dog, which the cats ignored. Ma said that the cats controlled the field mice, and the coyotes controlled the cats.
Another cyclist, Terry, was staying at Ma's. He was a true southern gentleman, who always answered "yes, sir," and "no, sir" to me, even though we were about the same age.
The next day, which was Thursday, I got my very first flat in the over one thousand miles so far on the tour. It was no accident. It was fate. It happened right in front of the driveway of Hruza Rock Shop. There were no other driveways for miles in either direction. I walked about 50 feet to the shop, and met a very nice lady who sold rocks, wholesale.
I was amazed at what rocks really cost. She sold to dealers by the pound. Jade sold for about $3 a pound. A handful of rubies (small ones) was about $5.
In 40 minutes, I was on the road again, and took a long, slow climb up to Beaver Rim. On account of the heat, this one was worse than Togwotee. I passed the town of Sweetwater Station, which turned out to be just a gas station.
A climb with a good tailwind brought me to Jeffrey City, which the BikeCentennial map said had a population of 1000. 20 was more like it! Mrs. Hruza had told me that it was a ghost town. The Uranium ran out. There were lots of hastily built stores and apartments, but almost everything was closed and deserted.
That evening, I made it to Lamont, Wyoming. One restaurant, one motel.
The cafe was nothing more than a trailer. When I walked in, everybody turned around. I didn't think it was my fabulous charisma. I was, of course, the only cyclist in the place, but also the only person capable of taking a real suntan. In spite of this, the food was excellent, and Jody, the waitress, was very nice.
I decided to pay the $17 for a motel room that night. This was nothing more than another trailer. But it had TV, and even got a channel!
The next day, I began to realize that except for Yellowstone, all of Wyoming was a wasteland. Hot, dusty, and oh, so dry. Even when it was 105 degrees, it wasn't uncomfortable. I would stop at a store, wait 60 seconds, and all my sweat would be dry.
All day long, only a few cars passed me in either direction. Just my luck, that a car decided to come by just as I was relieving myself at the top of Beaver Rim. I pulled it in quickly, thinking I was done. Then I realized: I wasn't. It was messy. Fortunately, in the arid desert air, both I and the pavement were dry inside of two minutes.
The next day, I just barely made it into Rawlins. About 5 miles before town, I ran out of water. Up until then, I had always had water to spare. That was when I suddenly experienced the desert. It was terrible! My tongue kept sticking to my gums. My whole mouth felt like it had been patted dry with a dish towel.
On top of that, I got a flat running over some construction debris. There was no good place to stop, so I had to pull off into the prickly brush to fix it.
At long last I crawled into Rawlins, with a supermarket or convenience store as my first destination. It took quite a while to locate a place, actually. Rawlins seemed to be crowded with bars, drive-up liquor stores, and transient motels.
After picking up some money from Cirrus and a General Delivery letter from Merrianne, I started to look for accommodations. The phone book said that most of the motels were on Spruce Street. Rather than take down addresses, I decided to simply cruise the boulevard.
Soon, I came upon a place that went for $16.95 single. I mentally made a note, since I wanted to find the cheapest place, not the nicest. A few buildings down, there was $14.95. And two blocks further, I found the champion - $12.95 a night. Now, even in 1988, a single in my home town of Sunnyvale would run about $35 - if you scrimped.
As I began to take off my helmet, gloves, and other paraphernalia, I saw a kid come screaming down the hill on a skateboard. "Wait! Wait!" he cried.
"Did you plan to stay in Rawlins?" he asked.
"Would you like to stay at my house?"
His name was Matt Thornton, and it turned out that he had chased me for several blocks. His folks regularly took in cyclists.
Right at the door, Sara, his mother, offered me some iced tea, which I gladly accepted. Iced tea seemed to be the thing to drink in the desert. We talked for a while in the basement, which was surprisingly cool.
After seeing the town, I went over to the local museum with Matt. It was so fascinating, that I missed my check-in call with Merrianne. I called about an hour late, and couldn't locate Merrianne. Finally, I left a message on the machine, saying that I would try to call later.
I spent the night in my tent, under the Thornton's clothesline.
In the morning, I was awakened by the beautiful songs of desert birds. It was then that I learned an important lesson in touring: never camp under a clothesline. I never fully removed all the bird crap from my no-see-um netting.
Matt escorted me for several miles on his bike. He had dreams of riding the TransAmerica Trail as soon as he was minimum age for the group tour.
That morning, I got two flats, the second being from a whisky bottle that completely slashed my tire. The CyclePro folder, which I carried as a spare, turned out to be almost impossible to install. When I did get it on the rim, I pinched the tube on three separate trials. Finally, I just put the old Specialized K4 back on the rim, using a piece of cardboard for a boot. I knew it wouldn't last long. Fifteen minutes down the road, I found that I had missed a turn about 8 miles back. My dreams of making it to Walden, Colorado were dashed.
Actually, there was a silver lining to all the troubles of the morning. If I had not been slowed down, I would have never met Tim, Terice, and Kris, three cyclists from North Carolina. We camped at Saratoga together. We all bathed in the local hot springs (which were free, and VERY hot), and had dinner together. I gave them some copies of "Wisdom," which seemed to fascinate Tim and Terice.
On Sunday morning, I stayed in town to rest, but the others continued on their trek. I went to church, then spent the rest of the day just generally lounging around.
The Riviera Motel gave me their special rate of $18. There was no air conditioner, but there was a nice color TV, on which I watched part of the Tour de France. My room also had a desk, so I was able to write some letters and cards, and recalculate the distance and finances. On account of the detour in Yellowstone, I had to do about 67 miles a day from there on out. Not a great concern.
I set out at about 8:30 on Monday morning. Just before the northern border of Colorado, I waved to the westbound BikeCentennial group as they passed. I talked a minute with someone named Eric from Mississippi. He gave me two pieces of advice: 1) Stay at the city park, it's nicer than the rest stop, and 2) there was a woman 5 minutes ahead of me - named Stephanie, from Virginia.
Encouraged, I pedaled harder into the wind. At the border of Colorado, there were several obvious changes. The road got rougher. The fine for littering was $1000, rather than the $25 in Wyoming. And everything got humid and green again. It was as if someone drew a line between the good land and the bad land: the bad land they would call Wyoming, and the good land they would call Colorado.
At Cowdrey, the proprietor of the store told me that a woman on bike had stopped by about 30 minutes before me. Strange. Could she actually be pulling away from me? Eric had told me five minutes.
Arriving in Walden, I went straight to the city park. And there was Stephanie! She said she had been there an hour. It was too windy that night to start a fire, so I just had sardines in pita bread for dinner. I think Steph had a pot of ramen, cooked over sterno.
That night, I set up my tent, as it had been raining off and on. Stephanie went across the street to sleep under the eaves of a school. "I'm getting too lazy to set up my tent," she said. I wondered if she didn't trust me. It didn't concern me very much.
At dawn, I woke up, rolled over, and went back to sleep. About an hour later, at 6 am, I finally packed up camp. Stephanie was just getting up, herself, across the street. After we had packed up, she asked what I had planned to do for breakfast. Remembering her budget, I said I would probably just eat some of the bread in my pack. She said that she was going to try the local diner. So, we had breakfast together. We filled our water bottles there, as it was a long way until the next water stop.
Steph had mentioned that she didn't feel comfortable riding with people, so I pedaled at my normal pace. Although we had started out together that morning, we were separated within ten minutes. I looked back for her at the top of the first summit, but she was nowhere to be seen.
The road was clean, the air cool, and there wasn't much traffic. No steep climbs. But I was still riding solo. I reached Kremmling at 1:30 in the afternoon. A full hour later, I saw Steph pull into town. I didn't even go back to say hello. I don't know why. Altitude affecting my judgment? I hit the road again, aiming for a campground a few miles down the road.
I then climbed what seemed an endless extra thousand feet up to the campground. Somehow, I had thought that it would be closer. There was no charge for staying at Cow Creek Campground. Of course, there wasn't any running water, either.
There was a reservoir there, but the water didn't look too potable. Spaghetti was out. My only water was in my bottles. For dinner, I had a can of peaches, and drank the syrup. I also had some bread and cookies. No one else was at the campground. There were no tables, either. I found an old car mat that someone had thrown away, and sat on that while eating.
The next day, the trail started to level out. I started seeing tons of cyclists, but no one on a long distance tour. Soon, I realized that I was entering Breckenridge, which was a big tourist spot. I paid $3.75 for a tiny pasta salad with bread. An iced mocha was $2.25.
Late in the afternoon, I climbed to Hoosier Pass, the highest point on the TransAmerica Trail. The climb was slow. I used my granny, but didn't need to stand. Thunder, lightning, and drizzles were all over. Like thousands of cyclists before me, I stopped to get my picture taken near the Hoosier Pass sign.
It was an easy descent into Fairplay, which sat at about 10,000 feet. Right outside the restaurant, I got incredible stomach pains. I couldn't walk or even move. All I could do was squat there groaning. After a few minutes, I was able to walk a few steps, and made it over to the bench outside. I stayed there, kneeling on one knee, with my head on the bench, for ten minutes. It took twenty minutes to release enough gas so I could walk. At long last, I got into the restaurant, and asked where the bathroom was.
That night, I stayed at the hostel, which was actually a daycare center run by the local Presbyterian Church. I had to get out by 7:30 am, so that they could open the center for the children.
I had breakfast sitting on a bench outside the general store. Two college girls passed, and we talked for a minute or two. They said that it was mostly downhill into Canon City. Once again, I was taken with how friendly the women were in the area. It was normal to start up a conversation with a stranger; it wasn't a pass.
Descending is the glorious reward of every cyclist. The ride that day was spectacular. The hills had the scent of freshly cut watermelon. I had the song of a merry brook for company as I coasted along in the cool air. Actually, there was no water. It was the wind dancing through the leaves of the Aspen.
Another cyclist had recommended the St. Cloud Hotel in Canon City to me. He also told me to say hello to Lee at the desk. The St. Cloud was rather difficult to locate, but when I arrived, I understood why the place had been recommended.
The hotel ostensibly was run by three gorgeous college girls. Or, perhaps my impression was shaded by loneliness. Cathie, Shelly, and Lee. Cathie ran me up to room 305 in the manual elevator. My room had a sink but no bathroom, but it did have air conditioning. The shower was down the hall. And all that for $15! The ride in the elevator with Cathie was almost worth that.
The complimentary continental breakfast the next morning included OJ, coffee, tea, grapefruit, cantaloupe, croissants, donuts, and danishes. I had quite enough calories to start me on the road to Pueblo.
I noticed that the dry hills were loaded with fat locusts. One would not starve in that country.
Pueblo was an interesting spot. It was one of the largest cities that I visited, but was still a friendly town. Probably that was because Pueblo was in the middle of nowhere. Still, it was near the middle of the nation, which was probably why it had grown so large.
Whenever I hit a large city, there were specific errands to be run. I got money from the Cirrus machine. I visited AAA and got three maps - Kansas, Missouri, and Pueblo. I visited a bike shop and picked up a tube and some patches. And, I went to the post office.
I had never seen a post office as large as the one in Pueblo. It was several stories. I picked up a general delivery letter from Merrianne.
I also visited the US. Government bookstore, and had two books mailed back home.
At Furr's cafeteria that night, I ate all I could for $4.79. It was better food than I was used to at King's Table in Sunnyvale, and Furr's served it customers.
For a mere $7.50, I was able to stay in a dorm room at USC, the University of Southern Colorado. Beautiful accommodations. It was boring, though, as there were no students around. The showers in the place were a blast -- literally. There was no concept of water conservation in that town.
As the trip wore on, I started to get up later and later in the morning. The next day was no exception. I ate breakfast at 9:30 at a place called "The Diner" at 8th and Main. I got about a pint of hash browns, seasoned refried beans (I never knew that these could taste so good), 2 eggs, Green Chili (shredded pork - no beans or hamburger), warm flour tortillas and butter. $2.95. It was enough for dinner. This was one of the best, if not THE best, meal on the trip.
I stopped at Ding's Cafe in Olney Springs for lunch. This place had been consistently recommended to me from hundreds of miles back. I was not disappointed. The three ladies running the place were very nice. "Ding" is a nickname for "Dionisia," a Filipina who moved to the midwest. Ding gave me a free piece of pie and a key chain, her standard for cyclists.
My planned stop for the day was Ordway, but I sailed right on by without seeing it. The main highway did NOT become Main St. of the town, as was usual. Ordway was a block north of the highway. When I realized that my odometer showed I was far past where Ordway should be, I doubled back.
They were having "Crowley County Days," the local county fair, in Ordway that day. Their idea of a county fair is to have everybody go to the park, put up an inflatable castle for the kids to jump on, and roll in a couple of novelty wagons selling such disgusting items as fake vomit, dogshit, fart spray, itching power, and fart powder (secretly put a pinch in someone's coffee - causes uncontrollable flatulence).
I stayed at the Hotel Ordway - another place which had received recommendations. Since it was Saturday, I stayed an extra day for my Sunday rest. Madeline Ferguson, the owner, was such a nice lady. I joined her and several of her friends in putting together a jigsaw puzzle in the lobby.
On Sunday, I went to the local Baptist church, and later was invited to lunch by Habib Khaliqi and his family. David, their son, was a junior in high school. Zora, the charming daughter, was going to teach math in Houston. I spent the afternoon with the family, then returned to the hotel.
That night, I paid for the room.
"$4.25," Madeline said.
"TWO nights," I reminded her.
"Oh, for bikers, the second night is free," she replied.
I really didn't see how she could make any money.
The next day, I screamed down highway 96 with a strong tailwind pushing me. The map said that I should be going east, but I read northeast on my compass.
After a sufficiently long stretch of road with no signs, every cyclist begins feel uneasy about whether they are going the right way. I was a textbook case of Signless Road Paranoia. Finally, 46 miles down the road, I came to a junction. I had missed the turn onto 96; I had gone onto route 71, quite the wrong way. That wonderful tailwind that had been squarely at my back suddenly became the most awful curse in the world.
I had gone out of the boundaries of the panel on the BikeCentennial map, but fortunately, I also had a state map. My best bet seemed to be a nearby town called Arroyo. It was just past noon, and the hottest part of the day was upon me. To make matters worse, I noticed that my rear tire was starting to wear through. There were several splits.
As I approached, I realized that Arroyo Junction was a place, not a town. There were no buildings, nor was there any water. My water supply was getting low. I headed for Wild Horse, which, to my good fortune, had a gas station. It was amazing how much a person touring on bicycle relies on gas stations.
By then, it was late afternoon, and Eads looked like the best place to stop for the night. It was only 20 miles away, but on account of a vicious headwind, the segment took me two and a half hours. I was pounding hard, too, because there was an imminent thunderstorm just a few miles east.
Using an old science trick, I timed the delay between lightning and thunder to determine that the storm was 2 miles away, when I was 4 miles from Eads. The gusts were really starting to pick up, buffeting me and my bike as much as three feet to either side. A woman in a tiny, packed car stopped and offered me a ride into Eads. I couldn't imagine how I could get the bike into that car, so I declined.
It was a race between me and the storm. About 3 miles out of Eads, I spotted the city lights and drew inspiration afresh. It was getting dark, but at least I could see my target.
Once in Eads, I called the Baptist Church, which put up cyclists at no charge (although donations were accepted). Pastor Eddie Free welcomed me and showed me around.
The Lord was with me that night. There was a 24-hour restaurant in town. I sat down to replace the calories I lost in the hard 125 miles that day.
Pastor Free was especially kind, even for a Midwesterner. He offered to drive me more than a hundred miles the next day to get a replacement tire. I declined; that gift would have been too great. Instead, I swapped the front and rear tire, so that most of the weight would be on my good tire. I also made a boot out of a plastic drink container to line the inside of the bad spot on the tire.
Five miles out of Tribune, Kansas, I got a flat. A small tornado was brewing about 2 miles away. The winds were fierce! I had a hard time supporting the bike to change the tire. The tornado sounded like nothing so much as a giant, low pitched carpet cleaner. I kept hoping that it wouldn't come my way. It didn't.
The boot that I had made from a polyethylene bottle broke in half. I desperately needed to find a real tire to make a sturdy boot, or even better, find a 700-mm tire in a rural town. I knew which was more likely.
At a hardware store in Tribune, I was able to purchase a junky 27 X 1 1/4 tire, and was thankful for it. Even the worst bike tire would wear better than a cutout from a bottle. That night, I cut several boots from the tire, and discarded the rest. I knew that the specter of that bad tire would still be looking over my shoulder every mile, though, until I could find a true replacement.
The weak tire took me to Dighton the next day, where I stopped. I continued to ask the little stores along the way where I might find a 700 mm tire, but consistently got the expected answer: "no idea."
Dighton was hot. It was 95 when I set up camp in the city park. I took off my shirt and kept the tent door open, but it was still hard to sleep. Even at 11 PM, the sign across the street read 84 degrees. For hours, the sky overhead flashed, but I heard no thunder.
Then, right at midnight, the sky opened up. It was welcome relief, even thought I had to run outside in only my shorts to put the rain fly on. Lightning blazed brilliantly overhead, and the sound was as if the sky itself were cracking. I counted almost no delay between lightning and thunder, so knew the storm must have been directly overhead.
In the morning, everything was quiet. And wet. I discovered that I had left one of my panniers open, but fortunately, everything inside was waterproof. I rolled up my wet tent and packed it away, knowing that it would never dry anyway in the damp air.
It was a pleasant ride through light rain that day, being led from one grain silo to another. I could see the next stop from 8 miles away, because of the clear air, and also because of the grain silos. Anytime there were two adjacent grain silos, Kansans called it a city.
I noticed several things about restaurants along the route. When you ordered iced tea, it usually meant all you can drink. And the waitress would keep coming back asking if you wanted more. There was no such thing as a host or hostess outside of California. They had no concept of "Wait here to be seated." You just found a place and sat down. And prices were extremely reasonable! A 16 oz. steak dinner in Sheridan cost only $8.95, complete.
The torn tire was still with me, and was starting to get knobby. I could feel the rough ride of a bulging and unbalanced tire. Larned showed as a city of appreciable size on my map (perhaps big enough for a 700 mm tire), so I made that my destination for the day. The map said it was 87 miles to Larned. It was a typo -- in fact, it was closer to 99! It was even longer for me, because I took a scenic detour.
I decided on the scenic route when I came to a junction and realized that the BikeCentennial route would have me go 4 miles over a muddy dirt road. Instead, I decided to check out the asphalt on the main highway.
Larned did have a bike shop, and the bike shop did have 700 mm tires. Unfortunately, they only had one at the time, at it was a 700 X 20. To those unfamiliar with tire dimensions, this was a 3/4" wide racing tire. Using this tire would be like putting on a size 30 jockstrap as my only clothing to go out in a snowstorm. Sure, it fits, but...
I looked at my heavily torn tires, and decided that a jockstrap was better than being naked. And once again, I was on the road.
Just after crossing highway 281, I encountered what the map labeled as "Gravel." In reality, it was deep, loose-packed sand. My 3/4" tire was worthless. I fell twice, once into a patch of "Texas Tacks." I got a lot of punctures, and I don't mean in my tires. For much of the way, I had to walk. Biting flies and tiny, annoying gnats were everywhere. It took about two hours in the noonday sun to cross the 8-mile gravel stretch.
My stop that Friday was in Hutchinson. I checked into the Astro Hotel. I was in no mood to camp after that gravel stretch.
The next day was Emancipation Day -- something which I had never heard of in California. I watched a parade of mostly black people, marching jubilantly in the hot sun! Their endurance was amazing.
I found Harley's Bike Shop, which was a REAL bike shop. With great pleasure, I replaced both my tires with the proper 700 X 28's. Les, one of the guys at the bike shop, mentioned that he was going to be vacationing in Hawaii, so I gave him some tips. I also gave him my useless 700 X 20 tire. He gave me a free T-shirt.
It was clear that I wasn't going to go very far that day, so I decided to also visit the cosmosphere in town. Outside this space museum, it was hot and muggy, but inside, it was dark and cool. There was no admission fee. I found out how astronauts go to the bathroom on the moon. They shit in their pants, literally.
I had a late lunch at the Golden Dragon restaurant in town. Garlic shrimp and a bottomless iced tea were $4.80. It was surprisingly good!
Finally, I picked up $120 from the autoteller -- enough to last me the 7-10 days it would take to get to Farmington, Missouri.
Most people had told me that Kansas was the friendliest state. I agreed. It was especially noticeable in the girls. Now, Kansas girls weren't any better looking than anyone, but I thought they took better care of themselves. And their forwardness floored me. It wasn't sexual; it was just considered being friendly. They'd come right up and start a conversation. The Beach Boys were right: the midwest farmers' daughters really did make you feel all right.
They day was short; I rode a mere 30 miles to Newton. Tons of people were gathering at the happenin' spot in town, the local Dairy Queen. There was a parade that afternoon, but unlike parades that I had been accustomed to. Their idea of a parade was to have people sit in the back of their pickup trucks and drive down main street. Many vehicles weren't even decorated. I'd seen better displays in Saturday night cruising in Santa Clara.
As I was watching Dwight Beckham walked up to me and offered his house. I accepted, of course.
His house turned out to be a registered historic place, built over a hundred years ago with square nails. His wife, Helen, looked like Glenn Close. We had steak, bread, cantaloupe, and fresh corn for dinner. I had 3 or 4 ears of corn, and another one the next morning.
I found out that Helen was a schoolteacher who ran marathons. She once trained with her 2nd grade class, and everyone ran. Dwight was a retired band director and trumpet player. The two had met in high school because he was 1st chair trumpet, and she was last chair clarinet.
The next morning, after church, Helen made me a sandwich, and I set out to find the famous Ice Cream Lady. Sunday was usually my rest day, but I decided to go just a few miles.
The way to the Ice Cream Inn went over 1 1/2 miles of dirt road, which turned out to be better than asphalt. The sun had baked the mud into a hard, smooth adobe, which rivaled a bowling lane for smoothness. My ride was absolutely silent.
At first, I missed the Ice Cream Inn. It looked just like any other ordinary house. As I stood outside at the end of the driveway, I debated whether I should go up and knock. Perhaps they didn't like to be disturbed on Sundays. Well, the worst they could do was turn me away. I hated to look as if I was looking for a handout, though.
I knocked. Waited. No response. Knocked louder. Waited. No response. Rang the doorbell. It didn't work, apparently. So I walked away. As I was almost out of the yard, a lady opened the door and screamed, "Wait! Wait!"
That bubbly, excited woman was Shirley Vogelman, the Ice Cream Lady. She had thought that it was the dog scratching at her door.
She had gone into business; no longer was her ice cream handed out freely to cyclists. It didn't matter. In fact, I felt much better about taking the ice cream having paid for it. My 3 scoop sundae was $2.50-- very reasonable for high quality homemade ice cream with homemade sauces. I had a great time talking with the Vogelmans and their two friends. I signed their guest book, and took a picture. I gave them a copy of "Wisdom."
On Monday, I headed out again for a normal-length ride. Eureka was my lunch stop - a convenience store. Practically all the convenience stores in the area had fast food type table INSIDE the store. It was no wonder, if the 100 degree heat and extreme humidity were typical for summer.
In the afternoon, I stopped at a car rest stop and lay down for about two hours under a shade tree. It was hot even in the shade. When it cooled down to about 100, I continued.
At Toronto, I read 104 on a wall thermometer. Some local boys on bikes helped me to find the local lake, and gave me all kinds of advice-- watch out for copperheads, where to get water, where to get food. I picked up a package of honeybuns at a local store, and headed to the campground.
Toronto Reservoir State Park was hot and muggy. At 10 PM, it had cooled down to 85, but with the humidity, even that was difficult to bear. If only there had been a 5 mph breeze, everything would have been fine. The woods shielded me from any such wind.
As it was too warm to set up a tent, I laid my pad out on the grass. Insect repellent was mandatory without a tent. The profusion of life forms was amazing in that tropical jungle. The general problem with repellent was that it clogged my pores, and made me even hotter. I had a choice: burn or be bitten.
In that one place, I saw about a dozen major varieties of beetles, ants, bees, wasps, assorted non-biting gnats and mosquitoes, an enormous cicada, regular, horse, caddis, and dragon flies, and at dusk-- my first fireflies! They were magical! When I first saw them, I gave them no thought, thinking that they were sparks drifting off someone's campfire. There was a frog perched on the bathroom wall. A well-fed frog, no doubt.
I heard a rushing sound like a Coleman gas lantern, but then, realized that there was no one else nearby. The sound turned out to be tens of thousands of gnats swarming thickly about a park light. It was quite a shock to be camping again, after relaxing in motel rooms for so long.
In the morning, I found that something had come in the night and eaten all my honeybuns. Boy, was I pissed! It even left tiny footprints on the picnic table, still greasy from my honeybuns. For breakfast, I had one small can of mandarin oranges, and drank the water.
I had a pleasant ride on hard-packed gravel road that morning, through rolling hills. It had been a while since I had ridden actual hills. The humid air smelled faintly like mountain apples, and reminded me of Hawaii. I stopped at McDonald's in Chanute for lunch. By the time I finished lunch, it was 1:45, and 55 miles to Girard. I wasn't worried. After all, the wind was at my back.
The first 10 miles out of Chant I took at 20 miles per hour. The tailwind was superb! Then the wind began to cool. Even better. Then the thunderstorm hit. Cats and dogs. Long, drawn-out lightning strikes.
I passed a field with three piles of burning trash. The fires were mostly branches, with a few huge logs and stumps thrown in. There wasn't much chance of starting a wildfire, since it was raining, and the fires were in the middle of a green meadow, besides, but I was thinking that in California, someone would have been fined for leaving unattended fires. That night, I realized that those fires were actually lightning strikes! The lightning had blown large trees to smithereens, and ignited the heaps.
The rain wasn't cold, but it certainly was thick. It felt as if I was swimming in a warm pool. I could barely see with my goggles on, so I took them off. Boy, was I glad I had Matheson brakes!
Right in the middle of the downpour, I met a cyclist going the other way. His name was John, and he was from California. He said that he actually saw the lightning hit just 50 feet away from the road! He also said that he felt the ground rumble before it happened. If I had felt the ground rumble, I would have taken the bike down and lain flat on the road immediately -- that is, after wetting my pants. We exchanged advice about the roads ahead, then moved on. Standing still, we were starting to shiver.
It rained all the way to Girard.
I ate at the local Pizza Hut, where the waitresses were especially nice. The younger waitress was especially sweet, and pretty, too.
As I was riding down the street, a young lady stopped her car and offered me advice. She said that there weren't any motels in Girard (even though the town had a population of 3000), but that the city park had shelter. I thanked her, again amazed that someone would stop, unsolicited, to offer help to a stranger.
I dried my clothes at the local laundromat. Many laundromats across the country were 24 hour, since vandalism wasn't a problem except in highly populated areas.
While my clothes were drying, I found the first authentic shave ice I had ever seen outside of Hawaii. In Girard, Kansas, of all places! At Tropical Sno, they actually shaved a block of ice, instead of just feeding ice chunks to a crusher.
That night, I slept on a picnic table in a shelter building in the city park. It was a good thing, too, as it rained viciously throughout the wee hours of the morning.
The next morning, just as I started to get out of the city and into a rural area, two dogs began chasing me. I had to round a corner, and with the loss of speed, they easily caught up with me. I shouted "No!" but it didn't work. I felt a tug a few feet after the corner, and realized that one of the dogs had latched onto my pannier. I dragged it for a few feet, then it let go. When I was out of range, I inspected the tooth and saliva marks on my bag. Perhaps I should have whacked the dog with my pump.
Missouri looked like a different world. Soon after I crossed the border, everything started to look like a misty Amazon jungle. Plants grew with a passion in the humidity.
The day ended in Golden City, Missouri. By this time, I was getting very lazy about cooking, so looked for my favorite kind of restaurant - "All You Can Eat." There were several. I picked my dining spot by looking at their air conditioners. One of the air conditioners was dripping furiously. That was my restaurant. I wanted the restaurant whose air conditioner was working so well that it pulled streams of water out of the air.
I camped in the city park. There was even a shower there, which turned out to be not as bad as it first looked. The shower was a concrete building made especially for the 1976 bike ride. The level of workmanship was about what I could have done at home. I found a small bar of soap on the floor, and used that to wash with. First, I used pure hot, to burn away the itching, then pure cold, to prepare myself for the hot evening. After showering, while still damp, I rubbed some jungle juice into my arms and neck. A minute later, I felt an incredible sensation of heat everywhere I had put the repellent. It was like sunburn! I sweated profusely, and couldn't cool off. I went outside, and felt better after a while.
On the following day, I made it to Ash Grove at 1:20 for lunch. At Huffman's Restaurant, the Huffmans told me that a couple had left at 9 am that morning, heading for Marshfield. Right then, I decided that Marshfield would be my stop for the night.
There were some minor annoyances in getting to Marshfield. Some sections of the road had fresh, sticky tar, with loose gravel. The gravel would fly up and stick to me and the bike.
At Marshfield, I called city hall to ask about camping in the city park. I told the man that I was at the Conoco across from Wal-Mart. He mistakenly thought I meant the other Cononco, and gave me wrong directions. Eventually, I found the park. It was about 2 miles from the business district, and had no showers. I searched carefully for the cycling couple. Had I found them, I would have stayed. As it was, I decided to go back, have Cavatini at Pizza Hut, and get a motel room. I had logged 90 miles that day.
The next day, I did a lot of up and down in the Ozarks. Although the map said 60 miles, my odometer read 67 miles. There were lots of rolled-over turtles on the road. Their natural defense didn't protect them against two-ton cars.
I raced into Houston at 3:43 PM, just in case there was General Delivery for me. I got to the post office at ten to four, but there was nothing waiting for me.
Houston city park, where I camped, was the roach capital of the midwest. They averaged about 1.5 inches long. The pavilion was full of them, so I didn't want to sleep there. I didn't relish the thought of large roaches crawling all over me during the night. I decided to set up my pad on the concrete outside, under the light, which would hopefully repel roaches. It was Friday night, and all kinds of delinquent kids kept visiting the park.
In the morning, I witnessed the fascinating spectacle of dragonflies feeding. A squadron of about 20 of them cooperatively would buzz low along the grass. This scared up a swarm of mosquitoes, leafhoppers, and gnats. Within 5 seconds, the squadron had scooped up all the flying insects, and moved along for another pass.
The day's ride included an exhausting killer hill just after Alley Springs. I came to the top, rounded the corner, and discovered that it went up even more! Thank goodness there was the Country Junction Trading Post at the real crest.
I spent the next day in Ellington, Missouri. After attending the local Baptist Church, Dan and Shady Warden invited me out to lunch. It was a pleasant lunch at the Hub City Restaurant. Afterwards, I wanted to offer to leave the tip, but realized I only had a twenty in my wallet. Looking back, I should have stated I would leave the tip, then go to the register to break the twenty. But I was too slow, and Dan embarrassed me by leaving the tip, also.
After lunch, I visited the local laundromat. Sunday was a convenient day to do laundry, although I didn't have to wash my clothes every Sunday. There was no vending machine with the mini-boxes of soap there, so I used shampoo. This worked out well, since I bought a 7-ounce bottle at the store, and could only carry 4 ounces in my container.
My second best meal on the whole trip was that evening, at Timmer's Restaurant. The fresh catfish was scrumptious! And the whole dinner was only about $6, including beverage. Catfish on a menu usually said "allow 25 minutes for preparation," but this was definitely worth the wait.
On Monday, I headed out for Farmington. At this point little hills started to rise out of the road. There was a lot of up and down, and blind hills every few hundred yards. I was shocked to find that almost all the cars waited patiently behind me until I got to the crest of a hill. Such courtesy would never be seen in San Jose.
The high for the day was 105-- 110 with the heat factor. Another night for motel luxury. In Farmington, I couldn't find any cheap motels. There was good old Best Western, at $40, and the Lodge of the Knights, at $38. I went for the Knight's Lodge.
Unfortunately, the singles at the Knight's Lodge were all upstairs, and the Queens downstairs were all taken. I decided it was worth an extra $2, and decided to take a King-size bed downstairs for $40.
Such luxury! I was really getting spoiled. The king bed was big enough for me to lie on CROSSWISE; in fact, five people could have comfortably slept in that bed. The bathroom was huge! I parked my bike in it, and still had lots of room to move around in there.
As there were no restaurants nearby, I ordered pizza delivery. After ordering, I started killing flies. It pleased me greatly to get all eight of them. I arranged these artistically in the ashtray. Not long after this, the pizza arrived. I sat on the bed in my air-conditioned room, eating pizza and watching cable TV. One of my favorite channels was The Weather Channel. I found out what the weather was like in the San Francisco bay area. I heard about the weather in Hawaii. And, of course, I had a vested interest in the local weather. The forecast was 100-105 for the next two days, very humid.
When I rode out of Farmington the next morning, I noticed the Friendly Motel at the edge of town. It had A/C, cable TV, and phones, for $20 a night. It did not have 2 pools, video games, a laundry, or a spa, or any of the other things which I didn't use anyway at the Knight's Lodge.
The heat was oppressive. After just 36 miles, I felt as if I had been riding all day. I drank 6 bottles of water, 3 bottles of Gatorade, ate 3 nectarines, had 2 ice creams, a large iced tea, and a giant root beer float. In heat like that, every breeze felt the draft on the outside of an air conditioner. The water in my bottles was like hot tea.
At 2:30, I saw the Mississippi River for the first time in my life. I was not impressed. It was shallow, dirty, and slow-moving. The drought had something to do with it. The bridge over it was not nearly as long as the Golden Gate that I was accustomed to. The toll was 15 cents, but the tolltaker told me not to worry about it. And so, I entered the Land of Lincoln for free.
At 6:42, I was in Ava. I had 3 full water bottles, and had just finished a Gatorade. I felt good, because it had cooled to 97 degrees. It was 14 miles to Murphysboro. I went for it.
I didn't reach Murphysboro until dusk. I soon found out that all the motels were booked. It was my good fortune to reach town the day before new freshmen moved into the dorms. Students and their parents had filled all the rooms in town. On the advice of one of the motel clerks, I headed for a distant motel, several miles away.
I found a sign that said "The Chalet." Actually, this turned out to be a bar with a dancer on stage. It was all kind of informal. She wasn't nude; in fact, she was dressed as normally as anyone else. When I asked for directions, the show stopped, and she and the bartender tried to figure out where the closest housing would be. They told me that the "other" motel was in DeSoto, 5 miles away in the wrong direction, over shoulderless, unlighted highway. I decided to head back to Murphysboro.
Back at the Murphysboro Motel, I cut a deal with them to camp on their lawn for $5. I should have done that in the first place. They threw in a pass to their fitness center, which had an indoor pool. I took a relaxing shower there, then swam a bit. It was a pleasant ending to a long day. I had ridden 96 miles in the heat.
My camping spot was right across the street from a 24-hour Hardee's restaurant, so I got a snack at about 2 am. It was hard to sleep in the heat.
I woke up early the next morning, and breezed down the hill to Carbondale. There was a fog that morning, but it was a hot, steamy fog. The local paper said that the heat index would be between 105 and 115 that day. I reached Carbondale at 8 am.
Carbondale was one of the famous spots on the trail because it was the home of the famous Bike Surgeon. I had heard about the place since Oregon. It turned out to be a tiny place, not larger than a bedroom. Most of the mechanics did their work on the sidewalk, or in the back lot, because there was no space. I heard that they serviced over 60 bikes a day, a number which exceeded even the largest bike shop at home.
One of the mechanics inspected my bike, tightened my bottom bracket, and offered me all kinds of souvenirs, like sponges and fly swatters. He wouldn't take a dime. It was not their normal practice to charge TransAmerica riders.
At the Bike Surgeon, I met Steve and Diedre, a couple that was riding TransAmerica also. Steve was pretty buff, and Diedre was right out of the pages of Playboy. I tried not to look too hard.
There was a problem with Diedre's bike, which no one could seem to fix. She had cables internal to the frame, and for some reason, they couldn't get a new cable threaded through, although they could get a pilot cable through in the other direction. They tried soldering the new cable to the pilot, and tape, but neither was strong enough. In a flash of inspiration, I rode off to the local Radio Shack and bought a thin piece of heat shrink tubing. We used it to join the pilot and new cable, and it worked! Steve and Diedre didn't witness this, as they had gone off to lunch, but I rode off quite satisfied. Not only had I conquered the technical problem, but I had helped another cyclist.
I saw no other cyclists on the road that afternoon. It was stiflingly hot. I kept wanting to go to sleep. By about 3 PM, I had only ridden 20 or so miles out of Carbondale. I saw a sign that said "Scenic View," so I turned off. It was a good thing I did.
The "view" turned out to be a small pond, but more importantly, there was a drinking fountain there. I doused myself completely with the hot water from the fountain, drank some, and also had a can of fruit cocktail. For the next two hours or so, I repeated dousing myself every 10 minutes. There was shade there, but not much. A slight breeze wafted through the place every once in a while. Even so, I hung at the brink of discomfort the entire time.
The next day was more of the same. I stopped at a place called Rose's Grocery in Golconda, Illinois. Guy Rose, the proprietor, gave me some hot rice and soy sauce on the house.
I ducked into a restaurant for lunch at Elizabethtown. Two 30-ish women, Linda and Sharon, came in to say hello. They were touring also. I left them a copy of "Wisdom."
Motels and I were becoming good friends. I stopped at the Tourotel in Marion that evening, and stuffed myself at Druther's all-you-can-eat across the street.
A heat rash was beginning to develop all over me. I tried Lanacane, but found it to be useless. Hydrocortisone seemed to help.
In the morning, it had cooled to a modest 76 degrees. I had heard the night before that the outlook was overcast and rainy. Rain was to be preferred to heat any day. I had the feeling I could rack up a lot of miles that day. I knew I could make it well into Kentucky.
A few minutes before one, I made it to Sebree, right at the Illinois- Kentucky border. As I ate my plate lunch in the cafe, the wind started to pick up outside. A storm was gathering. The next stop was Falls of Rough, a campground 76 miles away. There was nothing in between. It would be "no prisoners" if I left Sebree. I didn't even think about it. I couldn't just stop after that minimal amount of mileage that morning.
It rained all the way. At four separate houses, dogs came out to attack me. Apparently, there were no leash laws in that area. I was able to outrun all of them, but fantasized about stopping and killing one or two. Thinking about different techniques using rope, my hard-soled shoes, and Swiss army knife kept my mind occupied. I considered getting a spray bottle and filling it with ammonia or Clorox.
The sun started to set, and I was still a good distance away from Falls of Rough. For the final half hour of riding, it was too dark to even read my cyclometer.
At Falls of Rough, camping was right out. Not after 125 miles of riding. I just wanted to be served. It was 8:10 when I entered the lobby of the motel.
"PLEASE don't tell me you're full!" I sighed, as I dripped water onto the floor.
Fortunately, they had a room. It was upstairs, so I had to make several trips with my gear. Afterwards, I made my Friday check-in call to Merrianne, and had dinner at the attached restaurant.
On the weather channel that night, I heard that an inch and a quarter of rain had fallen, but that the next day would be cool and dry, with a high of 85. Perfect for riding! Actually, in retrospect, the previous day's rain had been a blessing. I could have never logged that kind of mileage in heat.
Late in the afternoon, just as I crossed into the Eastern time zone, I saw my first live turtle crossing the road. I had seen many, but they had all been crushed by cars. Turtles couldn't run out of the way. I picked up the 4" turtle, probably rescuing it from the truck that barreled down the road a minute later. As I picked it up, it urinated all over my front brake and pannier. Probably a natural defense mechanism.
I went to the nearest house, which was only about 50 yards, and asked the man sitting on the porch to take my picture with the turtle. The man turned out to be quite friendly, and enlightened me with some turtle lore. Apparently, turtles start to wander, seeking moisture, when it gets dry. There were seven different kinds of meat on a single turtle, and turtle soup was delicious. He also said to be careful of snapping turtles (which was what I had), because they didn't let go. The only way to get them off your finger is to cut the head off. The type I had supposedly grew to a full 24". I left the turtle with the man, who said he would put it in a nearby pond.
The weather report had lied. 85 degrees was promised, but it was 92 and humid. I wanted a motel room at Hodgenville, where I stopped for the night. The woman at the convenience store said to call all the motels first. There was some big event that went on in town every Saturday, and it was my bad fortune to have arrived there right on Friday night. The woman also said to try Joel Ray Sprowl's Jamboree (which was the event every Saturday).
Of course, none of the motels had space. I went to the Jamboree, and found an enormous parking field in the back. There was a museum in front, and a theatre where the show was held. I went into the museum to find out where I could pay for the campsite.
The clerk inside asked if I was part of the Jamboree. I said no. She then suggested that I go and camp at the Cruise Inn campground, explaining that the campground out back was only for the Jamboree attendees. This sounded fine to me.
I went back to get my bike. Just as I was wheeling my bike to the edge of the lot, a well-dressed man stopped me.
"No, no, you can camp here! Camping is free for everybody!" he said.
The man didn't look any different from the other people in the lot, but he spoke with authority. I suspected that the man was Mr. Sprowl himself.
There was a profusion of tiny mosquitoes at that place. They were about 2/3 proper size. Mosquitoes were nothing new to me; I applied my usual repellent. I slept on the steps of an abandoned concrete amphitheater that night -- probably the site of the original Jamboree many years ago.
In the morning, Greer and Lucille Martin came over from their motorhome to offer me breakfast. It was a fine breakfast, and I found Greer to be very wise. He had a philosophy of verifying things for himself. He read the Bible instead of believing what other people told him.
I had trouble finding the First Baptist Church that Sunday morning. I kept getting conflicting directions when I asked different people. I finally found it, and then found out that there were actually TWO First Baptist Churches in town. There had originally been only one in 1837, but it split apart in 1880, becoming First Baptist, White, and First Baptist, Colored. The split was still intact. After church, I had lunch with a local family.
In the evening, I checked the Cruise Inn, and found lots of space. Everyone had cleared out after the Jamboree. A camp spot was $8.40, and a room was $24. With such a low differential, I took the room. The room was big. Although there was only one bed, there was certainly enough room for another. I penned eleven postcards on Sunday.
The following morning was cool. An incredible 60 degrees! Ideal. First, I visited the Lincoln's birthplace memorial, which is nothing more than a tiny shack, except that someone built a huge concrete structure around it that looks like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
It was easy riding that day. I passed through Bardstown, which was old (one of the restaurants said, "Fine Foods Since 1779"). At Springfield, I had brown sugar pie and milk at the Home Hearth Cafe. Delicious! My stop for the night was the inexpensive Cardinal motel.
My goal the next morning was Berea, Kentucky, where one of my housemates, Sandra Banker, had relatives. The morning riding was easy, on account of the cool temperatures. Then, about an hour before Berea, the torrential downpour started. Visibility was low. I would have been cold, except that I was exercising heavily.
Upon reaching Berea, it occurred to me that it probably didn't rain very much there, normally. Drainage was awful. The water was 4" deep on some of the streets.
I was shivering heavily by the time I found the business district and post office, because I had stopped pedaling as hard. There was a letter from Merrianne waiting at the post office.
Next, I went to Hardee's for lunch. Even in the rain, Hardee's had their air conditioner on. It was brutal! Fortunately, their bathroom had one of those hot air hand dryers, which I availed myself of for about five minutes. After I finished eating, I went over to the local phone book to find Lester and Mary Lore.
There was nothing like that in the phone book. I asked a service station attendant whether he knew Lester and Mary Lore, hoping that in the small town of 8000, they would be recognized. Apparently, the town was just a bit too big. I tried calling Sandra at work, but had no luck.
Unable to locate the Lores, I checked into the Prince Royal Motel for $23. After a hot shower, I studied the phone book more carefully. In a town of that size, it was practical to scan every single last name beginning with "L". I had no luck.
I decided to take inventory of my status, and wrote down the following:
VISA: $170 LEFT
TRAVELLER'S CHECKS: $200.
DAYS LEFT: 17
DAILY AVERAGE REQUIRED: 56 MILES.
At 9 PM, I called Sandra again, at home. She was in. Her uncle and aunt were Lester and Mary Lou PROSS. I had misunderstood when Merrianne read the note she left for me. I called the Prosses, and we all arranged to have breakfast together.
Lester and Mary Lou treated me to breakfast at Boone Tavern the next morning. It was my first taste of grits. They asked if I wouldn't stay another day, so I accepted. Berea looked like an interesting place.
I spent the day milling around Berea College, an unusual college that had a requirement of financial need for admission. Every student worked 10-15 hours a week, no exceptions. I went into the student center in the afternoon, to write a letter.
In the evening, Mary Lou cooked a fabulous meal, with lots of carbohydrates. After dinner we sat in the living room sipping Umeshuu with some of the Prosses' friends.
I slept well.
After breakfast, Mary Lou gave me a couple bananas to carry, and I was off. A few miles out of Berea, I encountered my second live turtle. It was midway across the road, and clamed up as I approached.
That particular type of turtle sealed all the way around, top and bottom. I waited a while, and it opened just a crack to look at me, but didn't go any further. I put it in the stream running near the road, and then it opened and crawled to the surface to stick its head out.
Late in the afternoon, I stopped at a store, and saw a full size pickup truck loaded to heaping with Marijuana. It was the local police, on Marijuana patrol. Sort of silly, I thought, since I had seen so much of it growing wild by the side of the road. No task force could possibly gather it all.
I followed what was by then routine: I found a cheap motel for the night, rested, and started off again the next morning.
The town of Chavies was too small to have a restaurant, so I stopped at the general store and got some Vienna sausage and hamburger buns for lunch. I poured out the liquid from the can onto the ground on the other side of a chain-link fence, then sat on the porch of the store to eat.
In just a minute, I noticed two small puppies licking the ground where I had poured the liquid. I tossed them tiny bits of bread and sausage. Five minutes later, a third puppy showed up. Ten minutes later, a fourth puppy joined in, wagging its tail eagerly for morsels. After ten more minutes, a fifth puppy came along. They were so cute! I kept tossing them tiny bits of food until everything was gone.
Late that afternoon, I stopped in Pippa Passes. This was the location of one of the few real hostels on the Trail. The parents of the hostel were not around, but I met Didi and Wendy, two college girls from Texas A&M, on the porch. They were touring in a car. Didi was CE, Wendy was Dairy Science. I suppressed an overwhelming urge to break out laughing when she said "Dairy Science," knowing that it must actually be a serious discipline in some places.
The door of the hostel was unlocked, but no one answered the doorbell. Didi and Wendy decided to drive about 50 more miles to a nearby Y (one can do that when touring in a car), but I continued to wait. In fifteen minutes, Charlotte Madden, the keeper of the hostel, arrived. She was surprised that I hadn't gone in, yet.
Pippa Passes was a weird place in the middle of nowhere. Everything was rural there, except for Alice Lloyd College. The academic buildings stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the town. It didn't seem at all the right place for a modern university.
The next day, I had a tough climb up highway 122, but had a bit of serendipity in discovering Last Chance Liquors at the top. The descent was worse. It was steep, and full of potholes. I actually stopped at one point to let my brakes cool. After that one hill, however, everything was relatively flat all day.
I stopped at Moore's Motel, just inside of the Kentucky border. Like most motels, it had a restaurant next door. I enjoyed a very good dinner of chicken, mustard greens, corn, fried potatoes, tomatoes, and cornbread for $3.50. The area obviously had a depressed standard of living. The motel was only $17.90, including tax.
The next morning was Sunday, so I went to the Elkhorn City Baptist Church. The teaching was right on the money, in my opinion. The people there were quite friendly. One guy even gave me a belt buckle!
Afterwards, I sent to the Wagon Wheel Restaurant -- a popular name for restaurants across the country, probably because of the abundance of old, discarded wagon wheels available for decoration. When I finished the waitress told me that Bill Brickey (my Sunday school teacher) had already paid my check. He had already left, so I couldn't even thank him.
Even though it was Sunday, I decided to ride a short distance, since it was just a few miles to Breaks Interstate Park. Besides, I hadn't camped in a while. Upon arrival, I debated whether I should get a campsite immediately, and spend time cooking and cleaning up, or eat at the restaurant, and risk setting up my campsite in the dark.
I decided that the path of maximum laziness was to eat at the lodge, which is what I did. There turned out to be plenty of time for finding a nice campsite and setting up my tent.
Overnight, a thick fog had crept into the valley. Strangely, everything, including my tent, was completely dry. I had breakfast at the Rhododendron Lodge, and then headed out into the fog. There was light rain on and off all morning.
I rode all over Honaker, Virginia, looking for the sole bathroom in town (at the Shamrock restaurant). I began to notice some local characteristics which would later hold true for Virginia in general:
After lunch, it continued to rain on and off. The passes that I rode through were like South American rain forest. Trees, cliffs, vines growing all over everything, fog and mist -- I expected to see monkeys chattering in the trees.
Damascus was the stop for the night, where the women also called me "honey." I quickly found a hostel known as "The Place," a rest stop for Appalachian Trail hikers and TransAmerica Riders. Unfortunately, there was nobody else there. Not even house parents. But that was normal; there were no house parents. The local church ran the place, and they just trusted people to respect the property. There was no charge, but I left a donation in the slotted box.
The Place had a hot shower, which I appreciated. Most of the rooms were empty, except for some pieces of foam to sleep on. I had fun reading the register that had been signed by previous visitors.
In the morning, I made a quick trip to the Tennessee border, which was just a few miles away, so that I could say that I visited an extra state. Once across the border, I took my own picture with the self-timer, and headed back.
A heavy mist filled the air, even as late as 1:30 in the afternoon. I climbed a bona fide hill in the morning. The mist was so dense, my goggles kept fogging. In that world of half-reality, I was feeling more than seeing. A voice in the back of my head whispered ghostily, "Luke... use the force..."
At Sugar Grove, I stopped for lunch. I put a quarter in the jukebox, and selected "Do You Love Me?" by the Contours, and "Shake, Sherry, Shake" (the flip side), just to see what it was. The latter tune was such a DOG! Everybody in the cafe turned around to see the idiot who had selected it. I was so embarrassed!
Although I could have ridden further, I stopped at Johnson's Motel for the night. It meant a longer ride the next day, but I especially wanted to avoid the KOA down the road.
August was drawing to a close, and suddenly, it was time to start thinking about the end of the trip. I resolved to get my return flight ticket, as well as get a haircut, in Radford, the next city of decent size.
For dinner, I went to Durham's Restaurant. The prices were only typical by SF Bay Area standards, but must have been exorbitant for the locals. They had two kinds of ham-- country and city-- and I had never had country ham. I ordered the country ham, despite the waitress's warning that it was not recommended for those who didn't already know what it was.
Country ham turned out to be like Canadian bacon that had been left out in the sun to dry. It was salty, very salty. I learned that in the old days, people would just hang a country ham in their kitchen without refrigeration, cutting off pieces as needed. The taste reminded me of Chinese salt fish. I was thinking that it would have gone well with a big bowl of steaming hot rice.
The next morning brought an easy ride over rolling terrain into Radford. As usual, the first thing I did was to get money out of the automatic teller.
Next, I found a travel agent. I didn't even know what airport would be near Yorktown, but we finally decided that Norfolk would be the best. In addition, I decided to accept a transfer in Chicago, in order to be able to fly into San Jose Airport. I knew it would be a drag for Merrianne to drive all the way to San Francisco International to pick me up. I asked Connie, the travel agent, where I might get my hair cut. She recommended a place called the Limited Edition just a few blocks away.
So, I went to the place and got my hair cut by Linda Hamilton. Well, actually, her name was Beth; she just looked like Linda Hamilton. Before the actual haircut, she gave me a sensual warm water shampoo and massage over the sink. "Standard procedure," she said. Haircut included, she only charged $9. I left a couple dollars extra as tip.
At the New Wheel bike shop, I picked up two Specialized Turbo/LS tires. It appeared that my present tires might last the 400 or so final miles to Yorktown, but my experience in Kansas had taught me not to take chances.
I motelled in Christianburg.
In the morning, just as I was pedaling out of Christianburg, a beat-up old brown pickup matched speed with me, and the woman inside called out something. I couldn't make out what it was the first time, but it sounded friendly, so I prepared my usual list of answers for people who talked to me from cars: "About ten weeks." "4500 miles" "Florence, Oregon." "It's not really that hard."
The woman shouted, "Excuse me, do I know you?"
"Pardon me?" I answered, turning my head. My jaw dropped. It was Stephanie! We both pulled onto a side street to talk.
Stephanie seemed excited and gave me a big hug. It turned out that she worked in Christianburg, and lived in nearby Ellett. She recapped her adventure. She had toured in Colorado, got caught in a lightning/hailstorm on a 12,000-foot pass, went into Arkansas, and finished up on the Mississippi River, where her boyfriend picked her up. Steph said that the road ahead was an exciting downhill for miles.
I wanted to see Natural Bridge, which was hailed all over Virginia as being the "8th wonder of the world." I couldn't locate the thing, or even the park where it was supposed to be, so I stopped at a campground for the night.
The next day was September 2nd. It was the day to go up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Alan had warned me earlier to make the climb early in the morning, but my position didn't allow that. Most of the morning's ride was along the river grade, parallel to train tracks.
At Vesuvius, the woman in the store said that the climb to the Blue Ridge Parkway was the steepest on the whole route, and that most people walked it. I tried not to pay much attention to that statement. Finishing my Gatorade, I turned right into the hills. It was 1 PM.
Initially, the grade wasn't too bad, but soon, I had shifted down to my lowest granny gear, and was standing. I intentionally shielded my mind from distractions. I did not look up, or at traffic, or even at my cyclometer. Most of my time was spent counting pedal strokes. 40 seated, 40 standing.
On the way up, I saw lots of black-and-yellow caterpillars crossing NON-perpendicular to the road.
Soon enough, the climb ended. I had seen much worse in California. The Parkway was beautiful. It followed the ridge, where only native forest was visible for miles around. Although strikingly beautiful, the Parkway, with its constant ups and downs, was almost as exhausting as the climb up.
Just before Dripping Rock, I stopped at an overlook to rest. There was a girl there, a college freshman that had driven up in her car. Blonde, blue-eyed, and pretty, she was sitting alone on the wall, sunning and writing letters. She was wearing a long tiered cotton skirt, and a jogbra (she had removed her blouse to catch some sun). The kind of stuff that college dreams are made of. I asked her to take my picture, but had enough class not to try to take her picture.
On the way down, I found Afton, the home of the Cookie Lady. It was a perfect stop for the night.
I marveled at the incredible goodness that June Curry had poured out over the years. She offered food, and even had the kitchen stocked so that bikers could cook their meals. Every wall of her large house was covered in postcards. Over 6000, I heard. She had 28 bulletin boards set up, filled with articles that cyclists had sent her, describing their trips. Tons of souvenirs of every size and type filled one corner. There were 21 photo albums, filled with pictures of the thousands of cyclists that had stayed there. On one cabinet alone, I counted 17 bags of mail. The sheer volume was breathtaking! On one wall, she had put up all the wedding invitations and baby announcements that people had sent her.
When I asked, June said that she would accept donations, but that it was really OK if I didn't want to.
That night, I made my Friday check-in call to Merrianne. She sounded in a down mood. I thought about what I could do from 3000 miles away to cheer her up.
The next day, after saying good-bye to June, I resumed my trek. I was starting to experience the syndrome of "bolting," that is, taking short cuts and pedaling hard because I was near the end of the route. "Near," in this case meant a few hundred miles. I made my own modifications to the route to cut down on distance.
I passed a dog on the porch that was so lazy, he barked at me, but didn't even bother to get up.
Although Charlottesville was off the route, I took a few miles detour. I was hoping that Charlottesville was large enough to have an FTD florist. Because the city was off-route, I didn't have any idea of its layout. I was becoming accustomed to navigation in unknown cities, however, and stuck to a main street. Soon, I found a phone booth, and looked up "Florists." There were many, but the street names were unfamiliar, and I had no city map.
I stopped a couple walking down the sidewalk. They were in their 30's, and obviously married for a few years.
"Excuse me, do you know if there's a florist nearby?" I asked.
They paused for a moment, then the woman answered, "Well, Gray's is a few blocks away."
"Oh, actually, I need FTD..." I added.
"Yes, they do FTD."
They gave me directions to the place, then we both proceeded on our separate ways. I noticed that they were holding hands. Perhaps I had rekindled a spark of romance in them.
Sure enough, Gray's Florist was about a mile and a half away, up a hill. I sent a small arrangement to Merrianne, so she would feel better.
At Woodridge, I stopped at the store for lunch. As I sat on the porch eating, two guys drove up in an old Pinto. When they got out of the car, I could see that they had full camouflage gear on - long pants, long sleeve shirts, sunglasses, helmets - even though it was a hot day. As they came closer, I noticed that they were wearing red armbands with Swastikas. "Oh, please," I thought, "Don't let there be any trouble with these skinheads." They went into the store, emerged about 10 minutes later with a six-pack, and left.
The small town of Mineral was my Sabbath stop. I ate at the lone restaurant that night, which was conveniently right next to the lone motel.
I attended Mineral Baptist that Sunday, and was invited out to lunch by Doug and Sally Whitlock afterwards.
On Sunday night, the restaurant closed. So, I went into the convenience store, and found that they had a full line of steam trays, similar to a cafeteria. Apparently, in Mineral, the store is the place to get food on Saturday night. I bought three or four pieces of chicken, two containers of macaroni and cheese, a container of green beans, a cherry cobbler, and some canned drinks. I finished it all.
Monday's ride took me through lightly wooded areas, with signs of imminent development. I stopped at the junction of highways 656 and 637, which must have been a meadow in the middle of the woods at one time. Bulldozers had razed it, evidently to make way for a small shopping center. I took a picture of the place for posterity.
According to my map, Mechanicsville was the ideal stopping place for the night. It was late in the day by the time I reached the town, which turned out to be nothing more than a suburb. A local confirmed that there was no motel, nor any campground. As much as I hated to stay in big cities, I was compelled to continue on to Richmond.
Richmond was one of those cities that showed up even on a fairly undetailed map of the United States. It was big. And dirty. I saw more glass on the streets there than in East LA. There was a lot of run-down housing, and a number of people on the street who clearly didn't even live in that. From what I saw, the great majority of the city was Black.
I asked a man where the motels were, and he told me that they weren't concentrated in any particular area. He knew about the Holiday Inn (which I had already noticed), but didn't know about any other places, except for a "fleabag" called the Central Motel.
I went for the fleabag. It took a while to find it.
The motel's office was like a drive-up bank teller's. It had bullet- proof glass, and a metal drawer for passing money and papers. I asked the man if there were any vacancies.
"Got any ID?" he responded.
Assuming that this meant yes, I put my driver's license in the drawer, which he examined several times, comparing the picture with me. He put a registration card in the drawer and pushed it back to me.
I had to ask several times to ascertain whether he would take VISA or not, and was finally surprised to find that he did. I put my VISA in the drawer, and he called up for confirmation. This was the first place on the whole trip that had ever actually called my card in.
The room certainly earned the title, "fleabag." The carpet was greasy, and the flow in the toilet was so low, two flushes were needed. And of course, there were my friends the cockroaches. Thank goodness they were only the tiny indoor variety.
That night, someone was murdered in Richmond. No news to the locals.
For the past 11 weeks, I had been telling people that my goal was Yorktown, Virginia. In actuality, Yorktown was not really a goal; it was a nebulous concept of something "out there". I had daily goals for mileage, but wasn't aiming at Yorktown. And suddenly, Yorktown was within striking range. It was a very real city, which I could reach the next day if I wanted to; it was only 3 map panels away. I decided not to push it, though, since the next day was only Tuesday, and my flight out wasn't until Saturday.
In the morning, I checked out of the motel and got my key deposit back. There was a different man in the booth, who was much more polite.
I started off into the wind. The street was flat, but the headwind made going difficult. I was pleased to discover that I had been riding the wrong way, and that the wind was actually to my advantage. Turning around, I began to cruise at 15 mph. There was very little traffic once I got away from Richmond.
Just after the route changed off highway 156, I stopped at Ghee's grocery, and had a delicious deviled crab. They mixed crab meat with bread crumbs and spices, and stuffed everything back into a crab shell. It was second only to the huevos rancheros for most delicious food on the trip.
To stretch out my trip, I stopped at the Tioga Motor Lodge in Williamsburg that night. The cost was only $30. It was far, far better than the fleabag which cost $24.50 in Richmond. I bought 13 postcards there. There was a great writing burden ahead, letting people I had met along the way know that I had actually made it.
The next morning, I took my time. It was less than 20 miles to Yorktown.
The official end of the bicentennial trail was the Yorktown Victory Monument. It was a monument to our victory in the revolutionary war. All through the trip, I had a vision of what the monument would look like. I had pictured it as a statue in a town square, maybe a life-size figure, maybe a little larger. I imagined myself getting my picture taken next to it, perhaps touching it or imitating its pose.
Upon arriving in Yorktown, I saw some stones outside the Victory Center. Could those humble stones have been the monument? I looked for a plaque nearby, but could find none.
Continuing on, I went under a bridge, then saw a flag, surrounded by some metal plaques with figures on them. I scanned each one, but none of them said "Victory Monument." I then decided that I would follow the signs to the visitors center, then ask where the victory monument really was.
And then, coming over the hill, I saw it. There could be no mistake. The Victory Monument soared grand and tall, incandescent in the sunlight. It was a symphony to behold. The air was clear, and the cool seabreeze drifted in from the river.
I spent some time sitting on the steps at the base of the monument, praying and reflecting on my experiences. The trip wasn't over yet, but it was rapidly drawing to a close. I asked a passerby to take my picture.
After a while, I decided to move on. I went to the airport at Newport News and reserved a mini-van for Thursday-Friday-Saturday. I had decided to save a little money by not taking the car immediately. Furthermore, I found that I would only be charged for two days if I kept the car less than 48 hours.
I bedded down at the Econo Lodge near the airport. At $29, it was cheap, considering its location.
Still on bike the next morning, I scouted out the bike shops that I had found in the phone book the night before. I needed an empty carton in which to package my bicycle for the return trip.
The first place I hit was Conte's Bike Shop - "The largest bike shop on the east coast." They must not have biked much on the east coast, because the store was of mediocre size by California standards. The man in the shop showed me an article about two boys from Newport News who had biked across the U.S. It was Gene and Chris!
Having located the boxes, there was not much more for me to do. I would need to get packing materials and such, but these could wait until I got the van. I played video games to kill time.
In the afternoon, it started to rain. It was a slippery ride to the airport because of the fine layer of wet clay on the shoulder. At 3:30, I got the caravan, loaded my bike in, and was instantly a lot more mobile.
I drove around, trying to find a place for dinner. I got caught on freeways, one-way streets, and just generally kept getting lost. It was hard just finding places to stop to look at the map. In three months, I had forgotten how much I hated driving, especially driving without a navigator.
After dinner, I somehow got caught in a bridge-tunnel and was forced to go to Norfolk, where I wandered aimlessly. I stopped and looked at a phone book for campgrounds, but found that there were none in the vicinity. Since I had a nice van, I didn't see the point in paying for a motel again. I found a nice big empty parking lot in front of a shopping center called Gene Walter's marketplace.
Locking the doors, I found a comfortable position on the floor under the seat, and went to sleep.
At 1:48 am, I heard a rattling at the door, then saw some flashlights shining in.
"Hey!" I shouted loudly, hoping to scare away the thief.
"Norfolk police," was the answer.
It was just a local patrol. I had left the headlights on, and they just wanted to make sure I was okay. After I explained that I was cycling, and was flying back to California on Saturday, they didn't seem to mind that I was stopped for the night.
In the morning, I went into Gene Walter's, which turned out to be a 24-hour variety store, and got some food for breakfast. I also picked up some rope, strapping tape, and a marker.
I got my bike box from a local shop, then found myself faced with more free time. I decided to visit the Chrysler museum, which turned out to be fascinating. They had art from all periods and locations.
Afterwards, I decided that I needed to get a motel room. I needed a workspace to use for packing all my things. I found a place and had almost everything packed by evening.
The following morning, Saturday morning, I finished up the little bits of packing that were left. Once again, I was faced with a tremendous amount of free time. I bowled two lines at a local bowling alley, which took all of about 15 minutes. It went surprisingly fast, by myself, and wasn't especially fun. I also played video games to kill time.
I flew out of Norfolk at about 5 PM. There was a stopover in Chicago, where I had hoped to find some flowers for Merrianne. There weren't any.
At about 9:30 PM, I touched down in San Jose. Merrianne was at the airport to greet me, and to my surprise, about a dozen other friends. It was truly a grand reception, with even a little welcome sign. Afterwards, we went to Merrianne's for sushi and conversation.
If there was one thing I learned from the crossing, it was that most of the country was NOT like the coasts. In spite of what one hears on the news, the vast majority of the country is friendly, trusting, and generous almost to a fault. There's hope for us, yet!