Thursday, 30 June 2011

Day 28: Houston, I have a problem (with the heat and the hills!)

Day 28
Ellington to Houston 71miles

Well that's not a nice start to the end of my 4th week on the road! I had read other peoples accounts stating that the 30odd mile stretch from Ellington to Alley Springs was a particularly tough section with lots of ups and downs. And it certainly was tough. The fierce sun, even early in the day made it doubly so. There were some really severe up and downs. Probably the best way to describe how steep some of them were is that I set a new highest speed of 43.5mph on one of the downhill sections!

The going was pretty slow, and it took me around 3hours to do the 27miles to Eminence for some food and a much needed gatorade. Afterwards there was one more horrid climb up from the Jack's Fork river. I ended up having to push my bike up it at one point. I dont think I've ever sweated so much in my life!

But eventually reached a plateau in the Ozark mountains, and afterwards the last 35miles were easier. Having reached the plateau, the route tended to stay up there, with only small undulations meaning I could slowly get my average speed above 10mph for the day!

Whenever I could I would stop to fill up my water bottles and drink as much cold gatorade as I could. At one stop I managed to drink over a litre in a matter of minutes!

Eventually made it to Houston, Texas (county!). I wonder if there is also a Dallas and a San Antonio in Texas County too!

Just so hot today. Combined with the tough hills at the start, I can feel my legs are a bit sore tonight.

Probably not the most interesting entry, sorry! Today was just one of those days that I kind of just had to get through without being overly memorable. Hopefully tomorrow will bring some more interesting stories!

But that wraps up 4 full weeks on the route. Things seem to be going pretty well in the last couple of weeks. Managed to get my mileage up nicely. It seems to have gone really quickly – without looking back through my blog I would never be able to remember all the places I have stayed! Hopefully the next 2 weeks, taking me up to half way, will see me cross Kansas and get beyond the approximate half way point of Pueblo, Colorado.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Day 27: Saving the world one tortoise at a time

Day 27
Farmington to Ellington 62miles

Managed to escape from prison by about 7.30. Could tell it was going to be a hot day today.
Decided to take a slight detour today. I'd read that some people have found it difficult to identify an unmarked bike route outside of Farmington, so I stuck to the main road. In terms of distance it only saved me about 2miles, but it was simple to follow.

Today was another decent riding day. Into the Ozarks now, but none of the climbs have been too bad. I think one important difference to the Appalachians is that the roads are much straighter so you can often see the summit of the uphill. It's much easier to push on a bit to the top when you can actually see that you are making progress. The twisty-turny climbs of Virginia never really allowed you to see how close to the top you might have been.

Soon after breakfast I carried out what seems to be almost a TransAm rite of passage – saving a tortoise! Sadly you do see a lot of crushed tortoise shells on the side of the roads out here. Obviously they dont have the turn of pace of some other animals to try and make a dash for it if a car approaches.

So when I found this little guy inching his was across the asphalt, I stopped and carried him over to the other side.

So one less bit of roakill. And you do see a lot of it here. And with much more variety than in the UK. Back home you get rabbits, squirrels, birds, foxes and maybe the odd badger or deer. So far (from what I can recall), I've seen racoons, skunks, possums, snakes, tortoises, huge birds, deer, rabbits and probably some others. And god do they stink! Lying around baking in the sun makes them produce a particularly foul stench. You can always tell when you approaching the next one!

Progress was going well, and after about 35miles I came across Johnson's Shut-Ins state park. Initially I was just going to pop in to fill up my water bottles. Had to cycle about a quarter of a mile into the park to get to the shop. And then I saw lots of people dressed for swimming. Checked with the woman in the shop, and there was a river nearby to swim in. So I gave her my panniers to look after, changed into my swimming gear and went for a paddle. The “Shut-Ins” are a geological feature caused by rivers being shut in by a specific type of rock. The end result is lots of little channels carved into the rock by the water. As you can see here.

It actually looked really cool – the effect was to create lots of little rapids that you could ride between the rocks. But in reality you needed something decent on your feet. Had I known, I would have worn my walking shoes and then just dried them out on the back of my bike. But I was more than happy to paddle in the calm waters and cool off a bit.

Was actually really nice to be able to take some time out from riding and relax a bit. The advantage of my comparatively low daily mileage requirement is that I dont have to be in the saddle all day.

The last part of the ride was a series of sweeping up and downs, but pretty enjoyable.

Arrived in Ellington, hoping to stay with a guy called Herman. Herman regularly hosts cross country cyclists, although sadly when I spoke to him today he wasnt feeling well so not up for hosting. So a motel it is!

Another solid day on the road. Its good that a 60+ mile day doesnt really seem to tire me out now – means I should be able to reach Astoria for my planned finishing date even if I were to encounter a few unforeseen delays along the way.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Day 26: Spending the night in jail

Day 26
Chester, Il to Farmington, MO 48 miles

Weather outlook was much better today, and after filling up with breakfast in the hotel I was on my way.

Quickly crossed the bridge and made it into Missouri – the 4th out of 10 States I will be passing through.
Look at all that lovely flat riding!

And the early riding was lovely – dead flat and little wind. It's interesting comparing my experiences to that of other riders. There is one british guy who started a month before me who, in his blog, said he found the exact same ride I did today to be horrible. Huge head winds kept him and his group from making any sort of progress. Whereas it was the complete opposite for me!

The whole section through Missouri takes me through the Ozark mountains. Although they are not as high as the Appalachians – I think the highest elevation I'll do in them is around 1400ft. And today even the climbing was nice. It was lots of shortish sections of uphill (none of which were horribly steep) punctuated by bits of flat or the odd downhill section. Progress was pretty quick, and the weather was perfect for cycling.
Just trying out some of the new features on my camera's updated software!

The last 20miles or so actually reminded me a lot more of biking in the English countryside than any other day so far. The roads were undulating rather the severe up and downs, the fields weren't full of tobacco plants and there were no big rock bluffs on the side of the road.
Could almost be back in good old Blighty

All in all, after a great days riding, I arrived in Farmington around 1pm. I must have done something pretty wrong, as I quickly ended up in the local jail!

Not to worry though, as the old county jail house has been converted into “Al's place” - a cyclist hostel for people doing the TransAm! Its dedicated to local cycling enthusiast Al Dziewa who sadly died from cancer. In his honour they turned the disused building into an awesome place for cyclists to stay. It has a load of dorm rooms, each with matresses, bedding and towels. There's showers, laundry facilites, a kitchen, wifi and cable TV! A great place to stay.
Probably another Olympic bribery scandal!

Across the road is a bike shop so I put Whiskey in for a service. Nothing really wrong, but after 1200miles it would be good to get everything tightened up and running smoothly. Also managed to shed a bit of excess weight by getting my hair cut – every gram counts! At least it means I wont get 'helmet hair' again for a while – where my head has distinct ridges cut into the hair from wearing my helmet all day.

An excellent days riding overall. Actually not to worried to arrive a day later than planned. Gave me time to get some things done which wouldnt have been possible if I had arrived at 4-5pm.  

Monday, 27 June 2011

Day 25: Washed out in Popeye land

Day 25
Carbondale to Chester 40miles

Another early start today, as I planed to get to Farmington.

On the road by 7am. Decided to go slightly off route today to cut out a few miles. The maps actually had two alternate routes you could take from Murphysboro (just past Carbondale) to Chester. One hilly, the other flatter and going along the Mississippi. I decided to go for New-Labourish 'Third Way', which involved staying on the main road for a bit before joining up with the Mississippi route later.

It turned out to be a great decision. The riding was some of the flattest of the entire trip. Actually gave me a good idea of what I can expect to achieve when I reach Kansas.

I could see what effect all the recent rain had had on the area. There were fields which were almost completely underwater and trees for which you could only see the top – the trunks were submerged. I had one little shower get me a bit wet, and also passed under one of the most ominous looking clouds ever.

But overall the ride was going well. Averaging over 14mph, I expected to get into Chester before 10am, and then cross over into Missouri. As I approached Chester the road got really busy with heavy truck traffic. There was a loading area on the side of the river and trucks were constantly coming out of it. Made for some quite scary riding in parts.

But then from everything going swimmingly, it was suddenly going, well, swimming. An absolute downpour of rain soaked me to the skin within seconds. And just kept getting heavier and heavier. With the huge trucks shooting past me all the time, getting buffeted by winds and slowly struggling up the hill into Chester, it was quite scary riding.
Wasnt feeling very welcome by the time I arrived!

Made it into Chester, and headed to the first restaurant I could find to get out of the rain and get something warm inside me. I few conversations with the locals seemed to suggest that the rain wasnt going anywhere anytime soon. So I deciced to call it a day and find somewhere to stay. It wasnt the end of the world. By taking the shortcut I did, I probably covered 50miles on the actual route, so wont have lost too much time.

Managed to find a hotel which would let me check in early. Even the short ride there left me very soggy (had my rain coat on by this point). I think the woman behind the desk took pity on me, as she gave me a disounted rate! At least I could get dried off.

By about 1pm the sun had managed to come out, so I decided to explore the town. The main claim to fame of Chester is that it is the home of Popeye! Apparently the creator of Popeye based the characters on real people in the town! So my first stop was the Popeye museum. The woman in there was very friendly (even let me have a free postcard). Turns out there are statues of the main characters all around the town, and she gave me a “map to the Stars” showing where they were! So I went on a little exploration on my bike to find some of them. Was actually nice to be able to spend a bit of time in a town doing something a bit different.
Some of the statues I managed to find
The Popeye statue was right down by the bridge over the mississippi that I will now be taking tomorrow. You could see that the river waters were a lot higher than they would be expected to be.
Tomorrow I WILL cross this bridge!

I think tomorrow I'll still aim for Farmington. There is a free cyclists hostel there, and also a bike shop. Might chuck Whiskey in for a quick service as the bike shops in Carbondale were all shut on my rest day as it was a Sunday. Might also try to get my hair cut! The big miles of the last week mean I dont have to be too concerned about losing a day. My plan is still to get to Pueblo within 40days of starting. Should hopefully still be able to do that. If I can average over 15mph on the flat ground then, weather permitting, could get through Kansas pretty quickly.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Day 24: Hanging out in Carbondale

Day 24

Rest day!

Went out for a few drinks last night with Sam and Cory. Went to a mexican bar/restaurant with live bands. Pretty good night all in all. Although someone did mistake my accent for Australian at one point.

The combination of a few too many drinks, along with being out of practice, meant I felt pretty rough in the morning. When I woke up I thought I must have drunkenly left the taps running in the sink as the carpet and bathroom were soaked. But once I looked out the window I saw why. The carpark was full of water. Apparently the area had 8inches of rain in just 1 hour at some point last night, and a lot of rooms were like mine! Very glad I wasnt camping last night!

Today was really about doing very little that was strenuous. Had to plan out my likely stops for the next section of maps. Tomorrow I'll cross the Mississippi river and get into Missouri and then its about 400miles to Kansas. The next section goes through the Ozark mountains, which apparently have some steep gradients. My plan is to do a long day tomorrow to try and get to Farmington, and then do a few days of around 60miles to make it through to Kansas.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Day 23: Being fuelled by free milkshakes

Day 23
Cave In Rock to Carbondale 87miles

Up nice and early this morning – alarm went off at 6am. The good thing about staying in motels (even this one) is that you can pack up pretty much everything the night before. With no tent to sort out, I was up and out the door within 30minutes. Sky was a bit grey, and it was raining slightly.

I set off early as I ideally wanted to get to Carbondale, although after the long miles of the last few days wasnt sure how tired I might be.

Pretty soon the heavens opened and I got absolutely drenched. Thankfully it wasnt cold though, so at least I could keep riding without needing to get changed.

I find it helps to set intermediate goals during the day, rather than just think of it as one long day in the saddle. Often I try and roughly make this correspond to each little map section I'm following. Each section is around 30-40miles, and so it feels good to try and tick them off. My first little goal was to get to Eddysville and have some breakfast. 30 odd miles of quite tough riding. Some little steep bits slowed my progress, but I made it there and stopped for a sandwich and the now ubiquitous Gatorade! The store also had Wifi, so I could use it to check for some motels in Carbondale whilst having a rest!

I had left Whiskey parked outside, and after a few minutes a guy came in asking if there was a cyclist in the shop. The woman behind the desk pointed me out, and the guy came over. Turns out he was part of a couple who I had heard about a few times from other hosts. His name was Spencer, and along with his girlfriend Natasha and their dog Augustus, they were biking from Berea to Utah. Ended up spending a while chatting about things – people we'd stayed with, other bikers on the route etc. Certainly seems like there are little sub-cohorts of riders on the route. Maybe a weeks worth at a time, who you kind of hear about and who are always within a day or so of you, either behind or ahead. When you catch up with someone you hear about, it kind of feels like you're overtaking them! Doubtless there a people a couple of days behind me who keep hearing about the slow moving British guy with the weird alien on the front of his bike. And in time, most of them probably will catch up and pass me!

They were towing Augustus in one of those little trailers that people use for taking their young children with them on bike rides. Seemed like overall they were pretty laden down, and also having bike gremlin issues. Spencer's gears werent working so they were currently going at a pretty slow pace – they were hoping to do the 50miles to Carbondale in around 3 days! We also discussed another important topic – beer! Despite Kentucky being home to many whiskey (or bourban) distilleries, almost every county I went through was 'dry' – no alcohol on sale. Sometimes it would be great to relax with a nice cold beer in the evening after a long days riding. But Illinois seems less strict, so most of the petrol stations have nice large fridges full of the stuff!

After saying farewell to Spencer and Natasha, I set off again. As it turned out, the hardest part of my riding today was done. The next 30 or so miles were pretty easy going, and by 12:30 I had arrived at my next intermediate goal – lunch! Stopped in Goreville to grab something to eat. Headed ot the first restaurant I could find and had a pulled pork sandwich (I love that stuff – definitely going to make it in the slow cooker when I get home) and a milkshake. The waitress then asked me to sign their cyclists log book (lots of places seem to have these) and also told me that cyclists get a free dessert or I could have my shake for free. I went for the free shake, which was a nice little bonus.

Already I sense that Illinois is maybe a little more cyclist friendly than Kentucky. So its a shame I only stay in it for a couple of days. One good thing is the re-appearance of signs pointing out the route. This is clearly one of those issues that each State decides whether to allocate funds to. Wont have to wait long to see what Missouri's attitude is!

The last part of the ride took me passed a nice scenic lake – the Devils Kitchen. I'd love to know why so many things are named for the devil. Especially when they are often actually nice looking scenic things. He owns a golf course in Death Valley, a punchbowl outside of Guildford and now a kitchen in Illinois!
The Devils Kitchen - Wonder where he keeps the plates?

Actually arrived in Carbondale feeling pretty fresh despite doing another 87miles today. That makes it around 400miles in just 5 days – a huge increase over my previous distances. Hopefully this means I'm getting fitter. One thing I am getting is some weird sun tan marks. My forearms and legs are now a deep brown. My body is still pasty white! The fingers have tan lines around the knuckles, where Ive been wearing my fingerless mitts each day. I also have a little brown spot on each hand where there is a little gap in the gloves near the velcro fastener. Also have white lines on my face from my sunglasses and helmet straps!

Checked in to a motel and will probably have tomorrow as a rest day. Despite a couple of shorter days on the way to Berea, my last actual day off was 12days ago. And in that time I have covered a lot of distance, so think I shall rest up for a day. Motel even has a small swimming pool!

Sent a text to Cory asking if they found any good places to go out in Carbondale and turns out they are still here, so we're all meeting up for a beer later! Just reward for another good stint today!

Day 22: Taking the ferry into the next State

Day 22
Sebree,KY to Cave In Rock, IL

Had a nice sleep in the church basement classroom thing, and then woke up just as bunch of bible school kids were coming in!

After a bit of faffing we went for breakfast. Cory and Sam were considering taking a shortcut to Carbondale which the pastor had told us about over dinner. It was about 100miles on a main road, and they were keen to make up time on their trip. I decided to stick to the main route, especially as I didnt fancy another big day as it was 11am by the time we left. Said goodbye to them again, and probably wont see them any more as Ill be a couple of days behind.

Main aim of today was to get to the Ohio river and cross into Illinois. Riding today wasnt as easy as last night. Lot of up and down hills, so it wasnt easy to ever get into a rhythm. It was one of those days where I just had to tough it out and get to the end, but not one that will live long in the memory! Seemed to also have picked up a bit of a side strain which was causing me a bit of pain.

By about 5pm I reached the river and waited for the ferry. It just constantly goes back and forth across the river carrying cars (and the odd bike) back and forth between Kentucky and Cave In Rock.

Wenlock enjoying the view from the ferry

My entry into the third State of the trip was almost complete

Its actually a pretty wide river, so wouldnt fancy swimming it!

There was a campsite in the town, but decided I fancied a motel tonight. Initially tried getting a posh lodge by the river, but they were all full (and a bit pricey).

Eventually ended up at the local motel. It is possibly the most run-down, cheapest looking place I have stayed at. The paint is peeling off the walls, the shower doesn't quite stop running and I probably felt cleaner before getting in the shower! It also has a TV which doesnt appear to get half the channels it is supposed to. Altough it was showing an episode of the A-Team in which Boy George was helping Hannibal and the gang in a country and western setting. Rather bizarre.

However, the room cost me just $30 for the night (and guy gave me a $10 discount as I was on a bike) and it means I dpnt have to unpack everything tonight.

Not quite sure what to do tomorrow. Carbondale is 80odd miles away. My legs were pretty tired today, so that might be a bit much. I plan to set off early (not much point staying in the motel for the luxury!) and see how I do. There looks to be plenty of places to camp on the way if I get tired.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Day 21: An epic day of mega milestones

Day 21
Hardin Springs to Sebree 102miles

Another english cyclist, Travis, had turned up late last night, and had pitched his tent on the grass. I had pitched mine under an awning in front of the shop, and Sam and Cory had found an old fouton matress outside and decided to sleep on that under the awning.

However, during the night we had an absolute deluge at about 3am. I woke up in the morning to find Travis sleeping on an old couch next to my tent!

Had breakfast with Arnold and his family. They were going on holiday to Georgia today, so we had a nice group photo and then set off in a convoy of 4.
l-r Travis, Cory, Lucy, Me, Arnold, Lauren, Sam

Today was a day of milestones. The first one was reached pretty quickly into the ride, after a rather nasty little climb out of a river valley. When we crossed into Breckenridge County we also went into the next time zone, so gained an hour of the day! However there was no sign to actually tell us – the only way we knew is because it was on the maps.

In the morning we rode as a group, although sometimes we were strung out on the road. My extra weight seems to give me an edge on the flat and downhill sections, but going up the steeper hills I usually get reeled in again.

Travis was a little slower and decided to drop off the back of the group for a while, but then caught us up when we stopped for lunch.

A similar thing happened in the afternoon, when Travis dropped back and we never saw him again!

The big decision we had to make was whether to go to Utica (about 75miles) or go for century and head to Sebree. The advantage of going to Sebree was that we had been told about the Baptist church there which has a huge room with pool table, air hockey, showers etc, and the Pastor and his family will cook you dinner.

Most of the day I was thinking that 100miles might be too much for me after a couple of long days previously. But when I got to Utica and saw there was very little there at all, I decided to commit to the ton!

For me personally, this would also mean another big milestone – 1000miles on the road in the US.

5 miles after Utica I got into quadruple digits – it felt pretty good.

I was very glad I carried on, as the last 25miles was some lovely riding. It was pretty late in the day by now (we left Utica at 6.30pm), nut the roads were clear and pretty flat, the sun was low in the sky and the farmlands looked great in the evening light. And the sunset was pretty spectacular too. If the Blue Ridge Parkway was the most spectacular riding so far, and the descent into Damascus the most thrilling, and the last stint today was definitely the most enjoyable so far.

I was also able to get some great pace up on the flat roads, and we ended up doing the last 25miles in 2hrs.

Just as we approached Sebree the other big milestone was reached. 100 miles. It was also Sam and Cory's first ton of their tour, so we exchanged high fives as the odometer ticked over to the magic figure.

Couple of miles later we got to the Church, to be welcomed by Bob and Violet. Bob showed us our living quarters, and it was amazing. Its actually bigger than my flat at home!
We showered and then went for dinner. Which was easily the best meal of my ride so far. Huge slabs of roast pork, beans, corn bread, apple sauce and ice cream for dessert.

Like Arnold and his family last night, Bob and Violet genuinely seem to almost feel honoured to be able to help cyclists, and their help is much appreciated.

Riding with the other guys definitely helps, as I tend to push myself to go further distances. Had I been by myself I may well have stopped in Utica. The other reward for todays long stint is a nice short 60mile ride to the Ohio river tomorrow, and then taking the ferry crossing into Illinois. I cant believe how quickly I've got though the western part of Kentucky. In three days I've covered 260miles from Berea – around what I would need to do in 5days to finish on schedule!

Overall, today was a great day. Feel great to have done a 100mile day, and also to have covered 1000miles. I know that at some point I'm going to have days where I hate the trip – maybe a cold day in the Rockies or riding all day into a headwind in Kansas – but Im going to enjoy today whilst I can!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Day 20: cooking on gas

Day 20
Bardstown to Hardin County somewhere! 64Miles

Managed to survive last nights deluge of rain. And actually, by morning my tent had dried up pretty much.

Today's ride was pretty straightforward, so not going to go into huge detail about it!

A summary of the main points are

Had my first puncture! Quickly found a bit of metal embedded in the back tire, so I had a pretty good idea where the hole in the tube would be. And I was right. Quick fix and I was on my way. Of all the mechanical problems Ive had, punctures are easily the most welcome. Easy to fix, and I can do it myself at the side of road!

Also went off route a little again today (this time to get breakfast!). This took me through the hometown of Abe Lincoln. Everything seemed to be named after him – there was Abe's cafe, the Lincoln bank etc. Hogdenville (for that was the place) was also home to the first roundabout I have come across in America! They just dont do them over here. Growing up in Basingstoke (nicknamed Donut City due to the huge number of roundabouts) it almost got me nostalgic! Also reminded of the time one of my friends from uni (an American) had his dad visiting. We were driving into town to go out for the evening, and his dad drove straight over a mini roundabout and almost sideswiped someone who had gone round it properly!

The Lincoln memorial roundabout (probably)

Also saw my first Amish person today. I reckon they might actually be even less popular on the roads than cyclists as their horse drawn carts dont seem to go very fast!

Arrived at a service station which apparently lets cyclists stay the night. As soon as I walked in, I was met with fantastic friendly hospitality. Arnold, the owner, and his daughter offered me a popcicle. Also showed me where the shower was, and where I could pitch my tent. And then asked me if I was joining them for dinner. Result!

Then later on Sam and Cory turned up – they had taken a rest day in Berea, so it was good to see them again.

I then had an important job to do – cook on the BBQ. Although I did have some competition.

The hospitality shown by Arnold and his family is typical of the kindness Ive seen to far. He doesnt make any money out of it, but he goes out of his way to make people feel welcome and to feed them. Its people like him, Stu and Erin on my second day, the Cookie lady and Dave that make doing this trip so rewarding even when its a bit of a struggle.  

Day 19: Going off route

Day 19
Berea to Bardstown 74miles

Today was the day I lost any claim to be a TransAm purist. For those who strive to cover every mile of the route exactly as it is laid down in the maps I probably no longer exist. But I dont really care!

Today was the day I finally made it to Danville to get my wheel looked at. But to do that I had to go “off route”. So instead of following the TransAm route I took a different direction out of Berea on a couple of lovely quiet backroads, before joining a busier road for a few miles. The roads were so much flatter than previous days. Even the uphills I couldnt really call climbs, more like slopes. Quite a few of them could be taken with the middle ring on the front cog – quite a change from previous days! And the most amazing thing happened – someone asked me for directions and I was actually able to help them! They wanted to get to Berea , and having just come from there I felt confident in giving directions. In reality, the poor guy is probably still driving round now!

The flatter roads meant I could keep a much faster pace. And by 11am I was at the bike shop in Danville. The guys in the shop were very helpful. Most of them had done the TransAm so knew what it was like to need things fixed. The guy dealing with my bike managed to fix my wheel, and I also purchased a few spare spokes, a better pump than the one I currently had and some special riding cream for the 'downstairs' areas! Also met a few other riders who were in the shop having spoke trouble. They were doing the route 10days at a time over a number of years, which actually strikes me as a nice way to spend your summer holidays.

Went to grab a sandwich and was given a free cookie as it was my first visit to the shop! And anyone who knows me, knows I wont ever turn down a cookie!

Originally, my plan had been to just get to Danville and stay there the night. But I decided that if I am ever going to finish this ride, I need to start doing some long days. So I aimed to get all the way to Bardstown, which was originally my target destination for tomorrow.

However, the quickest way there meant doing more roads not on the route. So thats exactly what I did! I basically shadowed the main route, but was about 10miles or so south of it.

At one point though, I did think I'd taken a wrong turn!

Really felt good riding today, the extra miles were not too tiring and by the time I got to Bardstown I had done 74 miles – comfortably my highest day yet. And by not following the route I had actually made up a few extra miles – it would have been around 90miles had I followed the maps precisely.

Spending the night in “My old Kentucky home” state park. Feel like I got my accommodation the wrong way round this week. Last night was supposed to be rainy and thundery so I got a motel. Weather turned out to be lovely. Tonight Im camping and there are currently thunder storms raging as I type this!

The campsite has a golfcourse, and just now they had to call everyone off the course due to lightening. Which is a shame, as I think Wenlock fancies himself as the next Rory McIlroy!
Golf isnt yet an Olymic sport though!

Its currently chucking it down. It might be a pretty soggy night tonight! And when it rains here, boy does it rain! Once my tent was up, the rain came down for about 3hrs straight. Luckily by about 8.30 it had stopped enough for me to nip into town for some food.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Day 18: A short and gentle ride

Day 18
McKee to Berea 28 miles

Woken up early by some thunder, and absolutely torrential rain. Even by 8pm it was still pretty dark out there due to the cloud and rain. Thankfully today was going to be a short day so I wasnt in a huge rush to get out.
My right calf muscle was pretty tight yesterday, so I was hoping a couple of short days in a row would help and it was certainly better today.

Eventually set off at about 11am, and the ride today was pretty uneventful, and much flatter than previous days. Managed to miss one turning about 5miles from Berea, but after backtracking I arrived in Berea about 2pm.

Originally I had planned to camp at a local campground tonight, but the weather forecast put paid to that! This strong storm front is still in the area and, if Im reading the maps right, its headed east towards me!

Not wanted to get blown away in my tent, I decided to go for a motel.

Lost another spoke in the back wheel today, so Danville cant some soon enough. Should be there tomorrow (weather permitting). Danville isnt on the TransAm route directly, so might go off route slightly tomorrow to get there in the most direct manner.

Another little milestone today – through the second section of maps. The plan (I always seem to be saying this!) is to up the mileage in the next section. Accommodation options are less frequent on the next map, so need to be doing some longer days. Hopefully with a new back wheel ill be able to get a bit more speed up! Definitely glad Im not trying to finish in 2 months, as I would already be way behind!  

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Day 17: Rain (and tired legs) stops play

Day 17
Booneville to McKee 32miles

The plan this morning was to get up early, get t Dooleys for breakfast and then head out to Berea and get there early. The first part of this plan was fine – had a great breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup. But even in the time we were sat down the skies got a lot darker.
And then it started to rain. And rain. And rain. For about 4hours! And it wasnt even a bit of light drizzle, this was a full on downpour with driving rain and regular thunder and lightening. At some point we made it back to the campsite to finish packing our things up, but just ended up sat under shelter as the rain continued to fall. I felt a bit like the England cricket team, constantly waiting for the weather to improve. I did try and explain cricket to the other two guys over breakfast, but I think they struggled with the idea of a game lasting 5 days and still not always producing a winner!

Eventually, at around 12:30pm (now about 4hours behind schedule), it eased off and we set off on the road. Did a few up and down hills and were going well until we reached the Lee County line. Which was a bit of a problem as our route didnt take us into Lee County. Turns out we had missed a turn about 3miles back down the road. So had to redo all those up and down hills in the opposite direction. Eventually found our turning, but its noticeable that the Bike Route 76 signs appeared to have dried up.

The route was definitely getting less steep, with the hills being more rolling up and down sections rather than very steep climbs and descents. Definitely easier to ride on as you can often carry your speed from the downhill onto the next upslope.

However for me today, it just wasnt quite working. My legs were feeling pretty tired after a few tough days in the mountains. So I decided to curtail my ride after around 30miles in McKee. Said farewell to Sam and Cory and swapped numbers and blog details. The one good thing about having people go on ahead is that you get all the info about where is good to stop.

Plan tomorrow is to do the rest of the way to Berea and so have another shortish day to hopefully get my legs back. The good thing is that the next map section (starting from Berea) measures the elevation changes in 100s of feet rather than 1,000s!

Day 16: Slowly leaving Appalachia

Day 16 
Hindman to Booneville 64 miles

Woke up in my big tent room today, and got ready for breakfast. And what a breakfast it was! Bowls of strawberries, grapes, apples and cereal.
Today I was going to ride with Sam and Cory, two guys I had first met in Damascus. They were going to have a rest day there to let Sam's knee get better, but somehow had managed to catch me up! I found out that this is because they ended up hitching a lift over the worse part of the Hayters gap climb, so were able to get from Damascus to Breaks park in a single day. Its kind of cheating, but I think it depends on how much of a 'purist' you are. Some people would never think of getting any help from a motorist, but Sam and Cory, like me, are slightly more pragmatic. Its an adventure, and part of that adventure is having to do things differently than you might have planned.

We set off at about 8.30 in the end, and the first section was a lovely gentle downhill section of around 15miles. We were able to cover the distance in little over an hour. We then joined a main road, with two lanes of traffic in each direction, which had some steep climbing sections. But as this wasnt a mountain pass road, the climbs tended to be very straight up and downs, rather than twisty turny roads. After a series of these, we reached a Walmart and stopped for a breather. The weather was looking pretty threatening by this point.

We set off, and within 2miles the heavens opened. We sought refuge under an abandoned petrol station awing and, when the rain got too heavy, in a bathroom and lighting shop! There was some huge bolts of lightening and the rain was coming down in sheets.
It got much worse than this before it got better
We ended up losing probably around 90minutes waiting for the storm to abate, but when we eventually left, the riding conditions were not too bad. After another lovely downhill grade of around 10 miles, we reached Buckhorn Mountain. This was a series of climbs over the mountain, but didnt look to be as bad as previous days. It seems to be the case that locals always think their local mountain is the steepest/toughest/tallest around!

One thing I found today, riding with other people, is that I was much less inclined to stop and take rests. Maybe its a pride thing, but I didnt want to show weakness in front of other people!

As it happens, we did stop on the first climb for a puncture. Cory's front as flat so after a bit of faffing around (he had brought the wrong type of spare inner tube!) we set off again for the summit. But it was still more time lost in the day. Buckhorn Mountain was one large climb, and then a couple of smaller up and downs at the top. Managed to break my top speed twice during the descents – 40.7mph and then 41.2 on the next one!

We also met a couple of eastbound riders. These were serious cyclists, rather than tourers. They had a support driver with them who was towing a huge RV/Caravan which they slept in as well as carrying all their kit and, I imagined, a full bike workshop! It has taken them just 33days to get from the Californian coast to eastern Kentuky! They had averaged over 100miles a day. But if I had a super light road bike, didnt have to carry any kit, and had someone to sort everything else for me, I reckon I could go quite a few miles a day too! In all likelihood they would be at Yorktown within a week, but I dont think its as impressive a feat as doing a coast to coast ride where you have to take everything with you on the bike. Its not really an adventure, just a purely physical challenge. But they seemed like nice guys, and I made use of their stand pump to get a little extra pressure in my tires!

After getting down the final descent we stopped for ice cream but still had around 20miles to Booneville, our destination. Most of it was rolling up and downs, with a couple of short sharp climbs. The sort of ones that at the start of the day would have been fine, but after 50 miles, and many hours, it was a bit of a struggle. I just keep telling myself “It will be getting flatter”!

Eventually arrived into Booneville at about 7pm – with all the delays it was a long days riding. But it was 64miles, pretty much equally yesterday's mileage, and I was feeling pretty good. We decided to get food first, as we were all pretty hungry, and then pitch our tents afterwards.

Found a small local diner called “Dooleys”, which was fantastic. They had a bluegrass band playing in one room, and all the people in the diner were coming up to talk to us and ask about our trips and wishing us well.

When it came to ordering our drinks, we asked the two waitresses if they had beer, but apparently we are in a 'dry' county. Although I did get my third comment of the trip about loving my accent. And no mention of Canada this time.

A little later the two waitresses pulled up chairs next to our table and asked if we still wanted beer, as they might be able to sort us some out! We said we would be interested and that we would be back after making camp.

Tonight was camping in the local church. They had a fenced off area around the back for cyclists , and also had a small undercover area, a shower and a loo! There was also a guest book to sign. Saw a few familiar names, including one english guy called Travis, who constantly appears to be 2 days ahead of me!

After putting up our tents and showering, we went back to Dooleys. Although sadly we didnt get our beers!

Tomorrow the plan is to get to Berea, which is about 50miles away and also the end of the second set of maps. The maps describe Berea as the TransAm's “gateway to the Appalachians”. Which for us means it more like the exit door!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Day 15: Beware of the dogs, be nice to the cats

Day 15
Elkhorn City to Hindman 65miles

Woke up early this morning to get on the road. Had a bit of a crisis last night when another spoke broke on my back wheel. However, now I was nowhere near a bikeshop, and the wheel was a little wonky. A it of Twitter chat with another UK cyclist going across country who was in the same problem convinced me I could go a few miles on it. Its around 200miles to the next bike shop, so we shall see!

Today was my longest mileage day yet, which felt good. Early on in the ride I encountered something I had read about that can happen in Kentucky – Dogs! Apparently in Kentucky they have lots of dogs which are not chained up or behind fences. And I found this out very quickly. Had only just got through the other side of Elkhorn when two of them started chasing me up the rode – it was quite scary to start with.

A little later on I had another pack of them chasing me, and one sunk his teeth into one of my panniers! I think I will have to pick up some dog mace ASAP!

Todays ride was dominated by 4 tough climbs. Each one was pretty steep, and required a good few stops. Ive also taken to pushing my bike when taking a rest, rather than stopping completely, as this at least keeps me moving. Progress was steady, and the downhill sections went by extremely quickly.

Saw a few funny signs as ever...
Probably some dogs up the road...

After 2 weeks on the road, I can agree with this completely

The second part of the ride was much easier and flatter, with only a small climb near the end.

Felt really good to get over 60miles under my belt in a day. Hopefully do the same tomorrow (back wheel permitting)

Tonight I am staying in possibly the best place yet. Its a historical society which provides accommodation for cyclists. For $25 I get an airbed in a big tent, my laundry done, dinner (with ice cream for desert), breakfast and my first beer!

The place is run by Dave, an extremely helpful friendly guy. I was a bit confused as he had a shirt with “Eddie” on it!
Dave, not to be confused with Eddie
The place has lots of cats everywhere.
Think this one wanted a drink!

A couple of guys I met in Damascus have turned up now, so should be a good night. Might well end up riding with them tomorrow.

Felt good today, upping the mileage slowly as the hills slowly flatten out. Feels like each day the hills I do are not as bad as the ones that are coming, which is encouraging.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Day 14: 1 down, 9 to go

Day 14
Council, VA to Elkhorn City KY 34miles

Woke around 7ish this morning. Slept very well in the tent which is reassuring after getting used to a few motel beds!

Was actually pretty chilly in the morning, with a lot of cloud and even some light rain in the air. Even had to use the light enhancing lenses in the sunglasses.

Today was planned as quite a short journey. This was mainly because after Elkhorn City, there isnt any listed accommodation for over 60miles, so the plan was a shortish day today, and then follow it up with what will be my longest day yet tomorrow.

The first part of the ride went by quickly, as it was mainly downhill. Stopped off quickly for an apple danish breakfast at a service station, and before I knew it I had already done the 17odd miles to Haysi. And it was only just gone 10am. Stopped off for a Subway and an orange juice before heading for Breaks Interstate Park. Also got my second “I love your accent” comment at the service station, although this was then followed up with “What is it? Canadian?” so not quite the compliment it could have been!

The route to Breaks was basically a 10mile roller-coaster of 3 steep climbs, followed by 3 equally steep downhill sections. Although as it turned out, the last downhill was after the entrance to the park.

Stopped off briefly at the park, the “Grand Canyon of the South” apparently, but it wasnt really designed for heavily loaded bikers! Lots of steep up and down access roads.
Dont remember the real grand canyon having so many trees

The final descent down from Breaks was fantastic, and also took me past a very important milestone – I was now leaving Virginia after 2 weeks! This leaves me 9 more states to get through in the next 10weeks. The more astute of you might think that might seem like a tall ask, considering I took 2 weeks to get through the first. But some of the states have less mileage and easier riding. I think you can get through Illinois in around 3 days as the route only cuts through a small portion of it.

Stopped and took a photo by the “Welcome to Kentucky” type sign, and also at the river which was basically the bottom part of the Breaks park area.

Arrived at my motel (after first missing it completely and riding past it into the main part of Elkhorn city!). Greg, the manager, was a very friendly and chatty guy. When I spoke to him yesterday he had basically said he would keep a room available for me. We spent about 10minutes chatting and then I went to my room and had my first proper shower for almost 48hours! Feel a lot better now.

No wifi in the room, so I will either be posting this from a restaurant Greg said had wifi or from the local library.

Day 13: Hating Hayters gap

Day 13
Damascus to Council 52 miles

Woke up ealy in my dorm room, and packed to leave. Wanted an early start as I knew today was likely to be one of the toughest days riding so far. A head of me was a huge, steep climb, as well as a couple of smaller but still nasty looking ones.
However, the early start didnt go as planned! As soon as I started pedalling, I heard a worrying noise. Quick inspection of the bike showed that one of my back spokes had broken. This was not good, as I didnt have any spares with me. I think it might have been caused by an errant strap from my rucksack getting caught in the wheels.

Luckily, for such a small town, Damascus has about 4 bike shops! This is because they all do bike rental for people to cycle the Virginia Creeper trail I mentioned yesterday. Yet again, my misfortune happened at a fortunate time!The bad news is that they use mountain bikes, which have smaller wheels than the racing wheel size on Whiskey!

I was recommended a guy called Louis, who was apparently an expert bike mechanic. And thankfully he did have one 700 size spoke! He fitted it and righted my wheel for me. So I was off, but by this point it was nearer 10am, rather than the 8am start I was hoping for.

Weather was nice and cool again today, and the first 13mile to Meadowview was a nice gently ride up and down a few hills, but nothing too tough.

Decided to stop for a late breakfast/early lunch and found a nice looking restaurant which was just opening (was now just before 11am). Despite being the only customer, they somehow managed to forget to cook my order – apparently the two chefs both thought the other once was doing it! By way of an apology I was offered a free dessert! I wasnt planning on having one (honestly), but the prospect of a free strawberry and cream cake was too good to pass up. It was delicious!
The best things in life are free!
The next section was all downhill to Hayters Gap. And this was the bit I wasnt looking forward to. The climb up from the bottom of Hayters Gap was around 1500ft in elevation gain. By way of comparison, the climb up the Blue Ridge Parkway (my current bench mark for tough climbs) was a little over 2000ft. However, todays climb was so much steeper. The road was very winding, so you could never be sure exactly what was around the next corner (although a good guess was even more uphill road!). At least the weather was playing its part, by now it was cloudy with even a few spots of rain. The road seemed to go on forever. Sometimes I had to stop every quarter of a mile to catch my breath as it was so hard going.

When I was chatting to one of the Appalachian Trail hikers last night, we agreed that uphills are ok when they reward you. Today's climb had none of the visual rewards of the Blue Ridge climb. One side of the road was rock, the other thick trees. I imagine the views would have been spectacular it I could have seen them!
Up and up and up and up...

After what seemed like hours, I got to the top and at least had the prospect of the descent. This one was another rim-cooking descent with occasional stops to let the wheels cool down. I've realised I can actually feel the heat from the rims on my legs – so when I get that feeling its time to stop for a while!

Made it to Rosedale and stopped for a quick snack and a Gatorade. Also met a female Dutch cyclist coming the other way. She was doing a half-TransAm, and had started in Kansas somewhere and heading to Yorktown.

Soon after, the rain started coming down quite heavily. Wasnt cold, but I was getting a bit of a drenching. After Rosedale, had a huge downhill section – managed to achieve what I think is a new highest speed of over 39mph!

Sadly the last part of the ride was a real killer. Another steep uphill section with around 1000ft of climbing. If this section had been at the start of the day, it might not have been too bad. But coming right at the end, it was tough. But at least I had a nice quick downhill section to my finishing point.

Tonight camping in a small town called Council, and using their local park. Its free (second night in a row of not paying), but basic. There are no showers, so had to do a 'gentlemans' wash at the sink in the restroom. There is also nowhere nearby to buy food! All I have are some ritz crackers for tonight!

On the plus side, I have lots of swings and climbing frames to play on!
Thankfully Noah's ark wasnt needed

My knee was hurting a bit today, not sure it likes all the climbing!

Tomorrow is a much shorter, flatter day though, of around 32miles. But it should be a very important 32miles as I will make the crossing into Kentucky. The plan is to cycle to Elkhorn City over the state line and stay there. There is a small motel, spoke to them earlier and they think they will have space as likely to get some cancellations. If not, I'll camp at Breaks Interstate park which, as the name suggests, is on border about 2miles short of Elkhorn. Even if I dont stay at Breaks I'll spend sometime there during the day as hopefully tomorrows riding should only take 3-4hrs.

Definitely the toughest day in the saddle yet. Still got some steep climbs to come, but the elevation is generally much lower – by the looks of it theres nothing over 2000ft until I hit Colorado!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Day 12: The road to Damascus

Day 12
Wytheville to Damascus 60miles
Left the motel around 8ish, with the plan of getting to Konnarock and the dentist in plenty of time.
Weather today was much nicer. A lot cooler and a little cloudy, it was even a little chilly when I set off. But much rather that than it being hot as soon as I start pedalling.

According to the maps, today was another big climb day, with the highest elevation being greater than that of the Blue Ridge Parkway. But on the plus side, there would be some big downhill sections once the climbing was done.

The first 15miles or so were fine, and I stopped at Rural Retreat for some breakfast. This was my first proper breakfast stop whilst riding. Previously places had been shut or not there anymore.

So I celebrated in style with sausage and eggs. Although americans dont seem to do sausage like we would – they always look like burgers.

The riding today was some of the most enjoyable so far. The smaller ups and downs were not too bad, and even the big climb felt more comfortable than previously. Maybe Im just getting fitter!

Decided that staying here might be a bit dangerous!

Stopped in Troutdale after the main part of the climb for a sandwich and a milkshake and then carried on up to the top. The ride down into Konnarock was great as very little pedalling was required.

Managed to find my dentist, and it seemed to go well. He was worried that the cavity was quite big and might flare up. I have some drugs to take if it happens, but fingers crossed ill be ok until I get home and can get it looked at properly.

The rest of the ride was pretty much all downhill into Damascus. And was probably my favourite bit of biking so far. It was a lovely windy road with rocks on one side and a river on the other. Could get up to some good speeds, but never felt like it was too steep and likely to get away from you like the descent down to Vesuvius. It seems that there is a trail that runs next to the main road which is popular with cyclists – but only going downhill! So I kept getting passed by vans with trailers full of bikes which people can then ride back into town.

Arrived in Damascus and found “The Place”, which is a free hostel for bikers and hikers. Its pretty basic – you just have to grab a bunk anywhere – but it had a shower and a few people there. They all seemed to be hikers though. I met one guy called Jeff, although apparently his trailname is 'Serrin'. Seems like all these walkers have these nicknames. Perhaps I should come up with my own trailname – any suggestions welcome.

Currently now in the library (which is open till 7pm tonight luckily) using their wifi. Met another hiker called Josh, or Bookworm. Guess that the library is the most likely place to meet someone with that name.

Tooth is a bit sore at the moment, but im hoping thats just because it was poked a lot today.

Tomorrow is likely to be a tough day. There are a number of very steep up and down sections. Although the campsite I am aiming for has a pool apparently! Very poor phone reception all day today, so hence why I havent been able to text people sorry!