For new readers, this blog is an archive of the early stages of what is now Mainland Trading Post. In the summer of '15, I biked from Virginia to Colorado on the TransAmerica Trail. This is my journal that I updated throughout the trip. Enjoy.
We got to Denver today and arrived via 4 wheels- not 2. It definitely hasn't sunk in that I'm no longer on a bicycle trip. I'm sure that it will, but for now, I'm very content. I've definitely become more easy going and less stressed because of this trip.
It's kind of confusing thinking back on the summer. 47 days doesn't sound very long to me, but I have trouble recalling the details of what happened on Day 1. I remember that it was my first time riding on the bike with all of my gear on it. As I hopped on and started to set out, the back wheel sort of wiggled and I stumbled. I immediately imagined that Mrs. Lyver probably saw that and thought, "Oh man- Kevin has no idea what he's doing." I'm not sure if she actually did, but I definitely had no idea what I was doing.
The first day was only a month and a half ago, but so much has happened since then that it's hard to believe. Each day felt so long that they could have each been turned into a movie. The movies would probably be pretty boring overall, but they could exist. The Virginia-Kentucky series would be pretty depressing ones. The riding was more challenging than I had expected. I only did about 3-4 rides (with a max of 30 miles at one time with few hills) prior to heading down to Virginia, so I thought I'd be using the Appalachians as a training week. When we passed some Eastbound cyclists that were finishing up their tours, they reassuringly told us that Virginia was the hardest state on the trail. With that knowledge, it helped us continue on with the rationale that it could only get easier the further West we went. If we were starting with the hardest part, it was all downhill from there, right?
I've been writing this sporadically throughout the day, but luckily I haven't been near my phone too much. I'll continue my final thoughts about my trip tomorrow. One thing I mostly avoided this summer was coffee, so I'm looking forward to continuing this post with a cup.
Well, we're done with our bikes. Now what? I'm going to devote a post tomorrow to recapping the whole trip, so I'll just keep this one about today.
As we were getting ready to leave this morning, Chris noticed that he also had a flat. I was able to watch some Fresh Prince from when Will Smith was still cool, so I didn't mind the later check out. We filled our tires at an auto body shop next door to our motel and set out. Our last day of riding actually had a handful of similarities to our first day. Today and Day 1 were the only times that we we were able to ride on bicycle trails for an extended period of time. We came across portions of the trails on both days that were damaged by the weather and barricaded off. On the first day, I was a bit reluctant to go under the caution tape. Today, I just shrugged and went with it. We didn't turn back previously and we weren't going to start today (Disclaimer: the trail was safe despite the warnings and if it were dangerous, we probably would not have proceeded). Both the first and the last day felt incredibly long. On Day 1, the longevity was compounded by having no idea how many days this trip would take. Today dragged on, but it didn't bother me. My finish line was in sight. We've had so many bumps in the road that we've learned to just go with whatever comes our way.
The cycling was fine, but the views were incredible. Being in the downtown of a large city yet being surrounded by a view of the mountains is very inspiring. It also just feels so damn good to be back in a big city. One of the biggest takeaways from this trip for me was that I would never be able to live outside of a big city.
I'm going to do a more in depth write up about the trip tomorrow. I'm still coming to the realization that I don't have to wake up to Chris' alarm clock (Ray Charles- America the Beautiful) or ride a bike tomorrow. Actually- we dumped our bikes today, so we couldn't even ride our bikes if we were going through withdrawal (doubtful). We're going to take a tour of the Airforce Academy and then head up to Denver for a few days.
The town that we stayed in last night was apparently compromised of some late starters, because nothing opened before 8am. That was too late for us, so we had to backtrack a little to a previous town to fill our water jugs and stomachs. After departing, we had a routine 50 mile ride. This city has a different meaning for us than when we set out over a month and a half ago, but we have arrived in Pueblo, Colorado.
When we got to the outskirts of Pueblo, it felt a bit like a mix between a level from an old Tony Hawk game and a neighborhood from Grand Theft Auto. There were alcohol shops on every corner, low riders in the streets, and an auto body shop named "Reasonably Priced Auto Body." We made our way through the streets to a local brewery. After a few rounds and I'm not sure how much time, we decided to head to a motel. It was too hot for camping and no WarmShowers hosts got back to us, so we had no other choice. About a block away from the motel, I heard a slight woosh followed by a "ffttt fftt ffftt" sound with each revolution of my wheels. I had my first flat of the trip. I've gone somewhere around two thousand miles and haven't had any issues with my tires yet, so I knew it was coming. Like Icarus, I had flown too close to the sun I suppose. It might sound backwards, but I think situations like this give more reason to believe that a higher being exists; it's just too scripted. Of course I got a flat on the second to last day. I had seen Chris fix his tires so many times that I had learned how to do it, as well.
Tomorrow is our last day of riding. We will be heading up to Colorado Springs, which is somewhere around 50 miles away. It hasn't hit me yet that we won't be riding beyond tomorrow. I'll have to start to slow my eating down so that I don't gain 10 lbs back immediately. Although I am looking forward to eating well, I will miss the ability to eat anything without remorse. Well, all good things must come to an end; any other cliches I can throw in here?
I'm sure my mother will love hearing this, but when I was younger and had dreams of being a writer, one place I often envisioned working from was a bar. It wasn't because I thought alcohol would help me churn out best sellers; it was because I prefer the setting. Coffee houses are too quiet and clean; the people are boring and fake. In a good dive bar, there's a little noise and plenty of grit. The people are real and interesting.
I'm sitting in a saloon that's been around for over 100 years in a town that I don't know the name of. I think it's something along the lines of Ordly or Ordwy- I've gotten pretty bad at remembering the names of the little towns we've been passing through lately. If I took a photo of the bartender in black and white, you'd have believed he were here when the bar opened. He has a worn in leather cowboy hat to match his weathered black button down. His beard is as long as his stories. He talks slowly and knowingly with a smokers voice that he's probably had since he was 13. The Pats-Packers preseason game is on and all of the patrons are complaining that Brady isn't suspended for a full season. I've been talking across the bar with one man who says he used to do some work in New York. He was in Farmington on Long Island and was talking about how he saw the most beautiful women. When he was describing them, "permanent tan" was the first thing he said, so I got a nice laugh out of that.
Up until yesterday morning I thought I was in the Midwest, but I definitely feel like we're just in the West now. The towns have wide streets, dusty air, and wooden store fronts. The towns in Colorado have been fairly far apart thus far, but at least they're usually made up of more than just a church, gas station, and an auto body shop.
We will be in Pueblo tomorrow, which is a little bittersweet. Pueblo is where we were planning to defect from our trail and head to San Francisco. Although I will admit I'm a little disappointed that we aren't making it to the west coast, I'm content. We've enjoyed this trip more since we decided to cut off the CO-CA portion. The west coast isn't going anywhere, so I'll be able to finish this trip at any point. I've heard that you can begin to see the Rockies once you leave whatever town we're in, so I'm looking forward to that.
Once in a while, I'll think something along the lines of "Wait- I'm on a bike in freaking Kansas." We're constantly focused on getting to our next point, so the distractions will sometimes prevent me from really recognizing what we've done so far. Besides those temporary "What the hell am I doing?" moments, each day tends to feel pretty routine. The last time I was overwhelmed by what we've accomplished was when we crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri. About 15 miles in today, I had another very proud moment of realization about what we've done: we crossed into Colorado.
The ride was as straightforward as it's been for the past week or two. We had 60 miles on the same highway that we've been on for a few days. There were a few slight rolling hills, which made it at least a little more interesting. I've found that the mind gets tired long before the body. There's not too much else to report from today. The weather was getting pretty hot and the park didn't seem to have showers, so we decided to make use of the cyclist rate at the motel in town. It's probably the biggest building we've stayed in, but also the most empty: we are literally the only guests staying here. Although the outside was fairly disheveled, the room is clean, cold, and comfortable. We have another 60 miles tomorrow to our next town. We will be in Pueblo on Friday and Colorado Springs, our finish line, Saturday. We have three days of riding left. Two nights ago, we were talking with our host and his coworkers about prisoners that become institutionalized and don't know how to live outside of the gates. We've been on the ride for 6 weeks and I kind of forget what it's like to not have to ride a bike everyday. I think I'll be able to re-assimilate right back into society just fine, though. I'll have a few days in Denver and another few in Houston before arriving back to NYC, so I'll use those as practice days.
We had a relatively short day planned and were gaining an hour by crossing onto Mountain Time, so we had no problem sleeping in while it rained this morning. After the weather relaxed and we had some disappointing food, we were ready to leave Scott City.
Before we hit the road, a few trucks carrying wind turbine blades passed through. Obviously industrial wind turbines are massive, but seeing one blade pass by put it in perspective for me. It looked like the size of a small plane. Our host last night is actually a wind turbine technician. Chris had commented that he was surprised that we hadn't seen many since we're in Kansas, but our host said that we'd be passing more today. We did, which I was thankful for- the wind turbines broke up the repetitive scenes of Kansas flatlands. Riding through Kansas is kind of like when old budget movies would reuse the same background over and over and it's just an endless loop. I'm not complaining because we've really enjoyed Kansas, but it does get boring.
Each state that we've crossed has definitely had its own character. Passing by cyclists on this trail, you'll tend to discuss the character of each state and, as I've mentioned before, the warnings. Virginia has the Appalachians, Kentucky has the dogs, Illinois- well, you're not really in Illinois long enough for it to have much notoriety, Missouri has the Ozarks, and Kansas has the wind. Every east bound person we've met has cursed Kansas because of the head winds. I might be jinxing us here, but we've had incredible tail winds pretty much all the way through Kansas. Sometimes it'll be blowing in our faces, but overall, it's helped us out.
We're set up in a park in Tribune, KS tonight. This place is kind of an enigma. The one strip of stores in town seemed fairly outdated and a bit rundown. Similarly to Ness City, it felt like a stereotypical old western town. There was a grocery store, though, which is only about the fourth one we've seen since the end of June. Riding down the street, we noticed that there were hidden speakers everywhere playing XM radio's 60s on 6 station. We couldn't figure out what kind of town Tribune is. When we got to the park, a mother and daughter were playing tennis. Several of the neighbors have been driving around here in golf carts, but I don't think there's a course near by. This place confuses me, but I guess it doesn't matter. This time zone shift also has me a bit mixed up, so I think it's time to call it a night. We have about 60 miles tomorrow to our next town, which is in Colorado.
About a half hour ago, I was laying on a futon in our WarmShowers host's apartment starting to write this post. Chris walked up behind me and nonchalantly asked, "Blizzard number two?" I laughed, but he didn't. I shrugged, said "why not?" and followed him to Dairy Queen for the second time today. "Why not?" is the whole mentality I've had for this trip. I sometimes have flashbacks to when Chris first suggested this idea of biking across the country. They're not like traumatic flashbacks or anything, but once in a while when I'm biking on a single lane highway in the middle of Kansas, I can't help but think back about how I got here.
A few months ago, Chris, our friend Kyle, and I were eating at an ihop. Chris was grinning and told us about this idea that he had about us riding our bikes across the country. I just sat there quietly as Kyle exclaimed what a good idea that was. After thinking about it for a few seconds, I looked up at the ceiling and said, "Well, I'd have to quit my job." Kyle shook his head and told me that I was thinking about it all wrong. I replied that I was pretty positive I was thinking about it correctly and logically. I hadn't ruled out the trip, but I had things to take care of before I could just pack up and leave. I had already been trying to come up with plans to focus on my writing and photography, and I felt like a trip like this would benefit that. Sure, I genuinely think the only times I've ever ridden a bike prior to that point were in beach towns and for less than a mile at a time, but I figured it couldn't be too bad. I thought about the trip a lot before actually committing to it, but I knew I was doing it once Chris brought it up. My entire reasoning was: "Why not?" I bought a bike, quit my job, and am in Scott City, Kansas right now. The kicker? Kyle didn't end up coming after saying I was thinking about it all wrong.
We had a monotonous ride of about 55 miles today. We're down to four days of riding left and I think we're both thankful for that. I'm ready for the next adventure, as are my back and surgically repaired ankle. Tomorrow will be our second time zone shift as we enter Mountain Time Zone. I'm not sure what town we're heading to; I just have my eyes on Colorado.
As we were getting ready to leave the comforts of our budget motel this morning, Chris asked me if I wanted to be a "Breakfast Defector." If you haven't seen the commercials (I doubt that's possible), he meant go to Taco Bell. The meal wasn't bad, but I'm really tired of fast food. I plan on having pizza for my first meal when I get back to make up for Southern and Midwestern pizza, but I'm going on a fruit and vegetable binge after that.
The 60+ miles to Ness City felt very long today. I'm not sure if it was our breakfast or what, but we both couldn't wait for the riding to be done. About 13 miles in, we made our last turn on the trail for the rest of the trip. We will be following this one road to Pueblo, CO for the next 275 miles. Our friends on the tandem texted us saying to prepare for a boring ride, but I'm ok with that. We're in the home stretch and boring is welcomed.
Near the city limits of Ness City, there was a sign for a bank in the town, which was listed as an attraction and nicknamed "Skyscraper of the Plains." I wasn't disappointed when I saw the skyscraper; it was about 4 stories and smaller than my fairly short apartment building back home. Walking the streets of Ness City, I began to understand why they'd advertise the bank; "Modern day ghost town" may not draw as much attention. The town reminded me a bit of the stereotypical western town portrayed in movies. The only thing I'd say missing was a saloon with those swinging doors, but it's possible I just didn't look hard enough. The only open food option for dinner was a pizzeria, so we settled for one (hopefully) last experience with Midwestern pizza. The pizza wasn't too bad, but it was a little gross that every single table had garbage and dishes left behind from previous customers. After dinner, we just waked back to our motel and called it a night. There was a sign outside the motel listing the amenities and "clean rooms" was on it. I wouldn't have questioned the rooms, but seeing that made me a little uneasy. A motel using cleanliness as a selling point isn't a good look.
We move on for 50something miles to Scott City tomorrow. We're down to a hand's worth of days left of biking; we're officially in the home stretch.
We fought the urge to snooze the 5am alarm and began to get ready for the day. It still takes us a while to gather our belongings and eat, so we needed the extra time. The First Lady of Nickerson was already up and preparing breakfast, so we sat with the Mayor and watched Sportcenter. We had pancakes, peaches, and eggs and were ready to start out on our 60 miles by 6:15am.
There's something special about rolling through a neighborhood as the sun rises. The cool air, morning fog, and quiet streets help create a positive attitude that carries through the whole day. We weaved through the corn fields and arrived in Larned, KS by 10:30am. Crossing the train tracks into town, we were surrounded by huge grain silos. The smell was reminiscent of the bourbon town, Bardstown. While scanning the businesses we passed by, we saw more boarded up windows than not. Tumbleweed wasn't blowing around, but the winds were filled with excess grains from the silos. We found a diner that we thought would be a good spot, but they were closing up. They gave us some biscuits on the house, which we really appreciated. It was only 10:40am at this point, but the heat was already intensifying. We continued our search for a hideout and came across a boutique/home decor/cafe combo store. I was able to have a few espressos and read while Chris was able to nap on one of the couches, so it was perfect. After a few hours, we left in search of food. We had forgotten that we left so early because of a heat wave and were greeted by the most intense heat and thickest air of the trip. Camping was no longer an option, so we found the cheapest motel that the town had to offer. Our neighbors are a bit more... weathered? than we've seen, but there's an AC, shower, beds, and a TV. We've been joining all of the single ladies watching ABC family's incredible Saturday movie line up (Parent Trap, Matilda, and Mean Girls), so I think we're a little happy that the weather forced us into the motel.
Tomorrow we have a bit over 60 miles to get to Ness City. Our friends on the tandem bike texted us that there's an ice cream shop that gives discounts to bikers, so we have our eyes on the ice cream.
I am sitting comfortably in a recliner in the guest house of the Mayor of Nickerson, Kansas as I write this. I guess you can say we're staying in the Gracie Mansion of the Midwest. When I told my family where I was unexpectedly spending the night, they all had the same response: "Why am I not surprised?" I kind of expected that response; things usually have a way of working out for me.
My senior year of college, I lived off campus with three friends in a house on the Long Island Sound. When Hurricane Sandy hit our town in Connecticut, our house was rocked. The flood line settled along the door knob of the front door. Our university began setting students up with on campus students that had the space, dormitory lounges, and anywhere they could fit people. My roommates and I didn't know what we should do, but then I received a call from the Dean. I got to know the Dean fairly well over my four years there, but I was still surprised and (initially) disappointed to see the number pop up on my phone. When I picked up, I had no idea what the topic of conversation would be. I began coming up with excuses in my head for things I hadn't even done, but her call was of a different nature; she was wondering if my roommates and I would want to stay with the President of the university while our house was being drained and renovated. My roommates and I took maybe 30 seconds to deliberate before I said, "Absolutely." We lived with the President for several months and ended up building an incredible relationship with him; we still go out to dinner together every few months. I don't think I'll be coming back to the Midwest to do the same with the Mayor of Nickerson, but who knows.
When we arrived in Nickerson, we weren't sure where we were going to be staying. We would have been able to camp in the park, but the disgusting heat didn't make that option seem too great. It was fairly early when we got here, so we decided to hangout at a pizzeria.
After our second pie (they weren't that big...), a small giant sized man named Bo started talking to us from a few tables away. He said that he was also a traveler and that he was from Oklahoma. Bo had been training in Nickerson for the past week to become a minister. We talked about our trips and he asked where we'd be staying, which we answered with shrugs. He ran out to his truck and came back with a few numbers of people in the town that he had worked with, which included the Mayor and the pastor in town. He asked if we could pray together and he held our hands while saying a blessing over us. I was impressed by how quickly he was able to craft a great prayer tailored to us right off the top of his head. After finishing, he went to his table to resume eating and I stepped outside to call the number that I thought belonged to the Mayor.
I was greeted on the phone by an older man who didn't seem surprised by the nature of my call. I explained our situation and asked if there were any options for bikers in the town. He told me that I should talk to the First Lady (ok- he didn't call her that, but he should have) and passed the phone to his wife. She didn't ask any questions and gave us directions to their home. When we arrived, she was just finishing up giving a piano lesson to a student who "clearly hasn't practiced all summer." The Mayor and the First Lady were exceptionally nice and accommodating. They've actually hosted bikers on the Trans America since the inaugural year in 1976. I'd like to write more about our stay, but I'll have to make an addendum after the trip; we are waking up at 5am and I need my sleep. The heat is supposed to be brutal tomorrow, so we are hoping to beat it to our next town.
We're currently in Newton, KS staying at our third WarmShowers host. We had been hearing about the Newton bike shop hostel since day 10, but when I called today to reserve two cots, I was greeted by a voicemail saying that the bike shop and hostel would be closed until the 11th. That's ok- we are lucky to be staying with a wonderful family that took us (and two other bikers) in. The best part about the new arrangement is that the fellow bikers are going west! We have finally met people that are going in the same direction as us. This is the first time all trip that we've been able to talk to people on the trail and reference towns and talk about parts of the riding that we've all experienced in the same direction. The bikers are a married couple en route to Seattle, where they are moving to. They're riding on a tandem, which I can't get past. I love my girlfriend very much, but I couldn't imagine us riding a tandem bike across a park, let alone the country. I know she'll agree with me when she reads this, so I'm not afraid to admit that.
While sitting at the dinner table, I began looking around at the art work on the walls. The primary artists were the children of the family. There was a post-it on a pillar that caught my eye; it was a simple handwritten message that read, "Life doesn't get easier. You get better." I stared at it while passing the spaghetti because I was struck by the simplicity and truth. Today, we had our longest mileage of the trip (76 miles). We both agreed that it was one of our easier days, though. We have been tested many times on the road. We've been frustrated, overheated, tired, and sore, but we've continued on. We've grown and gotten stronger with each mile. I think that we will be showing up in Colorado better than when we left Virginia.
The constant thunder and lightning woke us up often throughout the night, but the 6am alarm kept us awake. There was a brief pause from the rain when we woke up, so we rushed to get out and get a few miles in before the storm continued. After a quick breakfast, we were ready to head out. Chris asked if I was "ready to bite the bullet?" As he asked that, a loud crack of thunder roared above us. We began cycling just before a comical amount of rain began to dump out onto us. It was like a scene out of an overly dramatic movie; if you were watching this from your home, you'd have groaned aloud because you thought the film crew went overboard on the rain as it was hardly a believable amount. We were trying to go on, but the wind began to push us across the road, so we pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned RV business and hid out under the awning. We had to wait almost 2 hours before we were able to go back out. So much for the early start.
After the storm for the first 15 miles, we had a dry remainder of the trip. We stopped in the town of Toronto so that Chris could mail some things home. While in the post office, he met an older woman that said she often hosted cyclists on the trail. When meeting hosts, you'll usually hear about people that you haven't met, but you feel like you have. There are many cyclist journals in restaurants, hostels, and general stores along the trail, so you often see the same names pop up. Some people will just sign their name, others will leave an inspirational comment, and a few people will draw sketches. The woman began talking about a group of 4 guys from Florida that stayed with her at the beginning of July. She said several times how much testosterone was bouncing off the walls when she had them over. Chris thought that these guys fit the description of a group that we see a lot in the journals called "the poo tang clan." They always leave wacky cartoons and mysterious sketches that have intrigued us. He was a bit embarrassed to ask, but he was pretty confident that it was them. I walked into the post office at this point and was able to see the excited smile come across her face as she said, "Yes! They were the poo tang clan!" I'll never forget the image of an older woman explaining how the guys came up with their group name. It apparently came from a combination of a lot of bowel movements and drinking a lot of tang. She also mentioned that they traveled with a French horn and other musical instruments. I have no idea who these guys are, but I wish we would have crossed paths with them.
Tomorrow, we will be biking 76 miles to Newton, Kansas and will be 10 days away from finishing our last biking day on this trip. Realizing that gave me a mixed reaction of excitement and anxiety. I am excited to see what my next step will be, but I'm anxious that I don't know where to begin. I always say that the uncertainty is part of the fun. I stand by that, but I do still like to have an idea about what my future holds. At this point, all I know is that we will be arriving in Pueblo, Colorado 8/16 and I will be flying a few days later to Houston, Texas for a trip with my girlfriend. I'll be back in NYC by 8/24 and have no idea what will be happening after that. I guess we will have to wait and see. Whatever I end up doing, I'm not going to settle for anything.
The bike shop didn't open until 10, so we were able to sleep in and grab breakfast before waiting for the owner to let us in. It took about an hour and a half, but he was able to fix Chris' bike up. The shop owner is actually a former pro cycling racer that used to compete in NYC. He said he's lived in Pittsburgh, KS, Pittsburgh, PA, and NYC. He has to be one of the only people to have lived in two different Pittsburghs, right? We left the shop with clouds hovering over us that followed us the whole day.
About 5 miles outside of Pittsburgh, a man in a minivan pulled into the oncoming lane and slowed down to my pace. He rolled down his window and began having a conversation with me while I continued to pedal. He was nice enough and was asking about the route. I had heard that people will sometimes try to convert cyclists in certain parts of the country, so I kept my answers brief. He didn't ask me if I've accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, but he did begin asking where I was staying tonight. I still am not at the point where I trust everyone, so I smoothly said, "Uh oh um like 50/60 miles away in Kansas" and slowed down so that he would have to speed up. I'm sure that he wasn't asking in a predatory way, but my sister works for the show 48 Hours and I know how these things work.
The riding today was great. At one point, I was looking down at my handlebar bag, which has a can of (never been used) dog mace dangling from it. I began thinking about the dogs of Eastern Kentucky and how happy I was that I haven't been chased in a while. Less than a mile later, I passed by a house that had a chiuhaha in the front yard. It began chirping at me since, you know, it's a chiuhaha. I thought nothing of it until 5 of its chiuhaha cronies came out of no where and began chasing after me. I will give those little dogs credit- that was the longest any pack of dogs kept after me all trip. Other than that, the ride was fairly uneventful. Sure, the wind in Kansas can be annoying. The flats have definitely made up for it, though. We cruised today for 60 miles to Chanute. There was a threat of rain all day, but we were able to make it here dry. The chance of rain is supposed to increase throughout the night, so we are staying in some sort of metal lean-to shed in a city park. It's got a roof and outlets, so that's all we need. Tomorrow we will be going on to Eureka, Kansas.
There's not too much to report today, which means that it was a successful rest day. Food options within walking distance were limited, so we went to Chili's for lunch despite going there for dinner last night. After I ordered a beer, the waitress asked, "What is this?" while holding my NY driver's license. She looked genuinely puzzled as she fumbled with the card between her fingers. She shrugged, passed it back to me, and said that it was good enough for her. She remembered us from last night, so we spoke a little about our trip. A few minutes later, the regional manager came over. His presence had visibly flustered some of the staff, but he was very friendly. He told us that he overheard about our trip and asked a few questions. He smiled and walked away, but returned with a $50 gift card for us to use the next time we passed by a Chili's. We weren't sure if we'd see another one, so we decided to go back for dinner as well. We ordered a gluttonous and almost nauseating amount of food and were handed a check for $0.25. I had never been to a Chili's prior to entering Kansas, but I'm a fan now.
The day was lazy, unmotivated, and awesome. I went to the first Starbucks I've seen since leaving NYC and felt like a real person. The customers were wearing collared shirts, there were struggling writers staring at their computers, and people were talking business. I felt like I was briefly back at home. While drinking my triple espresso, I had a moment of reflection. I used to stop in for Starbucks half way through my two hour commute to work (after the bus and before the train) and was always stressing to catch my train. Today, I was at peace. I was sitting on a Monday morning with no train to catch and not a worry on my mind. Today was a good day.
After getting Chris' bike fixed up tomorrow morning, we'll have about 60 miles to bring us one day closer to Colorado.
With our shortest day and flattest roads ahead of us, we figured we had time for one last meal at Cooky's before we left Golden City. There was a stained glass window next to our booth that read: "Cooky's: Since 1942." While looking around, I began wondering how much has changed since Cooky's first opened. The men were wearing overalls, the conversations revolved around farm life, and the faces in the booths had kind of a weathered American look to them. It felt like I was looking at a photo that had been taken in black and white decades ago but was recently colorized. When I see a black and white photo, it appears so distant and long ago that it's hardly relatable. When an artist colorizes a black and white photo, the time doesn't feel as extreme; it becomes easier for me to empathize with the scene, but I can still tell that the people in the photo lived in a different time in a different world. I had a slight understanding of the people in Cooky's, but mostly they seemed like remnants of a community that was left unchanged as the world spun on.
Despite it being 8am when we finished our meal, we felt no shame in asking what pies they had. They were in the process of baking the day's supply, but I was able to snag a slice of the Dutch Peach. This will probably be the only time in my life that I can unabashedly eat pie at 8am, so I'm going to enjoy it while I can. After loading up on calories, we were ready to roll. We stepped outside and Chris looked at the map; we had a straight shot to Pittsburgh, Kansas. All we had to do was turn our bikes around and follow the road that Cooky's was on and we'd be in Kansas.
The only clue that we had that we had crossed into Kansas after 25 miles was the "Welcome to Missouri" sign on the eastbound side of the road. We've looked forward to Kansas for so long, so we were disappointed that we were unable to take touristy photos in front of a "Welcome to Kansas" sign. The trip was quiet, flat, and slightly boring- it was just the kind of change that we were looking forward to. We continued into Kansas a bit further and arrived in Pittsburgh. The city limits sign claimed there to be 20,000 residents, but I think that the census may have been a little liberal with that count. The bike shop is closed tomorrow, so we will be taking a rest day. I'd say that maybe I'll get out and explore to find where those 20,000 people were hiding when we rode through, but the chance of me going more than a city block away on a day off is doubtful.
Well, we're out of the hills and spending our last night in a park pavilion in Golden City, MO. I had told our WarmShowers host this morning that the bed they provided me with was one of the most comfortable ones I've ever been in, but he raised a good point: it could just be that, in an effort to cut weight, I don't use a sleeping pad. I carry a DSLR camera, a Microsoft Surface, and some heavy clothing I haven't even touched, but I skimped on the sleeping pad that weighs like half a pound. Sleeping on the concrete floors in park pavilions just makes me appreciate beds that much more. We had a decent and mostly forgettable last full day in Missouri that led to this concrete floor.
We left Walnut Grove a bit late, but that was fine since we didn't have too many miles to worry about. Before we were even out of the town, we had passed by a dog, a deer, and an armadillo laying curbside. I've been asked a handful of times if we've seen any cool animals; I have actually seen many animals, but unfortunately it's usually while swerving to avoid their remains. Roadkill was one of those things that was lacking from my romanticized day dreams about this trip prior to departure, but it's been one of the reoccurring themes the whole way. You probably don't want to read more about road kill, so I'll leave it at that.
We didn't really see any people until about 12 miles outside of Golden City when we met a father-son eastbound duo at a single lane crossroads of sorts. They had just experienced their first climb pretty much since the Rockies, which meant we were about to have our last one. For them, the hill represented the emerging Ozarks and the end of flats. For us, the hill was the last thing between us and the flats of western Missouri and Kansas. When Chris and I got to the other side, we paused to check the maps. We looked around and laughed. Despite everyone's negative feedback about this section of the trip, it's a portion that we had been looking forward to for a long time. We had made it. They say be careful what you wish for, but even if Kansas is awful, I'll just lie to myself until I love it.
Our host this morning asked if we'd be going to Cooky's in Golden City. Although we hadn't heard of it, it's apparently part of the TransAmerica folklore. Their specialty is pie, which we were excited to learn; we've been craving pie since our South Korean friend named Yum spoke so dearly about it on Day 10 (if you haven't read about our encounter with Yum, I highly recommend you scroll down to Day 10 and check it out). There aren't many options for restaurants in Golden City, so we had both lunch and dinner there. The meals were pretty good, but the pies were great. After lunch, I had the Dutch cherry pie with chocolate ice cream. For desert after my desert, I had lemon meringue. As we were leaving, we heard the waitress mention a Reese's pie. Even though we were pretty sure we were going back for dinner, hearing that sealed our fate. If you're ever in Golden City, MO, try the Reese's and/or the Dutch cherry. Lemon meringue was meh.
We have a very short day to Pittsburgh, Kansas tomorrow. Chris needs a few problems with his bike fixed up, so we'll get to have a relaxing ride prior to dropping off his bike.
I'm currently writing this while laying on the most comfortable bed I've had in over a month with a view looking over the goat farm that we are staying at. We're at our second WarmShowers host in Walnut Grove, Missouri and I'm pretty sure that this is only the second home that we've been in since we left Yorktown, Virginia. I'm pretty mentally exhausted, so I'm going to break my thoughts out to ensure clarity:
- The couple that is hosting us raises show goats. They currently have about 75 goats on the property, though that number fluctuates. I haven't had any prior experiences with goats, so I wasn't sure what to expect. They are hysterical. It's easy to see their personalities and that they're pretty intelligent. They're also very affectionate and reminded me of dogs in some ways. Mary always wants somewhat obscure (or just different) types of animas for pets, so I think I'm going to try to sell her on getting a goat.
- Our host made us the best meal we've had in over a month: grilled chicken, kale salad, polenta, and capresse salad. We even had fruit for dessert. I hope that my body doesn't reject this food after being on a pre-packaged and processed diet for the past few weeks. It was so nice to have vegetables and fruit. Our host said that the diets in the Midwest are so bad that she will often have to tell the cashiers at the grocery store what kind of vegetables they're ringing up.
- I don't really understand people's rationale when they say things like, "Oh, you have some tough rides ahead of you." Thanks for the heads up? I swear, every single time we've been at a gas station, some old man will strike up a conversation with us. "Where ya from?" followed by "Well, you're a long way from home!" They will then ask us our route, to which they will always reply through a cocky smile saying, "You have some big hills coming up." At first, I thought that they were always just giving us a nice, albeit unnecessary, warning. After hearing it at least once a day, though, I think that they're actually bragging about their hills. It sounds ridiculous (because it is), but it's as though they take such pride in having these hills that challenge cyclists. The best part is, they're usually wrong. The bigger the local hype, the smaller the hills tend to be. Just today, at a gas station about 7 miles shy of our destination, I was sitting there drinking my Gatorade and eating my granola. An older guy walks up to us and does the usual routine of asking us where we're from. He went inside and I thought we avoided the typical warning sequence. A few minutes later, he walked out of the gas station, paused, turned to us, and said, "Ya'll have some steep hills ahead of you." He smiled, said nothing else, and got into his Chevy pickup. He may as well have called me champ or chief with the condescending tone he used. Also, I'm glad to say that the hills weren't so bad.
- Nor sure where we're riding to tomorrow, but we are about 15 miles from officially being out of the Ozark mountains. We'll be trading hills for flats and trees for nothing. Kansas sounds quite barren, but I'm excited to be able to see for miles and miles. We haven't heard too many good things about Kansas, but we're going into it looking to give it a fair shake. We have another day or two in MO, so we will make sure to enjoy those in case all our warnings about Kansas are warranted.
Although I thought I had jinxed us yesterday, the ride today was great. We had a very smooth 65 miles that brought us to Marshfield, MO. It was difficult leaving the comfort of the motel early this morning, but the cool winds made it worth it. There was nothing too exciting about the ride today, which is sometimes nice. We have been riding through Amish communities lately, so we've been sharing the road with a few horse carriages. It only took a bit over 1,200 miles, but we finally found vehicles that we are faster than.
We are currently sitting in Dairy Queen as I write this and it's the second time we've had ice cream today. Back on Day 27, when our Farmington friends (Brian and Jeneen) stopped by, Chris asked Brian if he found it hard to return to normal eating habits after the trip. He quickly said yes and that he probably gained close to 20 lbs when he finished the trip. I'm pretty tired of eating junk, so I think I'm just going to binge on fruits and vegetables when I get back to New York. This is what I've eaten today: Breakfast 1) 1 BEC on a biscuit and 1 SEC on a biscuit from Hardee's, Snack 1) Cheese Danish and a Gatorade, Breakfast 2) 2 eggs over easy, bacon, wheat toast, hash browns, and an ice cream cone, Snack 2) Gatorade and Nuterbutters, Dinner) a lot of Taco Bell, Dessert) Banana Split Blizzard. That's actually much less than we've been consuming. When I told my friend about how I've been eating, he told me I'm not suitable to live on my own because, if I'm eating ice cream twice a day, I still need someone to keep me in check. I guess we shall see. I like to think that I'll be able to rejoin society without too many complications.
Oddly enough, as I was writing the previous sentence, Chris asked me if I thought things will be different when we get back. We spoke about it for a while, but the biggest takeaway is that we are more relaxed and easy going. I thought back to a few nights ago when I was carrying the frozen custards and they were spilling down my shirt and shorts and into my sandals. I just shrugged it off and kept walking. Chris has been having a few issues with his bike lately. Instead of getting frustrated, he said, "At least there's a bike shop in 200 miles." Chris also said that he's considering downsizing and living more frugally. I respect the sentiment, but I don't think that'll be an approach that I take. We still have about 700 miles left, though, so I guess we'll see where I'm at when I get to the finish line.
Since day 1, we've met about a dozen cyclists that were riding the Trans America Trail. For the most part, the two minute exchange was enough time spent talking to them. They were always nice, but they don't really pop up in my mind after going in our opposite directions. There was one cyclist that we met that we often think back on, though. She was a solo rider that we met on our second day. That was only 4 weeks ago, but it's comical how naive Chris and I were back then.
I never really told the story since I didn't write a Day 1 post, but Day 1 was straight up awful. I do tend to be nostalgic and brush over the negatives sometimes, but I'll always remember Day 1 for how it actually was. We did far too long of a day and biked into the dark. We couldn't figure out where the hostel was that was listed on the map, so we had to set up camp in an employee parking lot for a Civil War battleground. I remember us being filthy; I don't know how we were so dirty, but it was the worst we've been all trip. The parking lot obviously didn't have any showers, so there was no fixing that. After I got settled in my tent and began to question what the hell I signed up for, there was a brilliant flash of light that completely illuminated my tent. The storm that followed was unlike anything Chris and I had seen before or since. Despite waterproofing the tent's seams, using a ground cloth, and using my rain cover, everything was drenched. Although we didn't sleep very much, we quietly rolled out of our tents at 5:30am to the sound of Chris' alarm. We gathered our thoughts and gear and biked to the closest gas station for breakfast. While sitting outside staring blankly and eating quietly, we met Lydia. We've since realized that she had probably stayed at the hostel that we couldn't seem to locate. She was just a day short of completing the route that Chris and I are currently following and couldn't have contrasted us more. The first thing we saw was her vibrant smile that displayed her overt cheeriness. We were tired, filthy, and miserable. We didn't talk long at all, but she excitedly said how Illinois and Missouri were her favorite states. We hadn't expected to hear that, but we now know why. The Midwest has been good to us. While suffering through the Appalachians, I kept Lydia's words in mind. I looked forward to moving on from the South to the Midwest and am pleased that Lydia was right. Sure, the hills are still tough- but they're tough everywhere. The people have been genuine and helpful, we've been experiencing more scenic views, and the riding has been great. I'm sure that me writing a post saying how much I like the Midwest will result in tomorrow having some tough riding, but oh well.
Some scattered thoughts from the day:
- We are in the city of Houston, which is in Texas County. I'm sure there's an actual reason, but instead of looking it up, I'm just going to assume it's some kissing up to the lone star state.
- The lunch options were plentiful, but we decided to go with what we thought was the healthiest option: Taco Bell. Think about that for a second- the healthiest option that we saw was Taco Bell.
- At a Chinese buffet for dinner (not the worst call we've made), a woman came over to us. She's also doing the trail (and going East like everyone else we've met). She asked us how the rest of the trip was- particularly Virginia. There's really no good in telling her how difficult we thought it was. We didn't want to downplay it and get her hopes up, but we also didn't want to psych her out. She said that she was expecting the trip to be all downhill from here. We waited for her to crack a smile or give some indication that she was kidding, but she didn't budge. She just came out of Kansas, the state that is used as a synonym for flat and boring (sorry Kansas), but was expecting the trip to be downhill from here. I think she will soon realize that the hills will follow her to the Atlantic, I'm sure that she will crush the remaining part.
- We have somewhere between 60-70 miles tomorrow. The city we're going to has over two thousand residents, so it's practically a metropolis by my standards these days.