<![CDATA[Curiously Inquisitive - See what I'm up to]]>Wed, 24 Feb 2016 13:51:27 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Becoming One With Nature: Point Reyes Nat'l Seashore]]>Sat, 01 Aug 2015 20:35:01 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/becoming-one-with-nature-point-reyes-natl-seashoreIt has been ages since I've posted anything on this site but this weekend I ventured out and had the urge to remedy that. This weekend I spend Sunday night at Point Reyes by myself.
The better I get at doing this thing called "life," the more I've come to learn about myself, specifically how much I both need and enjoy being alone to recharge. The dishes were piling up in the sink as was my school work and I felt I needed to get away from the distractions of city life to tackle at least one of these building tasks (it wasn't dishes).

Late Friday night, I jumped online to the wonderfully-named national park reservation site, www.reserveamerica.com, and snagged a place in Point Reyes for Sunday. Most weekend slots I discovered have been booked between now and October with only a few random weekdays and Sundays scattered throughout. I don't have to be at school until 5p on Mondays, so I decided to skip town for 24 hours and do some work in the woods.

I rolled out of my apt around 11:30a to find a perfectly warm and cloudless Sunday morning and headed north on the 101 for a little bit, blasting some throwback jams on Q102.1 with the windows down. No Diggity anyone? How 'bout some H to the Izzo. Made it through San Anselmo and Fairfax then out into the golden hills farther west and finally into Point Reyes.

I collected my camping registration form at the Visitor Center, donned my pack, and headed south on the Bear Valley trail into the California jungle. I say jungle because I kept expecting to see a pack of little raptors scamper amongst the trees or a triceratops crash through some ferns and cross my path. It looked a lot like Jurassic Park.
Five miles and a few deer paths later, I reached Glen Camp and sound my spot #7. I had no idea what to expect when I booked it online, but it turned out to be perfect. I was tucked way up into a hillside in a tiny clearing of trees. Very quiet and shady with a "view" looking down at the middle of the camping area and the restrooms. After making camp, which was really just my tent, I hiked it out to the Coast Trail that runs along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific.

There was some really varied vegetation between my campsite and the water... deciduous forrest gave way to grassland gave way to pine forrest gave way to rocky and shrubby patches ultimately gave way to bare rock. All this within a few miles. Once on the coast I saw some islands about 20 miles off shore. Who knew! From San Fran, you can never see that far out due to the fog and the ever-present haze so this new-found visibility was a revelation.

I found a bluff overlooking Drake's Bay and Chimney Rock and plopped down there for the next four hours taking it all in. The gulls and pelicans drifting back and forth on the wind, the sun and the mood high up in the sky, the big waves coming in for miles and the ants that crawled around looking for whatever ants look for. I brought my notebook and brainstormed for class and even took a nap for a while.
Eventually it started cooling off as the sun sank lower in the sky so I put on my windbreaker and headed farther down the trail to warm up. I wanted to stay for the sunset but the brisk wind was making it tough to find the will power to stay. I toughed it out though and got some good pictures as a reward for my persistence. I brought a little flashlight too, which was a very smart thing to do because once the sun went down, it didn't stay light for very long and I still had a couple miles of hiking back to camp. It was black in many places along the trail back, especially among the thick pines that blocked out the almost-full moon. I saw a cute little fox along the way but that was it.

Most everyone else at Glen Camp was settling in for the night by the time I got back. It was maybe 9:30p and most everything was quiet. I still had to make dinner and gingerly boiled water for my freeze-dried shepherds pie stew in a pouch as silently as I could. While it cooked, I simply lay on my back and watched the stars twinkle above for a while, since they were the only things visible anymore. I made a wish on a shooting star and caught the brightest Big Dipper I'd ever seen "on film" too.
By 10:30, I think I was the only one still awake and crawled into my tent for a night of fitful sleep. If you followed my bike blog at all, you'll know I don't sleep very well if I'm sticky and the hike to camp was much hotter than I expected, causing me to be very sweaty by the time I arrived. It also became more and more humid and the sea air cooled down and condensed on everything. Double whammy. It was quiet though and you could hear the rhythm of the surf from several miles away.

The morning came way too early no thanks to a family group of guys who were up chatting loudly and making breakfast at 6:30, playing "Monkey in the Middle" by 7a. I really wanted to tell them to shut-up, but I also didn't feel like talking to anyone, not at 6:30am. It was really annoying, and I would bet a large sum that I wasn't the only one irritated by them. But since it wasn't possible to sleep anymore, I got up, packed up my stuff and got out of there just before 8, to make the 5 mile trek back to the car. My feet and legs were killing me most of the way back due to blisters and not being accustomed to carrying a heavy pack. But I managed and debated whether hiking the Appalachian trail or the Pacific Crest Trail sounded like lunacy or not.

I took my boots off immediately upon returning to my car and cringed at the prospect of having to push in the clutch for the hour-long drive back home. Fortunately, the pedals were forgiving and the scenic drive along the winding Pacific Coast Highway was a welcome distraction. It's simply gorgeous out here and, at least to me, it will never get old. I'm really glad I'm here.
<![CDATA[TransAmerica: Day 70... The End.]]>Mon, 10 Mar 2014 23:13:38 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/transamerica-day-70Mineral > Alexandria/D.C.
The Final Ride and the Final Weekend
The final day had officially arrived. One single day of riding stood between me and my finish line. That knowledge was certainly a good motivator but at the same time, it made this section seem to stretch on for a needlessly long time...
PictureGood morning Mineral water tower.
The morning came early enough between the train and the fire dept. but that was ok. I could suffer through one more early morning... after all, I wouldn't have to do it again for a while after today.

I was so far east by now, everything was pretty flat due to the Potomac delta. It was hot though, but I didn't mind too much since I was going to be done. I passed the small Lake Anna a little ways outside of Mineral and thought about how nice it was to see water again and some boats. Eventually the road went through some state parkish areas and the roads were really nice and freshly paved outside the little town Spotsylvania.

Just outside of Fredericksburg, I jumped on US1 and for the next 50 miles or so, following this main artery towards the Nation's Capitol. It was busy for sure and some of it was reminiscent of riding through Clarksville, but it was the easiest and most direct route I could follow besides I-95. My main goals at this point were speed and time. At the wedding, my cousin Laura told me I could stay with her and her husband Geoff and I didn't want to arrive at their house really late at night as was customary most nights of my trip.

Very few breaks or stops happened as I rode to their house. I stopped once at a Hardees for chicken fingers but that's about it. It was very hot along busy US1, especially in the late afternoon, but managed to get to their house around 6pm. My plan was to take a shower and then treat them both to dinner in payment for letting me stay with them. Up and over the bridge crossing a little tributary to the Potomac and I was in their neighborhood. I finally found their house and after struggling with my bike to get up the stairs to the front door, I knocked to find Laura with open arms in spite of my three-days worth of grossness. I made it!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I arrived on a Thursday and coincidentally, it was also my 25th birthday. Happy birthday to me. =D

I took a shower and upon hearing that it was my birthday, Laura popped a bottle of champagne so it was champagne in the shower for me. I wasn't immediately hungry after getting there, but it didn't take too long for it to set in after I had stopped moving. I started a small load of laundry and since Geoff was at a business school function that night, Laura and I walked to get dinner at a local sushi place a few blocks from the house. It was super awesomely good and one of the best meals of my trip. After that we walked back home and since she had work in the morning and I was pretty exhausted, we both turned in pretty early. Dear lord that bed was comfortable.

The following Friday was dedicated to (very slowly) riding around Alexandria, eating, and working on the resident application for my future apartment in Miami. That evening some other friends from my first year of college at UM invited me to a National's game against the Marlins. I hadn't been to a major league game in years and this was a good one. Plus it was fantastic getting to see Liz and Julian again after so long. I had been to D.C. a couple time prior to this trip but I hadn't ever liked it as much as I had this time around. I'm not sure what was different, but everything just felt more enjoyable.
Suhwing, batta, batta, batta, suhwing battaaa.
Outside the ballpark there was an outdoor bar called the Bullpen and Liz, Julian, a friend of theirs and myself all got a few beers and jammed out to this hiphop guy who looked almost identical to André 3000. He was awesome and at one point, had people bring stuff up to the stage to prove he was really free-styling. 
PictureYou don't need to be quiet in this library.
Afterwords, I got a ride back to Laura's house and crashed pretty soon thereafter. The next day (Saturday), Laura and I went over to a local french brunch place that was ridiculously good. On the way back, she showed me the local library and some other cute things and by that point, Geoff was home so we all hung out for a while until the afternoon when I gathered my things and rode over to Liz and Julian's place, where I would stay for the next couple nights.

There was a huge book fair going on on the Mall lawn that day too so the three of us went to check it out. Unfortunately it was raining pretty steadily all day which made for a sloppy time, but still not bad. They had a bunch of guest speakers and big circus tents so we ditched under one and listened to the guy speak for a while as we let the rain blow over. A late lunch was found at Paul, a french bakery place and after souping and sandwiching it up, the three of us ended up watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain and this whacked out Columbian reality TV show called Protagonistas de Nuestra Tele that night when we got home. I didn't completely understand it since it was all in spanish, but it was still entertaining to watch. I made kettle corn and that just makes everything better, including tv shows in another language.

PictureHow else was I supposed to pose for this? Notice the shorts tan.
Sunday morning was the brunch to end all brunches. Liz had made reservations at this place called Founding Farmers way in advance because the crowds are insane-o. And for good reason. It was literally a perfect breakfast: steak and eggs, fig jam toast, roasted tomatoes, english muffin, many pancakes, coffee and orange juice AND hash browns. Like, I can't even begin to describe how perfect it was, but it just was. THANK YOU LIZ FOR MAKING A RESERVATION SO WE COULD EAT THERE!!!

Afterwords, Julian went to get a haircut so Liz and I walked around the Mall and the Capitol. I needed a jumping picture to mark the official end of my trip so that's exactly what we did. I also needed to find a bicycle shop that would pack up my bike and ship it to Miami and we accomplished that too. We got my Amtrak ticket for the morning and ventured back to the apt for the night. We all got up pretty early in the morning because Liz had class, Julian had work, and I needed to get to the airport. I went with Liz to the subway and finally said goodbye as we parted ways under ground, she to school, me to BWI. It was such a perfect weekend thanks to all my friends and family in D.C. I couldn't have asked for a better end to my epic cycling journey across the United States. =) I heart all of you!

<![CDATA[TransAmerica: Day 69]]>Mon, 03 Mar 2014 20:54:12 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/transamerica-day-69Afton, VA > Mineral, VA
The cyclist only lodging in Afton didn't improve through the night. Oh no. It got worse, but only because I didn't get much sleep. Dogs.
It's hard to hear so listen close.
PictureIt was less creepy in the day time.
That video pretty much summed up my morning. I was glad to get out of there, mainly from a sanity point of view. It turned out to be a perfect day to ride and the sun put me in a better mood as I continued NE to Charlottesville. Lots of miles of kind of confusing windy roads that only had numbers designating what anything was. One of the few named roads had the same name as a summer camp I went to many a year ago: Whippoorwill Ln. There was also a giant concrete factory manufacturer around the same place. I had never seen that kind of thing before. There were a fair amount of trucks around as you might imagine bringing supplies and taking away mixed concrete.

Eventually I reached Charlottesville and wouldn't you know it, that's where UVA is! Haha, I had no idea nor did I even think about it but it made for the perfect place to have a bite to eat. I found a table halfway inside and halfway outside a pub-type restaurant and ordered a burger. Holy joy (I typed "holy moly" but i messed up and it autocorrected to "holy joy"), it was amazing. I almost ordered another because I still wasn't full but I knew I'd be comatose if I did that and it wouldn't make for productive riding post feast. Womp. =( It was a nice atmosphere though. Not unlike sitting at Fido's near Vandy and watching a bunch of students do their thing. I enjoyed being in a city again if only for a moment.

Monticello was close by as I left Charlottesville and since I remembered seeing a picture of it in a high school history book, I wanted to check it out first hand. Monticello is the estate of our 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. He dabbled in architecture among other things in his day and the mansion he built for himself is something to behold. Being a little later in the day, I had missed the 3 o'clock tour and there wasn't another that day. The tickets were also $24 which I thought was too much. As part of the visitor's center though, there's a free museum you can wander around and so I did. They have some very large scale models of the house so I basically saw it without seeing it. The views from the property would have been nice, but they wouldn't have really been any different from the views I had been seeing from my bike for the past day. Maybe one day I'll get back there. John Adam's estate is nearby as well.

PictureIt was warm and cosy inside, but really I was there for the electricity.
More winding, somewhat hard to follow roads laid ahead as snaked my way towards Mineral. I stopped a micro convenience store in the middle of nothing to get a chocolate milk and a Snickers. I ended talking to a guy who was trying to win the lottery and was in disbelief that I was doing what I was doing. Very few people could even wrap their head around my trip... A little ways out from Mineral, I stopped at a gas station to get some pizza for dinner. It was late enough that I didn't think anything would be open once I got to Mineral, plus it was a really small town so there wouldn't have been many options anyway. It was a good choice. It made the last little push into town more bearable. I saw another non-touring cyclist on Hwy 522 too which was nice. I felt I was in good company, even if he was a little disheveled and hippyish.

My camping spot was at another fire house. There was another cyclist tent set up in the yard but I never met who it was because I think they were asleep already (it wasn't that late). I took a birdbath in the bathroom sink inside and set up my stuff for the evening. Some family members of a few of the guys who were on duty there were hanging out at the picnic tables with me for a bit and they let me inside where it was warmer so I could blog and such. I also used the wifi to figure out how I was going to get to D.C. the next day since I had reached the end of my usable map and was now about to head off route in the morning. Not a bad night at all.

<![CDATA[TransAmerica: Day 68]]>Sat, 22 Feb 2014 18:47:15 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/transamerica-day-68Troutville, VA > Afton, VA
Old schools, a bear, the final crushing climb and the funkiest lodging of the whole trip... well maybe aside from the teepee back in Wyoming...
PictureLunching spot
In the morning I ate breakfast at the motel and eves-dropped on some New Zealanders at the table next to me. I enjoyed hearing their accents while talking about where they had been all over the world. One of the staff members was about my age I think and it seemed like she kept making eyes at me. Eventually she came over and asked me what I was doing in broken english (I forget where she was from... Egypt? Malaysia?) and told her about my trip. She said she was working there to get through school and wished me well. Naturally I ate a ton too. They had a waffle machine, so also naturally, I made one of those. =D

More rolling hills and farms as I left Troutville, following some pretty nice roads. It was uneventful smooth sailing (figuratively speaking) to Buchanan and then on to Lexington, home of Washington & Lee University. I had bought a Subway sandwich somewhere along the line and after stopping at the local visitors center to fill up bottles and learn about the town, I sat on an old brick wall downtown and ate my sandwich for a while. Brick is hit or miss for me. I don't like new brick but this whole town was ancient brick and everything looked awesome. Check out the argyle pattern on the building across the intersection! I was enjoying the sit as a change of pace but soon enough, I had to get back on the bike. Next stop: Vesuvius, a foreboding name for sure.

PictureWhy are old things so cool?
On the way though, about halfway in fact, I crossed paths with a few interesting things. The first was this old RR bridge. The second was the one and only bear sighting of my whole trip. A little ways past the bridge, riding through a corridor for woods, I come around a corner and there it was, a baby black bear about 100 yards in front of me in the middle of the road. Since it was still a young one, I wasn't very intimidated, but I didn't linger because I figured mama bear couldn't have been far away and that was something I did NOT want to encounter. I slowed down as I approached and it continued crossing the road but once I got through there, I sped up. A lot. I thought it was kind of amusing and ironic that I had gone through the heart of bear country out west and didn't see a single one but here in not-so-rural Virginia, I see one plain as day and so close to the end of my journey. 

Nothing like a ridiculous climb to slow progress...
Vesuvius itself wasn't much to write home about – another tiny settlement of a town and some railroad tracks. Crossing the tracks though was the demarcation point for what was the final kick in the nuts of the trip. Why you ask? Well you see, where I was headed was a ribbon of road that runs along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains and often parallels the Appalachian (hiking) Trail. The Blue Ridge Parkway is waaaay up there. Most of the time, I could average about 10-14 miles per hour throughout my trek, but here, the road became so steep that riding it was simply out of the question. It took me over an hour to cover less than four miles as I clambered up the side of this mountain to the Parkway above. I think it was about 1,500 vertical feet of up in 3.5 miles. This was an extra hour that I hadn't accounted for and by this point, the sun was starting to go down.
PictureI wish I could have stayed right there for the night.
I finally did make it to the top, but not before a million motorcycles had passed me, racing up the road. Many of them were extremely loud which meant I could hear them for a long time which also meant I could tell that they were all still climbing up the hill, even after 10s of seconds after passing me. It was a long climb if you haven't figured that out yet.

Once at the top though, the views were pretty excellent. These ain't called the Blue Ridge Mountains for nothin'. The road became a series of long rolling hills which was certainly better than the mega climb to get up there. Progress was quicker but still not as quick as I would have liked. Eventually the sun did go down and being much higher and exposed, the temp dropped a lot and very quickly. I stopped and basically put on every last bit of clothing I had at that point and was glad I hadn't brought any less. A few cars stopped to ask if I was ok since it was totally dark, cold and I wasn't close to anything. I was fine, a little tired from the hills of the day, and hungry but I liked being way on up in the sky because they views were pretty great, even at night because you could see the lights of all the towns below.

PictureA half-century's worth of bike stuff from all over the world.
Towards the end of the night, the Parkway started descending which was naturally a welcome change and the final run in to the town of Afton was short, sweet, and fun. On the map, there was a cyclist-only place listed to spend the night and so I called the care-taker's number, learned where the key was and let myself in to the biker's abode. Omg. What is this place??

June Curry or "The Cookie Lady" was a woman that had opened up her home to TransAm cyclists since 1976 and always made them cookies as yet another gesture of hospitality. Even though she passed away in 2012, the  lodging still remains open to travelers on bikes as a self-serve kind of place. As neat (and funky) as it was to see all the paraphernalia from people throughout the decades and from every corner of the globe, it was a little creepy being in the basement of this old house by myself. It was also really dirty in there. Like really. The kitchen had mouse poop on the counters and that was just the beginning. I made some couscous for dinner (I had been carrying the box of couscous since Idaho I think) and then settled in on the couch as I read the Cookie Lady's guest book.

<![CDATA[TransAmerica: Days 66-67]]>Thu, 20 Feb 2014 06:10:33 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/transamerica-days-66-67Mountain City, TN > Troutville, VA

View Untitled in a larger map
I could officially see the light at the end of the tunnel. The few days break at the wedding was probably the best thing that could have happened to me at this point. I remember feeling a little sad and bummed to leave again but I hopeful too because I knew I'd be finished completely in about a week. That was something to look forward to...
PictureThe quetzal tail was a nice addition to the cardinal.
Sunday morning after the wedding, we packed up and headed out of the cabin. My dad's cousin Jenna joined us as she and my parents were driving back towards Nashville and they were going to drop Jenna off at the airport in Knoxville on the way. We weren't far from where my route picked up again in Damascus, VA and the four of us took the detour in the car and had lunch on the patio of a little restaurant before I set off once again. All of them got combo lunches with chips or dessert and kept passing them to me to take with me for the road. I thought it was cute and tried to decline, but they insisted. After we finished up, I went inside to change into my riding clothes (so not flip-flops and those purple shorts), wrapped up the extra food in some napkins and followed the bike trail along the road out of town into the mountains. 

It was an absolutely perfect day to be riding a bike. It was mostly shady riding through the ups and downs of the Cherokee National Forest. It was beautiful too. Waterfalls from time to time, creeks, tons of trees of course. It was not unlike the scenes from Last of the Mohicans... which was filmed in neighboring, NC. Amusing to me, there were a bunch of bicycle tour vans and trailers that kept passing me up and down, taking guests up to the top of the first big climb with bikes so they could simply ride down the mountain on the bike trail that snaked along the road in the trees. Most of the people I saw participating didn't look to be extremely fit and I just smiled to myself due to the context of myself and my trip.

I spent most of the day simply riding along, contented to be in a relatively humidity-free place again that wasn't blisteringly hot either. The higher concentration of motorcycles, specifically Harleys didn't even bother me. The weather trumped all negativity. At some point though I really, urgently need to go #2. So I did what anyone in my situation would do... i made sure no one was coming, tucked my bike into the woods and did the deed. Wet wipes were always on hand, and for situations such as this, they were worth more than gold. I think the rich food and the break from cycling over the weekend contributed to the mild G.I. distress of that moment. I felt immediately better afterwords.

That evening, after only 63 miles, I got to the town of Wytheville where I stopped and gorged myself on Mexican (naturally). There was a KOA listed on the map, but it turned out to be several miles out of town, fortunately in the direction I was ultimately heading. I took my left overs with me and set off to find me a camping spot. It was a little weird riding through a neighborhood to reach the campground, but once I was there, it was like nothing could bother me. I did the whole night registration thing,  took a shower, brushed my teeth, rinsed my clothes, set up camp and passed out. The best thing about it was that my stuff was dry in the morning(!) because there wasn't 100% humidity in the air and somehow not raining, like southern MO.

PictureA Wytheville KOA local.
The morning was cool, no pressure kind of morning. The night before though, I had studied my maps and figured out that if I did about 100 miles a day from that point on, I'd be done by the weekend and a day sooner than planned. Originally I was going to take it a little easier and do about 65 miles a day for the rest of the trip, but what the heck, I knew I was capable, especially with a much lighter bike and refreshed legs. The route followed I-81 for a large part of the day and I kind of liked it. I wasn't bothered like I was headed into Nashville.

Just as I reached the outskirts of Radford, it started sprinkling rain. I was hungry anyway and ditched into a McDonald's to eat lunch, charge my phone and wait for the storm to blow over. The news about the shooting at the Washington Naval Yard was just breaking on TV when I walked in and I found it to be especially poignant as that was were I was heading in a matter of days. The rain had stopped pretty much the same time I was done eating and I set off to cross the river into town. The map was confusing crossing the river and I ended up going the wrong way for a little bit, down a hill into a river-front park. I found my way back through town passing a few people again and feeling sheepish about it.

Through Christiansburg and I found myself on roads almost exactly like riding around Middle TN. There were even big bridges that looked like the Natchez Trace bridge that crosses over Hwy 96 outside of Franklin. The route skirted the edge of a big ridge and it was a while before I rounded the end of it to get to the Daleville/Troutville combo town. I must have been feeling bad and/or needing a good wifi connection to figure out how I was actually going to get to Alexandria, VA where my cousin, Laura, was kind enough to offer me a place to crash at the end of my trip. I booked a room at the Howard Johnson (thinking of my dad who used to stay in HJ's growing up on family vacations) along Hwy 220 and BONUS! As a guest for the night, I got a coupon for the Mexican restaurant across the street. That was a no-brainer dinner decision. =P I had oodles of left-overs for snacking on later. 

<![CDATA[TransAmerica: Days 63-65]]>Mon, 10 Feb 2014 05:40:12 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/transamerica-days-63-65PEOPLE GETTING MARRIED AND STUFF!
A super cool venue to be sure.
I got home on a Wednesday and had exactly one day of R&R before my parents and I packed the van and headed to East Tennessee for my cousin Ted's wedding. You remember Ted and Carrie from this post, right?
I don't remember doing much of anything at home except not moving a whole lot. I DID revamp my bike setup though and shed probably 20-30 pounds off of it. After the wedding, I knew I only needed about a week's worth of gear, which wasn't that much. I also decided to lose the front rack and fenders, which shed another five pounds or so. It was a totally different bike. And without all the weight up front, I could finally ride without holding on to the bars for the first time of the trip! A huge boon to anyone who rides a lot.
Dad rented a cabin in the woods a few miles from the venue and it nice still really nice to have a proper bed to sleep in. Tons of family members were there of course, including some family that now lives in Costa Rica. It was a complete surprise to see them as I was just sitting on the couch when one of the cousins poked her head around the corner. Ana and I both freaked out! It was so good to see all of them. =)

Lots of setting up of things and prep work. Mom and I tied name tags to a bunch of mason jars with pieces of hemp rope for everyone to write their name on their own class for the wedding/reception. Dad was helping in the kitchen most of the day along with his sister Patty (Ted's mom) and a few other family friends for the rehearsal dinner. Later that afternoon, the rehearsal happened. It was pretty nonchalant and funny to watch as everyone was goofing off most of the time. If you haven't figured it out yet, it was a pretty informal wedding.

The next day the everyone was sobbing tears of joy as they watched Ted and Carrie bind their lives together forever on a gorgeous day in the mountains of Tennessee. Post haste, the champagne was popped along with a lot of beer tabs and the reception dinner commenced! It really was perfect weather up there. The dinner was awesome and lots of people got up to say nice things and with the two of them well. Naturally I ate a ton but that wasn't a problem because everyone else overate too. It's what you're supposed to do at a celebration! The party started some time after that once the sun started to go down. They booked the Captain Midnight Band to play and they were amazing! Totally funky hippy hipster peeps that could play the most rockin songs in cover form as well as their own collection. I'd definitely go to see them in concert somewhere.

PictureBoogie down!
Festivities went on for quite some time as people continued to snack and drink and dance and be merry. Towards the end, the singular duo disappeared and then reappeared wearing tie-died onesies complete with butt flaps. So wonderful. Around 1p, people started heading out and so did we. All the efforts of the past two weeks crossing the Plains and the Ozarks was absolutely worth it even though I was completely miserable at the time. Glad I made it for ya, T and C! Hope to see you again soon!

<![CDATA[TransAmerica: Day 62]]>Sat, 08 Feb 2014 22:46:31 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/transamerica-day-62LBL > Nashville (home! but not finished)
Just before I got out of the park, the sun gently peeked up above the horizon-level clouds. There wasn't too much that could have brought me down that day because I was going to be home by days end... 
PictureFirst real sunrise sighting of my trip.
There was a convenience store that was just opening up as I exited the park and stopped in to get a replacement breakfast of a single-serving apple pie, sticky bun and chocolate milk. I allowed myself to continue waking up as I ate at a picnic table outside. While I was sitting there, an older gentleman approached me after getting out of his Cadillac with a Vanderbilt front plate on it and started asking me about what I was doing. I showed him the route I was following and he said he was impressed that a guy my age was using proper maps instead of my phone. He mentioned wanted to do something similar to my cycling trip and  that a few of his friends had done it a few years ago. I liked this guy and was happy to have met him. It put me in a better mood.

Once I was done eating, I asked the clerk of the store what the next town was and how far away it was. He said "Kaydis" and about 20 miles. I said thanks and rolled on extremely confused because the only town anywhere close to that that I saw on the map was one called Cadiz. Cadiz is also a big town in Spain pronounced "Cahdeez" and it took about 15 minutes of thinking about it to finally understand the Englishism debacle.

PictureDoesn't look like much...
After getting kind of lost in the neither regions of Amish country Kentucky and following bad advice from Google's cycling route, I wound up in Herndon. Google had put me on a few roads that weren't actually roads, not even service roads. The most notable was what must have been a clearing cut in the woods to install a long row of telephone poles. The undergrowth these days was impassable. There were new sapling trees that were taller than I was and brush so thick you couldn't see through it. Nice try Google. But it was just as well because the road it was trying to connect me it turns out was on the Ft. Campbell Army base and I definitely would have been in trouble for trespassing.

Herndon doesn't really classify as a town, I don't think. It was more just an intersection of two country roads. But I stopped at the Herndon Market LLC to get a snack that would last me till Clarksville. Well, I thought I smelled burgers outside and when I went in, I figured out where the smell was coming from. Right there. And I really wanted one. So I got one. It was dark inside and the only thing happening was that the husband was watching some infomercial program on a tiny, old tv. His wife was manning the grill, but until I got there, there were no other orders. Both of them looked generally unhappy but the burger was pretty good and I made sure to let her know that. I asked for a local map and eventually the guy found one after looking all over the place. I was finally able to figure out where I was and the best route from there to Clarksville.

Another hot day it was turning out to be and at the junction of the main route into Clarksville, I stopped at the huge Flying J truck stock on the corner to refill all my fluids. I was finally back in civilization, with ice in my bottles, and a solid route to follow. I had a new outlook on life. This was really the home stretch because just after the Flying J was the state line.

The elation withered pretty quickly though because Clarksville is kind of shithole. I apologize to anyone who likes it there. Ft. Campbell Boulevard was way too busy to ride on, especially when you're bike is heavy, slow and wide. The entire town is there to support the Army base and that's it. It's not a pretty place. I did like watching all the planes and helicopters take off and land from the airport though. I really just wanted out. Once I got through the old downtown part and started leaving the city, things mellowed out but very slowly. Alt Route 41 paralleled I-24 for a very long time and it was kind of annoying to see that, knowing that all those cars were going to get to Nashville hours before I would. I still liked having people around though.

Every once in a while I'd crest a big hill and be able to see Nashville in the distance. Of all the times that the ride seemed like it was going to last forever, this was easily the longest, most agonizing one I guess because I so desperately wanted it to be over. I thought I was never going to reach Davidson County, or the city limits, or any road even close to my house.

BUT! I made it. I had just enough time to shower and drive immediately to the airport to surprise my parents. Total SNAFU though, because they took a cab home not expecting me to be there. Haha, when my parents got home, my dad thought the car had been stolen. Oh well. It was just nice to be home and see some familiar faces. The best part? I didn't have to wake up in the morning and get on my bike. :D

<![CDATA[TransAmerica: Day 61]]>Sat, 01 Feb 2014 21:36:51 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/transamerica-day-61Murphysboro, IL > LBL
The home stretch as far as I was concerned, both figuratively and literally. Originally I thought I would bypass Nashville for fear that I wouldn't get back on the road and finish the journey once I got there. But by this point, I had covered way too much distance in way too little time. I needed a break wherever I could find it and my own house seemed pretty idyllic. Not to mention my parents were coming back into town in a few days and I wanted to surprise them since I hadn't been totally faithful in telling them where I was for the past few weeks... two more days!
It was a little bit tougher getting going from Murphysboro since I had an actual room and a bed to leave behind. But I relinquished them both! Just down Hwy 13 towards Carbondale, I stopped at a Gas Mart to get breakfast, which included a chocolate milk, some powered donuts and a few snickers bars. I picked up my requisite Gartorades too. There wasn't much of note in Carbondale as I just rode through another small town out to the fields on the other side. There was a little confusion once I got out of town because the roads weren't really marked and it was difficult to tell where they actually let. I relied on my general sense of direction to help guide me where I needed to go. I came across some medium sized corm farming operations which was cool to see – the big crane things collecting the ears of corn off the stalk and dumping them into awaiting container trucks.

The roads were pretty terrible on the way to Goreville. They were old and had been patched over and over so naturally it was not a very smooth ride. The shoulder, if there was one, was falling apart to and in many place the road was just a little narrow. I stopped at the singular gas station in Goreville and got a big slice of pepperoni pizza. Actually I think I got two of them and snarfed them down while I was standing inside out of the hot. Not else happened until I got to a 6,000 person town called Metropolis, right on the Ohio River, the one that forms this part of the border between Illinois and Kentucky. I stopped at another gas station and grabbed a relatively mediocre and over-priced sandwich, chips, and a chocolate milk. I just need fuel and didn't really care too much about what it looked or tasted like. I watched a guy restock the dairy section of the store while I ate and cooled down again.
PictureThis is what terrifying looks like on a touring bicycle.
A little while later I connected again with Hyw 45 and crossed the Ohio River on the scariest bridge of the trip. I hated being on that bridge. I've included a Google Maps screen shot for your understanding. There were three major problems: 1) It was stupidly narrow. 2) The whole thing was a giant metal grate which kept steering my narrow bicycle tires all over the place AND you could see straight down to the water however many stories below. 3) It was so hot and humid that my hands were sweaty and kept slipping on my handlebars even through my death grip. I knew for sure I was going to hit the deck and get run over. And then I got halfway over the bridge and it angled down. So of course, all this was happening much faster. I was on my brakes almost the whole time because I didn't want to lose control. I was willing myself and my bike over the bridge and the end couldn't come soon enough. You should check on the street view on the map and do it virtually to get the full effect. DO NOT RIDE THIS BRIDGE ON A BIKE.

Paducah, KY was just on the other side of the river and as glad as I was to be off the bridge, I didn't enjoy being there much better. This town seemed really old, tired, and poor. It was the first and maybe only place I had been on my trip that I felt like I might get robbed for my stuff. I kept rehearsing an internal dialog if I got held up at knife point or gun point. Forutnately, that didn't happen and I was relieved to be back in the country side. Eventually I reached the "settlement" of Draffenville and I stopped in the amazingly brand new, very modern McDonalds for dinner. I need something salty after riding through such a hot day. It was definitely night time by now and I had a ways to go before I could stop, another few hours at least.

Mickey D's is going upscale!
PictureI-24. If only I had a car...
The night always makes long distances and time seem to stretch even longer. Finally, I reached my campsite at Land Between the Lakes park or LBL as most people call it. I wanted to stop there because I had heard some good things about it from Mechanic Jim when working at the bike shop. I had done a little research as to the layout of the park but I wasn't 100% sure where the campsite I wanted to stop at actually was located. Fortunately it wasn't too far into the park and I found it without much trouble. There wasn't really anyone else around and I had pretty much the entire place to myself. I chose the first campsite as you entered the camping area exclusively because there was some unburned wood in the fire ring. They were pieces of 2x4 from some building project but I wasn't picky. Everything was so humid and damp that there was no way I could have found any viable firewood for myself. Even this stuff was hard to light, but I managed. After it started catching, I figured out that it must have been treated wood because it definitely didn't smell very good. I didn't care though. The fire meant two things: I could get warm that night and I might have a chance to dry out, either myself or some of my clothes. Neither really worked.

I was only one day's ride from home at this point and I tried to get some sleep because I had planned on waking up a few hours before sunrise in order to make it to Nashville before my parents got there. The uncomfortable conditions made sleeping tough and getting up wasn't too rough because I had never really fallen into a deep sleep. I thought I heard some rustling in the night and tried to shoo away whatever creature was there. In the morning I discovered that some raccoons had swiped my breakfast foods and I was piiiiiiissed because I was looking forward to it so much. 

<![CDATA[TransAmerica: Days 57-60]]>Fri, 31 Jan 2014 04:15:20 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/transamerica-days-57-60Pittsburg, KS > Murphysboro, IL
It didn't take long to get out of Pittsburg and into Missouri. The state line was less than five miles from the edge of town. I was slightly annoyed that it had taken me six days to get through Kansas and the near-sightline proximity of the broader to Missouri wasn't helping. Whatever...
Somewhere around 1 or 2pm, I crested the top of a hill to find two ladies on the side of the road trying to fix something. I stopped to see what was going on and if they were ok. One of them had broken a spoke and had been there for about 1.5 hours trying to figure out what to do. But this was not just any spoke breakage. It was one of the hardest to access ones: rear drive-side. No only is the back wheel a bit more difficult to remove, you have to take all the gears off the back wheel too once you get it out of the bike, which requires some kind of cassette lockring tool and a way to hold the cassette still so it doesn't just spin backwards while you unscrew the lockring. It's basically impossible if you don't have these tools.

Fortunately, I had a travel lockring tool just for this specific application!

Being a travel-sized pipsqueak of a tool, it took a little while to do the job. I was glad I had used it once before at home to figure out how to use it before I really needed to use it. I'm glad I did because being in a completely shadeless place in the middle of the afternoon on a hot, humid summer's day in Missouri was not ideal. It took about an hour to get the spoke replaced and the wheel trued enough to be rideable again. They were so grateful and happy that they offered to buy me lunch and a drink in the next town. I seriously considered it, but I knew I had to push on if I wanted to make it to the wedding. These two lady riders were cool people and I wish I had had the time to hang out with them. This part of the trip was getting worse and worse by the day and the friendship would have been a nice distractor. Alas.

A while later I reached the town of Ash Grove and stopped in the Whistle Stop pizza parlor. I got a BBQ chicken pizza that was the bomb dot com. It was nice to take a break from the heat and the sun for a while and I might have consumed 4-5 cups of soda and ice water. That night I finally reached Fair Grove and made the call to a local historical society member, Lysa to make sure I could stay on their property: a little picnic shelter with a detached bathroom building. I was able to take a shower (in a bathroom that wreaked of sulfur smell)and actually kind of relax for a night, which was very nice. I kind of smelled like eggs for the rest of the night.

PictureHello there ghosty spidey.
I woke up in the morning to find a roommate. This not too little spider had made himself at home in a crease towards the top of my tent. I felt bad for having to shoo him away and destroy his mini web, but I didn't feel like packing him up into my tent stuff sack.

Eventually among the wickedly sinuous climbs and descents of the Ozark Mountains in this part of Missouri, I suffered my way into the town of Hartville and found a carhop kind of place where I got a burger and a milkshake. There was a group of Harley riders there with their wives and they were excited to see me there because they had passed me a ways back on the same road. One of the women was so wonderfully nice and gave me an extra burger she and her husband had and admitted she was worried about me, making sure I had enough money and the like. She said she was a mother and mothers just worry about everyone's kids (there you go, mom!).

The road dropped down towards the Gasconade River and that part was great because I could actually coast for a little bit and take in the view. It didn't take long for the hardest climbs of the entire trip to halt my progress shortly thereafter. Holy shit, they were hard. And they were incessant. It was like 20% grades over and over and over and over again for the next two days. Actually, it wasn't "like" that, it was that. Kansas was bad but this was arguably worse. The only saving grace for the Ozarks was that the scenery changed a little every mile. Kansas was much more dry but terribly windy, hot, and agonizingly flat. Missouri was turning out to be murderously hilly, oppressively humid (not unlike the rain forests of Costa Rica), still hot and had horse flies like you've never seen before... more on them later.

Early that evening I reached the town of Houston, MO which is where I had planned on spending the night. I wasn't really sure where the park was that I could camp in and so when I got to the main intersection of town, I took a right. The climb was short and I figured if I had made a wrong turn, it would be a lot easier to ride down the hill as if I had turned left initially. Hot damn! Houston was big enough to have a WalMart! I suddenly was much more chipper (still exhausted mind you) and rolled on over. I picked up a couple things, including one 16oz can each of Coors and Miller to drown the misery of Missouri. I asked the cashier where the park was and she had no idea what I was talking about. Sinking feeling. So I called the sheriff's office and asked if and where I could camp in town. The lady told me about a different part down the hill from where I was and so I went there. The Emmett Kelley Park was kinda neat as far as town parks go. There were some picnic table shelters, a bathroom building and a big, mostly dry creek bed that ran along the road and the front of the park. I set up my tent in one of the shelters out of the way and discretely drank my beers as I cooked dinner and watched a bday party unfold and wrap up in another part of the park.

In the morning, feeling groggy due to my unusual amount of alcohol consumption the night before, I woke up to the smells of a church cookout at the other end of my picnic shelter spot. I slowly packed up and took off.

PictureFoggy morn in Centerville.
After getting constantly defeated by climb after climb all day, I finally arrived at the tiny town of Centerville, MO (pop. 191). The map said there was a place to eat and camp and I finally found the little shack of a restaurant. Fortunately it was still open and so I propped my bike up outside and went in to find some deenar. I ordered a pulled BBQ pork sandwich and fried pickles. I got a green tea too since I wanted something else cold and not water or gatorade. The food was ok, but unfortunately a fly decided to drown itself in my bottle of tea before I was even halfway done with it. The one other customer in there was a trucker from somewhere local who was headed east also. I learned all kinds of things about big rigs, like that their fuel capacity is about 300 gallons. WHOA! After a while, I realized I was speaking slower and with a thicker southern-country accent the more I talked to this feller. Ha, I guess I'm subconsciously impressionable.

The cook told me I could camp across the street in the little park, but that I should just let the Sheriff's office know. So I did. First thing you saw when you walked in the door of the office was a poster of convicted child molesters in the area and another poster of what Meth can do to your mouth and hands. Charming. Despite the lovely PSAs in the office, I decided I felt pretty safe in the front yard of the sherif's office/veterans memorial. There was a hose that I commandeered for rising purposes even though I asked if they had one and they said no. I'm glad it was late and there was almost no one around to catch me. It was a pretty foggy evening, thanks to the cooling, humid air, and it was some of the only respite from the heat I had experienced in more than a week. It was mostly calm, but so humid I just stuck to everything in my tent, including myself. None of my clothes were any drier in the morning either after rinsing them out before I went to bed. That last fact became the story of my life until I reached Nashville several days later.

PictureFlatish again! OMG I love you.
The following day I got up early and had breakfast at the same diner too. It was a day unto the breach once more, as a Mister William Shakespeare once wrote. Except instead of me being King Henry V fighting the French at Agincourt, I was fighting logging trucks on supremely narrow roads and around blind turns while walking my bike up stupidly steep hills and constantly swatting at horse flies as fat as my pinky finger. All the while dripping in sweat because it was too humid for any of it to evaporate.

Every time I stopped moving faster than 5mph (about my minimum pedaling speed), I was descended upon by flies from another world. Unlike the innocuous little flies from Kansas, these flies were the most vicious, unforgiving creatures I've ever had the displeasure of experiencing. That one I mentioned was as fat as my pinky? It was about 1.5" inches long and easily the biggest horse fly I've ever seen. And it was loud. I could hear it coming from a long ways off and every time I swatted it away, it would linger and just come back. The instant I didn't hear it I knew it was a bad sign because that meant it had landed somewhere which means it could have been about to bite me. A few smaller ones had bitten me through my long sleeve shirt and that hurt bad enough. There was no way I was about to let this behemoth fly take a chunk out of my skin. I thought I might be so incapacitated from the pain that I'd end up not being able to move and then be eaten alive.

After a few hours of this hell, I was on the verge of tears. I was so helpless I couldn't help myself. The low point in Kansas when I gave up was a different kind of unhappiness. The flies in Missouri had driven me as close to utter panic and despair as I ever hope to experience for the rest of my life. I started running wildly and shaking my hair all over to ward off the flies for as long as I could. I finally reached some roads that were ridable enough again to be able to outrun the bugs. The self-generated breeze was sorely needed too as the air had been completely still for the past few days. 

Many miles later, after a long downhill into the town of Pilot Knob, I stopped at the gas station at the bottom of the hill to get something to drink. A pair of cyclists were there too and about to head into the land of Jurassic insects so I warned them. I felt sorry for those two. The road continued to flatten out just enough to start making some headway again and once I came out of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways system, I felt home free. The road became a series of rolling hills and big vistas as everything after this point led down to the Mississippi River basin.

PictureChester, IL – Home of Popeye!
Before I actually reached the river though, I stopped at the town of St. Mary, which was the last town before Chester, IL on the other side of the Mississippi. I could tell I was just baking in the sun that day because the second I stopped moving and propped my bike up against the wall, my face felt like it was on fire. I got some more fluids there and asked for directions because I had passed a few signs saying the bridge was out. The girl reluctantly showed me on her phone how to get around it without having to ride an extra 20 miles. It involved an unpaved tractor/construction equipment road that ran a perimeter around some farms and between some off-the-beaten-path homes. I just knew a dog was going to come out of somewhere and tear me to shreds. After I thanked her and grabbed my bike, I noticed the sign that said "Do Not Prop Bicycles Against This Wall." Feeling completely dumb, I back in and apologized. She and the manager just gave me faces that said "yep, you're an idiot." Well, I obviously wasn't seeing straight when I got there I was so hot. I did feel bad though.

It was mostly downhill and flat as I rode towards the river. Genetically modified corn fields lined the roads for miles in every direction, with each plot having a sign that said what strand of corn was planted there. I reached the bridge into Chester and not wanting to get hit by a car or piss them off, just looked straight ahead and made it over the bridge and the Mississippi River as fast as I could... which still wasn't very fast. Once on the Illinois side, I stopped at the welcome center and took in the view from the high bank of the river and snacked on some raisins, canned tuna and butter pretzels. I watched the sun set for a while, not caring that I'd have to ride well into the night to make it to my next stop. I just needed a break.

The map route split out of Chester and I chose to ride along the River levee because I thought it would be flat and probably faster. I was right on both accounts. I even took a shortcut, knocking off about 5 miles. BUT it was so freaking humid at river level I almost couldn't stand it and the road seemed to be getting longer and longer too with each pedal stroke. It was almost another four hours before I reached my destination: the Best Value Inn in Murphysboro. I needed a bed (and a shower) so bad I didn't think twice about the $50 rate.... not that it was that expensive for a room. I was so happy to be off my bike that night, even if I did have to spend a few hours planning my route from there to Nashville over the wifi. Missouri was finally behind me forever. I slept like a rock.
<![CDATA[TransAmerica: Days 51-56]]>Thu, 23 Jan 2014 21:11:22 GMThttp://www.curiouslyinquisitive.com/see-what-im-up-to/transamerica-days-51-56Colorado Springs, CO > Pittsburg, KS
Thus begins the 16 days of 100+ miles per day.
This is what THE Middle America looks like.
I expect this post to be kinda big and blurry, cause that's how this section of the trip felt at the time too. We'll see...
I left Luke's place in the Springs late in the morning and after a few miles, realized I had to turn around because I still had his house key on my key ring. So after that mini setback, I took off south towards Pueblo and the main route that I was following. There were a few busy roads coming out of CO Springs, but it definitely wasn't as bad as when I was leaving Denver to get to the Springs.

Since I wasn't yet on the Adventure Cycling route, I was following Google's cycling advice once again and as I might have guessed, I ended up on yet another unpaved dirt road. But all was fine and dandy cause it was a perfect day, not too hot, tail wind and smooth, hard-packed dirt. I could cruise at about 20mph for many, many miles. I got to Pueblo much faster than I anticipated, which was totally fine by me. Once in town, I stopped at a Little Caesar's pizza place for lunch and got one of their $5 ready-to-go pies. I had about half of it and put the other half on my bike.
PictureIt looked nicer the morning after.
It was slightly downhill from Pueblo as I headed East towards Kansas and it helped a little I guess, but the headwind picked up and slowed me down more than I would have liked. About 75 miles in, I started noticing a big storm that was growing ahead of me and to my left. For a while, I couldn't tell if it was heading my way or the same direction as I was going. Eventually our paths crossed and by that point, I had made it to a town on my map called Arlington. Well, I quickly learned that just because there is a named place marked on the map, it doesn't mean there's a town there. Nope. I think I counted about five houses clustered together on the right side of the road and some railroad tracks flanking the road on the other side.

The storm was in the middle of its arrival and that meant the wind was blowing like crazy by now, throwing all kinds of sand, dirt, and other debris at me, more specifically into my eyes. I didn't have any shelter at all, so I cautiously went up to the first house and knocked on the door. It didn't seem like anyone was home, so after a minute, I went to the only house that looked like there were signs of life. It was starting to rain by now, huge, heavy drops that hurt when they hit you. Fortunately there was someone home at this house and after explaining to the woman, why I knocked on her door, I was offered a seat inside. She was the grandmother of the two young kids who were staying with her for the week, Tanner and (Blake?). They were super nice and she let me heat up my left-over pizza in the microwave and weather the storm in the house. They all got super pumped when I told them I was from Nashville because they all evidently love country music. The boys especially loved Taylor Swift and asked if I could get her autograph when I got home. I told them I'd try, but I think I've now misplaced their address so I couldn't mail them anything even if I wanted to. Sadness :(

PictureEvidence of other cyclists: stickers!
The g'ma explained that Arlington was originally settled as a railroading town and that it was a stop along the route for water refilling when steam locomotives ran through the area. It's been many years though since that was the norm and so the town has basically faded away into oblivion.

Finally after a few hours, the lightening and rain had largely passed and, not wanting to overstay my welcome, I left and went across the street to the picnic table and two trees to set up my tent for the night. It was still really windy and I was worried the tent poles might snap. It was one of the few times I tried to stake my tent down simply because I thought it was safer. The ground was extremely rocky and I think I managed to only get a few in. I piled the rest of my gear inside the tent to weigh it down. I didn't sleep very well because the storm had me worried all night.

The morning finally showed up and I found myself covered in a fine layer of dust. I never really thought about dust getting in my tent since the mesh is so fine, but I guess it was really fine dust. Continuing on and not much had changed. The wind was still blowing in every direction except from behind me which wears you down after 8+ hours. The terrain does too because there's no opportunity to coast, ever. I'd take mountains over the flatness of Kansas. The following video also does a good job of showcasing some other not great elements of the midwest:

After riding many 10s of miles after Arlington and passing through some other once-upon-a-time-important settlements, I reached the state line. One of the reasons I chose to go West>East was that I thought the wind might be more in my favor once I got this far. False. Oh so false.
Welcome to Kansas – Home Of The Flat.
Not much changed between Arlington, CO and the next place I stopped in Leoti, KS, 116 miles later. Really the only thing of note were some burs that decided to embed themselves into my tires and flip-flops. If I had had any other tire on my bike, I'd have double flatted, but nothing can stop the Schwalbe Marathon Tour Pluses!!
^ Labor Day in Dighton, KS
^ They are so proud.
^ I am so proud... for thinking to do this. Original Super Smash anyone?
I did stop in Ness for a drink... yes a beer. I wanted something other than water and Gatorade. The bar was dinky as you might expect and literally everyone inside listened to my story, wondering how and more importantly why I was doing my trip. The golf on TV was a nice reminder that there were other places in the world that I'd have rather been. Oh well. After riding off the edge of my current map, I stopped to switch them out at a rest stop in Alexander (pop. 64). Another 13 miles from there and I stopped in a town called Rush Center for the night where I almost had an altercation with a skunk after it almost got flattened by a semi. I heard the driver of the truck say "HOLY SHIIIIIIIIIIII" as he swerved his huge vehicle out of the way narrowly missing the thing. My only skunk defense was a water bottle and I'm glad it decided on its own accord to leave me alone.
PictureFor all you alphabet gamers, Kansas IS somewhere you want to be.
The next day was the longest day of my entire trip: 141.93 miles to Newton and more importantly, to a shower. I got up pretty early so I could get on the road early and make some decent headway. The first town I came across was Larned, which had a pretty neat preserved frontier Army fort/barracks. After that was a stop at Sonic for some much-needed bad calories in the form of a bacon-cheese coney and a cream slushy.

Good thing I found some happiness there because what followed was the worse section of road in America as I referred to it. It was long, straight, flat, hot and bouncy. And there was nothing different to see in any direction. But then this happened and I amused myself for a brief moment:

PictureA nicer stay than the previous fire house stay in WA.
Another 35+ miles later I finally reached where I was going that night: the Newton Fire Dept. From what my map told me, they were a cyclist haven and I was super glad to have made it there. SHOWER! I think it had been about 3-4 days since I last bathed, and while I had been rinsing out my clothes every day, there's just no substitute for a shower. A few mins before I reached them, I got another Little Caesar's pizza and snarfed that up while I watched TV with the fellas. 

The day's big push left me pretty weary and getting up in the AM was a chore. I think they were surprised how long I was there actually. I afforded myself the opportunity to get breakfast down the road at a little restuarant/cafe place and got a muffin for the road. Try as I might, I was only able to crank out 75 meager miles that day to get me to Eureka, KS via Cassoday, the "Priarie Chicken Capitol of the World."

A big part of the reason for not making it as far this day is because about 20 miles outside of Newton, I quit. I had a breakdown. I gave up riding my bike. I couldn't will myself to crank over the pedals another stroke. I just wanted to leave my bike in the ditch on the side of the road and never see it again. On the map, there was a note that said "No services next 58 miles." That meant there was going to be no food, no water, no shelter, no nothing for at least five more hours worth of riding. I had never been more miserable in my entire life. It was a new definition of low for me. I didn't actually leave my bike there of course simply because I had too much money in it and my gear to do so. So I just started walking with my bike. I walked because it was the only way anything was going to get any better. I had to get out of Kansas even if it took me one step at a time and another week. I considered hitch hiking again, but I hadn't seen a single car in hours or any signs of human life for that matter.

I walked for more than an hour before I saw another human. I had just reached an intersection of two country roads and there just so happened to be a car that pulled up at the same time. A young Mennonite girl, bonnet and all, stopped and rolled her window down to ask what I was doing and if I needed anything. Well, by this point I was pissed and annoyed at the entire world, including her and even the way the rolled her window down. I said I was fine and really just wanted her to go away. She suggested I head to the church around the corner and cool off in the sprinklers. I said ok not planning on taking her advice and wishing she would really just leave. She did finally drive off and I continued my solemn march towards Cassoday. I don't know what made me turn around, but I did, and went to that Mennonite church and did what she said. I just stood in the sprinkler until I was completely soaked, filled my bottles from the hose, ate a couple slices of left-over pizza and took a two-hour nap in the shade of the building on the concrete sidewalk. A fly buzzed my nose and finally woke me up from my respite. I hate to admit it but that girl was right. I was saved by a Mennonite girl and a Mennonite church in the middle of nowhere Kansas.

I stayed in the town park in Eureka that night and had an amazingly pleasant experience. They had a public shower building in the park which I definitely made use of. The water was completely cold, but the building itself was still very hot from baking in the sun all day. It was really refreshing to take a cold shower. I slept very soundly that night, but not before talking to a stranger who was walking his dog in the park at 10pm. He wins the award for most country-sounding individual I've ever talked to. Being from Nashville, I feel like that's saying something. "Tweein tires" = Twin Towers in his lexicon as he used that as a historical marker on his timeline which coincided with his move from small-town Missouri to smaller-town Kansas.

PictureA big part of me was glad to be leaving Kansas behind.
Another 125 mile day got me to the town of Pittsburg, pretty much on the border of what was to be Misery. Really the only thing of note in that 125 miles was a cow butt mailbox. Pittsburg was a big town of 20,000 and naturally had some chain restaurants. I found out there was a Chili's there and was suddenly hell-bent on getting a quesadilla explosion salad and a beer. I know I looked like an absolute wreck walking into that place, but I didn't care. At. All. I couldn't wait to sit down in a booth, drink a draught beer and stuff my face with cheesy things. Afterwords, I moseyed over to the town park and found a place that seemed out of the way and private. I didn't want to draw attention to myself because I wasn't sure if the police might think I was up to something and give me a hard time. I didn't have any run-ins and managed to rinse my clothes and hang them up to dry on the jungle gym I was camping next to. I was looking forward to entering a new state even though reports from others coming the other way kept saying to be wary of the climbs and dogs ahead... 

^ On the way to Newton