Sunday, July 5, 2009

the middle of the road

And So It continues! We've crossed that wide river, and suddenly find ourselves in Owensboro, KY, hometown of one Wm. RUSH Jagoe V- in the pristine kitchen of his terribly kind folks. Ending up here was a bit of a surprise-- and the second batch of beds in a week, which is spoiling us rotten. We spent the patriotic evening here last night (and may I say that I've never felt more love for this country-- in all its quirks and glory- than after this experience)And a strong, wet weather pattern has kept us here an extra day. The boys are out shooting the town (with film), and I thought I'd take the second internet opportunity to add some pictures, and put in the grand sequel...

I left off in Garden City, Kansas- but forgot to add in the Wilhelm and Bill Experience. Back a few states-- We spent our last night in Utah camped in an odd forest of trees by the side of the road, edge in barbed wire. We'd left our bikes on the other side of the fence, stashed under some bushes, and were leisurely cooking pancakes over a morning campfire when I looked through the trees and saw figures with bikes. Bicycle Thiefs! I thought. BUT, really, twas another touring pair. Rush- terribly excited, almost ran out of trees to see where they were headed- and I think the two almost had simultaneous heart attacks. Here was a boy, in spandex, appearing out of thin air from wooded private property at the edge of the highway. Rush and the two exchanged brief touring info and they headed on their way. and we ate our pancakes. Rolling in that evening to grab our first Colorado six pack, who do we find crossing the street at the exact time, but the startled two? We visited for a while this time around, and learned that the two were Bill, a 60ish college math professor from Florida taking a solitary summer tour, and Wilhelm, a 70ish new zealander crossing the US for the second time- they'd met up in utah, and had decided to join forces for a bit. We parted ways again, and made it all the way to Garden City, KS, when-- on our way out of town from the grocery store, we biked into Wilhelm crossing the street... follows a bit of exclamation over the third chance meeting. The next morning, we were pulling our three bikes out of our abandoned home/camp and who crosses right in front of us but that sprightly kiwi lad. we all biked off together, into the gray and increasing drizzle, until his experienced legs took him ahead into the rain. AND rain, it did. The air was warm and the rain was wet, and it was all jolly good, with low visibility, for the next 20 miles. During which we passed many Official 'Scenic Overlooks'- which were simply views of cattle stockyards, with poor wet creatures packed in with hanging heads. Then the rain became too much, and the shoulder became too little, and Shane got (Very Lightly) sideswiped by an RV- and we made it to Red's Tavern, where we spotted Wilhelm's bike leaning against a beer sign. It turns out he'd already wooed the entire tiny town and convinced the bar owner to give him a ride through the downpour to Dodge City, the town 20 miles ahead. The owner informed us the rain wasn't going anywhere, and if we'd like to, we might as well throw our bikes in the back of his truck as well. and so we did- and waited out the rain on a coffeeshop porch in Dodge City (the last wild town of the west.)After the storms passed the day was waning, so we headed to the outskirts of town and found an long-abandoned RV park off the road, across from a huge cattle slaughterhouse. The area afforded an odd smell to the air, but also lots of photo opportunities for the boys, and a huge mulberry tree for me. I pulled a chair out of an abandoned house flanking the park and picked berries to my heart's content. Shane supplemented dinner with yucca blossoms- glowing green-white and butter-textured. The next day our route took us through Greensburg- a small town in Kansas that was almost entirely wiped out by a mileplus wide tornado a few years ago. It's being rebuilt as an wholly 'green' community (someone caught wind of the town name, and a lightbulb went off) -- it was a very odd place to check out: lots of incredibly progressive architecture that had the negative affect of booting out the town members who couldn't afford to build within green regulations. Onward to Pratt-- ending a seventy mile day. We'd realized at this point that we'd better pick up the pace post-mountains, and began pedaling further and faster. (and eating more doughnuts). Rush flew ahead a bit, and we found him at the Pratt grocery store, having made a friend and found us a bed for the night. Which was a really really really really really odd experience. For to be told to you by Shane. We abandoned post EARLY in the morning, woken by force and fleeing by unanimous choice, and treated ourselves to a 6am diner breakfast to make up for the evening. We were surrounded by wheat farmers gathering for coffee before heading out to the fields, and we were able to overhear their worries- late and heavy rains were keeping the ready wheat from drying for harvest. We started the 80plus mile ride to Wichita, and along the ride Rush broke the 5th spoke in his rear wheel- his wheel had been giving him trouble since utah, and had finally reached the point of no return. And so he headed to the roadside and stuck out his thumb for passing trucks, and S and I headed onward, knowing he'd beat us into town. Not far along the road a little green truck sped by with a waving Rush in seat, so Shane and I settled in for the remaining ride. This may have been the hottest day of the trip- it felt like biking through a furnace, and I received what was to be an awful, peeling, mottled burn. AND Shane and I were biking along the HWY which turned into a terribly freeway into the big city- when we were pulled over by THREE COPS at once in THREE COP CARS, who told us it might be unsafe so bike where we were, but could give us no alternate routes or better ideas when asked. AND THEN, sped off and left us in the freeway dust instead of escorting us to our exit, which was 1/8 of a mile away. ugh. And then Shane almost got whalloped by a big big man in a old VW van who thought Shane had flipped him a rude signal (which he hadn't). BUT we made it into town, and found a newly-wheeled rush and ran a variety of errands. Having city things to do in the morning, we decided to find a cheap motel (underthebridging is best left to small towns and and uninhabited bridges)and took showers! and warshed underthings! and watched random tv until rush fell asleep on top of the covers till I woke him up and told him he'd better get under the blankets, cause sheets are a thing not to be wasted on this sleepingbagged trek.
We took care of bizzness in the morning time- which included Rush having his thick head o hair buzzed at an african american barber training school for 6 dollars- where they scolded him for having so much sand in his hair. Getting out of the city, Shane biked right up to a guy in a truck to ask directions. The guy did a double take, thinking Shane was his buddy from Colorado, and 20 miles down the road showed up again to invite us to his home for the night. He threw our stuff in his truck and took us deep into the Kansan farmlands to his parent's home outside of Smileyburg, KS. Dave and his parents Glenda and Gary could not have been more immediately welcoming- We somehow were suddenly barefoot and eating a spicy meal and hanging out like family members in the den. We shared stories, and were given a castle of a blow up mattress to dream sweet dreams upon. In the morning, they made the most complete breakfast we'd yet had, including farm fresh eggies from their fresh farm chickens. And so gave a new face to our staying with strangers experience (post pratt, that is). We had another long ride in the heat, and ended up finding an abandoned motor shop to spend in the evening near. Shane and I pitched our tent in the long field grass, deciding to brave grass buggies in exchange for a breeze, while Rush opted to pitch his tent within the abandoned garage. He was awarded by a nightfull of rats running to and fro in the rafters and around his tent- AND a surrounding slew of coyotes howling around the building. OH! and the boys wandered into the house by the garage (seeking pictures of all things falling apart) and found a baby turkey vulture guarding the space, looking horribly ugly and raising its wings while making guttural defensive sounds. Which they described to me and then recommended a veiwing. Which I declined.
We biked outta that overpopulated place in the morning and soon Shane popped a spoke of his own, on an already wobbly wheel. We made it to a bike shop in Pittsburg, and who was standing at the corner, but Bill- of the aforementioned Wilhelm and Bill. A Small world indeed... and convening in the least pleasant place: an evil bike shop owned by the grim reaper. We were told that what we were doing was like taking a car from the 1950's on a long road trip. Our used bikes were rubbish, and much of Shane's bike parts were hopeless. Getting the sort of wheel that he wanted could be found only on 'crappy' bikes that cost as little as 300 dollars. BUT we had to fix his wheel, and so we reluctantly handed over ze money. And somehow managed to get THREE flat tires WITHIN the shop. (after a collective 5 from the past two days-- at one glorious moment I got two flats at once, on a 20 mile unshaded stretch of heat). We somehow made it out alive and biked out of the state, leaving grumpster in the dust. Just over the missouri border in the land of corn and the first slight hills for hundreds of miles, a woman in front of a farmhouse said we could sleep in her backyard. We asked her what area we were in, and she responded, 'They call this the Midwest.' This was probably one of my favorite experiences of the trip. Fred was a farmer of few words who'd grown up on the next farm, and worked the land all his life. Patty was a more talkative woman who worked during the week at the nearest walmart, and their quiet 9 year old Joy spent the days with her grandmother. Fred asked us if we'd like a beer, which the boys responded positively to, thinking there was one right inside. But then the family took off in their farm truck, and were gone for three hours. Just as we were firing up to stove to cook our ramen egg drop wonder, they pulled back up and Fred came up with a case of Busch. Joy followed with two pizza boxes, which she was too shy to hand to us. So we sat, the six of us, in the falling dusk, and ate and drank, and they didn't say very much at all, and it was the best time in the whole world. After a few beers Fred told us a story about biking through the nearby fields in the dark as a child, and all the corn turning to creatures of his imagination, and how quickly he'd made it home. Then he told us, 'you tell all those other bicycle riders, they can stay here.' And then they went in to bed and we slept better than we had in a month. The next morning we rose just after 6, and Joy was up and sitting near our bikes. She sat there quietly with her dogs and kittens while we gathered our things and biked off into the Missouri fields.

ach! How long-winded this has become... more to come? at a future date, if you'll have it.

Heat Wave, Hot Flash

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Tri-State Traipse (by elspeth)

Prepare ye for the blog of blogs-- in length, if not quality--Goodness! Gracious! We're in South(south)Eastern MISSOURI, surrounded by cotton fields, in the warm, sweet home of the Smelsers. Rush's dear kinfolk have taken us in for a full day of rest-- the first day without biking since Hite, Utah. Meaning that we trucked through the Colorado ridges, the Kansas plains, and the Ozarks with our feet welded to our pedals. Needless to say, sitting on soft things in welcoming places has never felt so very, very nice. We rode eighty miles yesterday, swooping down from the roller coaster of the Ozarks into these flatlands that grow green before the Grand Mississip. We rode up to a home fronted by open arms-- in addition to Rush's Aunt, Uncle and cousin, his Grandparents and sister drove four hours to surprise we grungy three. They wrenched our dirty clothes from our bags and herded us to warm showers- which felt like a miracle unto itself (I'm afraid we left rings around their tubs). THEN gathered us up for an incredible evening meal. Since, they've given us soft beds, endless food, and spankin' new bike chains (!!!) AND filled our bags with provisions to last the rest of the trip. (like toothbrushes! and beans!) I can't imagine a more restful time or place, or a more generous family. We'll cross the Mississippi tomorrow by ferry- that big ole thing that seems such a marking point of this trek. So it seems a very appropriate time to sit for a minute and reach back...

We biked out of the red and brown of Utah, and into technicolored Colorado. After such a long stretch of desert we felt like dear Dorothy landing in Oz- a feeling that lasted most of the state. Green, as far as the eye could see, with ridiculous wildflowers spotting the roadsides. Shane kept pointing to the Rockies in the distance- snow capped and looking like an enormous beer label. We grabbed a celebratory local six pack and headed too far down a gravel road to set up camp- in a spot riddled with shot gun shells and beer bottles, thinking we might wake up to a bit of excitement. Morning came with no gunshots, and Rush found the coolest animal skeleton of the trip-- we've found sun bleached bones all across our way- of deer and cows and coyotes- beautiful configurations curved under trees and over banks. We spent an afternoon in Durango taking care of all sorts of sundries, and spent the night high at the edge of Lemon Lake reservoir. Just after a bright fire, we crawled into our tents and were lulled to sleep by the first night rain of our trip. The lulling took a terrible turn as it continued-- lasting late into the morning, and soaking Rush through his tiny tent with icy mountain water. We grumpily wrung the poor thing out, packed up with frostbitten extremities, and biked on with wool socks on our hands. I think this day may have marked our turn from presentable, though slightly dirty kids in cycling clothes, to outright vagabonds wearing a weird mix of whatever happens to be on hand. or on the side of the road. (we've found many hats, single gloves, and the tray to a beehive- from which I gathered a ball of beeswax just in case). Our days as bums in infancy, we stayed in the real live campground for the night- hoping to escape the fee by halfheartedly pitching our tents in the trees BEHIND the campsite we cooked in. Actually, Rush simply decided not to pitch a tent at all, and woke to a note posted above his feet requesting our 14 dollars. Well worth the cost, however, because a bright couple invited us to their RV for coffee and the use of their internet- and we walked up to the customary picnic table, only blanketed in a tablecloth and the goods of tea time-- coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, and a computer to use at our will. Unlike the barrage of questions we sometimes face, this couple gave us these sweet leavings and left us to our own. out on, into the wet wild- everyone across the state told us of early monsoons, that left things verdant and damp- we still marveled at the grand green of it all- even the air in colorado feels alive and growing. Late into the next long day of biking, a small car pulled over as we were seeking the next national forest sign. It turned out to be John the Cyclist, a former Fransican monk who invited us to stay with he, his wife, and their sweet little six year old at a nearby ranch. There, he fed us wheat bread baked with freshly milled wheatberries (all in his little sun room), allowed us showers, and excitedly talked with us about bikes until he realized what new biking buffoons we were. We slept in the loft of the barn, and woke early to a pancake send-off to a true grueling crossing of the Rockies- Wolf Creek Pass, at the Continental divide. We biked 43 miles uphill- a gradual rise to the base of the pass, then an awful nine miles of steep switchbacks. John the Cyclist decided he'd take the pass as a nice saturday ride, and sped to the top and met us back at the bottom with advice and blessings. After slow hard pedals and lots of horrified motorist's faces, we found ourselves in a cold land blanketed in snow. We put on all the layers of clothing we had, and began a long, long descent- 27 miles until we found ourselves a bridge traversing the Rio Grande. The sky looked like rain, and so we succummed to our latent tramping ways and made under-the-bridge our home- no tents neccessary. I felt a little like billy goat gruff, but slept well enough not to notice some little buggy creature that ate lots and lots of holes in our toilet paper roll approximately 2 inches from my head. Perhaps it is this morning finding that has me still hating under-the-bridge nights, while the ruffian Rush finds them to be his very favorite. NEXT we biked towards Alamosa, where Rush's new and improved and positively rainproof tent should be laying in wait at the Post Office. Along the way we ran across Ernest Wilkinson and a castle arch of antlers-- an 80plus year old trapper and taxidermist who had a pet mountain lion and a house full of preserved animals. He showed us rope made out of local plants, and told us how to eat all parts of a yucca. Rush raced ahead to the post office, where Shane and I found him, bloody-kneed, dazed-eyed, and tentless. Speeding into town and testing his legs of steel, he had biked clean into a road construction sign, helmet first- and stayed behind while his bike went onward. I bought a big ole bottle of wine to ease his sore noggin, and we drank it by a railroad track at what seemed like an old furniture dump, which supplied an easy chair for to rest his bones. He grabbed his late tent in the morning, and we biked on-- towards the Great Sandunes National Park where we were to meet three of Shane's college-time friends. We made it early afternoon, and Shane's photo-friend-from-MICA, Andy, met us with passionfruit and cherries. We wandered into the dunes and got caught in the midst of a crazy sand storm-- whipped by stinging sand bits and chilled to the bone, we eventually made our way out, though it took a minute to recover our wits. Shane's friends Josh and Ryan met our windswept and weatherweary selves and we all found an incredible campsite high above the valley- where the three brought out all manners of food and booze and fireside times. Re-entering the dunes the next day, the boys treked to the very top of the sandy world, and took turns with a snowboard and the long climb back up.
Sent off with well wishes, we biked and they drove off into the valley. We spent the night not far from the dunes- and discovered that in a series of breaking things, Rush's stove and our source of hot meals, had gone to the great sand dune in the sky. Frustruated and hungry, we looked around at the fields of scrub and sage and ...zilch firewood. In an amazing feat of 15 minute scrounging, we came up with enough cardboard trash and dried cow patties to make a roaring fire- over which we cooked the marvel of our mealtime wallets--- egg drop ramen soup. The next morning- onward, and over a joke of a pass that constituted the farewell to our western mountained ways- a crossing that was hard to believe. We spent the night at the edge of a cornfield behind a dairyfarm, in a grove of cottonwood trees and mosquitoes. Next a verylong ride to La Junta, and another night of underthebridging (with tents) and on to Lamar, and a night in the city park. We realized while cooking that the place was riddled with sprinklers- and had no wish for soggy heads- so wound up pitching our tents in the middle of a volleyball square, and woke dry and happy in a damp land.
THEN... into KANSAS. and the horrid, horrid winds of that wheatfilled state. We battled toppling winds (going the WRONG way) until we saw an off road river access, and took the first of many midwest skinnydips-- this time in the Arkanasas river (which is pronounced differently whether you're above or below the Kansas/Arkansas state line). Nothing feels better after a sticky hot spandex filled day than bare skin and cool water. We found a shed that seemed made for the three of us, and pitched our tents in the small wind shield. Wind whistled (in roaring, forcefull way) through the spaces between boards, and we woke seventy times through the night expecting the be whipped away by a twister. It didn't help to be camped directly beside a railroad track- with a couple trains that ripped through the night, mimicking tornado sound. We rode through the wind, again, and found a trucker's stop. We'd heard of shower vouchers with big rig tank fills, and so asked various truckers for unused vouchers- and were awarded with long, hot showers. We made it into Garden City, where we camped behind a cluster of abandoned homes on the edge of the city- giving in fully to our blossoming vagabondly natures. We found an old outside firepit at the edge of a once-motor-garage, and made a fire, cooking lambsquarters from the overgrown yard and a huge batch of granola in a fry pot found in a shed.

The remainder of our Kansas crossing, and our sweeping swoop across this great state of Missouri, will have to be a tale to tell at a later time. The writing of this story was well interrupted by a dinner out, at a spot where hot buttered rolls are tossed through the air with the greatest of ease. we ate and ate and then slept and slept, and now must pack and pack. and ride. probably a welcome interruption for you dear, dedicated, and eye weary readers. We'll be back! much love, and thankful bellies and brains. Off to Cross the muddy waters!