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!


  1. Quisenberrys say you sure are brave young people!!!!!Good luck on the last leg of your journey.
    July 4, 2009 l:45 A.M.

  2. wow, what an adventure..............we love you and miss you, take care,
    love mom and dad

  3. oh well, i don't even know how to post a comment under the proper name, the computer has gotten the best of me,....well els, after driving over 3000 miles in a couple of weeks, i can't imagine biking as far as the three of you have, amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    love mom

  4. Rush...Loved the article in today's paper. You guys are doing what a lot of us would have loved to have done. Checked out the whole site and I must say your photography is fantastic!! When you publish your journal and photo gallery, I MUST
    buy a copy and have you autograph it!! Love to you and I'll keep up with you through your blogs!! Judy Marshall