Bike Ride Across The USA, 2014 – Part One (Virginia to Kansas)

December 21, 2018

I made my second long distance bike tour in 2014. The first had been in Europe but this was a whole new type of adventure. For me has become a benchmark for all cycling since then. I kept the blog as I rode along and put it on a Google host – Blogger (http://follow-your-arrow-usa.blogspot.com). However I have now transposed it for my own site and reading through it still brings me immense pleasure at the rich experience, the geography, the people, the culture and some glorious weather. This is the trip from Virginia to Kansas, before riding onto California). This is the first 1,600 miles from the Atlantic coast in Virginia to Kansas.

1.    The Journey Begins

Well the first steps have been taken and today I booked and paid for the flights. On July 19th I fly out from Manchester, England to Washington DC and pick up a car and drive south to Yorktown on the coast in Virginia. From here I then cycle about 3,700 miles over 2 months to San Francisco.

As you may know or have deduced then I am a just retired Yorkshireman who still gets a remarkable thrill from feeling the tarmac pass beneath his bicycle tyres and seeing the world from a different perspective. A little sun and the odd beer adds to his pleasure when en route.

I have been a regular long distance tourer in Europe for 20 years but as time marches on then I thought I better get this big one done. This is a solo ride and what they call ‘self contained’, that is, I will plan to camp and cater for myself wherever I can but the odd comfortable bed and proper hot shower will be needed for me to retain sanity. 

Thanks to a very indulgent wife, Anna, who has allowed me this long absence and who will now be forced into reading my blogs to find out what I am up to now!

The route has been selected after reading up a large number of cyclists’ blogs and carrying out internet research to decide that this is way I want to cross America. 

The thought of cycling across the USA  has me excited and thoughtful. I am well out of my comfort zone although I have been to the USA on many occasions but never cycled. 

I will see lots of different scenery, meet lots of different people including many also cycling, endure lots of very hot and wet weather, experience kindness, experience hostile dogs and drivers, climb a lot of very steep hills and no doubt I will get to California and think that time has flown!

I would be delighted if you could join me on my journey. I will tell you about the route, the people, the sublime and the ridiculous, my charity, the States, fellow travellers and pass across my observations on this great and beautiful country.

My other hobbies include music. I shall take a song title as the name of my daily blog. Let’s hope I know enough songs!

2.   The Route

So deciding when to ride in the year was a quick decision, Summer! However when exactly was determined by attending Sophie’s (youngest daughter) graduation ceremony at Loughborough University and also my being in Yorkshire for the Tour de France in early July. So this means a flight to Washington DC on July 19th and then a drive of 170 miles south east to the start at Yorktown in Virginia on the coast. From here get some kip, dump the hire car, dip the bicycle wheel in the Atlantic and then…’head west young man!’

There are a number of mapped cycling routes across the country and the Adventure Cycling Association publish several. I chose a combination of theTrans America Bicycle Trail from Virginia to Colorado and then I pick up the Western Express Bicycle Route from Pueblo, Colorado to San Francisco, California. This should approximate to 3,700 miles. I am planning to fly out from San Francisco, back to Blighty, on September 25th making this is a two month bike ride.

The maps, which select bike friendly roads, have considerable detail on them including elevations that show the ups and downs and give helpful information on accommodation, food outlets and bicycle shops. The route is very much ‘small town America’ and I am anticipating a few nights without a hot shower and maybe buying provisions from a local petrol station. To help then I will have my trusty satellite navigation system (Garmin 800) should I need more assistance. Unlike on some trips where directions have been hard to find then the guiding principle will be find ‘west’. 

For such a long expedition then the route will involve a lot of different terrains. Virginia and Kentucky appear to be up and down and then those long straight flat roads through the Kansas cornfields. Eventually after battling the prevailing head winds I hit the Rockies and so the temperature will fall but the road will rise before I figuratively freewheel downhill into Frisco. The weather will be hot but when it rains then I am sure it will be a deluge. I have experience of a lot of cycling in the rain in Europe and so it won’t be first time although maybe not with some of the startling lightning and thunder I have read about.

Accommodation will be a combination of motels, the floors of Fire Stations and Church halls and camping. Camp sites are not common and so I may end up in a few town parks or on the odd kind person’s ‘yard’. I always carry food and cooking equipment and so I shall always be able to eat at the end of the day. I don’t think sleep will ever be a problem after 6 or 7 hours pedalling!

3.    My Charity

I have often been asked to contribute to friends’ charity raising. These usually involved a long walk, bike ride, swim or climb for their chosen cause. I have been happy to help. When it came to my previous bike rides then I couldn’t put to one side that these trips were really holidays. This was even when incredulous friends would ask why I was cycling so far and for whom was I collecting?

I always value my freedom and can empathise with folk who don’t have that opportunity because of their caring responsibilities. So in looking around I found York Carers Centre (YCC). They play an important role in the local community byhelping unpaid carers find the support they need. Their mission is to meet the needs of all carers aged 8 and upwards by improving their quality of life, helping them fulfil their potential, living their own life alongside their caring roles. They aim to achieve this by providing support, advice and information, representing carers views and influencing local and national policies and practice. They are a registered charity, operating in the city of York, with a growing demand for resources to help them meet the challenges and demand of this group of people.

So I went along and met Sharron Smith, the Development Officer, 

and we talked about my bike ride. After a little internal consideration they advised that they would like to use any money I raise to take some of the carers of people who are dealing with substance misuse away for a residential break. This might be, say, a brief stay on the Yorkshire coast where they can get away and recharge their batteries. Not least coming together with other carers who have similar responsibilities they can share experiences, talk about solutions that work for them and be a little pampered. I cannot think of a better use of the money.

I have already started on our target to reach £1,000 by using a car boot sale in the nearby Tesco car park to sell some surplus items floating around at home. If I am asking you then I thought I should ‘put some skin in the game’ by getting up at 6 am on Easter Sunday to persuade the good people of York to buy surplus LP’s, spanners, books, old iPods etc. As you can see I was joined by my two daughters, Katrina and Sophie.

We also ran a tombola raffle at Priory Street during Carers Week and in the Mungo Deli grocery shop in Knaresborough to raise more money. The generosity of various people was fabulous as was the products given by the following organisations (see below). As a note to others attempting to raise money then I found organisations were happy to give products to a worthy cause rather than sponsor or give cash – in fairness they are inundated with requests.

Going forward then we are still well short of our target and any donation, of any size would be gratefully received and our donation site can be reached by clicking the following link – York Carers Centre.

Thank you.
 

4.   Media

When I cycled from York to Faro in Portugal in 2011 it struck me that I had cycled a long way and maybe others might be interested. So on my return I speculatively sent an email to BBC Radio York. The next morning I found myself on the Morning Show discussing my trip and the anniversary of the Mr Men book series. So over about 5 minutes I covered my bike ride highlights and identified which Mr Men most resembled my personality, this the price you have to pay for fame. (Mr Grumpy by the way).

With a target amount to raise for charity I thought I would contact local media before this expedition. Our local national newspaper, The Yorkshire Post, in the buzz of excitement of the coming Tour de France to Yorkshire and anything involving two wheels, were interested and their Features Editor carried out a telephone interview and sent a photographer to my home in Acaster Malbis: hence the snap below showing me as exceptionally suave albeit with an indecent amount of leg on show. Sadly my trying to promote the charity with my T shirt failed despite my honourable intentions. The my being made redundant ‘angle’ due to the 2008 recession is theirs but clearly having the time to take off rings true. The newspaper is dated July 1 2014.

Below is an image of the newspaper.

The local commercial radio station was also interested to carry the adventure and more importantly give some further publicity to the charity and I appeared on Minster FM, the York area station on July 18th interviewed by Rebecca Lomas.

5.    Technobabble

The blog will be mainly a travelogue; it will be about people, places and experiences. However when I read cycle travel blogs then I want to know everything about the kit, the route, distances and accommodation solutions. There may be readers who, like me, want some of the technical detail that enables the trip. So if you are not interested then ‘look away’, for the techies then here goes:

The first principle is weight! I probably fail badly but I do start off balancing the selection of the kit or the justification for its inclusion based on grams.

Bike – Airport baggage handling had done horrid things to my original Raleigh Royale and so I never felt the imperative to splash out lots of dosh on something special. So I now tour on a Ridgeback Horizon which is mainly a lightweight tourer designed for Audax. However, I have upgraded the most important components – the wheels and tyres. I have Mavic A719 rims and I use Continental Top Contact tyres. These are 32 spokes and I cannot imagine that 36 spokes are vital unless you are carrying stupid weights and riding off road. The saddle has been switched to something I rescued off an old road bike when the last saddle disintegrated and I have changed the handlebar stem so that I can raise the handlebars to a height that can ease my back. Lastly, I use SPD pedals with clips/cleats on one side and a flat pedal on the reverse – this means that sore feet can rest without being fixed in place for a few days respite.

Navigation – well you have seen my selection of Adventure Cycling Association maps but I will have the back up of a Garmin Edge 800 loaded with the City Navigator North American Garmin software. This provides a Sat Nav solution but also useful information on local accommodation, shops, restaurants etc.. The Garmin also acts as a compass, mileage recorder, speedometer, altitude measure, gradient calculator, and thermometer. In case this fails, as I pedal along, then I have an old Cateye bike computer to record mileage.

Luggage – like most serious long distance tourers then I use Ortleib. They are immensely durable, cavernous and waterproof. They lack side pockets to stuff odd bits into but that to one side then they are superb. Packing is quite an art to ensure that you can extract things in the right sequence and when you are on the road then you need the ‘valuables’ to hand so that you quickly gather them to carry them with you if you enter a shop or cafe etc.

Camping – I needed to buy a new freestanding tent that I could pitch on hard standing under pavillions. So I selected a Big Agnes Jack Rabbit. I cook with a very lightweight stove MSR Microrocket. Sleeping is courtesy of a Mountain Equipment Xero 300. The mattress is an inflatable Exped, this keeps me 75mm off the ground and is very comfy and folds away to nothing. I carry a large sheet of polythene. Pitching on sodden or wet muddy ground is a problem in keeping the tent dry. It also crosses my mind that if I got caught in horrific rain without shelter nearby then I could put this over me. Possibly contrary to the weight priority then I carry a folding seat – a Helinox – being able to sit down to eat and rest around the tent is a treat and many campsites offer no solution.

Communication – I will buy a ‘Pay As You Go’ mobile phone when I get to the USA. I will use this for local calls. I shall carry my iPhone for photos, use as an iPod, for wifi use when travelling and as an emergency telephone should a crisis mean calling the UK. I use an iPad for Face Time or Skype back to the UK as well as a ‘computer’ for blogging and internet use with wifi.

Food & hydration – I read so many blogs where food is talked about but folk seem to eat so badly. They simply don’t plan or think about their intake as nutrition. I would always want to have some food on the bike even if it is unappetising! This means that I can always russle up some sustenance. I try and have pasta every night! If it is a day off the next day then I don’t (how much penne and ravioli can you eat on consecutive days?) but I simply see the evening meal as fuel. I carry some sauces that are easy to add. Ideally I would want to put some vegetable with this and some protein but it can be a challenge to find a shop. Eating out can be too costly or not possible and something delicious is simply rubbish as nutrition, for example, pizza!

During the day I would also try and eat something substantial and like many tourers then I hope to find a McDonalds: they offer quick hot tasty and value for money food (chicken for me!), wi-fi, seating, air conditioning and table for loads of clobber and clean loos! Frankly when I am not touring then I wouldn’t eat food so high in fat.

With water on the bike then I feel safe. In hot climates then you cannot go far without a regular intake of fluids. Worrying or thinking about getting water takes up a lot of time on the bike. Running out is dangerous and not an option.

Fitness – I ride all the year round and so always have a basic fitness. As the trip approaches then I start to do longer distances and more climbing. My most challenging ride is 78 miles with over 850 metres of climbing but I only do this a couple of times. By the time I depart on this trip I will have done about 2,000 miles year to date. All this is done on carbon road bikes. As I start the expedition then I have to get used to cycling a much heavier bike fully loaded with 20+ kg’s of luggage. After a month or so then I should have improved my fitness and also lost weight and be rolling better/faster. Avoiding injury is mainly a matter of luck but I never exert myself where I can hurt a muscle or joint.

For those with questions then either use the ‘Comments’ section below or write to me on tonyives@sky.co.uk

6.    A Hard Day’s Night (The Beatles)

Stead, at the US Customs & Border Pre-Clearance at Dublin Airport asked me where I was born. “Leeds” I proudly declared, to which he generated some much needed enthusiasm, as he processed the hundreds queuing, and declared that apparently that was where he originated from. I then expected the supplementary question of “do you know a Mrs Smith who lives in Headingley?” Fortunately this never came but he did go through a sequence of reactions of… surprise, awestruck and then the discomfort you might feel if you ended up sitting next to the nutter on the top of the bus when I told him what I was doing in the USA.

So began what was going to be possibly the longest of the days and the one with the most logistical challenges. More importantly then on the way home if they lose my luggage or break my bike it won’t be as inconvenient. So after a straightforward flight I got to Washington Dulles and then had the challenges of finding the bag and bike box, two different drop spots, correct change in dollars for the trolley release, location of the Car Rental bus stop, moving the luggage, getting the car and then heading south. A game, I may add, best played by at least two adults!

After programming the Sat Nav in my Chevrolet Cruze I hit the road south to Newport News, Virginia. At this point I must declare a dark secret. I fiddled about with the radio and found Shenandoah Country on 102.5 FM and slipped into a blissful state with Dierks Bentley, Tim McGraw, Sugarland etc to keep me company. I feel having declared a love for Country music that I been honest with you and that we now know where we stand.

I got to the hotel at around 8pm and smuggled up a very tatty, bike box to the first floor bedroom. I then checked all the wonderful supportive Facebook Posts and emails wishing me well. Anna had emailed that I even made that night’s York Evening Press – wonderful. Turned off the light at 9pm (2am GMT).

However with jet lag I kept the next room guessing “what the hell is he doing at 4am?” with all that clonking and some swearing as I assembled the bike. Now maybe this explains why I travel solo.

7.    I’m Still Standing (Elton John)

July 21 2014 – Newport News (via Yorktown to Ashland, Virginia – 101 miles

So the day after arriving I took care of some tasks such as sorting out provisions, buying a ‘cell phone’, checking out the route and returning the hire car. Highlights were few and far between. I was enormously excited when ‘Britney’ announced she was ‘my waitress’ at a restaurant for lunch, however she did seem rather underwhelmed when I told her that she was the first Britney I had encountered since the Mighty Spears.

So on Monday I was up very early and into the traffic. It seems that most of the rush hour was happening at 6.30 am but eventually it melted away as I found myself at Yorktown for the ceremony of dipping the wheels in the Atlantic. A kindly man from Basel, Switzerland took the photo and then I was off down the Colonial Parkway, this is about 20 miles of concrete road that takes you through Williamsburg to Jamestown.

And so started my history tour. Yorktown was where the British lost the War Of American Independence when George Washington laid seige to the town and beat Cornwallis. The Americans do admit to the fact that this was only achieved with the French Navy and their troops. They are kindly referred to on various monuments as Allies which we all now know means ‘Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys’.

The ride started down the very empty and concrete Colonial Parkway. This was delightful in humid but overcast weather. All along the road, as throughout my long journey there were plaques to explain various historic events.

However, in Jamestown, I took a wrong turn and was scrutinising my map when a large pick up truck came up beside me. “Lost?” a man piped up from his driver’s window – and so began a surreal conversation about Marmite. He found out I was English and then declared he was “half and half” with a mother from Hayes in Middlesex. His love for British food was attributed to his grandmother. Did I know what Yorkshire Pudding was or Toad In The Hole or Bubble & Squeak?! Which led us onto Marmite. He liked it. Lovely really that you can have these conversations. He adored British chocolate and cited Smarties. I was tempted to reach celebrity status by telling him I live in their home town but tempus fugit and I steered him back to the directions that I needed.

So on from here past the Battlefields of the War of American Independence, of which there was immense signage, for the rest of day.

By mid day I had done nearly 70 miles but it seemed too early to stop what with the relatively flat terrain and the cool weather and so I didn’t. Finding food was difficult, there were lots of Americans around and I loved the V8 pick up trucks as they went past with that sensational growl but no shops! Eventually I found this purveyor of hot BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.

So I trundled on past the battlefields and then decided that I would get to Ashland to camp. It’s here in the tent at before 6am I pen this. As with many camps that are really for RV’s they are close to a noisy highway (and now a fire truck siren!) I met my first other Trans Am’er today – Jack. He’s cycling back to California and he tells me there will be no snow in Colorado. Top man.

Today’s key information:

  • 10 for marks out of 10 for the patience and courtesy of Virginian drivers
  • Favorite name of the day (Katrina – my eldest daughter and member of the Grammar and Spelling Gestapo – favourite is deliberately spelt wrongly…or for my US readers, the American spelling) – Wolf Blitzer. Anchorman on CNN
  • Campsite cost of $9.63

8.    The Heat Is On (Glenn Frey)

Ashland to Charlottesville 74 miles – July 23 2014

One of the challenges is to find a scenic route plus food stops and then accommodation. The ACA maps can struggle in this regard. Today I was faced with 40 miles or 95 miles before places to camp using their route. So I abandoned the map and went direct to Charlottesville. Charlottesville seems to be a regional centre and has a large university that generally gives it a certain ambience at its heart and more satisfying architecture. My route out of Ashland was flat, rural and scenic. The legs were not complaining and all was well. Past fields of maize and large wooded areas with houses set well back I moved along. A classic scene from a 1960’s film seemed to be in place as I passed this cafe. I can well imagine the Officer enquiring as to what type of pie they have today.

So trundling along I came to USA Route 250 that was as straight as an arrow and took me to Charlottesville. This road was Roman in its arrow straightness but the whole 40 miles were, in profile, like a set of saw teeth. To lapse into technobabble then these little rises and falls came ever mile and invariably involved a 5 to 8% gradient. By the time I finished the day I had climbed a total of 955 metres. Looking at the map then the real climbing starts tomorrow! I didn’t have much of a breakfast and after this challenge and the onset of the sun I literally staggered into a McDonalds.

I had wanted to camp but again with limited options I booked a low cost motel in Charlottesville bang on the ACA route and by the time I reached it the temperatures were into the mid 30’s. Whilst cycling I reckon that I must have drunk 4 litres in 7 hours. Just as well I fitted the third bottle rack. The heat is now with me and I expect it will start to shape my day and, maybe, distances.

At the hotel I Skype’d the family and spoke to my niece in Savannah. Then followed laundry and food shopping. Looking out of the motel window later then youths/ students were playing soccer or American Football. The latter in 30ºC heat had their helmets on!

9.   I Will Always Love You (Dolly Parton)

(Dolly Parton? – I know Whitney had the hit but DP wrote it and we are in the Appalachians)

Charlottesville to Buena Vista, Virginia 84 miles – July 23 2014

So before I tell you how this illustrates my love for touring with a day that illustrates the effort, sights and living on your wits (with some risk) then let me touch on Carers.

Larry, was an unkempt older chap (nearer 80 than 70) who was sat outside his motel room at 6am drinking a coffee. He’s admiring the bike and the Union Jack flags. He approaches me as I complete the loading and asks about where I am from. From here, as the Americans can do, he starts to tell me about two British hitch hikers he let use his camper van back at his home on the Kentucky border. Larry descibes himself as a ‘hill billy’…there are no grounds to disagree. He’s interested to know about my logistics and more. Virginians are quite slow speaking and often at pains to be courteous, I can only but be patient and listen even though with so much climbing today, in such heat, I am desperate to be off. 

“So Larry, what brings you to Charlottesville?” His daughter, older than me has Crohn’s disease and they are here, again to see a Specialist. He doesn’t seem optimistic when he tells me about the appointment and how awful the bleeding can be. I am riding a bike at my leisure and he’s making 400 mile round trips to expensive doctors, at his age, to do everything he can for his daughter.

I am not worthy.

The route takes me down some country lanes and past exquisite housing. I even see that classical opening scene from an American movie of the little girl, in bright warm sunshine, in her ‘yard’ riding her scooter with a dog running beside her and her chiding the dog for running away. He’s smelt a rabbit. She can’t see the bunny, but I have and it’s disappeared into a bush. 

So down these beautiful residential country lanes I emerge near Afton after a climb that has seen me come to a grinding halt outside a Post Office slumped over the handlebars gasping. A little away along the ’76’ bike route has a sign indicating turn right. I do this and descend on a highway for 2 miles at high speed. Error – the map said turn left and I have this hill to climb again as I am deposited back at the bottom of the first hill but on a road that ran parallel to the first brute.

The route, when I follow the map, is delightful in the gentle morning heat and light. I pass vineyards and vineyards and even see a deer slip across the road in front of me.

Eventually I come to the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway (which is a road). Parkways are akin to a route through a park – they follow historic old roads that are nothing to do with the main road system. This Parkway has a surface for most of its length beyond perfection and newly laid. All along the route are large tall trees, not one is a pine and so no wonder Laurel & Hardy were in pursuit of a ‘lonesome’ one. Tourists drive past and there are a high number of motorsickles. One was blaring out Johnny Cash!

This road follows a route at between 850 and 1,000m high and undulates. In mid 30’s heat I grind upwards on the ‘granny wheel’ gears and then swoop down only to have a major demoralisation at the next climb as it comes into view.

On a day that lasted 9 hours and 45 minutes I spend 5 and half on this road with no services apart from one loo where I filled up my bottles and no signage or routes off the Parkway. The end doen’t seem in sight and I keep climbing and falling, the legs are not good. A good day, where you might brag about your climbing, equates to about 1,000m. Today with a heavy bike I climbed 2,382m. I assume this road leads me to my stop for the night. “Wrong” – the map says turn off at a certain, rare, side road. Only 3 or 4 miles later I discover this and I cannot face all the climbing back to do a U Turn.

So what next with apparently so few accommodation solutions at 5.30pm up on a mountain road going who knows where? I decide I will programme the Sat Nav to the nearest town and at least get some more water. It is warm enough to sleep out in the wild and if I get enough water then I can cook and rehydrate. Not great but I have messed up. I might be on the brink of hurting myself unless I stop soon.

The Sat Nav says Buena Vista and says it is another 8 and half miles, up and down. Such a long way, I shout at the trees, they are not listening – your fault mate.

Eventually a turn off this road arrives and I plummet into the valley at speeds of up to 38 mph. Several hours on the Parkway and minutes into Buena Vista. Not the prettiest town but suddenly I see a motel. This could be a solution but I am trying to survive on a budget. Next I see a sign for a camp site at some playing fields. I get directions from some folk sat on their porch and then I am cycling past the baseball practise session to the Reception. 

For $5 I can pitch near the river or wherever I want. What a day, Buena Vista I will always love you.

10.  The Bare Necessities (Phil Harris from ‘Jungle Book’)

Buena Vista to Troutville, Virginia, 54 miles – July 24 2014

Now Family Ives would not identify me as a man of great interest in wildlife, in fact downright hostile is nearer the mark. By contrast Mrs Ives is ecstatic at the sightings of deer, seals and puffins. My psychological scarring is down to the grey squirrel (but you’ll be pleased to learn we haven’t got enough space in the blog to go through my issues on that score). Bear with me.

So today was meant to be me taking it easy and sticking to the map. So I left Buena Vista and then transmitted the last blog whilst stood outside McDonalds using their free wi-fi. Next I headed into Lexington. From here I was looking for the road out and asked a man if I was heading in the right direction to Buchanan. He was confused, did I mean Buck-Annan? I surely did, however, I still ended up on the wrong winding country lane but was heading in the correct direction. As I trundled past one house then two dogs started up like a burglar alarm and fortunately they were on a leash. Dogs are a feature of my touring and so I have done well to get to Day 4, without being startled by one or more.

On I rode and then hit a blissful descent where I rounded a corner and there was a bear in the middle of the road! The little bear legged it into the woods due to my speedy arrival. I couldn’t believe it, maybe I was seeing things? So as I continued until I espied a chap in front of a house and pulled up to ask him. He quickly said that he was not the owner but was looking for the owner because he’d come to buy basil (be fair I couldn’t make this up) and, yes they had Black Bears in the mountains. I had seen a wild bear!

So I arrived in ‘Buck-Annan’ and stopped to buy some provisions from a very ramshackle grocery and was met with indiference to my sighting of the bear but the BLT sandwich was superb. 

As I stepped out from the shop the heavens opened and did so for the next 5 hours. When I say rain I mean ‘ an’ rain. I was sodden and it had seeped into my panniers (I found out later) and I was miserable. However down the road I saw a little supermarket and popped in to buy some shortbread biscuits (yes I know, I live on the edge night and day). At this point a lady popped out of a parked car and apologised for her two dogs barking at me…”After you had gorn I hit them both with a peece of wood”. As a new lover of all four legged beasts I was a little upset but asked about the bears. Yes they were about and she recounted a story of a ‘momma and babee bear’ emptying the contents of her ornamental fish pond. Seems that a few goldfish are merely an hors d’oeuvre to a bear but I did think that she could sell tickets in Yorkshire if this happened often.

So I then cycled/swam to Troutville and in a torrential downpour managed to call and arranged sleeping in their park under shelter and using the Fire Station to clean up. This then also meant furiously attempting to dry everything out.

Later Connie and Linda, the park janitors on the rota, came around emptying the bins. They stopped by and Linda has a son who lives in Nuneaton. I spent several minutes attempting to teach her the pronunciation and it still ended up sounding like a place on the Adriatic. She plans to visit but no time soon. Connie, however, told me about the freight train that came through twice a night sounding its horn, the prowling copper who will check me out, the prevalence of ticks and skunks in the park and rampant vandalism in the park toilets. I would like to think she meant well.

Did I tell you…I SAW A BEAR.

11.   Forever Young (Bob Dylan)

Troutville to Radford, Virginia – July 25 2014

A post script from last night is that just before going to sleep the park had emptied and I was alone in one corner sorting out some dollar notes that I keep in my shoe for safe keeping. After all the rain then they brought a new meaning to a ‘floating currency’ – they were sopping and stuck together. As I am scattering $460 across the bench a burly elderly bloke appears out of the dark brandishing a torch. It’s Cecil the Park Director. He has this job and title in a town that has a total population of 400! Anyway he didn’t know I was staying and had I rung up? etc. I confirmed I had and then we discussed skunks and…..bears. Eventually he departed.

So an early start. I think I was awake but when a train comes through towns it always blows its amazingly piercing horn. It happened in Buena Vista as well. So up and off down the road to McDonalds to have breakfast and then answer all the kind emails etc.

From here then out into the country. The whole of Virginia is wooded and so you are always in a forest or between two and always climbing or descending. A few elderly folk went past me the other way before a chap with full panniers came into view. It was Bob from Oregon who was close to his finish and off to Washington DC. As seems obligatory I got some more Kentucky horror stories: “and they had to drive him 60 miles for a rabies shot”. 

(POSTSCRIPT 2018 – Bob and I still correspond by email and he’s still riding his bike across this great Continent).

The day before, Brian, a Yearbook sales rep (answers on a postcard please) who caught me up whilst out for a morning spin from home, he recounted doing the Trans Am in ’96 and sleeping on a Kentucky church lawn, with permission, when a man appeared out of a trailer opposite and started unloading his shotgun into the air. Oh how he laughed…

So it was great to meet Bob who admitted to being 74 years old. He then went on to say that all the other cyclists that I had seen were mainly in their 70’s. They were also crossing the country but with someone carrying their luggage. The oldest of this group was 83! In fact one couple were doing this for the fourth time.

Humbled by my youth and their achievement I continued to climb again 1200 metres for the day and I looked up two campsite solutions. Calls confirmed that they were both full up for the weekend. Now that is something I might have to think through next weekend. Plan B was a hotel and not least the opportunity of trying to dry a few thing out.

Still feeling fit and life is good.

12.   The Pushbike Song (Mungo Jerry – a special request from the Fitzmaurices)

Radford to Rural Retreat, Virginia – 63 miles July 26 2014

As I sit and write this at a bench next to my tent, in the dark, there are fire flies floating about: another first.

So I departed the Super8 hotel and continued west. The morning mist was quite heavy for the first hour as I entered the woodlands that are a signature of Virginia. Houses are set back amongst the trees or placed in a striking position with a view. The day warmed up nicely but never became too hot but I slapped on the Factor 50. I reckon whatever barrier I put on everyday then I should have an enviable suntan by the end of September or more likely look like an emaciated prune.

Well to return to a theme then Virginia, like Norman Hunter, continues to bite your legs and the short little hills are quite awful with gradients well above 10%. I can’t tell you the exact percentage because the trees often form a canopy over the road and the Sat Nav can’t read it.

As I am twiddling up these hills on narrow roads then it is not uncommon to hear an enormous growl and crunching of gears as a very large articulated tanker or such attempts to go up a steep hill at 5 mph behind you. If there is a chance for me to pull off the road then I will. The Virginians are not chancers they will ordinarily hang back until the road is clear however long it takes.

However, with a series of spiteful little rises I did contemplate the unthinkable: getting off and pushing. Every experienced touring cyclist has done this and will say that it is nothing to be ashamed about. Absolute bs! The reality is that sometimes you can push the bike up hill at the same speed as riding it. I do feel that if Virginia keeps this up then I may have to relent. Needless to say then it is unlikely I will tell you.

One road ran alongside a motorway for some time before a junction made them meet and I found fast food and wi-fi. More interestingly it was a stopping point for the iconic Greyhound buses and it disgorged its passengers, who came into McDonalds to also refuel. Of note there were black people getting on and off the bus. I see so few. They are separate in their pastimes and where they live and my trail might find a few in service jobs e.g. on Reception at Super8 or in a McDonalds behind a counter but elsewhere there are few to see. Interesting to me then there are quite a few Hispanics who seemed to be working in construction or the peach orchards.

So accommodation tortures me, I like to have it sorted for the next day. Last night’s calls to one number were inadvertently contacting a fax machine (remember those!) However, despite unpromising signage I ended up at a campsite with a lovely spot amongst the trees to set up my tent and a great vista of a lake 100 metres from my pitch. I have a lot of Country songs telling about weekends by the lake and it appears to be true.

So I bothered my distant neighbours for a 10mm spanner and then some pliers to try and stop my front wheel rubbing on the tyre. Not a serious issue but the noise of it rubbing for over 6 hours a days is driving me loopy. I hope I have sorted it.

I understand it is very hot in the UK at the moment. Please feel free to keep it!

13.    Amazing Grace

Rural Retreat to Rosedale, 80 miles – July 27 2014

It is quite a sensory experience sleeping in the forest. Last night after the dark came and I’d gone to bed the insects start up and create a rhythmic throb. I was so tired that I could sleep on a washing line but woke on a couple of occasions to hear distant thunder and see lightning. At 5.30am I was awake to hear it again but closer and heard the rain pitter patter on the tent. I was snug within but the misery of packing a wet tent was to be upon in me in an hour or so’s time.

The ride was through a National Park on a Sunday and apart from one tanker passing too close then there was little or no traffic and I had little to distract me. The first stop was a petrol station and these, throughout the trip, are locations where you can get provisions. Again you wouldn’t shop at a petrol station but I had Hobsons’ choice. The Parks here have Horse Camps and occasionally bowling down the country lanes was a pick up with a large horsebox attached. These horse boxes looked more modern and sleek than the British equivalents and they included people sleeping quarters.

Again the road was up and down all the way until I got to Damascus and collared a couple of women cyclists who were going West to East on the TransAm. They were about to have a day off and were being picked up by a friend. I asked about accommodation and they volunteered a church about 35 miles away.

Being Sunday there were plenty of churches and parked cars for the worshippers.

So I raced westwards to hopefully get there by 6’ish. Cycling through a town called Meadowview a Honda pulls alongside and a man alerts me to an incoming storm from Kentucky that may include a tornado – “better stop and hunker down, buddy” was his advice as he drove away. Hunker down where and was he for real?

First sign with a banjo on it spells danger ahead.

So I cycled on and came to Haytor Gap that served up a 400m hairpin climb. The gradient wasn’t impossible but there must have been about 5 miles of it and I was desperate to see the top. About a mile from the summit a young lad pulls alongside in a very weary Nissan pick up and tells me about the storm coming in….was I going far? I tell him and then he says that if I want to then I can put the bike in the back of the truck and he will drive me there. Somewhat in a British stiff upper lip sort of way I tell him that I want to ride and he waves goodbye. It was very kind of him.

So eventually I climb this brute and come down the other side in search of Elk Garden United Methodist Church and whilst it was raining I get here before any storm (there never was a tornado).

At the door it says come in, eat our food, use our appliances, sleep where you want etc. I couldn’t believe it. So generous and welcoming to the traveller.

Apart from Steve, a first year post graduate medical student from Philadelphia, travelling West to East, who arrived about an hour later telling of attacks by packs of dogs in Eastern Kentucky, we never saw anyone from the church. Steve continued to whittle the stick he had decided was the best solution to dog attacks (see picture, unfortunately you cannot see the rocks he was also carrying to lob at Bonzo). Steve then also wrote in the visitors book, in capitals in a box, that packs of six dogs are to be expected in Kentucky. I’m not sure that a lot of people didn’t turnaround after reading this!

Steve was a Moonie for two years before withdrawing from this Faith. Clearly he still has the same values and love for all forms of life. If only all the folk were not so dull.

14.  Jesus Children Of America (Stevie Wonder)

Rural Retreat to Lookout, 62 miles – July 27 2014

After tidying the Church to the state we found it we both departed in opposite directions. As you can see then the sky didn’t look promising but I have ‘done’ rain before and bring it on if you think you are hard enough. 

 

Following the map I had started on a hill when I was hailed from behind “hey biker!” and due to my current speed came to an immediate halt without skid marks. Chelsea was riding from Yorktown to Oregon, after a brief chat she volunteered that she was going to the same overnight stop and that she would ride me.

“Oh alright then…”

We were headed for another church, this time I was switching my allegiance from Methodist to Baptist. When I get home then I really must find out the difference between Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal etc., however, I can say that they have been wonderful to cyclists when there are no other accommodation solutions.

Accumulated weariness is becoming a factor. I have been on the road eight days solid and the mileage is just under 600 miles. This has to be explained against the terrain. I remember, in the 1990s, I used to tour for five days with a rest day after the third day and the bike had less than half the luggage.

So now partnered we sailed along with similar abilities. I was a lot more experienced as a tourer but she had 37 years of additional youth on her side. Chelsea is a vegan – not a popular thing in hillbilly Virginia and Kentucky. Life will be one large bowl of oats for several weeks I expect. The countryside was still as green but a lot less prosperous and whilst waiting for a sandwich in Haysi I learned that the local school was being merged with another because of falling numbers of students. It wasn’t long ago that small families had five kids. Added to this is the decline of the coal industry purportedly down to Obama’s anti polution legislation. This is putting the price up and there are cleaner alternatives. There were still a large number of trucks on the road and they were quite courteous unlike the articulated logging truck that whistled past within inches on the steep incline towards Breaks Interstate Park.

Having just watched all the episodes of Breaking Bad meant that coming across a Pontiac Aztec, as driven by Walter White, was quite a exciting.

Eventually we parted from Virginia. Your drivers have been mainly wonderful, your courtesy exceptional, your weather kind to a cyclist and your State is as beautiful as many a European country. I will be back, not on a bike.

So here I am at the Freeda Harris Baptist Center and Rita and Kelly have just departed after delivering peanut butter fudge to go with the kitchen full of food. These are good people. By mid afternoon we got to Lookout not without ‘dawgie’ episodes. Some will yap and are not really up for the chase but one dog on three passes (another story) bolted toward my front wheel. Sadly I was unable to extract my camera, blow my whistle and reach for my pepper spray whilst also accelerating like Mark Cavendish to provide a momento.

PS – Chelsea is outside behind the hall practising her ukelele and recording a tune to send back to a pal on her iPhone. Obvs…

15.   Everyday Is A Winding Road (Sheryl Crow)

Lookout to Hazard, Kentucky, 82 miles – July 29 2014

So I didn’t know it was an ice making machine as I wandered about the Sports Hall at 2 am wondering what the noise was with my torch ablaze. My three other travellers in corners of the Hall, no doubt awake because of this clonking, were probably more concerned about a confused man walking around muttering dark threats.

So an early start to the day and the good news was that I found a large stick outside the Hall. With my sister’s voice and words in my head saying “they are friendly and just want to play” then I thought, with the stick, I could play ‘fetch’ or render them insensible. I think I will await reporting my experiences until Berea, but so far unscathed despite several chases.

The early morning was chilly as the day started with a windy climb up through a forest. Most of the cycling at the moment is on B or C roads and traffic is quite light as they wind around the rivers and mountains. In Virginia there seem to be splendid well tended plots with a house on them. Here there is less ‘tended’ and inferior housing. Often there are abandoned vehicles left to rot for decades and the plots seemed higgledy piggledy at the side of the road.

For whatever their income level may be then the drivers are so respectful. They will dutifully sit behind you rather than overtake if the road isn’t indisputably clear. Then when they do get past they smile sweetly.

The hill climbs are distinctly Alpine, lots of hairpins and gradients of 8% can be typical. The weather is low 20ºC’s and perfect for cycling. These hills and my baggage are putting an immense load on the chain, rear cassette and bottom bracket and I expect some failure in due course.

God still has a serious profile and there are lots of small ‘retail outlets’. We stopped at a set of benches at a Church for lunch and got talking to the kids who were milling about after they had been involved in a ‘fundraiser’ lunch. Chelsea lit her bunsen burner and had oats, I ate a ‘turkey and cheese sub’ that was as appetising as a submarine.

The kids were fun and informed and they seemed gentle and respectful teenagers. Somehow we got onto guns and many had one! One girl who had been earlier talking about her faith was extolling the virtues of her sawn off shotgun. Britney said that she shot her first deer last year but when her family shot then it was to eat the animal not just for the sake of it. I suppose fire arms just don’t compute, in Britain, as a good idea, but the Second Amendment here makes it a fundamental right. 

I felt better today and ground up the steep hills and bowled along on most other stuff. Chelsea had only ever cycled 60 miles as a maximum distance and so to discover the potential of the child we ploughed on for 82.4 miles. I think any residual energy was discharged but sadly the young do bounce back.

In Hazard we got our rooms at a motel and in classic American style got some food delivered from a restaurant to the room.

16.   You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (The Smiths)

Hazard to Booneville, Kentucky, 48 miles – July 30 2014

Strange start to the day when the elderly owner of the motel turned to his manager and quietly asked “what is he saying?” This isn’t the English variant of “what’s he on about now?” But he couldn’t understand my accent. I couldn’t understand him either.

No such problems with Brandon at the Mini Market in Booneville (so named after one Daniel Boone) who was delighted to discover my accent and exhorted me to say “bloody hell” repeatedly. This was no problem; he should get a bike and tag along and he could accummulate a whole lexicon of English swear words.

The day started off the map route and with an educated calculation I found an alternative start to the route. Now there is a theory put about by women that men are quite happy to drive/ride around in circles for hours rather than stop and ask someone for directions. This is of course is ludricrous. To suggest my cycling trips are about 15% longer than they need be due to this preference would also be outrageous (cough).

So as we set off and Chelsea made the insane suggestion that we might stop at a small store to confirm the direction we were headed. Being Mr Agreeable I complied and fighting every sinew in my body strolled into the store accompanied. In retrospect I have to that say my over exuberant euphoria having my decision confirmed was maybe a little over the top.

So more of the same country C roads with trees and houses set off the road and repeated climbs and descents. I have resisted taking photos of much of the poverty around. I am not here to be censorious of the area, without knowing the issues, but I took a snap to illustrate what wasn’t uncommon. Again all I can say is that courtesy and friendliness was always in abundance.

The ride to Berea would have been nearer 90 miles and I would have limped in. The road being as difficult as it was came as a surprise as the map didn’t indicate such misery with over 1,000 metres climbed in less than 35 miles. I felt that whoever ‘pulls the strings’, such as fate, was saying as regard my day off in Berea that I just hadn’t earned it yet and I would have to wait.

So via Brandon….”bloody hell”… we found our way to a supermarket that was very exciting as it had fresh fruit and vegetables – yippee. From here to a church where camping was invited. May I say that cold showers, irrespective of the outside temperature, are overrated.

So Berea awaits with 711 miles completed without a rest day yet.

17.   Dog Days Are Over (Florence & The Machine)

Booneville to Berea, Kentucky 51 miles – July 31 2014

Behind the church and outside of the nearby town was my best night’s sleep of the tour and I awoke to fog/mist. So on with the high-viz and switch on the lights and off we go. The fog burned off and the beautiful countryside revealed itself. Gone were the mountains and now it was the hills, albeit challenging as usual. I think you have seen enough images of the roads but very little is flat and it is mainly a nasty little rise and then a swooping descent over too soon.

The construction of properties included brick and the area looked a little more prosperous although the sight of abandoned assorted junk in front of houses was not uncommon. Don’t worry there continue to be churches everywhere.

In McKee I sidled up to a ‘Subway’ to use their wi-fi from outside when Janey cycled up in front of me. Meeting another cross country cyclist is akin to speed dating, in that, in 5 to 10 minutes you extract as much possible information as possible, usually to help yourself and then move on. So:

  • From California
  • 53 years old
  • Husband (his second marriage) following her in a mobile home
  • 80 to 90 miles a day but not carrying luggage
  • Aiming for Hazard and cycling from Berea
  • Advised on crime in downtown Scaramento (if you get lost like her)
  • Using old maps

This is inbetween my telling her:

  • Former drummer with Showaddywaddy
  • Have rowed across Atlantic to get to the start
  • ‘Trophy’ husband
  • Cycling 120 miles a day
  • Loving the hills
  • Have adopted four Kentucky pooches

You get the idea. 

Talking of dogs then I do realise that some readers may be actually planning to ride the route and I do feel it timely to summarise it all. There are lots and lots of dogs and the occasions are too numerous to report when they went off like a burglar alarm and started to chase me. In Europe then tourers face the same irritation but they are fenced in. Here the home plots are large and fencing is not always preferred. Hence they come at you. Most want a damn good bark and a 30 yards dash and frankly that is annoying but not a problem. Some come at you and, mainly terriers, are quite committed to making contact. Not fun. I have only had one ‘pack’ situation and two mongrels and two black labradors (who are not killers!) surrounding me. It is quite hard to keep a touring bike upright at low speeds and sort out two behind you, one dead in front and another going ballistic to your side. Usually lots of “NO”‘ and “STOP IT” works and they eventually desist. (It shouldn’t put anyone off riding though, and now I have posted this I may suffer worse, but you will be glad when it all stops).

Lastly as I started a descent all the usual hell breaks loose with a few dogs on the road and bounding out amongst the crowd is a St Bernard. He’s having a yap but is simply too big to steer around, I have to stop. His owner appears and hears my “no, no, no” and calls him off. 

“Don’t worry he’s a soft ol’ poppee. Hey where ya from? Australia?” A two word answer came to mind. 

So the dog doesn’t come to heal but starts to bond with me and sits at my side wanting to be stroked and licking my knee. Deep joy and no Ann Marie I am not getting a dog when I get home.

So cycling on past some Yard Sales and a gang of chaps in hi-viz picking up litter from the roadside with ‘Jackson County Work Reform Inmate’ written on the back seems a civilised development from the Chain Gang of old.

Berea eventually showed itself and I ploughed straight through to the campsite. It is mainly an RV site for vehicles near to an Interstate passing through. After the usual pleasantries at Reception I tell them that I am looking forward to a beer: it is a ‘dry’ County they advise. Anyway it is fine and less than $8.00 a night. I‘m glad to be back amongst wi-fi and fast food!

Later that night whilst returning from a restaurant I go through the old town and there is a Bluegrass ensemble playing some Country and Blues classics. Not a bad finish to the day in the fading light but still over 20 degrees.

Just a quick shout out to thank my wonderful neice in Savannah who helps me keep contact with the family when wi-fi isn’t available. Victoria Kate xxx. 

Also thanks to Harry Gration of BBC Look North fame who Re Tweeted my request for his ‘Followers’ to know about the fund raising for York Carers Centre. Lastly thanks for all the comments, I really appreciate the time y’all taking to read the blog.

Woof!

18.   Ramblin’ Man (The Allman Brothers Band)

Berea to Lincoln Homestead Interstate Park, Springfield, Kentucky 75 miles – August 2 2014

So Friday was mainly a chill out day in Berea eating, drinking (water) and talking to the family at length. I got the chance to look over the bike and listen to my favourite Blues radio show on podcast (‘Nothing But The Blues’ from Vixen 101). 

The only other highlight was debating the attraction of a pair of pliers with a local, which were begging to be bought at $1 a pair. We were both mooning over these at a discount store. He opined that he might use them to extract the hooks out of the mouths of blowfish and avoid being bitten. I had more mundane uses such as gripping the nut in place that holds the front brakes tight, on the front fork, whilst loosening the locking nut that retains the mudguard in place. 

Making pasta for Chelsea and myself – note our tents in lots of space up the field!

So we rolled into the cool morning air and found ourselves heading west again. Instead of the usual calamitous ascents and then the long swoops down this was a bit more gentle. I even saved the life of a tortoise that was making a slow job of crossing the road in morning traffic. I saw a couple of deer that slipped into the woods as I cycled past. In Britain they seem more hidden but I suppose these deer are so confident because of the lack of people and traffic generally. 

All of a sudden Bonzo was gone and I abandoned my stick at Harrodsburg when we stopped for some lunch. A brief stroll around the town showed it to be an administrative centre with few people! 

This part of Kentucky was suddenly more prosperous and attractive. We passed over Herrington Lake which appeared to be quite a resort with lots of boats. The countryside remained green and the sun started to burn hot with temperatures into the mid 30’s. I carry around 2.75 litres on the bike, at the start of the day, and running out isn’t likely.

My maps from the ACA vary in route and accurate instructions compared to Chelsea’s. Her’s are a later edition. I got sent on a three mile detour when riding well ahead of her. This made me late for golf. 

The accommodation for tonight was at the Lincoln Homestead Interstate Park. This was Lincoln’s parent’s gaff back in the day and the house and museum are here along with a golf course. The course has a Pro Shop and a humungus garage for all the golf buggies. I showered here (a cold one, although I did have a locker).

In fact golf buggies are derigeur for the over 60’s. At an RV park walking to Reception would be seen as nonsense. There have been a couple of days when a lift to the shower block wouldn’t have been refused.

So again its a night’s sleep under a pavilion and hoping the laundry dries in the hot evening sun.

19.   Alone Again Or (Love)

Springfield to Falls of Rough, 104 miles – 3 August 2014

When settling down for the night, in the last embers of the hot day, it can be a bit too snug in the tent until the temperature falls away and then you awake to a heavy cold mist. So it was today but despite going out like a light at just after 8pm I was woken at 3am by someone zipping around the country roads on a powerful motorbike and also coming to rest in our car park for a chat with the pillion rider whilst revving the bike. We were miles from anywhere and so this echoed quite profoundly and I was completely awake for the next couple of hours.

However when back on the velo it was a quick couple of hours into Bardstown. There were two maginificent restaurants/cafes serving morning diners with eggs over easy, French toast, coffee, waffles etc and I knew that the family would love such an oppotunity to dine here. I was seeking wi-fi and neither offered it. 

At this point Chelsea trailed in and it was obvious that we were now moving at two different speeds. Yesterday I had waited at many junctions for her to arrive and felt bad that maybe I was wearing her out. Anyway I said we should part and she readily agreed as she wanted to go see some local caves via another route (or ‘rowt’ as she would have it) and our separation was complete. Goodbye South Carolina Belle.

So left to my own devices then all sensible controls were lifted and I headed west. After a brief flirtation with Kentuckian civilisation I was back in the sticks with a little bow wow action…..”NO!” and went along quite nicely as the hills were more gentle and occasionally flat roads appeared. So through New Haven where sadly the Rail Museum was shut and onto Buffalo before Sonora. 

Here I bought a few provisions and then headed into the wilds. White Mils, Eastview, Madrid befor coming to Falls of Rough. Rough being a river. There was more arable farming now and also the occasional Amish buggy with a family on board. The first buggy studiously ignored me as I went past, very un American but on the second buggy it was all waves. I recollect when I worked for Moores visiting one of the parent company’s American cabinet factories to find the Amish working there. How can you work with electricity during the day but return to candles at home? 

This is the first time I have cycled through a time zone and the clocks have gone back by one hour. Heaven knows what time I shall be on the road tomorrow morning! 

So back to my own journey planning I felt more liberated and at ease.

20.   Jesus Take The Wheel (Carrie Underwood)

Falls of Rough to Sebree, 74 miles – August 4 2014

Well I could tell you about the ride and my detour into Owensboro to get wif-fi but let’s talk about some of the people and how I have been touched and learned something today.

As I cycled out of Fordsville, a little despondent at not finding wi-fi and remembering the expression on the Diner waitress’ face when I asked her if they had wi-fi, as she looked over my shoulder to see where I had parked my Space Rocket, I was hailed from the roadside. 

Denny Edge, a Professor Emiritus from Louisville University was on his porch with his wife, Sharron, and wanted a chat. Denny, 70 years old, and coming across as Dustin Hoffman in ‘Meet The Fokkers’ was in bare feet and wanted to tell me about his 15 trips to The UK including York and ‘Edinborrow’. He taught psychology and seemed a bit of a wealthy hippy with a large allotment at the back of his plot with pumpkins, squashes, canteloupes, tomatoes, maize and other exotic vegetables. He told me of his love of the Brits and how he was thinking of doing up a nearby house as a hostel for passing cyclists. What did I think and how would he advertise it? 

Sharron was busily writing out addresses and filling me in on her ancestry that led to them living out here in the sticks. Frankly their more pressing appointments, and the arrival of other seniors, in cars gave me my chance for a get away but you could feel their generous spirit and openness. I think if I had wanted anything I could have had it.

Later that day as I rolled up to the First Baptist Church in Sebree I thought I knew the ropes at churches. This was on a grander scale with five other ‘West to East’ cyclists already berthed in the luxurious accommodation. 

Pastor Bob (over 70 years of age) seemed a little detached as he gave me my tour around this large complex and I was shown where to sleep, cook, use the laundry and then asked to stick a pin in a map of where I came from. After this I was given a little book upon the righteous path that Jesus offers and I took it and put it away discretely. I thought the tour was over and was about to sort out my washing when he invited me to dinner at 7pm sharp…..gulp! 

There were 3 other guests, Lesley, Zac and Greg who were cycling West to East; in their early twenties and seemed to be typical of the young on this trip who seem to be using it as an opportunity to delay making a decision on a career. Then there was me.

Violet the pastor’s wife, a short and compact little matron, made us welcome in their kitchen and after Bob said Grace we were invited to pile into the cornbread, pork fillets, coleslaw, lime beans, squash, cabbage & bacon and canteloupe melon, which I thought was the next course but I can confirm it works.

The conversation steered to their many guests at the church. Violet, a strong figure, brought out the albums, newspaper clippings, postcards etc. Cycling through included Ambassadors, ex-professional cyclists, business moguls, paraplegics, Thais, Koreans, unicyclists and, obviously, two chaps on penny farthings (which apparently are more difficult to ride downhill than up!). She calculated she had 250 guests around her table during the season. Their generosity of time let alone food was amazing. Quite a few of the cyclists I have met are not a group I would feel like opening my house to every night, 7/7.

Her relationship with hard luck stories, such as the Thais taking 5 years around the world who turned up during October (snow…doh!) only to discover that the husband’s mother had had a heart attack back in the Far East and how they helped out with logistics, calls and not least prayer was engrossing.

She led us through all these stories, as Bob cleared up and then surreptitiously slipped a large chocolate brownie with vanila ice cream in front of everyone. What was clear was her belief, her energy and value of community. As my family know then I always have another question (especially in Berlin in the rain) and when she said that she often travelled in the USA giving talks I asked what these were? 

She attended Gideon Bible Conferences and gave her ‘Testimonial’. 

Violet was the 11th child out of 15 born in Mississippi. Her family were share croppers and the father was pure evil. A drunk, violent, womaniser who often spent all their money leaving the family destitute. “I used to sleep with a pillow over my head so I couldn’t hear my mother’s crying at night”. The children never had lunch and after dinner were expected to be out in the fields helping with the cotton.

The father’s control over all the family was horrific as was the abuse, “the girls were never left alone with him”. This family environment spawns misery and 8 of the 10 sons eventually became alcoholics and one ended up doing ‘Life’ for rape.

So this sweet lady talks of her rescue by at first the donated Gideon’s bible, which she absorbed word for word, the church classes she joined and the goodness of the people she met, their funding her education and her escape from this life that no child should witness let alone suffer.

Brownie’s were neglected as she told this story in her Southern drawl with everyone transfixed. The tears rolled down her face as she explained her wrestling with her faith and suffering.

I am sure that Violet and Bob were well aware that they were ‘at work’ with this gathering and their history and faith would serve as some introduction/instruction. However, nothing was expected or sought other than poliltely listening and I couldn’t get enough. I had cycled past so many churches, listened to so many Country music songs and wondered how these people believed what they did.

When at work at Moores on occasion a new management book would float around or I would get bought it and encouraged to read it. Amongst the ‘tool kit’ for success (all usually recycled stuff with a new ‘management speak’ title) included working on your spirituality. Not a religious one but one where you feel good by ‘putting something back’ and maybe use your stature in society to take a larger community role. It makes you feel better. It does. 

I cannot share their religion or God and what drives them is a different ‘motor ‘ but they are good people and I came to find America and tonight I found some more of it and maybe some of this may make me a better man. I can imagine for those in despair, wanting community and or a positive structure to find their way through the complexities of modern life then they would find this ‘brochure’ very tempting.

(I did flirt with using the song title of ‘Rocky Racoon’ by The Beatles. If anyone can work out the connection then a San Francisco key fob will be on order and delivered but not for a while!)

21.    Banks Of The Ohio (Olivia Newton John)

Sebree to Cave In Rock, Illinois 54 miles – August 5 2014

So away from the palatial church and onto a very up and down road to Cave In Rock. Bob had explained that maize and soya were popular crops. Soya looks like a neat short hedge. He also talked about the local chicken farms which battery farmed millions of these chicks per annum. You could tell you were passing one by the smell. Logging was popular and I wondered how many kitchen cabinet oak doors I had sold in my career made with Kentucky oak. It all comes from the USA.

I must show you the rumble strip edge to the road which is the ‘punishment of choice’ throughout the whole State. It meant that you couldn’t use a hard shoulder and if you had to cross it then you nearly shook out your fillings. Awful.

As I cycled through Clay I stopped for an All American Breakfast at Jeri’s and the use of their wi-fi: bliss. Before remounting my steed I called Joyce, one of my followers and friend of the Fitzmaurices and she duly appeared brandishing a dollar coin, treasure and a lovely thought as a momento. It was lovely to meet her and after a quick selfie and a hug I soldiered onto Marion….err…the town not the girl.

I had decided to make this a shorter day and it was. I was tired and getting out of the sun and stopping riding had great appeal. However before that I had an exciting ferry crossing across the Ohio river. Free! Just across the other side it was another State and a quick photo was needed.

 So goodbye Kentucky. Lovely people and great spirit and generosity. A State of contrasts with the challenges of the east and the relative prosperity of the west with your jobs and agriculture. Your rumble strip are not friendly to cycling and I cannot believe that you have chronic narcolepsy amongst the population that needs this road mutilation and as for your dogs….

So set I up camp and whiled away the afternoon. Called the South Carolina Belle and Jack. Both are trucking along with Chelsea having notched up 98 miles the other day and Jack starting to hit 50.

22.   Keep On Trucking (Eddie Kendricks)

Cave In Rock to Carbondale 84 miles – August 6 2014

A peaceful night. Albeit I had a view that might have made members of my family want to sleep alone rather be joined by this 8 legged friend between the fly sheet and tent!

I started to pack when a dishevelled figure pulled up in a car and entered the shower block at before 7am. As he exited then, like most blokes of a certain age, he couldn’t resist a few questions about the bike and trip. However, he had slept in his car overnight and probably avoided the Park Ranger and his requirement for a fee. He said he had flown up here for a family reunion and had a hire car (Texas plates?) Surely a man with those methods of transportation doesn’t bum a free shower and sleep in his car? Before he could produce a loaded Magnum and demand all my spare dried pasta I cycled off. 

Well I was not in good nick. I could cycle but climbing anything above 4% was tough and the road all the way to Eddyville was typically straight with 400 metres of gentle descents followed by 400 metre ascents ending in a 8% rise and a blind summit. I plugged in some music to distract me. 

On yet another rise as I was listening to Charlie Daniels and ‘Uneasy Rider’ when I heard the usual growl of a struggling articulated coal truck (‘semi’) behind me. These boys were confined by the requirement not to overtake, given the blind summit, but if the victim wasn’t too near the top and the truck had a good run then they would gun these heavy babies past me,nice!

The first one just about did, but even they don’t like 8%, however, the truck behind couldn’t see me and calculate what his pal in front was negotiating. So as No 1 edged past then No 2 simply ground to a halt. Thirty metres from a blind summit in the middle of the road he stalled. By this time I was stationery on the grass verge, in fact, up until stopping I think a glacier would have overtaken me. He struggled to restart the truck and execute a hill start. 

Truth betold then in terms of execution I imagine I was more on his mind, after probably receiving his informed opinion that my parents weren’t married in 1955, I am sure he would have wreaked his revenge were it not for an imminent head on collision and a queue of traffic behind.

So the truck eventually started; this enormous tractor lurched forward creating a ‘wheelie’ on the back 4 wheels and then crawled forward. Not even a wave goodbye!

Coal trucks hammered past and they gave a good passing distance where they could. At Eddyville I had an unforgettable turkey sandwich (not good memories) and fortified by Haribos I continued to Goreville. The road gradients reduced dramatically and I decided to continue to a hotel bed, restaurant cooked meal and beer. A day off beckoned and as there were more hills over the next week then some restoration was essential. 

After checking into my Super8 I had some dinner and then strolled to some retail outlets. It was here where I met Andrea from Rotherham. She had reached a dead end with her job back in Blighty and relocated to the USA and was now enjoying a busy career. She did say ‘soccer’ and ‘rowt’ = route and was quickly chastised (I am like that).

And as the day eventually drew to a close I enacted one last religious ritual: I went to Walmart and then went to bed.

23.   Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)

Carbondale to Hawn State Park, 103 miles – August 7 & 8 2014

It is impossible to relax and to stop thinking that you are in a race. The race is of course against time and even on a day off I view it like a pit stop where problems are solved – laundry, get cash, shop for food, have bike checked and get a long decent call to Anna. So in the heavy mist the morning after my non biking day I pushed off at 6.30am in the directions of the Ozarks.

The first town I passed through was Murphysboro (“it’s life Jim, but not as we know it”) and I was glad to escape this busy unattractive place to go south to ride along the Mississippi levee – in pursuit of old men drinking whiskey and rye. In many ways it was cool and glorious as I didn’t see any traffic for a couple of hours and the terrain was flat as a pancake as I followed the river’s path albeit hidden by trees for the most part.

Some of the trains I see are pulling up to 50 trucks and in fact it may be two trains linked to each other. At Cara I came across a terminal where the coal is taken from a barge and then dumped into heaps and then loaded into rail trucks. I like trains as they don’t pass me on the same road. Sadly the barges also put their cargo into lorries and even though I was on an ACA map I hit a plague of trucks. As I have said then these puppies are in a hurry and are so heavy that negotiating bicycles on the blind summits is difficult and so they barrel through. On one particular grind with the deafening roar of large trucks on one side, as I kept to the hard shoulder, I had a sewage farm on the other side causing asphyxiation. Self pity was copious at this stage of the morning. 

Chester was the crossing point of this river causing my distress and also the home of the creator of Popeye. I suspect to readers under 55 years old then he isn’t a well known cartoon character but many of us have devoted days to watching him on TV in the 1960s. 

Talking of Popeye then when back in Booneville there was a tin of spinach left on the church benches for anyone to take. I saw the shop where it was sold and wondered what possessed the cyclist to carry this useless ‘brick’ so far.

So girding my loins I crossed the bridge and bagged another State. I would have loved to have stopped and taken photos of its massive girth, the coal barges going upstream and the various terminals but doing so would have meant getting killed and I had an appointment with a puncture two miles past the bridge to fix. 

Three passing touring cyclists stopped to ask if I was alright and a lady motorist stopped to ask if I had everything. It seems odd that you can cycle for nearly 9 hours by yourself but when a crisis arrives then people appear. Anyway tube replaced and onward toward Hawn State Park.

The Parks run super camp sites although wi-fi would be nice. They are affordable, well managed and have great showers. Unfortunately this one took 103 miles to reach and involved knocking on one door to ask for water. This was no problem and the friendly folk took some chilled water out of their fridge for me. 

I have a feeling that the Ozarks will be a tough few days. No change there then.

(So Janette won the Rocky Raccoon quiz question and will no doubt delay her fabulous trip to the Far East as she awaits delivery of her key fob. I would. The next quiz question to get your hands on a key fob is what is the name of the character below from the Popeye cartoons. Oh yes, and only those who have donated to York Carers Centre can win the prize).

24.   What A Fool Believes (The Doobie Brothers)

Hawn State Park to Johnson’s Shut In’s State Park, Missouri, 51 miles – August 9 2014

Johnson’s Shut In’s to Montauk State Park, Salem, 85 miles – August 10 2014

I have combined a couple of days here as the riding was similar, that is, tough. Frankly some of Missouri is impossible. The last part of many climbs is in excess of 12% and propelling a bike up these hills for 100 metres or more just ‘spends’ your legs. I doubt I will miss this State.

Well the countryside remains the same! In terms of prosperity then it lies somewhere between East and West Kentucky and so that means? ‘kin doggies! Also you have the scrapyard front yards where old cars and trucks simply corrode and get picked over for odd components.

As the roads were busier and the animals on two occasions nearly caused an accident and their own deaths. Why don’t the owners care and lock them up and why does a reduction in wealth mean owning a dog?

So I eventually got to this Park. Apparently Mr Johnson owned the estate once upon a time and a ‘shut in’ is a geological feature (even Steve Johnson doesn’t know this). The park is huge. For reasons best known to the finest tradition of bureaucracy I had to wait before I could pitch my tent. I had to wait for the office to open. You have never been to a bigger site and no doubt the size of my tent needed the office to reopen so the correct decision could be made. So I sat about for 40 minutes. When the officer did arrive it cost me $2.10 for the night. Did I want a receipt? “No I’m good thanks, where’s the shower block?”

To say it was a large site spread over many acres would not be an exaggeration. I saw families putting extra water into their pick ups and taking a packed lunch to enable them to be survive until they got to the site General Store. Even I got around by bicycle.

So next morning up early and off. There were joggers parking a car nearby and I wondered why they were doing this so early on Sunday but maybe they were off to church later? The maps had me falling short on a decent day’s ride and so I thought I would go ‘off piste’ and let my Sat Nav guide me to another State Park. Error. Error. Error.

I ended up going up hill and down dale and following it slavishly. Being Sunday then I couldn’t find any stores open and after Bunker (come on…everyone’s heard of the Bunker Eagles baseball team), which was quiet as the good folk were at church I trundled down some country lanes with the smell of the hot resin wafting all around me from the pine trees. Here I had one of those parallel universe moments where I thought I was in foothills of the Pyrenees and up ahead I would find a boulangerie and a shop selling St Agur and a beef tomato, ahhhhh.

Sadly I got a bullying from some hills that a map would have made me avoid and I huffed and puffed as the sun beat down. Another Sat Nav gem was a detour off the black top down a gravel road. This worked well a couple of days ago. The device seemed to have a plan that I was to cross a bridge at the bottom. I descended loose gravel for a good three quarters of a mile at a gradient best suited to a cable car. When I got near the bottom and saw the river I knew it was wrong. I should not have believed it.

Lisa and Kenny were having a mild domestic as I suddenly appeared on the bank of the river dressed as a cyclist. They couldn’t have been more surprised had I turned up in my Madame Twanky outfit. (I had thought of packing this on the basis many of my trips are a pantomine but space prevented).

 As they enquired gently, in case I was truly mad and likely to brandish a weapon, as to why I was 150 feet below the tarmac road on a virtually unpassable track watching them in their canoe, I expalined my folly, asked them to surrender their names and pose for a photo. After this I then departed. 

I should point out that in the seven hours since I had left the campsite then these were the first people I had spoken to. I suppose you could summarise my day as a perfect ‘work at home’ day barring the cycling.

So my next park got closer until thunder and lightening gave me a sodden arrival. I requested Katy, she of the Missouri State Park, to take a photo of me in the deluge. After some arm twisting she arranged for me to sleep under shelter. Another rain storm like that and I would need a kayak.

So off to the Store where I discovered bread and a tin of baked beans and pork sausages. Now the man who found Tutankhamun tomb’s cannot have been more pleased at this discovery. Surprisingly then we both had something in common. In neither the can or the tomb were pork sausages to be found​.

So as I sit to write this tosh up Lance from Ohio arrives brandishing a bottle of beer and asking about my trip. He’s thinking through a trip over twice as far from Alaska. I salute him, now that is a ride. His generosity and chat were heartening and one of the delights you come across. Time for bed.

25.   Life Is A Long Song (Jethro Tull)

Montauk State Park to Hartville, Missouri 70 miles – August 11 2014

Hartville to Ash Grove, Missouri 75 miles – August 12 2014

Firstly, as regards the last post, I got it wrong and it is Widow Twanky not Madame. This correction came to me as I stared at the tarmac on yet another of Missouri’s merciless climbs. 

A cooked breakfast and the collection of email is a good start to the day despite heading off on my bike in the wrong direction on August 11th. Being very brave I asked someone for directions and then the day started. I cycled into Houston, Missouri and received a fab email from Katrina, somebody buzzing with an exciting busy schedule, but finding time to knock you up an email is truly wonderful (just as the other daughter also has!) and then I posted a blog at McDonalds before tripping across the road to Walmart for groceries.

Walmart seems to have little competition. I noticed a couple of options in a larger town like Carbondale but there are few comparable outlets with anything approaching their choice.

The climbing isn’t particularly long it just has spiteful inclines and unbelievable summits. The pattern remains of woods and houses scattered in them. I can best compare the terrain to a piece of corrugated cardboard: just endless rises and falls. Your morale goes after the twentieth grind upwards because you know there are endless ones to come. For ‘Trans Am’ers’ then there is an alternative route to the North that avoids all this – The Katy Trail. I just wanted to push through but the climbing and weight is causing havoc with my gears and as I reach for the bottom gear as I ascend something steep then the chain can seize. You cannot lug my weight of luggage across a countryside that necessitates so many gear changes per hour and not have mechanical problems. 

I am so used to roads being identified by numbers, since Illinois there are been roads denoted by letters. Yes, not that exciting I grant you.Tonight’s stop would have to be at a location with little or no accommodation. I had a sort of plan to push onto a camp site or hotel but Missouri beat me. And at just before 5 pm with no gas left in my proverbial tank I came to rest in front of the Court House and Sheriff’s Office at Hartville. Lurking outside were a selection of undesirables, best compared to Jesse Pinkman’s friends, who I later discovered were giving urine samples for drug testing: “what did you do today, Daddy?”

As I strolled into the Sheriff’s ofice to get permission to camp. I saw Officer Dibble smirk at his female colleague with that look that says “oh look another loony has arrived”. So there were two places to camp. One was the City Park and the other was directly in front of the Court House. So I said “where would you camp?” Officer Dibble suggested the City Park because I could “clean up better”. So off I went to discover a good shelter, lots of electricity and a toilet. Apart from a large lake in front of the pavilion, in the park, then no there was no running water.

Plan B kicked in and I found a nearby petrol station where they let me fill my shower bag (this is a large bag you can fill with many litres of water and then there is a rose/valve at the bottom. A fine purchase from when Sophie worked at Decathlon) with hot water as well as buy a beer. So on returning I secured the bag to the children’s climbing frame and then had a scrub. Job done. 

I must dwell on fishing. This is very popular in the UK but here it is simply a pre-occupation of men and some women. On my travels I have come across lots of pick ups pulling sleek fast little boats with outboard motors on them and numerous fishing tackle shops. On any piece of lake you’ll find a bloke quitely keeping busy with a fishing rod. I think this also leads to so many of the parks with lakes being popular. Weekend breaks with the pick up, a boat, a fire pit and a few beers is an institution. (It also helps to have warm weather). 

City Parks (or more like village greens) have the downside of an eighteen year old numpty racing around in his Dad’s pick up at 11pm at night, but it worked out quite well and I awoke to cool, which was welcome but expected. 

So trussed up I headed toward Marshfield for food shopping and wi-fi. Elly Fiorentini, of BBC Radio York is sending me emails asking where I am. Who knows I might yet make afternoon radio back in Blighty. 

I wanted to blast through, again, to proper campsites or hotels but I couldn’t achieve the mileage due to the climbing. Imagine a day climbing in the Yorkshire Dales. Little traffic, slightly wider roads, rubbish shops, roadkill, an endless stream of unexpected horrid climbs and 30°C heat. Oh well not quite the Dales unless the Tour de France is passing through. After 75 miles I found myself in Ash Grove. The map details said contact the Police to stay at the City Park. 

So I eventually toured around the town to find the Park and tried to ring the Police. No one in! So I strolled to the pool and a bikini clad beauty handed me the key to a nearby house. “What do you mean, I can stay in there?” Be fair would this type of kindness and facility happen in Britain? So after a shower I tripped into town to buy beer and then back for laundry and to make dinner. Anyone got any objections if I have a Chinese when I get to Pittsburg?

(Quiz question – within the blog the is the name of an old band. Name one of the original members solo albums, this should keep Steve Johnson busy for 5 minutes. San Francisco key fob or tea towel prize to subscribers).

26.   Slave To The Rhythm (Grace Jones)

Ash Grove to Pittsburg, Kansas, 71 miles – August 14 2014

Ash Grove delivered a cooked breakfast at the Copper Grill where I discovered the $6 special and the fact that two Film icons had passed – Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams. This didn’t seem to ruffle the farmers who talked of balers, silage and new fangled machinery before downing the dregs of their coffee and climbing into their pick ups at 7.30am to continue the day’s work.

I rode out of town and got a snatched shot of a massive coal train. It was pulled by one train at the front and pushed by two at the rear.

After Turnback Creek (this image doesn’t show the stairway to heaven beyond the bend) it all started to ease and I made Golden City for a session in their library with their wi-fi and then into a local cafe for a ‘toona’ melt. Quite a lively dialogue between the proprietor and one of her construction customers ensued:

“Just a sweet tea to go”

“What? You don’t want a sandwich or nothin’?”

“No, I already went to Subway”

“Don’t you say that word in here you butthole”

So on a flat road I sped toward Kansas….only someone had stolen the sign when you crossed the State line. You’ll have to trust me on this.

I spoke to the farmer who owned the mail box and truck. Apparently they are 14 inches down on rain for this time of year. His soya is behind in growth. He went on to bemoan Illinois and Indiana farmers with their wet weather who had had such bountiful crops that they had depressed market prices. As always these people would give you time and information.

Pittsburg also turned up my first cross country cyclist for some time. Alberto, from Milan, who was going west to east. We traded information. He had never even heard of Showaddywaddy!

It’s been on my mind as I laboured through this enormous country about why things are the way they are. So let’s talk size. 

After over 1,600 miles then I can see that there are so many natural resources in the USA. On our small island then we tend to be protective of what we have. I spent decades nobly writing on the reverse of every piece of A4 paper I ever had. Since July 21st I don’t think I have ridden without a large forest beside me or in view. How could Mid Western Americans grow up being concerned about saving trees? There is more coal and fuel than they can or are allowed to mine. Wildlife? It is teeming. I can see why deer are extensively hunted – there are a lot. I always wanted to see an armadillo in the wild, sadly I saw very many as road kill. Along with lots of other exotic small animals the woodlands are brimming. The plots of land that people own and place their properties are enormous and cheap. In Britain our pied de terre’s are precious and more valuable by comparison.

So with this spread then the car is king. How else could they lead their lives without individual transport? Sadly it leads to a structure catering for the car. For example, I couldn’t get money out of an ATM unless I walked through a ‘Drive In’ at a bank. You cannot go to a major road in a reasonably sized town where there are multiple food outlets, supermarkets and stores in general on foot. Crossing the road is a speculative sprint between traffic light changes and it is usually four lanes. Fuel costs about £0.55 per litre compared to £1.33 in UK and Europe and so motoring is more affordable.

Mandy, on Reception at the Super8, recommended a laundramat and a Chinese restaurant. The Chinese was a strange experience. The female Chinese staff with poor English, the sullen Chinese men chefs patrolling the buffet to replenish and slightly in contempt of the customers. The dowdy and worn fittings and the clientele, who in some cases were so tragically obese that they should be in Intensive Care rather than at an ‘all you can eat’ buffet. I have shelved a long dreary lecture on the Mid West folk and the crisis of obesity. Why should I be so ungracious to these disarmingly generous and kind people? However I am struck by it whenever I am out and about.

27.    No Particular Place To Go (Chuck Berry)

Rest day….err well sort of, August 15 2014

Well there are things that should be best left between a man and wife or in this case potentially ex-wife. I put in an email to her that things were a little bit sore in the nether regions and now Knaresborough is asking for updates on my backside! For the record then apart from some ointment bought in Farmington I decided to create a gap between me and the saddle by a purchase or two at Walmart. Too much information?

I will keep you posted (not).

So after pursuing the Mighty Fiorentini night and day before my departure for a slot on BBC Radio York she came good and we spoke at length on her afternoon/early evening show tonight or afternoon depending where you are. It was a fun chat about bears (did I tell you that I saw one?), courteous Virginian motorists and my missing wholemeal loaves. Hopefully a few more folk might follow the blog and who knows chuck a bob or two into York Carers Centre. Thank you to Elly and her producer, Jane, great stuff. I am humbled that I got a slot.

(A crack team in the North of England is working 24/7 to convert the slot into a YouTube clip that I will post if possible)

-WARNING TECHNOBABBLE AHEAD-

I mentioned the bike had not enjoyed Missouri and so I parted with $167 to change the rear cassette including adding a lower gear with two more teeth (now 28), which is not easy when you only have an 8 speed cassette. I also replaced the chain, overhauled the rear hub and straightened the rear rim. I do, however, hope that Kansas doesn’t require as many gear changes.

A not untypical sign above!

Lastly Missouri. As usual great people (barring Officer Dibble) but not a place for cyclists. Missouri you don’t need to write to me as we won’t be seeing each other again. I don’t know whether I saw an African American in the southern farmlands that I cycled through but I do know one of your most famous sons: Chuck Berry. He has brought me untold pleasure for decades.

28.    Brass In Pocket (The Pretenders)

Pittsburg to Toronto, Kansas 103 miles – August 15 2014

In some ways I was sorry to leave the Super8. After mastering how the bathroom taps worked over 2 nights. I felt like I would lose the knack and have to scold or freeze myself on my next shower.

So would Kansas deliver? From Pittsburg it was lake flat and if I had the great fortune as I cycled through the day to head North then I could reach up to 20mph. On this basis although a trifle jaded I rolled into Chanute at midday with a high mileage complete.

The countryside was still closed fields with some wooded areas. Soya and maize were prolific along with cattle. Houses were set just off the road and churches were everywhere. Heard this before?

My brother in law (ex) was unlucky enough to find that it was his turn to pay for lunch several years ago on a trip to Ypres. Being high rollers this meant pointing at various delicacies in a patisserie/boulangerie that were coralled and then expertly packaged. The matronly figure, who had responded to our pointing and gesticulations then spoke rapid French to Bill and amongst this torrent was a number of Euros that she required to conclude the transaction. Bill not one likely take an interest in French or a foreign currency then sweetly enquired of her, in English, was she married? Alarmed at this possible amorous development she quickly retorted….”yes”. Good”, said Bill and from his pockets produced vast quantities of coinage and notes, which he proffered to her in cupped hands and concluded by saying “so you’ll know what to do”. 

So I have to say, as a man who ends up carrying enough coinage to cast a small anvil, that I have taken to tipping it onto the counter and inviting tubby teenagers to take what was required. They are quite good at this task, don’t complain and see it, probably, as a service to an old person wandering about confused in their community.

So with shopping and lunch done it was back onto the road. Sadly Kansas offered some inclines but rarely requiring the third chain wheel to be used. However the wind had picked up and if steered remotely South then it was hard work.

Eventually I got to the environs of Toronto (not that one) and cycled off route to get to one of several campsites that this State Park offered around the lake. The helpful lady said I could stay but really I should stay at another campsite on the lake and produced lots of maps to point out where it was. By this stage I had cycled 95 miles and felt that stopping anywhere (including pitching my tent just in front of her counter and collapsing into it) was a good idea. However being Mr Agreeable (again) I duly departed for the other recommended site. So 8 miles later I arrive at the other site on this lake. Cold shower as well but a very quiet night.

29.    Next To Me (Emili Sandé) 

Toronto to El Dorado, Kansas, 58 miles – August 16 2014

In the morning heat a shimmering mirage appearing to be the shape of a cyclist suddenly came into view. This was at the top of the hill coming down toward me. We were both cycling the busy but direct US Route 54. My maps had steered me here and I intended to stay on it rather than eventually leave it and ‘head up country’ to camp at a City Park where the facilities were called ‘primitive’. After my over exertion of yesterday I was attempting to take it easy.

Instinctively we both halted and I dodged the pick ups and cycled to the other side of the road. He spoke the first words and it was an British accent. 

Phil Malone has been on the road for 5 years and isn’t sure whether he is ready to go back to Rochdale when he reaches New York. His travels have taken him to the Far East and South America and now onto the USA. He talked of finding romance and this had extended his time in Turkey but cycling solo we both agreed was the only way to cope with the stress and uncertainties that this nomadic life threw up. We both exchanged photos for respective blogs and did the usual information share. I couldn’t help but note that he was very positive about the direction that I was heading in. I suspect we both knew that you have to find the challenges out for yourself and deal with them. So a final handshake and goodbye.

I have had a couple of emails from cyclists and whilst non-cyclists look at the distances and acknowledge the effort I thought I may tell you about my 6 hours today.

The bike is heavy (I have over 20kg of luggage) and the handlebar bag leads to it being very unstable should you want to get up on the pedals on a hill. Twitchy is a useful description. You have to maintain a certain speed or it becomes unstable. So I usually sit tight whatever the gradient and it is usually a two handed grip situation unless you can allow the bike to wander and you have a good surface. This makes reaching for a drink or adjusting anything difficult on a hill. So today I know that my ‘agreement’ with Kansas to be flat is in tatters after it makes me climb 405 metres. However, the gradients are benign but visits to the third chain wheel are often due to the Southerly headwind.

Kansas has winds and they mainly come from the South although there is definitely more of a South Westerly feel as my average speed today tends to be in single figures. These benign gradients now become tedious spin festivals. I knew it was coming.

The US 54 has for the main a hard shoulder of between 400 and 600mm in width to follow with my twitchy bike. On one side of the white line are trucks, pick ups and crap drivers who go past as if there was nothing on the hard shoulder. It could be a lot busier, it is Saturday. If you deviate from the hard shoulder then there is traffic or a ditch/large gravel area. You have no option but to keep balanced and moving forward at a low speed on a hill in a headwind. Oh yes and most States other than Virginia and Kansas, so far, make the white line a rumble strip.

That it? Well not quite. Today’s temperatures eventually settled between 35 and 40ºC. The weather forecast on the hotel lobby TV says 100ºF or 38ºC all next week. You are continually drinking. As the wind hits your mouth then your lips dry out, your teeth and front gums get dry and even your tongue can get dry – assauging with hot water is your mechanical repeat action, because your bottles are nicely toasting in this heat. It becomes very unsatisfying and stopping for anything cold becomes an obsession.

So body not complaining? A long mileage starts to make the soles of your feet hurt. They are not used to being strapped to a pedal for so many hours a day. Day after day. Today the ‘Knaresborough’ factor kicked in and I rummaged in my rear rack pannier for the Walmart solution. It helped as the road started to flatten and enabled a run at El Dorado (‘Doraydo’ to the locals!)

Just saying!

30.   Telegraph Road (Dire Straits but even better this song played live by the tribute band The Straits) 

El Dorado to Hutchinson, Kansas 83 miles – August 17 2014

Hutchinson to Larned, Kansas 74 miles – August 18 2014 

Well different again. Sunday was the flattest of the tour and I made Hutchinson a little after midday. I never take Sunday off. I use the simple logic that traffic will be a lot quieter. In the USA then Sunday does appear to be a day when a lot of places shut. Maybe something to do with the Ten Commandments I posted earlier. Leaving El Dorado was done with the smell of oil refining in my nostrils. There is quite a lot of oil drilling and refinery in the area.

Throughout the States there are many ‘Adopt A Highway’ signs. This is a voluntary litter collection service on certain stretches of road. Predictably churches are keen to put their names forward but I thought it quite touching that departed relatives are often nominated. Should anything happen then I’ll have a stretch of Stage 1 on the Yorkshire 2014 TdeF.

Maybe next time…

So quite a splendid day at a high mph. Hutchinson disappointed and was a lot like a dump. My camp site failed to be easy to find and when I found a wi-fi signal and checked it out properly it was slated. So I went on to faithful Tripadvisor and found a hotel. This meant cycling through the town of derelict units and shops, a prison, two sets of of railway lines and quite poor housing before emerging in the part of any town with McDonalds, Walmart, Pizza Hut, Super8, Comfort Inn etc etc.

Much to the hotel management horror I made my pasta and fried my vegetables behind the hotel, where the smokers are usually despatched. I just needed something plain, without cheese in it, that has been placed before me after a brief sojourn in a microwave.

 It makes the place seem so interesting!

Monday’s start was just after dawn at 6.30am and I noticed the large fleets of yellow school buses going to and fro. I headed north to Nickerson and then got on the ACA route. The map warned that there was a stretch with no services for 58 miles. I was well stocked up but a break to rest weary limbs and appendages became very necessary judging by the pain threshold that even my morale fail safe solution of eating a peach failed to resolve. Also there is never any shade or locations to lean a bike against. The scenery was absent and Kansas climbed steadily with a headwind but the fields looked as uninteresting, as I had expected, from all the blogs I had read.

 However, getting to Larned was a priority by about 1pm before the inferno set in. I entered the town with ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie playing on the iPhone, which seemed appropriate given how tired I felt, but when Britney followed that song with ‘….Baby One More Time’, then without developing an adult theme to the blog: I am sorry Britney but I have a headache.

Larned appears to make a living with agriculture, a prison, a hospital and a mental institution.

After getting the body temperature back below boiling at a Subway I looked up the Police to get permission to camp at the local Park. This completed I then went in pursuit of a shower that found me at a tatty caravan park (seemed to accommodate permanent residents) at the other end of town where the dogs barked, the insects bit and I got a puncture. By now the temperature was up to 40ºC and so back to Subway to drink, chill and type.

(Quiz question – Peter and Jean Crockford look away now. The photo of the Witchita road sign and the blog title have something specifically in common?) 

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