Phyllis Completed the Adventure Cycling Coast to Coast Across America Bike Ride
Several years ago my good friend Phyllis Hassan decided her first adventure after retirement would be a coast to coast across America (aka:TransAM) bike ride. Phyllis was originally planning to ride with a friend from Lone Star Cyclists, but Liz’s cancer prevented her from joining Phyllis on the journey.
Phyllis completed the TransAM route mapped out by Adventure Cycling.
Here is a map showing her route.
I started up this website as a way for her friends to follow along with her adventure.
Phyllis completed the journey, on her own and completely self-contained for most of it. At times joined by friends from home or new friends she met on the road.
I decided to continue with this website in her memory, after a tragic accident took her life. A careless motorist drifted into the 5 foot shoulder she was riding her bike on. The accident happened just south of Ft. Worth Texas, not far from her home in Arlington, a couple of years after her TransAM ride.
Those of us who knew her, miss her still.
I feel pretty sure that if Phyllis were here today, she would scold me for moping about, and tell me to get on with it and have some fun and celebrate the good life she lived.
So….. lets talk about the good times!!
Here is the account of her TransAM adventure:
(To read the same story on the original grannygears website, click here.)
The Adventure Begins – By Phyllis Hassan
Last November Liz asked if I would ride across the country with her. I said yes. And so we agreed on this huge adventure.
I had no idea that getting ready for the trip would be so much fun. I have really enjoyed pondering gear options, training (believe it or not), and reading email from the many who responded to our Adventure Cycling ad for travel companions.
I bought a Cannondale T2000–a magnificent charcoal gray steed that would give me every mechanical advantage possible to ride those 4,000 some miles.
I added a suspension seat post, and gearing even lower than Cannondale provided, thanks to the sound advice of my experienced cross-country friend, Eddie. The bike came with 35mm tires, which were very sturdy and gave a smooth ride but it was such an effort to make the wheels go round that I have changed to 32mm tires. I used Blackburn front and rear racks (low riders on the front).
I had the bike–now I needed the body. So training began in February, with spin class two nights a week, and a club ride Saturday and Sunday if it didn’t rain. And I was slow! I’m used to riding a titanium bike, so what with being out of shape, and having a heavier bike to propel, on huge tires, I usually ended up way at the back of the pack.
But I knew I would be able to do the TransAM because I would draft behind Liz for 4,000 miles. She is so strong that she is just as fast on her Waterford as on her regular bike. kept training, and plodded up every hill I could find, and pedaled desperately to keep up on club rides. Gradually I have become strong. In fact, on a recent ride with friends who usually have to wait up for me, I not only kept up but was occasionally in the lead. (They didn’t comment on how strong I was. They were probably thinking they were out of shape.)
After extensive research I chose Madden Cyclelite panniers as they were well made with lots of pockets, and weighed less than most of the others on the market.
I purchased lightweight aluminum cooking pots that are Teflon-coated, 2 quarts and 11/2 quarts, and a stove that runs off regular gasoline which can be purchased at the pump and carried in a metal bottle that fits into a water bottle cage
My tent weighs around three pounds.
Other items–a Pack Towel, which is light and dries very quickly–one for me and one to wipe the dew off the tent before packing; a headlamp; a large plastic bowl (no plate) and an insulated mug with a coffee plunger; a small pillow; a silk and cotton liner and waterproof sack for the sleeping bag; bike tools; and a million other items that seem necessary but which I may discard before I finish packing.
I plan to do laundry every four days, so I have four pairs of bike shorts and tops, etc. For après bike I have two Coolmax t-shirts–nothing cotton; nylon shorts and a pair of nylon pants. As no rainwear really works, for you get soaked eventually, I have a light rain jacket but no rain pants. I do have some windproof pants for wear around camp in the mountains when it may be cold, and a couple of lightweight thermal tops for layering, and one pair of tights plus one pair of light thermal underwear.
We put an ad on the Adventure Cycling website, and the response has been very interesting. Some emailed just to wish us luck, others were just exploring options. It has been really fun. Two people who saw the ad will be starting with me from Astoria, and a third will meet us halfway.
Liz has to drop out
In April Liz had to drop out because of recurring health problems. I had put too much into the trip to give up the idea of going. So although very disappointed, and sad for Liz, I plan to do the trip anyway. At first I thought I would be on my own, without the fun of sharing with a good friend. But now I look forward to meeting the three who have signed up to go with me.
We plan to leave Astoria on June 10, and follow Adventure Cycling’s TransAm route to Yorktown Virginia, which we hope to reach mid-September. This route can be viewed at www.adventurecycling.org .
Psychologists should add preparing for on a cross-country trip to the list of the most stressful life situations, next to divorce, changing jobs and moving. I have looked forward to this trip with exhilaration and terror, sometimes feeling both at the same time. Many problems had to be worked through, such as leaving my job, arranging for someone to take care of my house, water the yard and cut the grass. It was a real shock when Liz announced that she could not go. But somehow each problem has worked itself out. Liz will take care of my house while I’m gone.
Now another problem has reared up–there is no way that my bike will fit into the box provided by a local bike shop—or at least, it won’t if I want to bring both wheels as well. I have just one more day before I leave, but I am optimistic that this problem will be solved, just as all the others have been.
Incredibly boring details?
(I, the editor don’t think so, you decide)
This will be very boring, unless you like details. Here is some info about the bike. I think it must weigh about 100 pounds loaded. I don’t really want this confirmed. In all, I have about 24 pockets spread over the four panniers. At first I catalogued where I had put things, but now I know pretty much where everything is and don’t have to throw everything out in a frantic and cursing hunt for something.
In the left front pannier, I have tools, which weigh a bunch; also first aid and a bike lock. Also spare bits of food, like garlic bulb, parmesan…still have my culinary standards.
In the other front pannier, I have the MSR stove that spews huge clouds of black fumes when it is first lit, because I use regular gas, not the white gas. It works just as well and I’m getting used to being covered with soot. Then the pouch with cutlery, spices, etc. The pouch has a tiny metal whisk, which I have not yet used, and a totally useless minute can opener. Also the cookware set and again miscellaneous bits of food.
In the left rear pannier I carry all my bike clothes. In the pockets are my Palm Pilot, miner’s headlamp, clothes line and pegs, etc. In the other rear pannier, I have the off-the-bike wear–shorts and T-shirts and a pair of long pants for chilly evenings. Also some lightweight thermal underwear, which has been really useful. I put my sneakers, which are enormous (why wasn’t I born a small person?) one in each pannier. On top of the rear rack goes the sleeping bag and my precious, tiny pillow and sleeping bag liner, all in a bright yellow bag so that I feel I’m visible. Also the tent and the Thermarest. All this is lashed down tightly. My spare tire fits on top, also lashed down.
The handlebar bag has the camera and lots of snacks. Also my cap for wearing when going into a store and trying to look at least humanoid, and eye glasses, which, by the way, survived a nasty experience yesterday (July 1st): I left them in one of the side pockets of my tent and rolled up the tent, foolishly wondering what the bulge was. When I discovered my empty eyeglass case, I unrolled the tent with dreadful forebodings. The eyeglass frame was bent, but I managed to straighten it out so all seems well.
My legs are black and blue from the bike either falling against me or my making a clumsy movement when straddling the bike. When stationary, the bike has to be totally upright. Once it gets off balance, it’s all I can do to hold it. I’m still totally amazed at the transformation once I push off and start riding. The bike moves so smoothly even with all that load.
Top Secret Diaries uncovered and deciphered by a team of Experts (Son David and Granny Lorraine)
June 7, 2001
I’m sitting on the plane, waiting for take off. The two horribly fat people that were in the waiting room are not sitting next to me. One big woman, whose stomach hung over her thighs, bit into a large danish coated with maple sugar icing as she waited to board.
So many cell phones. “Hi, Matt, it’s me!” “Hi Pete, it’s me!” “Hi Sue, it’s me!”
We’re moving! The vacation begins, the preparation for the vacation ends. I can feel the tension begin to flow from me. If I had one more day at home, I would use it. It doesn’t stop until you leave, ready or not.
I’m already planning what I can mail back.
David Fulkerson took me to the airport. (Thanks)
The flight was excellent, on time, smooth landing, very comfortable. Flying into Portland, I awoke from a doze, just in time to see this huge snow covered mountain peak on the left, barely a stone’s throw away. We were at the same height as this dramatic mountain. It was Mt. Hood, 11,000 feet.
At the airport, I collected my gear, which had traveled safely and was not beat up or separated. Finally the bike came on the belt, in its box. I loaded it all onto a cart, went outside and took the TraveLodge shuttle to the hotel. There I met Gary, who had arrived much earlier from Missouri. We chatted a while, then I began to put the bike together. It went very well except for the rear brake, which I had messed up, but it ended up OK.
Thursday evening, we went to Elmer’s Restaurant for dinner. A huge platter of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, biscuits… more than could be eaten. Back to the motel, where I worked solidly to finish off the bike and attempt to fit the fenders, but lacked a long bolt. Finally at 10:40 P.M. I got in bed–12:30 A.M. Texas time.
June 8, 2001 Portland to Rainier
It took me forever to pack in the morning and redistribute stuff. Finally, I was ready, and took my first ride in the parking lot. What a heavy load! Hard to steer. We headed into the road, and I pushed off but wobbled wildly across two lanes until I could get unclipped from the pedals. I was in much too high a gear and was so lucky not to fall or to get hit.
I found that the starting off gear was critical. It had to give me sufficient thrust to give me time to get the left foot up, so I could push like mad to maintain momentum.
Rode 50 miles from Portland to Rainier. Stayed in a motel and ate dinner at Cornerstone Cafe, by the Columbia River. The restaurants lay tables differently from Texas: the napkin and cutlery are placed at the end if the table, so that if a customer wants only a cup of coffee, the whole place setting doesn’t have to be upset.
June 9, 2001 Ranier to Astoria
This was a hard day with long climbs until finally I had to get off and walk the rest of one long hill. Butt hurt. It was just a long day on a busy road with a narrow shoulder. Trucks and cars did not deviate as they passed at full speed. They apparently trust bikes to stay straight, or take the consequences. The shoulders are the bike lanes, so they are marked with “Yield to bicycles” where there is a turning to the right.
I stopped a lot. Had a milkshake and a piece of marionberry pie a la mode that was wonderful. The marionberry is a cross between a large blackberry and a raspberry, just delicious.
We thankfully limped into Astoria found a cheap motel and warmed up. We were cold. I had a hot hot shower, turned up the thermostat. After dinner we both had a lazy evening. I watched “As Good As it Gets.” All day I had mentally catalogued what I would send back home. My bike was too heavy so I could barely lift it. Also, I had very little spare space.
June 10, 2001 Astoria to Cannon Beach
We planned a late start so that Gary could buy a long sleeved T-shirt. All he had were two short sleeved cotton Ts! And he says he hates the cold.
I left behind in the motel:
flip flops – no weight but bulky
quickick ( a powdered sports drink)
I put my face cream in an empty ibuprofen container, threw away the jar, and consolidated the calcium and other pills into one container instead of three. Overall I must have saved maybe two pounds.
Today was much easier and I did the hills much more comfortably. The route was beautiful with narrow country roads winding through a forest of Douglas Fir and alongside rivers. It was so peaceful after the roar of US 30. Flowers: deep pink foxgloves, cyclamen, crocus, tiny 1/2 inch daisies, just like England. Masses of colorful rhododendrons.
At the town of Seaside we rode along the Esplanade, seeing the sandy beach, dunes, grass, rocks in the water, silver gray and misty.
I tried to sell my fenders to a local bike shop but no go.
June 14, 2001
We camped at Cannon Beach Monday night and went out for dinner. Beautiful sea front looking out over the haystacks—hunks of rock left standing in the sea after erosion of the shore. The campground was set among huge douglas firs, very beautiful. It rained during the night. I was warm and cozy, confident that my tent would stay dry, but by morning some water had seeped from underneath so my sleeping bag was wet in places. It was unpleasant packing a wet tent.
It rained all day! Perfectly horrid. My bike and I were filthy, but the fenders, which were to have deflected the mud and water, were still riding on top of the sleeping bag.
I had a flat in the rain and so did Gary. These took a while to fix so that we were both frozen. At Manzanita we found an excellent restaurant and ate bowls of hot clam chowder with homemade bread. I stopped shivering violently.
We were set on reaching Tillamook, so I took off at a terrific pace and waited for Gary at a junction about 2-3 miles down the road. He didn’t show up, so I assumed he had bike trouble, and eventually, reluctantly, rode back up two hills to the restaurant. There was absolutely no sign of him so I concluded he had quit and turned back.
I went on, of course, and reached Tillamook and the luxury of a motel, heat, and hot water, and the opportunity to do laundry and hose down the bike.
But I learned the hard way that the restaurants in small towns close early and it’s more important to eat first then do laundry, so my dinner consisted of a sandwich! From Tillamook, I went to Rose Lodge, very steep hills, but with wonderful sights of the Pacific shoreline.
June 16, 2001
I was pretty tired this day, and soon stopped for a second breakfast. There I met Ed, a young burly guy, who said he had started from Ohio in February and expected to meet with friends from Switzerland for a two-year bicycle tour around the world. We ate breakfast together, and it turned out he was a bike mechanic, had all the tools, so he fixed the fenders. At last I’m prepared for rain. (Note: it didn’t rain for two more months.)
June 17, 2001
I rode up the Mackenzie Pass, rising 4000 feet in 11 miles, and felt almost every inch. At one point I stopped to pant at a trail head. I was short on water, but before I could start scouting for it, a man asked if I needed some. I said “YES!” so he filled my Camelback AND water bottle. Then he asked if I would like a baloney sandwich. I said “YES!” so he gave me two, with both ketchup and mustard. Also a piece of pizza. It turns out he is a cyclist, too. He and his family were traveling to visit relatives in Oregon and were glad to unload their remaining food. I would have been in bad shape without it, as there were no restaurants, stores etc. Bad planning on my part.
Near the top of the pass the chain got totally jammed between the hub and the cassette, so I walked to a spot off the road to fix it. Everything had to come off the bike so I could tip it upside down. The day before, I had POURED oil on the chain so it was coated with black grease. I got it all over my hands and everything I touched, no matter how delicately I moved. The only way I could free the chain was by brute strength, just yanking at it. I was filthy – and swearing vigorously. My hands are terrible now, black rimmed nails.
In the evening I stayed at the City Park Campground in Sisters. I put my tent on a site next to another tent. Almost immediately a man, Mike, came over to comment on my bike and my ride. He offered me a beer. It was cold, fresh, sparkling, and absolutely the best beer I’ve had in ages (even though it was a Bud). Such nice people. He and his wife Marcie drove me into town for dinner. In the morning, Mike offered to make me coffee. Really kind. They were from Alaska.
The park had no showers! It was just a public rest room, so I avoided paying the $10 over night fee, especially as the park wasn’t all that clean.
Sisters is a neat town. The equivalent of the Bass family have dolled it up, so it is very pretty with a lot of good quality tourist stores.
June 18, 2001
Today I planned an easy ride from Sisters, named after the Three Sisters volcanic peaks, which were still snow covered, to a campground about 8 miles beyond Prineville, maybe 50 miles total.
Finally I’m beginning to settle into the trip. Up to now I’ve given only a cursory glance at the Pacific, the haystacks off shore, the forests, and the lava beds along the MacKenzie Pass, and said uh-huh, nice. Then returned to the sheer business of getting the bike along the road.
Packing each morning takes an hour, the rolling of the Thermarest, the stuffing of the sleeping bag into its yellow waterproof bag, the packing of the panniers (they have a total of 22 pockets and I have a list of what goes where, but still I sometimes toss out everything in a frantic search for say, clean socks), then placing it all on the bike. It takes time.
Then I’ve been working on various problems such as getting the computer set to my tire size, etc.
But finally I’m really enjoying the ride.
Today I stopped in Redmond to visit the bike shop. I wanted something to clean the filthy chain. Also more tube patches. I asked the bike shop owner if he would pump up my tires as my little hand pump doesn’t do a good job. I said I thought one tire could hold 95-125 lbs. psi. He didn’t check the tire to make sure I was right, but aired it up. He suggested a restaurant for lunch.
At the restaurant I propped the bike outside and went in to wash my filthy paws. A waitress announced, as I came out of the washroom, “Your tire has exploded, everyone wondered what it was.” So I ate my lunch, then began to change the tube. One of the customers came to offer help, but I said I was OK. As I stood by my bike, looking like a bicyclist with all this touring stuff, an older woman popped out of the restaurant, cigarette in hand, looked at me indignantly and asked, “When did they change to nonsmoking?” Anyway, I replaced the tube, which was in shreds. Another customer offered help to drive me to a gas station to air the tires. She took the old tube, for what purpose I have no idea. I decided to go back to the bike shop to check the tire as it seemed so easy to slip it on the wheel now.
I couldn’t fully blame the guy because I had said 95-125 psi, but on the other hand, he should have checked, but I didn’t want to demand a new tube even so.
Anyway, I selected a new tube and he wouldn’t let me pay for it.
My saddle suddenly became a hostile place. After ten days of being fairly comfortable, my bones began to feel very sore. I’m taking mega doses of Ibuprofen every day. No matter how I tweak my rear end around, there is no good spot on that saddle. I’m hoping the bike shop in Missoula can make some subtle adjustments.
June 20, 2001 Wednesday
I’m staying in a hostel tonight. Actually it is the Community Presbyterian Church in Dayville, OR, Population 200. The church opens its doors to anyone, especially cyclists. No charge, but donations accepted.
I did miserably today. Yesterday I developed sore buttitis. My sit bones hurt badly, so that no matter how I wriggled around, I was really hurting.
Last night was another interesting experience. I camped in the park of the city of Mitchell. It was free, and clean. No showers, but use of the public rest room, which must be the most popular in Oregon. Cars and trucks were constantly stopping to use them. I dashed in between customers for a spit bath, and had to get dressed and get out for up to three women travelers before returning to finish off.
In the morning I had an early breakfast at the Little Pine Cafe. It was packed, all five tables taken, also the bar stools.
Four local people sat at the table next to me. One was a very thin woman aged about 50, with a beautiful face. I heard her say she had gotten up at 2:00 am, in order to begin herding cattle at 4:00am.
Today started, yes–started! with a steep climb up Desey Pass, 4300 ft! I think I started out about 3,000 ft so it wasn’t all that bad, but still taxing. I took double doses of Ibuprofen so I wouldn’t have complaints from my sore butt. This was probably a mistake, as in the afternoon I felt very sleepy. Also, it turned hot.
I reached Dayville about 2:30 pm after only 40 miles (I detoured to see some fossil beds) and had a Gatorade and frozen ice-cream. I decided I was not ready for another 23 miles in the heat, to the next town, so I checked out the church hostel.
It has a shower and a kitchen, and a community dining room. The church proper is where I will sleep. They are very trusting. I have the run of the place, and they trust that everyone will clean up after themselves.
I worry that I will develop scurvy before September. It’s just not easy to find fresh food in these small towns. Tonight I made soup of Ramekin pasta. I made the pasta dish from a packet, drank some V-8 (must have some vitamin C in it) and will finish off with ice-cream. The only store in town has no fresh fruit or veggies. I buy an orange whenever I can. Most of the days, protein comes from breakfast, sometimes a “breakfast served all day” cafe, where I have 2 or 3 eggs, plus toast.
June 25, 2001 Monday
Yesterday and today were hard. I was extremely tired. I accepted the offer of a ride yesterday after walking up a hill no steeper than many I had ridden up in the last two weeks. The driver’s name was Andrew, and he works for the US Forest Service.
Today I dawdled, and finally decided I was miserably tired and hitched a ride for about 30 miles to Cambridge, where I rested in my tent for the remainder of the day.
Hope I feel better tomorrow.
Last Friday I did 67 miles, including three passes, and a 27-mile stretch into Baker City, mostly downhill but the last 10 miles were flat and into the wind.
June 27, 2001 Wednesday
Right now I’m sitting in my tent while a rainstorm is passing through. It was very windy and then it began to seriously rain. So far my tent is keeping me dry, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
I’m at the Springwater RV Park in White Bird. It’s very nicely kept, brilliant green grass, carefully mowed, flower beds, a gazebo, beautiful shower facility. Have quickly learned to go for the RV places because usually they have great showers, laundromats etc. City parks are cheaper but usually have no facilities and I hate to be stinky for two days in a row.
Today was pretty easy, downhill, following the Salmon River. The scenery is incredible, absolutely beautiful. The mountains are mostly bare of trees, which I like, as you can see the shape of the land. I really don’t like cycling through forests, nothing but trees, but I suppose that’s the same as going to a museum and saying, “There’s nothing but pictures.”
Thank goodness, I got to this RV Park early today, so I can rest up for a horrible climb tomorrow.
It has really stormed while I have been writing this. During a lull, I dashed out to tighten the tent stays. Its started raining again although without the wind.
Yesterday, (June 26) I made it to an RV Park that has an outdoor pool filled by water from hot springs. I floated in it for about an hour after dinner. This was just outside New Meadows, Idaho.
The day before yesterday, I stopped at a building that was identified on the map as a gas station. Actually it was the home of an elderly man, a rancher, who kept a stock of sodas and ice-cream bars for anyone who wanted to buy. He talked about his ranch, its a mile square. The cattle were out eating the grass. Each cow needs 35 acres. The cattle roam at will except that they are fenced in at various places. He was irrigating land for hay production. The water is pumped from the river. The irrigation machinery is moved every 12 hours.
He said he was in W.W.II, served in France.
While we talked, two women drove up, with t-shirts saying “Fiddlers Annual Festival.” They asked for a rest room and the old man said they were welcome to use the outhouse. “It has a seat.” The women appeared to survive the experience and I took my turn. It’s been many years since I last used an outhouse.. but hey! what’s a porta potty?
June 30, 2001 Lowell to Powell, Idaho
This was a 66-mile day, with NO services from point to point. I carried a lot of water and snacks. Over the 66 miles I gained 2000 feet in elevation, so although this was very gradual, nevertheless it was pretty tiring. I was totaled when I reached Powell. About 15 miles before Powell, the Disabled Vets Association had set up a coffee stop, and their ice cold lemonade just about saved my life, as I had drunk almost every drop of water. I do have iodine tablets so could have scooped some from the Lochsa if desperate.
Idaho is very beautiful. The route followed the Salmon River for a day or two– sparkling clean, fresh water, rushing over rocks, with mountains all around covered with these tall green pointed fir trees–probably Douglas firs, and with a bright blue sky and fluffy white clouds. What an idyllic setting.
But, I’m not really a forest person, so when the route began to follow the Lochsa River, on a duller day, I actually found it monotonous. Two nights ago I camped at Powell. This is not actually a place, just a name. There is a US National Forest campground there, but it had no showers, no water at the campsite, had to be toted from the rest room area. Can you imagine biking all day in quite warm weather, and no shower at the end? I know, the pioneers didn’t have showers either, and generally had a much harder time of it, but I felt claustrophobic, the trees were everywhere! It was a great relief to say good bye to the Lochsa River–nothing personal– and climb yet another mountain pass–1500 feet in about 13 miles so it could have been worse, and enter Montana and finally have a view again.
July 2, 2001 Missoula
Today is a rest day. I slept late, then went downtown to the Adventure Cycling organization, the one that developed the bike route that I am following. My bike has a 1:00 pm appointment for a minor tune-up. It makes a horrible clank from time to time and the brakes are really cruddy. I’m also hoping that they can adjust the saddle for me. Maybe I just need to develop a leather butt.
I’ve also had my hair cut, feels great. Its REALLY short and I hope will look smooth when I remove my helmet. (Of course, I haven’t used a blow dryer since I left home, nor any makeup because I’m pretty tanned by now, so generally I look a homely soul.) Then after my bike is fixed, I plan to read and snooze by my tent. We’re at a KOA campground. It is so big, it’s like a miniature city but very nice in its way. Showers of course! and laundry. Geoff, who flew in from Scotland, joined me in Baker City. He hurt his knee a week before leaving and it is still a problem, but I think he plans to continue and ignore the pain. We are planning curried shrimp for dinner, with rice and wine. Like to join us?
July 6, 2001 Yellowstone
Right now I’m in Dillon, Montana. These past two days have been so beautiful. This is my kind of country–no more horrid trees hiding the view and causing me claustrophobia–there are trees but they know their place.
Yesterday I climbed a most awful pass, don’t know how I do it with this load other than very slowly. ( It was Chief Joseph Pass, named after the Nez Perce Indian Chief that the US defeated, made them all become Christian if they wanted to stay in the area, so it’s nice to name a pass after him.) Once down the other side, the view opened up. On one side of the valley were these fantastic mountains, streaked with snow, quite pointy as if they might have been volcanic, with the clouds low enough to touch them and the sun shining fitfully on the snow–and on the other side some lower mountains.
I stayed at the lodge in Jackson, pop. 24, treated myself to an economy cabin as it rained and was cold. Delicious–heated by hot springs, of which I’ve bathed in quite a few (swimming pool). It’s a neat place–the only grocery store has a small beauty salon in one corner. (The grocery store in Wisdom earlier the same day had a card table set up, and three people were sitting there playing cards. I needed another paperback, so I browsed happily through their collection of used books. Then they let me send a message through their internet for free–very nice of them.
Today I had to climb two more passes–I’m getting fed up with all this climbing, quite honestly, but on the other hand my rear end doesn’t hurt anything like as badly as last week when I was solid with Ibuprofen, couldn’t feel a pin prick. But the scenery was absolutely gorgeous, another broad valley, very green, dissected by small meandering streams and full of happy brown cows. Once over the second pass it was downhill all the way to Dillon. Even had the wind behind me at the end, can’t ask for more.
In the far distance I could see a huge range of mountains, don’t know what they are and hope I don’t have to go over them but they were impressive.
I was riding with Geoff from Scotland, getting on pretty OK, but we have lost contact somehow yesterday. We’ll see what happens.
July 8, 2001 Virginia City, Montana
Today I rested in Virginia City. I was worn out and beginning to think the whole trip was a mistake. I felt I was hauling too much stuff, I was tired of packing and unpacking- grumble, grumble. So I decided I needed a break in a nice place and crawled eight whole miles this morning to Virginia City. This is like a movie set with all these National Register buildings dating back to the gold rush town of 1830 or so. I took a bus tour, visited some museums, checked into the Fairweather Hotel which is very old and quite lovely and revived my spirits.
I had dinner in a restaurant furnished with parts of 1950s Cadillacs and Buicks. The waiters all had pink rags. The food was quite good.
I’m rested up. Hope to be in West Yellowstone by Tuesday, July 10.
Need a Comeback
I need to know what to say to those people who gloat over the huge climb that I have to do next. Why do people do this, point out the most horrific feature of the coming route? They say things like, “There’s a big climb coming up, over 7% grade.” Or, “Its going to be hot in Kansas.” They look gleeful as they tell me these horrors, almost rub their hands with delight. Even a fellow cyclist dwelt lovingly on the next pass I would do. He was a local, riding a bike around town, and looked disappointed when I said the pass couldn’t be worse than what I have already done.
I am learning how to ride a fully loaded touring bike. This calls for different techniques than riding a road bike on, for example, a club ride.
First, my touring bike when fully loaded is hard to keep upright. It has to be perfectly balanced when I’m standing beside it or pushing it or I can hardly hold it up. Then the front wheel will swing around if I’m not careful while doing something to the panniers. My legs are covered with bruises from being struck by either the knobs attaching the front fenders or the pedals. I don’t worry about locking the bike when I go into a store–if anyone tried to run off with it they would end up crushed underneath it.
Once on the bike and moving, balance is not a problem and it moves along sweetly. But getting the bike moving when stopped on a hill is an art. It was over a week before I had the courage to start off on a hill. If I had to stop, I walked to the next flat spot.
My technique now is:
Before stopping on a hill, I shift to a higher gear. (In the lowest granny gear, the bike moves forward just a few inches with one pedal revolution.) To start, I clip the cleat on my right shoe into the pedal, raise the pedal, then push down hard. I scuff the ground with my left foot once or twice and usually have to push off again with my right foot. This gives me momentum that lasts maybe 2 seconds, time in which I must hoist into the saddle and stomp on the left pedal hard to maintain momentum. It doesn’t help to catch the seat of my shorts on the saddle tip.
Touring calls for a lower speed than on a club ride. 10-12 mph is standard for me, using a cadence of about 80 rpm. (Cadence is the number of pedal revolutions per minute.) Climbing passes I do 3-4 mph with a cadence of 40-50 rpm.
Going faster burns a lot of energy. Twice I’ve really bowled along, 16-18 mph, only to be quite exhausted half way through the day.
What I hate the most is to be climbing and going slow, on a road with little or no shoulder, and hear the terrible, loud thrum of a semi coming up behind me. Its not so easy to hold a straight line with loaded front panniers at 4 mph.
July 13, 2001 Grand Tetons National Park
I spent the last two days in Yellowstone. We were here only two years ago so I was feeling pretty ho-hummish about another visit so soon. But as I entered the Park through the west entrance I found myself saying, “Wow!” It’s such a beautiful place that even a hardened blasé traveler cannot help but be awed.
I took a quiet road by the Madison River for about a mile. It was so quiet and peaceful, and here I saw a magnificent, rust brown elk, just shining with health and perfection. It looked incredibly disdainful as if thinking, “Its a waste of my time here, hardly anyone is seeing me.”
I enjoyed several side trips to view steam rising from little humps in the ground, mud holes bubbling, geysers spouting, or just to see more beautiful views of the meandering river or torrential waterfalls.
The first night in the park, I spent in the Madison campground. The National Park system puts aside a special area for hikers and bikers, charging only $4.20 per person. Madison has no showers or grocery store, etc. as it’s pretty basic.
I established myself at a picnic table with a tarp over it, hastily put my tent up and tossed my stuff inside just as it began to rain. Even though my tent has gone through several rainstorms successfully, I’m still apprehensive that everything keeps dry – but again – all was just fine.
Two more cyclists arrived, Meg and Dean. I invited them to share my picnic table and tarp for cooking etc. as it was still raining. They said they were doing the Adventure Cycling Continental Divide trail. Sometimes the trail was on logging roads, others on fire roads, even sometimes on single track trails which have room for only one bike at a time. They said that sometimes the road would be like a washboard, or gravelly, or rocky. The trail would cross and recross the Continental Divide several times a day. They sometimes had to carry food for two days when they could not access a store. It all sounded like a horrific amount of work to me. Yesterday I met up with the official Adventure Cycling Continental Divide tour group. Apparently some had already dropped out, partly because of the rigor of the trail.
After Madison, I went on to the Grant Village campground. This has full services but is still only $4.20 for bikers. Showers are $3.00. The route crossed the Continental Divide twice, once at 8,200 ft, and once at 8,300 ft. Both seemed pretty steep to me. At the top of the second pass it began to storm, not just rain, but hail. I stopped to pull on my rain jacket over my already wet clothes, just to keep a bit warmer. So I stood astride my bike at the top of the pass, pounded by these tiny hailstones, and thought, there was no point in waiting. These Lodgepole Pines give no shelter with their puny branches, so I started riding. A nightmare – downhill in rain and hail on a road with an 18 inch shoulder, and all the RV’s in the world congregated on this stretch of road.
I was chilled to the bone, and after setting up the tent, rushed to the showers. I couldn’t even talk coherently, I was so cold. Ah! The bliss of a hot shower! Even my toes began to thaw out. Luckily, the weather cleared for a short while and most of the wet things dried in the sun. I made the mistake of leaving my bike shoes out overnight, and they were soaked by another shower.
From Grant Village I had big plans to get to Jenny Lake, a beautiful camp in the Grand Tetons. But yesterday I realized that I was very tired. The constant whoosh of RV’s, trucks and cars passing me so close, again, no shoulder to speak of, it wore me out. There was one big hill, up which I walked for a way, and so I decided that I needed a long rest, maybe two days this time, so I stopped at the Colter Bay Campground in the Grand Tetons.
It’s so interesting to meet other cyclists. I ate my (home cooked) dinner with these Adventure Cycling guys last night in Colter Bay. We plan to splurge tonight at the campground restaurant. Nick, from New Zealand, who spent the last two years as a bicycle courier in London. Steve from Yorkshire, UK, now resident in Germany. Ian, from Glasgow, who at one point exclaimed, “Crikey!” and had to interpret: it’s an exclamation of surprise, and I guess is a disguise for “Christ!” Same as “Cripes!” An older man from New York who had a $60.00 tarp over his camping area, and a lavish sleeping pad filled with down. I forgot his name. Then Ted, from Michigan, incredibly charming and attractive. And Tim, the tour leader.
Camping next to me last night was a French couple. They both ran to the john this morning in their knickers – those French!
I met two very weary cyclists last night while I was filling my gas bottle at the service station (22 cents). They had done mega-miles but were disheartened at the camping fees. I was glad to tell them that it was only $4.00 for bikes, and later they passed my tent site, happy about the low fee. Yesterday morning I met two young male students from Cardiff University in Wales. I guessed from their speech that they were from the UK and put them somewhere in the north. I asked if they were from England. What a faux pas! They did not deign to reply. (The Welsh are very proud of being Welsh and it’s an insult to imply they might be English–it’s British thing, hard to explain). They warmed up, though, and I found out that one was an engineering student, the other in dentistry. They were using regular road maps, not the maps designed for cyclists. One day they covered 115 miles, fully loaded.
I was happy to get to Yellowstone, but thankful to get out because of the traffic. I will be glad to leave the Tetons and return to normal, non-tourist routes.
So I’m planning to do nothing for two days, except eat, read, and do laundry. I’m going to sort out what is essential and mail home even more stuff. I’m still dragging far too much weight up these hills. I’ve covered 1600 miles since June 8.
I bought a falling apart, brownish paperback of Giant, by Edna Ferber. I found it in a bookstore in West Yellowstone. Sweet civilization – I will enjoy it upon returning home. The bookstore had a beautiful selection of titles, and played some wonderful music. Inside the paperback, the price was entered at $4.95, with the statement that the only edition in print cost $31.95. So I bought it as it was, and nearly every page is loose and falls out after I turn it.
I had my staple lunch in West Yellowstone. Breakfast, a most delicious veggie omelet with the ubiquitous hash browns.
Upon entering a store
Whenever I enter a store or a restaurant, I try to look like a normal person instead of an E.T. I remove my helmet, headband and sunglasses, and put on my bright pink Greater Dallas Bicyclists cap. I remove my cycling gloves and Camelback, stretch the legs of my shorts almost to my knees, then I’m ready to mingle with the normal world.
Once I entered a motel to register for a room, and forgot to take off the Camelback. The woman at the desk gazed with horror at the plastic tube waving from my shoulder. “What is that!” she asked. I guess she thought my IV had come loose.
I haven’t seen many wild animals, apart from the elk in Yellowstone. Two buffalo were in the Madison campground, peacefully chomping on the grass. Huge creatures.
This is bear country. Campers cannot leave food or toiletries lying about. When not in immediate use, they must be placed in the big, heavy metal storage units that are fastened with a catch like the ones on a dog leash.
Yesterday I watched a squirrel. It would dart across to a clump of grass, pull out a bunch of leaves, then dart back to its tree, climb the tree rapidly, deposit the grass, then repeat the process. Once it stopped a couple of times, sitting on its haunches and patting the grass in its mouth with quick little paws, as if to stop it from falling.
I’ve seen quite a few deer, some tiny chipmunks, and a tiny animal that may be a gopher and which must love to challenge fate, as they are frequently dashing across the roads.
July 18, 2001
I’m in Lander, WY. I stayed at a really unusual camp ground on an Indian reservation. It was a cafe. The owner, Lou Ann, was dressed in oldfashioned style long dress with frilly mob cap. She cooked pork chop for me last night.
Yesterday was horrific – wind very strong from the side and a bit ahead – sometimes right ahead, about 20 to 30 mph, with much stronger gusts. I flew along for 30 miles, with the wind at my back and downhill, then changed to a new road and horrors! I crept along at about four mph. The day before, I climbed this awful pass, Togwotee, 9600 ft., took forever, gained about 4000 ft. altitude. Very tired.
The day before was easy, ending with a stop at a US Forest campground. Mediocre, no services of course. Right next door was a motel, so I bought a shower and a soak in a hot tub. I was so relaxed after this, that I went to sleep at 8:30 pm.
July 29, 2001 Pueblo
A total rest from touring has restored me. Four days off the bike, except for brief trips to get places around Pueblo. Perkiness has returned.
Tomorrow the route will go east through southern Colorado, then into Kansas. Each map section provides some historical background and some comments on the scenery, native plants, etc. The most that Adventure Cycling can come up with for Kansas, is the grass. There’s a lot of it, and it waves. So I have something to look forward to.
I have been joined in Pueblo by David Stickney of Michigan. He has just completed a rigorous week-long tour of Colorado, and plans to ride to Virginia.
Biking around Pueblo has been quite a challenge. Its a busy place, about 100,000 people. I’ve learned the major routes and even dared to take some short cuts. “If I turn right here, that should bring me out there, just where I want to be.” For the benefit of my co-workers at Work Advantage, in Fort Worth, I did NOT, repeat, NOT, get lost. At least not more than once.
Pueblo is an example of the kindness that many people and cities have shown to bicyclists crossing the country. The city park offers free camping to bikers, with free showers and a swim at the city pool.
Scott City, KA
I’m back on the trail after a major break and rest in Pueblo. I’m joined by David Stickney from Michigan. He is on a recumbent bike and is pulling a Bob trailer. Looks neat.
The roads are FLAT, straight and hot. 101 degrees yesterday, 100 today, nothing by Texas standards but still HOT. I find Kansas interesting. Each farm and silo appears as a point of interest on the horizon, which stretches out just as far as a horizon can. It’s all vast ranges and fields, with the occasional cattle chomping on grass, huge fields of corn, and gigantic silos every few miles. Hardly any people yet they produce so much food. I passed cattle lots, which looked uncomfortable for the animals sitting out there in the heat with no grass to chew. No sunshades. But I guess it must be OK otherwise they would deteriorate and bring less money.
I deteriorate for sure in this heat but so far am doing OK. Even got out my bandana today, soaked it and put it around my neck. Felt terrific. Also douse myself with water from head to toe every so often.
I would like to hurry up through Kansas and take advantage of the flatness but the heat is slowing us down. Today we quit at about 1:30 and I gave up my plan to do another 24 miles in the peak of the heat.
Riding is really fun. It’s like being on a club ride, just pedal away, no miserable hills, although people say direly that the Appalachians are the worst hills of the trip as so steep.
Almost at the end of Kansas after 10 days. It’s a large state! I thought it would never end. In spite of my gloomy prognosis it has actually been very interesting. First, it’s been a pleasure not to be scaling gigantic mountains and to ride like a normal person in Texas. Sometime the wind has helped, at others not. One day we had to ride 20 miles right into the wind which chose to blow at 60 mph. although David said it was only 25 mph. We had to climb–yes, actually climb a hill in Kansas–up to the divide of the Pawnee watershed which is the largest watershed authority in the world, according to the sign. It was about 100 degrees and the 20 miles took about three hours. My racer son, David, sniffed in disbelief to hear that we were only going about six mph, but that’s what 100 pounds of weight does. At least I have lost about 10 pounds so that helps.
Kansas is huge. The horizon seems so far away with these flat fields. It’s crops and cattle. Yesterday we rode through the Flint Hills. These are just beautiful–very green after the dryness of west Kansas, and I’m told it’s the richest grassland in the world. 1000s of contented cattle peacefully grazing with no idea what their future holds.
I’ve been fascinated by the view of the cattle industry. A rancher told me yesterday that a lot of the cattle come from Texas, as calves. They are shipped to Kansas for fattening and may spend up to 22 hours in a truck with no food or water. It doesn’t seem to hurt them, he said. They gain so many pounds a day feeding in the Flint Hills, then they travel to a feed lot to spend 120 days fattening up some more.
Yesterday we had lunch in a wonderfully good restaurant in Cassoday, a town of about 130 people. They were so busy! New loads of people arriving all the time.
There was a group of older men and one young boy at one table, all wearing spiffy white straw Texas style hats. It was some kind of meeting. Then there was a group of cowboys, wearing very dirty jeans, working cowboy boots with spurs. Obviously they had just dismounted as the legs of their jeans were damp with sweat. Apparently they had been rounding up cattle and loading them into trucks for the feed lot.
It amazes me how good people are to us bikers. Today a rancher stopped me as I was trundling down the road to let me know that the road I planned to take was closed. He was mad that the DOT had not posted it properly. He said he liked the bikers, and remembered the 1976 Bicentennial TransAm when about 4000 bikers crossed the country. He said he had served ice and water, etc.
Lots of people are proud to be part of the TransAm. Some of the small towns we have stopped at say that they have been part of the route since 1976. Some of the restaurants have registers that they want us to sign, in some cases going back many years.
One more word about the cattle–I love to see the animals in the fields. They turn to watch me go by with evident curiosity on their docile faces. I call out “Hi, sweeties! (although I hate to be called sweetie myself). After seeing all the cattle lots etc. I call out “Hi. sweeties–OH! you’re going to be eaten).
But none of these sentimental feelings stop me from eating burgers, which have become a staple of my diet.
Van Buren, Missouri
The guy I was riding with since Pueblo, CO, David S. has gone back home. Here’s what happened.
We were just starting through Missouri. The hills became very steep, though short. I was walking up one particularly beastly hill when I heard a police siren. I hung over the edge of the road (no shoulders) until it passed, but he stopped by me to ask if I had had an accident. Then he said it must be another cyclist, and sped on.
I thought, this had to be David, so I leapt back on my bike and just flew up and down the hills. I was only two behind him. At the top of the second hill, a motorist waited to alert me to the gravel. Sure enough, a big orange road sign said LOOSE GRAVEL.
I went down the hill at two mph, brakes screaming. At the bottom it straightened out and the road went over a bridge where it had been freshly graveled. Several cars were parked on one side, and there was David, looking very gory but remarkably self-possessed. Apparently he had hit the gravel on the bridge going at least 20 mph, may have touched the brakes, then the bike flipped. He rode a recumbent (armchair on wheels) and towed a trailer. He apparently flipped over the handlebars and rolled a couple of times hence the severe road rash.
The ambulance soon showed up, and very carefully loaded him onto a stretcher and took us to Springfield to the Cox Medical Center, an excellent hospital. Two people in the crowd offered to take our bikes and bring them to Springfield on the Monday (this happened Saturday Aug. 11. At the hospital, one of the nurses kept insisting that I stay in the room while D. was being examined and asked questions. As I hardly know him I felt most out of place, and kept creeping away, only to be hauled back.
Anyway, D. had to have surgery in order to clean the rash and stitch up the cuts. He stayed in for two days. On the third, I rented a car and drove him to the airport, then packed up his belongings and took them to a UPS outlet for shipping. So I am continuing towards Virginia, although the terribly steep hills in Missouri almost made me quit. Now I am off the route and sticking to the main roads which are more graded.
I hope to meet up with Jim and Maggi from Dallas this weekend, to ride through part of Kentucky. They will have their car so I will be able to unload all this mountain of gear I’m carrying and put it the car, and ride like a normal person.
Young man with MS
I met a very unusual rider yesterday. I’d already heard of him–someone said they had seen a solar-powered vehicle moving along very slowly. Then as I was just about to leave a convenience store, this strange-looking vehicle came in, swept rapidly round the parking lot before coming to a stop. The hood of the vehicle opened up and out stepped a bicyclist, aided by a walking stick.
He is Delbert Richardson, riding from Seattle to Washington DC to raise awareness of MS and to encourage other handicapped people. Del has MS himself.
Del said that the daily mileage depended on how he felt. He might do 40 or 50 miles a day. He went through the Mojave Desert, and has ridden up some fearful mountains, which he does very slowly, but no slower than I did them. He really made me stop whining, to think how he has to struggle to ride.
He carries a solar pack to be able to make ice, which he has to have to keep cool. His bike is a trike, with 47 gears.
(I did a google search for Del Richardson and found this link from a 2004 ride. Be sure to scroll down so you can see the pictures of his bike with the cover on.)
I have to believe that the person who designed this TransAm route through Missouri must be cackling with maniacal laughter every time he thinks of people actually attempting to ride these hills. In the west the climbs are long–up to 30 miles–but with a grade of no more than 6%. Here I cannot imagine the grade, probably 25%, so even though short, they are very difficult to climb. Also, the roads are so narrow, with no shoulders. If anything comes up behind a bicycle on a hill, the vehicle must just wait till the top as it’s impossible to see what’s coming.
August 17, 2001
She blew a green bubble at me. “How rude!” I thought. Then she turned to the cash register and blew a green bubble at it, so I realized it was nothing personal.
I was in Fisk, pop. 400 some, in Missouri, at a small gas station/convenience store, ordering a hamburger with all the fixings. I’ve eaten more hamburgers these past two months than in the past two years, this in spite of all those lovely cattle I so admire in the fields of Kansas and now Missouri.
I tried to make conversation with the ladies seated at the tables, but they were into some juicy gossip, and not interested.
In the morning, I left the campground outside Poplar Bluff rather later than intended, in part because people came and talked to me. There was the couple who have visited New Zealand at least five times, they love it so, and plan to move there soon. They are on vacation now. Then there was the musician who had entertained us last night. She played a zither very well. She and her friend sang and played blue grass, etc. All very nice. Then I had a problem with the rear brakes–they had somehow jammed up on the wheel rim. My neighbor, a retired person who had worked for 35 years in a brass factory and now had a farm, knew nothing about bikes but enough about mechanics to be able to free the brakes.
So I pedaled into Poplar Bluff to the bike shop. Bruce, the owner, meticulously examined the brakes. The pads had worn away dramatically–instead of being rectangular they were now triangular from wear. It’s all those mountains that I have tried not to speed down. Anyway, he fixed the brakes and I bought a new tire to replace the one that likes to blow off the rim every so often.
When I left the store I was quite disoriented, and was just about to head off in quite the wrong direction when one of the bike shop customers, with whom I had been chatting, backed up to me in his truck. He offered to give me a ride to outside of town to avoid the busy traffic. I was glad to accept. He farms rice, soybeans and fish, and loves to bicycle.
After that, I made good time and mileage to Sikeston, belting along US highway 60, hoping to reach Marion KY by Sunday night when I will meet up with Jim and Maggi from Texas. US 60 is no fun but it is getting me there.
I actually went on an interstate for one tremulous mile in order to reach a campground. Because I am off the Adventure Cycling route, people are very curious about me as they don’t normally see a long-distance cyclist loaded up as I am. When I pull into convenience stores, I get strange looks. One vehicle, I knew, was waiting for me to pull out so that they could follow and get a good look. Of course, some people come up and talk to me.
At the campground yesterday I was almost the guest of honor. Linda, the good lady at the office, hugged me not once but twice. She was a very friendly person with a wonderful smile, even though I must have looked very unappetizing when I walked through her door–hot, sweaty, crumpled and dirty.
Then Barbara, one of the mobile home residents, came over when I was cooking my dinner to offer me some of the catfish and hush puppies she had just fixed. Then her husband came over with some magic candles–you bend them and they produce a gentle blue light, last for 12 hours. “It”s a military thing,” he said.
August 18, 2001
West of Paducah, Kentucky
Again I was doing great mileage. I crossed the Mississippi River before I even realized I was there. Nearly had a heart attack as I pedaled furiously up the slope of the bridge, knowing that vehicles behind me couldn’t pass. Then came the Ohio River Bridge and more frenzied pedaling. Huge rivers. I would love to have stopped on the bridges for pictures but had the sense not to.
US 60 in Kentucky has almost no shoulders, just a narrow strip the other side of the white line. It is not a place for bicycles but I’m stuck with it. The terrain is rolling, with the hills close enough that by rapid gear changing I can get to the crests fairly easily.
I stopped at a store to get something to drink, and a man–Ricky–came up to ask where I was headed, etc. Turns out he is a cyclist too, and encouraged me by saying that the highway developed shoulders in three miles. He offered to let me stay with him and his family for the night but I felt I had to push on. But I did accept his offer of a ride to where the shoulders began. Then a friend of his passed by–they had all been canoeing, and the friend had something belonging to Ricky, so they stopped. The friend–Bill–immediately invited me to stay with him and his family, and as they were closer to Paducah (my goal for the day, and I had hoped to get even further) I felt it would be wonderful to accept.
When we reached his house, which is beautiful and deep in the Kentucky woods, his wife Jeannette accepted that he had brought home a complete stranger to stay overnight with incredible aplomb.
It’s just incredible how hospitable people are. I am showered, have access to their internet, my own room and bathroom, etc.
Maybe I will just keep traveling for ever.
August 25, 2001
My friends Jim and Maggi joined me for this past week to ride in Kentucky. We met in Marion, KY, and it was so wonderful to see these two great friends again after nine weeks of strangers.
But I realized how I have metamorphosed into a strange being–the transcontinental cyclist. I kept buying food etc. just enough for the day, forgetting that they had the car which could carry an elephant. Items such as one nectarine, one pepper, two Little Debbie cream pies (these are my current favorite for quick energy: 300 calories for 25 cents). Maggi and Jim had a cooler! So we could carry milk, cold beer, etc.
Then there is the riding technique. They have these fabulous state of the art racing bikes that weigh two pounds each, skinny tires that you can hardly see unless the light is right, they are so narrow. Gears made for racing on fairly flat roads. Then contrast that with my wonderful sturdy bike, with its wide tires and sturdy frame that weighs about 50 pounds (OK– I exaggerate–45 pounds).
Then there is the riding technique. Because I have a big range of gears, and because I tend to conserve my strength so that I can ride day after day after day. I keep a high cadence of about 80 to 90 pedal revolutions per minute, dropping down into the famous granny gears when I get to hills to keep as high a cadence as possible. Maggi and Jim could not do that because they don’t have such a range of gears, and of course they are used to just powering up the hills. I like to do that too somewhat when riding at home.
Then I have become used to cheap accommodations. One of the transcontinental riders I met way back in Kansas recommended that I stay at the volunteer fire station in one of the Kentucky towns. Lots of bicyclists stay there–it’s free, they have showers, air conditioning and bunk beds. This is wonderful, I thought. But looking at it through the eyes of Maggi and Jim, I realized that the shower was pretty grungy, the room with the beds was untidy with stuff lying all around, the bathroom gunky–not appealing when you just have one week of vacation. So we went to a Motel 6 where I produced my cooking stove and fixed dinner outside the room, trying to avoid meeting the eyes of passers by. We had meat sauce and pasta, by the way, with salad.
Then also I am used to getting up at 6:00 a.m. and being ready to ride by 7:30 a.m. to beat the heat and get in as many miles as possible. Well, it’s hard to do that when on a one-week vacation away from stressful schedules, so we have pretty relaxed getting up times and leisurely breakfasts. But by the end of the week they were beginning to convert and we managed one morning to be away by 8:00 a.m.
Still, in spite of our different life styles we had a wonderful time together and managed to find some beautiful parks to camp in. Maggi and Jim carried ALL my gear in their car. It was heaven! Especially as the hills in KY are so challenging. They are much steeper than the hills in the west, although much shorter. Sometimes roller coaster, so that one is always working No easy pedaling on long straight or gently rolling roads, or climbing steadily for hours up a 5% grade then coasting down the other side at 35 to 40 mph.
Riding in KY is very tiring as one is working all the time. Level stretches are short and rare. Mostly one pedals madly downhill–I reached 30 mph pedaling once–so that the momentum shoots one up the next hill, with frantic pedaling to get one over the crest–then it’s down the other side as fast as possible to get up the next hill. These are roller coasters. Sometimes the hills are long, so that it becomes a grind in the granny gears. I don’t know how Jim and Maggi did these hills with their small range of gears but they did.
After two days of this type of climbing I was totally exhausted. On Tuesday at the end of the ride Jim and Maggi were introduced to yet another feature of trans continental biking–the mini-mart in a small town, where nothing is fresh. It’s either canned or frozen like a rock. Finally we gave up trying to create a menu from the limited selection, and the sales clerk made us each an enormous sandwich, which we ate in the car as we rode to the camp site.
Finding a camp site that evening was another interesting experience–usually I am content with whatever I find first as I may be too tired to cruise the town to pick and choose, so as long as there are showers and shade I’m happy. But if you are on a one week vacation you want the perfect spot, so we checked out EVERY camp site within a ten-mile range. I was so glad there were only three. ( Maggi and Jim, if you read this, I hope it will make you laugh.)
And we did find a beautiful spot. I say “we” but actually I was comatose in the back of the car. After showering I crawled into my tent to rest at 7:30 p.m. and woke up at 6:00 a.m the next morning.
Kentucky is really a pretty state. Lots of hills, valleys, really lovely. Rich green grass, houses with huge lots and beautiful, velvety lawns, immaculately groomed, lots of yard ornaments–animals, and such. Grottoes, as there are many Catholics.
Also some Amish communities, There are often roads signs with a picture of a little horse and cart, warning of slow vehicles. The ponies’ hooves really wear out the roads, creating potholes and cracks.
Agriculture includes corn, soybeans, cattle and, of course, tobacco. This last was mostly being harvested and dried.
Maggi and Jim set off today to return to Texas. They have taken a lot of my gear–the cooking stuff, tent. sleeping bag, some clothes, etc. so that I can be as light as possible for the reputedly terrible hills of Virginia. I will motel it from now on. The bike still feels heavy. I haven’t yet weighed it fully loaded. I did ride into one of those truck weigh stations, and
asked if they could weigh my bike. The officials looked dumbfounded, and finally one pulled herself together enough to politely tell me that the scales measured in 20 pound increments so probably wouldn’t be accurate.
Friends from home offer a rebuttal
written by Maggi and Jim
PHYLLIS’ FAVORITE THINGS
FAVORITE DESIGNER CLOTHES
GOING OUT TO DINNER OUTFIT
North Face shorts
North Face shorts
North Face shorts
Shiner Bock, Moosehead, Dos Equis, Harp’s Lager
Bud, when she can get it.
Starbucks fresh ground coffee, dry toast with marmalade
Kroger’s instant coffee bags, 3 packets of instant oatmeal
2 scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, toast
or on a rest day
Stack of 3 large pancakes slathered with blueberry sauce, with blobs of whipped creme and a pat of butter, bacon strips, syrup on the side and gallons of coffee
FAVORITE RIDE SNACKS
Little Debbie Creme pies
Boar’s head pastrami and lettuce on Kroger’s home-baked whole wheat with a nectarine
Hamburger, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard & a milkshake
FAVORITE NIGHTTIME ACTIVITIES
Movies, theater, a ride, Frasier
A little of whatever novel is available at the used bookstore and bedtime by 7:30 p.m.
OTHER CHANGED THINGS FOR PHYLLIS
Black oil under the nails
Doesn’t admit to anything
Happy to accept the AARP discount!
Doesn’t admit to anything
10 pounds lighter
“I’ll even eat bologna.”
SAGE ADVICE FROM TRANSCONTINENTAL CYCLIST, PHYLLIS HASSAN
MOST VALUABLE LESSON LEARNED
There’s a place for everything, and everything MUST go back in it’s place.
SECOND MOST VALUABLE LESSON LEARNED
Never take someone else’s word for the steepness of a hill.
From a bike shop owner, “Someday I’d like to take a course in truing wheels.”
LAW OF AVERAGES
If asking directions, you will generally ask the only other traveler in town.
(Phyllis asked directions of a fellow from Oak Cliff while in Missouri)
August 29, 2001
The terrain changed dramatically after Berea, KY–less cultivated, wilder and much hillier, trees everywhere. The hills are very steep, I’ve had to walk some, grumbling and whining, of course, but at least they are short, no more than a mile or so.
It’s so fascinating to see the different places that people live, and love where they are living. The eastern part of Kentucky is really in the Appalachians, and people seem to be poorer. Lots of old and rusting cars in front yards, some obviously have been in a wreck, but still lovingly given a home and mowed around. Everyone in KY seems obsessed with their lawns, which are green and velvety, and manicured to the extreme. Even the poorer homes have beautifully cut lawns, and sometimes one can see the home owner droning up and down on a power mower . Pretty flowers in yards–I saw a beautiful white house, two story, with hanging baskets of pink flowers at both levels.
Yesterday I climbed two horrible hills on narrow roads with no shoulders, not even a yellow line in the middle. Going up was awful but coming down was magical, because all of a sudden I was riding past houses just perched on the hillside, beside a tiny stream, all with these immaculate yards. I felt I was in Nepal, not that I’ve ever been there. (Which reminds me–in Missouri I pulled into a truck stop that made me feel for a second that I had entered Tibet–the owner had at least 6 sets of wind chimes, all making eerie tinny noises.)
Of course, tobacco is still grown but I’m told that people are turning back to raising cattle as the demand for tobacco is weakening. But people here do their best to maintain the demand–so many smokers! Haven’t yet been in a restaurant with a non-smoking section, but mostly I use the smaller places. Like last night–I stayed in a “basic” motel–very clean, but towels real thin, one piece of soap, hand controls on the TV which was BLACK AND WHITE! and of course, no remote. But the color TV the night before had only one color, which was purple. But Michelle Pfeiffer still looked beautiful. So if I wanted to watch TV I had to squat on the floor to channel-surf.
The ten commandments are popular here and are displayed in many stores, also some homes.
The restaurant last night was right next to the motel, so after showering I went there for dinner. It was “home cooking” and I had fried catfish, fries and garden salad. They had apple pie and German chocolate cake for dessert but unfortunately I was too full.
The waitress was sitting with two customers, and was chain smoking. The cook was bustling about, getting ready for the next day, then she found the time to sit and chat. It was a homey place, and they said that they have a lot of local people who are regulars, as well as travelers.
This morning at breakfast (scrambled egg and home-made biscuits) there were two men drinking coffee, and, of course, smoking, not talking but listening to other people. One man brought in something that looked like a dried root. I hesitated to ask what it might be in case it was something else, but it turned out it was indeed a root, that had taken some effort to dig out.
So now I will continue to Rosedale, my stop for tonight, all being well. It’s certainly pleasant to be riding through these beautiful, silent–except for birds and insects–woods, and be able to peer down through the foliage to houses maybe 100 feet below, built along a stream. The roads to these places are so steep I cannot imagine driving up and down them. Often there are from one to maybe five houses together. Social services must be awfully hard to deliver when the population is so scattered.
August 30, 2001
Here I am, a jaded traveler, thinking that nothing could exceed what I have already done and seen, and then there was Kentucky, and now there is Virginia.
I climbed laboriously up a steep hill by the Big A mountain. Hill was short compared with 30 mile climbs in the west. I started in the thickly wooded hills and mountains typical of eastern Kentucky and the beginning of Virginia. Woods silent except for birds and insects, and often no traffic for long periods of time. Almost spooky, then these glimpses down through the trees at houses and yards 100 feet below, like secret dwellings. Then I began riding down the other side of Big A Mountain and it was like entering a new world. Much of the trees had been removed, possibly by the early settlers in the 1600s, I guess, so that the wonderful round shapes of the hills are plain. Some trees, peaceful cattle, some sheep, really idyllic. Yet I had to lament the cutting down of all those trees, whenever it happened.
I’m told that people here mostly work for the coal industry, either mining or driving the huge trucks. Yesterday I set out from Elkhorn City, and soon encountered the trucks. They just terrify me. They are huge and absolutely belt along. Sometimes they cannot see a mere cyclist on a curve and I’m ready to leap off–especially if I have somewhere to leap other than a 100 foot drop to the houses below. In Hasli I stopped to ponder over the map, and a man came up to help with directions. He said he used to teach, then turned to over the road truck driving (wonder why) and told me that the coal trucks would have CB radios and would be alerting each other that I was on the road, also other trucks too. He said that they were all used to having cyclists ride through their area anyway, and he seemed proud of this. That made me feel better, but I am still inclined to climb up the hillside rather than slow down one of these absolutely gargantuan monsters. He gave me good information on the route ahead–no hills for 20 miles, which was true–and said he had always lived in Hasli. Lumps of coal litter the side of the roads, another hazard to avoid.
People in VA are just as fussy about their lawns as in KY. They mow right down to the road, and even along the grass shoulders a way. If they have a meadow they mow that as well. It’s a fetish.
During the ride yesterday I stopped at a gas station for drinks, etc. When I asked for the restroom key the clerk acted as if she were doing me favor. Then outside someone came up to ask where I was going, etc. He said his name was Marcus and that he was part of the construction crew just down the road. We shook hands and he wished me well. This more than made up for the clerk’s rudeness.
Last night I stayed at the United Methodist Church in Rosedale, VA. They have put bikers up for years, either sleeping in the sanctuary or camping outside. It’s a beautiful church and grounds. I had free use of the kitchen, bathroom and sanctuary. They have a visitor book for bikers. This kindness and trust is just awesome. The pastor’s wife, Pattie, gave me a huge can of Dinty Moore stew and three bananas as I had absolutely no food. Other bikers had recently left eggs, etc. so I had a great breakfast.
Lots of dogs in Kentucky, and many not tied up. They have come bounding across the road at me, barking their silly heads off. One very aggressive black dog, looking like a pit bull, actually grabbed hold of one of my
panniers. By that time I had drifted to the wrong side of the road. Then its master called to it, thank goodness.
Sept. 6, 2001
I’m almost at the end of the trip. Hope to reach Yorktown this Saturday, but still this route continues to amaze me. I am tired but never jaded because everything is still so fascinating.
The scenery is absolutely wonderful. From western Virginia it was more wooded, some cultivated fields, but still a wild touch, especially as the weather was cloudy and misty for a whole week. The hills were often wreathed in mist, looking so romantic. Sometimes I even rode through the clouds and had to wear my rain jacket.
This week the sun came out, just brilliant blue sky, fluffy white clouds, perfect temperatures of about 80 degrees. Pretty houses, and as always, absolutely charming cows.
I’m so glad that Jim and Maggi were able to take back so much of my stuff because these hills are terrible. They are worse than anything out west. Especially one little beast from Vesuvius, lasting only four miles but almost vertical. I did ride up it, wheezing loudly and desperately, and it just wore me out so that I’m still recovering. Then the route went along the Blue Ridge Parkway, with pretty nice views of the valleys below.
Now that my tent has gone home I’m staying in motels. I’ve lived high on the hog–two bed and breakfast places that were wonderful. The second (think I have described the first) was in Catawba, VA, run by Lucy and David. They drove me to a good restaurant, The Home Place. Here’s the menu: Fried Chicken (“It comes automatic,” said the waitress), choice of roast beef or ham, then five vegetables including my favorite, mashed potatoes with gravy, and large jug of lemonade all of which I drank, peach cobbler and coffee. Lucy came to take me back afterwards, but really what I needed was a forklift.
Lucy made a wonderful smoothie in the evening, once I had a little space for it, then a delicious breakfast in the morning, including granola (homemade) over a layer of yogurt, topped with fresh raspberries. Lots more, like oatmeal and muffins, that kept me going for three hours that morning. Such wonderful people and such a pretty place. Let me know if you would like their address.
Of course, I have stayed in some really crummy places as well–just depends on what’s there. But I did stay in a historic inn in Lexington, very pretty. And ate a wonderful meal in Lexington, too. Meals generally have been poor so a good restaurant is worth noting.
Then I spent a night at the Cookie Lady’s house. She has been hosting bicyclists since 1976, the first year of the TransAm trail. She has three houses, one of which she lives in and one which she opens to bicyclists. The latter has four rooms. The walls of each are covered with postcards from all the people who have ever stayed there since 1976, also newspaper clippings, mementos, and albums. She takes everyone’s picture with a Polaroid. The kitchen is stocked with cans of food and pasta so I was able to fix dinner and breakfast. The shower was interesting. The Cookie Lady emphasized several times that it was a solar shower. But as the sun had not shone for a week I actually had a pretty chilly shower. June Curry is the Cookie Lady. She is 80 years old and has never ridden a bike in her life, but she keeps on hosting we cyclists every year–a most remarkable woman.
Well, I made it! 4423 miles on the odometer. I reached Williamsburg Friday Sept.7, after 96 miles from Ashland, then went on to Yorktown Saturday.
Saturday I met up with two local bicyclists who are students at the William and Mary College here. They are friends of Jen, a young woman I met in Wyoming. They rode with me ceremoniously to Yorktown after giving me two balloons saying “Congrats!” I tied the balloons to my bike where they bobbed and weaved all day. A man called out to ask if it was my birthday.
I fly back to Texas tomorrow, September 11.
Today I rode to Jamestown to look at the remnants of the first settlement. I realize why Adventure Cycling developed this entire coast to coast route the way they did to celebrate the Bicentennial. Suddenly it made sense, except I guess I did it backwards.
The route is all about the exploration and settlement of the country, of course. Out west the route follows the Lewis and Clark trail quite a bit, then we saw many remnants of the trail taken by the pioneers. Now in the east is where it all started, with the first permanent settlement in Jamestown, then the battle fought and won by the Americans at Yorktown, which led to final victory.
Friday the route passed the Richmond battlefield from the Civil War, and it was quite a moving experience to ride past the signs describing the battles that were fought, and seeing the old photos of the wounded lying on the ground waiting for medical attention.
This may not be the final installment of my trip. When I get back home I’d like to do some more Incredibly Boring Details, such as the items that I found to be essential on the trip, and those that were just clutter–in case anyone else is interested in making a trip like this.
So please stay tuned.
ALSO–many many thanks to Ginger (that was my favorite nickname back then) who made the website possible and edited all the stuff that I mailed and emailed to her.
(editors note: You are VERY welcome!)
(Phyllis was scheduled to fly home Sept 11, 2001. All flights were cancelled so she rented a car and drove home.)
Equipment – My List for a Self-contained Touring Trip
The list that follows consists of the items that I used on my trip and would take again, assuming similar weather–100 degrees plus in Kansas, and not much below 50 elsewhere. Although I’ve included some brand names, other brands would probably work just as well.
Cannondale touring bike: T2000
Suspension seat post
Triple chain rings: 47-36-24
9 speed cassette, largest cog: 32
700x32c Avocet Fasgrip clincher tires
Front and rear fenders
Front and rear lights
Cyclocomputer that has two distance recorders, e.g. a Cateye Enduro 2
(1st is for the daily distance, the 2nd for the distance between points on the ride–very useful,
helps to make accurate turns when following a map)
Blackburn Expedition front and rear racks
3 spare tubes
Pump that has a small foot peg, T-handle and built-in gauge
Tire pressure gauge if not part of the pump
Helmet with visor
Rear view mirror
Lock and chain
Camelback or similar product
Panniers and bags
Madden Cyclelite rear and front panniers (easy to attach, have lots of pockets, lightweight;
not waterproof so I lined them with plastic garbage bags. Waterproof covers are available.)
Madden handlebar bag (has a slot to display the Adventure Cycling maps). Keep a plastic shopping
bag handy in a side pocket in case of rain, or buy the cover.
A shoulder strap to carry the handlebar bag, e.g. on the plane.
If you are into bike mechanics, you will need far more tools than I do.
Philips and slot screwdrivers
Extra bolts, just in case
Duct tape, rolled around a short pencil
Plastic tire levers
Swiss army knife (with corkscrew and bottle opener)
4 extra spokes
Extra brake cable and rear derailleur cable
Bunch of plastic ties
Allen wrenches that fit the bike
Tire repair liner
2 pink rags
Old cosmetic bag or old sock to hold tools
Small piece of Pack Towel to wipe off tent after rain, etc. in the morning
Thermarest and waterproof bag
Sleeping bag weighing as little as possible yet warm
Sleeping bag liner of cotton and silk
Small pillow and pillowcase
Yellow or other bright color Hydroseal (waterproof) bag for the sleeping bag, liner and pillow
(the color adds to the bike’s visibility)
Two straps to attach the tent, sleeping bag and Thermarest to the top of the rear rack.
MSR cooking stove; it prefers white gas but works with regular gas (the latest model has a lever
to control the flame–it’s expensive, though)
Metal fuel bottle that fits into a water bottle cage
Set of 2 MSR aluminum pans with a gripper handle
Plastic bowl (no plates)
Plastic mug with French press for coffee
Zippered bag for spices, dish soap, fork, 2 spoons, spatula, dish sponge
Small plastic bottles for olive oil, etc. (could use plastic fruit juice containers bought on the trip)
Sugar packets (or buy presweetened food such as instant oatmeal)
Iodine to purify water (never used but good to have)
Salt and pepper: use film canisters, buy tops from REI
Buy other food as needed, including snacks, on the trip
Washcloth (cut from old pack towel)
Toothbrush, small tube of paste, floss
Shampoo (I’m told that Johnson’s Baby Shampoo does for hair, washing clothes, bod and dishes)
Wet wipes (if they dry out, dampen them)
Makeup (miniatures from “free gifts”)
Cosmetic bag or plastic bag
Toilet bag or sturdy plastic zip lock bag
Kleenex individual packets (these are useful for any activity that requires paper,
and can be stored throughout the panniers)
Health and medical items
Sunscreen with high SF
A&D Ointment or other soothing cream for sore butts
Large and small bandaids
Antiseptic cream or lotion
Clothing: on the bike
4 pairs of shorts
2 short-sleeved jerseys
2 sleeveless jerseys
4 pairs of socks
4 pairs of gloves
Balaclava or other warm head cover
1 pair of gloves with fingers
Lightweight nylon shell
Clothing: off the bike
Note: all synthetic as quick to dry
2 T-shirts, short sleeved
1 pair of long pants (zip-off legs a plus)
1 pair of lightweight thermal underpants (doubles as bike tights)
2 lightweight thermal long sleeved tops (double as long sleeved bike jerseys)
3 mesh bags (real lightweight) for cosmetics, first aid, etc.
3 – 4 extra garbage bags
5×6 zip lock sandwich bags, have a million uses
Larger zip lock bags to sort small clothes items, help keep dry
Garbage bags to hold clothes (lighter than stuff sacks)
20 ft of clothesline, 12 pegs
3 scoops of Tide, double-bagged, for when the laundromat has no soap powder
Headlamp or flashlight
Batteries for lights, etc.
Writing pad and a few envelopes
Phones, postal and email addresses
Cash (travelers checks are a nuisance to cash: use ATM or credit card)
Driver’s insurance card
Your name, address, and the name and phone of someone to call in emergency: put in helmet
The Trans America Bike Trail – Finale
Here are answers to some of the questions that people that people have asked me since I’ve been back:
What was your favorite state?
I enjoyed Kansas most of all, in spite of the heat. Its subtle scenery began to grow on me; the horizons were so vast and far away, and the cattle so appealing. It became more varied in the east and ended in the brilliantly green and fertile Flint Hills. And it was mostly flat.
It was such a hard working state. There was nothing pretty about it. Just about everyone seemed connected with farming. Their work clothes were dirty because they had been wrestling with cattle or machines. Towns would be at the junction of two or more highways that would stretch, empty and never-ending, to the horizon. At convenience stores and gas stations diesel trucks would be left idling–throbba throbba–while the drivers went inside in worn blue jeans and their hair in a pony tail. There was always that faint whiff of feedlot in the air.
And the little towns were so proud to be part of the Trans Am trail since its beginning. I began to realize that I was part of an historic happening, almost a pilgrimage, of thousands of people who had explored the United States from coast to coast since 1976. In turn, I became proud of being part of this.
Oregon, Idaho and Montana were, of course, more scenic. Kentucky was beautiful with its green rolling hills and its woods. Virginia was romantic with mist and clouds shrouding its mountains.
What was the worst climb?
Definitely the worst climb was the four miles from the town of Vesuvius (pop. 200) in Virginia up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I made it, but was totaled for two days afterwards.
The hills in Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia were dreadful. While the great mountains in the west had gradients of 5 or 6%, those in the Appalachians were much steeper and climbing them made my muscles burn. But at least they were short.
How much did your stuff weigh?
The bike, bless its little metal heart, weighs 25 pounds; the gear weighed 51 pounds, not including water, and sometimes I carried as much as two gallons if it was hot and there were no services for a long way. I started out from Portland, Oregon, with 61 pounds but mailed ten back.
What were the best and the worst places you camped at?
The RV park in Riverside, Wyoming, is the place that I enjoyed most. It had grassy sites shaded by tall trees and was very well kept. Across the road was the pretty good Bear Trap Restaurant with great steaks and beer.
The city park in Sisters, Oregon, was the worst. The campground was dirty and the public restrooms had no showers, and only one small washbasin. I left without paying the camping fee of $10.
What are you enjoying most about being back home?
Makeup! A hair dryer!
Soft toilet paper;
Being 10 pounds lighter;
Getting up in the middle of the night without trying to pretend for half an hour that I don’t need to;
Buying enough groceries to last a week, not a day;
No more Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies;
Wearing cotton instead of synthetics;
Eating at good Mexican restaurants (there aren’t any outside Texas).
What do you miss most about the Trans Am trail?
Being outside all the time;
Smelling pine trees, wild flowers, even the occasional whiff of feedlots;
Hearing the birds and insects in the woods;
Seeing the incredible night sky away from city lights;
Having all that I needed to live with right there on the bike;
The simplicity of life–eat, sleep, pedal and follow the map;
The feeling that every day brought a new adventure;
Enjoying the scenery, a neat little town, the kindness of local people, or meeting other cross-country cyclists;
Dairy Queen hamburgers! Dressed, as they say in Kentucky, with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mustard and ketchup;
Eating anything and as much I fancied–Snickers bars, milkshakes, ice cream, hamburgers and mashed potatoes and gravy.
What were the most ridiculous things that you took with you?
Hair styling mousse and mascara.
Would you ever go touring again?