Saturday, September 22, 2007

Slappin' Dorothy

My instincts about where to stay last night were spot on. Just as I'd ridden into town, I noticed an access way into a grassy field beyond a massive blue water tower, the constant signature of towns across the Midwest. I spent the evening at a park where I cooked up and watched the sun set then cruised over just before dark. I glanced this way and that. The coast was clear--go! In I bounced across the grass and in behind a stand of trees--mowed grass, hidden from view on all sides, totally perfect--and free, the best of all possible camping worlds.

The vampires were out as I pitched my tent. My technique is to get everything ready then dive in, zip the screen down to foot level, rip of my sandals or shoes, and crank the zipper shut, hopefully keeping the blood suckers out. Only one got in, which I quickly dispatched with the hand of God--mine. No good Jain here: All mosquitoes and biting bugs must die.

Because of the heat, I was sleeping without the fly on the tent to maximize whatever pitiful air movement I might get. Not much help there. I just lay in a sweating coffin, waiting for things to somehow cool off. I eventually drifted off to be suddenly awakened by rain drops hitting the tent. Out! Out! Keystone cops run around and get that fly on, cover the bike, dive back in before you're soaked. Just as I settled back onto the pad, the rain began in earnest. Safe and hot, I fell back asleep...only to awaken at 3:30 with an urgent need to water the foliage. Damn, couldn't sleep, had to get up in thirty minutes anyway. Wait, debate, give up and give in. All right, all right, I'm getting up. The rain had long since stopped. I packed, rolled back to the park for gawdawfulearly breakfast and hit the road before 6am.

My escape from Clinton was along route 7 towards Kansas City. This, at first, had a superb shoulder, smooth and mega-wide. I was about to praise MODOT to the skies when the shoulder turned to shite, long sections of totally tattered, gravelly, chunky mess. C'mon, people. Y'all can do better than this. So I was often forced onto the main road where I would stay until traffic forced me back onto the shoulder, which was okay some of the time, too. Fortunately, traffic was very light during the pre-dawn hours then quite moderate for a four lane divided highway thereafter.

I've been dealing with some mildly painful tightness behind my right calf and hamstring, but I pulled through today without too much problem. I made a good point of stopping every hour for a bit of just walking and light stretching. I don't know what the problem is since my left leg is fine. Still, I had a fine day of cycling on generally smooth roads at high speeds. My average was close to 13 mph. Contrast this with my slow days when I've averaged as low as 9.7 mph. Now, to those of you riding around in cars this may sound laughable, but when the pistons are your legs, your heart and lungs and guts your engine, this is a HUGE difference and represents, for me, a fun, quick cycling day from one with a good deal of strain and strife. Tail winds and only moderate climbing really helped though today I did climb for a total of 1,300 ft.

Here's another thing: Many people, when notified I'm riding east to west, make the crack about riding against the wind. Dudes, I'm not at 40,000 ft. in the jet stream. Conditions on the ground vary a lot. Sure, there may be general trends, but don't count on tail winds if you're headed east. You will almost certainly be gravely disappointed. Steven Kraft, whom I encountered in Ohio, commented on plenty of winds out of the east. Today, I was headed north and west--with tail winds. So there you go.

So, shortly before noon, I hit Kansas. Carry on my wayward son. There were only three things to do: Take a photo, get back on the bike, and blast some Van Halen (the early stuff) to power me into town just a few miles away. Runnin' with the devil, baby, runnin' with the devil. Some jerk gave me the sign of the flying bird because I was pinching traffic a little (no shoulder). I just laughed out loud and waved happily. A new state, by gum. No sad bloke was going to tarnish this high.

I've got information on where to camp. I'll grab some grub and head for the park. This tour is going well indeed. Just three more days to Manhattan. I can't freakin' believe I'm in Kansas. What's this world coming to? Let me at that wicked witch. I'll drill her with my chain rings, the noxious wench. This is your faithful correspondent signing off from the left edge of the Great Midwest Outback.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Spanked Katy

I've landed in Clinton, MO. Not much doing here, but I did laundry and downloaded some stuff for the long road ahead. That mp3 player is going to be my salvation. The Katy was fun, but I'm glad our relationship is over. I didn't mind riding her, but the limestone dust and slower speeds were starting to be a drag. No photo uploading on this machine, so you just get my scrambled, mis-typed prose to tickle your nose.

Sedalia wasn't a half-bad stop. After my last post, I explored a little and landed at a very pleasant--mostly empty--brew pub. Missouri is blessed with a pretty good brewery, Boulevard's. The pale ale and unfiltered wheat are especially good. I ordered up a pint of the former and sat on the patio to dig the Missouri scene. Okay, not much. It's not the Champs-Elysees, but it would do on a hot afternoon. I sat in the shade, sipped the icy perfection, and read my most excellent science fiction novel: The Ghost Brigades, by Scalzi, good escapist stuff for my life of sweat and toil.

After stocking up with too much stuff at the grocery store, I headed for camp, which I thought was free. No such luck. $10 for a patch of grass surrounded by monster RV's. Me and my one person tent and kinky bike. The contrast was grotesque and hilarious. Only one person showed interest in what I was doing. A lady in the closest RV was friendly and her chihuahua was a blast. Her husband was a scowling, downcast, coughing smoker. Maybe he was just preoccupied with how good it felt to be feeding his tumor, who knows? He said not a word. Fine with me. They were quiet, and I found an excellent use for the big RV--shade. The hot sun was low in the sky, and I set up in the shadow thrown long by their enormous rig.

Then I did something horrible, foul, unspeakable: I ate a steak. Cow meat. Deceased bovine flesh. Holy horrified Hindus, Batman, that guy's eating red meat! The cow that provided the steak was not organically fed, not grass fed, not free range. I am not part of the solution. I am part of the problem. And like all true sins, it tasted good--really good. I just sparked up sparky, poured a little olive oil in my titanium pan, and slapped in the meat. Sizzle, sizzle, fo' shizzle, the cow did cook. A wee bit o' garlic, some saline powder and peppah, spear with fork, hack with blade, masticate and swallow. Yup, this carnivore was a happy camper. Gonna do it again tonight as I couldn't buy a quantity small enough for just one meal.

I consume mass quantities on this tour. Never before have I done so much exercise for so many days in a row. I had little excess on my bones to begin with, so to keep from vanishing completely, I just eat and eat and eat. Sometimes too much, for sure, but that's how it goes for high-end recumbent cyclo-tourism. Until next time, keep yer cleats clean and yer tires full. This is Biker Scotty signing off from the western frontier of Missouri, just one more state I'm going to leave behind.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Along the Missouri

Since the fall of Troy, your hero has been busy. I've been riding every day since, and I think I'm going to keep at it until I get to Manhattan and Clint and Jen's place where I'll just crash for a few days. The Mid-West is tough for several reasons: heat, humidity, bugs...and it's so freakin' big. And the sense of size is magnified by the sometimes monotonous terrain. Missouri for all its challenges has been the most interesting Mid-West state. I think Kansas may be the toughest. We'll see.

After leaving Troy, I was concerned about another killer day, but my reading of the map was confirmed when I found little heavy climbing. I mostly rolled through gentle grades and worked my way south to the famed Katy Trail and another great river, the Missouri. At one point in my descent to Marthasville and my connection to the trail, I hit 49 mph. What a screamer. I was getting a little nervous on that one, but Mojo and I were solid. Marthasville was yet another of these anemic towns, bled dry by changing demographics and economic shifts. Somehow, a few businesses hold on, but most of these places have a number of empty stores and run-down houses. The main supply points are the mini-marts, which leaves a clear picture of the nutritional content of people's diets: high fructose corn syrup and nasty oils.

For those of you out of the loop, the Katy Trail is a 200+ mile conversion of an old rail bed to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians and, in some sections, horses. The surface, like the Erie Canal Tow Path, is firm crushed limestone. This is a gem of a trail in many places, especially for history buffs as it follows the Lewis and Clark trail. Travellers will find many signs and interpretive stations showing where the adventurers camped, the cave they discovered and other bits of this classic American story. The path is sometimes hard on the river, other times cutting through fields. Much of the route has excellent shade from the close, often overhanging trees. This has been a huge benefit with the tenacious heatwave we've been having out here. Normal temps should be in the high 70's F.. We should be flirting with 90 F. or so the next few days. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Anyway, here's a video of one of the better Katy sections. This is just outside a town called Rocheport, where I spent last night:

I have become somewhat weary of the crushed limestone. Although an acceptable surface, it's slower, especially when trail crews have added fresh material or some sand has washed over it. And it's incredibly dusty. My bike and the rear of my panniers are covered with a fine, grey dust that's going to be great fun to clean off. Most of my encounters have been short term Q&A's: Where ya comin' from? When ya gonna finish? What do you do for a living? Yadda, yadda, yadda. I'm a good sport, really, I am.

I've been seeing a lot of cyclists, naturally, but they are all on local or extended Katy-only tours. I may have seen the last of fellow trans-Am riders for the rest of my tour. I'll be the lone cyclist out on the Great Plains and through the mighty mountains and deserts of the West--with the exception of my doppelganger, this mystery rider that greets me most mornings with a challenging pace. I strive to overtake him, but he stays ahead until mid-day when I finally get the better of him. He's elusive, quick, a mysterious challenger who dogs my every pedal stroke. Call him Ghost Rider:

Then, of course, there are the Slovenians. These jackals of the peleton have broken away and set their fangs on taking me down. Let them try! My lead has been secure for over 2,200 miles. I'm keeping it. There can be only one World Champion Recumbent Cyclo-Tourist--at least in western Missouri in late September, eh? So let the pretenders have their fantasies. My legs will do the talking.

Here are some shots from the road:

Taking a break from the heat at a trail head:

A typical "green tunnel":

Tin foil hat

Chasing down Louis and Clark along the Missouri:

My 4 am game:

Okay, some soy fields look pretty:

One of the trail head stations:

I've stared at the glowing screen long enough. Time to tool around town a bit and find my way to the campground. Showers tonight, yeah! Till next time, Recumbent Cyclo-Dude signing off. Missouri, your days are numbered.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Great State of Misery--er--Missouri

I'm so tired I can hardly write, but it's nice here in the library in Troy, MO. I had a grand time along the ol' Mississippi, but I had to turn inland, and so my tale of woe began.

But first the good news. After yesterday's post, I cranked off a couple of miles to get to a decent grocery store, thinking all the while that I might have to backtrack the whole way to a camp- ground, which was opposite my direction of travel. I had no place to camp and was feeling that little anxious feeling. How the hell is this going to work out? The road will provide. After shopping and dealing with another rather low IQ sort (I seem to be a magnet for these) who kept asking endless, rapid-fire questions like a five-year-old, I was approached by a normal fellow interested in my journey. He wished me luck and went into the store. On exiting, he said: "Would you like a hot, home-cooked meal?" I'd just purchased a bunch of food, but I wasn't going to brush off this road angel so quickly. "Sure!" He then asked: "You're not a vegan, are you?" "Hell, no," I replied. "I'll eat anything." Which was basically true. Even if it's still moving, it won't be for long after I get through with it.

Mike called his wife, and we were set. He didn't live "very far" as he put it. I took him at his word and followed on my bike as he cruised through a series of streets into a very nice hood: big trees and classic brick homes, including his own. I pumped like crazy to not fall too far behind, my legs yelping at having already survived 75 miles then being asked to do more. Shut up, boys, you can take it. I followed Mike into the house and met the rest of the Mitts clan: his wife, Shelley, and the boys, James, the biggest dude, a junior in high school, and Tom and Dan, skate punks of the finest sort. We feasted on jambalaya and fresh apple pie, amply seasoned with lively conversation. Mike recalled tales of his life in the Marines at 29 Palms and hitchhiking to Palm Springs to catch flights back to Illinois for the weekend to see Shelley. True love, eh? Shelley recounted the interesting characters she'd encountered working in a town, Louisiana, Mo., that I was soon to pass through. Sometimes she referred to it as "Loser-ana" when thinking about some of the people she met while working for a podiatrist who visited the town. It seems that some of these people rarely see doctors and feel compelled to share stories and symptoms other than those foot-related. One character just had to exhibit her major surgery scar for Shelley: "Yep," said the woman, "they opened me up mountain tops to glory hole!" and hoisted her dress for maximum effect. Another woman with a well-since-I'm-at-the-doctor's-I-might- as-well-show- 'em-this-too attitude lifted her dress to reveal a bulging hernia the size of a small pony. Ah, the joys of rural medical practice. Be strong, Shelley, be strong! You folks are the best. Thank you!

The next day, I made easy miles into Hannibal and left Illinois for the last time. As expected, the town was a ruthless tourist trap, but it was nice to see Twain's actual boyhood home and tour the museum. I skipped Tom Sawyer's cave. Out of town, I immediately hit the terrain for which Missouri is so notorious, at least for cyclists. It would be a day of relentless, grinding climbs. A few level stretches offered some relief, but they were always followed by a punishing climb where my lowest gears were barely adequate. I learned the fine art of zig-zagging up hill to cut the grade and avoid total blowout. The scenery was most beautiful and sweetly bucolic, but it was a beauty viewed through a fog of sweat and strain. What began as some good, hard work in the morning left me cursing each grade in the afternoon.

One significant event transpired during one of these climbs, however: I crossed the 2,000 mile mark. Eat my grits, Missouri, I done 2,000 miles!

My day ended on the shores of the Mississippi at an old fisherman's hangout. A set of tracks cut through the woods behind me in the trees, and a train bridge spanned the river to the south. Fortunately, rail traffic was light, though the ground did rumble when one of the diesel spewing dragons squealed by into the night. Mostly I just watched the slow, dark water ease by the overhanging maples. A heron perched on mostly submerged snags and watched for prey, looking like a grim undertaker from a Dickens tale with its hunched shoulders and dark cloak of feathers. Heavy-bodied fish jumped in the shallows and night fell on my Huck Finn camp as I cooked on the shore, happy to spend a night by myself, just me and the river.

Today was more of the same terrible climbs--lots more. Add heat in the high 80's, a head wind, shake AND stir, pour out the cocktail into a set of aching legs and wind-blown skin. My mantra: Just today and tomorrow, then I'm done. Just today and tomorrow. Tomorrow I reach Marthasville and the start of the Katy Trail, a virtually flat run due west across most of the state. Free camping and river towns to explore. Can't wait.

No photos today, kids. Older computers in libraries seem to lack the drivers I need. Oh, well. Until next time, keep yer powder dry and yer flints sharp. With a rebel yell, this is Biker Scotty, World Champion Recumbent Cyclist, signing off from the Great American Outback.

Hey, I take back that biz about photos. I've just checked into the Holiday Inn, and the dudes have got a 'puter with high speed connection. Enjoy.

A new game show! Reality, of course...

My Huck Finn camp:

The country I cycled today: