Bike Tour 2012: More than just cornfields
At this point we are about 2/3 of our way across the country, and all of the town names, lunch stops, and city parks are beginning to run together. Every day continues to be filled with beautiful sights and interesting places and it is getting more difficult than ever to pick and choose photos and stories to include in our blog. Eastern Kansas and Missouri have been our most surprising destinations yet, with far more trees, hills, and colors than we ever expected. We have never been to these states before and we naively believed that they were completely occupied by flat, expansive land and an occasional cow. We're assuming that the reason no one had told us to look forward to this part of this trip is because most people we know also haven't been here...so now we're telling you: this place is beautiful and you should come check it out!
Our bike ride from the tiny town of Seward, Kansas to the well-organized town of Buhler, Kansas was cloudy, wet, and interrupted halfway through by our first flash flood Kansas-style rainstorm. Fortunately we made it into the town of Nickerson and the warm Sunshine Café before the rain started and that’s where we waited while it passed. Storms have a way of making us bike faster and we were relieved to pull into the huge town park of Buhler before the storm returned. The park had a pool with showers and an indoor, carpeted hallway that they leave unlocked just for bikers. That night the wind, rain, thunder and lightning put on a show unlike anything I had ever seen before and I realized for the first time just how vital it really was to get shelter on stormy nights…a lesson I would continue to learn as the week went on.
We woke to more rain and began to worry that we might be forced to take a rest day earlier than planned. And then just like that the rain let up and the sun came out. It was our first really humid day since we began riding and it felt strangely comforting to be surrounded by the warm, moist air. Along with the humidity came beautiful fall colors and the exciting feeling that we were indeed far from home. We spent the morning at an incredibly clean and cute café called The Mustard Seed where we used the internet and ate delicious baked goods. We finally got on the road at 11am and ended up pumping out 70 miles before the storm once again forced us indoors. We weren’t as lucky as before and we were caught in the downpour about 3 miles before the town of Cassoday. We were soaked through within 30 seconds and continued to ride on as quickly as possible as the rain turned to hail and it became hard to see. When we pulled up to the town’s community center it looked like it was awaiting our arrival. There was no one around, but the place was far too dry and spacious for us to pass up. We pulled our bikes in and proceeded to get changed and eat some food. About an hour later two men, Kyle and Eric, came in and explained that they were race directors for the Heartland 100, a 100-mile footrace that was going on at that moment. The community center was the hub of the event and the finish line was just a few blocks away. We were excited to be in the midst of other athletes and they were more than willing to share the space with us for the night.
The next morning we were able to chat with a few of the 100-mile finishers (the 50-mile racers were starting to come in as well) as they rested their bodies and came to terms with what they had just completed. Inspired by their stamina and by the bright blue sky, Don and I decided that is was time for us to bike our first 100 mile day, all the way to Chanute, Kansas. It turned out to be the perfect day for our first Century, with good tailwinds, temps in the 70’s, and lots of energy (we had carbo-loaded the night before by eating a whole bag of spaghetti with a whole bottle of Ragu alfredo sauce). We made it to 50 miles by lunch, and to our 100 mile mark by 4pm. We decided to treat ourselves to a motel room as a reward and it made for a sweet finish to a fun and inspiring day.
We truly enjoyed our time in Kansas, but we were also excited to be passing into Missouri where we were told that the Ozarks would be waiting for us. We pulled out of Chanute a little later than usual, but we still felt strong and the weather was still perfect, so we pedaled fast and enjoyed another relaxing day. By the time we reached our lunch stop in Girard at mile 60 we had to decide whether to stay there, bike a little farther and try to stealth camp, or bike 40 miles to the next town of Golden City in Missouri and stay in their city park. It would make for another 100 mile day, but we were up to the challenge. We pulled into Golden City as it was getting dark and then encountered one of our coolest surprises yet. We walked into a mini mart and asked naively if there was a Dairy Queen in town. The owner said there wasn’t but he happened to have a cooler of ice cream he was giving away for free. He told us to take as much as we wanted, so we obliged and walked out as happy as kids in a candy store. We headed over to the city park (which had hot showers) and ate our dinner and ice cream and marveled at how good we had it. Just then a British fellow named Paul rolled up on his bike and joined us for the night. Paul left Astoria on Sept. 16 and is averaging over 100 miles a day! It was great chatting with him and we certainly wish him well as we tries to finish his trip in 11 more days at 150 miles a day.
Yesterday was our first day in the Ozarks and we can officially say they do exist, they are steep, they are covered in fall foliage, and they just might be the most challenging part of the TransAmerica trail that we have seen. We still completed 85 miles yesterday from Golden City to the city park in Marshfield, but we were much more exhausted by the end of the day than usual. We grabbed dinner in town, watched the debates on Don’s phone at the park, and passed out. This morning we were lucky enough to get showers AGAIN in Marshfield’s fairgrounds (these towns really know how to make travelers feel welcomed) and then take off toward Houston, Missouri. Unfortunately the hills got even steeper today and by the time we reached our first snack break at mile 27 in Hartville we reevaluated the day’s plan. Between the brewing storm (locals kept using the word “tornado”) that was supposed to hit this afternoon, the lunch buffet that was being served in the town’s café, and an obnoxious cold that I seem to have come down with, it felt right to take the rest of the day off and bike to Houston tomorrow. To compensate, we will end up using today and tomorrow as two half-rest days instead of just taking tomorrow off like we originally planned. It has made for a perfect afternoon of napping, writing, and mingling with locals...and the owners of the cafe have even agreed to let us sleep in their basement! Southern hospitality at its finest.