AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Asterisk Day*

What is pride, what is accomplishment?

For two days in Colorado, I got to ride without luggage (aka: unloaded.)  The spouse of one of the riders spent a few days with us and rented a pickup truck, and we had the opportunity to drop our gear in the truck and ride free. 
This was actually my idea/suggestion, although I still struggled with the decision of whether or not to take advantage of it. 

Finally, I decided 'why make this harder than it needs to be?'

Seeing this early on in the day, someone asked me; "Do you feel like you're cheating?" And the easy answer is 'No.' 
That same night, we stayed in a hotel instead of camping, was that cheating? What about when we eat in a restaurant instead of cooking our meals?
But those are just comparative arguments, not really answers. The real answer is; Where are the rules written that I am cheating? Is this a race, a contest, or test? Who am I trying to impress and what am I trying to prove? Do I get extra points or unlock an accomplishment by riding with my gear when I don't have to? 
The real truth is that there is only one 'rule': finish the ride. Dip my back wheel in the pacific and have ridden across the country. I'm doing this for fun, not bragging rights, and I answer to nobody but my own conscience. 

But this is where the idea of the asterisk came from, tagging the mileage of the two days (52 miles* and 45* miles) as if they need a foot note explaining that I rode these days unloaded. This is tongue in cheek, as I don't think I need to justify or even qualify the decision. 

And yet, I'm writing this down and spelling it out. Who am I trying to rationalize this to; the other riders, you, my readers, or myself? I think maybe nobody, it's just a thought exercise in order to understand my motivations better by writing taking the time to write them down. 
Certainly I took the 'self supported' tour instead of the van supported or even fully supported tour because this meant something to me. I like the idea of carrying my gear, being self sufficient, camping and 'roughing it' as much as we have. But taking a two day break and riding unloaded, that doesn't take away from anything, in fact, it made more enjoyable for having the comparison. 

Ultimately, the object of this trip is to have fun and have the experience of it. Sure, at the end when I tell people about it I'll surely have a sense of pride in the accomplishment (is that bragging?), but I'm not doing it for that reason. 

It helped too that this was two long days of climbing; nearly 3500' on the first day and about 4500' on the second. (And y'all know how much I love hills!) We reached the highest elevations of the whole trip on these days. So why not take advantage of a lighter load? I'm already pedaling up long hills with thin air!

The days ended up being spectacular. The climbs were mostly gentle uphills of 5 or 6% grade that we just dropped into a low gear and spun for an hour or more at a time. Not the hard and steep climbs of Kentucky, or the persistent ups and downs of Virginia. The views were fantastic, the weather was great, and just in general it was all around enjoyable. And it was made all the more-so because I wasn't dying going up the hills. 

'Asterisks day' number one was a beautiful day, with a fair bit of climbing. We had just come off a much needed rest day after riding for 9 days straight. Most of the group went rafting on the layover day, but I just wanted to take it easy. 

So, feeling refreshed and a little excited at the prospect of riding unloaded for the first time in months, I was ready to tackle the day. 

Another unique element of the day was that we had a 'sag wagon.' A car that was traveling with us and stopping along the way with food and water. This came about when a friend of one of our riders wanted to come out and ride with us for the two days from Royal Gorge up to Breckenridge. Sarah rode with us, while her son Logan drove the sag wagon. Some of their friends from back home had donated all sorts of food to stock up the car for us, and Logan stopped every 12 miles and waited for us to get there. 

This was all the more fantastic because there was a warning note about the route that not only were there no services for the 50 miles we were riding, but that the high altitude and dry air necessitated lots of extra water. Instead of having to carry that, we had someone waiting for us with water, cold sodas, gatorade, and snacks!

The first 12 miles were very beautiful, and there was one really big climb. At the top of the climb, the car was waiting for us and it was like an oasis! 

We all stopped and spent a long time just chilling, drinking gatorade, and there was a large box of fresh, delicious grapes. It's also fun when the whole group stops together and we can just hang out and relax. 

Following that, we had a gradual downhill that was fun and not too steep so we could pedal pretty easily for a mile. Of course that didn't last, and we started our really big climb for the day. We went back up to 9300 feet, and climbed for at least an hour. The grade was only 5 or 6%, and unloaded it felt straight up easy. The only limiting factor was the thin air at elevation that had me breathing heavy and panting. 

The climb was actually pretty fun, even though there were points where I had to work a bit. The view was great, with rolling hills and some exposed rock that hinted at the mountains to come. Off in the distance we could see the silhouette of the mountains, and a few snowy peaks closer by. After climbing for a while, we finally crested the first pass. There were a few of us riding together, though by the time we got to the top we were spread out a little bit. As each of us crested the hill, one by one we blurted out the same thing 'holy $#!7"! The mountains just came into view as we got to the top, and it was stunning.

We sat at the top for a few minutes and just enjoyed the view. Then when we finally got back on the bikes and rolled, the sag wagon was just a few hundred yards down the hill. So we stopped again and took a bit of a break. The rest of the group caught up to us, and we sat down and ate our lunches. We all sat facing the mountain range, not talking a whole lot, it looked a little bit like we were all sitting there watching TV! Only, this was something that just couldn't be properly captured and conveyed by any camera. 

We rolled into Hartsel, CO that night. I felt pretty fresh despite the climb and the 50 mile ride. There was a nice tailwind for the last 2 miles to the ranch we were staying at, which was a fun way to cap off an overall good day of riding. 

The ranch we stayed at was just gorgeous, the rooms were very nice, the beds were comfy, and there was a large common room for us to sit and relax in. And to top it all off, we had a magnificent feast prepared by a few of our riders who took advantage of the full kitchen. It was an all around perfect day. 

Asterisks day number two; we started off with a great breakfast, and took our time leaving because it was a bit chilly in the morning (high 40's, low 50's). We were climbing for most of the morning and early afternoon. Even though it started off with a very gentle incline of maybe 2-3% grade. 
The views off to the left were still breathtaking, and we just plodded along for the first 12 miles until we ran into Logan and the sag wagon again. And again, most of the riders grouped up at this point and we had a good snack. 

From there, the climbing got a bit steeper. We were heading to Hoosier Pass, the top of the continental divide and the highest point of our trip at 11,539 feet! There was a sign that said "4 Miles to Hoosier Pass", and I was feeling pretty good! 

I was a little out of breath from the elevation, but I felt strong and confident. At about 2 miles past the sign, I caught up to two other riders, and one of them was looking a little queasy, and at that point she actually pulled over to take a breather. She was having a hard time with the elevation, and we stopped with her for a while to catch her breath and feel better. From there, we rode for 10 minutes and took a 5 minute break, and did that all the way to the top. We all looked out for each other, and she was a total trooper. 

Finally we reached the top, 11539 feet, and nearly 4500 feet of climbing just for that one day!

At the top, John was shooting video on his Go-Pro (as he is prone to do) and filmed us all rolling in. Then he did little 30 second interviews (which I will attempt to attach). 

Coming down from the pass, there was an awesome 4.5 mile downhill that started off steep and then leveled out into a nice fast descent. The fast bit was somewhat trecherous, as there were steep switchbacks that I had to slow down to be able to make the turns. Everyone else was talking about the nice views on the downhill, but all I saw was the pavement I was staring at intently! But once it leveled out a bit, I could put the bike in the fastest gear and pedal easy at about 25 mph and just fly all the way into Breckenridge!

Then, to finish off two fantastic days, I have a couple friends from back home who moved out to this area several years ago. I got in touch with them before the trip and arranged to meet up while I was here. We had a great meal together and caught up a lot. It was just great to see them, and tremendously cool how I arrived here! I rode my bike to their house!! (Well, I will actually ride right by their house the next day!) 

In all, the Asterisks Days were some of the best and most enjoyable of the trip, which ultimately had very little to do with riding unloaded, and everything to do with all the regular things that make this trip so great; beautiful scenery, enjoyable riding, great people, and tremendous kindness from unexpected places. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cuz I'm Happy

I say a lot how this trip is so hard, but it's also wonderful in a million little ways. Here are a few of the things that make me smile and be glad I'm here, doing this amazing thing. 

Plodding up a hill for 30 minutes and being treated to a spectacular view at the top. (see top image)

Struggling up a difficult hill, and realizing I still have one more granny gear to drop down into. 

When the bike works well and the gears shift cleanly. 

Random acts of kindness from strangers.

Being soaked in a sweat at the top of a hill, then coasting down the back side so fast that it feels like air-conditioning and I'm almost cold by the time I'm at the bottom.

Rolling hills that let me keep my momentum from the last hill to crest the next one. 

Finding out that a hill isn't as steep/long/difficult as it seemed from a distance.

Finding a restaurant at just the exact time that I need breakfast/lunch/snack, and getting a fantastic big meal for <$5.

Meeting new and interesting people as we roll through their town. 

Spotting a convenience store just as I need water/gatorade/chocolate milk to keep me going. 

Staying at a campground so remote that there's no cell signal, and the stars are brilliant in the night sky. 

Realizing that my tent feels like home. 

Getting on the bike in the morning, after doing this for 7 weeks, and still looking forward to riding that day. 

The endlessly beautiful scenery that is my 'daily grind.' 

Difficult days that keep redefining 'hardest day yet', and continuing to conquer them all. 

Meeting other cyclist on the route and hearing their take on the trip. Also when we meet people riding in the other direction and they tell us things to look forward to. 

When Bob and Mike pull out the ukelele and harmonica and play and sing for us into the night. 

Ice cream.

Cute towns we stay in, and finding great little restaurants/bars/cafes to relax in. 

I walk into a convenience store in Middle of Nowhere, wearing a yellow spandex bike shirt and shorts so tight you can tell my religion. Inside are a bunch of good-ol-boys in trucker hats talking about their pickups and where they're going hunting this weekend. I expect them to glare at me and murmur. Instead, they are friendly and ask where I'm going, or where I'm coming from. We chat for a few minutes, they wish me luck and tell me to "be safe out there!"

Everyone we meet that hears about our trip is so excited and enthusiastic for us, asking questions and just generally happy and interested in our adventure. 

Finding cool abandoned stuff and getting a great picture.

Thunderstorms at night while I'm in my tent. The thunder echoing around the mountains, rain pounding and wind shaking my tent. Lightning flashing so much it's like a disco strobe light.
Feeling a mixture of scared and excited. And then falling asleep to the sound of rain. 

Getting texts and e-mail from friends.

Getting comments on my blog (sadly, doesn't happen enough, hint hint.)

Stepping on the bike petal and the shoe just clips in, without even trying. (Anyone who rides with clip-in appreciates that.)

Rolling into a small town right at lunchtime and finding a perfect little lunch spot. Then, as some of us are sitting there, the rest of the group rolls up and joins us, until the whole group is sitting and having a meal together. 

Pushing up a hill, struggling just a little bit, and then realizing I still have one more gear to drop down into. 

Spotting a cool abandoned car/house/machine and stopping to get the perfect picture. 

When other people in the group point out a cool abandoned car to me because they know I'm doing the Abandoned America photo essay. 


Dropping down into my aero-bars and just pushing hard for a while and enjoying the feeling of speed.

Seeing the mountains off in the distance, impossibly far, but also knowing we'll be there soon enough. 

Having all my stuff organized in just the right way that I know where everything is, and it's all easy to get to when I need it. 

Gentle downhills that stretch for miles and I barely have to pedal. 

Rest days where I get to discover a new town. 

Rolling into town/camp after a long day and being finished. 

Cooking a great dinner for the group, and actually pulling it off. 

The hospitality of strangers. 

The group working together and helping each other out in little ways, like doing laundry, helping each other put up a tent, to just asking 'are doing doing ok today?' 

Feeling the amazement of actually doing this grand adventure. 

Seeing America at 10 miles an hour. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why 2K?

I have bicycled two thousand miles. 
That's a strange thing for me to wrap my head around. I've been on my bike seat for 6-10 hours a day, for the last 6+ weeks, and yet still this is a hard thing for me to really grasp. 
Two thousand miles. 
From Yorktown, Va to Kansas just before the Colorado border. 5 states, 3 time zones, in almost 7 weeks. 

And yet, after all this time and all these miles, I still think every single day "Oh my god, I'm actually doing it!" 
My enthusiasm may occasionally waver, be it heat, or headwinds or hills. But also at some point I look up at some beautiful scenery, or look down at my feet spinning and spinning, and think "I am really doing this, I am bicycling across the entire freakin' country!" 
And I can't help but smile. My heart swells with the idea of it, both as I'm doing it, and as I'm sitting here writing about it. 

The thought sometimes even pops up when the going gets tough, and then instead of thinking "this sucks", I think "this is what it takes to do this thing." and I push on. 

As I was talking about this with another rider recently, he said he occasionally thinks "Geez, what did I get my self into!?" and that surprised me, because that thought has never passed through my head. There have been many trials and challenges, and I've been tired in ways I've never experienced before, but I have never once questioned or regretted my decision. 

This ride has been on my mind for a long time, almost 8 years. For about half of that, I didn't even have a decent bike. Then I started doing triathlon and really got into bike riding. But even then I didn't pull the trigger on this trip. So this has been a dream for such a long time, that it feels surreal that it is finally happening. It's wonderful that it has been so much fun so far as well. Sure, I say almost every day how hard this is, but that's just one aspect. 
There are a lot of moments so far on the trip that have made it live up to and even and surpass my dream:
Riding up the Blue Ridge mountains, on a grueling 12 hour day, and seeing the mountain range from the top. 
CrossingAmerica at 10 miles an hour I get to see the country in such fine detail. There are rolling grassy fields that are so green the colors look hyper-exposed. I will take off my sunglasses just to make sure I'm seeing the true colors, and they are always just as brilliant. I see the deep blue sky stretch off to the horizon and it fills me with a sense of contentment.
There are tall trees in an empty field that look like they are stretching up trying to touch the sun.
I snap pictures of things that take my breath away, and feel a small sadness that the photo fails to capture the grandeur of what I'm experiencing.  
I have time to examine all the houses and towns I pass, and think about the people who live there. I've rolled through hundreds of Main Streets, in little towns and big ones. 
I have had the pleasure of meeting so many interesting people and experiencing hospitality on a level I never could have dreamed and didn't realize still existed. I've made friends in the tour group that have entertained me, educated me and supported me. I've survived 'The Crucible' in Kentucky, 'The Inferno' in Missouri, and 'The Blast Furnace' in Kansas. I am going to ride a bicycle over the Rocky Mountains. 
All of this just amazes me; that I'm doing it, that I can do it. 

The trip is just shy of the halfway mark, but it feels like a lot longer. If this trip ended tomorrow, I would feel like I've had a full, epic and wonderful adventure. So the idea that this is not even halfway through is thrilling. How much I've experienced, seen, pushed my limits and learned in the 2000 miles to this point has me excited for what more lies over the Rockies, in Montana and Wyoming, at Yellowstone Park, and then the final push through Oregon to the Pacific Coast. 
I don't know if I've 'grown' per-say on this trip so far, but certainly my worldview has been expanded.
And this is just 6 and a half weeks. 
This is a variation of a line in 'Men in Black' (of all places) where Tommy Lee Jones says 'Think about what you knew yesterday, and how much more you know today. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.' 

I think about how much I've seen so far, how far I've come, and how much more there is still yet to experience. 

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Missouri Loves Company

One week in Missouri, that's what it took to experience the highs and the lows of this trip. Well, not really 'lows' per-say, as my spirits never wavered, but certainly some of the tougher days on the road. 

Things seemed to start very nice, there was an option to take a 'flatcut' along the Mississippi River that was smooth riding. The day was beautiful, the route was scenic, the weather was perfect, and there was practically no traffic. I did about 50 miles that day and barely felt it. It was the flattest day of the tour yet, and it was heaven to just roll along the edge of the river and not have to do any climbing. 

Except, none of that was in Missouri, that was still in IL. 

Then we crossed the bridge into Missouri. The state started off beautiful; it was flat, there was a wonderful blue sky and fields of crops out to the horizon. Also the 'Bike Route 76' signs were back, after being absent in Kentucky and Illinois. These are nice reassuring signposts along the route that are friendly reminders that you're going the right way. Sometimes I zone out and forget to look at my map, so occasionally these signs have saved me from missing a turn.

But, as we got farther away from the Mississippi, the terrain got hillier and hillier. The day also got hotter as the sun rose further in the sky. 

Often, the catch is that when the sun is out and brilliantly lighting up the lush landscape, the day is blazingly hot. So we trade off beautiful views and rich blue sky for blazing heat, and that was the case that day. (I know, you're thinking, 'of course it's warm when the sun is out!' But there have been days where it was just naturally cool, and still beautiful out.)

The first day in Missouri wasn't particularly long, and although the hills were tough they weren't the killers we had in Kentucky, but the heat and humidity take it's tole. And this day in particular we were warned that there was a long (30 mile) stretch with no resources, so I stocked up on extra water and gatorade and plowed through. 
Then, like an oasis in a desert, there was a whiskey brewery about 45 miles into the 60 mile day! Several people from our tour were already there, I pulled in, stepped into the air-conditioning, and was instantly refreshed. There, I had the most delicious home brewed root beer ever, and sat for a spell. 

Then I bought a bottle of wine for a gift, and it fit perfectly in the water bottle holder on my bike. Lets just hope I don't run out of water and have to resort to drastic measures to stay hydrated.  

Back out in the heat, I had 15 miles to Farmington, Mo. and the first night in the state. 

We stayed at a bicycle hostel in a converted old prison. (The hostel part was actually in the deputy's quarters upstairs.) This was by far the nicest cyclist hotel of the trip. 

Also that night, my cousin Stacy and her daughter Allie came all the way down from St. Louis to visit me! I got to introduce them to the tour group, show her the spiffy digs we were staying in, and spend a great evening with the two of them. It was truly wonderful, and so great to see her after several years. And, after seeing the nice bike hostel, she thinks all the places I stay are that cushy! ... if only. 

The second day in Mo was short, and we took our time getting to camp. It was threatening to rain all day, but didn't. It was just endlessly gray. Again, the trade off was that they sky was bleak, but it was cooler and the humidity was down. We stayed at a nice park called 'Johnsons Shut-ins', which was away from all the light of the city, and I could see a million stars in the sky. 

The short day was a bit of a reprieve leading into the next one, which was billed as one of the toughest of the tour, and it did not disappoint. This was a longer day, about 68 miles, hot, and hilly as hell. 

I feel like the cyclist that cried 'wolf', because I keep saying 'this was the hardest day ever!' And although it's tough to really gauge, this one is certainly in the top 3. Just when I think things can't get harder, the dial is turned up to 11.
It sounds silly when boiled down to a few simple words; hot, hilly, long. So I'll expand on those a bit. The temperature was up to almost 90 before 10 am, and by noon it was close to 100. It was full sun, not many clouds in the sky and no breeze. It was nearly 100% humidity. This means that when I sweat, it's actually hotter outside than my body temp, and the sweat doesn't dry off my skin because of the humidity. So the water just pours out of my body and doesn't do me any good. When it's that hot, it's difficult to stay hydrated and keep my electrolytes balanced, and I have to constantly monitor these things and keep them in mind. Then adding to the difficulty were some of the steepest hills I have faced yet. When a hill is too steep, I have to get off my bike and walk/push it up the hill. I walked more that day than all the days combined before this. Sometimes I walked because the hill was just too steep. Other times it was because I was already too tired, and occasionally I realized that I might be able to pedal up the hill but the effort would wipe me out and leave nothing for the next hill. So I walked.

There wasn't much in the way of breakfast at the campsite, so we pushed on to the first town 20 miles down the road to find restaurants. I was nearly last out of camp that morning and by the time I found the group at the first diner, the place was packed and the kitchen was backed up. At the gas station next door I asked a local if there was another restaurant in town, and he directed me "about 4 miles up RT 54, at the top of the hill." Sigh, there's always a hill. Then he says to me "It's incredible what you're doing, but son, I think you're crazy."
That wasn't just in reference to the ride, but also for biking on that particular road. This is another aspect that can greatly affect the ease or difficulty of a day, the quality of the roads. On this day, the roads were narrow and heavily trafficked, in particular by big logging trucks rushing to and fro. When they pass by in my lane, the wake pulls me along a little, and shakes my bike pretty hard. When they zoom by in the opposing lane, 3 seconds later the wind hits me in the chest like a fist. 
I check my mirror constantly for cars, and have to be keenly aware of my position in the road on the tops of hills and around curves. It's very quite in these back country hills and sound carries very well, so I can often hear a vehicle coming long before I can even see them. I listen closely and keep my music turned off.

The day wears on, and although the scenery is still beautiful, it's getting more difficult to appreciate. 

The ride is starting to be measured in 5 mile increments; ride 5, rest and rehydrate, continue on. Then at some point that drops to 3, and then 2 miles. Sometimes I'll stop in the shade just before a big hill to let my heart rate and body temp come down a little before they shoot back up on the hill. At this rate, time expands and every mile feels like a marathon. The water in my bottles is hot from the sun and there's no relief in the shade. As I push up a hill, I can hear my heart throb in my ears as the sweat pours down my face. 

Then, after more time and more exhaustion than I was prepared to expect, I arrive at camp. In this case, the campsite was up another hill, and down a long rocky road that shook my saddlebags loose and jogged my already road-weary backside. 

There was little relief at camp, it was still hot and humid, all I could do was sit in the shade and drink gatorade while the bugs buzzed around my face. 

That night, the heat and humidity broke into huge thunderstorms. Lightning flashing so furiously it looked like a dance club strobe light, while the thunder was the base booming in the distance. Late at night as I lay in bed and see the dazzling flashes light up my tent, the deep boom of thunder rolls along the mountain range, not quite an echo, it sounds like a bowling ball in an oil drum. Later, either the storm subsided, or I just fell asleep due to exhaustion despite the cacophony.

The following day was a much needed rest day at this little camp in the hills of the Ozark mountains. The heavy storms of the night before brought some relief to the heat and humidity.
The campsite offered lazy river tubing tours, and as a group most of us opted to float down a cold river and do little else. This was refreshing, relaxing and fun. It was very different to sit in a tube for 4 hours and just let the current take me where it goes. After pedaling for so many days and weeks, it feels weird and antsy to sit still. And I've never been particularly good at sitting still. 

That night we ordered pizza, relaxed and prepared to get back on the road the next day. 

There are a lot of ups and downs on this trip (literally and figuratively), the day before last was hot and hard, then we have a wonderful rest day and are rejuvenated for the next day's ride! And then... it's a slog again. The day was overcast, but still hot and humid. By mile 5 I was soaked through with sweat. By mile 10 it was raining steadily, and by mile 20 I had been riding in a full downpour for an hour. The rain didn't let up for the rest of the day. The roads were wide enough, but very heavily trafficked. 4 of us rode together for increased visibility and to look out for each other. We kept looking for someplace to duck under and out of the rain, but there was nothing for 40 miles. 
On the upside, it wasn't swelteringly hot. On the downside, rain really stings my face as I bomb down a hill at 35 mph. 

We rolled into Houston, Mo. (in Texas county!) pretty early. This is what happens when it's a shorter distance day, you're motivated to push, and there's nowhere to stop! 
Cold, wet, hungry, and miserable, I sank to my lowest when I ate lunch at Walmart because camp was in a city park and offered no reprieve from the elements. By the time I'd finished lunch, it had stopped raining and the sun was out. Such is life. 

I wasn't in the best mood that evening. The ride wasn't overly difficult, but it was fairly miserable. I felt wet down to my bones. Topping it off, the shower at the campsite was only cold water, so there was no reprieve there. After dinner I was ready to just crawl into my sleeping bag and call it a day. 

But... It's amazing how a single act of kindness can turn your mood around. This day was going to be remembered as 'that crappy day in the rain', until a stranger we met earlier came to camp and delivered a batch of fresh (still warm!) homemade chocolate chip cookies that she baked just for us. The woman wasn't much of a talker, she just dropped off a plastic bag full of cookies, offered a shy smile and went on her way. I didn't even think to ask her name before she left (found out later it's Jen.)
The cookies were warm and delicious and were more than just tasty, they were up-lifting. Instead of the day being 'that day in the rain' it was 'the day that wonderful woman brought warm cookies.' And that's a much better memory. 

There was also a beautiful sunset that night, assisted by the storm clouds lingering in the distance. I could appreciate it a little more with cookies in my belly.

The uplift of that night carried over to the next day, where the steep hills of the Ozarks gave way to beautiful rolling hills. The weather was threatening to rain all day, but held off until literally 5 minutes after we got to camp (and under a pavilion) and then the sky opened up like floodgates! Two hours and several inches of water later the clouds cleared into a beautiful evening. 

The final day and night in Missouri was nice. The day started off with rain, the remnants of the storm from the evening before. But after a short and heavy pour (for which I ducked for cover at yet another walmart), the day cleared up and into one of the most beautiful of the trip. 

However, it was premature to think I was out of the Ozarks just yet, because they came back with a vengeance. But it was a 'shorter' 49 mile day that finished at a nice cyclist hostel in Ash Grove, Mo. The town itself was pretty depressed, and almost every shop on Main Street was boarded up and closed. 

Except for this little Mexican restaurant that welcomed us enthusiastically. The group settled in there and the drinks flowed freely. We had a fine dinner with wonderful hospitality, and the owner/chef made a berry cobbler just for us! 

Much later, we reluctantly left and went to bed. 

Finally, the last day in Missouri saw us off with a smile and a wave; 'Sorry for the hard times, hope you'll remember me fondly!' It was a long 72 mile day, but with tail winds and easy rolling hills it was the easiest 72 miles I've ever done. 

There were some hard times and some good times. The people were fantastic and the ride was beautiful. And really, it's all part of the experience. Missouri, thanks for the memories. 

Climbing a fire look-out tower, that might have
been built out of leftover Erector set parts. 

Just in case you might have been interested.