AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Wherever I may roam

This trip has brought me a lot of experience, and experiences. When I signed up for this, it was with the understanding that it was "self supported," meaning we carried all our own gear, in particular our tent and sleeping bag. With the expectation that we'd be camping most nights. Upon further research, I learned that in addition to camping, we would be staying at a variety of other places and accommodations as well. This is a rundown of the places I've stayed, and the experiences therein. 


This was how I expected we'd spend most nights, and that has been the case. Maybe 60-70% of the time we've been 'tenting', our term for camping, since calling it "camping" might be a bit of a stretch. 
In the past, my experience camping (at established camp grounds) has been semi-remote but not really 'roughing it.'
On this trip, the majority of our camping has been at RV parks, where they have a little grass sections (sizes vary from postage-stamp size to 'at least we're not on top of each other') set aside for tents. 

If you've ever been to a KOA campground or Good Sam, that's what a lot of these have been. 
They all have showers and restroom facilities, and running water available somewhere. 
These are the Holiday Inn of camping. 

In one case, an RV site in the sticks was much smaller, and the RV's looked like they'd been there for a long time. Basically, we camped at a trailer park. Still, there was a nice pavilion, a shower and a bathroom. 

One RV park we were supposed to camp at for two nights was in Damascus (over a rest day). But instead of setting up camp, the manager let us sleep in the large and unused restaurant hall in the big central building. The restaurant had been closed for years, and was pretty much abandoned. It was storming on and off those two days, and it was a great offer to have a roof. I opted not to sleep in the communal room, and instead set up my tent on the patio, still under cover. I liked this place a lot because it was so eccentric. Once upon a time, the room was very fancy, and it still had high elegant wood ceilings and chandeliers, and a large and elegant fireplace. 

Other camping accommodations have been more basic. We camped in a lot in city parks. This is just about what it sounds like (we always had permission from the city.) In most cases the park was near the city pool, we would shower at the pool facility, and the city would leave the bathrooms unlocked for us all night. Some of these were nicer than others, but for the most part I liked these a lot. It felt more like camping than the RV parks, and was less hectic. In some cases, these places didn't have any shower facilities, and we had to go elsewhere to wash up. Once we had to go a block over to the county fairground, and once we had to rent a hotel room to use the shower. 

One campsite at a city park was under the bight lights of the baseball field. The showers were part of the park pool, which hadn't yet opened for the season, so someone had to come and unlock it for us for one hour. Again, there was no hot water (and it had been a really cold day), but a shower is not to be missed. 

Another night we camped in another community park, but this time the pool was open and we arrived early. It was a particularly hot day and we all partook of the pool for several hours. There were diving boards, some lounge chairs on the pool deck, and a concession stand selling ice cream. It was like a summer day from my childhood. 
In addition to that fun afternoon, the campground was nice and quiet that night. 

There was another local park next to a pool, but it rained all day that day and the last thing we wanted to do was get wet again. We did partake of the showers though, and they were also freezing. That night there was a spectacular sunset. 

At one public park in Colorado, we showered across the street at the community pool facility. This was a nice facility with lots of hot water. In addition to that, I borrowed swim goggles from a lifeguard and swam laps for 20 minutes. That was a nice way to decompress after a long day, and I enjoyed stretching out muscles I hadn't used in a long time. 
The campground that night was nice, but totally overrun by mosquitos. 

At a very nice, but very remote campground outside of Pueblo, CO, we overlooked Pueblo Lake, and saw the most beautiful sunset of the trip.

After one of the longest, hottest and most difficult rides of the trip, we spent two nights at a campground in Eminence, Mo. (thanks to a rest day.) This was on a small river, and we walked across the river (in knee deep water) to get to the bar/restaurant on the other side. The entrance to this campground was down a steep, pitted dirt road that nobody wanted to ride extra laps on in order to go into town. On the second night, there were severe thunderstorms with nearly hurricane force winds, lighting so frequent it looked like disco strobe lights, and the thunder rolled and echoed around the mountains with an eerie echo. 

We camped in several severe storms, and one particularly nasty wind storm in Kansas. In all of these, my tent has held up tremendously, and I've been so thrilled with the quality and durability. In one instance, we found my tent literally submerged in 3 inches of water. After being moved, nothing in the tent was wet or even damp. The tent held up like a champ. 
It's a Nemo brand, 'Espri 2 person' tent. I highly recommend Nemo, as everyone I've encountered with this brand has nothing but good things to say. 

(organized tent inside pic)

Not quite camping

There were a few places we had arranged that were not outside, but not really much more than a roof over our heads. These were often public or semi-public buildings opened to cyclists to spend the night. In one case it was the community center in a small, depressed town overrun by tumbleweeds. There, we celebrated 2000 miles with a nice sit down dinner that we prepared. 

In another case it was a nice building, but still just the basics; a bathroom, a kitchen and lots of floor space. In these cases we just claim our spot somewhere on the floor, blow up our sleeping pad and throw the sleeping bag on top. I'm not sure if this was better than sleeping in a tent, and in some cases I would have rather tented. But often the places were cooler than it was outside, or offered protection from the elements. 

There was a firehouse in a tiny town in Kentucky where it had been over 90 all day, we did an incredibly difficult 81 miles, and the place was wonderfully air conditioned. The shower had a tiny hot water tank, so everyone except the first person got an exceptionally cold shower, and still that was nice. The station itself was a good size, but between our group and a few other cyclists also crashing there, it was a bit crowded - with a cacophony of snoring all through the night. I set up my sleeping pad on the filthy kitchen floor and slept poorly. Even despite the heat, I think I would have slept better in my tent on the lawn outside. 
One perk of this place was that there was a washer and dryer in the shower room, and we were all happy to get all caught up on our laundry.  

Cyclist Hostels

Somewhere between 'hotel' and 'community center floor' we found another category of shelter called bicyclist hostels. I didn't know what to expect from these places, and certainly they varied in accommodations. 
For one thing, a lot of the community center floors and random churches we stayed at were billed as cyclist hostels, but I'm separating those out.
The first night in Missouri, there was a very nice hostel called "Al's Place" which was in an old jail in Farmington. This place had bunk-beds, nice showers, sofa and TV, and even laundry. It was by far the nicest non-hotel we stayed in on this trip. 

Another hostel was literally inside a bike shop in Newton, Kansas. This little shop was trying to recreate itself as *the* cyclist destination on the TransAm bike route. It did a lot of things right, but also got a lot of them wrong. But I got a bed to sleep in, and had no complaints. Others found space on the floor. There was no shower, so we had to walk over to the local fire station to shower there. 

Two other biker hostels were camping conditions. One was early in the trip, Hale Farm, we showered in his house and camped in his yard. A little farther down the line was 'Dave's Place' at a 'Historical Society' and was up the steepest hill ever, after a particularly long day. When I got there, exhausted and starving, Dave inundated me with questions the instant I arrived. We tented on a steep but terraced back yard. Dave made a spectacular breakfast for us the next morning. 


Surprising to me, we stayed at a number of churches that opened their doors to us and let us spend the night. 
The first of these was on the very first night of the trip, and that really caught me off guard. This was the Willis Church in Glendale, VA. This was the first night, and I didn't know what to expect. Some volunteers at the church made us a great pasta dinner. They had a nice shower for us, and even towel service. This was not to be the norm, but it was a good way to start the trip. Ironically, I was really itching to sleep in my tent, but instead I set up my sleeping pad in the nursery room.

There have been several more churches along the way. Mostly Presbyterian and Methodist. Despite the vast quantity of Baptist churches through the south and midwest, only one of them has hosted us. 

One churches early on was a little run down, and the floor was filthy. There was no shower there, but there were kitchen facilities and nice bathrooms for us to use. We rented a room at a seedy hotel across the street and took turns using the shower there. 

Anther church simply allowed us to camp on their back lawn. They had set up a camp shower, which was a hose attached to a shower head. There was a little shower room set up for this, so there was privacy, but the shower was freezing, and it was a cold day to begin with. I stood next to it and just splashed some water on me to wash the essentials. That night I slept very well, and woke up to hear coyotes howling in the distance. That morning I woke up to a terrific sunrise over the trees. 

At a rather nice presbyterian church, I was able to sneak off and find a room to myself. This was a fancy room with leather chairs and a nice oak table. There was wifi and a great shower. It poured like the biblical flood overnight, and we were all grateful to have a roof over our heads. Although we still had to venture out into the rain the next morning. (That was the day we rode into Damascus, if you want to read that story, check out the post The Road to Damascus.) 

Another night we stayed at a similarly nice church that was again gracious enough to open their doors to us and allow us to throw down our sleeping bags anywhere we liked. And again I managed to get a private room. At this place, they installed a shower in the boiler room. It was cramped moving around in the room, and the shower stall was 3 feet up off the floor, but the shower itself was glorious, after a long and particularly hot day. It's amazing how much a simple shower can improve my mood.

In Kansas, a relative of one of our riders had organized her church group to do a BBQ picnic for us at the city park where we were staying. That day was one of the windiest days of the trip, and when we got to camp the wind was still howling at up to 45 mph! We couldn't set up our tents in the open park, and even our bicycles were blowing over. The church moved the picnic to inside their building, and after some phone calls they also opened up their doors to us and let us spend the night. This was one of the best meals we had, the company was terrific, and I slept like a log, once again in the kindergarden room. 

The most recent (and possibly final) church we stayed at was by total dumb luck. We were supposed to stay in a community building (that none of us could actually find!) A friend of one of our riders had come out to ride with him that day, and had parked in a random church. We finished our ride, and he pulled a cooler of cold sodas out for us. As we were sitting in this church parking lot, a woman came out and talked to a few of us for a minute, then offered for us to stay there! They had nice showers, a big kitchen, and two big rec-rooms in the basement with lots of room for all of us. I threw my sleeping bag down on a long couch and slept very comfortably. 


Lastly, we have stayed in several hotels along the way. This is usually when there are no camping or other options available. We have a limited budget, so of course we can't hotel it too often. Besides, my tent is starting to feel like home, so I kind of like sleeping in it. Still, you can't knock a nice bed, and easy access to the bathroom at night! 
Some of the hotels have been spectacular. One in particular in Breaks Interstate Park at the Virginia / Kentucky border was very nice, with a great bed and the best view I've ever had at a hotel. I would go back there for a vacation and stay at that hotel. 

We stayed at a very nice hotel in the mountains in Wyoming at Togwatee Pass. That night I took a 1/2 mile hike up to a scenic overlook and braved swarms of mosquitos in order to photograph the sunset over the mountains. Nobody wanted to go with me because of the walk and the bugs. I think it was worth it, and resulted in one of my favorite pictures of the trip. 

There have been some pretty low points too. We stayed at a roach motel in Kentucky where I definitely would have rather tented. And another time we stayed in 'cabins' at a horse camp in Eddyville, IL. These cabins were actually trailers, as in 'trailer park' trailers, and although there were beds, there were no sheets! I slept in my sleeping bag, on top of a slightly dirty mattress. 

There was a place that called itself a 'bike hostel' in Ordway, Colorado, but it was really a hotel. The rooms were nice and the beds were comfortable.  The proprietor served us dinner and it was a fantastic meat lasagna of a portion so large that nearly none of us could finish it!

There was a hotel in Hot Sulphur Springs, CO where the rooms were labyrinthine, with rooms off of rooms. It was comfy though, and there wasn't much else. We also stayed at a very nice Bed and Breakfast in Breckenridge, where I shared a tiny room and bunk beds with my buddy John. He snores like a freight train, but is very genial when I wake him up to tell him to roll over. 

And finally, there was a hotel in Jeffery City, Wyoming that didn't have enough rooms for all of us. So we rented one room to shower in, and camped in a gravel pit out front. When the sun went down and the wind died, a biblical plague of mosquitos came out. One of our riders said of the place; "I have stayed in some $###holes in my life, and I can tell you with some authority, this is indeed a $###hole."
He was not wrong. But, I had a shower and a place to lay my head. And after that, it's all part of the adventure I signed up for! From hotels with a spectacular view, to a $###hole in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, and everywhere else in-between, this has been an amazing and interesting adventure indeed!  


  1. Does anyone else get the impression that after Aaron gets home from his 'great adventure' that he'll unpack his tent every night and sleep in the back yard for about 3 to 4 weeks while he decompresses??? Interested to see what others think!

  2. I love the sign in the window of the Hotel Ordway which includes, 'No Bicycling.'