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Monday, May 23, 2016

Phase 4, Day 7. Tell City, IN-Louisville, KY


102 miles.  A great day to finish Phase 4.

Crossed the Ohio River into the Commonwealth of Kentucky at mile 2..then back to Indiana at mile 50 and back again to Kentucky at mile 99. Went across 3 time zones today....on a bike!

After leaving Tell City immediately the fields end and the hills begin. Quite hilly actually. It's very wooded with pastures and dairy farms scattered here and there, everything so green, but the rows of corn are all gone. Too hilly here I suppose.

I traversed a 50 mile wide bend in the river through rural Kentucky, crossed back into Indiana at the Brandenburg Bridge to follow the Indiana side of the river bank until I was abeam Louisville..then back across again.

It was a great day to end the week. Ended on a real high note as a matter of fact. I found some more random back roads and they were perfect. Up and down for 70 miles so it was all a bit slow but I had the roads to myself and enjoyed the day. Kentucky roads are the best I've seen. So well maintained.  From a cyclist's perspective California and New Jersey roads are terrible, Hawaii is better than most, but Kentucky is exceptional. All the roads I spent time on, even the most random back road, is newly paved, clean, even the grass along the edge is neatly mowed. Unreal.





About midway stopped for a drink at a roadside market in the middle of nowhere. It was a very interesting Mennonite general store. Of course I didn't realize until I walked in but right away it was obvious. Church hymns playing on the loud speaker and bonneted women quietly stocking and cleaning shelves. It was a bit like walking into, well, church. What they had was basic but certainly supplied the community's needs. I had a look around. Lots of raw ingredients for baking and cooking, many shelves of diet supplements, some basic tools, a whole aisle of sweets in bags (not commercial candy), simple toys, bonnets and straw hats and all the rest. I would have bought a hat, $8.99, but had no way to carry it home. Bummer. They did have a limited soda supply so I was happy. The nice woman asked me about my bike ride, quickly put together a "2016 Biker Log" for me to sign, and then as I was out front getting ready to roll she came out with a nice little gift for me. Glad I stopped at that shop.





The last 2 miles was a fitting way to finish. The bridge crossing the Ohio from Jeffersonville, IN to Louisville, KY is the most enormous and elegant rails-to-trails bridge you could imagine. 1 mile of steel bridge dedicated to bikes and walkers (and there were many on a Monday afternoon) with piped in classical music playing 

over loudspeakers during the crossing. Felt like a bit of a ceremony for me crossing the river. Soon found the Marriott and grabbed my street clothes I had shipped from KC to call it done.

This has been another week of exploring small town America. I like small town America. Each comunity has its own charm, some more than others, but while crossing the country I've, sadly, come across so many communities on the decline and will be gone when the current generation isn't there to turn on the lights. They are all unique and with few exceptions I can say small town Americans are sweet and generous people. American cities are so homogenized now...there's little difference, say, between Louisville (as nice as it is) and Kansas City any more, but small towns stay unique and unaffected by "progress"..except that they are dying. 
Coolest bike bridge ever!
Loo-vel, Kentucky. 


Most of the time these rides go as planned but occasionally I am faced with a situation that tests the limits of my spirit. This week's Day 1 was that test. Sick as a dog and facing a day riding in the cold rain and wind was a tough one for me. I've had other tough days during this journey but I do my best to stay positive and go to bed knowing the next day will be a good one. That nearly always works.

If all goes well Phase 5 to Virginia and the Atlantic Coast, will commence next year.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Phase 4, Day 6. Princeton - Tell City, IN


78 miles. Took the scenic route.

Got the heck out of creepy Princeton at 630am well before the rest of 'em woke up and soon was back on familiar ground and tooling though the pretty countryside.  Early Sunday morning is always the best time of the week to ride a bike...especially in the Bible Belt.

Because I didn't have to cover so many miles today and had a ton of extra time I figured it would be nice to find a very random back road route. Paved roads, sometimes barely, crisscross the landscape in a 1 mile grid pattern so options are many. If the road ends at a wood or creek then things meander around a bit until the road can continue straight again. It made for a fun tour. In fact, if I was ever going to plan a scenic bike ride through southern Indiana I would do the exact same thing. It was gorgeous.

I don't navigate with GPS, I sit down with a map and make notes on paper about turn cues. I like basic..it's reliable. Works great most of the time, waterproof, and doesn't require batteries. Sometimes the road names aren't marked or the road name is different than on my notes requiring a stop to check the road map. Occasionally I'm stumped and go with the gut. That nearly always works but when it doesn't I soon discover something else interesting...like a massive open pit mine.



"Good for gettin' shit done!  Bike rack included"
A day of this. Very nice. 

Today mostly wandered up and down slightly hillier slopes and between empty fields (where's the corn?), through thick woods, past many farms, an occasional small lake and the pit mine.

Farm dogs are predictable. They always give you a warning shot, one loud bark, and then the race is on. It's not hard to outrun them, unless they catch me on the uphill, and even then I know farm dogs are always out of shape and at 10 seconds they run out of gas and give up. Happens every time. They're good at doing their job though. I imagine they trot on back to the house with their doggie chest all puffed out. "You guys see that? That's how ya do it!"


Tell City city hall. 

At about mile 50 picked up the first good tailwind of the week and the last hour flew past. Destination today is Tell City, IN on the banks of the Ohio River.  Tell City was settled by Swiss immigrants and named after their Swiss folk hero William Tell. Of course Walmart is down the road but Tell City has outsmarted them with a nice repurposed riverside warehouse district featuring brewpub/restaurant/shopping that makes for a lively place...even on a Sunday afternoon when everything else in Indiana is shut. Tell City is hopping and it's a perfect place to enjoy a warm Sunday afternoon. I even washed the bike...looks like brand new again.  Wet riding and the Katy Trail dust took a toll.

Tomorrow 100 miles to Louisville, KY (say Loo-ville) and the end of this week's adventure. The route crosses the Ohio River a couple of times in and out of Kentucky, and then back in again to Louisville.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Phase 4, Day 5. Cambria, IL-Princeton, IN


103 miles.  A pretty casual day at just under 6 hours on the bike. 






Navigation sure was easy.  The first turn?  Mile 68.  Counties changed names twice, the road changed names many times but still on the same dead-straight strip of road watching the corn grow for 4 hours. I've never been so excited to make a turn before. 





Actually, I did swing into West Salem for a sandwich.  A nice little town with neat and tidy houses but all the stores were shut. The downtown plaza was a ghost town and all the businesses had boarded up and gone years ago.  It was eerie. Still looking for my sandwich I stopped to talk a man working in his front garden. "Where did everyone go?" He said they all were run out of business when Walmart opened 20 miles down the road in Princeton...except the grocer.  He's in jail for selling meth laced cookies. I decided to forget about the sandwich.

It was the same scene today as yesterday only slightly hillier. Very pretty. Started a bit wet (hunkered down under a church awning to get out of one shower..lots and lots of churches around) but it soon dried out and warmed up.




Southern Illinois is bordered to its west by the Mississippi River and the east the Wabash River. The rivers join at the south end of the state. I eventually crossed the Wabash River and rolled into Indiana and very soon Princeton, home to a Toyota assembly plant and this town's largest employer. Perhaps it's just this particular town, I'm not sure, but the locals here seem VERY different than on the other side of the Wabash. Face piercings, missing teeth and XXXL t-shirts are all in vogue in Princeton. All I've seen so far are strip malls, fast food joints....and, oh yes, Walmart.

Tomorrow we will see if Princeton is an anomaly as we ride to Tell City, IN on the Ohio River. Tomorrow is the short day of the week at 70 miles. I think I'll bug out of Princeton early and then have time to check out Tell City...might be better.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Phase 4, Day 4. St Charles, MO- Cambria, IL


117 miles.  Rural southern Illinois is beautiful. 

I hit the Katy Trail for one last fling and discovered the last 14 miles east of St Charles is not very popular or well maintained. I passed the "Low Point 470ft" sign and had to walk the bike through what seemed to be a recently flooded area. Not wet but the trail was washed out. The other 200+ miles of Katy Trail west of St Charles is highly recommended however.

I gave St Louis a wide berth to the north and found my way to the nearest bridge to take me across the Mississippi River to Alton, Illinois.  Riding a bike over a major highway bridge is always a gamble. I check if bikes are allowed but never certain how sketchy things might be. I was happy and bit surprised to see an actual bike lane on this bridge. Crossing the river was quite a milestone for me...a sort of west-to-east transition.  I know the bike has taken me a long way but crossing the mighty Mississippi felt like a real accomplishment.

I read a book in college 
that has stuck with me. "Old Glory" is an incredible story of John Raban's experience guiding his tiny aluminum outboard motor boat from Minnesota to Louisiana down the entire length of the Mississippi. I was amazed how a guy with just a tiny boat and a bit of ambition could have such an incredible adventure. I thought of John during the 10 miles riding along the river levee bike path past the enormous locks that he described so well.

Rails-to-Trails programs are big here. There are a lot of abandoned rail lines and now, thankfully, there are a lot of bike trails that follow them...mostly paved. So nice to spend another 25 miles on more glorious bike paths eventually ending up in Marine, Illinois. A random place out in the middle of corn country but what the heck.  It was a good ride.

From Marine it was another wig-wag through the most beautiful countryside. I try not to have expectations when visiting a new spot. I don't know what you imagine southern Illinois to be like but it blew me away. Gently rolling hills with wooded areas and silos dotting the horizon. Bright and full of color. It looked like a painting.

About 40 miles on country backroads was quiet and serene. The planning was good except for a 1 mile stretch on deep graveled Beaver Rd.  Don't know how I missed that with the planning but I enjoyed the walking and made friends with a lost possum who was clearly in the wrong time zone.

When you are riding a bike along a rural road the drivers sometimes wave, sometimes don't. When I'm somewhere new I don't wave first..I like to test the waving climate. In Wyoming they liked to wave, Nebraska too.  Kansas and Missouri didn't have much waving. Now in Illinois we're back to waving again. I like the wave...sort of like they're saying "Hey! Welcome". At least that's how I imagine it.

Staying in Cambria, IL. Population 13,000, and "Home to James Brady" the sign says.  Cambria is a farm town of good size and as usual the folks are very friendly. It's a very American Mom-and-Apple Pie sort of place.  I like Cambria.

Tomorrow another 100 miler to Princeton, Indiana. What? We're already done with Illinois?  I was really liking it here. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Phase 4, Day 3. Jefferson City-St. Charles, MO

114 miles. 110 of it on an unpaved road. 

Jefferson City was blanketed by thick fog when I rolled down the hill toward the river. All the same folks driving home from work in a hurry yesterday were back and going my way again. Yikes!  Thankfully it was a short 4 miles to get to the bridge and the start of my day on the Katy Trail. 

Good morning Jefferson City!

Until yesterday I'd never ridden the bike more than 10 miles on a gravel road...let alone 110 miles. Yesterday's 60 mile test run was positive so off I went. I quickly learned not to expect my normal pace of 15-16 mph (it wore me down a bit yesterday) and throttled back to 14 mph...a nice relaxing pace. 

8 hours on the same road might sound mind numbing but it was an amazing and unique day. Nothing like I've had before. Constant beautiful scenery drifted past.  Wildlife everywhere and most of the trail is far from any roads. About every 15 miles a little hamlet would appear. At first they were mostly abandoned but as I got nearer to St. Charles the small communities began to seem more lively and near the end they were downright charming. These communities were built around the railroad but when the R/R abandoned the line in the 1980s there was no more commerce. The small towns closer to the city figured out a new way to make money...cyclists.  

The Katy Trail is a sort of crossroads for cross-country cyclists riding along established coast-to-coast bike routes (yes, that's a thing) and it was super fun to talk to other folks riding to/from L.A., Seattle, Chicago, D.C.... We shared fun adventure stories at many of the tiny towns' bike shelter/mini train depot that seems to be the default resting spot. 




I'm bad at eating. (Those of you who know me will find that hard to believe). I don't want to stop and take the time to order food and eat it but on days like today it always bites me in the butt near the end. Today I made a point of grabbing a sandwich or an ice cream or a "pop" every hour. It worked!  Imagine that. If you still have to pee at mile 105 you've done something right that day. 




Staying in St Charles tonight, near St Louis. St Charles is really nice with the brick downtown and fancy restaurants. I would imagine an expensive place to live.  

Tomorrow we say goodby to the Katy Trail...I think there's another 10 miles to go...and also to Missouri, to cross the Mississippi River and explore southern Illinois for the day. 


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Phase 4, Day 2. Marshall-Jefferson City, MO

Marshall-Jefferson City, MO.  94 miles. 


What a difference a day makes!  Woke up to sunny weather...cool but sunny. Eventually it warmed up to 68F and it felt good to be riding in shorts and short sleeves. I hope I didn't jinx myself...I stopped at the Boonville post office to mail home some of my cold weather riding gear in an effort to lighten the load. I am obsessed with a minimal load and anything that's not useful has to go. 

The first couple of hours was a wig-wag through the rolling Missouri countryside.  Mostly paved roads but some gravel. It's very scenic, green and lush and spring-like. I noticed many barns sporting a large decorative quilt motif.  I asked a local and he tells me it's the "Barn quilts of Cooper County" program. They are very proud of their barn quilts. Big quilting area in Cooper County. 


Barn Quilts of Cooper County

The master plan of this week's ride was to spend 200 miles on the Katy Trail, America's longest rails-to-trails effort.  "Katy" is an acronym for KT, the common name of the old user of this route, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.

Katy Trail. Lots of this...

The Katy Trail isn't paved, it's made of crushed limestone and totally suited to bikes, but after all the wet weather I thought it might be sloppy and unridable. Before I committed to the routing for the rest
of the day I took a 5 mile test run along the KT Trail and it was awesome!  Sure the bike sinks at the occasional soft spot and the pace is a bit slower but it's totally worth it. No need to worry about traffic, road hazards (except at the turtle crossings) or navigation. It's all very relaxing. The trail winds along the eastern edge of the Missouri River hugging an ancient riverbank of dramatic limestone cliffs. Most of the trail is lined with trees which makes a nice wind break and it's very remote...at least today's 60 miles was. A small hamlet every 15 miles or so but all very sleepy. Constant woodsy scenery and the bright red cardinals (we don't have those where I live) kept me amused for a few hours.


...and some of this!

Boat-Henge!

At mile 86 I left the Katy Trail and found my way back across the Missouri River to Jefferson City, the state capital. Do state government employees get excused at 4pm?  I rolled into town at 420pm
and the roads were nuts! Definitely the most dangerous part of this week so far. Then stopped at a local bike shop to stock up on tubes after yesterday's debacle. 

Tomorrow is the longest day of the week, 110 miles along the Katy Trail, to St. Charles...just north of St. Louis. 




Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Phase 4, Day 1. Kansas City airport - Marshall, MO

Kansas City airport-Marshall Station. 104 miles

Well here we go again. Another week of every day getting up at 5am, finding a big breakfast, packing the gear, reviewing the day's route and heading out for 6-8 hours.  Should be interesting.


A swollen Missouri River


...Then the sun came out!


Clearly I'm not the first along this road. 

OK, I must come clean. I cheated a bit yesterday. I've been keeping an eye on the weather for the past week and it's not good. I was super lucky, up 'til now, to not have one single wet riding day the entire 2100 miles it has taken me to get this far. My luck has run out. This week is  forecast to be wet and cold...50 degrees...at least for the first day or two. 105 miles on a bike in 50 degree rain with a 20 mph wind in the face is a tough go. 

I was planning to stay at the airport hotel last night but after arriving at Kansas City airport yesterday and getting the bike re-assembled it was only 3 pm so I thought..."6 wet hours on the bike is better than 8", no? ...so I knocked out a couple of hours in the steady rain (did I mention it was 50F?) and after an uneventful but wet ride soon arrived at the NE edge of Kansas City metro area.  One thing about riding in the rain: believe it or not with the right clothes it's easy to stay warm...wet but warm...until you stop. Once the cyclist stops generating heat a wet body cools down in cold weather very quickly and it soon becomes difficult to get things done...and dangerous. Essentially one is committed to NOT stopping until the end of the day where the warm shower waits. 

So today is really Day 2 but just between us let's imagine it's Day 1.  

It was brutal!  I tried to wait for the rain to let up before leaving the hotel but by 9am was worried about running out of daylight so pressed on. Cold rain, soaking wet, 2 flats (unusual) and a closed road all made for a tough day on the bike. Why couldn't it have been a nice day to start this ride start..you know...to get me in the riding mood? Plus I'm fighting a cold and not tip-top and running on 3 cylinders all day. Another problem with riding east is that one chases the weather so it takes much longer for it to pass. Anyway, it was tough. At about hour 4 the rain let up and I found a coin laundry in Richmond. Figured I could at least ease the misery for the rest of the day by wearing dry clothes.  The rain stopped, dried the clothes, ate a pizza, and suddenly things weren't so bad. 

Then the sun came out and everything was fine again for the last 1.5 hours. Even warmed up to 62F. Fabulous. 

Crossing Missouri is easy...just follow the Missouri River.  Louis and Clark did it. The Santa Fe Trail emigrants did it. I'm doing it too. It still works. 

Went through many, mostly empty, small towns with, if lucky, 1 gas station/convenience store and a Post Office. Others had services at one time but all closed now. I did pass a lot of fruit stands, "See you in June!"  Cherries, peaches, apples. Would have been nice. 

Missouri folks are funny. At first they look at me with heavy suspicion. Don't make eye contact!  But if I start a conversation or ask a question they won't stop talking or stop trying to be helpful. I asked one gal at the last store I stopped how far Marshall was. She had no idea but said it takes her 13 minutes to make the drive and then rounded up her friends to find out the actual mileage. Thanks girl! 

There a slight Southern twang in the voice here, they call soda "pop", and all the rest. Did you know a major Civil War battle was fought in Lexington?  I went trough Lexington today...the Confederate flag still flies. Trump bumper stickers fly in Lexington too. Just to cover all bases I'm flying the American Flag on the back of the saddle again this year. It has served me well crossing the country. 

Staying in Marshall Station tonight.  Normally I enjoy riding into town and exploring but the motel is 2 miles out and, frankly, I don't have the interest. I'm sure Marshall is a fine place. 

Tomorrow 90+ miles to Jefferson City, the state capital, and also on the Missouri River. Weather is improving so likely dry tomorrow and by Saturday 80F!  Where the heck did I pack those sunglasses?  

Friday, April 15, 2016

Phase 4 begins May, 17!


Phase 4, Kansas City, MO-Louisville, KY, begins soon

                           Bike leaving for K.C.  Handle Like Eggs!!!!!

High Sierra meadow. July, 2015. 

Make love, not war. 


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Phase 3, Day 7. Marysville, KS - St. Joseph, MO

All done now.  103 miles through many more rolling hills.  Fought that darn headwind again most of the way but I'm used to it by now so it's not as frustrating as it was. 

The most direct road from Marysville to St. Joseph is Kansas Route 38. It's an OK road as these things go and Sunday morning at 7 am is always mellow but once church let out....look out!

Stopped for coffee in Hiawatha, KS to ask a local about another route I was thinking of taking but wanted to be sure the road was paved. Many country roads here are gravel roads so had to be sure. He said it was the "old" highway so I gave it a shot. Perfect!  I love "old" highways, no one drives on them.

Couldn't believe I climbed 3000' feet today.  Is that even possible in Kansas?  It is.    The undulating and never ending hills go on and on.  Usually when climbing I see a crest ahead thinking I'm nearly done but in Eastern Kansas there's another hill exactly like it waiting a mile down the road.  Not bad, just makes it all go much slower.

As I was cranking along a car pulled up slowly next to me and matched my speed.  It was the nice couple who own the Nelson, NE restaurant from a couple of days ago. They stopped to check on me and we chatted a bit then off they went. I will always like Nebraska. 

When riding a bike 100 miles day-after-day one learns to play mind games to help keep the energy going. In honor of this last day of the journey I spent every 5 miles thinking, in as much detail I could remember, about each day riding since leaving Sacramento. Tried to think about where I ate, changed flat tires, the people I met, the places I slept, and the amazing things I saw.  It was a good strategy and worked well until I got to about mile 85 when the bike could smell the barn.  The last 20 miles was a wonderful 20 miles.  

I love this sign. 



The hills finally ended and around the last curve it was dead flat ahead. I had finally reached the Missouri River floodplain. It's quite wide but I knew I was close. Crossed the Missouri River and into St. Joseph.  Of course it was straight to the Pony Express Museum to officially end this trip.  A very nice museum at the actual 'Express horse barn but by now I had seen it all so paid my $6 and took a quick look around but was so happy to have finished I didn't pay much attention. 

The bike ran great all week and we didn't even have a flat tire...or get rained on. Remarkable. 

Grand totals since leaving Sacramento: 2091 miles and 132 hours in the saddle. 

I've been a US Citizen for only 2 years, about as long it has taken me to complete this adventure. What a fitting way for me to learn more about my country than to ride the bike across it. People are good and generally want to do the right thing and be helpful. I saw this everywhere I went and met the most wonderful and helpful people along the way....and I've only just made it past halfway. It's a great place this USA, but it takes a bit of effort to see it for yourself. Zipping back and forth from coast-to-coast in 5 hours doesn't cut it. 

What now?  I don't know.  I might press on to the east or start a new journey closer to home.  It all started after reading a book about the Pony Express when I thought "what a fun bike ride...with a purpose!"  I will need another purpose. 

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this journey as much as I did.

-Ben



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Phase 3, Day 6. Nelson, NE- Marysville, KS


An easy 101 miles without any trouble. Perhaps because I remembered to eat lunch today?  3 gas station sandwiches. 

Thunder directly overhead woke me up at 3am. By the time I got rolling at 630 it had stopped raining but everything was soaked. The cold front passing was a good thing. The headwind was gone and the temperature and humidity dropped too. Overcast skies nearly all day was a nice relief for yesterday's sunburn. 

I chased the storm eastbound....never got rained on but the road was wet nearly all day.

Good riding conditions but the legs were still tired from yesterday's trouble so took it easy and slowed the pace a bit for a smooth ride up and over many small rises and into more wooded creeks overfilled with chocolate colored water from last night's storm.

If there's ever a Tour de South Central Nebraska I'm in. Well maintained roads, light traffic and beautiful countryside.  The constant wind is the only downer but an excellent place to ride. 

I had a real treat today after stopping at another Pony Express station/museum near Hollenburgh...a 20mph downwind ride for about 15 miles through the rolling hills.  I had been fighting that north cross wind (better than a headwind) all day so felt I deserved the free ride. It was sweet as I hardly cranked the pedal even on the uphill. 


Yep.  Looks like Kansas. 
The site I visited in Hollenburgh is a well preserved actual Express "Home Station" and bigger than most.  I was given the key to the door and had the whole place to myself to explore.  It's all carefully preserved as a museum piece but still fun to climb the stairs to snoop and whatnot. 


Hollenburgh Home Station. 

Rode the last 10 miles to Marysville along the Pony Express Highway, then past the Pony Express Liquor Barn and Pony Express Car Wash. You get it.  It's all about the Pony Express in Marysville, Kansas...a moderately big town. The Pony Express logo is plastered on everything here including the town's water tower and cop cars. Sadly though, there is no charm and I am missing Nebraska already.


Marysville, KS town plaza. They love their Pony Express here. 
I was looking forward all day to visiting the museum here but lost enthusiasm when I saw the bus loads of visitors heading to the door.  I'll try again tomorrow at the "real" museum in St. Jo. 

When I asked the motel lady about a good place to eat without riding the bike back to town I was sent next door to the bowling alley. Had another burger and fries while watching the Pony Express Vet Clinic team work the 7-10 split on lane 3. People in Marysville are good at bowling. 

Tomorrow is the last day of this crazy and wonderful 3 summer project.  101 miles to St Joseph, Missouri and this bike ride will officially end at the museum there. I haven't decided how I feel about ending this great adventure nor what to do next but tomorrow is my day to enjoy the ride and the great memories from this most amazing journey.   It might be a sad day...or a happy day. I'm not sure yet. 



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