Archive for November, 2010

Many Thanks

Writing this has been on my mind for a while. I have been feeling the sentiment, but have not gotten around to writing it until now. I guess now is a very appropriate time, Thanksgiving eve.

I have a pretty big collection of people to thank that I’ve met during my travels, and also the preceding months that led up to the start of this trip. I’m going to try to remember them all in order, but I’ll probably forget a few.

First of all, thanks to my family and friends for not trying to discourage me from my hair brained schemes, and even offering encouragement when it seems prudent.

Thanks to that crusty old Norwegian carpenter, Charles Pedersen, for providing a week or so of very well paying work just prior to my departure. I’d be nearly out of money if it weren’t for that opportunity. It was up high, and I don’t like being up high, but we both managed to come through it unscathed and it felt good to do that kind of work again. Charles pointed out that while we’re doing that work we’re changing the world. It’s built and maintained in tiny little pieces of individual effort. There is certainly something about it that feels good, and provides a sense of self esteem, and accomplishment. At the end of a job, being able to see what you’ve done in such clear physical manifestation is undeniable.

Thanks to Freewheel Bike, and the many fantastic people that work there. It was people I met while working there that that sparked the idea for this trip. It also allowed me to get properly equipped for this epic journey. Freewheel is the best shop in Minneapolis, and Minneapolis has pretty damn high standards for bike shops. I’ve experience Freewheel from the outside as a customer, and from the inside as an employee. There is no doubt that it rivals any shop in the country.

Thanks to the Police chief in Springfield, Minnesota, for providing warm and dry shelter in a storm. I’m not sure what his motives were. Might have just been to keep a drifter off the streets. Regardless, thanks are due.

Thanks to the farmer (Tony? I still can’t remember his name) in southern Minnesota who invited me to his house for a meal including the best damn pork chop I’ve ever had, cooked over a fire in the baddest fireplace I’ve ever seen. And for the shortcut south, through his farm over an isthmus, to the road I needed to be on.

Thanks to the guy who I asked for directions near Gull Point State Park in Iowa. When asked for directions, he simply said, “Follow me, I live just down the road from it.” He drove slow enough for me to do that. At his driveway, he asked where I was going.

When I said “Mexico” he chuckled like I was joking, then got a real concerned look on his face and inquired, “Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

The next morning him and his wife stopped by my campsite with a hot cup of coffee and a ziplock bag full of sweet treats.

Thanks to Drew at Okoboji Expedtion Company, for use of the bike shop to overhaul my hubs, and also for the hospitality and conversation.

Thanks to the woman (never got her name) who was working in the cafe adjacent to the bike shop for providing damn good coffee, damn good quiche, and one of the best smoothies I’ve ever had, for nearly no cost.

Thanks to Farmer Mike in Modale, Iowa for providing a warm place to stay, laundry, and shower, and company riding through Omaha. Also for his extensive Iowa bicycle touring knowledge as I made my way to Modale.

Thanks to the guy at the state park just south of Lincoln, Nebraska who had pulled in to take a nap. When he woke up he pulled up to my site and asked, “You going cross country or something?”

“Yeah.”

I told him where I came from and where I was going. He had passed me on the highway, and the park was quite a few miles off the highway. He said he thought I was following him.

I had just pulled into the park, 15 miles or so from Lincoln, where I had gotten groceries. I had strapped a sweater and a loaf of bread to the top of the rear paniers, and had just discovered both were gone. They had rattled loose somewhere after Lincoln. I really wanted that loaf of bread, but losing the sweater was especially upsetting. I have two warm shirts. One I wear while the other is drying from getting sweaty the previous day. I could not afford to lose it. I mentioned to this guy that I’d just lost them. For all I knew they could be anywhere between the park and Lincoln. He said he’d look for them on the way out. Fifteen minutes later he came driving back with my loaf of bread held out the window! Sweet! Said he didn’t see the sweater and headed out. Half an hour later he came back with my sweater! Ha! No shit! Incredible luck I had in mentioning it to him, and what an awesome person to go out of his way for me like that. Made my day.

Thanks to the owner (can’t remember his name) of Liffert Trucking in Green, Kansas who offered me a place to camp, water and electricity. Also to his mechanic, who was real nice to talk to and steered me towards the best roads on my way south.

Thanks to all the people in Kansas who stopped to ask if I was ok as I took a water or food break on the side of the road. Kansas is the only state that has happened in, and it happened a lot, more times than I can count.

Thanks to Bill and Debbie in Seiling, Oklahma. I got into Seiling and went into the first building I saw to ask about camping in town. Bill was in the check out line and a conversation was started. His wife was nearby, and they both started telling me where I might be able to set up. After a minute or so they said, “You know, our church has a house that missionaries sometimes stay in, but I think it’s empty, you’re welcome to stay there if you want.”

I had a whole house to myself, I was able to get showered and do laundry, and also be warm and sleep in a bed. Very nice.

Thanks to Wayne in Wheeler, Texas. I didn’t have many options in Wheeler, but Wayne shared the heat from his wood stove in the shack he lived in, and provided a place to set up the tent. He gave me a 60 mile ride the next day which allowed me to get to Caprock Canyons State Park in one day instead of two.

While he was driving me south we passed a bunch of cattle. He said in his rural Texas drawl, “You know, everybody is raising these black angus cows these days because that’s what sells. But I just hate it. I just hate looking out the window and seeing all these black cows.”

“Really? Why is that?”

“Because it reminds me of Obama.”

I am not making this shit up. I could not make this up. He was serious. Damn.

Thanks to all the people who were, or tried to be helpful with my route finding, even if they did say something like, “What you wanna do is just jump on the interstate there and take that right through Amarillo, that’ll take you all the way to Tucson,” while I stood there straddling my bike just nodding and saying, “Uh huh, ok, sounds good, thanks!” Happened quite a bit.

Thanks to Roger at the bike shop in Portales, New Mexico for letting me hang out all day and shoot the shit about bikes. That’s him in the photo, along with one of his bike shop cats.

I’m sure I forgot some. But I remember them all eventually, and though I might not have mentioned it here, when I remember I have a spirit of gratitude that vibrates out into the world beyond anyplace my words can reach.

Meeting all these people makes traveling like this a rich experience.

And thanks to all those I have yet to meet, see you a little further on down the grit road.

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No Place Anyone Would Want To Be

I said I’d get to the wind later. Later is now. Starting in Wheeler, Texas the wind has blown from the west or southwest every day and night. In this part of the country the wind pretty much only comes from the west or southwest. There are occasions when a front comes through that it will blow from the north or northwest. From here to Tucson, I will have a nearly relentless headwind.

The wind lightens up at night a bit, but picks up in the afternoons to it’s peak, along with the high temp for the day. It has been pretty consistently 10-15 at night, and anywhere from 20-35 in the late afternoon, gusts sometimes higher. For you cyclists that never leave the city, or never visit vast uninhabitable stretches of nothingness, those numbers don’t mean much. You don’t know what wind is. A 25 mile an hour wind doesn’t mean shit in the city, or most habitable places for that matter. Out here, it means something completely different.

I wouldn’t recommend doing what I’m doing to anybody. Very little of it is anything I would call fun. Getting on the throttle after exiting a sweeping turn on a mountain road on a motorcycle, that is fun. Riding a bicycle hundreds of miles across a baron landscape into a relentless headwind at 8 mph is not fun.

I can’t describe most of this trip as fun I can describe most of it as very difficult. But all of it has been good for me. Maybe precisely because it’s been difficult.

I tried to stay pretty close to my original Google maps bike route. I deviated a bit after Minneapolis, Kansas, by heading more south than west, but I’m still pretty close to it. If Google ever wants to rate those routes, I have a rating for this one. Not “Experts Only” like some mountain bike trails or ski runs. “Masochists Only” works though.

The last several days I’ve only managed to make 32-45 miles per day. At least once during my time in the saddle on each day I will explode in a fit of rage and cuss the wind out mighty good. I usually start flailing my arms, and gesturing wildly. A few passing motorists have seen these outbursts. I have wondered what they make of the crazy guy on the bike they just passed. But letting it fly like that actually does help me hold on to my sanity.

Each morning I resign myself to just getting on and grinding out 4-6 hours of riding at 8 mph, rarely looking up. I keep my head down, staring at the pavement 3 or 4 feet ahead of my front wheel.

I play games with myself. I’ll spot a pebble on the shoulder, and as I slowly make my way five, ten, fifteen feet away from it I’ll say to myself, “Well, at least I’m not THERE, anymore.” That spot. I am slowly leaving that spot behind, ever so slowly, until I find another pebble.

That’s what it’s like out in the nether regions between towns. Up until now, parks and towns have been my oasis. Wheeler, Texas was the first town I came to that was a complete shithole. It was the county seat, and I expected it to be a little more than it was. It was an anomaly for towns I had been through up till then, but it was not an anomaly for towns in the Texas panhandle.

When I look at the map to determine where I’m going, I look at towns as an oasis, especially through baron landscapes like the panhandle. And I believed Wheeler was an anomaly. It took passing through 4 or 5 towns after wards in the panhandle to make me stop looking at those spots on the map as oasis.

Every town I passed through in the panhandle was a shithole. But shithole is not very descriptive, so let me get to work describing.

The streets and sidewalks are broken. Grass and sticker patches are sprouting up through the roads and sidewalks. Every available space is occupied by abandoned cars and trucks and broken machinery. Half the buildings are abandoned, but you might spot a Pizza Hut, or Sonic Burger sprouting in some dusty patch of gravel amid the trash. There are no parks, just piles of garbage in every available empty, dry, dusty lot of land.

The people have been unfriendly and not helpful at all. Most people look at me sideways, as some kind of no good high plains drifter.

The relentless wind blows the trash around the towns where it collects on broken fences and in eddies the wind can’t reach.

That part of Texas has a trash problem. But I kind of get it. I developed such a contempt for the ground I stood on, and everything around it, that it felt like a small victory to leave some kind of trash on it. I wanted to litter the landscape because I hated it. Maybe most people there feel the same way, though they might not be aware of it, and that’s why there is so much trash blowing around.

I’m 6 miles north of Portales, New Mexico now. I’ve got a good place to camp, and I’m happy to say goodbye to Texas. But my headwind awaits me each morning. It’s got me thinking about busses and hitch hiking.

I just haven’t hit that spot yet, where I’ll actually do it. I’ve been close, but as long as I can get to the next place with food and water, I’ll probably keep pedaling.

There may be a dead end somewhere. The wind limits my range, and in the American West, services (water, food) can be a long ways apart.

I’ll keep posting and you’ll see how it goes as well as I do.

Lonely Trees

I bet that tree gets lonely. This part (west of Lubbock, just to north) of the Texas panhandle is so flat you can see the curvature of the Earth. Most of it isn’t as green as the photo. Most of it is brown. And baron, and windswept and desolate.

Caprock Canyons

I stayed at Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas Panhandle for a couple of days.

The first day I didn’t do much of anything but lay in the tent to keep it from blowing away. Gusts of 50. It’s always windy in the panhandle, and it’s always from the west or southwest. I’ll get to that later.

The park was the most hospitable place I’d come across in 1300 miles. The redrock canyons were very nice to look at, there were a few trees to block the wind, hiking and mountain biking trails, and a town with a grocery store (but not much else) 5 miles from my campsite.

It was nice to have a cool place to stay for a few days, and do some things besides pedal all day. I met more nice people too.

Maximum Overdrive

On a a very rural county road in Oklahoma, about 60 miles east of the Texas state line, I ran into a rancher. We talked for a good twenty minutes.

He thought what I was doing was pretty cool. Towards the end of the conversation, he did say that I’d be hitting a lot of truck traffic because I was headed right into a very active oil field.

I didn’t really know what he meant by “a lot of truck traffic.” Holy fuck. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s pretty remote country. There are towns every so often, but many of them are unincorporated, and don’t have a gas station/convenience, much less a grocery store. I went 120 miles between towns that had grocery stores. Don’t think you could do that in Minnesota or Iowa if you tried. I have to start being pretty strategic with the food/water I carry, and the route I take.

So it’s kind of remote, but the roads are SWARMING with trucks of every imaginable size and configuration. Lots of 18 wheelers carrying all kinds of industrial looking shit, dually F350’s with all kinds of compressed gas tanks and welding equipment, midsized industrial trucks with liquid tanks hauling god knows what. They usually come in packs of 3-7. Convoys of serious looking industrial equipment hauling ass on the way to some oil rig or another. Even what would be small time county roads are carrying interstate loads of truck traffic.

They’re all hauling ass, and it is a swarm of them. It all has a very frenzied feel about it. The kind of frenzy that only astronomical amounts of money, and the ambitious greed to grab it fast can produce. The general atmosphere is that there a shit-ton of money to be made, but it’s not going to be there forever, and if they don’t jump on that shit, someone else is going to eat their lunch.

The trucks give me the least amount of room, and they’re the worst to get buzzed by. On some of the really bad roads, hilly county road, no shoulder, shitloads of truck traffic in both directions, I had to pull off the road every five minutes of so, because 2 big trucks were going to pass right where I was, or one was going to pass on a hill where he wouldn’t be able to see oncoming traffic. I’d rather be aquiescent and alive, than stubborn and dead. These truckers slow for nothing. And they will pass blind, or nearly knock me off the road, or both. I’ve never seen anything like this.

I totally felt like I was in that Stephen King movie, Maximum Overdrive, where all the machines and trucks had taken on minds of their own and started to menace general society.

Hopefully I’m through the worst of it. I’m not sure though. I made it through a good 60 mile section of it anyway. It might be active a little west of here, but I’ll talk to people and find the best roads to take.

Kansas Anti-Bike Stance

Sign encountered smack dab in the middle of nowhere, for seemingly no godamm reason at all.

I encountered this sign on a county road in Kansas. I can’t remember exactly where it was now. I think somewhere between Marysville and Green. But it was in the middle of nowhere. Probably thrity miles in any direction from any kind of town. (I did pass a “town” a few miles away from this that consisted of two buildings, neither of them had roofs, but one said “Bank” in the concrete above the doorway. And it was on the map, so it must be a town.)

It was on a small time county road. I don’t think I saw any cars for thirty miles. I’m riding along, looking at blue sky, and empty fields, and countless dilapidated abandoned farm and ranch¬†buildings, and all of the sudden there is this sign. I might be the only person for which this sign was intended to have actually seen the sign. I was confused. No bikes? Huh? For what reason?

Five hundred feet or so farther down thge road this sign appeared:

Thank's for looking out for me Kansas.

 

Oh! OK, I get it now. That bridge wasn’t much of an obstacle for bikes by the way. Most five year olds could ride accross it, but whatever. I was relieved to learn that Kansas hadn’t taken some crazy irrational anti-bike stance for no reason.

For the record, Kansas has been real nice to bike accross, except for the wind. The people have been great. I’ve been approached by quite a few unlikely looking people asking where I’m going and telling me their touring accross Kansas stories. Plus I got one of those Kansas DOT bicycle maps which has made picking my route very easy, and has kept me on mostly pleasant roads to bike.

The Award For Most Discarded Beer Cans…..

Goes to…………

BUD LIGHT!!!!!!

There is about a case worth of beer cans every five miles or so of county road. For some unknown reason, the vast majority of them are Bud Light cans. This fact has not changed by city, county, state or region. Bud Light is always on top. And it’s not even a close competition. Bud Light bests the runner up (Busch Light) by AT LEAST a 10 to 1 margin. I’m not making this shit up. I’ve had about 1000 miles to examine roadway trash. I am an expert.

Also, 99.97% of roadway trash beer cans/bottles are light beer. Bud light, Busch Light, Natural Light, Miller Lite. This is fact, and that is a is scientific figure I made up to illustrate my point. So take me seriously.