luni, 1 decembrie 2014
duminică, 16 noiembrie 2014
miercuri, 21 mai 2014
Not much time, but in fact... not much energy for writing these past few days. 6 days of 160-170 km, even if done at a leisurely pace, coupled with some nights of little sleep... could not muster the energy to write. But today I just made it into Colorado and that is a major booster :)
So here's what mostly happened the last umm 10 days (time really flies)...
It rained for two days almost continuously in southern Missouri hills or mountains how they call them around here. The first one I was planning to take off completely to give my butt a break, but there was absolutely nothin to do in the small town I was in, so I just rolled through the forest until the next one 45km away. Next morning just as I was about to exit town with big plans for the rainy day I see a cyclist inside a restaurant. Haven't seen a biker since Virginia I was eager to talk to one so I entered the restaurant, met Dane from Iowa who was going the same direction as me so we decided to team up.
Dane is 25 and loves to travel. So much that he convinced his girlfriend to let him roam America for 3 months on a bike. He started a bit earlier than me and had some company before, a couple on a tandem, and a swedish guy who just bought his first bike and started crossing America with it. But he had a different rythm and moved ahead.
He is equipped with an Adventure Cyclin Association (ACA) map of the TransAm route, one that tells you details such as you can camp behind this store because the owner is cool with it, or that bike shop has a hostel for bikers, or that church offers shelter for cyclists.
Dane is on an even tighter budget than me, and spends only one night per week in motels and the rest camping in such places. From him I learn it is acceptable to camp in most city parks on the route, and some of them have even unlocked showers.
With company, the rainy day becomes quite pleasant and at the end of it we can indulge ourselves and split the cost of room to wash and dry stuff.
Everyone I talked to says the weather is unusually cold. In our last night in Missouri we camped in Fair Grove city park on picnic benches. In the morning the grass had frost on it. Few days ago in Kentucky I had 30 Celsius now almost 0... I had ALL my clothes on (except cycling shorts and shirt), inside a 4 degrees rated sleeping bag, and also wrapped myself with the tent sheet to keep myself warm. Dane does not seem to have a cold problem. At all. He rides in the morning at under 10 degrees in his t-shirt while I have a fleece and the rain jacket on, plus leg warmers and overshoes. We both optimistically agreed this has to be the last such cold night. And fortunately so it was, we had just experienced the last frosty morning of this spring.
Kansas greeted us with rain. It was afternoon 16th of May , we had just nailed the first 110km of the day gradually ending the Missouri hills. I think I thought to myself 10 times "this is the last hill" until it was actually the last hill :) and even then it was debatable because Kansas also begins with some lower grade climbs.
A storm was said to be between us in Golden City, Missouri and our destination for the day, Pittsburg, first city in Kansas. We had learned that two other cyclists might be in town and Dane enthusiasm for a cycle party at the city park plus the storm, convinced me to call it a day. But the city park looked empty and desolate so we returned to the original idea to go for the glory of a 170km day and Kansas.
Some people advised us about the storm, but we had checked the radar maps and it didn't look that bad. And it wasn't really, just rain and a nasty head wind for which we took turns, then boom! Kansas, baby!
Well I guess this post had ambitious goals, but will not get done today since tomorrow is one more 100 mile day to Pueblo and I really, really need sleep. But Pueblo is a bigger city, worthy of a day off, and will have a chance to tell more on the Kansas trip then.
luni, 12 mai 2014
I would like to say I entered into some kind of rhytm but it's a pretty erratic one at most. Every 3-4 days one comes when energy levels are low, plus my back & butt hurts. Coincidence or not these are the days I also resent the front wind the most. I stretch at every stop to keep the pain in the muscles around the shoulder blades at bay. A massage would not hurt (actually in the real sense it would, a lot).
The scenery is pretty much the same since the Appalachians , forests, farms, pastures, fields, little towns. The two big rivers I crossed, Ohio and Mississippi were a welcoming change, especially because it meant crossing into Illinois, then into Missouri, which made me feel I actually make pretty good progress.
On the other hand there are times when crossing exposed fields and fighting the wind, or slowly climbing a hill when I feel I might as well walk.
But it's always a smell, the forest after the rain, cut grass, flowers, cows watching me carefully, a deer running, colorful birds singing that remind me to stay in the moment and enjoy it all. Even dogs chasing me, which happened a lot since I entered Kentucky, has its fun and remind me a little of home. Except when I am going uphill and when the dog is a bulldog or a german sheperd. Since people have no fences, many times the dogs are free to keep themselves in good shape by chasing cyclists.
Speaking of cyclists they have been a rare sighting in Kentucky, southern Illinois and now Missouri. While I was fixing another flat tire (happened when crossing over some object on a descent) two guys with loaded bikes coming from the opposite direction passed by. They just asked me if I need something but did not stop and seemed in a hurry to get to the Atlantic ocean, which hurt my feelings a little. I thought we are brothers in this! Plus I was really curious what experiences they had coming from the same road I had in front of me.
Although more rare because no major roads or towns, I usually manage to find motels. I had to camp one night behind an abandoned gas station, in Hodgenville, the town near which Abraham Lincoln was born and raised, which is such a major touristic attraction that it has no motel or hotel.
I am very unpretentious when it comes to motels. Usually they are pretty clean. But this one in Anna,IL, was horrific. Stinky smoking room, sheets with cigarette holes in them, roaches in the bathroom. And close to rail road, trains passing all night at 30 minute intervals. Barely slept.
Now I always ask to check the room before paying it.
Weather changes almost each day. Hot, hot and humid, stormy or cloudy with showers. Few days ago I passed through a severe storm front which swept the southern states going from west to east. I was lucky to find a gas station right before a very bad one. It got almost dark (was only 6PM), and rained like nothing I've ever seen. And kept going making me wonder how the hell I would reach the nearest B&B on my route some 20 miles away. Luckily a young man Frank offered to drive me there. The combination of heavy rain, dark, narrow roads and Kentucky trucks exceed my appetite for risk so I accepted. Plus I had the chance to get to know Frank, ATV racer, and his little daughter Presley. Once the rain slowed down a little we got in Frank's old truck and he made a small detour for me. He even showed me his workshop and his race machines. Thanks again Frank!
Damn, midnight catches me again concluding a blog post :)
I'm a little hungry since there was nothing open around, and tomorrow is another rainy day in the isolated hills of southern Missouri. Thinking more and more about a taking a break day to give my butt a break. Either I find a nice place to explore by foot for a day, a little unlikely around here, or just sit and avoid a rainy day.
Tomorrow rain is announced all day and there's nothing but forests for many miles ahead so it's a good candidate. Let's see what morning looks like.
joi, 8 mai 2014
Sunday I have absolutely no legs for climbing after leaving the Hilltop motel. Could be the beers with the war veterans, could be the 170km climbing day before, the heat already noticeable, all I know is I use any excuse to take a break.
First is just after few km, breakfast at a gas station that also has some sort of tavern. Some funky characters here quickly take note of my presence and start asking me the usual questions. For some reason they are terribly amused by my answers but I can barely understand what they are saying. However they are allright and I don't want to spoil the fun, so I just go along. A big guy in overalls and camouflage hat makes fun of another skinny one with huge glass lenses that has he goes to church to pick up girls. They're quite funny and can locate Romania somewhere between Germany and Malaesia, and by the way they ask me about that plane :)
Second break comes very appropriately at Breaks Park, "the Grand Canyon of the South". After paying the 2 dollar entrance I bike through the parks asphalted paths wishing for a mountain bike to ride the numerous trails that for sure can give me a better view of the canyon areas. I reach a few so called overlooks but I can't see much canyon because of the trees. At least here on top of a hill I get cell coverage and can make a quick call home.
I enter Kentucky alternating winding roads and some highways through the forested hills, not much traffic, beautiful day, hotter than the previous ones.
In the evening when I was almost in Whitesburg to end the day, an interesting character pulls the car over next to me as I was resting a bit on the highway shoulder. About 60, white beard, pony tail, he reccomends himself as Spud, says he works in tourism and suggests that I save motel money and go to a friend of his, Jim Webb that runs a Green Peace camp up a hill I would have to climb. Spud was a Harley rider all his life so he feels a kinship with byciclists because we both "face the elements" but pities us for having to pedal up hill. He's a little wacky, just had a drink or both. Tries to show me the place on the phone map but after struggling a few minutes he quits and shows me a picture of a naked Kentucky beauty instead. He also pulls out his tobacco yellow tongue at me Prodigy style. I tell him I'm married and get another pitiful look. Anyway I manage to get a phone number for that Green Peace place but it turns out to be wrong, so its Whitesburg motel after all tonight.
Before leaving Spud also mentioned I should see the "famous motherfuckin' Harlan" and leaves me wondering what is there to see but it's not on my route so I just drop it.
In Whitesville I buy some vitamins because my diet of burgers, fries, pizza and other not so nutritious but easy to get foods is clearly lacking.
Next day is truck Monday. I grind my teeth and sometime switch on the gravel side of the road when these monsters pass by. Amazing power these things have, they go faster than cars. Road looks a bit like Valea Oltului, and occasionally cuts through layers of stone.
McDonalds proves to be again a place of cultural exchange in Hazard where I talk to a nice coal miner and learn that you used to make some money from coal around here, but not now as the government doesn't give extraction permits anymore.
He tells me it's because of the pollution and the miner health issues, and although he's life is affected by it, he seems to accept these reasons. Also says the president is not getting any votes from Kentucky so that's why not much is being done to improve things in the area.
Tuesday the hills become smaller but still consistent climbs. It's 30 degrees and some little towns I pass through don't even have a store. In an isolated area I ran out of water but found a half full bottle of gatorade by the side of the road (grose, I know) and I resolve to carry more water from now on.
It's a real Harley cult here in Kentucky. Many thunder by and look very alike, white beard, no sleeve shirt, long hair. And they have a way of saluting by very slowly raising the hand, it's like they're in some kind of zen trance :)
In Bucholn, a three house town but with a store, the old man at the counter shows me a registry signed by all the passing cyclists that stop by. Last guy was a belgian, 10 days ago, going from Miami to Vancouver. He does not remember meeting a Romanian so far, but said he has another registry with more than 3000 names in it.
Tuesday evening I find a very interesting B&B to sleep caled Linda's Victorian Rose. Linda's the owner, her husband passed away. She has this amazing garden and guest house which she lets me have 40 bucks (this is usually what I have to pay for the cheapest motel room), special price for cyclists.
She even takes me with the car to the grocery store back in town so I don't have to climb again a big hill.
In the car I remember about Harlan county that Spud mentioned and ask her what is there to see. She says "Bloody Harlan? ... nothing", laughs and continues something about people having guns, then says "heck, even I got one" and pulls up a revolver from the door pocket. "You can carry a gun around here but you have to keep it in plain sight, concealing it is not permitted". But despite the guns she says there's very little crime and laughs that people don't steal or shoot you if they know you can shoot back. Charming lady!
luni, 5 mai 2014
Three days passed since I left Carl's trailer in Atkins, Virginia in a cold Saturday morning at 6:30 AM after a not very restful sleep thanks to a small animal that made creepy noises all night, apparently coming from under the floor.
These days have all been about climbing and traversing the Appalachian mountain range. The rolling terrain so far is replaced with long steady climbs. At 700 m the landscape looks almost alpine: short grass, rocks, cows grazing, and a chilly wind despite the powerful sun. Towns like Lebanon (I also passed near one called Damascus :)) are small, people almost non-existent, but you can still find the usual fast food stores.
Network coverage becomes scarce, and so do my location updates, making some dear people a little nervous back home :)
Saturday is a very long and productive day. In the mountains the wind is less of a problem and legs feel good. After a lot of climbing and a spectacular and long descent I approach the small town of Haysi (pronounced Heysa) where I plan to spend the night at the only motel in a 50km radius, Hilltop Motel, located above the town, not surprisingly, on top of a hill.
A big one for which I muster all my remaining energy thinking that motel or not, I am sleeping up here.
The entrance has a big "Support our troops" sign on it and I find myself in a bar where people at two tables play poker. They look like they see an alien. I ask if I am in the right place to get a room. Two ladies whisper something between themselves while giving me pityful and not very encouraging looks. "okay we have one but you need to wait one hour so we get it ready" (in other words, this is poker night and no way in hell we interrupt it for you). One of them invites me to get a beer which I gladly accept while studying the place decorated with photos of military people all over the walls.
After the game is over, a skinny older man in a jeans jacket with all kind of inscriptions indicating he's a war veteran invites me at his table where he is joined by a blonde woman with a jovial face.
I really hit it off with Joe and his girlfriend Connie, beers help in a way I suspect.
Joe is a Vietnam war veteran, had a Japanese wife, was a truck driver for 30 years, then worked in a coal mine and is now retired. Gay, the bartender, and Wrenda join the fun and I buy a round of beers, then they buy one, then Thompsie comes in and buys us one. Thompsie was a Green Beret in Vietnam, and Joe talks of him like he is Rambo :)
The whole place is run by a veterans club of which they are members and volunteer to do bartending and housekeeping. They tell me the story behind the most prominent picture on the walls, of a young soldier who was 17 when he jumped on a grenade to save his buddies.
I get hungry and they send me down the road at Martha's, another bar where I get a burger and sign a 1 dollar bill to be placed on the walls where hundreds of them are glued because "all people who pass by here do this".
I'm not sure at what time and after how many Buds I leave the motel bar but meeting these fun, intelligent and open folks was a tremendously enjoyable experience.
It was particularly impressive the way Joe described the community which lives around the now declining coal industry saying "I may be simple, a hillbilly, but we here are good, hardworking people!".
vineri, 2 mai 2014
This time I'll try to be concise. I know you got better things to do than read my "novels" and I also have to get to sleep earlier, because I'm changing the game a little.
Last days I kept waking up late (because I got to sleep late) and with breakfast and usual preparation (facebook checking) I started riding only around 10 or 11 AM. Guess what, that's when the wind starts blowing. It's been blowing in my face almost the whole way so far except the 3 days of rain. So that's the plan.
Since I left Lexington yesterday morning I rode some beautiful countryside, including an isolated stretch of road where I ran out of water. Few houses here and there but nobody in sight. So I knock at one of them, nothing. The cars are here so I think they are home. As I leave, two old folks get out of the house and cry out after me. I don't understand what they say but I show them the empty bottle and they get it. They are pretty nice, ask me how old I was when Ceausescu died, and the man says that was a good day.
At a gas station I stop for a cup of coffee and something to eat. Almost in any store they got coffee in some heated bowls, you just pour yourself some and then pay on your way out. This one had cups the size of a small bucket. I am not sure if I should use them for coffee but the store clerk says that's what they are for :)
Last night I slept in a Budget Inn in Christiansburg. Initially I was targeting a campground in Blacksburg (adjacent town) which turned out not to exist, but made me unnecessarily cross a big hill, a pleasure at the end of the day. At least I got to see some fancy houses. Rich people like to live up the hills.
Today I rode mostly on a highway with low traffic which goes along the interstate. Passed a few small towns. They all have a main street usually called Main St., with old colonial looking houses, small businesses, the library, townhall. Then there are houses nicely aligned, hospitals, pet beauty saloons and everything else a community needs. At outskirts near the interstate are all the motels, malls, Wendys, Pizza Huts, Burger Kings, and about one hundred more such places.
Mt Draper, a big hill actually, was a demanding climb with a nice view from the top. A middle aged man in a pickup truck, Carl, was hanging out at the top and somehow we started talking and he took me a photo.
The head wind made me realize a while ago that my estimates of constantly making more than 150km per day are far too optimistic. I knew they were because they did not take into account the wind, but I thought it would even out. Also I think that the real daily altitude gain is greater than my estimate on my website, where I sampled the elevation every couple of kilometers. There were tens of shorter hills so far.
Thinking that I cannot recover on the plan if the wind continues like this I decide to cut short on the original route by not taking a small detour in the mountains so that will gain me half a day at least.
At the end of the day as I was headed for a motel in Marion I see Carl by the side of the road in Atkins. It turns out he lives here and offers me a place to stay in a trailor close to his house. It's nice inside, spacious, it even has laminated wooden floor, a couch, kitchen. In his charming southern accent he tells me that he has 6 brothers and 4 sisters and they used to have a large family gathering each year on his mother's birthday, until she passed away few years back.
Even though he says he is "computer stupid" I hope he will read this blog post. Thanks Carl for taking me in! I hear some weird sounds though, you might want to check under the trailor if you have a small animal like a badger or something :)