v1 Day 2 – Waltonville, IL to Harrisburg, IL

Av – 10.1 mph
Dis – 57.3 miles
Tm – 05:41 hrs.
Asc – 844 ft.

I don’t want to write some bullshit tour journal. I want to sleep. I want a deep tissue massage and this trip to be over. But I also watched an hour of America’s Funniest Videos, so maybe I should fix my priorities before I start bitching.

Day 2 was better than Day 1, but as long as I wasn’t ganged raped by hillbillies wearing too much cologne, it’s not too tough to beat.

I left Mike’s place later than my standard 07:00 departure, knowing full well I wasn’t making another 93 miles to Sturgis, KY but dark fall. The temperature hung in the low 20s with promises of sunshine and much weather weather around noon. I wasn’t disappointed.

My first stop was Sessner, about 10 miles down the road. I ran the typical drill of thawing my water bottles, receiving inquisitive stares, and fielding the occasional question. Most comments focused on the recent weather and how I “picked a good time to start” my trip. I tried to explain that my bike was already shipped, plane tickets already purchased, and liaisons already made when the storm had hit. No one really cared. They just bought their beer/chewing tobacco/junk food and moved on about their day.

By 1030 it was warming up considerably – almost 30 degrees. My water bottles were no longer forming ice chunks and cheeks weren’t going numb. Just after 11:00 I stopped at Hardees in Benton (with the intent of typing some journals and some R&R) and pushed a gut bomb down my throat. I spent an additional half hour drying various clothing items at the hot air dryer in the bathroom, including my cycling shorts and all parts thereunto pertaining.

I pushed out of Hardees with temps fluctuating in the low to mid 30s, enjoying the “warm streak.” I even dropped my full balaclava and goggles in favor of my skull cap, neck gaiter, and sunglasses. It was glorious.

I used my iPod for the first time today and actually rode without gloves for awhile. I had forgotten how valuable music is on a tour. It helped me take my mind of the agony of, well, whatever was agonizing me at the moment.

Despite the warmer weather and apparent rosy outlook on the day’s progress, my Hardees burger was working diligently to come back up and see for itself how the ride was going. I spent the rest of the ride trying not to throw it up. Between my gag reflex acting up and snot slapping across my shoulders with every blow, I was a hot mess.

The last 12 miles to this Super 8 were painful indeed. My body is breaking down and I hope an adjustment to shorter days and more recovery time allows it to build back up soon, because I’m hurting.

v1 Day 1 – Ferguson, MO to Waltonville, IL

Av – 8.9 mph
Dis – 51.8 miles
Tm – 05:50 hrs.

Maybe I should have taken the fact that I had to shovel snow to get my bike out of the back yard as a bad omen. But I was pleasant and plump with a good breakfast in my stomach and didn’t think that much into it. It only took a few minutes before my bike was on the driveway and I was poised to peddle away in single digit weather.

The street in front of me was clean – as clean as you could ask for on a four lane road, and I was pleased I wouldn’t have to worry about the accumulated snow as I worked my way out of the city.

I pedaled off like an everyday happy asshole, realizing seconds later that godDAMN is was cold. My breath immediately began fogging up my goggles (a piece of gear I literally threw in at the last minute). Traffic was picking up and the first road I turned on narrowed considerably. I was slowly realizing I was in for a fight.

Time passed without notice. My GPS screen was showing my route so miles per hour and moving time was beyond my view. I felt good, despite the ice, snow, and traffic, but history shows that I always feel good early on in a tour.

As I made my way closer to a bridge that separated St. Louis and East St. Louis (the MO/IL border), I saw my water bottles had frozen almost solid. A couple of blocks later I pulled into a McDonald’s and began the thaw out process.

I had been sweating pretty profusely – when I pulled my water/windproof shell off, water poured out of the sleeves. It wasn’t breathing like I thought it would. I started pulling layers off and rotating them under the bathroom air dryer, knowing full well I couldn’t go back outside in those temps with wet clothes.

Since I was fresh, my legs weren’t jello when I got back on the bike almost an hour later and pedaled away – first the wrong direction, then the right one, then smack into construction, then around the construction the wrong way, and finally down far enough to see bright detour signs to follow.

I was a couple blocks from the border bridge and crossed without issues, even though I had to take the road because the bicycle path was snowed over. The St Louis arch was just off my starboard side. It would’ve made a nice picture but I was already entirely too miserable to fish out my camera and play tourist.

In minutes I was across the Mississippi River and into East St Louis. My sources had implied that East St Louis was where crack conventions were held, muggers were mugged by muggers, and cannibalism was rampant. None of the above appeared true, of course, but it could have been the single digits that kept the monsters at bay. In total, I saw less than ten people walking around. East St Louis was my bitch.

As soon as I cleared the city I stopped at the first gas station I came across to thaw out my water bottles and reconfigure my gear. It was 14 degrees by then and the sun was shining. I stripped off my waterproof shell and pushed down the road.

Hours later, after the phone call to Mike and subsequent, shameful pick up, we grabbed Chinese buffet and retired for the evening. The house was blessedly warm – I was chilled to the bone. I took as hot a shower as my skin would allow and plopped on the couch. There wasn’t a lot of activity after that. I threw my damp clothes in the dryer and fell asleep sitting straight up.

It was most wondrous.

v1 Day 0 – Mvmnt frm Port Royal, SC to Ferguson, MO

Good times don’t make good stories. They don’t sell books or movie tickets, because regardless of how much you’re rooting for the hero, you still want to see shit go wrong. I wanted to spin a tale of midget Nazis, and suitcase full of money, and a love triangle, but unfortunately none of that occurred today.

My ride to the airport showed up on time, 16 minutes early in fact. U.S Airways comp’d the $25 baggage fee. I breezed through Savannah airport security without any additional scrutiny of my handlebar bag contents (the first time ever). My flight even left on time. With the exception of a case of bubble guts on the first flight to Charlotte, the day’s events were shaping up nicely.

The layover was perfectly timed. I made my necessary head call and stepped next door to my gate that began boarding when I showed up. In line were a half dozen new Marines on their way from MCT (Marine Combat Training) in Camp Lejuene, NC to their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) school at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. When faced with young Marines and limited time in which to impart my vast sea of Marine Corps knowledge, I’m forced to condense it to this: Stay single and go embassy duty. Cut and dried, plain and simple. They were better for it.
My arrival in St. Louis was uneventful as well. I followed the flock of Marines to the USO and grabbed a couple of chili cheese dogs and a pepsi before snatching my baggage off belt. I walked outside – the 20 degree air giving me a solid five-fingered slap across the face – and cabbed it to today’s destination.

Blue and Craig from Warmshowers.org put me up for the night. They host a lot of bicycle tourists throughout the year – Adventure Cycling Association’s TransAmerica Trail runs right through their town. I was the first in the winter though, Blue pointed out. What made them extra special was I shipped my bike and trailer to their address three days earlier. That’s looking out.

Blue and Craig run a pair of Surley Long Haul Truckers, built for touring. We spent a considerable amount of time comparing notes on gear, time on the road, and even military careers (Craig did a stint in the Navy), and soon settled in to some local microbrews and ridiculously delicious homemade pizza. Periodically, Blue kept reminding me of the next day’s temperatures as if to hint of my lunacy. At my projected departure time of 07:00, it was forecasted 0 degrees. ZERO degrees. The WNW winds at 7 mph pull that down from 14-20 below zero, and my dumb ass is on a bike. To complicated matters more, the streets are choked with snow and East St. Louis is on way out of town – yet another “warning” Blue so kindly informed me.

So, assuming I can survive the initial shock of subzero temps right out the door, I might still get jacked in the hood and end this trip before it actually begins.

Craaaaap.

Day 12 – Highmore, SD to Pierre, SD

Av – 10.9 mph
Dis – 51 miles
Tm – 04:40 hrs.
Asc – 474 ft.

It’s a good thing Pierre wasn’t that far away, because I just wasn’t in the groove today. I snoozed for another half hour after my alarm went off at 0630. The wind was blowing out of the southwest, up over the foot of my sleeping bag, and somehow right down my neck. It was a breezy one alright. The sun was trying to rise above the tree line but hadn’t broken over yet. I began changing into my warmer rising clothes without getting out of my sleeping bag. The heat I worked up was enough to get me out of my bag, pack up my gear in record time, and push west on Hwy 14 towards Pierre.

The next 32 miles rolled by pretty effortlessly. I called Dale at the Hwys 14 and 83 junction to find out he wouldn’t be in Pierre until 1830.

The day had finally warmed up enough to strip back down to my short sleeve jersey and riding shorts. I pushed the last sixteen miles to Pierre with a light crosswind and plenty of sunshine.

Pierre was an utter disappointment. I rode what seemed miles waiting for the city to envelope me, and suddenly, between the rural route mailboxes and “Dance with Wolves Filmed Here” signs, I was at the front door of The Governor’s Inn. It was impressive. Fresh baked cookies, iced tea, and coolers full of pop and beer awaited me in the lobby. In exchange for a practically endless stream of Iraq stories, Sam, the suspected semi-gay lobby clerk, hooked me up with more than a few Miller Lites while I waited in the lobby for Dale and Jodi.

When they finally arrived after 1900, citing confusing detours and road construction, we made a beeline for evening chow and retired to the hot tub for discussions of the next three days. We talked routes and time lines, rest stops and layovers, even though I knew full well it would all work itself out one way or another in the end.

I spent another hour or so writing a quick progress report for my website, uploading tour media to my laptop, and tuning up my bike with tools Dale brought from home. And, at almost 2300 and a long day ahead tomorrow, it’s time to hit the rack.

Day 12 – 27 September 2005

Human soup

Day 11 – Huron, SD to Highmore, SD

Av – 10.7 mph
Dis – 70.6 miles
Tm – 06:35 hrs.
Asc – 679 ft.

Two days to cover a little over 100 miles is like a vacation (but missing the hula girls). I didn’t pull out of Huron until 1100, as late as the Super 8 would let me stay, but still made good mileage despite that and the west wind. I really didn’t have a plan for today. I knew Highmore was the biggest town between Huron and Pierre on Hwy 14 (and at just over 800 people, it’s not saying much), but I never intended on staying here. The reason I am here is because of the setting sun.

It was a clear, bright, beautiful day in the mid 60’s when I left Huron. The wind was out of the west but thankfully low until mid afternoon. I enjoyed the sun on my body and the cool breeze and tried not to think of yesterday’s bone numbing wetness. More importantly, I felt good.

Coming to terms with a high cadence and low speed is a difficult thing to do. It’s taken me this long on the tour to understand I can pedal for hours, non-stop, at 90-100 rpm but grabbing a bigger gear and trying to squeeze out another mph screws up my rhythm. I kept my speeds low enough to keep my rhythm in the headwind, and the results were surprising. Instead of constantly shifting in the saddle and starting and stopping pedaling as one leg or the other began to burn, I pedaled smoothly for often over an hour without realizing where the time went. I stopped a few times about every 60-90 minutes, to take a leak and eat a snack. I never really got tired at all.

Getting in the groove of cycling every morning is about the most difficult thing to do. Sometimes I warm up with a few miles and sometimes longer. On this very tour, there was day when mile sixty came and went and only then did I start feeling better. Some days are just easier to ride for whatever reason.

But back to the sunset and my stop in Highmore. I paused at a Cenex to grab a bite to eat and fill my water bottles, and when I came back out, the sun was barely above the asphalt heading west. Even with my sunglasses on, I had a difficult time seeing mailboxes barely a block away. The glare was terrible. I knew continuing to ride would be too hard, so I ate up my pizza slices, finished my energy drink, and rolled into town looking for the city park. I didn’t find it. Instead, I discovered the baseball diamond on the edge of town. It even has wide, wooden bleachers behind home plate with a roof overhead. I rolled my bike in, laid my stuff out on the bleachers, and commenced to writing about the day.

I hope some dopey local cop doesn’t shoot me.

Tomorrow, it’s 40-some odd miles to Pierre, hopefully an extended soak in a hot tub, and then meet up with good buddy Dale, who’ll be joining me the last three days. This should prove to be entertaining.

Day 11 – 26 September 2005

Take me out to the ball game