Wednesday, 19 August 2009
DONE! DUSTED! FINISHED! COMPLETED! AND BOY DOES IT FEEL GOOD!
All good things have to come to an end and our arrival yesterday in Yorktown, Virginia on the Atlantic Ocean brought this epic bike ride to its conclusion. It has been the most incredible of adventures and no words can possibly do it justice. Hyperbole isn't our style but we really won't ever forget our 54 days, without a single full rest day, on the roads of America. The trip has been a monumental success in every respect; we have seen an incredible variety of staggering and beautiful scenery; we have experienced overwhelming warmth and kindness from the American people on countless occasions; we have discovered a new hobby in cycling that we both intend to continue; we have made new good friends with some of the cyclists we rode with; we have passed our fundraising target for Cyclists Fighting Cancer; the weather was kind to us; neither of us was injured (though we came close on a few occasions); the list could go on...
Here is the final batch of statistics:
8/8: Hindman, 66 miles
9/8: Breaks, 68 miles
10/8: Rosedale, 43 miles
11/8: Troutdale, 61 miles
12/8: Radford, 77 miles
13/8: Troutville, 61 miles
14/8: Vesuvius, 67 miles
15/8: Charlottesville, 59 miles
16/8: Ashland, 104 miles
17/8: Williamsburg, 78 miles
18/8: Yorktown, 13 miles
That brings us up to a final total of 4123 miles in 54 days. Quite a long way! We were actually sat riding on our saddles for about 325 hours, so we've crammed at least a year's worth of exercise into less than 2 months. It's hard to express how far 4123 miles really is in a meaningful way, but essentially we've cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats about 7 times, or from London to Venice roughly four times, or more than 16,500 times round an athletics track.
From Rosedale to the end in Yorktown we rode in a group of 5, with Mark and Kristen who we hooked up with in Bardstown, and Mike, aka "Wolf Douche", who joined us in Rosedale. Since it was the final segment of the trip it was fun riding en masse, lowering the tempo and winding down a bit. We are also now enjoying having a group to celebrate finishing with.
In Eastern Kentucky we found the Appalachian mountain range to be tough cycling, as we knew it would be, but nothing we couldn't handle. After riding over such long distances and all different terrains you have the leg strength to pretty much get up anything without too much pain and it's just a case of keeping the legs rotating. The Appalachians were definitely harder than the more famous Rockies; the Rockies may be higher but the Appalachians are much steeper. The advantage of climbing in the Appalachians, however, is that any climb is over in no more than 30 minutes, whereas in the Rockies a mountain pass could take as much as 3 hours of uphill cycling to reach.
As well as the Appalachians, Eastern Kentucky is also renowned among cyclists for being home to the most aggressive of canines. Now, it may sound crazy, but after a few weeks of getting used to being chased by dogs we had actually come to look forward to their appearance as we had learnt how to handle them. The most important lesson was to slow right down rather than speed up, because all most of the dogs really wanted to do was race us. If a dog continued to bark at us and show its teeth we would either bark back at it or shout at it to "GO HOME". And if that failed we would send in Kristen with her hot sauce in a spray bottle...
Entering Virginia was a brilliant moment as, despite still having over 500 miles to go, we were at least in our final state and we really felt like nothing could stop us reaching the ocean from then on. Even if Virginia was a horrible place we would have enjoyed riding in it because we were so near the end, but it is beautiful so it was a wonderful arena for the conclusion of the trip. Much like in Oregon, we were passing through idyllic rural landscape.
The final day and a half were made perfect thanks to the friendliness and generosity of members of the Grafton (near Yorktown) Kiwanis club. Kiwanis is a global organisation of volunteers who work with the broad aim of improving the lives of disadvantaged children in whatever ways they can and Mike/Wolf Douche has been raising money for them. A few of their members joined us on their bikes for the final 25 miles of our penultimate day, showed us the sites of the gorgeous old colonial town of Williamsburg, put us up in a hotel suite there, cycled the 13 miles to Yorktown with us in the morning, acted as a welcoming/celebration party at the beach in Yorktown, loaded up our bikes into their cars, took us to their weekly meeting at a restaurant, made generous donations to our own charities, then finally delivered us and all our belongings to a hotel in Yorktown. Bill and his wife Nancy must be singled out in particular for all their help. The whole experience made the end of the trip extremely memorable and we cannot thank the Kiwanis enough.
So now we begin the process of adapting back to real life! Dan has the ominous prospect of finally starting his job in London in less than three weeks, but he's actually rather looking forward to getting his teeth stuck into something and using his brain for the first time in quite a while. Rob doesn't hit the office until February so he can look forward to some time relaxing in Oklahoma with his girlfriend Sarah's family before returning to London where he hopes to learn Spanish and continue our fundraising efforts.
We're not going to preach, but if there is one lesson that we have learnt from this trip it is that anything is possible. If you want something to happen, you just have to go out and make it happen. There may be hurdles, but they won't ever be completely impassable. We decided we wanted to cycle across America and after a great deal of planning and effort we have achieved that goal. Anyone else with an equal level of commitment could do the same. So we'd just encourage everyone to go out and do whatever you want to do, because you can if you want it enough!
It would be a lie if we said that we only did this trip to raise money for our charity; the sheer challenge and adventure appealed greatly to us as well, so non-altruistic factors were involved. But raising money for such a brilliant cause has added a fantastic dimension and sense of worth to the whole endeavour and watching our sponsorship total continually rise really spurred us on. We are so pleased with the amount of money we have raised, every penny of which has gone directly to Cyclists Fighting Cancer, and we sincerely thank all of our very many sponsors for their huge generosity. It has meant a lot. One final plea for more: http://www.justgiving.com/robertdstevenson1/
We hope you've enjoyed following our progress over the last couple of months. If you'd like any more information about any aspect of the adventure please don't hesitate to get in touch with either of us and we'll be only too glad to reveal all.
Thank you for your support and we look forward to seeing as many of our friends and family as possible soon.
Best wishes from Dan and Rob.
Friday, 7 August 2009
Did we mention slowing down in the last post?! Well, we're not sure where that crazy and pathetic idea came from (we've been beating ourselves up for allowing such weakness to enter our minds, even if only for a fleeting few moments) because these are the distances we've covered in the last week:
1/8: Carbondale, 98.5 miles
2/8: Cave in Rock, 87.5 miles
3/8: Sebree, 55 miles
4/8: McDaniels, 79 miles
5/8: Bardstown, 88 miles
6/8: Berea, 92 miles
7/8: Booneville, 56.5 miles
So that takes us up to a really rather grand total of a mental 3426 miles after 43 days and we can practically smell the salty Atlantic Ocean. Bizarre as it may sound to "normal" people, but the 750 miles or so, including most of the Appalachian mountain range, that we have left seems like nothing to us and we very much feel like we're in the finishing straight. So now it is just a case of savouring the last fortnight or so of what has been one hell of an amazing adventure.
Highlights from the last week have been numerous. Back in Farmington it was a real privilege and the fulfilment of boyhood dreams to stay overnight at the fire station. We had the "Mobile Command Unit", kitted out with TV and sleeping cots, to ourselves and got a very good sleep, but we were disappointed that there was no pole to slide down. Firemen obviously have to work very well as a team, and the necessary spirit is encouraged by a VERY communal toilet facility. See the photo!
On the day that we rode from Farmington to Carbondale we were joined by our buddy Mike Triebwasser who is currently busy doing a PhD at Washigton University in St. Louis, Missouri. It was really great to see him, and also a privilege to ride with a man who won a prestigious cycling Blue at Oxford. Check us out, rolling with the big boys! Also on that day it was rather exciting to cross the Mississippi River and then cycle through a section of its basin. The Mississippi holds an almost mythical status so it was incredible to experience this vast mass of water.
Illinois provided some really nice riding through rolling hills but didn't detain us for long before we entered Kentucky, our penultimate state. Our first night in Kentucky was spent in the First Baptist Church of Sebree and it was quite simply wonderful. We had been told as far back as Colorado that this church was an absolute must to stop at, and all the hype was very much warranted. Cyclists basically get given free run of the church's community facility, including shower, laundry, games room, lounge area and mattresses on the floor, but the best bit is the hospitality provided by Pastor Bob and his wife Violet. Violet's home cooking was SUCH a treat and their genuine kindness was almost overwhelming. They've taken in 176 cyclists this year alone and their reputation is spreading.
In Bardstown we met Kristen and Mark who are cycling the same direction as us and for the last few days we've made up an elite bad-ass biker team of four. We've had a lot of good laughs, mainly of a highly immature and innane nature as is common practice for long distance cyclists, and hopefully we'll continue riding together. We've actually been cycling really well as a group of four, probably much faster than we would just by ourselves, so we think we're going to be able to storm through the Appalachians.
Here in Kentucky we have taken unhealthy eating to new depths and all-you-can-eat fried chicken has become a staple. It is disgusting, but it is simply impossible to say no when it only costs $4.99 a pop! Kentucky is of course home to KFC, but we think there is a niche in the market for KFD (Kentucky Fried Dog). The business model would be to send out loads of cyclists onto the roads, let them be chased by the endless dogs who love nothing more than snap at the colossal calves of us toned atheletes, then trap them in nets, before obviously deep frying them. To be honest, KFC probably serves up dog anyway, so at least our business would be honest and transparent.
So all is going great! We are extremely excited to soon be entering our final state of Virginia. Although we are having the best time ever we are quite looking forward to finishing and becoming normal people again (but probably boring you all with our stories from the trip). The adventure has been all the more worthwhile thanks to our hugely successful fundraising. Indeed it has been so successful that we have raised our target from 5000 pounds to 6000. Please do head to http://www.justgiving.com/robertdstevenson1/ to keep up the good work.
Bye for now folks. We're off to have a nice cold soft drink. A beer would be better but Kentucky is almost entirely dry. That sucks.
Friday, 31 July 2009
By our standards it hasn't been very long since the last blog entry, but we're treating ourslelves to a short-ish day today having emerged from the fearsome Ozark Mountain range, an area that some people think is the toughest part of the whole Trans America Trail route. It has indeed been pretty hard, and this is what we've accomplished:
28/7: 79.5 miles, Marshfield
29/7: 63.5 miles, Houston
30/7: 69 miles, Ellington
31/7: 63.5 miles, Farmington
The strange and slightly infuriating thing about the Ozarks and the difficulty that they pose to cyclists is that the land itself really doesn't merit the title of a mountain range. It is simply an expanse of rolling hills and it is the routing of the roads that makes traversing them such an exhausting exercise. In the UK this sort of terrain would be negotiated by roads that weave their way through the low lying sections of land, avoiding unnecessary steep inclines, presumably as they are both hard to build and to drive on. But that is most definitely not the American way as even here they like to keep their roads as straight as possible, brazenly laying the tarmac straight up and over the hilltops, even if there is nothing there for the road to service. This creates something of a self-propelled rollercoaster ride for cyclists, up and down, over and over again, with no flat sections in between to catch your breath. The only saving grace is that the climbs are never that long, as they were in the Rockies. Some of the inclines were steep to crazy degrees and when we were grinding up one particularly savage example, in our very lowest gears for the first time on the whole trip, a truck actually couldn't manage it on its first attempt and had to take a big run up a second time. The riding is, however, through extremely pretty countryside, so very green, and not unlike much of the UK. So when it poured torrentially on the Houston to Farmington day, we felt right at home, as some smart arsed suit and tie wearing guy in a nice dry car felt the need to tell us that we should out of his window!
But the people here in Missouri have, as they have been right across this awesome country, been phenomenal. We're probably beginning to sound like a broken record, but the friendliness is overwhelming. New members of the Hospitality Hall of Fame, joining the Kliewers of Newton, are the Swyres family of Ellington who took us into their house, provided us with wonderfully soft beds and a hot shower, fed us a delicious meal of "Drunken Chicken" and generally showed a level of generosity that was mindblowing. We thank them sincerely and hope that we can take some of this hospitality ethos back home with us. It is worth noting that once again it was the eldest son of the family who approached us as we were looking pathetic and wretched outside the town grocery and that he was again called Jonathan. There's clearly something in the name!
The other big news is that ROB HAS HAD HIS HAIR CUT!! It was absolute hell for him cycling in such ridiculous heat and humidity with such a crazy mane, and it is a wonder that he lasted so long. So he's had the short back and sides treatment and looks like a highly presentable sixth form pupil! The 10 inch locks have been stored safely in a plastic bag and will be delivered to a charity that provides hair to children who have undergone chemotherapy. Pretty cool, huh!
As you may have noticed from the mileages that we've listed in this entry, we are slowing down a bit. This is partly because of the tricky terrain, but partly also because we have earned the ability to do so. In our first 30 days or so we made tremendous time, overtaking several cyclists and being passed, as far as we are aware, by only one nutter who, in his own words "basically cycles all day every day". So we're going to take it relatively easy for the last 20 days and arrive in good time, but not stupidly early, for Dan's flight back to the UK (Rob will be staying in the States for a bit with his girlfriend Sarah and her family).
Well, that's probably it for today's instalment. A swimming pool is our next port of call, followed by a night in Farmington Fire Station, which puts up cyclists for free. If we're lucky we'll get to slide down the pole!
Please please pleeeeeeeeese keep the donations coming at http://www.justgiving.com/robertdstevenson1/. We are now really close to our target of 5000 pounds, which delights us to the max.
Also, we've managed to get a few more video clips from Rob's swanky camera up on youtube. If you go to www.youtube.com and search under "robertdavidstevenson" you'll see the selection. The Oscars are going to be flooding in for sure...
Bye for now good people of the world.
Monday, 27 July 2009
In the last blog we wrote somewhat disparagingly about Kansas. Since then we have come to realise that what we said was entirely unfair and inaccurate so it is time now for us to correct the error of our ways and utter those two hardest of phrases: "we were wrong" and "we are sorry". Indeed we have rather come full circle (not physically as that would be extremely frustrating) and, now that we have crossed the border into Missouri and are able to reflect fully on the Kansas experience, we feel almost compelled to grant Kansas the illustrious title of our favourite state so far, a title that Oregon has held hands down since we left it all those weeks ago.
So what did we like about Kansas?
1. We have to bust a myth for you. Kansas is NOT all flat as a pancake for as far as the eye can see, treeless and boring. Sure, as we reported last time, the western most part near the Colorado border is, but just as you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you shouldn't judge a state by its first couple of hundred miles. The central and eastern parts of the state really are extremely pretty, composed of lush greeness and fertile rolling hills. Unlike much of Wyoming which seriously is desolate, the entirety of Kansas is actively farmed and there is a whole host of different crops and it truly is the breadbasket of America. With this comes much prosperity and the houses are quaint and well maintained. The state was especially delightful to cycle through in the early morning, when the wind was down, the roads were quiet, and the rising sun cast a beautiful light over the plains. (On the subject of farming, however, Dan must remember not to tell farmers that his dad is a fellow farmer as he gets sucked into conversations in which he is well out of his depth. This future corporate lawyer knows an embarrassingly small amount about his father's business and can barely tell one end of a cow from the other).
2. The people were outstandingly friendly. As a fellow cyclist stated, "they'd give you the shirt off their back if you asked for it". At no point did we want an extra shirt as we were quite hot enough with just our own, but the sentiment rings true. We estimate that about one in three passing drivers would give us a wave, which if you think about it is a very high proportion. One group in a pickup truck even offered Dan, although unfortuantely not Rob as well, an ice cold beer. Given that we were near the end of the day this was gratefully accepted and downed in one go. The locals are very keen to put on a positive front and every lawn, most of which are substantial in size, is immaculately mowed and watered. Although its slightly crude, there can't be many better indicators of civic pride. Chief among the phenomenally friendly people are the Kliewer family from Newton. Just as we were about to set up our tents in the city park in town there, Jonathan, the eldest of the Kliewer's 8 children, approached us and said that his family would love to have us camp in their yard, use their shower and join them for dinner. We are so glad we accepted this incredibly kind offer as it was a real privilege to share the dinner table, eating delicious food, with such an interesting and generous group of people. We cannot thank them enough as such kindness is a rarity.
3. Every town has a "city park" where cyclists are allowed to camp. These parks are astonishly well equipped with gazebos, barbecues, power outlets, lush soft grass, and normally swimming pools. The best thing about it, appreciated greatly by the tight Scotsman and Essex wide boy is that it is completely free. Cash back! You just have to hope that your tent isn't in range of the sprinklers when they get turned on in the morning!
4. The road quality was fantastic. When you're in a car you hardly notice what you're driving on, but on a bike you become so acutely aware of the slightest imperfections. Nothing is more irritating than cracks that run perpendicular to the direction of travel, and these are all too common in Wyoming (not our favourite state in case you couldn't tell already!) and parts of Colorado. But the Kansas roads are awesome and helped hugely in our ability to cover some good mileage.
5. We saw a lot of cool wildlife. In the early mornings we spotted lots of birds flitting about and deer prancing around, out enjoying themselves before the trucks appeared on the road. Rob also rescued a turtle that was on the road. It was a big heavy thing, moving extremely slowly. We took a guess at which way the turtle was trying to go and placed it in the grass on the far side from where it was when we came across it. Hopefully, for the turtle's sake, the guess was right, otherwise it will have been severely pissed off animal having a lot of its time and effort wasted! Unfortunately much of the wildlife has been dead rather than alive, in the form of roadkill. If we wanted to (and don't worry, we didn't want to even in the slightest) we could have had quite the meat selection on a barbecue. Possums and skunk were most frequent, closely followed by armadillo, with the occasional deer too. Yummy!
6. We were actually going east while we were cycling! It may come us some surprise and you may think us quite silly for it, but our route from the west coast to the east coast is not actually that direct, and especially not in the early western parts. Indeed between Missoula in Montana and Pueblo in Colorado we went much further south than we did east. So it was nice to actually feel like we were making some progress for a change as we gunned it due east, in the direction of the rising sun, across Kansas. Thankfully that is set to continue here in Missouri.
7. It was in Kansas, thanks to a tip off from another cyclist going the other way, that we discovered Honey Buns, a sickly but strangely delicious pastry type product that is insanely rich in sugar and all things bad for you, but that can give power to your legs that just can't be found from many other sources. Just one of these bad boys contains a crazy 56% of your daily fat allowance, but that of course is if you are a normal person on the standard 2000 calorie diet. We of course are monsters who require 6000, but every little helps!
8. The gas stations offered cups for the soft drinks fountain machines in sizes that can only be described as gargantuan. The largest we found came across was a 64 ounce whopper that really took two hands to hold. A Pepsi stop every couple of hours is essential and heavenly in the heat and we estimate that on one particular day Rob put away in excess of 150 ounces. That's about 6 litres. Dan wasn't far behind.
9. British mobile phones gained consistently strong reception in the eastern part of the state, something they hadn't been able to get since Oregon. This is a very good thing. Fact.
10. Kansas borders Oklahoma, which is where Rob's girlfriend Sarah is from. At one point we were within 170 miles of where she lives so her dad, Tom Pratt, drove up to see us. (Aren't cars great things; they can cover big distances very quickly!) It was great to see him and he treated us to a delicious meal and a luxurious stay in a motel. Big thanks to him. We had Dan's mum send us off at the beginning in Oregon (a belated huge thank you to her for helping us start things off so smoothly), Tom in the middle, and we look forward to a reception party of at least Sarah at the end in Virginia.
So as you can see there are quite a lot of positives to Kansas and we can't be blamed for going against the grain and actually liking the place. (We think that many people say they dislike it because they simply so strongly expect to dislike it due to the stories that fellow cyclists tell them and are carried away by the prejudice). But any good reporter must also acknowledge the negatives and there have indeed been a few of them.
1. As Brits we are obliged to talk about the weather, and it is human nature to complain and think that the grass is greener on the other side. When we were up in the mountains we moaned about the cold, but now we are craving a bit of cool and are grateful for the slightest hint of a breeze. We have cycled in temperatures of up to 105 Fahrenheit, but it is mainly the humidity that kills you (not literally, yet). It's like cycling in a sauna, and saunas are designed to sit down and relax in, not pedal like a maniac. We are taking sweaty to new levels. At night we apply our GCSE biology knowledge and sprawl out in our tents, practically naked, in order to maximise the surface area of our body that is exposed in a vain attempt to cool down. One night Dan was actually driven out of his tent and forced to sleep under the stars. He did, he would like to point out, put on a pair of boxer shorts before vacating the tent. Indeed, it is the heat and the humidity that is to blame for the unnecessary length of this blog (we wouldn't have blamed you if you'd stopped reading ages ago) as we really don't want to leave the lovely air conditioned library.
2. We have been chased by several dogs foaming at the mouth. The dogs in Kentucky are famous among Trans American bike riders but a few presented themselves three states early in Kansas. Perhaps We our lovley toned calves are particulalrly juicy and irresistible. These dogs will spot you a mile off and come charging down the side road from their farm and attempt to intercept you, barking like mad all the way. It is actually mildly scary. Rob is armed with pepper spray (though hasn't had to actually use it yet). Dan is armed with bravado and complacency.
3. Rob scared the s**t out of both of us by thinking he had lost his wallet. On this trip you have to be super organised and everything has its specific place in your bags. When the wallet wasn't where it was meant to be the look of sheer despair, anger and horror all rolled into one was tangible. It was in the other bag.
4. Dan thought he had broken his I-Pod and had a bit of a temper tantrum. Not even the age-old "turn it off then back on" trick worked as it actually wouldn't turn off. The screen was frozen and no sound came out. Fortunately it ran out of battery eventually, rebooted, and was as good as new.
5. "The Bag Balm Disaster", involving Dan, a toilet cubicle, the hot and runny (thanks to the heat) balm that is designed for cows udders but also keeps his "undercarriage" in tip top condition, and an exposion when said tub of balm was opened, has scarred Dan for life.
6. Thanks to leaning on our handle bars all day, every day, our hands are getting rather numb and we are losing our dexterity. Rob long ago lost all sensation and movement in both his fourth fingers, and Dan excelled himself by knocking over one of the aforementioned gigantic soft drink cups when attempting to put a lid on top of it for the first time since he was about 6 years old.
In our first afternoon today in Missouri the highlight was definitely a bit of off roading, where we walked our bikes through some major road works where a fly-over is being installed. We didn't fancy the 8 mile diversion so we asked the foreman what we could do. To our surprise, he said he didn't mind if we walked across, but advised us to watch out for the machines. These machines turned out to be multi-tonne monsters that would have crushed us like insects. We chuckled at the differences in health and safety standards as we weaved our way through the massive ruts...
So we've been on the road now for over a month and we have to say that we are just so pleased with how everything has gone. We are ahead of schedule (as indicated by our "mile bank", an ingenious system based on complex algorithms that tells us where we are in relation to where we would need to be in order to finish on our target date of 20th August) but more importantly we are having a magnificent time. And we are now actually allowing ourselves, as we approach the two thirds distance, to think forward to finishing. We have come to realise that some of our behaviour on this isolated trip may not be acceptable in normal society. We'll leave it to your imaginations to decide what those bodily behaviours may be (think along the lines of the effects of a 6000 calorie diet largely in the form of burgers, and us childishly exaggerating those effects), but we'd like to send out an early plea to those that we'll be seeing soon after completion for patience, tolerance and leniance, otherwise offence may be caused, and we promise to attempt to re-integrate as quickly as possible.
In time honoured fashion, we'd like to finish by extending another huge thank you to our supporters and sponsors, who we are missing greatly and can't wait to see soon. Our donation page at http://www.justgiving.com/robertdstevenson1/ continues to thrive, but we're not quite up to our target, so please, if you can, do donate and support Cyclists Fighting Cancer, a brilliant charity that really does make a huge difference to the lives of those it works with.
Oh, and of course the distances:
23/7: 98 miles, Larned
24/7: 106 miles, Newton
25/7: 77 miles, Eureka
26/7: 76 miles, Erie
27/7: 79 miles, Golden City
So that's 2594 miles in 32 days. Bish, bash, bosh, thank you very much.
PS We've finally managed to upload a couple of video clips to youtube. We'll work on getting more up in due course but for now please feel free to check out the links below. The first is from the wonderful Kliewer family household and the second features the heroic and touching turtle rescue.
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Since we last wrote in the blog it has been an exciting period of milestones and breakthroughs and we now really feel like we have broken the back of the trip. The 2,000 mile point was soon followed by the halfway mark, we climbed to the highest point of the route (Hoosier Pass at 11,539 feet) then shortly afterwards broke out of the mountains entirely, we entered the sixth of our eleven states (Kansas has come after Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado), we are now in the third of the four time zones that we'll pass through, and, crucially, the saga of Rob's rear wheel is, for the timebeing at least, a thing of the past.
15/7: 42 miles, Saratoga
16/7: 89.5 miles, Rand
17/7: 56.5 miles, Kremmling
18/7: 55 miles, Breckenridge
19/7: 108 miles, Florence
20/7: 93 miles, Ordway
21/7: 121 miles, Tribune
22/7: 71 miles, Dighton
This brings us to a grand total of 2158 miles after 27 days of riding. We currently estimate our route to be a total of about 4110 miles and aim to finish inside 55 days, so we are pleased with the current situation.
Wyoming proved to be a slightly troublesome state for us as it was where Rob's rear wheel caused much grief. So we crossed the border into Colorado with hopes that the new state would bring a change of fortunes in that department. And although the bike mechanic in Kremmling, Colorado didn't produce exactly the product that we requested and he promised over the phone, the new wheel has thus far been a major improvement on the massively wobbly thing that Rob was riding previously. We are still in a constant state of mild fear that it's going to break again, but the further we go, the more relaxed we become. So that's good!
The Colorado mountains were stunning and a great area to ride through. The people up there were refreshingly active as well, and we found ourselves sharing bike paths with literally hundreds of people out enjoying the sunny weekend weather. It was, however, extremely cold at night up at that altitude and we do not joke when we report that icicles even appeared on our tents. That sort of thing really was not expected and we were rather underprepared. Despite wearing literally all of our clothes and being wrapped up tightly in our sleeping bags, we were still on the chilly side and found sleeping difficult. During the day the temperature was great for riding in though and cycling conditions were good. We did, however, notice the thinness of the air as we hauled ourselves up to the top of Hoosier Pass via several tight switch-backs in the road, but that just added to the great sense of achievement when we made it. The descent from the pass was fantastic as we fell 6000 feet in the space of about 60 miles. The fun was halted briefly by a thunder storm but fortunately we found a horse's stable to shelter in until it passed, then continued bombing down the road.
Most people associate Colorado with the mountains, but soon after the Hooiser Pass the scenery started to change dramatically. As we moved through Eastern Colorado and into Kansas first the hills disappeared, then the turns in the road, and then the trees. We fear our sanity may follow suit shortly. We now find ourselves in the plains of central America where, to put it mildly, there isn't much to see. The landscape is flat for as far as the eye can see, only interrupted if you're lucky by a grain elevator. It made an interesting change to the mountains for about the first, hmm, maybe 2 minutes, but after that the mind starts to desire a little more stimulation. It was telling that in the easternmost part of Colorado we passed three "Correctional Facilities" in quick succession. The land has to be used for something! As we drew out of Colorado we were flanked on our left hand side by carriage after carriage after carriage of stationary Union Pacific trains staring down on us forebodingly. They stretched for several miles at a time and Monkey Man Dan couldn't resist climbing on to the top of one for a photo shoot.
Occasionally we will spot an object standing out in the distance near the road and guess how far away it is. We always underestimate as you can see anything more than 10 metres high from about 25 miles away. We tried to refrain from pluggling into our I-Pods for as long as possible, knowing that eventually we would come to rely on them to stop us from falling asleep in the saddle, but within the first day Dan had succumbed. Rob joined the headphone gang the next morning. Rob has particularly enjoyed Lynyard Skynyard for his "motivational country rhythms" while Dan favours Avril Lavigne as he channels her anger to drive him on.
We have said all along that the wind in Kansas has the potential to either make or break the trip. The prevailing wind comes from the west and that actually played a significant part in our choice to cycle west to east rather than vice versa. There is nothing worse than cycling into a headwind, achieving nothing and simply knackering yourself out, whereas nothing beats flying along effortlessly with the wind on your back. Wind behind you and you can do 150 miles in a day no problem; in your face and you're fighting for 50. So far we've had mainly crosswinds, which is fine, but we're sending up prayers for it to shift round kindly. Fingers crossed!
So the complexion of the trip has changed quite significantly, but we like any sort of challenge and shall adapt accordingly. Previously it was more of a physical test to get up and over steep mountains. Now we need to find the mental strength to get across the long and barren plains. We are actually extremely excited by this new chapter and are going to give it our very best.
We have spoken previously about the many wonderful Americans that we have met along the way, but we should also mention the other cyclists that we have come across on the route. On most days we pass people coming in the other direction on the Trans America Trail (the name of the route that we are following), but it is those that are going in the same direction as us that we have been able to spend more time with. There is brilliant camaraderie among cyclists and those who have been to places you are heading to act as a wonderful source of useful information. Everyone we have met, without exception, has been great to hang out with and you meet all sorts, from Paul the 67 year old retired teacher/SAS soldier who has basically cycled everywhere in the world and told some incredible stories to Lewis, the 9 year old boy who is riding on the back of a tandem with his dad.
So it is pleasing to be able to sign off once again by reporting that morale is high and that it continues to be the trip of a lifetime. The life of a long distance cyclist is repetitive in many ways, but it is so exciting too, and we frequently say to each other "wow, this really is cool". What is also cool is how much money we have managed to raise so far, and we thank all our sponsors for their huge generosity. We're approaching our target of 5000 pounds, and it would just be smashing if we could pass it.
Kisses and hugs from the two of us.
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Greetings one and all, and welcome to the second of our blog entries for our little Trans America cycle ride. We hope you’re sat comfortably because it’s been quite the eventful time since the last instalment, full of ups and downs, trials and tribulations. Some might even compare the experience to a rollercoaster ride…
But first things first, here are the hard and fast statistics for the past few days.
9/7: 70 miles, Ennis
10/7: 74 miles, West Yellowstone
11/7: 87.5 miles, Colter Bay
12/7: 66 miles, Dubois
13/7: 74 miles, Lander
14/7: 124 miles, Rawlins
So this brings us to a grand total of 1522 miles in 19 days. Not a bad effort, even if we may say so ourselves. The last week or so has actually been spent moving mainly south rather than east, following the mountain ranges that form the backbone of the country. In doing this we have crossed 6 continental divides, and that of course has meant a lot of climbing. Fun, fun, fun!
Back up in Montana we got our wish for improved weather and we passed through several old frontier towns. Some such as Nevada City had been left basically untouched and were pretty cool, but others like Virginia City had been completely refurbished to look authentic but cars lining the street and things such as the attempted old style bank advertising its ATM inside kind of detracted from the result. In any case, it was clear that back in frontier times they must have been scarily lawless places. We wondered whether we, the bad-ass cyclists, might have fitted in, but admitted that we wouldn't be fooling anyone!
A sad event occurred in West Yellowstone as it was there that Tony had to leave us to fly back home. We were very disappointed to see him go, lured back to the no doubt thrilling world of accountancy, and did encourage him to make that simple phone call to his boss and quit the job. He wasn't to be tempted though, being the diligent young man that he is. Tony was a wonderful companion out here, both on and off the bike, and we look forward to much more cycling with him in the future. He left us with a fantastic moustache, crafted from 2 and a half weeks of beard growth, and we hope that some of you at home were able to see it before he removed it completely "because I have my professional career to consider". Tony's departure felt like a real milestone on the trip. He had shepherded us as far as he could go, before having to say "you're on your own now boys".
At first we fared very well by ourselves and had a wonderful day riding through Yellowstone National Park with its many lakes, waterfalls, sulphur springs and ravines. Old Faithful proved not entirely faithful as the scheduled eruption time came and went with nothing happening, but the wait was well worth it. We also had the extreme good fortune (well, we considered it fortunate although others may not feel the same way) to see a grizzly bear. It was clearly a clever bear too, as it chose to walk away rather than towards the two fearsome bright lycra clad monsters who would obviously have beaten it in a fight.
But alas, things soon took a turn for the worse. The road, or the sorry excuse for one, between Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park was quite simply atrocious, full of holes and ruts and loose stones, and unfortunately one of Rob's spokes fell victim. Toys, quite understandably given that we had just had our bikes serviced in West Yellowstone, they were running really well, and the next bike shop was a further 140 miles away, were thrown out of the pram. An exceptionally kind gentleman offered up one of his spokes (not a spare one, but one that was actually on his bike) but sadly it was the wrong size. Although it's possible to ride with a broken or missing spoke, it is far from ideal as it affects the smoothness of the ride and can damage the wheel, but in this case it was our only option. So we got our heads down, crossed the second highest mountain pass of the whole trip, Togwotee Pass at just under 10,000 feet, and made it to Lander. There we found an excellent and friendly bike mechanic who fixed Rob's spoke and wheel. So Rob gathered up his toys and things were looking up again.
And that brings us up to 14th July 2009, a date that will forever be etched in bicycling history. It may have captured your attention already due to the high mileage that we covered that day and probably deserves a whole blog section to itself. 124 miles is a long way in any circumstances, but when it is through desperately desolate Wyoming (we dread to think what it is like in the winter), in searing heat, and invloves climbing a total of approaching 4000 feet, it is something else entirely. Our first target, for lunch, was Jeffrey City. Let's just say that "Jeffrey Hamlet" would be more appropriate. Aside from several run down buildings from its uranium mining days, it now essentially consists of a cafe with a moody bartender/waitress and a friendly alcoholic who does most of the work for her. Sometimes you just get the feeling of wanting get the hell out of a place, and so it was with Jeffrey City after wolfing down some cheeseburgers. So we cycled in the direction of Muddy Gap where we planned to stay the night. When we arrived there we found a petrol station and...... nothing else. The owner of the petrol station obviously had a sense of humour though, as his minivan had the phrase "Where the **** is Muddy Gap?" emblazoned across its side. "Not somewhere you want to stay the night" would be one answer to that question, so we manned up, said to each other that this would be a day to tell our grand children about, and peddled on. Now, what you might hope for as the last 10 miles of a 124 mile ride is a nice gentle down hill stretch, but that wouldn't make a good story, so we were treated instead to a final climb over yet another continental divide. Lovely. It may come as no surprise that we rapidly checked into our first motel of the trip. Oh, and did we mention that Rob's spoke broke again. No? Well, it did. What a day....
Despite the spoke setback, which we are confident will be sorted out very soon, we are still having a wonderful, wonderful time. In fact, if we managed to get across the whole country with no problems whatsoever it would be a bit disappointing as it all adds to the adventure. The people we are meeting continue to be incredibly friendly (indeed donations from people we have simply met and chatted to have nearly reached $100), the scenery continues to be staggering, and the challenge of getting up every morning at 5am and riding for most of the day continues, bizarrely, to be rewarding.
We must offer a final word of apology to those of our avid fans who went out and bought bandanas following our previous endorsement of them. We, the fashion gurus, have decided however that the bandana craze was just a passing fad and has been replaced by headbands. We're sure this trend will endure, so don't hold back on your purchases.
Thank you once again for all the support we are receiving in its many forms from our friends and family all over the world. We like to think of ourselves as two fairly tough and resilient young gentlemen, but the support really perks us up when things are hard and keeps us going. We are quite simply delighted with how well our fundraising is going for the brilliant charity that is Cyclists Fighting Cancer. Please do visit their website at http://www.cyclistsfc.org.uk/, which now features a story about us, and please also do keep donating at http://www.justgiving.com/robertdstevenson1/ and help us reach our target.
Wednesday, 8 July 2009
Hello from Dillon, Montana, where we are enjoying an afternoon off our saddles after 13 wonderful days of cycling. Our first blog entry has taken a while to arrive as our route really does go through small town America where internet access is scarce, but we will do our very best to keep those who are interested updated.
So this is what we’ve been up to so far:
26/6: 66.5 miles, Florence to Alvadore
27/6: 81 miles, McKenzie Bridge
28/6: 91 miles, Prineville
29/6, 89 miles, Dayville
30/6: 86 miles, Sumpter
1/7: 80.5 miles, Halfway
2/7: 80 miles, Council
3/7: 90.5 miles, White Bird
4/7: 71 miles, Lowell
5/7: 65 miles, Powell
6/7: 102 miles, Darby
7/7: 76 miles, Jackson
8/7: 48 miles, Dillon
We have been through three states, covered a total of 1026.5 miles, crossed 12 mountain passes that are higher than the peak of Ben Nevis (the highest being Big Hole Pass, Montana, at 7,360 feet), and loved (almost) every minute. We fought through the first 10 days or so of sore legs and knees and are now feeling really quite strong and fit. Steep hills are feeling less steep and we are well on our way to being the ultimate lean mean cycling machines.
Oregon was characterized by idyllic rural landscape in its west and a rugged wild west feel with lots of rocky outcrops in its east, all the while traversed on roads lined with wide cyclist friendly shoulders. Idaho saw us following picturesque rivers up and down gorgeous valleys as well as passing through an area know as “Hell’s Canyon”. Montana has been dominated by huge elevated plateaus that we have moved between via high mountain passes. All of this scenery has been staggeringly awesome and a bike is the best way to view it. By traveling at such a slow pace and not being penned in by a windshield you really feel part of the landscape.
The weather has for the most part been very kind to us. We hardly saw a cloud in the sky throughout our time in Oregon and this obviously facilitated rapid early tan development. Thanks to the silly clothing that cyclists wear this means some bizarre tan lines are taking shape, with Rob sporting a particularly amusing pattern on his hands due to his gloves. It looks like either he has had henna applied to him or he has some weird disease. It’s amusing in any case! After some welcome cloud cover while we passed through Hell’s Canyon, so called because of how hot it can get in its basin, temperatures then soared to over 100 Fahrenheit in Idaho. This was tough but by planning our days so we got most of our riding, and especially any serious hill climbing, done early in the day, we were fine. More recently we have been hit by a bit of rain here in Montana (thereby shattering Dan’s hopes of a second successive rain free summer following his work in Turkey last year), and due to the elevation it is also surprisingly cold. This morning even saw us huddled into a toilet cubicle for breakfast to take advantage of the heater. We did refrain from chopping the tomatoes on the toilet seat though! We’re confident, however, that this cold and wet stuff will pass. It is July afterall. Surely. Please…
A large part of the fun of this trip (yes, it is fun, but you just need a slightly masochistic streak to enjoy it) is meeting literally hundreds of wonderful people along the way. Americans are a fantastic bunch. When they ask you how you are, they are genuinely interested, and when they say the classic “have a nice day” they really mean it. So with the exception of a couple of xenophobic Idaho hill billies in their dilapidated trucks who treated us to their middle finger, we have come across nothing but kindness, warmth and enthusiasm and interest in our adventure. Examples have been a guy passing us in his caravan, seeing our charity bumper plates, and stopping within 100 metres and making a donation on the spot, a group giving us space for free in their camping patch when we arrived at the campsite to find it full, being given postcards by the owner of the one shop in a town with a population of 100 as a memento, and being given a water bottle by a café owner. Then of course there is the constant supportive waving and honking of horns by those passing us on the road. The incessant positive attitude is uplifting and hugely rewarding. We just won’t get bored of chatting to people, so long may it continue.
We started out the ride as relative biking novices, so we are learning a lot as we go, and indeed that is part of the adventure. For example, we have learnt not to pump tires over-zealously at the end of the day when the tubes are hot and liable to burst. We have had 4 punctures between the three of us and only one has been caused by the road. The others were self-inflicted idiocy/incompetence! Importantly we have also learned that “bum balm” is not to be scoffed at. Tony scoffed and got a sore rear end. Dan and Rob applied liberally from the start, in public places with little shame, and have reaped the benefits. Other important lessons are that bandanas, aside from looking super cool, are excellent at keeping sweat out of your eyes, and, similarly, that cycling tights are not just sexy but essential for maintaining any sensation in the lower half of your body when caught in a storm at 7,000 feet. And finally, NEVER be tempted to eat Hebrew National Beef Salami in English muffins for breakfast. The thought alone still sends shivers down the spine…
Other random little happenings and tidbits include nearly running over rattle snakes on the road, sighting a mother elk with its baby, coming across a pet bear in the tiniest of run down mining towns, passing through so-called “cities” with populations of less than 1000, witnessing a porcupine race on America’s Independence Day, and Rob producing 2009’s most graceful episode so far by tripping and falling into a river that can only be described as Baltic.
Hopefully this gives you all a little bit of insight into our adventure thus far. We really are having an incredible time and feel privileged to have the opportunity to undertake such a trip. We cannot thank enough those at home who are giving us their support, both in general and by donating to our charity page
(http://www.justgiving.com/robertdstevenson1) as it spurs us on massively. We have come a long way already, but we’ve only taken a tiny chunk out of the whole task, so please do keep that support coming.
Over and out for now.