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Fan-mail!

It’s very exciting to receive mail from some of our fans. Here’s an email from one of our four-wheeled friends on the road (sent to Herman the day we stayed with him):

I really dont care for these darn bikers. All they do is stay in the middle of a lane and force people to drive around them. They really need to stop interrupting peoples lives and find some other hobby that is actually productive. Damn hippies.

Day 26 – Feeling young

(71 miles)

Everyone we meet assumes the Rockies are the hardest stretch of our ride. Most people who have done the TransAm route remember the Appalachians as the toughest bit. Quite honestly I think they’re both wrong (although obviously I have no basis on which to judge the Rockies yet). In my opinion (and that of my sweaty, exhausted companions) the 25 miles between Ellington and Eminence, MO, are the real killer miles. Even in the early morning when it was cooler (but still stinking hot!) we were really stretched by the constant up and down hills that just drained you.

The early morning sun spills over the Missouri fields

Wavey roads!

Buckets and buckets of the stuff!

Nobody's smiling now!

On the plus side, I reached a new top speed, 44mph. 50mph is definitely in reach, on the right hill – will have to wait until the Rockies for that now.

I also shot what I thought would probably be an Oscar-winning video as I hooned down (and up and down and up and down) one of the fabled Ozark ‘roller-coasters’, only to discover at the bottom that it hadn’t ever started recording! I was devastated.

Flags out for Memorial Day

Fortunately the second half of the ride was a bit easier. We were blessed with some cloud cover and a faint tailwind and the hills grudgingly apologized for being so unhelpful and slightly flattened themselves out.

Around about lunch-time we rolled into the little town of Summersville. As we looked for a place to eat, I spotted Jim’s bike – outside the Summersville Senior Center of all places! He’d actually been using the library next door but when I popped into the Seniors Center they quickly suggested we just eat there. So we were treated to a fantastic $6 home-cooked lunch and an ice-cream. And lots of questions from the other diners! It was interesting to be there with Jim, surrounded by other folk his age who were nearly all overweight and many of whom had trouble even walking, let alone contemplating cycling across the country! Later we all agreed that we’d love to be as fit as Jim is when we reach his age.

What a great welcome we were given here :-)

The food tour continues...

Jim - feeling out of place in a Senior Center

We pushed on to Houston (in Texas County, of-course). Arriving mid-afternoon with only the city park for accommodation, we killed time in Mcdonalds, which – to my shame – is rapidly turning into a regular pit-stop. You can always tell in advance if a town has a Mcdonalds because you’ll pass some Mcdonalds-branded litter (drinks cup/paper bag) beside the road on the approach to the town. Its amazing how just seeing a bit of litter can lift your spirits…!

Its pretty humid here in Missouri. It was 26 deg C and very humid when we went to bed – I haven’t used my sleeping bag for a few nights now. And its still warm and muggy when you wake up.

Day 25 – Herman the German

(67 miles)

Not a great start this morning as within a couple of miles of Farmington we couldn’t find the bike path we were supposed to and ended up on a short but obscenely steep climb which left our lungs gasping for breath and our legs burning – or bursting blood vessels in Matt’s case (he wouldn’t let me take a photo of them, but rest assured he has the inner thighs of an 80-year old woman). We then had to negotiate a steep downhill stretch on a rutted, gravel track in order to rejoin the route. The GPS definitely made itself useful at this point.

"Um...this doesn't look right!"

So today we entered the Ozark Mountains. More hills than mountains really. Or perhaps English mountains. Anyway, the scenery is changing – we’ve got forests of evergreens and grassy meadows flanking the sweeping roads. Other cyclists have described the Ozarks as one long self-propelled roller-coaster ride. Personally, I’ve never got out of breath on a roller-coaster, let alone sweated half my body weight on one. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong…

Patrick is rapidly pulling away in the ‘How many flat tires can I get?’ competition. But at least it provides us with a chance to rest – and on this occasion ponder if the Wombles are a global family:

Uncle Bulgaria wasn't home :-(

Could this be the next Diet-Coke Man?

Luncheon was served by the ladies of Diner 21 in Centerville (population 171). First course was a rather splendid ‘Big 21’ beef burger served with potato chips. Dessert was a sumptuous hot-fudge ice-cream sundae.

Tonight’s stop-over is in Ellington, in the garden of Herman who’s been hosting cyclists since 2005. Herman is German originally (reminds me of that Scrubs episode…) and retired. Full of stories and questions, he’s a remarkable man. And another home-cooked and very healthy meal gratefully devoured. I think Herman epitomises the TransAm experience – he started hosting cyclists after bumping into one in the local store and getting chatting. The guy was all set to camp in the city park but Herman persuaded him he’d be better off camping at his home and using his shower, etc. And since then he’s had a steady stream of cyclists staying with him.

Herman

Day 24 – Fever of the Hay

(48 miles)

Another day, another state! This time, after just two days in Illinois, we were crossing the Mississippi into Missouri – or Misery as some of Matts friends unkindly call it.

As soon as we hit the Missouri side of the Mississippi we were just buffeted by head-on wind that had us crawling along on the flats, working hard just to keep our bikes upright and going in a straight line. It was comical really – you just had to laugh. People say headwinds are worse than hills but I’m not sure. With headwind you only get really tired if you push too hard against it. Otherwise you just slow down and reach your destination a bit later – but the physical exertion isn’t the same as climbing. And it is only worse mentally if you let it be. A good playlist on your iPod takes care of that!

Once again I find myself in a ditch for a group photo

The mighty Mississippi

State number four!

Still, today’s ride was much harder than yesterdays, despite the similar mileage. We took turns leading into the wind and slowed our pace down to avoid over-heating in the blazing sun.

Yeah! Flat land!

We stayed at ‘Al’s Place’ in Farmington – its a pretty luxurious cycle hostel located in the old town prison-house of all places. WiFi, washer/dryer, beds, AC, TV – in theory another comfy night, but from the moment we arrived in Farmington until the time we left I was pretty much constantly sneezing and blowing my nose which would Just Not Stop Streaming! Dunno if I’m allergic to Al’s Place, Farmington or what?! I hope its not the whole of Missouri – that really would be a Misery.

 

Day 23 – Popeye and the Eagles

(45 miles)

Laura served us up possibly the best breakfast I have had in years – strawberries and yoghurt, muffins, bagels, tea, cereals, etc. I genuinely didn’t want to ever leave! But we had to get on our way as it was supposed to be getting hot again today.

Uh-oh!

Gone with the Wind

Joy of joys – we had a tailwind for the first time in ages today. The first 20 miles of our ride flew by (except for the 15 mins spent following my first flat of the trip). The last 25 miles were more hilly, but overall a relatively simple day’s riding. Given our quick progress, we were amazed to discover that Parry had still beaten us to our destination – it didn’t seem possible, until we learnt he’d just taken the main road which was about 10 miles shorter and flat all the way. Matt reckons that’s cheating.

Arriving in Chester and looking for our overnight accomodation, the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, or FOE (nope – still haven’t worked out what they are exactly!), we were faffing with our phones trying to work out where this place was when a big scary looking chap walks over to us and asks us where we’re headed. Turns out he was a member of the Eagles and immediately proceeded to drive through town slowly in his pickup-truck for us to follow him to the FOE. Goes by the name of Kyle.

Kyle - he's a big softy, really!

Our bunkhouse at the FOE

Chester is apparently the home of Popeye (the sailor man). But you all knew that already, I’m sure. They don’t seem to have much else to shout about here so there’s Popeye-related statues/murals/pictures etc everywhere.

Popeye - right at home in Chester, IL

I got some more cash out while I was here. Took me two ATMs, two cards and about 9 receipts before the green was forth-coming. Just as well – $10 for the rest of the trip might have been pushing it a bit…

The barmaid at the Eagles bar kindly let us switch the TV channel over to show ‘the important soccer game’ (the Champions League Final) – and we were sorted! Pizzas and beer for dinner followed by an evening stroll into town for ice-cream. Incidentally, soft-drinks were $1.50 with free refills and a 22 oz beer was $2. I may very well move here…

Arriving in time to watch the Champions League Final was a definite PLUS for the day.

Sucks to be < 21 and drinking water. Poor Pat!

Hmmm… I should probably focus more on the leg-aching, back-breaking, butt-hammering, sweat-dripping, sun-scorching, dust-covering, breath-taking cycling instead of the rest of the day. Otherwise y’all might get the idea we’re having fun or something!

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