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Day 30 – Reverse Stalking

(55 miles)

We have a relatively relaxed schedule to stick to across Kansas as we aim to meet up with another rider, Sasha, in Pueblo, CO, in mid-June (someone tell me how many commas should have been in that last sentence!). So its nice to be able to ride at a more relaxed pace as we cross the flat plains of Kansas.

We had breakfast with some Swedish stormchasers. Slightly unnerving! We checked they weren't heading the same way we were...

We've seen collapsed barns like this all along the route from Virginia

I’ve started listening to podcasts to relieve the tedium of cycling in a dead-straight line mile after mile. Its amazing how well they help pass the time! If you have any suggestions for podcasts I should download,do leave me a comment. Currently it’s a mix of The Chris Moyles Show and Mark Driscoll sermons!

We stayed in Chanute tonight. The town is named after Octave Chanute, a railroad engineer who was also very important in the history of aviation. People even refer to him as The Father of Aviation. So there! What an educational blog…

At the campsite we met John and Bill who are heading East. They were great company and easy to chat to. We all headed into town later to a new Italian restaurant that had just opened – so good to get some proper healthy pasta! Bill managed to hitch a lift to the restaurant with a friendly local as his butt wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about cycling any more that day. Later, while we were eating the friendly local popped back in to tell Bill that it turns out there are no taxi companies in town and then gave Bill his phone number and told him to call him when he needed a ride back to the campsite!

We clambered all over this like little kids :-)

Dinner with John (left) and Bill.

Back at the campsite we sat around chatting and drinking chocolate milk that John had bought everyone (he loves the stuff!). I wish these two all the best on the rest of their trip – they’re a great couple of guys.

John, talking about going West to East, reading my blog: “We’ll be reverse-stalking you – you won’t even feel a thing.”

Day 29 – Roadkill update

(Rest-day – still 16 miles around town)

So we’re taking a rest-day in Pittsburg, which is only 20-30 miles from Joplin where a mega-tornado tore through and destroyed much of the city a few weeks back. Pittsburg, as a nearby town, was feeling the after-effects; I had real trouble finding a room in a motel – they were all fully-booked with press, scientists and various ‘displaced’ folk and supplies in the grocery stores were running low because there’d been such a spike in demand.

We treated ourselves to a proper American diner breakfast (oh how I love those!) then ticked our chores off the to-do list: laundry, library, bike-shop, grocery store. Fortunately there was still enough time left over to actually rest!

Here I am!

Side-note: I know you’ve all been wondering, so here’s the low-down on our roadkill spots so far:
Mice
Chipmunks
Frogs
Turtles
Squirrels
Possums
Skunks
Racoons
Cats
Dogs
Armadillos
Vultures
Wild turkey
Numerous other birds
A bobcat
Deer

We also regularly see deer bounding away/across the road as we approach.

Day 28 – Century!

(104 miles. Just.Like.That.)

The plan was to put in a long day today and make it to the larger town of Pittsburg, just inside Kansas, and then take a rest-day there. Looking at the elevation profile on our map the ride looked like it should be fairly flat – rolling hills for the first half, and then a really flat ride to finish with.

Unfortunately:

  1. Yesterday’s slight tailwind turned into a stronger wind blowing across and into us as we rode west.
  2. The ‘rolling hills’ turned out to be steeper, longer and more frequent than we’d expected/imagined.
  3. The sun turned out to be hot (who knew?). Very hot – apparently this is the hottest folk round here remember it being at this time of year for ages. Seems this is the year for extreme weather over here!

Today definitely confirmed our thoughts that doing a consistent 50-70 miles a day with less rest-days is more enjoyable than putting in longer days (80-100 miles) with more rest-days. Its amazing how the extra 20-30 miles make a huge difference. Our legs were ok – its just the mental exhaustion, the many hours under the sun, and the pain in our butts!

My best friend

A hitch-hiker we met along the way

Every down has an up!

Lunch was a very welcome break at Golden City, at Cooky’s Cafe – famous amongst TransAm’ers for their home-cooked pies. I could honestly eat a slice of their pie every day for the rest of my life!

Make sure you arrive in Golden City at lunch-time

Okay - I'm pretty sure I've now uploaded more photos of food than cycling!

...oh, what the heck! One more can't hurt.

After lunch was the final 33 miles to Pittsburg, crossing from Missouri into Kansas in the process. 33 miles is a sizeable afternoon distance anyway – but this was 33 miles in a dead-straight line – literally no bends. This is what makes it mentally exhausting. In the heat and wind and mind-numbing flatness, you almost feel dizzy and light-headed. This is where you really need to concentrate to make sure you don’t veer off the road or into the middle of it. Each passing truck coming the other way creates a wall of wind that pretty much stops you in your tracks, forcing you to push hard again to regain momentum. I found myself trying lots of things to take my mind off the cycling and my backside which was giving me grief for the first time on the trip. I listened to music, I took stupid photos of parts of my bike. I even read some emails from Neil Sneade that I’d been saving for those rare moments of insomnia…

Arriving in Kansas (state number five) - just about ready to drop!

But sure enough, Pittsburg did materialize eventually and, being creatures of habit, we headed straight for McDonalds where I decided that today all financial and dietary restrictions were on hold and I splashed out. I’m not proud of myself, it wasn’t my finest hour – but it sure tasted good!

Then it was another sticky night’s camping in the city park – lying basically in a puddle of sweat in my tent hoping the mosquitos drown before they can bite me. Ahhh – see, its not all wining and dining!

Day 27 – A proper cup of tea

(81 miles)

We said goodbye to Jim this morning knowing he wasn’t going as far as us today and probably wouldn’t catch us later on the trip at all. I hope he meets some more folk riding at his pace soon – it can be a bit lonely cycling on your own every day!

This morning’s ride was probably my favourite so far. There was almost no wind, the sun was out but hadn’t got really hot yet and we were riding through some beautiful high praries with just the occasional valley to cross. The roads were quite enough for us to cycle side-by-side and chat rather than keeping in single file.

Its good to be near the top

At our 2nd breakfast gas-station stop, we stumbled across what appeared to be a cowboy convention - or was it just a farmers coffee-break?

We came across three bridges that were down, but we’d been warned about them by other cyclists and knew we could just walk out bikes across the engineer’s bridge alongside. This is so much better than taking detours! And you usually have a little chat to the workers there too, which is fun.

Negotiating the bridge-works

Side-note: On previous trips to the States I’d got used to everyone giving you a friendly, if a little formulaic, “Have a nice day now!” when you leave somewhere. Oddly though, this isn’t what they say when you’re on a bicycle. No, now it’s “You be careful”. Now, I’m sure this is said out of genuine good-will and concern for our safety as we wobble off on our feeble bicycles next to the mighty trucks that are thundering by. But a tiny part of me always imagines that what they’re really saying is “You be careful. Wouldn’t want you getting run over out there by a big green pick-up truck or something.” – as they flash you a leering smirk and climb into, yes, a big green pick-up truck. But that’s just my imagination running wild – I must re-iterate that we’ve had nothing but friendliness from everyone we’ve stopped and chatted to!

We stopped for lunch in Marshfield at a new ‘speciality hot dogs’ diner called Jays Nest that has just been open 6 weeks. Thanks to Dustin for the tip on his blog! I had the ‘Jack Russel’ – definitely the best hot dog I’ve ever had.

If you're on the TransAm, have lunch here when you pass through Marshfield!

The Jack Russell

We just had 16 miles to ride in the afternoon to get to Fair Grove where we pitched our tents for free by the Fair Grove Historical Society’s building. Restrooms, shower, pavilion with picnic tables, and a spicket all next to our tents – the perfect spot.

There was a farmers market at the pavilion when we arrived

While I’m on the subject of recommending places to eat (this is starting to feel like an eating tour with a little bit of cycling in between!), we discovered a great little cafe in Fair Grove – ‘Odd Fellows’. As we were eating I commented to Matt that it was unusual to find a place like this in small-town rural USA; it was much more like somewhere you’d expect to find back home in the UK. Then, just as we were finishing up, the owner comes out and asks in a thick south London accent if we’d like a cuppa tea – on the house! Turns out he’d moved over here, built the place (he’s a brickie by trade) and now runs the cafe! So we sat back and savoured a proper cup of tea (PG Tips) courtesy of Jon, the owner.

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.

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