I woke the morning after the party feeling awful. I’d only had a few hours sleep not to mention far too much to drink. Corey had invited me to another party that evening and I was sorely tempted to write the day off, nurse my hangover and go meet Corey that evening. I also knew if I did that it was likely that I would wake up the next morning with a hangover which was just as bad so I decided that I’d push on and bare the pain.
After faffing around for most of the morning I paid a quick visit to the local Walmart to pick up supplies for the next few days (and perhaps a Danish or two to help with the hangover :)). After that the ride was as bad as I deserved for it to be. I felt nauseous and every hill was a real effort but I pushed on and found, if I ignored my body’s protestations about the previous nights antics I mentally in a better place than I had been for days. Throughout the course of the day as I ruminated on the next stage of the journey it became clear to me that if I focused on getting to Pueblo then my life was going to be a misery and I wasn’t sure I would make it so I needed to think about the next stage of the journey differently. I needed to focus more on making each day enjoyable and less on the goal of getting to Pueblo. The first decision I took was to make sure I didn’t get too tired as a tired James is rarely a happy James. So, rather than pushing for 100 miles/day I’d be better off averaging 50 miles/day but being happier. I must’ve spent hours playing with how different averages meant different crossing lengths and trying to figure out how I’d feel about doing the crossing in 30 days rather than 14 and how did this length of crossing fit with my self image as to how many miles I should be doing? Was I a “proper” cyclist if I only did 50 miles/day? I ultimately decided it didn’t matter and if I wanted to preserve my sanity and my drive to continue to cycle then I needed to change my goal and focus on each day and making each day good - however that happened to be - rather than becoming a slave to a longer term and probably unattainable goal.
Anyway back to a tired, nauseous me climbing up annoyingly steep hills. After about 40 miles of this I found myself at Johnson Shut Ins State Park. I’d had this described to me as nature’s water park and it was great fun. A reasonably fast flowing river has cut its way through limestone creating lots of mini canyons which the water swirls and rushes through. If you ignore all the safety signs (which everyone does) and jump in you can get tugged down through these canyons which act like mini water slides, just with the ability to give you bruises where nature has been inconsiderate and left a bit of rock sticking out.
I was hoping to camp at the state park but there was no room so I got back on the bike and pedalled another 10 miles down the road to another very full campsite (it being July 4) in Lesterville. That evening I spent some time finding out about these hills that had sprung up in the bit of America that I though was flat. Well it turns out they are not hills at all but the Ozarks are formed from a high plateau which was gorged in the last ice age creating steep but quite shallow valleys. Now at least I had an understanding how all these 12-20% gradients came about.
Lesterville was a few miles off route and rather than backtracking on myself I found a small road which linked Lesterville and Ellington and followed that down a glorious valley - it was little slow going as it was a gravel road but after a bit of a climb I rejoined the main bike route and followed it through the stunning Ozark Scenic Riverways and Mark Twain National Forest. About half way between Ellington and Eminence I met Greg, another cyclist. He was doing the transam heading East. We got chatting about our experiences and quickly agreed that the Ozarks were pretty but incredibly tough. He thought I probably had another 1.5-2 days in the worst of it and then dropped the bombshell that it really only got properly flat a day or two into Kansas! Oh well :) Greg also turned out to be a ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway so we spent some time chatting about that before heading in our own directions.
That night I camped down by the Current river in Eminence, MO. It was beautiful and a very refreshing dip in the river was the perfect end to the day.
The highlight of of the next day was stopping at Alley Springs - a spring which generates something in the order of 80 million gallons of water every day. It also has a really pretty and interesting mill which rather than having a mill wheel it has a submerged turbine to drive the grinders. After I passed through Summersville the hills became slightly less steep. I got to the small town of Houston a bit later and was ravenous - I had the option of gas station food or McDonald’s - neither particularly enticing I was about to break out the camp stove when I spotted a hospital - they must feed people who visit patients there. I went in and and found the canteen and had a very nice if slightly surreal meal.
The next day I had another culinary adventure. I arrived in Hartville at lunchtime and every cafe I found was closed. Once again I could survive off gas station food but when I spotted what looked like a very lively seniors centre doing lunch for local OAPs. I stuck my head in and was welcomed in with open arms. A $6 donation got me a lunch of chicken, rice, corn bread, salad and a swiss roll for dessert. I had a lovely conversation with a lady called Winona and then got chatting to another local couple who were members of a christian motorcycle gang, they gave me a silver coin which has a number on it - if I’m ever in trouble apparently I can call this number and they will send out riders to help me. After lunch we all held hands and they blessed my bike for me.
As the land began to level out I began to get the urge to get out of Missouri and begin to experience Kansas. The next day I did a long stint from Marshfield through to Golden City. Much of the day was spent cycling through corn fields. I arrived in Golden City and popped into the city hall to find where I could camp. I was directed to the city park where I set up camp before heading off to Cooky’s cafe, which is renowned on the transam trail for its fruit pies.
The next morning I headed back to cooky’s for breakfast (and another slice of pie!!). I got chatting to some local farmers who told me the road was shut they suggested a few alternative routes which worked out well. Most of the day was spent cycling through more corn fields before crossing into Kansas (I was so happy to have made the border!!) and continuing through yet more cornfields all the way to Chanute.
I took a rest day in Chanute, my first since Mammoth Cave, I’d love to say I did something interesting but I spent all day lying on my bed snoozing with a brief trip to walmart to buy loads of fresh food to eat. I was worried I wouldn’t sleep that night but I was so tired I had no problems!
The next morning I set out feeling refreshed. Fairly soon after leaving town the corn fields stopped and I found myself back in rolling hills - the southern edge of the Kansas flint hills - having been told Kansas was boring and flat these beautiful hills really surprised me and I found myself cycling along looking at herds of cattle in amongst long grass. Many of the cattle are bought up from Texas to graze for the summer.
Just before midday I came to the town of Toronto and was absolutely baking - it was getting up towards the 40C mark again. I was hoping that the that I’d be able to get a cold drink and maybe a bite to eat but the only shop that seemed to be in business was a liquor store that had nothing non - alcoholic. The lady let me fill up my water bottles and I headed off to find somewhere nice to eat a clif bar or two for lunch. A few miles later I came across a very dilapidated gas station with an attached diner. There was an odd odour as I went towards the door and loads of flies swarming around. I wasn’t sure I wanted to eat there but at least I’d be able to get a cold drink. I headed in and the inside was pretty run down with buckets all over the floor collecting drips from the previous nights storm. There were a couple of farmers in there eating what looked like very nice sandwiches so I got over my hygiene qualms and ordered myself a sandwich. It was great and this dodgy gas station turned out to be the lizard lips cafe - another trans am destination and after giving me the guest book to sign they presented me with a small lizard to take on my journey with me.
Another few hours brought me into the town of Eureka - my stopping point for the day. As I cycled into town I saw a couple of bikes outside a cafe so popped in and got talking to Steve and Di. Steve is a computer programmer and Di is a college professor. We had a good chat about the route and equipment and got on to GPS systems. They didn’t have any good maps on their GPS as the Garmin ones are so expensive. I told them about the excellent velomaps.org maps that I use and we then spent a good 40 mins like a couple of geeks figuring out how to copy the maps from my sdcard to theirs with the bits of electronics we had to hand. Before they pushed on they told me another cyclist they had met called Vera would likely be camping in the city park that night. Cheered by the thought of some company I headed off to find the sheriff to let him know I was there and find out where the city park actually was. I headed down to the park and sat in in the shade reading my book. My plan was to head back to the cafe for an early supper then get the tent set up etc rather than leaving all my stuff when there were loads of kids around. As I was sat there a lady pulls up in her car and introduces herself as Robyn - she has a spare house and provides it as a cyclist hostel and would I like like to stay there? I very quickly said yes and headed off to to meet her at the house. It turned out she had already met Vera who was staying there too. While I I got unpacked and showered Robyn cooked me meatballs and pasta for dinner then Vera got back and we spent the rest of the evening chatting, eating more of Robyn’s excellent food and making kale chips to take on the ride the next day.
The next morning I set out early to avoid the worst of the heat again. The directions for the day were pretty simple - head due west for 19 miles, turn north for 16 miles, turn west for 40 miles. There was a real wind coming out of the south-southwest that day so the first section of the day I was battered by cross winds and a slight headwind, the next 16 miles I flew then I got to the small town of Cassoday and prepared to make my second turn of the day - as I did this the wind moved round so I had a headwind for the next very boring 40 miles.
I arrived in Newton pretty knackered but it was still only 14:30 and not quite the hottest part of the day. I’d heard the local bike shop also acted as a hostel so headed down there and, although they are closed on Sundays, the owner James and his wife Heather were there having just let some other cyclists in. I got my bike parked up and claimed a bunk in the dorm. James asked me if there was anything I needed doing to my bike - I’d heard they had a bike bath and my bike desperately needed a clean - particularly the chain which was causing me to end up with black legs at the end of each day. James gave their mechanic Mike a call to see if he’d pop in later to clean the bike while I headed out for Mexican with the other cyclists Jeff & Dave. Both Jeff and Dave were experienced touring cyclists and we’re traveling very light weight. Jeff only had 2 rear panniers and had set off from Alaska a bit over a month before and Dave only had a frame bag and a seat bag and was roughly following the trans am. I spent quite a bit of time understanding what they didn’t have and then we got chatting about chocolate milk. This seems to be a core food group for a lot of cyclists and I’ve seen whippets of men down quarts of chocolate milk outside gas stations before hopping back on their bike. It wasn’t something I’d ever tried myself but both Jeff and Dave were evangelical about its virtues. This touches another observation I’d made - in general bike tourers eat incredibly badly - you don’t want to carry much food due to weight constraints and your prime shopping venue is a gas station leading to some very odd sights where you see incredibly fit and healthy people eating some of the most unhealthy food you can imagine. You will often see them checking the calorie count but that’s only to make sure there are enough calories rather than the other way round.
We got back to the bike shop and let ourselves in. Mike had just arrived and after a quick chat he set about washing my bike for me. It also turned out I’d picked up a puncture as as I was coming into town so I had the most convenient place ever - the workshop of the bike shop - to fix my puncture.
The next morning I woke early, snuck out the dorm and got ready to depart. I was out the door by 7 am and headed off towards Stafford my target for the day. I’d wanted to get there as it lies pretty much on the east/west midpoint of the lower 48 states of the US and it was just about my 2 month anniversary of being on the road. By 10:30 am I was feeling awful it was touching on 100f (nearly 40C) - I pulled to a McDonald’s to get a cold drink, something to eat and a break from the heat. After 30 mins rest I wasn’t feeling much better so popped across the road to a motel to find if they had a room available. They did so I decided to stop for the day and avoid baking myself for another 4-6 hours.
Once again I spent most of the day doing nothing. As early evening approached my UK phone, US phone and tablet all started blaring. I checked them out and a Tornado warning had been issued for the area. I lay back down not thinking much about it and about 15 mins I heard a bunch of sirens going off. I headed outside to see what was going on, I’d gone out a side door and looked at the sky to the south and it was a clear blue day. I could hear a siren off to the east of the hotel so wondered in that direction, as I came round round the corner of the hotel I looked north and for some reason was surprised to see a tornado heading towards town. It was still a fair way away and not really knowing what I should do I headed round to the front desk to find out if I needed to do anything. By the group of people out front watching it seemed the only requirement at that point was to take lots of photos and post on Facebook so I joined in. As the tornado got closer I headed back to my room to grab my valuables incase in case we had to head into the tornado shelter (a.k.a the basement). The tornado spent the next 30 mins or so getting closer and closer then it suddenly dissipated before it hit town. Apparently there was still a high risk of more tornadoes forming so we headed inside and watched the news coverage to see see if another one touched down. It didn’t but I did spot another guy clutching a handlebar bag and and got chatting to to him about cycling. He had been doing the part of the trans am from Missouri and was now heading south to his home in Oklahoma. I’d been feeling weak all day and commented on this to him, he suggested my sodium and potassium levels might be low so rather than drinking gatorade to rehydrate I should switch to drinking vegetable juice, chocolate milk and apple juice as this will probably serve me better. With 2 recommendations in 2 days I headed over to the garage and got myself some (low fat) chocolate milk and juices. I’ve been hooked ever since and have now firmly joined the club of chocolate milk guzzlers…
The next morning I headed out early - and driven from the high of seeing the tornado (and perhaps the chocolate milk) - I made good time over the 60 miles to Macksville - my destination for the day. I popped in to see the sheriff so he knew I’d be in the park that night then went to find some shade to while away the rest of the morning, the afternoon and the evening. It was so hot it was impossible to do anything outside of the shade. Even the 5 min cycle to the gas station for drinks left me caked in sweat. I didn’t bother putting the rain sheet on my tent as I wanted as much ventilation in the tent as possible, at 11pm it was still 30C and I was really struggling to sleep. I eventually nodded off but was rudely awakened about 3 am by by it raining hard. I grabbed my flysheet, jumped out the tent to put the flysheet on only to remember that that I’d taken off all my my clothes in an effort to get cool. I ended up running around the tent putting the flysheet on in the nude hoping no one would drive past. Other than waiting for the adrenaline to subside I got back to sleep fairly quickly only to be woken again at 5 am by a huge thunderstorm. From a camp craft point of view my tent was pitched in the exact wrong place to be in a thunderstorm - under a bunch of trees in a fairly open area - I thought about getting out and moving but really couldn’t be arsed so lay there in a tired stupor and tried to sleep - I decided if the storm got directly overhead then I’d make a run for the public loo (with some clothing this time) but until then I’d do my best to sleep/snooze.
I never did make that dash but ended up getting ready to depart in heavy rain - the first time I’d had to do that - it went ok and despite being a bit sleep deprived the ride to dodge city was boring but fairly painless. I’d originally planned to camp there but that went out the window when more storms and a hot night were forecast. I checked into a slightly scruffy but air conditioned motel and slept like a baby.
The next day was much of the same but I was now getting excited as my time in Kansas was coming to an end. I spent the night in Garden City before heading off for what I hoped would be my final day in Kansas - I was aiming for Holly, Colorado - the first town the other side of the Kansas/Colorado border. As I crossed the border I was whooting and hollering I was so happy to be out of Kansas and to be in Colorado which for me signified the start of the western part of the US rather than the eastern or middle US.
It was still 2 days ride to Pueblo and the start of the rockies but I noticed the ground start to creep up and the scenery began to get more rocky and like the wild west. I spent the final night of the leg in La Junta and then pedalled the final 60 miles into Pueblo the next day. I’d picked up a puncture in my rear wheel just after Holly and had had a good look at my rear tire for the first time in a while - I was shocked to find quite how worn it was and over the period from Holly to Pueblo I’d got a further 2 punctures - the final one was a slow one that I ended up riding on for most of the day as I’d run out of spare inner tubes and would need to patch a tube to replace it. It was really interesting how much my loss of confidence in my bike affected me. Every time I felt something odd I’d stop and check the bike and it just didn’t feel right when riding it. There was a bike shop in Pueblo where I could get some new tires and some more inner tubes so I pushed on rather than stopping to faff and after a long day I arrived in Pueblo. I’d made it to the start of the rockies…..