St. Nicholas Brew Tour 2016

Last year in July I went over for one of the St. Nicholas Brewing Companies Brew Tour rides, a 40 mile ride over from their Brewery to Scratch Brewery and back.  To me it’s pretty much perfect, a laid back, fun, and free group ride that all kinds of riders show up for; I pretty much guarantee you’ll find someone to ride with.  I made it last Sunday for the first edition of the this year’s Brew Tours and had a blast.  It was a great turnout, and a great time.

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A guy I didn’t know told me he’d read my blog report from the ride last year and really enjoyed it, which quite honestly blows my mind.  I’ve ran into several people I’ve never met who tell me they enjoy my blog and every time I feel like I just won an Academy award, “You like me!  you really like me!”   Anyway, I’ll just offer this brief ride report.  Moe and I, who had already rode 30 something miles, go to the front, things start to get kind of fast.  Aaron gets on the front and cranks it up and just stays there.  I was having one of those magical days where I felt like my bike had a motor, even though I’m sure I was near my max sustainable effort it just felt like I was cruising.  Seems like everyone had been doing some pulling but when Aaron decided to blow up the group he really blew it up.

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I looked behind and it was just Donny, Moe, and maybe one other guy.  Eventually we regrouped and then it was Josh Dawson’s turn to go to the front and crack the group in half.  I got on the front half and then we took turns seeing just how much we could do before we blew up.  Ava hill was a big challenge, it kept going and going.  I pulled about half of it and turned it over to Donny.  I found myself slipping and had to dig deep for a second to get back on.  Donny drove it hard over the top and we coasted on fumes into Scratch where I enjoyed great bread courtesy of Moe and Paul.

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The return trip was much more civilized but the wicked headwinds out of the North forced Moe and I to turn back to the South and begin heading back to Carterville.  Got in 80 something miles and felt pretty good afterward, but really felt it later.  That stuff catches up with you.

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Looking forward to the next ride with those guys!

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Thoughts on My Touring Gear

Finally, my last post about my little 3 day tour, I may have spent more time writing about it than I did actually riding.  Lets see how some of my gear choices worked out.

That looks like it would work fine, but trust me, next time my tarp will be big enough to almost tough the ground.

Hammock Camping:  I decided to take a hammock instead of a tent.  This was ultimately a bad idea, not because of the hammock so much as my inexperience with them.  The problem is that I just didn’t realize how cold my backside would get overnight in the hammock.  The other problem was that I simply didn’t buy a large enough tarp.  Another negative about the hammock is the lack of an interior space.  Having a tent provides a private place to change clothes and sort out items which is very important when it rains.  Still I think if I was going again I would leave the tent at home.  If it was going to be 50-60 at night I’d bring my Thermarest pad for insulation and a bigger tarp.  The hammock was much more comfortable than any camping I’ve ever done, up until I became freezing cold.

Wal-Mart Sleeping Bag:  I got this lightweight bag at Wal-Mart for 40 dollars and its rated to 40 degrees.  This sleeping bag is a quarter of the size and weight of my old Wal-Mart sleeping bag and is roomier, it comes with a compression bag and packs down tiny.  There is no way that it should be rated for 40 degrees, 50 maybe.  Really I won’t know until I try it with insulation under me.  It did keep my top half warm enough.  For the money though you can’t beat this tiny bag.

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Cross Bike for Touring:  I decided not to build up my Nashbar Touring Bike and instead ride my Jake the Snake Cross bike since it has mounts for a rear rack.  This was fine and caused me no problems.  The Jake is a few pounds lighter then the Touring bike and I like it’s geometry better.

Open Pro Wheels:  About 6 years ago I bought a set of super cheap 36 spoke wheels on ebay for touring.  I used them touring twice but mostly used them as gravel wheels, they saw so few miles I expected them to last forever.  A Couple of years ago the rear rim cracked and became unrideable.    I replaced them with some 32 spoke open pro wheels which I’ve used for the last couple years with no problems, even doing some light trail riding.  Well I can’t recommend the 32 spoke open pro for touring since I broke a spoke on the first day, but I can say the wheels are pretty darn good since I rode 230 miles on the back wheel with a broken spoke.  For the front I’d be fine, but for the rear I think you probably need a stouter wheel.

700×32 Contiental Gatorskin Tires:  These tires were ideal.  I don’t really think a bigger tire would be beneficial, and I think maybe a 28 would be OK, especially on the front, but the 32s made for a comfortable ride and I had no flats.

Aerobars:  Leading up to the tour I spent a lot of time adjusting the Profile Jammer aerobars my Dad loaned for this trip.  Once I finally figured out how to set them up they worked well.  I mostly used them for the downhills, though there were some long occasional flats I used them to power through.  They also made a great place to attach the map.  I had no issues with my hands on this ride and thank the aerobars for that.

Sandals:  I used my Nashbar SPD Sandals which I bought long ago and have almost never used.  They were fantastic, my feet felt great the whole time.  They are nowhere near as stiff as a riding shoe, but stiffer then a tennis shoe.  Besides comfort the sandals were great to walk around in and since they were the only footwear I brought they did quite a bit of walking.  Even when it was raining they were fine, wool socks kept my feet warm even when wet and cold then for an added bonus once it stopped raining they dried out way faster than shoes.  Really ideal for touring in my opinion.

Adventure Cycling Map:  This map was not really necessary because of signs along the route, but I wouldn’t do a tour without one.  Having the map to orient yourself and know when intersections and towns are coming is invaluable.  Everyone I met touring had the same map attached to their bars.  The map proved to be very tough and waterproof.  I highly recommend them.

Cheap handlebar bag:  I bought a 9 dollar handlebar bag from ebay and it was a great purchase.  The bag was very handy for keeping snacks, change, my vests, jack, gloves, or anything that I might need fast access to and kept me from having stuffed rear pockets all the time.

No Front Paniers:  I only used rear panniers, which was fine, but I noticed most people using front and rear lowriders.  My Nashbar panniers are really big and just waterproof sacks that hang on the rack.  Having some side pockets would be nice.  Having the weight spread around the bike more would improve handling I think.

Garmin Edge 500:  I took my Garmin Edge GPS which was fine, it has about 18 hours of battery life and charges up pretty fast on my portable battery.  It lacks maps or even the ability to see a trail which would be really nice for touring.  I also own an older Garmin 60csx handheld unit which I think I’ll take next time.  It runs 16 hours on two AA batteries so that’s one less thing to worry about charging, and it has maps and unlike my phone doesn’t need phone tower signal to work.

Now some final thoughts:  Most of the people I talked to seemed to be riding 60-70 miles a day and going across country.  That kind of mileage would make for around a two month tour.  I got the feeling they were stopping to smell the roses way more then I was.  There were many places and things I would have liked to spend more time checking out, for instance I still can’t figure out where Falls of Rough is, but because I was trying to get the miles in I rushed myself.  My goal when I started was 3 85-90 mile days but that was really too far for me to start with.  I haven’t even rode a century yet this year.  Still I was in pretty good shape riding wise, I just got a really sore rear end by around 60-70 mile mark making the last 2 hours of riding tough.

Near the end of the second day when I was climbing big hills that wouldn’t stop I said out loud “I’ll never do this again.”  Funny thing is I’m already thinking about my next tour, and maybe trying to ride for more than three days.

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The Mammoth Cave Ride Day 3

I awoke to the sound of rainfall and a smile creeped across my face.  I was indoors in a nice warm room with no worries.  Last night I had spent some time with google maps and planned out the shortest route to Mammoth Cave.  It was 53 miles to the cave on my route, but if I followed the ACA route and took the optional Mammoth side loop it would be over 80.  I made up a cue sheet, sealed it in a plastic bag and placed it over my map.

With only 50 miles to go and no pressing need to get started I slept in and spent the morning leisurely getting ready.  The rain changed to a sprinkle around 9 but I didn’t manage to launch until 10.  I decided to only take two water bottles for the day and remembered a tip from the web called “camel up.”  The idea being that one should drink much water when it is easily available and the need for water along the route when it may not be so easily available will be lessened.  I drank maybe four bottles of water that morning and I felt sufficiently “cameled.”  About 10 minutes into the ride I had to pee like crazy, then again, and again.  I think I pee’d 5 times in the first couple hours of riding, apparently I lacked the ability to camel up.

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Early in the day I thought I saw a hobbit house.  As I got closer I realized it was just a well decorated entrance to someone’s root cellar.  I stopped anyway for a picture alerting angry dogs to my presence.  The property owner came out and I considered making a getaway, but he waved for me to stay.  The gentleman was named Jeremy and he was very friendly, telling me about the area and the route I was taking to Mammoth Cave.  “Yeah that’s the shortest route.  When you make a left on 238 that’s a hilly windy little road.”  When I made that left turn an hour later I wasn’t surprised, it was truly a hilly, windy and little road.  It was the first time I’ve seen a one lane road painted on both edges.

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I took it very slow, stopping frequently and relaxing since I had such a short ride, but eventually I got to the Mammoth Park entrance sign where I took the all important self portrait.  After that it was a nice and easy 5 mile gradual climb to the welcome center.  I like to keep things positive but I’ve got to say a couple things about the Mammoth Cave campground.  It’s 20 bucks and in my opinion that’s alot of money to camp.  Secondly there are no showers, so it’s 20 dollars a night and no shower.  If you want a shower the camp store will sell you one for 3 dollars.  It’s the only pay campground I’ve ever been that didn’t have a shower.

Finally there

Finally there

Once I cleaned up in the bathroom sink I hung up my hammock and strung up my tarp.  This is when I noticed that my hammock was bigger then my tarp.  I hadn’t realized this at home.  I wasted the next couple hours on a fire.  I had no use for a fire, I just really wanted one.  It took most of my remaining stove fuel to get it burning.   Well it rained that night, it rained hard and it was about 48 degrees.  My tarp worked until around 2AM when I started feeling wet.  It didn’t really matter I was unable to sleep from being cold and worried about getting wet whether I was wet or not.  The wetness was a creeping dampness that moved across the hammock and eventually into my sleeping bag.

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Around 4:30 I gave up and retreated to the bathroom where I had seen a hand dryer.  The bathrooms weren’t heated but they were dry and very nice.  For the next couple hours I ran the hand dryer almost non stop, eventually the bathroom became warm and I became less damp.  Around 6:30 a gentleman entered the bathroom and I made to leave, he asked me if I was riding the bike and we started talking about cycling.  He was an avid cyclist from Minnesota and we compared notes.  He eventually invited me over to his campsite for coffee.

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For the next couple hours I drank multiple cups of coffee and my new friend Doug offered me hot toast.  He had a fantastic new teardrop camper with an awning to keep us out of the rain.  I had been feeling like a zombie until the hot coffee started to warm me up.  Now I was feeling great, and talking up a storm.  I eventually made my leave and in a short hour Shauna showed up in our car.  I was very happy to see her.  We did the “Domes and Dripstones” tour of Mammoth Cave which was really neat then began to make our way home.

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So the trip was a success, compared to the last time that I tried bike touring I really enjoyed it, I think the key was spending more time on the bike during the day and riding in areas I had never been.  If anything I didn’t feel like I had enough time on this trip, I hardly had time to open my kindle.  The aftermath wasn’t bad either, I was sore pretty much everywhere, but it wasn’t a bad soreness.  I could have definitely kept riding, though the 90+ mile days were a little to ambitious to start with.  I’m looking forward to the next opportunity for a tour.

 

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Mammoth Cave Trip Day 2 – The German Connection

I know that I said I would focus on the story of my trip and not discuss equipment, but one piece of equipment must be discussed to tell the story.  So with my first day complete I had ate and made phone calls to Shauna and my Dad.  I spent some time adjusting my bike and fixing a couple of creaking bolts, I was finally ready to rest.  I had strung up my hammock from two of the 4×4 posts, I didn’t bring a tent on this trip so I’d be sleeping in the hammock.  With no rain coming I didn’t bother with my tarp so I laid in my super comfortable hammock and watched the sun set.   At exactly 8:36 the relative peace and quiet was pierced by howling coyotee.  It seemed as if every animal around me began to call out.  I could hear the cattle, birds, and all kinds of different calls.

I tried to read for awhile but before long I was out cold only to wake up freezing cold.  Well technically only the parts of me touching the hammock were freezing cold.  This is a well known effect of sleeping in hammocks called cold butt syndrome.  I had read about it, but I hadn’t thought it would be an issue.  I’ve camped comfortably with temperatures in the 30s and tonight the low was like 49.  It was a very uncomfortable situation, my backside was freezing cold and my top side was very warm.  It was 2AM and I wanted to sleep but eventually I got up and did some stretches and jogged in place trying to get the blood flowing, I put on another shirt and got back in the hammock which by now and slid down so that my but occasionally hit the concrete below.  The rest of the night would be filled with tossing and turning and I eventually gave up at 5:30.

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With a hot ramen noodle breakfast in me and everything packed back up I was on the road at 7 AM.  Today’s ride would be far less exciting then yesterday’s in that I wouldn’t be riding near any gunfights, but it would be more exciting in that I had no idea where I was, having never been in this part of Kentucky before.  The Adventure Cycling map was rubber banded to my aerobars and I spent most of the day enjoying the scenery and trying to place my location on the map.  Having the paper map to look at while riding was awesome. Each individual map covers about 30 miles so crossing a section and stopping to refold the map was a major milestone of the day.  Something I would end up doing 3 times.

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The Scenery here wasn’t breathtaking, but nice, rolling farmland, fields and forests, broken up by small towns every 1o or so miles.  Much like home, though more consistently hilly, just small hills.  The riding was going well, but I was definitely sore and my rear end wasn’t happy with me.  I tried to take a short break every 10 or so miles to stretch and rest, or sometimes when I saw an interesting landmark like a tiny town with a hugely impressive courthouse, or a Mason lodge named the same as one of my local riding friends.  A light rain would sprinkle on and off but it was never enough to get me actually wet and the temperature was in the mid 50s which made for some comfortable riding.

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Roads in Kentucky are different from roads in Illinois.  They are in good condition, at least the ones I rode were.  Every road and junction clearly signed and I rarely noticed a gravel or oil and chip road. Newly installed signage marked every turn on the TransAmerica trail but I was still glad I had my map.  The biggest difference in the roads is their width, roads in Kentucky are narrow and as a general rule they don’t have shoulders, besides that they were much more twisty and hilly then many of the flatter roads I often ride.  This had me nervous at first but I quickly got over that.  Traffic on the roads I was on was so sparse I rarely saw cars, and when I did they were very courteous, waiting sometimes several minutes for me to climb a hill before safely passing.  I was never yelled at or honked at.

The two Germans riding the Trans America Trail

The two Germans riding the Trans America Trail

I encountered a cyclist heading my way early in the morning but I was climbing a steep hill and he was going down I think we both agreed stopping wouldn’t be a good idea so instead waved.  Later I encountered two guys riding cross country from Germany, but I didn’t get their names, lets call them Stuttgart and Munich, their eyes lit up as they saw me and they flagged me down, though I was already stopping.  “Are you riding the TransAM?” they asked in perfect accented English.  I gave my spiel about only riding a short part to Mammoth Cave and they explained that they were from Germany and spending the next 4 months riding across America.

“You are only the 3rd cyclist we’ve seen in 3 weeks,” they said.  I was surprised by this but when I thought about it I realized it would nearly impossible for them to see someone riding across the TransAM to the East this time of year, that would mean crossing the Northern mountains in March or April.

“You guys are the 5th and 6th cyclists I’ve seen in two days going West,” I told them. They looked at each other in surprise.  “The first rider I saw was a guy named Tyler,” I said.

“Oh you met Tyler, that is cool, did he take your picture?” they asked.

“Um no, we just talked a minute,” I answered.

“Oh, he took our picture, you knew he was doing the TransAm for National Geographic?” they asked.

“Umm no,” I said.

“Yeah he’s taking photos and doing interviews to make a story about people who ride the TransAm,” they explained.  Now it made sense why he seemed kind of bummed that I wasn’t riding the TransAM.

“So how is your ride going?” they asked me.

“Oh not bad, but my rear hurts, well everything hurts,” I answered back.  They looked at each other in surprise like they had never heard of a cyclist whose rear end was tired of sitting on a bike seat.

“How far are you riding?” they asked.

“Well I’ve got 67 miles in now and about 25 or so to go, I’m hoping to stay at Falls of Rough State Park,” I said.

“Oh, they looked at each other in surprise,  we started there this morning.   You have already ridden 67 miles?” they asked.

“Yeap,” I replied and it dawned an me that they had only ridden about 30 miles so far today and it was nearly two o’clock.  Their bikes didn’t look too fast though, in fact they looked incredibly heavy and slow, with huge tires, fenders, and upright bars.

“What time did you start?” they asked.

“Around six o’clock,” I said.  Which was actually wrong, I started at 7.

“Oh that explains it, you started 3 hours before us,” they said laughing.  “We are doing 100 today,” they said.

“100 miles?,” I asked, knowing that unless they planned to ride untill midnight htey wouldn’t be getting 100 miles.

“No 100 kilometers,” they said with a laugh.  “We think in kilometers, but everything here is in miles and it has us very confused.”

“Oh yeah, kilometers make far too much sense for Americans, its just way to easy to know that 1000 meters makes 1 kilometer,” I said deadpanned.  They looked at me confused not sure if I was kidding or not.

We talked a bit longer I told them about the wonder of Southern Illinois, and that the hills in Missouri would be difficult.  I should have asked them more questions though, like whats the State Park like and exactly how far is it?  After a few minutes I was worried I was detaining them and we parted ways.  I was really impressed with these guys, if someone dropped me off in Germany I’d be so lost, unable to speak the language and searching endlessly for a convenience store that takes my debit card so I could get a 44 ounce Big Gulp!

Shortly thereafter my Garmin announced it’s battery was low and shut its self off. I had expected this to happen, and plugged it up to my portable charger.  I discovered that the Garmin 500 couldn’t be used plugged up to a power source, or at least if it could it would be awhile.  I let it charge for about half an hour then plugged it back in.  This lost 5-6 miles would haunt me.

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So my destination was Falls of Rough State Park, which I thought was a cool name and according to my map I was getting close.  The closer I got the hillier the road became.  I settled into a pattern, shift into lowest gear, sit straight up, pedal up hill using as little energy as possible making sure to stand every few minutes, switch to aerobars over the top and coast as long as possible, repeat.

On my map Falls of Rough was listed in large letters and had a population of 1600 making it one of the larger towns I would visit.  I knew I was getting close but apart from an occasional mailbox there was nothing out there.  Eventually I came to the intersection of route 79 meaning I had passed the town aways back, and yet I never saw it.  As far as I can tell on Google the town consists of a couple B&Bs a bridge over a waterfall and a couple houses and it was aboout a mile off the road I was traveling on.  So I’m still not sure what was up with that.

I arrived at the Falls of Rough State Park which I figured out was actually the Rough River Dam State Resort Park.  I’ve stayed in State Resort Parks in Tennesse, Kentucky and Alabama, they all seem to have a lake, a campground, cabins, and a nice lodge.  Rough River had all but the campground.  Well to be clear they had a campground but it had been closed for repairs for 2 years.  I could stay at the room for 65 dollars or ride about ten miles down the road to a campground.  I was exhausted and incredibly sore.

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The weather report wasn’t too promising, heavy rain all night with temps in the mid 40s.  I ponied up the cash for the room and it was so worth it.  I even went to lodge’s restaurant and had a rather delicious hamburger.  I felt bad about staying in a swanky lodge without Shauna, but when it started pouring outside I felt warm and dry.

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Ride to Mammoth Cave Day 1 – The Battle of Lusk Creek

Well I finished my first self supported multi-day tour and there’s no way I can fit it into one post.  In fact I think I’ll do a post for each day and a final post about equipment and stuff.  So here we go, day 1 bright eyed and bushy tailed.

It Begins

I was up at 4:10AM, the best way to describe it was like Christmas for a kid, you see I had built up such a huge expectations for this trip that it had been consuming my thoughts for the last couple weeks.  Of course things never really work out like you plan them, it was 41 degrees Sunday morning.  Shauna went to work and I went about finding ways to delay my departure.  I downloaded some TV shows for her to watch while I was gone, I washed the dishes from last night, and spent about an hour adding new music to my phone.

It was a 7:45 when I finally got going, but the temperature was about 50 and the sun was shining so it was a nice time to get moving.  It’s been 5 years since I rode a loaded touring bike, and I had completely forgotten how awkward that can be.  My bike weighed around 58 pounds loaded down and with 4 bottles of water.  The first time I stood up and stretched I nearly ran off the road, as I remembered it takes much more muscle to keep a loaded bike moving in a straight line.  On a flat where I’d be going 15 with little effort I was working hard to go 12 and on the hills its like a hand is pulling you back as you climb then giving you a push once you roll over the top.

Manhunt

There was a bit of a problem with my route.   A week ago in Mahomet IL some guy named Pendleton shot a cop in the arm who pulled him over in front of his house twice in a row as I understand it.  I’m sure there is more to this story, this Pendleton was a known criminal hothead who had several run ins with the law in his home near Eddyville in Pope County, right where I’d be passing through.  The police had discovered he was holed up somewhere in the Shawnee Forest around Eddyville and were searching the area.  It was highly publicized that Pendelton was armed and dangerous and possessed advanced “wilderness survival skills.”  It was suspected  could possible be holed up deep in the forest as the truck he stole in his getaway was found nearby.  Sounded a bit like the plot of Rambo to me.

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Field Command

This Pendleton was a massive idiot, and like many massive idiots he was armed to the teeth with assault rifles that you can buy at Rural King, but the police response was maybe a bit over the top?  Around 8:00 as I was leaving Harrisburg I was passed by 4 state police cars sirens on.  An hour later I passed by Cedar Grove Church where the Illinois State Police had set up a field headquarters.  I imagine there were hundreds of people involved in the search for Pendleton.  A truck load of army guys fully loaded out for battle came by shortly.   Had Pendleton raised an army out in the woods, was he holding someone hostage was he planning on leading a insurrection against the state?  What the heck is going on?

I got to Eddyville and found the quick mart to be packed with cops.  The Eddyville blacktop was my destination because it was where I would first be on the official Trans America trail.  At the intersection I rolled up to a very young state trooper who was standing there with an assault rifle and a Sherriff’s deputy who was also standing there said, “Woo bud, where you going?”  The tone and words he used kind of stunned me, they were just so not what I expected.  I expected him to say, “This road is closed sir.”  I didn’t know what to say, and after a few seconds I mumbled Eddyville and pointed down the road.  “No, No, No, No way, you ain’t a going that way,” he said.  Again I was stunned.  It was just so not the words I expected to hear from a police officer.

“What’s going on down there?” I asked, though I knew that they must have found Pendelton.

“Bad stuff, it’s a bad situation,you need to just go on down the road” he said.  With that I just turned and left, as I rode away I laughed a bit out of nervousness more then anything. The kid with the machine gun was making me very uneasy.  The whole morning had been tense and quite honestly the police response seemed so over the top.  As far as I knew up to this point the only person to have died from all this was a woman who was hit by a State Trooper rushing to the scene at an intersection.

“What’s so funny!” the guy yelled at me as I rode off.

“My Dad said I shouldn’t have gone this way, I should have listened to him,” I yelled back.

Good ol’ Ed

I continued on down route 145, and took a shortcut on the Waltersburg road to route 146.  I’ve been on the road a few times on a bike, its hilly and rough.  I tried to keep my speed in check and avoid the largest holes but eventually I hit one and heard the sound of something breaking.  I stopped and didn’t see anything wrong and continued up the hill, at the the top I saw my friend and fellow mountain biker Ed walking around.  He lives in a nearby town but owns a cabin here in the Shawnee, he showed me around the place and the awesome two story Kayak shed.  He told me they had Pendleton cornered over there and they had been having gun fights and throwing grenades at him.  “Wow, it really is just like Rambo,” I said.

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After Ed’s tour I checked out my bike and found a broken spoke.  I thought, well this would be a good place to quit, or maybe Dad could bring me a spoke.  I was so ticked at myself because for two weeks I thought about buying an emergency fiber spoke, or coming up with a way to fix spokes enroute, but decided I would be OK without.  I loosened up my brake so that it wouldn’t hit and continued on with Ed’s phone number, he offered to give me a ride if I couldn’t carry on.

Tyler

The bike had a bit of a hump in the wheel but it seemed to be working, still I took bumps as gingerly as possible.  On route 146 I encountered my first rider headed towards me and he was waving for me to stop.  Wow, my first real encounter with a live tourist.  “Hi, you riding the TransAM?” he asked.

“Me, nahh, no, just riding a little bit to Mammoth cave,” I answered.

“Oh, ok, yeah it seems like most people are riding East to West right now,” he said with the wind taken out of his sails.  I would later find out why.  He told me was riding from Washington DC to Washington state almost all of the TransAm.  I sized him up, B-17 saddle, Surly Long Haul Trucker, big beard, yeah he definitely looked every bit the serious bicycle tourist.  One detail I noticed was the nice tripod strapped across his rack.  I almost asked him about it, but instead out conversation focused on the manhunt for Pendleton and the fact that Eddyville blacktop was shut down.  He was really interested and wanted to check it out.  I told him he could be riding into a warzone then we talked a few minutes about Southern Illinois.  Eventually I became worried that I was taking up too much of his time and we went out separate ways.  I would later discover something interesting about Tyler which I’ll reveal in the next post.  I should have asked him if I could take his picture.

BOB Guy

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I made it to Elizabethtown where I took a break and looked at the river.  I saw another rider looking around town and talking to a local but he didn’t seem interested in talking to me and a moment later he was gone.  I encountered him climbing on 146 out of town and started talking to him.  He pulled off the road and just kind of stared at me.

 

“Umm, something wrong?” I asked.

“No I just don’t want you riding beside me on this road.”  He replied.  I looked up and down the empty road.

“Allrighty, have a good one,” I said.  The guy was pulling a very loaded BOB trailer and he was climbing slower than me.  I missed the turn onto Tower Rock road, and later took a side road back to it.  Then my map fell off my handlebar necessitating climbing a huge hill twice.  I eventually got to the Cave in Rock Ferry with about 60 miles.  almost 10 more then I planned and about 25 more then if I had taken the shortest route.

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The guy with the BOB trailer was waiting to get on the Ferry, but I had showed up right when it was taking cars on, great timing.  I walked around with a stupid grin on my face as the the Ferry, um ferried us over the Ohio river.  On the other side I tried talking to the BOB guy again and this time he was quite friendly.  I took his picture at the “Welcome to Kentucky” sign.  His name was Hannock and he was riding from Los Angles to Maine, in a few miles he would turn off my route and turn onto the “Underground Railroad” route which would take him North through Indiana and Ohio eventually to the Northern Tier.  He said this was his last bike tour, and by the far the longest, and that his wife had gave him the go ahead to do America, at this point he’d been gone for about 25 days, he wasn’t really sure.  I think he must have at least been about 2000 miles in.

The required bike on ferry picture.

The required bike on ferry picture.

Yarrick the Dutch Chef

After passing through Marion Kentucky where I enjoyed a long break and some ice cream I ran into a guy named Yarrick from the Netherlands.  He looked to be having a great time.  He was dressed in casual clothes, and wasn’t wearing a helmet.  He was very friendly  and I think would have talked much longer.  He told me he’d spent the night at Utica Kentucky at a volunteer fire station and was headed to Marion Kentucky where he hoped to find free lodging indoors at a church.  He was putting in 70 miles for the day.  He was loving America, especially the wide open empty spaces, but was he was unhappy with our food.  “All your food here is no good, all I can find is just convenience stores that sell junk, you see my occupation is a chef.  I have a cutting board and knife set in my bags but I can’t find any fresh meat or vegetables to cook.”  He explained.

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“Yeah we don’t have that have that stuff here,” I answered.

“Yes, in the Netherlands every small, even tiny towns, have a fresh market with a good variety of fresh foods for cooking,” he explained.

“Yeah, no one cooks in America, we just buy frozen stuff at Wal-Mart and eat out alot.” I answered.  “In the past every little town had a similar market, but Wal-Mart and super markets you know,” I tried to explain but I don’t think he could quite grasp why there wasn’t a tiny little gourmet market in every town of 300 people.

I would have enjoyed riding with Yarrick for awhile, or just hanging out and talking some more, but I had more pressing concerns.  It was 5:30 and I desperately wanted to stop riding.  My rear hurt, my legs hurt, well everything hurt.  I just wanted to find a place and stop.  I had picked an abandoned church to stealth camp at near Clay Kentucky and Yarrick said he thought Clay was about 12 miles away.  I was at 90 and I just really didn’t want to ride anymore.

Sweet Salvation

My salvation would come a few miles up the road at Oak Ridge Baptist Church.  I saw the tops of tombstones on a high hill to my left and climbed up the drive to see the most perfect tiny church perched atop a hill overlooking beautiful bottom pastures and a lake.  The sign said Sunday services at 11AM and no one was around.  There was a shelter and picnic tables, even a swing set if I got real bored.  I decided this would be the nights camp spot.  Still for the next few hours I was scared someone would show up and run me off.  I was very slow to unpack, and spent almost an hour just laying on the perfectly manicured grass and staring at the perfect blue sky as the sun wound down into what would be a perfect sunset.

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It was pretty much perfect.

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Gearing Up For a Tour With a Hammock

Do I really need a tent?  That’s the question that I’ve been asking myself the last week as I get everything together for my upcoming tour to Mammoth Cave.  What does a tent actually do for you? I asked myself and contemplated not bringing it.  “What are you going to do when it rains?” my wife asked.

“Get wet,” I answered.  Actually I had purchased an emergency tube tent which I planned to use in case of rain, so I get it out and set it up to show my wife I wasn’t totally crazy.  When I unpacked my 5 dollar tube tent I was surprised to find it wasn’t actually a tarp but thin plastic.  The tube tent was a tube of plastic and a nylon rope.  The idea being you run the rope through the tube and connect it to two trees.  I used some stakes to connect each corner of the plastic down and what I had looked kind of like an old scout style tent.  In a few minutes of light winds it had tore through all the stakes and reverted to a piece of plastic hanging from a rope.  Besides that with two open ends in any kind of rain I’m going to get wet feet and a wet head.  The emergency tube tent was a bust.

“What’s wrong with your tent?” Shauna asked as I searched amazon for tiny 1 person bivouac “tent bag” things.

“Nothing,” I replied.  But I still didn’t want to take it.  Really the only reason being that it weighs four pounds, its a good two person tent, and a very roomy 1 person tent, it’s easy to put up and take down and it would easily fit on the back of my rack.  In fact there were so many positive things about it that I was beginning to give up searching for something else.  It’s just kind of a big for 1 person touring and I’m trying to take as small a load as I can.

“Ding, there it is!” I yelled.  Shauna saw some hipster hanging from a hammock in what looked like an 80s ghetto.

“Don’t you think you’re to heavy for that?” she asked.

“Yeah, hipsters are usually skinny,”  I replied.  We have been noticing on our nature hikes around these hipster types hanging out and camping in hammocks which I viewed with a mixture of disdain and wow that’s cool.  Maybe these guys are on to something?

After doing some research I discovered that most of these camping hammocks are rated up to 400 pounds and their manufacturers claim they have tested them to insane weights.  I started remembering the last time I used my tent, which was last spring when I backpacked on the river to river trail.  I rained that night, and the tent kept me 98% dry, but I didn’t sleep all that well when I discovered that anywhere I tried to lay in the tent I would  feel the annoying pinch of a rock or root.

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So I bought a “Bear’s Butt” hammock.  There were a few cheaper and many more expensive options but for 35 dollars the Bears Butt had many excellent reviews.  I also sprang for the 20 dollar strap kit.  The hammock comes with a rope but I’m not the best at knots and everything I read said the straps made using the hammock much easier.

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So I just set the hammock up in my back yard, it took less than 5 minutes for the first time ever setting up a hammock.  I gritted my teeth when I put my weight on it, I was sure the hammock would just fall out from under me, but instead everything stayed put.  I swung my legs over and found it to be very comfortable.  Getting out the first time was tricky, but not hard.

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I ran over to set up the camera for a self timer photo.  I rushed back to the hammock and tried to get in as quickly as possible, I found myself on the ground rather suddenly.  Lesson learned, take your time to get in the hammock.

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Along with the hammock I got a tarp with grommets in each corner, should be easy to tie a rope above the hammock and hang the tarp over then tying down the corners, if required.

So will I be able to sleep in it?  I don’t know yet, but I think so, it feels way more comfortable then my thermarest pad.  Now here’s the even better part.  The hammock, straps and tarp weigh about 2.5 pounds.  My tent and thermarest mattress weigh 7.5 together.  That’s a more comfortable sleep, no messing with a tent, and 5 less pounds.  How can you beat that?

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Bike Ride Across Nebraska BRAN 2005 – Part 2

I awoke to someone kicking my tent, and something about morning, but it was still dark, my watch said 5:30.  It was cold for a morning in June as I untangled myself from one of my Mother’s home made quilts which I had folded around myself like a taco.  I’d decided the quilt would be better then a 20 dollar Wal-Mart sleeping bag, and I think I was right, but I would have been much more comfortable with something to insulate myself from the ground.  I had no air mattress or sleeping pad.

JC and Jake watched with amusement as I tried in vain to figure out how I got all my stuff into my bags.  The most difficult part was the tent, Wal-Mart tents come in handy little canvas bags that are nearly impossible to make the tent fit into.  The plan was to be on the bikes and riding by 6:30 but I had blown that out of water.

IMG_1281 Eventually I got my gear stowed and we were on the move.  At this point in my cycling career I thought that cycling specific clothing was a laugh.  I had sprung for a couple pair of bib shorts for this trip, and I had SPD mountain bike shoes and gloves, but everything else was just 100% cotton.  The morning was cool enough to need a long sleave shirt.  It’s funny how much of this ride I can remember, I guess the first day in brand new place and all the excitement of my first tour ingrained it in my memory.  For instance I remember cruising down this amazing road that cut through Wildcat Bluff and catching up to this gentleman who had mounted some weird bar attachments to his road bike so that he could sit bolt upright.  I pulled in tight behind him and it was like following a semi truck.  Eventually he noticed me in his rear view mirror and started giving me dirty looks so I slowed down.

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IMG_1284It warmed up and turned into the perfect day to ride a bike, light westerly winds pushed us towards the famous Chimney Rock landmark where I stopped for a photograph.  The photo was taken by a guy on a bike that I just couldn’t believe.  This guy was riding an old girls ten speed complete with pink bar wrap.  He had used duck tape to secure items to his bike which I found hilarious despite the fact that my long sleave shirt was tied around my waist.  The next day I would come to regret my thoughts concerning this gentleman.

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I felt really good on this day it was 73 miles which was what I considered a long ride, but not a killer.  I don’t remember much about Bridgeport, but we camped on the football field.  I remember one of the tour officials getting on the loud speaker and announcing, “If you need a helping hand you’ll find one at the end of each arm.”  Funny unless your arm ends in a hook. I remember that we rode our bikes a short way to the North Platte river and swam in the shallow waters.  It was a strange experience as the water moved incredibly fast and was a major regional river, yet it looked little more than a significant Southern Illinois creek.

 

The next day was a 106 miles to Arthur and I started in high spirits.  I left my companions and began drafting a group of women who passed us despite JC’s warning of the long day. I didn’t say with them long and  eventually I reconnected with the guys 65 miles into the ride.  Around noon we stopped at a local diner for a huge hamburger.  From that point on I was useless.  For the next 40 miles I struggled to maintain a 12-14 mph pace along the otherwise scenic banks of the McConaughy Lake.  JC told me there was little he could do for me and rode off leaving me to struggle alone.  Eventually my friend on the junk girls ten speed passed me.  I struggled to hold his wheel at a whopping 8 mph.  I eventually had to stop, I couldn’t keep going.  The guy on the junk girls bike with ducktape all over it was faster then me.  I rolled into Arthur at dusk with 108 miles on my bike computer.

The third day was 85 miles from Arthur to Arnold.  I didn’t ride, and neither did Jake.  We were both so exhausted from the previous day’s efforts that we slept in and hitched a ride with our friends in the van.  JC rode, he was fully capable of putting huge miles on his bike and besides that there was only room for two of us to hitch.  That evening in Arnold I felt great having had a day to recover.  The locals treated us to hay rides all over town and into the surrounding country side.  I took the last pictures of the trip this evening.  I don’t remember why I didn’t take any pictures for the rest of the trip but if I had to guess it would have been because of a dead battery and left behind charger.

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Either this day or the next I broke a spoke on my wheel.  There was a bike shop on the ride and a mechanic.  He was crazy, I mean he was a super awesome guy but he was nuts.  He had so much enthusiasm, he was just bouncing off the walls.  You could tell that he lived for this.  He did so much for everyone.  I took my wheel to him and told him I broke spokes on a regular basis always on the drive side.  He started plucking the spokes and listened to their tones.  “This is a great wheel but it’s out of whack, way too tight.” He told me for 30 dollars he would replace the spoke and make it stop breaking spokes.  I thought that was kind of high but I went ahead with it. That wheel never broke a spoke again, never even came out of true for as long as I owned it.

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Honestly from this point on the rest of the trip is a fog.  I can’t remember the location and time of things about the next 3 days, but I do remember several items.

I know it rained hard in one town and I opted to sleep inside on a gym floor one night, which was good and bad.  I was dry and the polished wood floor wasn’t completely uncomfortable, but waking up in the middle of the night and hearing 100 people snoring was kind of strange.

I know a tornado passed through near the area we were riding in once but it didn’t seem like anyone thought it was a big deal.

I learned that cotton sucks for cycling.  It rained hard one cool day and I got completely soaked in all my 100% cotton sweatpants and sweatshirts, imagine the fun of dragging ten pound cold soaked cotton all day.  JC told me that “cotton kills”  I decided maybe clothes designed for cycling weren’t so stupid after all.

Nebraska was so strange.  You would see some trees and a water tower in the distance and come across a town about ever 10-15 miles.  The town would consist of 5 houses, a post office and an empty brick building on the square.

I remember that one day, maybe the 5th day, the night i had slept in the gym it had rained all night and looked like it was going to rain all day.  JC, Jake and I all three faked having a cold so a SAG driver would give us a ride to the next town.  We spent the next several hours riding around in the back of a box truck and picking up soaking wet riders off the side of the road.

The People were incredible.  I’ve done a few other tours but I remember the people of Nebraska the best.  They were few and so glad to see us, often times when we showed up our 600 riders would double the population of the town.  They threw huge diners for us every night, tons of great food for 5 bucks.  They could have fleeced us, I mean where else are we going to go?

There was no doubt that the ride was a long tough slog, 7 days of riding, well over 500 miles, no rest days.  Yes we cheated, some of us more then others, but it was still tough.  Still, Bike Ride Across Nebraska hooked me on bike touring.  It was an eye opening experience seeing new territory by bike.  If you’ve ever considered bike touring joining a ride like BRAN is a great way to do it.

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