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Friday, June 29, 2012

Kansas Windmill


Kansas Heat

It. Is. Hot.

For nearly a week now we've had temps above 90 degrees. The last couple of days have been in the 100's. Couple that with long rides, between 75 miles and 97 miles, crosswinds that force you to have to struggle to keep the bike on the road, and not much in the way of shade during the ride, and you have a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, I've not encountered any awful situations, but I've been whipped by the end and just want to find a place to take a nap. So that's exactly what I've been doing. My life these days goes like this: eat, bike, eat, hydrate, hydrate, bike, eat, hydrate, bike, nap, eat, sleep, get up and repeat. Hubby keeps teasing me that this whole biking across America is really an opportunity to eat as much as I want at all the different diners along the way. I can't really disagree with that.

Today we stopped in Newton, Kansas to eat breakfast at Karen's Kitchen. I had a strawberry banana smoothie along with the egg and bacon sandwich. Just as I was taking my first bite, the Sea to Shining Sea cyclists rolled through town. Two of the cyclists attend the same community college where I teach, so I jumped up, ran outside to wave them down, but by the time I'd reached the sidewalk they'd already passed. I knew we'd be crossing paths sometime in Kansas, and today was that time.

Though Kansas is a furnace, it is also quite beautiful: the prairielands, the cattle, the windmills, the horses, and the wildlife. I've so enjoyed all the birds, especially the split-tailed fly catcher. Today, a huge hawk flew to a utility pole and landed. I stopped to admire it and it looked down at me as if to say, "Lowly human." We stared at each other for a few seconds before it took off. As we were passing by a pond where the cattle were wading into the water, a Great Blue Heron skimmed over the top of the water, coming to light at the edge. Such a regal bird. Add in all the finches and bluebirds and Kansas is a birdwatcher's heaven.

Tomorrow takes us to Larned, Kansas. 77 miles. Temps: still hot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Headed into the West

Missouri is now in my rearview mirror, and Kansas is the place I'll call home for the next six days. So far, Kansas has been much kinder than Missouri ever was. I'm sure when the ride is all said and done, I'll remember Missouri with rose-colored glasses, but because its abuse is so fresh, I'm seeing Missouri in it's true colors: hilly, hot, and even hillier and hotter. I finished yesterday's 74 mile ride completely exhausted after climbing, descending, climbing, descending, repeat for nearly 74 miles. Add to that temps of 100 degrees and you've got a day designed to kick your butt. And kick butt it did. I stretched out under a tree at the final stop, Ash Grove, and snoozed for some time, completely wiped out from the ride.

Today's ride of 68 miles was the perfect recovery ride. The hills became less and less. The straights became long and fast. The wind was at my back. And to top it all off, at the 34 mile mark, at Cooky's Cafe, there was pecan pie. Pie for breakfast definitely helps the recovery happen faster. Of course, to balance the meal properly, I made sure to eat my oatmeal, whole wheat toast, and orange juice.

Now, in Pittsburg, KS, we have been welcomed by many wonderful people. We've been fed, offered comfortable accommodations for the night, and thanked over and over again for what we're doing. I met Robin and her service dog, Tootsie Roll, who hears for Robin as the MS has taken Robin's hearing from her. I even found the courage to talk to a reporter about Mom, her struggles with MS, and her recent passing away. Thankfully my new friends, Brian, Tanya, Liane, and Sherry were at the table, and just knowing they were there to support me helped me answer the reporter's questions without the usual onslaught of tears.

So, yeah, Kansas. Looking forward to the next six days.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Just Another Hill

The last two days were tough, physically and emotionally. Yesterday we rode 87 miles, which started out fine and after the first rest stop went even better. Our speed increased even though the hills were sprinkled along the way, and we were feeling good. Then we left the second rest stop and started into the Missouri Ozarks. The hills started coming fast and furious. Our speed decreased but we made it to the 60 mile mark in good spirits. With only 27 miles to go, we started off hoping to finish the day in fine shape. By mile 75, I for one, kept checking the mileage, wondering why it was slipping by so slowly, found myself grimacing with each hill looming in front of me, and prayed that my water would last until the end. The near 90 degrees along with the constant hill climbing had taken their toll on me. For the first time on the ride, I felt complete relief when I saw the sign for the campground where we were staying.

Today, we rode 79 miles. As soon as we started out, the hills carried on where they left off yesterday. Immediately outside the campground drive, we started up. And we continued the mostly ups with few downs for the first 10 miles. I tried to settle in, but my head kept saying today was going to be the worst kind of bitch. Still tired from yesterday, the legs complaining of too little rest, I just kept telling myself one pedal stroke at a time. Thankfully, the hills lightened up, the straights became longer, and my body started to find the rhythm I'm so accustomed to. I actually started to enjoy the ride. Today's ride turned out to be absolutely beautiful. We still had hills, one towards the end boasting an 11% grade, but for the most part, the hills were more gradual and rolling.

Tomorrow we have another 70+ miles ride, but I'm pretty sure after these past two days, it'll seem like cake. That's what I've come to realize about this ride: each day offers its own challenges, but when the day is over, the challenges don't seem all that tough. Our minds and bodies can handle way more than what many of us believe we can. Even today, when I saw that last gruesome hill coming at me, I didn't go all negative. I knew that I could do it because I'd done so many yesterday and earlier today. It became just another hill.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Unfounded Fears

Three weeks ago this morning we left out of Yorktown, and now over 1000 miles are behind us. At this moment, I am sitting on my bunk in Al's Place, a hostel for cyclists, after eating a very delicious lunch of linguini with basil pesto, chicken, and goat cheese, and after showering the morning ride grime down the drain. I'm thinking a nap would be a good thing as tomorrow's ride is 87 miles, but I have to fold the laundry first.

This morning's ride took us out of Chester, IL, across the Mississippi, and into Missouri. For some time now, we've been hearing horror stories of the Missouri hills. When I was in a Carbondale cycle shop, retrieving my bike after having the deraillier adjusted, Hubby and I talked with two guys who had just come through Missouri, heading east. They told us of the hills, the grades that turned men into wimps. I was not looking forward to the Missouri hills. Today, though, if it's any indication at all, and things could get significantly worse tomorrow and the next day, the hills weren't all that bad. Some did have grades of 10%, but they were short and manageable. So far, Missouri has been absolutely beautiful.

Seems like we let our imaginations get the best of us, creating unfounded fears. New rule for me: don't listen to the horror stories. Just as I decided to slow down, take more pictures, and enjoy each moment of each ride as fully as I can, I am now deciding to not worry about the hills. I've gotten over all of them so far, right? What's a few more thrown my way?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Goodbye Illinois, Hello Missouri

The problem with having a rest day is it always comes to an end. Even worse, when family shows up for the rest day, they have to leave when the rest day ends. Saying goodbye a second time was no easier than saying goodbye the first time. Part of me thinks it was more difficult the second time around because I was so darn close to home. The tug of home was strong. All I could think about was my kitchen, my garden, my bed, and being with my family every day, all day. Then Hubby made a good point: if I was home, the kids would be ensconced in their room, headphones on, eyes glued to the computer screen or to the TV screen, playing XBox. They wouldn't even know I'm home. Beautiful Lovely Daughter would be working, hanging out with her friends that she hasn't seen since early March, and probably staying with her friends more than she would actually be home. Continuing the ride would be way more exciting than being home. When put like that, the pull to go home became less. But I still felt sad to say goodbye to my boys.

Today's ride of 55 miles was mostly flat, very similar to the roads I ride around home. The flats made me happy. The corn on both sides of the roads made me happy. The farm houses made me happy. I am most definitely a Midwesterner, specifically from Illinois. I love how I can see for miles and how the roads are mapped out in a grid system. I love how I can see a small town in the distance by the grain elevators rising out of the fields of soy beans and corn. I love the creeks that flow through the fields, giving Great Blue Herons a place to stand by the edge and take off in flight when I ride over the bridge. I love the killdeer that runs in the middle of the road, one wing spread out as if in distress, trying to lure me away from its nest, its babies.

It's been good to be home, even if only for a couple of days. I look forward to cycling into Missouri, though I'm scared to the bone of the hills after hearing the stories from cyclists going east and already having had ridden those hills. They're monsters. Steep, grueling monsters. Hearing the horror stories has made me dread moving into Missouri, put a lead cannonball in the pit of my stomach. I'm being totally psyched out by the Missouri hill stories.

I'll ride those hills, slowly, which is part of my new game plan anyway. I am going to slow down. I am going to take more pictures. I am going to take more notes along the way. I want to soak it all in, and I can't do that if I don't slow down. The likelihood of doing anything like this ever again is incredibly slim. I don't want to miss a thing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Carbondale Rest Day

Ahhhhh. Rest day. Finally. I realized yesterday around mile 45 just how much I needed the rest day. I was tired. Each hill that loomed in front of me seemed endless and my thoughts were all negative. I realized I was being negative, but no matter what I tried, like saying, "Hey, look, what a beautiful pastoral scene" or "Was that dead snake a rattlesnake? Sure looked like one to me" didn't take my mind of the route that seemed to be one hill after another. And the grades at times sucked anything remotely positive right out each and every pore of my body. I even entertained the thought of getting off the bike and pushing it up one of the steeper hills. The horror! Yep, a rest day was sorely needed.

So today, I'm resting. With my boys. In a cool hotel room. Watching mindless TV. And eating Arby's. Or Sonic. And Twizzlers. First a nap. Then the pool.

 Rest is good.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

One of Those Ughhhh Days

Heat. Humidity, Wind. 73 miles. Now that's a combo meal. At a few points, the heat radiating off the pavement made me feel like I was sitting in an oven. Thankfully the wind helped keep the heat from totally swallowing me up. By the time Sebree, KY loomed in the very short distance, I had given in and was pedaling just enough to create forward movement. Today I was bad. I didn't eat nearly enough for the mileage. I had the usual peanut butter and honey sandwich, along with an orange, for breakfast, and that was good for the first 20 miles. At the rest stop, after 27 miles, I ate a chocolate bear claw and some chocolate milk. Not a good choice at all. What I should have done is gone across the street to the diner and eaten a full breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and toast. That would have given me the fuel for the next 20 miles. I was okay when I reached the next rest stop at mile 47, but again, all I ate was a banana, some watermelon, and a handful of cheese crackers. By mile 65, I was hurting. My stomach was saying, "Feed me, Fool!" and my legs were saying, "Sheesh, you'd think she'd know better at this point." So I ate some GU jellies, drank some water, and wished Sebree would actually be only 70 miles by my Garmin, rather than the 73 written on the white board in the trailer. Unfortunately, it really was 73 miles. As soon as I arrived, I showered, dressed in my awesome "No one puts Baby in a corner" shirt, stuffed the tablet and my phone in my backpack, and headed to the Mexican Restaurant for a real meal. Now, after a very delicious vegetarian quesadilla with squash, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers, I am feeling the energy I should have had during the ride. Tomorrow, I vow to eat much better all day long. With the next two days being more of the same as today, food is the best weapon I have to deal with the heat, humidity, wind, and mileage.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

55 Miles Seems Short These Days

The 55 miles today seemed like they went by in the blink of an eye. We started out around 7:30 and cruised the county roads, reaching Rough River Dam campground around 12:30. We actually entered Central Time Zone, making it only 11:30 and giving us an extra hour in our day. I guess you could say we time traveled today.

After lunch in the lodge, I set up camp, took a shower, then crawled into my tent to take a nap. Not sleeping well is catching up with me, and my eyes just wanted to close for awhile. The heat, the humidity, people riding bikes past, people setting up tents, and the sweat tricking down the sides of my face made it impossible to really snooze. I know I nodded off at one point. I was in that floating, dreaming space of not hearing anything, but it only lasted a few minutes at most. You'd think with all the riding and the heat I'd sleep like a rock each night, but no, I stare at the top of my tent or end up pulling out the tablet to read a book. Once I do fall asleep, my dreams take on a life of their own, scaring me or making me feel so sad, like the one of my Beautiful, Lovely Daughter telling me she never wanted to talk to me again. I think that came about because of my sadness over not being home when she arrives from China this week.

Kentucky is slipping by quickly. In just a couple of days, I'll be in Illinois, close to home. It took us 15 hours to drive to Yorktown, and now, 19 days later, I'll be a mere 5 hours away from my own bed. The temptation to just say I'm done, I'm going home, is strong, and to some degree, it would have made much more sense for me to say I would do the ride to Carbondale as getting home from there would be so much easier than getting home from San Fran. But the part of the country that I really, really want to see is Colorade, Utah, Nevada, and California. What I've seen so far from the bike has been truly beautiful. What I've yet to see will be even more so, I'm thinking.

At least I get to see my boys in Carbondale. That will be like the breath of freshness I'll need to get my second wind and continue on.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Smiling. A Lot.

Though it's only Day 15, Day 1 seems so far away now. However, at the same time, the days seem to be slipping by incredibly quickly. This juxtaposition of long time ago/time passing quickly is due, in part I think, to riding to a new "home" every day. New scenery,new people, new happenings--like a St. Bernard laying in wait to attack each cyclist riding by--make each day its own adventure.

Today has particular significance to me and several of my family members. On June 15, 1957 my dad married my mom. Today marks their 55th wedding anniversary. As I rode along today, I thought about how my parents had such a special relationship. They definitely were part of the lucky ones who found their soulmate. Same goes for my sister. Today is her and her husband's 30th wedding anniversary. They, too, are soulmates, and when you see them together, listen to their banter, you know they love and care deeply for each other.

One thing I'm doing a lot of during the ride is thinking. What else is there to do when riding along at 14 mph? I'm finding peace through the thinking: over Mom's suffering and subsequent passing away, and over some curve balls that have been thrown my way the last couple of years. Anger at these curve balls had been festering for quite a while, and I know now it's time to let the anger go. I have no control over the curve balls. I can swat at them all I want, but I'll never hit them. I'm not that good of a baseball player.

Through these two weeks, the tears have lessened, the anger has dissipated, and I'm finding joy in each moment of each day. The fawn still sporting its spots, running along side the road as we passed, the fox hightailing it up the road in front of us, the blue birds and the gold finches flitting across the fields, and the mist rising from the hills in the mornings all give me reason to smile. So I'm smiling. A lot.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Day 13 brought us to Berea, KY. The hills are lessening in how long they last, but the grade at times brings on the under-the-breath cussing. Coming into the ride, I hadn't had the opportunity to do a lot of hill climbing as I am a flatlander. The hills around central Illinois are mere bumps and cannot truly be called hills. Here, the hills are definitely hills, monstrous, gnarly, quad-thrashing hills. I've always been a hill lover, and even after Hayters Gap and the ride to Breaks Interstate Park with its seemingly never-ending hills, at times having to pull upwards of a 10% grade, I still love hills. The challenge they offer is not just physical; the psychological is there as well. If anything can make a person stronger mentally, it is definitely the hills.

The 50 miles today were an easy going 50. I decided to just cruise along, use the ride as a kind of recovery ride. Since the distance was shorter than it has been the last few days, and the day is absolutely gorgeous, why not slow down and really see the countryside? So that's what we did. We stood on top of a hay roll and took goofy pictures. We stopped midway down a 2 mile stretch of a 6% grade to take pictures of the hills that rolled gently into one another. We chatted about the pink house that none of us stopped to take a picture of and were kicking ourselves for not doing so. Little pink houses . . .. I'm still hesitant to stop and take pictures. Still feel the need to "get 'er done." Need to work on that mindset.

My little spot after arriving in Berea.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kentucky!!

After ten days in Virginia, we said good-bye to what has to be one of the most beautiful States in the entire country. The hills, the landscape, the flowers, the wildlife, the creeks, everything adds up to create a truly gorgeous place. While I'm a little sad to wave so long, Virginia, I am happy to be getting closer to Illinois where I'll see my boys. I miss them something fierce. I knew I would miss them, but the degree of missing them has surprised me. I wake up in the middle of the night and start wondering what they've been doing and if they're staying busy, keeping themselves happy. I think about the evenings we spent sitting on the couch, me sandwiched between the two boys as we watch an episode of "Supernatural." I think about piling into the car and going to get ice cream at Gene's. I think about their hugs they gave me when I started out on the ride June 1. After talking to them last evening, after they had just walked out of the movie theater and hearing how much fun they had, I know they're getting along just fine. Still, I miss them. Tonight we're in Hindman, KY. It's a small place, so looks like the corner gas station/food mart is the place to find dinner. After the greasy good burger I scarfed at Fat Daddy's, I'm okay with whatever I find at the food mart. It certainly won't be a salad or grilled chicken, but then again, I burned upwards of 3500 calories today. I can afford to eat some junk.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Days Slipping By

And already Day 6 has come and gone. Just like that we rode from Yorktown to Blacksburg, covering around 358 miles. Day 1 was tough because of the emotions--Mom not being here, Mom suffering the way she did because of the MS, missing Mom. Day 2 was better, but by mile 70, I was tired from not having slept well for four nights, from all the adrenaline the few days leading up to June 1, and from beginning to miss my boys. Day 3 was the ride into Charlottesville. This day was good. I felt better emotionally, but when we reached the clinic where we were given a reception and a tour of the clinic, the sadness over Mom welled up again when I saw several individuals in wheelchairs, all suffering from MS. As I listened to their stories, I knew the ride is exactly what I need to be doing, but boy is it tough at times. Day 4 was the day we all were dreading: The Climb. We had 60 miles to ride, most of it up, up, up. The climb into Afton called for digging deep. Like 150 feet into the well deep. I've never climbed a hill like the one into Afton. As if that wasn't enough, we then began our ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway. More up. This time, at least what I was told, the climb was a Category 2 hill. Not long after leaving the rest stop, we began climbing again, a Category 3 hill. At one point during Day 3, on a nice, easy downhill, I had a moment of clarity like I've never had before. My bike and I were one at that moment. I truly felt like Sweetness was taking care of me. From that moment right through today, I have a different kind of respect for my bike. Day 4 I accomplished something that will forever be a single amazing feat. I showed myself just how much grit I have. Day 5, yesterday, was pure bliss. Rolling hills through beautiful countryside made for a great recovery day. Most of us were euphoric the entire day. Most likely a side effect from having worked so darn hard the day before. And today, Day 6, we again were tested. Last night the rain moved in and stayed. We started out under dark gray clouds, and all the hoping in the world wasn't going to keep the rain from falling. About 5 miles in big drops began spattering against my handlebar bag cover. Then a steady shower. Then heavier showers. I had to take off my sunglasses since I could no longer see, and for the next 15 miles, I slogged through until our rest stop. While there, the rains eased, and the last 20 miles were dry. While the rains had let up, the climbs hadn't. The last two miles into Blacksburg again required me digging deep to find the will to propel the bike forward. The first mile was about a 4% grade. The last mile involved places of 12% grade. I thought about Mom's last two weeks with us, how she suffered and slipped away, and to honor her, I put my head down, started humming Amazing Grace, and found that strength she always told me I have.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Day One BTUSFMS

And the journey begins. Day one is finished after cycling 63 miles, leaving Yorktown just before 9 am and finding the Willis United Methodist Church around 2:30 or so. Rolling past wetlands and wheat fields, through Colonial Williamsburg and on to historic Jamestown, I tried to enjoy the scenery. I've found myself bored with my central Illinois routes, so I've been looking forward to new territory. Today, though, for quite a few miles, all I did was cry. I'd get myself together only to find the tears ready to fall again not long after drying them.

Around mile 10, another BTUSFMS cyclist pulled up alongside, and we began to chat. She and I rode together for most of the ride. Being distracted helped keep my mind off the sadness threatening to well up. At the rest stops, I made sure to hang with a group to hear their stories and laugh over the silly things already going on, like Andy from England grabbing an American flag while riding through Colonial Williamsburg and amusing the people there by riding straight down the middle of one of the streets, the flag streaming back behind him. The others' stories definitely helped me find some happiness in cycling today.

Tomorrow, we ride over 80 miles. Weather is supposed to be favorable. Hills are supposed to be minimal. Should be a good day.