We are not in Kansas anymore! Instead, we are in the state we most anticipated, our current home state of Colorado! We have been looking forward to getting to this section of the TransAm since we started. The east coast and Midwest were also wonderful but the views and terrain are just much more scenic and enjoyable out west. Most folks that aren’t very familiar with cycling or the TransAm usually assume the Rockies would be tougher to climb. But the climbs are much more gradual, though longer than the Ozarks and Appalachians. The Appalachians especially seemed never ending. The Ozarks are perhaps steeper though shorter, and go on like a roller coaster. Climbing the Ozarks also offer no reward ’cause the downhills are short lived. Beautiful country though, of course! Anyway, we are now in Breckenridge, taking a few rest days. It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to write so pardon the lack of chronology yet again.
First thing’s first, we made it past the Ozarks! At certain points, the fearmongering was getting to me and I really questioned if I was strong enough to make it up those hills. I started wondering if it was a mistake to ride without clip less pedals (yes-we ride in chaco’s) and if this was going to be my first time walking up a hill. I looked at the elevation profile every minute I could–with a sense of foreboding, of course. And those climbs were gnarly… They certainly lived up to the infamy. Once headed up to Eminence I felt like I was going to just tumble. It was hot too! I’m talking heat wave, heat index reaching 105 degrees hot. We reached the convenience store and I fell asleep on Austin’s arm that day. I was worn out. This was through the more demanding stretch of the Ozarks. But the steep hills ~eventually~ became easier rolling hills. I just want to say, though, eastbound riders are punks. :p Missouri offered beautiful country. The clear rivers were so refreshing to dip into and the awesome swimming hole at Johnson’s Shut-Ins was great too, even though it rained on us. We stayed at Al’s Place in Farmington, a cycling hostel that was pretty deluxe. It’s run by the city and donation based, and pretty much just an apartment with bunks, wifi, showers and laundry. Paradise for cyclotourists (with limited data).
We parted ways with Giancarlo but met some other cool cyclists. We met Quinn, Mike, Kawika, Hannah, Patrick and Christian at Al’s. All were eastbound riders except for Hannah and Patrick who we rode and camped with for about 3 nights. It’s definitely nice to tag along with some new riders but they are covering more ground than we are. It’s been nice to see their signatures in the log books as we advance and stay in some of the same places. The ride up to Farmington was so difficult but we found a brewery and distillery along the way that made the last 13 miles much more doable. It was so unbelievably hot that day that I’m not sure I would’ve made it without that well deserved break. And Christian! Christian is a ranger for Blackburn, which is kinda like being an ambassador for the brand and he’s being paid to ride the TransAm and collect stories of the route and the cyclists riding it. It’s a sweet gig if you ask me! And if I’m not mistaken, he’s very close to wrapping up if he hasn’t already.
After Missouri, of course, came Kansas. But not before a long stretch of real rollercoaster hills that snook up on us. But anyway, Kansas! An oasis! Kansas is known for how little it offers in terms of scenery but also for it’s hospitality. The people we met were very nice and chatty and most drivers were considerate as well. More importantly, Kansas is known for being wonderfully flat and that’s what makes it an oasis for the cross country bike tourist. The next two map sections comprise 618 miles from Girard, KS into Pueblo, CO and offer no elevation profile because of how flat it is. I have never been so thankful for anything in my life. We also didn’t deal with much wind at all which was a treat AND it was overcast or foggy most days because there was a system rolling in. This is usually hot, barren country, people, do you know how lucky that made us?! I mean we stared at corn for longer than I could have ever wanted to. This was actually the first time we put in our earbuds and listened to music on the tour. It also didn’t help that we were on highway 96 for hundreds of miles and literally didn’t make a single turn or need the map. I will say this, riding in flatland may be easier but it’s still tough, especially if you’re inclined to go for longer miles because it’s flat. You might as well do this section of the tour on a fixie because there is no coasting. Just non-stop pedaling that makes you miss the reward of a downhill. At least I was able to get up to my biggest chain ring for the first time on the whole tour!
I suppose the best, or comfiest part of riding through Kansas was our rest day in Newton. We stayed at the Newton Bike Shop, which has a small cameo in the Inspire to Ride film and hosts TransAm cyclists and the racers, including Mike Hall which is pretty cool. It was nice to be indoors. They had a nice, clean bunk room, an arcade, a kitchen, and more importantly, free beer. Heather and James are a cool duo and we were very happy with our stay. An “oasis in the grass desert” as they call it, is right. We received our new sleeping pads that we desperately needed and had shipped to the shop. Austin got us new ones with an integrated foot pump that makes blowing it up much easier, and it’s lighter and easier to fold and put away. They’re much comfier, especially seeing as our old ones had leaks so we were essentially sleeping on the ground. At the bike shop we also met Noah. A 17 year-old soon to be high school senior traveling eastbound on her own. I was impressed by her grit and fearlessness. I’m also impressed that her parents allowed it. Not that I wouldn’t as a parent, but it’s tough to send your 17 year old alone to bike across the country. She ran out of time because of school so she was gonna take a train over to Pennsylvania and then up to New Hampshire where she lives. Still got passed the halfway mark and I’m sure she’ll set out to do it again at another time. We also met Sam Stern, retired professor and Dean of the College of Education at Oregon State. I was pretty excited to hear about his current research project (education folks never really retire) and he offered us a Warm Showers stay with his wife once we hit his home in Corvallis. He’s headed east and is looking forward to some layover days in Illinois with family. Best of luck to him
After Newton we had some pretty interesting days. Namely in Benedict, Kansas. I’m not even sure it was real. We stayed with Pastor Joe in this very small poverty-stricken town. I didn’t know what to expect at all but it was highly suggested to us. We met Pastor Joe in his community store and he offered water and ice cream to us which we of course appreciated. We got to talking a bit and the stories other cyclists told us about started to resonate. He was a bit delusional I’d say and had so many conspiracy theories. He spoke with such confidence, however, that you would otherwise consider him lucid. He asked if we had observed any military activity in Virginia because Russia was gonna try to bomb us. He said they recently tried to in Texas but some “good ‘ol boys” ran them off. He also said Chicago, LA, and Denver among some other cities were gonna be hit with nukes and that he has the inside on this stuff because he was part of a militia. I just kept looking at Austin and wondering if we were really going to stay with this man. It just didn’t seem like a good idea. But eventually, we went to his home (he drove next to us on his school bus) and he welcomed us in. He made us dinner and a large breakfast in the morning.
Delusional, maybe, but a kind and generous man he was. He brought out jello in the morning because he just assumed it’s something I would like. He cut up fresh fruit, made us a frittata and even fried zucchini. And he woke up at around 4 AM to start all this. We couldn’t get a word in with him. He just had stories galore. One that struck me was when a momma bear was about to attack a young boy (in Yellowstone, I believe) and he stared at the bear so intensely that she turned back and left the boy alone. He assured us that this was an inexplicable gift that he had. Eventually, another cyclist joined us, Jaron. He’s headed east and seemed to have no trouble playing along with Pastor Joe’s stories. This was definitely the most unique stay we’ve had and I’m glad we did stay. He demanded that we send a postcard in Oregon and then another when we’re back in Colorado so he knows we got home safe. Will do, Pastor Joe, will do.
Kansas was just a treat. We also met Robyn in Eureka who usually hosts cyclists but had displaced family over from the tornado that had occurred. A tornado hadn’t touched the city limits of the small town in 60 years. Freak occurrence. And damaging too judging by the photos she showed us. She was very nice, a little awkward but nice. And then the conversation took a weird turn when she realized Austin and I weren’t just riding partners but we’re actually dating. She became curious because her daughter, who’s White and “pasty” as she described her, has started dating Hispanic men since her divorce (to a white man). She was curious if Austin and I got any backlash because of our interracial relationship and confessed that it’s something she’s still in the process of getting used to because of her White grandchildren that perhaps wouldn’t understand… I wanted to say so many things but I held back. It was so puzzling and bizarre that we were having that conversation. Austin and I were just kind of direct but also polite in our responses and she spent a good amount of time apologizing for making things awkward. I felt that she was well-intentioned and just genuinely curious. But I was just reminded that this is America. This clueless lady in a small town of 2,000 people who began a conversation by telling us how she doesn’t like Obama and the only music genre she hates is rap is the American archetype. I’m still sitting on that whole interaction and maybe I’ll be better at addressing those kinds of questions the next time they’re asked (I am sure there will be a next time).
Okay anyway, BYE, Kansas for real now. We are in Colorado and we rolled in with another cyclist, Mike, who’s headed to Oregon and covering almost the same mileage as us. Before meeting him in Ness City, we rode 118 miles from Sterling. It was our first century ride ever and felt amazing. In Sterling we also met Zee who was traveling on her motorcycle by herself somewhat aimlessly. She shared that she didn’t have much family, only friends, and figured she’d just go and see the country on her own. Best of luck to her. First place we stayed in Colorado was a church in Sheridan Lake which was very nice and clean. We set up our sleeping bags on the ground and had A/C, wifi and kitchen access. Then we headed to Ordway. It was a long day that followed several very long days so we were getting wiped. And as God would have it, I got my first flat a mile before getting to Gillian’s (our Warm Showers host in Ordway). So very inopportunely, I got the flat across a cattle feeder and in combination with the wind, I was so repulsed and sick to my stomach. Austin took care of patching the tube–twice, and man, what an uncomfortable and unwelcome occurrence. Anyway, we got to Gillian’s. She is from New Zealand but English born and lives on a ranch. She had us set up our sleeping bags in one of her trailers and required 15 minutes of work in exchange for the stay. I’d say it’s a fair trade but I was so, so tired. I washed out a bunk, Mike moved firewood, and Austin painted a wooden post. We showered and had dinner and once ready for bed, encountered many mosquitoes. Eventually the temp got cooler and they went back to hell where they belong. Gillian was interesting. She was interested by my being American with Dominican heritage because you become this hybrid that isn’t accepted by either community. That seems to have been her experience with being from New Zealand but very proud of her English heritage. She used maps as wallpaper which I loved and told her I may copy in my own home one day. She mentioned having some children, I believe 2, and living on a boat for some years. I don’t know what that meant but I didn’t ask.
The next morning, we parted ways with Mike but later ran into him at the bike shop in Pueblo. It was so windy! This is the first time these gnarly headwinds were actually a factor, not in Kansas like we were told. Holy crap. But, alas, we got to Pueblo and Austin’s mom awaited in the hotel lobby. It was so nice to see her and we were happy we were able to plan well so she could meet up with us before heading for Aspen. It was also very nice to sleep on such a comfy, king size bed. So unlike our usual lodging. We shared some stories, ate some good food and ran errands. Oh and we sat in a car again, which is always weird after a long time. The next day she drove to Florence and we were able to meet for lunch again. Another very windy day! We told her about our Cheeto binging so she met us on the way with gatorades and Cheetos which was so great. We got lunch and later settled in the Florence city park and she eventually went off to Denver. The city park was nice… except for the light that came on and stayed on all night under the pavilion and the obnoxious teens that came to the park to yell and fight while we were trying to sleep. We were glad to be out of there the next morning. We headed to Guffey, and in the process I realized I lost my GoPro. I think it fell out of my handlebar bag but I’m not sure when/where. It’s unfortunate but I’m glad I didn’t lose too many photos. It just sucked that I stopped to grab it and film our ride around the Royal Gorge area only to find that I didn’t have it at all. I just bought it specifically for the tour, too. 😦 Oh well, spilt milk I suppose. Anyway, Guffey. We stayed at Bill Sioux’s. He ran a “hostel” which is just a bunch of small cabins he’s built around and across from his garage. It was amazing that he built them all himself and they were nice. He was an interesting and fun man. He reminded me of Leo from That 70s Show. He offered us “pop” and beer and encouraged us to get comfortable. His garage had many different random items, none for sale. There were really old cars and trucks and I’m still not sure what he did other than build things. He told us about city hall and the school that he built and his involvement with the community. Somehow this place with like 100 people or less had 4 restaurants. We chose BullMoose that Bill suggested. They had karaoke and were dang proud of it. They were so easy going and welcoming too. I loved it. We had veggie burgers, which is awesome that even rural Colorado offers veg options, and talked to some of the locals. They thought we were crazy of course for biking across the country. And encouraged us to stay for the event they were having the next day. We were headed out early that morning but not before I had a fit because of how cold I was. So, so cold! And even colder when we got to Alma, the highest town in North America.
Alma I liked. Every business boasts being the highest of its kind (highest grow shop in America, highest restaurant in America, etc.) which I found quite humorous since that’s the only unique thing they have to boast. The clerk at Al-Mart (see what they did there?) was very nice and told us about their awful weather. Their winter lasts consistently from November ’til May, which is wild. I’ll keep Denver, thank you! We camped at their city park and headed for Breck the next day. We wanted a very short day which we’d treat essentially as a rest day and had a zero day today. We got up Hoosier Pass, the highest point of the entire trail at 11,539 feet. It was still a long but gradual climb compared to the Appalachians. I’m not sure if it was tougher to climb up or to dodge the jackass drivers on highway 9… seriously, they were the worst, I never thought I’d miss Kansas but I did. Shame on Coloradans! But anyway, I cried when we got up to the peak, I felt so accomplished to have made it this far. Holy shit I biked from Virginia back home to Colorado. We have a long way to go still but, this is amazing. I don’t really have the words, it just seems surreal still. It’s such a rewarding effort. And I remember what I talked about with some folks back in Hazard, KY about our generation and how accustomed we are to having things come quickly. Food, YouTube videos, what have you. We are so used to instant gratification and this trip is ostensibly antithetical to that. It’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle and the impatience it breeds. There is no better learning experience than this one and I am just so grateful for this journey. Soon we’ll be in Wyoming with only 4 more states to trek. Of course that’s almost 2,000 miles but seems like this is ending fast. I hope we can drag it on. I’m so glad I’m here.
[Thanks for reading! Please excuse the typos, I didn’t proofread–it’s time for dinner. I’ll get some photos up soon too but it takes a while to do. Feel free to leave comments, questions or reactions. You do not need a WordPress account to comment. See ya!]