Eugene, Oregon and we are almost there.

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Hub Motel, Redmond, Oregon.

Hub Motel, Redmond, Oregon.

If you had asked my 10 year old self if I would ever stop playing with LEGO, I am sure I could not imagine the day would ever come. I wish that I could have marked the last time I took out those blocks, to know the significance at the time. At the moment, I know that we will climb up through Pine trees and take in lungs full of resin just one last hot day time on this trip. At every time that we have that sensory overload I am trying to commit that moment to deep memory. It may be the last in my life.

Church in John Day, Oregon.

Church in John Day, Oregon.

Already we have seen our last Turtle, the last Cardinal and did not know it at the time. Soon we will have biked from sea to shining sea, as I guess they may say here and soon it will be cool and maritime and back to things we know and feel comfortable with. Too much like home perhaps.

Early morning,

Early morning,

There is talk about the road ahead being open in the morning. We took a rest day in John Day to try to work out what to do. We could go north to the coast, but it takes us into high desert once more with big mountains and a trip to the coast along busy roads. GOOGLE maps did not show many options, but then we get a good old paper map. There it is, the answer is obvious. It is even surfaced. We are back in business, and it only adds about 50 miles.

Climbing in Trees!

Climbing in Trees!

No diversion is ever shorter or flatter. This begins with a big climb straight from main street. The biggest climb on the route ahead is McKenzie Pass and this climb is bigger. 1969ft of climbing later on HWY 393 and we are at the top. We take a right turn towards Paulina – 55 miles ( the sign quite clearly says 55 miles and I have no idea how it could be 7 miles out – we will curse this in a few hours time when we think we have made a terrible navigational error on a straight road! ). This is very nice biking and we pick up this quiet road as it winds its lonley way between the mountains. There are trees and flower dashed meadows and more chipmunks run across the road in front of us than you would think possible.

Road along fields.

Road along fields.

 

OUr Detour route towards Paulina, Oregon.

OUr Detour route towards Paulina, Oregon.

Gate to a ranch.

Gate to a ranch.

A gradual climb.

A gradual climb.

The first half of the ride is through trees and joy of pure joy, there are clouds. Just when the trees drop behind, the hills start and the heat builds. It is rolling high pasture, but there is still a welcoming green and the sound of running water. Paulina is a full 7 miles further than the signpost said – we curse, it feels like an eternity.

The last climb before Paulina, Oregon.

The last climb before Paulina, Oregon.

 

Davie and Po, Travellers.

Davie and Po, Travellers.

The store in Paulian, Oregon.

The store in Paulian, Oregon.

Paulina and as we lie in the tent there are raindrops on the fly. The sound is wonderful, but it is the smell of burning that we will remember. Just across the road flames had looked as if this town may need to be evacuated yesterday. At 2.30 am the rain is joined by an assault by the sprinkler system that we had overlooked.

Old valley.

Old valley.

Again we are in high desert in the morning, but today it is cool enough to be comfortable as we ride under a cloudy sky. This is bliss, and for goodness sake we deserve it. The village of Post comes up at just the right distance to justify a coffee stop. It is the geographical centre of Oregon. This diversion road may turn out to be better than the official route. We climb through an area of Juniper, a new and wonderful smell and a beautiful day to ride a bike.

Old cabin.

Old cabin.

 

Route 380 West.

Route 380 West.

Single Tree.

Single Tree.

Remnants of the fires.

Remnants of the fires.

Water.

Water.

The news.

The news.

A little over 55 miles into the day we join HWY 26, the official route. Redmond, just big enough for a few motels to compete for trade. We pick the cheapest and settle in for a well needed shower. Just before the town we got a glimpse of the Cascade Mountain chain ahead. It is covered with more snow than we have seen for a long while. That problem is for the morning and fresher legs. We have enjoyed the diversion and start thinking about all the routes we have not taken across the country. All the possible choices that would have been a different adventure, a different slice of the onion.

Paulina Hwy, Valley almost green, Oregon.

Paulina Hwy, Valley almost green, Oregon.

 

Rock formations on Paulina Hwy, Oregon.

Rock formations on Paulina Hwy, Oregon.

Ladies Night.

Ladies Night.

It is BIG CLIMB DAY and we look up the weather for the road ahead on the WWW. Cool, cold even and a 40% chance of rain later. This is perfect, and so is the warm-up ride to the town of Sisters. Up ahead hanging over the mountains there are dark clouds. These are oil black clouds, foreboding clouds, up to no good clouds that should have told us to stop where we are and ride up another day.

Start of the climb near Sisters, Oregon.

Start of the climb near Sisters, Oregon.

 

Ferns!

Ferns!

It starts to rain and it is big heavy drops of cold water. Forest is close, tight to the road on both sides. It is too hot to put on our coats to climb and any way this is quite fun. At 4% grades you feel like you are getting up the mountain almost for free. 4,000 miles of our journey across the USA come up on my metre, the end is getting near.

4000 miles done on the TransAm Route.

4000 miles done on the TransAm Route.

 

At least not overheating.

At least not overheating.

Lava flows on McKenzie Pass route, Cascades, Oregon.

Lava flows on McKenzie Pass route, Cascades, Oregon.

Mist clings to the tops of the trees and it is getting cooler as we climb. Near the summit the rain starts in earnest and the temperature drops. 53’f and down. Now there is less shelter and the wind hits and rain becomes horizontal. This is getting bad, horrid even.

Sort of a view; McKenzie Pass climb, Oregon.

Sort of a view; McKenzie Pass climb, Oregon.

 

Last few Miles to the top. Cascades, Oregon.

Last few Miles to the top. Cascades, Oregon.

McKenzie Pass and Lava flows.

McKenzie Pass and Lava flows.

There is just enough time and feeling left in my hands for a few photographs at the top before the camera has to be put away. Things are not good, and it is now 43’f. On with the coats and we try to drop height as quickly as possible. The road grit chews at my brakes and water sheets across the road. 40% chance of precipitation my arse! I have almost no brakes left.

Around 2000ft of the McKenzie Pass downhill, West side. Oregon.

Around 2000ft of the McKenzie Pass downhill, West side. Oregon.

4,000ft and I can feel my legs shaking uncontrollably as we drop through lava fields and then a green world of moss and fern. Water is everywhere, and stinging our eyes as we try to control the bikes on hairpin bends. This is not safe, not by a long way. We have to stop to put on more clothes and adjust the brakes. I can hardly hold the multi-tool in shaking hands. Esther can not find her cold weather clothing. It was last seen months ago and has migrated to the depths of her bags.

A bit of the sun.

A bit of the sun.

3,000ft and still horrid and my hands are cramping as I try to find some braking. The 180′ bends are heart stopping, steep and tight, with no margin for error. The first signs of habitation, a campground. We were going to camp, but that is not much of a option now. 2,000ft and then we turn right onto the main road. Horrid, horrid NO Vacancy sign at the only motel. There is a place 7 miles ahead and no other option. The rain has now stopped, but we are soaked to the skin.

We get a deal on a bunk room option. The sort of deal that only two horrid specimens with bloodshot eyes could be dealt. The warm shower may be the best in the known universe. Two of these sort of days ‘ back to back ‘ could end your journey and make you want to sell your bikes. The morning is like stepping out of our door back home. COOL DAMP AIR, we are back in our comfort zone.

Road 126 along the McKenzie river, Oregon.

Road 126 along the McKenzie river, Oregon.

We join the road along the McKenzie River along with every RV and timber truck in this part of Oregon. The shoulder comes and goes and the traffic consists of people in a dreadful hurry who have never once had to contemplate how to overtake a person on a bicycle. We are counting down the miles to a side road that we are going to take into Eugene and hardly notice the beauties of the valley we are passing through.

Al, the bike mechanic in Eugene.

Al, the bike mechanic in Eugene.

A series of bike paths can be threaded together to take the weary touring cyclist into the heart of Eugene. We have to find a bike shop and deal with the series of things that have sensed that we are close to the end and all failed at once. Eugene is a good place for things to fall apart, wear out and go blank. The bike goes up on the stand and we stand and watch. There are few places where we have the ‘ I could live here ‘, conversation, and Eugene may be one of those. We are guests of Mike and Paula and of course talk until late and drink too much beer. Just out of curiosity I stand on the bath scales – 204lbs. We dial that into a app and the result is that at 25BMI I am seriously overweight. I demand a second opinion and a recount.

Mike and Paula

Mike and Paula

John Day, So close but stuck in Oregon’s tinder box.

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Long shadows.

Long shadows.

During our trip up and across the USA in year one of our travels, we were blocked by snow in the Sierra mountains. Now, after what feels like an eternity of riding in stupidly hot temperatures, the inevitable has happened. We are blocked by fires. Ahead, the town of Mitchell has been evacuated, as thousands of acres of forest have been engulfed by fire. Dry lightning, and I have seen estimates of 6,000 strikes, came across Oregon five days ago. Many started fires, and it is one of these that is blocking our route.

It is one thing to find your way around a road closure in a car. You do not mind a bit of doubt about your route. On a bike, you need to know. There is not enough information to plan a detour and no advice we can find. The obvious route takes you a hundred miles out of our way. A shorter way looks possible, but it is impossible to find if it is open.

Dawn.

Dawn.

For what feels like weeks now, we have been getting on the road as early as possible to avoid the heat. Some days it got just too hot to ride and we had to quit short of where we wanted to be. Back in Cambridge, we were up at just after 5.00 am. Problem was, I had been up since just after midnight worrying about getting up at 5.00 after 2 hours of sleep the bikes are loaded and we are out into the cool dawn.

Entering Hells Canyon, Idaho.

Entering Hells Canyon, Idaho.

 

Brownlee Dam, Idaho.

Brownlee Dam, Idaho.

It is 69’f which I would love to last all day. It will not and the arm warmers will be off within 5 miles. Already I know I am having a bad day and the legs will not respond. I make the first climb, and there is a swooping descent that is fun enough. We are entering ‘ Hells Canyon ‘ and I am struggling on even the most gentle of climbs. This is not a good place to show up with anything other than your best game. Sun bleached mountains, some still holding the last of the snow, climb steeply around us. We are biking in a cleft in the landscape that holds the Snake River. It has been turned into reservoirs by high dams at several points. It is still, green with depth and not even slightly inviting.

Reflections.

Reflections.

 

Road 71 along Brownlee Dam, Idaho.

Road 71 along Brownlee Dam, Idaho.

Entering Oregon and Pacific Time Zone.

Entering Oregon and Pacific Time Zone.

The road rolls along one edge ,and then passes over the dam wall. On the other side we are in Oregon our final state before the ocean and our final time zone. We need to make a pass to go any further, but there is a campground at Oxbow Lake. We draw a line under a poor day in the saddle and pitch the tent. Sitting in the shade I start to wonder how we are going to continue if it is too hot to bike every day, this is crazy.

Oxbow-Brownlee Hwy, Oregon.

Oxbow-Brownlee Hwy, Oregon.

Along Pine Creek, Route 86, Oregon.

Along Pine Creek, Route 86, Oregon.

Some trees. Good to see.

Some trees. Good to see.

We are up early again. It never feels early enough when you need time to cook breakfast and pack. Straight onto the climb that we should have done yesterday and we are back into Hells Canyon. There are already small fires burning unseen over the horizon. A smudge of blue sits across the vanishing point of the road. Up we climb, taking the curves towards 6,000 ft for the first time in a while. I think I can hear water running. The leaves of a tree are so brittle with sun they are chattering in the wind. 6,350 ft and we reach the top of the climb and catch the breeze a little.

Ranch.

Ranch.

Looking forward to the down.

Looking forward to the down.

Entering the basin around Brownlee Reservoir, Oregon.

Entering the basin around Brownlee Reservoir, Oregon.

The descent is breathtaking and the road surface good enough to let the bike have it’s head and gather speed. There is a very distinct green area around the town of Richland where extensive irrigation allows a crop of hay for winter feed of the big black cattle raised here. This valley that we have dropped into is hotter than where we were. On the descent I can feel the air burning my legs. The tarmac is once again starting to bubble under the tyres as we ride.

Livie's Mercentile, Richland, OR.

Livie’s Mercentile, Richland, OR.

 

Cafe, Richland, OR.

Cafe, Richland, OR.

We sit on a bench under the shade and have a think about things. This is impossible to ride in, and now a strong headwind has got up. The worst of the canyon are ahead and there is no camping bail-out. It has been a short day, but that is the end of the riding. There are times when I think this blog lacks drama. We do not have mechanical issues, broken spokes by the dozen, dehydration and doctor emergencies. Few things drop off the bike and almost nothing has ever broken. We make decisions like this – we stop here and camp, stay safe.

Great communal park, Richland, OR.

Great communal park, Richland, OR.

There is a 40 mile stretch to Baker City that can wait for the cool of the morning. We ride to the municipal camp spot at the end of town and make endless cups of tea. Dozing in the shade, we are both worrying about our slow progress towards the coast. Hells Canyon tourist pitch goes like this – ‘ We named it Hells Canyon to keep people away – not you, other people ‘.

Red car in the field.

Red car in the field.

 

Canyons along Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Canyons along Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Sage bushes, along Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Sage bushes, along Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

We pick up Powder River as it cuts along the base of the Canyon. We are as ever, on the road early to get some cooler miles in. We have 40 miles to do and none of them are easy. There are more than enough dead snakes in the road to keep you focused. By 10.30 it is hot and the wind is beginning to build. We would not have managed this yesterday and would have been in a bad and possibly dangerous place.

Another blazing head wind when going up to the pass at 3,684ft.

Another blazing head wind when going up to the pass at 3,684ft.

High desert around Baker City, Oregon.

High desert around Baker City, Oregon.

It is a hard 40 miles with a grind up a few nasty sharp hills. Baker City can not come soon enough. It is quite a shock. One of the biggest urban hits we have had for quite a while and the temptation is to stay. We compromise with a long sit in a cafe with good coffee and cakes. One bonus of all this heat and dry is that I have not been bitten by a mosquitos in a long while, but that is the only up side that I can think of.

Mad, Baker City, OR.

Mad, Baker City, OR.

We have a climb of 20 miles, and try to judge when we can leave to manage this in the slight cooling of late afternoon. It is so nice just sitting here and chatting with people. People say that there is forest and shade ahead and that the campground is in trees. This feels impossible and neither of us can quite remember when we had forest last. We are both excited at the prospect.

Wallowa -Whitman National Forrest, Oregon.

Wallowa -Whitman National Forrest, Oregon.

We set out again after 4.00 pm. I click the gps and can see the symbols for forest ahead. This is all too good and too impossible and rather easy to get wrong on a gps map. When you think of Oregon, you have an image in your mind of unbroken green of forest which we can now tell you is wrong in the east. Up ahead we can see trees. It is true.

Our camp.

Our camp.

Butternut Squash soup.

Butternut Squash soup.

The campground at Union Creek is also over 4,000 ft, and we sleep with just the bug net under sharp pin pricks of stars. A great sleep and a morning cool enough to need a hat as I get the porridge underway. There are three climbs ahead for today, every one of them is steep and goes up to over 5,000 ft. There is nothing better than a good night in a tent in a cool forest under a Spielberg sky, and we hope for many more.

Old  barn.

Old barn.

9.15 and the first of the passes done already. Ahead, that worrying blue smudge in the sky is getting darker, more defined and much more worrying. A cyclist stops to tell us that he had to take a lift in a truck and detour way,way,way,way north. We get the next climb done and start to descend. Then the trees vanish. Ahead is the town of Prairie City, so I think we could have guessed. We are back in the backed landscape that I am afraid to tell you, we now hate. In the town there is talk of 140 mile detours and the town we planned to pass through – Mitchell has been evacuated. Our road ahead is closed with no opening planned. We have a problem.

Pine Forrest,

Pine Forrest,

We book a hotel in the town of John Day to have some air-conditioned comfort to think about things. Google map is not too helpful, but a real paper old school map shows a possible short detour. Trying to get information about our options from the WWW. is impossible. We are stuck, so close to the end and can not go on. We take a day off, with promises of cooler weather rolling in and rain possible. The thought of detouring to the north into mountains is horrid. To the south is not much better unless we can take a short swerve around the fires. We sit in a cafe with air con and I write the blog. Every time we go outside we shake our heads. I have no idea how we ride in this heat, no idea at all, we live in Scotland for goodness sake.

Road 26 near Prairie City, Oregon.

Road 26 near Prairie City, Oregon.

 

Cambridge, ID. and a meeting with a Timberwolf.

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100F/41C in the shade, 116F/46.6C in the sun.

100F/41C in the shade, 116F/46.6C in the sun.

Let me just share with you the local weather forecast for the days ahead here in Cambridge Idaho – 97,100, 101, 97, and two cool days of 94, 94, and yesterday when we arrived here it was 101’f forecast as shade temperature To get some idea what this feels like to ride in you will need two hair dryers held out in front of you. Turn them both on full. You will notice that it becomes painful to blink as the moisture that lubes your eyes evaporates. ‘ How are you enjoying your holiday? ‘ Well, I am afraid that in this blog I moan about the heat. You will just have to bear with me.

Flag.

Flag.

The ride out of Missoula is along suburban tree lined streets. We have managed that rare trick of both getting up early and leaving early. We are retracing our route back to pick up HWY 93, gaining the height that we lost as we dived down into the town. We could very easily have taken another day off in the coffee bars and micro brew pubs. Another glass of 8.4% beer and we may have needed to. Half a dozen miles done and we take a right turn onto HWY 12 and line up the wind at our back and the climb somewhere ahead of us.

Remnants of the forrest fires, I.

Remnants of the forest fires, I.

Remnants of the forrest fires, II.

Remnants of the forest fires, II.

There are obvious signs of a recent fire. Trees still stand on the hillsides but they are matchstick black and bar code stark. There is rebuilding of homes burned out by the flames. It all looks so random,some untouched, so down to a turn of the wind. I guess it was late last year, but still the smell of burning hangs in the air.

On the climb to Lolo.

On the climb to Lolo.

The climb is starting, we can feel that loading in our legs. It fails to register as a grade on the altimeter, but the figures on it and the gps are showing that we are gaining height. Beyond Lolo Hot Springs the road gets into its stride and pitches up to make towards the summit ahead. It is now 12.30 and 98’f. The wind we had at our backs is now nothing more than a breeze which is easily lost to the forest on either side of us. A sharp left and we are in slack air, held in a heated doldrums of pine resin smells. There is water near, and we can hear it tumbling over rocks on either side of the road.

Keeping a cool head.

Keeping a cool head.

Esther is ahead. Up the road after I have stopped to eat, take a photo or something. I come around a bend and there is a Coyote standing over roadkill in the middle of the road. It goes to pick it up, but I startle it and instead it looks up at me. I am still moving forward, closing the distance as I try to work the situation out. Our eyes meet and with about 12 feet between it and me it has a decision to make. It chooses to drop the kill and slowly make off into the trees on the opposite side of the road. It is amazing how quickly it vanishes. I have stopped the bike and try to pick out where the Coyote is. That was amazing. A car comes and this moment in time is broken. I am left wondering how big Coyotes are when you are close to them.

Entering Idaho and the Pacific Time Zone.

Entering Idaho and the Pacific Time Zone.

Lolo pass is the last time on the traverse that we will cross the Continental Divide. It amazes us that anyone can work this stuff out amongst the jumble of geography. This time we have the double excitement of both passing into a new state – Idaho and entering a new time zone. Until yesterday I had my watch on Kansas time as a way of getting to bed early and up prompt. Again I am an hour ahead. The road has the very good manners not to push beyond 5% grades. It is a beautiful climb, but the road surface now we are in Idaho is rubbish and demanding of our attention at all times. A sharp descent and we pick up speed. The nature of the forest is changing. A river to our right and now there are almost pure stands of Cedar Trees, some of great age. This is stunning biking.

...99 miles.

…99 miles.

Down from Lolo Pass.

Down from Lolo Pass.

Lolo Pass Info.

Lolo Pass Info.

Lochsa River, Idaho.

Lochsa River, Idaho.

HWY 12 started the day like most other roads and has now become near perfect. We have the benefit of a few generations of civil engineering pushing a road through and over the pass here. When Lewis & Clark came through there was no way through other than high level game tracks and trading routes. The trees crowd the road again giving us shade. Here they are old Cedars hung with moss and lichen, trunks the colour and texture of Michael Douglas. We park the bikes and walk amongst them.

Big Cedar Trees.

Big Cedar Trees.

Cedar Trees and shade.

Cedar Trees and shade.

That was as close to a perfect day on a touring bike as you are going to get. Powell, and the free camping spot offered by Lochsa Lodge. A bit of bike maintenance on the gears and drive and then the undeniable joy of good food cooked well and a beer. You pay a bit of a ‘ stuff needs to be bought here from miles away ‘ premium, but heck we are worth a bit of pampering after a hard day. We relax and chat with the staff – ” And what is that stuffed creature ” . I am asking because it looks identical to the beast that I met in the road – ” That sir, is a local timberwolf “. I am amazed, shocked and more than a bit chuffed. It was big for a Coyote, but I had thought too small for a wolf – not so.

Warren sorting the gears.

Warren sorting the gears.

It looked just like that...

It looked just like that…

We awake to a morning that is surprisingly cool so far. It is 5.30 and we are up and away not long after 6.30 to a morning that promises almost 90 miles of unbroken downhill – hurrah!! There is a blue newness to the light and a distinct nip in the air held in long shadows. You really must find a way to visit HWY12 on a bike, it is now in our top 5 ‘ roads we have been on list ‘. There are few times that you can watch a river grow, to change its nature, to mature from high mountain youth. Here you get to watch things happen as you ride. By Lowell the Lochsa River is broad, but still fast flowing. For the first time in over 1,000 miles we are under 2,000 ft and have done 67 miles all before 11.00 am, so not a bad morning.

Lochsa River, I.

Lochsa River, I.

 

Lochsa River, II.

Lochsa River, II.

Lochsa River, III.

Lochsa River, III.

Tree.

Tree and beard lichen.

Esther resting.

Esther resting.

Lochsa River IV, the far end of the valley.

Lochsa River IV, the far end of the valley.

A few miles further, the Lochsa is as broad as an interstate. It is joined by the Selway and all of a sudden the landscape changes. The trees are gone, a line has been crossed and there are now bare sun bleached mountains around us. We are in a deep canyon cut by the river. The heat drops into the slit in the ground and is held there for us to ride through it. This is a whole different environment and very much less comfortable. We are in high desert and not liking it much.

The Truth.

The Truth.

 

Cooling.

Cooling.

At Kooksia we turn left onto HWY 13 and soon the day ends with 92 miles done with just 481 ft of climbing picked up somewhere without noticing it. We camp behind the grocery store in the little town of Stites, which is a better spot than it sounds from that description. Jim comes by to cut the grass ‘ There is a church breakfast here in the morning ‘. He apologizes for the noise and disturbance and settles down to drink a tea with us. We always wonder why people move to these odd little towns. ‘ Well I was in California and wanted to get away from the 100,000 mile a year driving and work stress ‘. His computer cursor stopped at Stites ‘ I watched the doppler forecast and stalked this town online – ‘ knew more about it than the people who live here ‘. Jim worked out that he liked it enough to move here, ‘ Of course when I got here I found that the town is in such a deep canyon that the doppler doesn’t work ‘. Still he picked up a job and settled down as the man to go to if you need things done. Like many he still has stuff spread across lockups in 4 states, but shallow roots are here. We talked till too late, but that is fine.

Climbing "the wall" just behind Stites, ID.

Climbing “the wall” just behind Stites, ID.

Hay bales.

Hay bales.

It is a different world to the valley.

It is a different world to the valley.

Corn fields on the Grangeville plateau, Idaho.

Corn fields on the Grangeville plateau, Idaho.

Jim, from Stites, ID.

Jim, from Stites, ID.

Next morning, a brutal climb up and out of the canyon. It is climbing at 8 or 9%, but then goes up and we are off, pushing with enough effort to make our backs hurt, it is 13%. We gain the top and unexpectedly, this is where the farming is done here. Flat fields and high yielding corn and hay crops – amazing. Every tractor and bailer that is not rusting in a yard is out in the fields working. We follow a ridge road until the descent into Grangeville breaks the morning ride. Jim pops along to say goodbye on his custom bike – you just knew he would have one didn’t you. The best place for breakfast is Hilltop Diner – which you guessed correctly, would be up a stiff climb in the wrong direction.

The profile.

The profile.

 

White Bird Summit on Old 95.

White Bird Summit on Old 95.

Dropping from Summit to White Bird town, Idaho on Old 95.

Dropping from Summit to White Bird town, Idaho on Old 95.

The second climb of the day regains almost all of the height that we lost yesterday. But it does it in a brutally short distance. The heat is building as we near White Bird summit and we pull over to take a long drink in the shade of the last trees before the descent. 3,400 ft and the climb has gone well. Not for the first time, we are so glad we are going in this direction. We are about to dive into hell. Sharp left and right turns which today are done on tarmac that is boiling and bubbling, popping as our tyres ride over it.  A sharp left and we get a glimpse of the new highway as it cuts across the landscape. Our old road takes in the slopes, you get to feel the contours. This is a classic climb, good enough to bring bikers from hundreds of miles away, it is Alpine, but in an oven. Keep it smooth don’t let the melting black-top grab your wheel. 111’f and we are down in the town of White Bird. Miraculously, there is a bar and it is open ” Hot out there? ” We all know the answer.

Decent on Old 95., II, 111F/43C.

Descent on Old 95., II, 111F/43C.

42 miles, but that is it for the day. We expected to do more, but we are not idiots. We sit is the shade and wait for the sun to drop behind the mountains before we put up the tent. At 6.30 pm it dips bellow the rim and the town is in shadow. Time for the bar flies and dogs to come out on this Saturday night. We get a good nights sleep and are cooking oats before full dawn and are pedaling not long after 6.00 am.

Salmon River Canyon, I, Idaho.

Salmon River Canyon, I, Idaho.

The old HWY 95 joins up with the new road to squeeze through canyons ahead. Idaho is famous for potatoes, this I knew. I did not know how much of our road would be through desert because I had not bothered to look it up. Over millions of years the Salmon River has cut into the volcanic rock here as it has risen slowly. The combination of erosion and lift has resulted in deep canyons and now, a tourist industry based on going down the river in more or less safe ways. The heat of the day overtakes our ambition. When a cabin comes up with air-con, we bail out after 43 miles. This is just too hot.

Salmon River Canyon, II, Idaho.

Salmon River Canyon, II, Idaho.

... be warned....

… be warned….

Our cabin at Pinehurst Resort.

Our cabin at Pinehurst Resort.

The next morning there is spits of rain and the sound of thunder far off ahead of us. The forest we have climbed into at the end of yesterday is cool. There on the screen of the Mac the WWW, says that Cambridge is already clear and the forecast for the day is 101’f. This is almost too impossible to comprehend, the contrast too much. It is like trying to pack for a holiday in Australia in a Scottish winter. We are late to get up too, but is just 52’f as we start out.

Small Salmon River.

Small Salmon River.

The climb is gentle enough, but then a sign points to a ‘ Chain Up! ‘ pull over and the climb begins in earnest. My legs do not want to turn up for work today. My gear system is now 33,000 miles old and is dropping the shifts that I need. This causes ‘ Potty Mouthed Outbursts ‘ of great passion. I simply can not find the right gear in time not to throw away all forward speed. Fury does not even come close to describing it.

The 45th Latitude.

The 45th Latitude.

The road slackens and we drop into wide meadow land with contented black cattle that watch our passing with the usual bovine curiosity. The 45th parallel comes up – we must have passed this many times without note. By 10.00 am the last of the morning clouds have gone. We are in New Meadows, a town on a junction of three roads. It has 1 gas station, 1 post office, 2 stores to buy stuff in and 6 places to eat. We eat in one of them and take the right turn option. We are going to drop into Canyon Country once again. And this is where things go from bad to worse.

HEAT.

HEAT.

Out of the tree cover and it is 106’f on my meter. This, we learned back in New Meadows is classified as desert. It is easy to see how and the meter goes up to 112’f as the vista opens to scorched grass and high fire risk warnings. Our journey’s record of 116’f is equalled and the there is a hill. I have to walk so as not to build up body heat with the effort. The soles of my shoes burn into my feet as I plant them on the scorching tarmac. We get to Cambridge by force of will. We are hosted by Bob and Leslie in an oasis of air-con and good food. Ahead in one or two days our route passes through Hells Canyon on our way into Oregon. It is not going to get much cooler We will have to get up earlier or fry. Sorry for going on about the heat – but you just had to be there.

Don't overheat on the hills.

Don’t overheat on the hills.

White Bird, sketch.

White Bird, sketch.

Missoula, and a visit to Adventure Cycling HQ.

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Esther at the Adventure Cycling Association, Missoula, MT.

Esther at the Adventure Cycling Association, Missoula, MT.

There are pictures on the WWW. of people not too much further ahead of us than 100 miles, going through this area in coats. In a few short days Montana, the Big Sky Country AKA – ‘ The Last best place ‘, has turned to dog biscuit dry and oven range hot too. We are in a diner just a little on from Sheridan. Getting up early and putting a few miles on the clock before first breakfast, we have tried to beat the heat. There are two big climbs today that will coincide with the full heat of the day no matter what we do short of biking at night.

Montana barn.

Montana barn.

Some river Lewis & Clark crossed, Montana.

Some river Lewis & Clark crossed, Montana.

I am the only guy not wearing a cowboy hat or a baseball cap. Seated too far from the table of farmers I can only hear the occasional snatch of conversation. The punchline to the last story was – ” And you know what, we never did find that snake “. On we go and already it is hot enough to be a heat-wave in Scotland. Hay crops are drying, some being turned and a few ready for bailing. This is grass country and not a good place to live if you have any sort of pollen allergy or dislike of cows.

Warren makes a note.

Warren makes a note Beaverhead Rocks.

     Dillon is ahead and the first of the climbs. For the first time on this side of the country we are biking in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. The road uses one of the natural gaps in the landscape. Beaverhead valley is named after an outcrop which with a huge amount of imagination, resembles a Beaver. This is the gateway to ancient hunting grounds and is now a nature reserve. Cranes call from the pools under Beaverhead Rocks. Time in this landscape feels like it passes at the very opposite speed to ‘ Dog Years ‘. Lewis and Clark would recognise just about everything and like me would conclude that modern music is rubbish.

Prairie.

Prairie.

   45 miles to Jackson, with no bailout and it is 102’f to begin the days climbing. I think we have got the measure of the road ahead, but we will underestimate the wind, which is twice as strong as advertised. Parchment dry, the air has to be gulped in with the effort of the climb. Within a few minutes my mouth is uncomfortably dry and my front teeth are glued to the inside of my lip.

First climb.

First climb.

    6,000 ft showing on the gps, so just 700 to do. I am concentrating on a patch of road just half a dozen feet in front of my wheel, tying not to look up at the climb ahead. Legs need to stay fluid, turning with power on the down, but also pulling up through the cleats locked into the bike. Trying to stay loose enough not to grip the bar too much and tense up, but not flapping around and allowing the bike to flap from side to side. I must not give any energy away, nothing must be wasted on a climb. Other bikers have shoes and stuff dangling from their bags. On a climb you have to fight against these as they flap, they drain your power by 1% of 1%, but it adds up.

Post box, Montana.

Mail box, Montana.

Tom, the last of the "racers".

Tom, the last of the “racers”.

Filtering water.

Filtering water.

A down from the second pass.

A down from the second pass.

Big fields for cattle, Big Hole Valley, Montanan.

Big fields for cattle, Big Hole Valley, Montana.

Big Hole Pass 7,400 ft and not a moment of it can I remember now. A purple line on the gps stretches to Jackson. It is not far at all, but always beyond one more curve, one more shoulder of the hill. I have never worked harder to get to anywhere and yet not one of Jackson’s population of 38 is on the streets applauding our arrival. We camp behind the Hot Springs Hotel. 86.62 miles and 3931 ft of climbing will take more than half an hour in a thermal pool to recover from.

The last rise before Jackson, MT.

The last rise before Jackson, MT.

Big Hole Valley, Montana.

Big Hole Valley, Montana.

Welcome to Jackson, MT

Welcome to Jackson, MT

I am trying to get cold water to come from the taps in the place, not knowing that this is impossible. A still night but warm enough for mosquitos to make gazing at the stars uncomfortable. Cows do their calling and later in the night Coyote cry out to each other.

Barn.

Barn.

Trophy in the bar, Jackson, MT.

Trophy in the bar, Jackson, MT.

The land of 10,000 Haystacks. Big Hole Valley grows cows and grass in inconceivable quantities. The worlds biggest hay bale was made here, which had a sort of inevitability about it. Grass fields, if you can still call them fields, stretch to a horizon of snow-capped mountains that rise abruptly. It is like Switzerland on steroids.

House in Jackson, MT.

House in Jackson, MT.

Big Hole Valley.

Big Hole Valley.

Road 278 between Jackson and Wisdom, MT.

Road 278 between Jackson and Wisdom, MT.

House in Wisdom, MT.

House in Wisdom, MT.

Today’s climb starts to pull upwards at Beaver National Forest. The big sky of the plains is broken for the first time in many miles by trees. Yesterday’s climb was dry and here we are with the sounds of running water. We had to stop and filter water yesterday, and searched for miles to find a suitable stream. Today, mountain fresh water is tumbling all around us. This must be one of our favorite National Forests. Pine resin heated by the strength of todays sun is filling our lungs. You can bike through a million miles of pine in northern Europe and never get this intensity of smells. Off to the side there are deer sheltering in shade, they watch us pass.

Standing water around Wisdom, MT.

Standing water around Wisdom, MT.

Gentle climb to the pass.

Gentle climb to the pass.

7241 ft and another crossing of the Continental Divide for us. I have nothing what so ever left in my legs. So hurrah for the longest downhill of the whole coast to coast adventure and thank goodness for glaciation or we would have to climb thousands of feet more. A right turn onto HWY 93 and we dive down in the direction of Missoula 3,000 ft bellow us.

Beargrass

Beargrass

Bitterroot valley, MT.

Bitterroot valley, MT.

Chief Joseph Pass, MT.

Chief Joseph Pass, MT.

... downhill.

… downhill.

It was hot at the top and descending we drop into air that is hot to the touch. It roars in our ears as we get up to 40 mph. We drop into Bitterroot Valley and into the town of Darby for the nights campground. It is one of those nights in a tent when an unplanned movement will bring cramps and swearing in equal measure. Now the nights may be clear, but we have lost the cool of altitude.

Warren got a hair cut.

Warren got a hair cut.

  A tailwind and we still have more delicious down hill to ride. The Bitterroot River joins us as we pick up a bike path. This keeps the feel of a mountain river as it and Team Sportswool enter a much more populated part of Montana for a while and the relative flesh-pot and hippy town that is Missoula. Our ride is by the side of a busy highway now, but still the scenery is breathtaking. If you want to spend retirement with a fishing rod in your hand, you could do far worse than move here.

Crossing the Clark Fork River, Missoula, MT.

Crossing the Clark Fork River, Missoula, MT.

  Once more, and now for three days in a row, the day is longer than expected. We want to call in on Adventure Cycling HQ. Inevitably, it is at the far end of town. The team greet us like family, which I guess we are in a strange way. We get our photos taken for the national archive and our bikes weighed. This was a number I am not sure I ever wanted to know, but here it is. Let the records show that Esther’s bike weighs 87 pounds and my bike weighs 89 pounds. We have to pedal all of that weight back up the hill will just came down when we start again. Esther has a new sketchbook for your delight – it can be seen HERE!!!

Jackson Lake and Great Tetons. Sketch. Esther

Jackson Lake and Great Tetons. Sketch. Esther

A hard way to get to the 4th of July. 30,000 miles done.

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Rodeo 3rd July, Ennis, Montana.

Rodeo 3rd July, Ennis, Montana.

You really should not judge a wine by its label. We do of course, and buy anything that features a bicycle even if it tastes like chain lube. Books by their cover, well of course, and beer too. Bike shops by what is in the window? Well it took me almost two years to eventually use the best bike shop back home in Edinburgh. It’s window features pink bells and kids bikes that weigh as much as a small car. You may not notice the jockey sized guys that treat the place like a second home or community drop-in centre. There are the framed team shirts ” Thanks for all your help Chris “. But there are no top end bikes at prices that would put your daughter through college. You are in the right place for the simple reason that Chris is an engineer who worked on nuclear subs before he bought the shop. Chris will fit a new tyre and line up the trade name with the valve -” So you can find it in a hurry “. You will never go anywhere else without feeling dirty at the betrayal. This is your shop now.

Mural in Lander and Warren, Lander, WY.

Mural in Lander and Warren, Lander, WY.

Bike shop, Lander, WY.

Bike shop, Lander, WY.

We had been riding in the gutter for miles. Forced over by RV’s and gauping holiday traffic, in fear of our lives. If we had waved farewell as we left Baltimore with a cry ” See you in Yellowstone 4th of July “, we could not have coordinated our arrival in Americas prime holiday destination any more perfectly. Which is how we find ourselves standing outside what may be a bike shop in the town of West Yellowstone. We have just biked through the park on the second busiest day of the year. Esther has a rear tyre that has picked up a slash and puncture from a slice of metal. We have super-glued the cut back together just in time to pick up a flat from a shard of glass. We need a rather specialised German-made, awkward sized replacement and all we can see are aeroplane model kits and kites, and of course horribly pink children’s bikes.

Les from the Bike shop in West Yellowstone, MO.

Les from the Bike shop in West Yellowstone, MT.

” Do you have any touring tyres? “. ” Do you have Schwalbe in 700X32 in the Marathon? ”  The fact that the answer to all of these was ‘ YES ‘ is more random than you could possibly imagine. Les has been running a bike shop here for 40 years. He built some of the first mountain bikes, and oddball stuff like three person machines on jigs that he put together himself. He shows us the ‘ archive ‘. ” Did you ever serve anyone famous ? ” I’m not sure anyone ever asked Les this before. ” Well I did serve Greg Lemond’s wife when she rented a video here “. Les had a stock of 4,000 titles that eased the cash flow when the snow lay as deep as the ears on a four year old child. We are in the right place.

A big sky, Wyoming.

A big sky, Wyoming.

A two day rest is not mathematically twice as good as a one day, but it is not too far short of that. Lander had been good to us but we are starting to get end date anxiety and need to put some miles in. The fluffiest of fluffy clouds drifted across the bluest of summer blue skys. It was the perfect day to be biking along HWY 287 into the Wind River Indian reservation. We are back amongst the Sage Bushes and infinite horizons. A sharp left and we pick up a headwind.

Down into the Wind River Valley, WY.

Down into the Wind River Valley, WY.

 

Down into the Wind River Valley, WY.

Down into the Wind River Valley, WY.

Wind, as in Wind River, WY.

Wind, as in Wind River, WY.

There is of course a clue in the fact that we are now running along the Wind River Valley. Like idiots, we had mentally labeled this ‘ an easy day ‘. Crowheart stores after 13 miles of unrelenting toil into what is now a gale. We contemplate a further 30 miles of this with the sort of stoicism that a store Santa must show on being handed a child that is already screaming and will no doubt urinate within moments. We make easy conversation with people at the store and then turn out onto the road as it runs under the shadow of Windy Mountain.

Rescue in form of a wonderful gentlemen with his pickup truck.

Rescue in form of a wonderful gentlemen with his pickup truck.

7 mph and the occasional 11 mph and the horrid mental arithmetic that we are going to be doing this for the next 5 hours, minimum. This is the worst of tortures on a heavy touring bike, the pedalling down hill in the Granny Gear. 10 miles creep by, and now the wind is dangerous. We are being lifted off the road. The casual conversation back at the store brings rescue. ” I couldn’t let you go on “. A big, very big black truck has swung off the road in front of us. The bikes are lifted into the back and we are safe. You would need a heart of stone to call it cheating and yes we are happy to be away from the roar of the wind.

Out of Dubois, up the hill. WY.

Out of Dubois, up the hill. WY.

 

Part of the Teton Wilderness mountains in the distance.

Part of the Teton Wilderness mountains in the distance.

We get a glimpse of farming in one of the windiest places in the USA. ” You can cut your hay crop and the wind will pick it up and you have to bale it on your neighbours land “. A lift into Dubois and we pitch at the campground in the shelter of a building. A cold night with the belt of the Milky Way arching across the deep black sky. Team Sportswool are up early the next morning to try and get miles in before the wind hits. There is a big climb to bring us up into the first of the National Parks – The Grand Tetons. Up we go through Shoshone National Forest, already over 8,000 ft. Beyond 9,000 ft, there is snow under the trees at the side of the road. This is a pure climb and the effort equals reward, not the nasty toil of biking into wind. This is riding ‘ in the moment ‘ and lifts the soul. You could call it ‘ floss for the mind ‘ and is why cyclists go looking for climbs and turn from headwinds. At 9,584 ft we enter the Tetons at Togwotee Pass.

Bear (grizzly) tracks.

Bear (grizzly) tracks.

 

Bear awareness.

Bear awareness.

Alpine flowers.

Alpine flowers.

Impressive Ridge (part of Tetons wilderness), WY.

Impressive Ridge (part of Tetons Wilderness), WY.

Stretching legs.

Stretching legs.

Togwotee Pass, 9658 ft.

Togwotee Pass, 9658 ft.

With less than 100 ft biked beyond the celebrations of passing through our 30,000th mile Esther has the puncture that will lead to the visit to Les. Down we go, the tyre held together with glue and some of the joy of reaching 30,000 miles rubbed off. Oxbow bend and then we take a right towards Signal Mountain and our campground for the night. Places are full, but bikers get a sort of celebrity treatment in National Parks and a site is found.

... and down...

… and down…

 

The Grand Teton National Park in sight.

The Grand Teton National Park in sight.

(swear words) & puncture.

(swear words) & puncture.

Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Hiker Biker spot, Signal Mountains Campsite, Teton NP, WY.

Hiker Biker spot, Signal Mountains Campsite, Teton NP, WY.

Another crisp chill night. We are fatigued by the climb and the battle with the wind and sleep for over 10 hours after 63 miles and 3264 ft of climbing. Next morning there is almost unbroken sharply blue sky for our ride into Yellowstone. We will be sharing the narrow park roads with what feels like 90% of the US RV fleet on what is the first holiday of the summer. Snake River, one of the longest in the country, joins us as we enter the park. There is now no shoulder and the road itself has a crumbling edge forcing us out. There is 23 miles of this to start your Yellowstone experience.

Esther sketching.

Esther sketching.

Grand Tetons, view from the  Northern Edge of Jackson Lake, WY.

Grand Tetons, view from the Northern Edge of Jackson Lake, WY.

Entering Yellowstone NP, WY.

Entering Yellowstone NP, WY.

A very different landscape.

A very different landscape.

Big Canyon, I, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Big Canyon, I, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Big Canyon, I, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Big Canyon, II, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Lewis River, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Lewis River, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Crawfish Creek and Lewis Mountain come up as we bike beyond the 7,700 ft. This RV roulette is hard on the nerves. Will they remember they are towing something? are they even looking forward? We are high again, breathing the same air as the Angels and taking in some of the most stunning scenery the world has on offer. Again we end the day on a Hiker-Biker spot, the campground at Grant Village has been open for just 5 days since the Grizzlies left to feed higher up the mountains. It is just over 8,000 ft and we have our first night with frost on the fly sheet. It is a perfect spot. We sleep as the bears do bear stuff and the earth spins around to meet a new morning for us.

Isa Lake, Continental Divide, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Isa Lake, Continental Divide, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Old Faildful, geyser, calm, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Old Faithful, geyser, calm, Yellowstone NP, WY.

The ride to Old Faithful begins with a hard pull up a short but brutally steep climb. We have tired legs that are feeling every one of the 30,000 miles and we are struggling to recover much overnight. Lake Isa and the continental divide at 8391 ft. Rain falling into this small lake has a decision to make. It drains both to East and West. To flow to the Pacific or take the long run to the Atlantic? The scale of Yellowstone becomes obvious as we ride. It is bigger than countries, certainly Malta, the island that we were on before here, and bigger than Lichtenstein from year 2 and Vatican City from last year. We are again biking in the gutter as the traffic builds and have a new danger to keep an eye open for – Bison Poo. Hit this stuff and you are off. We get a good view of Old Faithful. The photo above is of the coughing and spluttering just before the geyser performance. It was followed by a beep, beep and beep as my camera shut down having run the battery flat!

Hot Pool, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Hot Pool, Yellowstone NP, WY.

 

Angler, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Angler Madison River, Yellowstone NP, WY.

Down we go, heading for the park boundary and the border with Montana. A left turn at Madison and we ride by the side of the Madison River on its lazy descent to the park border. There are enough rods in the water to guarantee that most fish should be caught 2 or 3 times as they make the ground. It is a bit Disney, a bit perfect and the weather is glorious, but there are many worse places to be on a touring bike. We enter Montana, making it the first state that we visit for the second time on our journey. West Yellowstone, and a visit to the bike shop comes next.

Dairy Queen, West Yellowstone, MO.

Dairy Queen, West Yellowstone, MT.

 

Moma bear and cub, Yellowstone NP.

Momma Grizzly bear and cub, Yellowstone NP.

 

The big water fall, Yellowstone NP.

The big water fall, Yellowstone NP.

Elk, Yellowstone NP.

Elk, Yellowstone NP.

We book in at a campground. There is a photo of Evil Knievel, ‘ To my friend Mike, thanks so much….. ‘ You have to ask, so we do. ” Is that real? “, and of course it was, and so is the photo of the Knievel RV parked out the back. ” Was he doing shows here?”. Well no he was vacationing, just like the millions of other folk. We have a day off the bikes and tour the park in an organised tour in the comfort of a big yellow bus with aircon and suggest that you do the same if you do not have a death wish.

Hedgen Lake, Montana.

Hedgen Lake, Montana.

 

Beaver lake - with little beaver dam.

Beaver lake – with little beaver dam.

Earthquake Lake, Montana.

Earthquake Lake, Montana.

Back in the saddle we try to put some distance between us and the 4th of July celebrations. Out we go, along Hebgen Lake and today the tarmac is holding onto our tyres. A Osprey turns on the currants above us. Wonderful as it is I am finding motivation elusive today. Thoughts of ‘ just another 1,000 miles ‘ are dangerous but inevitable when you have biked so far. On August 17th 1959 this valley was changed for all time. A massive earthquake struck in the night. 28 were killed and in the next 3 weeks a new lake formed in a landscape tilted by the force of the quake. Trees are still there, now standing in the flooded bottom of the new lake.

Road parallel to Madison River, road 287, Montana.

Road parallel to Madison River, road 287, Montana.

 

... and rumble strips

… and rumble strips

A glorious and well deserved downhill with wind assistance. ” You have too much wind from the back, it’s dangerous “, a cry from a cyclist going the other way as we flash by. The sky has become big again. There are far off mountains rimming this wide cauldron and unbelievably they are still snow-capped. I take a drink from a water bottle. For the first time in ages it is hot water, 95’f and we are back ridding in an oven. My mouth is too dry to whistle and the air is crusting up my nose.  The town of Ennis is the goal for the day. We get there in good time, but would have needed to book a room a month ago. A patch of grass behind Willies Distillery is the traditional pitch for cyclists from day one back in 76. It is July 3 and the festivities have begun. Esther goes to a Rodeo, which is great fun and the next morning we take in the parade.

Happy Birthday America.

Happy Birthday America.

4th July parade, Ennis, Montana.

4th July parade, Ennis, Montana.

You just can not miss a small town parade on the 4th of July. There are people to meet, things to see, but there is always a horrid 2,000 ft climb in temperatures that never dip under 93’f just waiting for your attention. We hit it at the wrong time. 5 near misses and 2 very very near leave me swearing and cursing the driving ability of the nation. I look up on the WWW. and sure enough it is the most dangerous day of the year to be on the roads. We ride out all day along Ruby Valley. A stop at a store and a conversation with an old time local. Never underestimate old timers. ” If you want to get away on a day like this you have to get up above the heat. I built my own planes and we go high into the cool air and take my hat off. It was wonderful, truly wonderful “. The snow-covered peaks are now hidden behind the leading edge of an advancing storm. We take a room in a hotel in the town of Sheridan, and go to bed early after a good meal. Happy Birthday USA.

Everyone is dressed up, Rodeo in Ennis, Montana.

Everyone is dressed up, Rodeo in Ennis, Montana.

 

Lander WY, beyond the Great Divide Basin.

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Into the Great Divide Basin.

Into the Great Divide Basin.

Lightning showed bright against a day-bright sky made night by the storm. ” My uncle got struck seven times! “. The six of us were sheltering together on the city park campground and the girl had her daughter in her arms, comforting her. ” Then he commited suicide “. This overheard story did nothing to ease our lightning storm fears. By total fluke, our day off the bikes in Lander coincided with weather you would not wish to bike in. It was not even mentioned in the forecast, which makes our decision doubly sweet. Hurrah for Team Sportswool and our questionable work ethic.

Cycle path between Frisco and Silverthorne, CO.

Cycle path between Frisco and Silverthorne, CO.

You hear people reminisce about their time on the TransAm route. One of the things you never hear them say is ” Well, I wish I had done it faster “. It is almost our motto and certainly a good excuse to stay in Frisco a little longer. We had the altitude to get used to, but after four days it was time to get going or stay for ever. Out of Frisco and along one of the lakes on the most perfect of bike paths. It was overcast and cool, both of which were more than fine by us. We are descending, dropping down bellow the 8,000 ft mark. I can function again. Colorado has more vehicles with dogs hanging out of open windows than anywhere in the world. For a state full of bike loving hippy types its drivers are anything but passive. HWY 9 is making us jumpy with trucks tight in on our elbows. A right at Kremmling and we pick up the Colorado River.

Approaching storm.

Approaching storm.

Shelter.

Shelter.

Even the wildlife is a bit feisty. I get stung on the chest by a bee for almost no reason at all. A storm is pushing in, rolling over from the mountains to our right. It pulls in air, dragging us forward and along the road at speed. We sail for 16 miles, but then it is too close for comfort out on the road. We dive into a barn for shelter. There is not a drop of rain where we are but we sit and wait for clearer sky before we get back on the bikes. A perfect pitch at a free camping spot alongside the Colorado River at Hot Sulphur Springs. It is still 7,643 ft high here, but feels like heaven – which of course if it exists would be much higher. I am enjoying beautiful fresh lungfuls of air again. You do take breathing so much for granted. Mosquitos spoil the day and it is on with repellant for the first time.

Along the Colorado River, near Hot Sulphur Springs, CO.

Along the Colorado River, near Hot Sulphur Springs, CO.

Santa's Workshop in Colorado.

Santa’s Workshop in Colorado.

Road 125, CO.

Road 125, CO.

The temperature plummets with the pin sharp clear sky of the darkest of nights. Out the next day and along the river gorge and into the heart of Cowboy Country. Sage bushes and open grazing for thousands of beef cattle. I am inspired to note down a poem in a country style.

Road to Willow Creek Pass, I. CO.

Road to Willow Creek Pass, I. CO.

 

Road to Willow Creek Pass, II. CO.

Road to Willow Creek Pass, II. CO.

 

Elk Mountain, near Willow Creek Pass, CO.

Elk Mountain, near Willow Creek Pass, CO.

“It’s been lonesome in the saddle since my horse died – the wind did blow and the sun was high.   He’d been the friend beneath my seat – but now he’s just 400 lbs of meat.” I may return to this some time. As for now, we are climbing and will regain all of yesterday’s descent and more as we climb towards our second crossing of the Continental Divide. This may be the most beautiful climb we have yet done and I am channeling my inner Ansel Adams. At 9,000 ft last nights drop in temperature has left a sprinkling of snow on the higher peaks. Frogs call their frog greetings from creeks to our left and right. They have a short season for life and are making the best of the warmth. Alpine flowers are blooming in high meadows.

Road to Willow Creek Pass, III. CO.

Road to Willow Creek Pass, III. CO.

The Pass.

The Pass.

The other side of Willow Creek Pass.

The other side of Willow Creek Pass.

At 9,683 ft we crest the divide and now the road is fringed by tall trees for a fast descent to the first of the High Plains. First the road spoils the fun by kicking up, forcing a quick fumble for the Granny Gear. High winds slam mosquitos into our faces as we pick up speed. For many miles ahead the thought will be that a puncture would be the start of a very bad 15 minutes of blood letting to these air born Piranhas.

North Park Platte, near Rand, CO, I.

North Park Platte, near Rand, CO, I.

 

North Park Platte, near Rand, CO, II

North Park Platte, near Rand, CO, II

Irrigation ditch.

Irrigation ditch.

Rocky Mountains National Park in the back.

Rocky Mountains National Park in the back.

We are exposed to the wind in all directions as we enter the plain. It is of course right in our faces now and no amount of grabbing the drops and tucking low is making any difference. The gps shows a steady but continual bend to the right up ahead. It is sharp enough to warrant a caution sign and is possibly the most glorious right bend there ever was on any road anywhere. It turns a brutal headwind into what eventually becomes a side and then tail wind. We pass into Wyoming and out of Colorado with very little fanfare and the town of Walden comes up. The plan is to hide in a motel and let the mosquitos go hungry.

River.

River.

 

Sage bushes and clouds, Colorado.

Sage bushes and clouds, Colorado.

Entering Wyoming.

Entering Wyoming.

Taxidermy.

Taxidermy.

It is high plains biking for the next day, with views to far horizons and the very present attention of those blasted mosquitos. Saratoga and our camp spot for the night comes up and we disappear into an ice cream cafe to kill some time before pitching. Just outside of town is Saratoga Lake Campground. Storms build in the mountains, Pelicans fly by and we are thankful beyond belief for the invention of modern tents and integrated bug netting technology.

Camping at Saratoga Lake, WY.

Camping at Saratoga Lake, WY.

 

Saratoga Lake, WY.

Saratoga Lake, WY.

Past changing wether at Saratoga Lake, WY.

Past changing weather at Saratoga Lake, WY.

The morning is cool and crisp as a winters dawn. Wind is our enemy again and joy of joys, it is totally still. Just 50’f as we bike down the rough track and out onto HWY 115. Early into our day, a left turn brings back the wind and we take a stiff climb onto HWY 125. Sage bushes stretch to the horizon and fill the air with fresh aromas. Blue mountain Iris grow in the wet areas close to the road drainage. The miles pass and my mind is a blank. Antelope watch our slow passage across vast horizons and infinite roads.

Road 130, WY.

Road 130, WY.

 

Sinclair Oil Refinery, WY.

Sinclair Oil Refinery, WY.

Wyoming is windy, very windy. We are getting an easy time of things except the close attention of mosquitos. These are devils and capable of inflicting a bite at 15 mph. This has never happened before. I speed up and get bitten at 18 mph. A hill comes up and at just 8 mph it is torture of flapping arms, swearing and swerving. Roads are so sparse here, there is no alternative to Interstate 80. We are up amongst the traffic, but the bigger acreage of tarmac is less favorable for the Mossies. There is 13 miles of slalloming around hub caps, broken bolts and road detritus until we take the turn for Sinclair and a ride by the ‘ Most Modern refinery in the West ‘. Quite a boast I’m sure you will agree. Sinclair is a big oil company which may be named after the village and possibly the other way around.

Sharing the road.

Sharing the road.

New Tarmac, near Rawlings, CO.

New Tarmac, near Rawlings, CO.

Red Cliffs.

Red Cliffs.

McDonald’s on the outskirts of Rawlings, and I think you will agree, we deserve it. It is of course back out into the dry heat and vastness of sky. This is the area where the pioneering settlers forced their way towards an uncertain future in the West. The landscape has changed so little since their passage that you can still see the ruts made by their carts. Often they navigated by sighting a notch in distant mountain ranges and heading straight for days. They were tough beyond comprehension and self reliant beyond words. We pick up HWY 287, which is having a bit of a well needed makeover.

Road 287 North, CO.

Road 287 North, CO.

 

View around the Great Divide Basin, Co.

View around the Great Divide Basin, Co.

 

Annapole Cafe.

Annapole Cafe.

I click the zoom-out button on the gps 1 click, 2 click, 3 and the road is still straight as an arrow. We have to pray for a favorable wind.Down we drop into the Great Divide Basin. We have biked in nothing like this before. It is like taking a ride in Mammon’s Kitchen. It is the heat of hell reflecting back up off new black top. 86 miles after starting the day, we pitch the tent beside the ‘ Motel ‘ in Muddy Gap Services. The evening storm is readying itself for a show, with oil black hammer head clouds building above the pink granite outcrops and mountain chains. When it hits, the storm is intense. Lightning jumps from cloud to cloud and ground strikes right in front of us.

Warren.

Warren.

 

Motel.

Motel.

We sleep in our clothes for the first part of the night, ready to run to safer shelter. By the greatest good fortune, the worst of the storm keeps its distance. The tent takes a hammering from the wind but our new Big Agnes tent sheds the wind better than our previous Agnes. We feel safe. This is good after a hard day and a bit of a sense of humour deficiency towards the ride end. We go to sleep with bright bursts of lightning throwing contrast intense shadows onto the rain fly.

Split Rock Ranch entrance.

Split Rock Ranch entrance.

 

Open.

Open.

Another hard day begins with a steep climb on HWY 287 towards Jeffrey City. A Bald Eagle tracks the sky above us. The pioneers may have just gone through the valley. Photography is painful. The brief pause to bring the camera from the front box is enough for mosquitos to swarm. The shot is taken quickly and I pedal away to screams and curses with additional slapping of as much of my body as I can reach. We pass Split Rock , one of the wagon train navigation marks. Jeffrey City is bleak but welcoming. It has a church which is soon to close – ” There are enough people to keep a bar open but not a church “, is the explanation. The diner is one of many out here where from more han 6 ft away it is impossible to tell if it is open, closed or gone bust 15 years ago.

Old Books, Fresh Eggs; Sweetwater Station, CO.

Old Books, Fresh Eggs; Sweetwater Station, CO.

Beaver Divide view.

Beaver Divide view.

Beaver Divide - down!

Beaver Divide – down!

Our road drops down into deep canyons. The best thing, and this is much better than even the spectacular scenery, there are fewer mosquitos. My legs are complaining, aching with every turn when power is needed. 22 miles to Lander and I have made an unbreakable pact with my legs – ‘ get me to Lander and you can have the day off ‘. This is spectacular biking through paintbox landscapes.

... and down.

… and down.

View to the side, Beaver Divide, WY.

View to the side, Beaver Divide, WY.

The wind is with us and the road drops, taking us into the canyons with us. This would be a hard day from the other direction, brutal even. Lander comes up after more main road biking than I would want at the end of a day. The city park allows camping for free and may possibly be the best in the USA. It is welcoming, clean and our home for two days. I am almost too tired to sleep, which is every bit as bothersome as being too hungry to eat. Next morning I take myself off to the bathroom block. Time and again I wonder if I am in the children’s. The toilets are so all inclusive that they are so low to the ground as to be comical. Not so funny when I try to get up and find my legs can not get me off the pan. Time for a two day rest from the bike. There are big hills ahead and spectacular scenery that I want to have enough energy to enjoy. Not sure the pioneers took in the view much, but it is spectacular country, and more of the same up ahead.

Big skies, WY.

Big skies, WY.

Through the red cliffs near Lander, WY.

Through the red cliffs near Lander, WY.

Slight climb, route 287, WY.

Slight climb, route 287, WY.

Altitude Sickness in the Rockies, and days in Frisco Co.

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Long gradual climb from the South side to Hoosier Pass, Colorado.

Long gradual climb from the South side to Hoosier Pass, Colorado.

Have you ever seen a big old tree that has consumed a metal gate or some iron railings? I have something similar happening, and I noticed it this week. If I run my hand through my hair and across my head I can feel ridges. After many thousands of hours of wearing my bike helmet, my head is taking on the shape of the vents. Perhaps it is closer to foot binding, who can say, but I am now becoming as one with the bike.

Rustler Bean Co advert,  Boone, CO.

Rustler Bean Co advert, Boone, CO.

A headwind ruins what should have been a perfectly straightforward and easy pedal from Ordway into Pueblo. It is hot too, with a dry heat, which if you do not swallow for a few minutes makes the next time you do feel like trying to get down a fir ball. There are three dead snakes, one of which is big enough and alive enough to make Esther swerve, almost taking the front of my bike with her. It is hard not to react first and do the thinking later. ” We could both ended up on the floor there, and been bitten by a snake “. She still has scars on her elbow from years ago in France when I slammed on the brakes as three big dogs ran for me. I did not realise they were behind a fence. Often the most dangerous thing on the road is the person you are cycling with.

Landscape North of Pueblo, CO.

Landscape North of Pueblo, CO.

 

Our goal in the distance, the Rocky Mountains, CO.

Our goal in the distance, the Rocky Mountains, CO.

We get to Pueblo rather too worn out by our battle to enjoy its delights. Only when we leave the next morning do we get to see what a nice place bits of it are. A search of the WWW. finds the gps tracking page for the TransAm race. This is a self supported race on our route that is coming from the west coast. The leader will pass here in a few hours after starting just 7 days ago. That after crossing all the lumpy bits of the Rockies and Cascades, respect is due. It is a quiet Sunday morning as we leave the flat lands behind and bike out of town. We are both nervous about the climbs ahead. We get our first view of the Rockies early in the ride. For a while the Arkansas River ran along by our side. But a series of short climbs and we were on our own, back in a bleached wilderness.

Once again, the wind in the back - very glad.

Once again, the wind in the back – very glad.

 

Not used to climbing yet.

Not used to climbing yet.

We have been gaining height very slowly even as far back as when we entered Kansas. Things are going to get very serious rather soon here. We have a tailwind that takes us to the town of Wetmore and our first time this year at 6,000 ft. It has been easy biking, with the wind playing on our team and a coolness from the altitude. We take a right, leaving HWY 96 after hundreds of miles and lining ourselves up for Canon City and the Rockies. There is a short uphill pull that plays with our moral by throwing in a 10% grade, and then there we have it, snow-capped peaks far in the distance. Like every lump of mountain seen from afar, they look impossible to climb.

Thistles.

Thistles.

 

Current Second - TransAm racer.

Current Second – TransAm racer- Jason ‘ the hammer ‘ Lane.

With gold pan and motor.

With gold pan and motor.

We are feeling so good, we push on and start some of the climb that we had time-tabled for tomorrow morning. We take a right in Canon City and we are on the climb straight away. Up ahead is the unmistakable shape of a bike being pushed up the climb. I never get the guys name, but his story is amazing. He travels by bike in search of gold. The thing you see above lashed to his bike is his panning stuff. The bike has a two stroke engine bolted to the rear hub. It is all a bit of a hit and miss system. Recently it was the hit part, and the motor ripped out most of his rear spokes. His answer is to walk 50 miles, pushing the bike. Jason in the photo above and this guy are the hard men of cycling and more similar than they would ever imagine.

Perfect spot at Star Lite campsite, Royal Gorge, CO.

Perfect spot at Star Lite campsite, Royal Gorge, CO.

View from Star Lite Camp, sketch

View from Star Lite Camp, sketch

Up we go gaining height towards Royal Gorge. Every time the road ramps up we are reintroduced to Lactic Acid and the effort of getting a heavy touring bike up a hill. We have the first cold night in the tent at a great Campground. It feels cooler now we are at altitude, and perhaps there is less of a feeling of being thirsty in this dry air. One way or another, I have not drunk enough and my urine is the colour of Glenmorangie. A cold and crisp evening as we watch the sun drop behind the mountains and the scuttle into our down bags for our first night at altitude.

The 76-signs returned.

The 76-signs returned.

 

Starting the climb from 6500 ft to 9404 ft.

Starting the climb from 6500 ft to 9404 ft.

Up early and on with the cooker for tea and oats. This is going to be one of the hardest days of the trip from coast to coast. We take a right turn within the first mile and head towards Cripple Creek and away from HWY 50. I have not even bothered to look up on the WWW the wind direction. It did not seem important in the face of a heap of climbing. I am wrong, and this part begins with a wind strong enough to force us to pedal down hill. This first section is far harder than we could have imagined. Soon we get some shelter as the mountains come close and we ride through slots between them. Now the wind comes from every angle. 7,200 ft and a bit of flat and tailwind allows us to spin out the legs. I flick through the bar meter and find that we just went through the 100,000 ft of climbing since the start on the east coast.

Along the valley on SR 9.

Along the valley on SR 9.

Blue Road side flowers. Colorado.

Blue Road side flowers. Colorado.

Red Road side flowers, Colorado.

Red Road side flowers, Colorado.

The easy bit is over. The final 1,500 ft of ascent is more miserable than Hamish McMiserable, the most miserable man in Scotland. Spring has not long ago arrived here and flowers are in full bloom in their short season of sun and warmth. 9,405 ft and the roads drops to Pike National Forest and a vista to the mountains across a high plain. The wind hits us in the face as a gust charges across the flat land, we are bought to a standstill. This is a hard day.

At approx. 9000 ft.

At approx. 9000 ft.

Chevy Car Grill, Guffrey, CO.

Chevy Car Grill, Guffrey, CO.

It did work, Guffrey, CO.

It did work, Guffrey, CO.

Some more of Bill's antiques, Guffrey, CO.

Some more of Bill’s antiques, Guffrey, CO.

Colo 1937.

Colo 1937.

Horse skulls.

Horse skulls.

The wind, the altitude, the effort of climbing all make the long and brutally straight stretch to the days end beautiful and horrid in equal measure. We had a hard day because we expected to get food at Guffrey, a small and now semi ghost town just off our route. It has three places to get food. Unbelievably, they all close on a Monday. This put us in a poor mood as you can imagine. We were just pedaling away when Bill whistled. He is the centerfold in the book ‘ weird Colorado ‘. We had put money into his drinks machine, only to hear it drop without trace inside the machine. ” I owe you a pop then, so let’s make it two “. You have to visit Bill and sign the guest book.

Almost there, II. SR 9 to Current Creek Pass, CO.

Almost there, II. SR 9 to Current Creek Pass, CO.

 

Almost there, III. SR 9 to Current Creek Pass, CO..

Almost there, III. SR 9 to Current Creek Pass, CO..

View over the Current Creek Pass.

View over the Current Creek Pass.

Descending into the high plateau.

Descending into the high plateau.

Bison herd in the distance.

Bison herd in the distance.

The Range in the distance.

The Range in the distance.

Guffrey was the high point, and this final slog the low. At times I just pushed the bike up even modest hills, just for a bit of a change. Hartsel is always one more hill away, and there is nothing left in the legs. Of course we get there, but it did not look likely for the final 10 miles. We camp opposite the diner, tucked down behind two big trucks. The wind drops just after nightfall and Coyotes call into a cold night.

camping at Hartsel, CO.

camping at Hartsel, CO.

 

Cleaning the tent.

Cleaning the tent.

 

Horse in trailer.

Horse in trailer.

The sun is up early but it has a lot of work to do to bring up temperatures that are close to freezing. A golden light comes low across the South Park Plain. Too lazy to cook this morning, we eat a huge diner breakfast. It is warm enough as we throw our legs over the top tube to go without the leggings and winter gear we thought we would need. Off we go for another day of climbing. First there are the flat lands to cross. Trains once linked all these small towns together. There were casinos, churches and gold fever. Soon, the gold ran out and small ranching communities of cowboys were left behind.

On Road 9 to Fairplay, CO.

On Road 9 to Fairplay, CO.

Garo, Old Railway station - the "G"- station.

Garo, Old Railway station – the “G”- station of the alphabet.

South Platte River. Colorado.

South Platte River. Colorado.

The long stretch.

The long stretch.

The mountains are right in our path now. So too are the first of the tourist hot-spots. We get our first close shave from a passing RV. I am certain the driver has no idea that his retirement gift to himself has just given us a handswidth of room on a straight road. Do these people think they turn into Trolls if their wheels cross the yellow centre line?

The Rockies above Fairplay, Colorado.

The Rockies above Fairplay, Colorado.

 

Alma, Colorado.

Alma, Colorado.

Close to 10,000 ft now and to be honest I am finding it hard to talk and pedal. It is one or the other from now on at this height. The breathless feeling kicks in, but luckily the grades are less demanding than yesterday. Alma, the town is North Americas highest incorporated town. It is worth putting this on a big notice as we ride into town. I have no idea what it means, or care much.

4 miles to go.

4 miles to go.

The final 4 miles kick up just to make getting to the summit something of a trial. We have the perfect day to be climbing what is our highest point on the whole TransAm route and are sucking in gallons of pure pine fresh air. We crest the last rise and are rewarded with a panorama of much of Colorado and beyond. Photos at the top, we have crossed the Continental Divide for the first time on this ride.

Hoosier Pass and Continental Divide at 11,539ft.

Hoosier Pass and Continental Divide at 11,539ft.

 

First bend after summit.

First bend after summit.

On with coats for the descent from Hoosier Pass. It is much steeper than the way we came up here from the east. We drop through prosperous looking holiday retreats and into tourist towns. The West starts here, the music taste the lifestyle and even the beer. The day is now hot bringing out the smell of the roadside pines. We have had a great day and it ends in Frisco. A wonderful town to have a day or two off.

Several bends further.

Several bends further.

The efforts of the day only really hit after we have eaten our meal. ” I don’t feel too great, how are you? ” We are both suffering and still being over 9,000 ft is a bit of a problem. I can not get enough oxygen and am starting to panic. I am walking around the town at 3.00 am trying to find some air and not focus on breathing too much. Back at the house I throw up. This is horrible and it is so hard not to panic. It is only the next day on the WWW that I truly understand just how high we are on the altitude sickness league table. We will have to take a couple of days off here to get adjusted. For goodness sake we are supposed to be in prime fitness, why is this so hard? Twenty minute Brown Rice takes over half an hour to cook here – now who has that much time for rice?

Bike path into Frisco, CO.

Bike path into Frisco, CO.

Ordway Colorado, after two big storms and 29,000 miles done.

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Severe Storm/ The eye. Sheridan Lake, CO.

Severe Storm/ The eye. Sheridan Lake, CO.

Weather plays a huge part in most days on the road. There are parts of the world that we have now biked through where the heat of the day dictates when we ride or how far we go, and certainly how miserable we look when we get there. This is climate, but there have also been times when that day’s weather has been the most dangerous thing we have faced. The turn of the seasons is really what people sit around breakfast tables talking about. We have listened in on farmers having the same conversation the world over – ” I got four rain gauges now and the two in the yard never seem to agree “. We heard this a few days ago, as we biked through a part of Kansas that has been in drought for 10 years ( they really want to know about rain ).

Grain Silo in Lindsborg, Kansas.

Grain Silo in Lindsborg, Kansas.

This is climate, and it can make you lose the farm or close the schools and shops, and turn thriving places into ghost towns. We have seen plenty of this over the last week of riding. What we have also witnessed is weather. We have had three close calls with lightning on our trip, and now treat approaching thunder storms with the greatest of respect. Listening to a recent BBC podcast did not help – ‘ as many as 24,000 people are killed globally each year by lightning ‘. This feels like a big number for something often used to describe lottery win stats that will almost never happen. Crouching in a tent as the random dice is thrown is hard on the nerves, and gives you a sort of post traumatic anxiety at the sight of the next T storm forecast. Which is just what happened, twice.

Old house. Kansas.

Old house. Kansas HWY 4.

Cactus blossoms.

Cactus blossoms.

Farm Stead. Central Kansas.

Farm Stead. Central Kansas.

Overcast, not a breath of wind as we push the bikes onto the road in front of the motel and pedal away from Lindsborg. It is Sleepy Sunday morning quiet, and even by 10.00 am is just 60’f. To add to the joy of things, we have a tail wind that is pushing us along HWY 4 as we go West. Small towns come up and pass behind. Some look prosperous, others less so. It is hard to stay focused on the pedalling. The hills offer just enough resistance to snap down four or five gears, but nothing that requires focus and curse words from the Anglo-Saxon legacy of English. It is almost a day off for the brain.

Fertile land in Central Kansas, Route 4.

Fertile land in Central Kansas, Route 4.

 

Bear the dog. The biggest and hairyest dog Esther has ever stroked.

Bear the dog. The biggest and hairyest dog Esther has ever stroked.

 

Straight road and green either side.

Straight road and green either side.

Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Refuge, a dizzying expanse of flat land is visited by just about every migrating bird that passes here in the Autumn and Spring. It is disorientatingly flat, and presents a bit of contrast to the ripples in the landscape around it. We pass through our 2,000 miles done point and draw closer to the centre of the continent. Hoisington was going to be our destination goal for the day. It comes up at 3.00 pm after 64 miles. We feel good and after a team talk, push on for more distance.

Oil well - one of many hundreds.

Oil well – one of many hundreds.

Grain silo in Hope. Kansas.

Grain silo in Claflin. Kansas.

All day we have been climbing theses small ramps or steps. Kansas goes up as you bike West, but it is in easy bite sized pieces that take you up to meet the border with Colorado. We are over 2,000ft for the first time since the mountains of the Appalachian chain. With 9 miles to go we hear the first rumbles of thunder, and to our right pass a field of Bison. They are young and do the teenage thing of running alongside our bikes on their side of the fence. The town of La Crosse and the end of the day after 94 miles and over 2,000 ft of climbing.

2000 miles done.

2000 miles done.

 

Shed in field. Kansas.

Shed in field. Kansas.

Single tree. Kansas.

Single tree. Kansas.

Pickers would love the sign.

Pickers would love the sign.

I win a round of “I Spy” against Esther – ‘ The letter P, which she fails to get – ” Possible approaching thunderstorm “. I would have given here half marks for Prairie. We pitch the tent at the ‘ Grass Park ‘, which is just across from the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, so you  really can not miss it. I rains heavily for most of the night and strong gusting winds give the first testing of our new Big Agnes tent – it does a great job, hurrah, which is good as the local motel looks less than inviting.

Dogs and Turtles Welcome.

Dogs and Turtles Welcome.

Barb wire ball.

Barbed Wire ball.

A train is coming very, very slowly.

A train is coming very, very slowly.

Now that it has got the habit, it continues and we wake to rain and even start to ride in rain. This has been a wet spring here and there is a green and lush feel to the landscape for the first time in years. We stop in a shop and people are talking with excitement about the rain. We drop down the slope of one of the folds in the land the four miles to pick up HWY 96 and rejoin the official TransAm route after our hundreds of miles of truancy from it.

Wheat field and clouds.

Wheat field and clouds.

 

Rain in Kansas.

Rain in Kansas.

With just 30 miles on the clock for the day clouds are piling up all around us. HWY 96 and the path West is heading in the only direction that has any sort of brightness about it. The wind begins to blow much harder. It has been on all day and as luck would have it, it is from our backs. Two cyclists are biking the other way and we stop for a chat. They are from Austria and pose for photos – ” I am smiling, but only for the camera “. They have had headwinds since they got into Kansas and hate the state, the girl is close to tears and we hear swearing in two languages as they try to pull away behind us.

Shed with graffiti and birds.

Shed with graffiti and birds.

Ness City, and a good diner. We sit with locals, eat and watch the rain fall, ” That is a good rain “. When you wait for months this is the day to go check the gauges and phone around the results. As soon as we are out the door it is obvious that the wind is now much stronger. What is worse for us is that it is now gusting and hitting the road from the North, across us. We bike on, leaning into the gusts and clutching at the bars to the point of cramping.

Low hanging clouds and rain. Kansas.

Low hanging clouds and rain. Kansas.

 

Strong Side Winds.

Strong Side Winds.

Payback for the few days of tailwind and now we have a bad situation where we are in the middle of nowhere and have nothing to shelter behind. We are running the risk of being blown under the passing trucks. Very soon it goes from unpleasant to dangerous and we take shelter behind a shed in a cemetery. We are very exposed and there is no place for the tent to be pitched out of the wind. Just 15 miles to go to the next town, but it is just insane to try to get there. It is a big cemetery for what not that long ago Beeler was a thriving little community. There are a few houses left and we go down a sandy track to try to find some shelter.

Our Angels, Beeler, Kansas.

Our Angels, Beeler, Kansas.

This being the USA, a welcome awaits us. Grandmother is looking after the kids, and she has the keys to the community centre. An old school has been given over to games of cards and social meetings. The class of ’66 was the last to get an education here, and it looks like they just closed their books at the end of the day and walked away to watch the Beatles on TV that night. Eight days ago all of this area was brown and crisp to the touch. Then the rain came, the cattle no longer need to be sold and by the end of the day even the lowest rain gauge will have 2 1/2 inches in it. There has been a lot of praying here.

The next morning.

The next morning.

The remnants of the storm are nothing more than a moderate wind from North, as we set out early the next morning. A night in an abandoned school in a storm is not restful after formative years of Scooby-Do. The landscape is becoming increasingly open, with little to rest your eye on or old attention. This is hard on the mind at the speed of a bicycle. We climb up to 3,000 ft and into what we can now call – High Prairie or The Wild West, take your pick.

Mail Box on Road 96, Kansas.

Mail Box on Road 96, Kansas.

Ranch sign, Kansas.

Ranch sign, Kansas.

Dighton, which is where we should have got to yesterday. The bowling alley diner is the place to eat – ” If you want to sit down it’s the only place ” We get told this by the mayor. ” It’s the best place in town ” – he also owns the place. We take second breakfast. The afternoon ride is a constant question of trying to stay alert enough to maintain balance. The wind changes from northerly to southerly in a moment. By the end of the day it has worked its way around the compass to South East enough to push us along a bit.

Caution Wind Currents.

Caution Wind Currents.

We enter Wichita County, of Lineman song fame. As you know, this is a personal favourite and a significant moment. We ride into the town of Leoti and the pitch for the night is in the city park. Which is where we come across the horror of Tumble Weed for the first time. It drops horrid little spikes small enough to hide in things and sharp enough to slice through high tech camping gear. The soles of my Crocs are covered in the sods. Behind us and stretching to the horizon is a field that is trying to grow something. It must be 300 Acres and is a small field here. A full moon rises into a cloudless night sky and we feel for the first time the cool night of elevation.

Passing into Mountain Time Zone.

Passing into Mountain Time Zone.

 

Side road and railroad. Kansas.

Side road and railroad. Kansas.

You are here.

You are here. Finger erosion.

Roadside flowers blooming with a bit of rain.

Roadside flowers blooming with a bit of rain.

All coolness is gone early the next morning. We cross into Mountain Time, and gain 1 hour of day. Grain Silos mark the little towns. Few if any have anything to offer the passing touring cyclist. We climb up towards the 4,000 ft mark in temperatures that are now 107’f as we leave Kansas and enter Colorado. This Eastern part of the state is far from the picture that the State brings to mind. If anything it is flatter, wilder, dryer and all round less easy to make an honest living here than Kansas was. What is more, the road surfaces are worse, too.

Leaving Kansas.

Leaving Kansas.

Wagons as canvas. Colorado.

Wagons as canvas. Colorado.

Train and Warren.

Train and Warren.

Train wagons are backed up in sidings, all have Tumble Weed caught up in their cables and wheels. They have not moved in 10 years or more. A Coyote calmly watches us ride by. With 6 miles to go, it is 109’f and my head is spinning even at the end of a short day. The wind drops and takes away all cooling, leaving us to suffer for the final miles. We are heading for Sheridan Lake, the gps map no longer even has the lake marked. We drop down onto the hard seats of the cafe and convenience sore. Outside the weather is changing.

A bit greener here, but as flat as Kansas, Eastern Colorado.

A bit greener here, but as flat as Kansas, Eastern Colorado.

 

White towers. Sheridan Lake, CO. Clouds building.

White towers. Sheridan Lake, CO. Clouds building.

When we come out there is a storm coming and we have a problem. Sheridan Lake is a small town, but it is the biggest town for a very long way in all directions. This makes it significant enough to have one large church. The good news is, they are very welcoming to cyclists. By the end of the day there will be 11 touring cyclists who are all thankful beyond words for the hospitality here. There is already a Tornado warning as we ride up to the doors of the church. Within a matter of minutes locals are arriving with their children for shelter in the basement. The storm rolls in as more cyclists turn up.

Storm arriving.  Sheridan Lake, CO.

Storm arriving. Sheridan Lake, CO.

Severe Storm/ Tornado. Sheridan Lake, CO.

Severe Storm/ Tornado. Sheridan Lake, CO.

Lightning, thunder on the leading edge and there is a green tint to the clouds that means hail and tornados. The storm hits ripping up the top soil and sending it high into the air. A call from a neighbour, a Tornado has touched down 3 miles south. This is wild, fascinating to witness but very scary. They have just 1 or 2 of this type of storm here per year and we are here now. We wait for someone who knows the signs to tell us to get to the basement. It is obvious you could wait too long. By the end of the storm, an hour or so later, Sheridan has a lake again and there are little white capped waves on it as well. We were so lucky.

Lovely cloud cover and wind in the back.

Lovely cloud cover and wind in the back.

Next morning as we ride on there is standing water under the rail bridges and croaking from very happy frogs. A green sheen from grass that stretches to far horizon and the air cool. It is a good day to ride a bike, which is good as we have a very long way to go. The town of Eads, for second breakfast after 24 miles. Time to stock up for the wilderness ahead. On the horizon there is a line of clouds. The clouds of mountains and height. But there is 200 miles of high ground to cross that is trying very hard to become desert.

20 miles East of Ordway, CO.

20 miles East of Ordway, CO.

There is nothing, and very flat nothing at that. Truck drivers wave, a sure sign of the brutality of where we are. Neil Armstrong had already had the glory of going down the steps first onto the lunar surface. Buzz Aldrin went down second. He had a good line prepared as well ” Beautiful beautiful, magnificent desolation “. Nothing could describe this part of Western Colorado better. You really do not get any sort of meaningful insight by taking a photo it is just too visceral.

And Jesus Wept - trailor, I

And Jesus Wept – trailer, I

 

And Jesus Wept - trailor, II

And Jesus Wept – trailer, II

And Jesus Wept - trailor, III.

And Jesus Wept – trailer, III.

An old man driving a yard tractor goes by. He is on a mission and is towing two trailers. He waves, and once again I wish I was a documentary maker, this is Discovery Channel Prime Time. Both trailers have two dozen white Doves and perfect Dovecote homes. There is a story and a life here. The road continues to climb. We gain height to over 4,000 ft by the time we end the day after 90 miles. The final climb gives us our first view of the Rockies off in the heat haze of distance. The town of  Ordway, we have had the second batch of Adventure Cycling maps sent here and we are worn out from the mental strain of straight lines. It is time to have a day off and consider how lucky we were to be in safe places as we crossed Kansas and entered Colorado.

Unhappy single tree by the road.

Unhappy single tree by the road.

Lindsborg, Kansas and wind in the back

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Big skies, Road 4, Kansas.

Big skies, Road 4, Kansas.

 For the last 2 days we have had that most unusual of blessings – a tailwind. The winds here in Kansas could bring the most stoic of cyclists to their knees in floods of tears. There are many who ride west to east because of the winds here, which conventional wisdom has it, blow from the west. It may come and bite us in a day or two, but at the moment to ride west is to be on the money. To ride with a tailwind is a wonderful thing, a thing of pure joy. To quote a Thai person we met – ” we are Christmas Happy!! “. Now, I have told you before of the horrors of Skunk roadkill. With a tailwind the experience is worse, there is no preamble, no odor tail to ride into, to prepare to hold your breath. With a tailwind you are right on top of ground zero stench before you know it. You have to hold your breath immediately. To continue to breath in or out is horrible beyond words. Then you have to guess how far you need to ride without breathing. The experience is vile in ways I and possibly the finest writers on the subjects of food and wine could not find words to describe.

Creek.

Creek.

A last night in Sedalia, and food with a beer. But we did not count on Esther being asked for ID, and of course we do not carry ID. She is 22 years older than the legal drinking age here and so we walk out in quite a huff in protest at the stupidity of it. We go and eat in SUBWAY, which is not quite the same.

The last of the Katy Trail, MO.

The last of the Katy Trail, MO.

  We have a few more miles of the Katy Trail to do. I have new shoes on my feet and a sunny disposition, what could go wrong? It has rained in the night, and the surface is the consistency of cheesecake base on a week old cheesecake. We are going SW into a strong wind from the SW. We ride on, leaving deep tyre snakes in the trail. There is no feeling of rolling or coasting, none. It is hard work even to go downhill. The gps shows a black-top bailout to Windsor, we take it. The effort vanishes. Even with a headwind HWY 52 feels like biking on silk. If the trail had been wet for the last 200 miles or more it would have defeated us – be warned my biking buddies.

Drink Coca-Cola in Bottles.

Drink Coca-Cola in Bottles.

Back on the road, for a few miles.

Back on the road, for a few miles.

Brown advertising, Clinton, MO.

Brown advertising, Clinton, MO.

The end of the trail comes up without any fanfare at Clinton. A haircut, a coffee and we continue west, towards Kansas on tarmac. We run out of energy short of our nest state and go in search of a pitch for the tent. We ride into the farming lives of Jim and his father who are working with some cattle in holding pens to the side of the road. We have a place to stay. Jim owns what were once five family farms. You have to go for scale to make ends meet, he tells us. Making ends meet is far from a fancy lifestyle, but Jim is happy with farming life. The weather here goes the whole spectrum from winter snow to harsh drought of summer. Everyone sounds their horns as they pass and see us out on Jim’s porch.

Single Tree.

Single Tree.

Jim and his dad.

Jim and his dad.

Jim's Porch, Ballard, MO.

Jim’s Porch, Ballard, MO.

The night is still and quite cool. Coyote are hunting, their cry comes to us over still fields that will soon turn brown as summer begins to take a hold. Firefly and the perfect night in the tent. It is warm and then within minutes, too hot to be in a sleeping bag. People here do not consider this to be either hot or humid. We think it is both. We are up and away and soon biking between fields of corn and grass that stretch out from our road in increasingly big fields. I would not want to be here in July or August, I think we have got it just about right and are enjoying the green of early summer.

Barn.

Barn.

Adrian, Missouri.

Adrian, Missouri.

Proceedings are for the local church.

Proceeds are for the local church.

We spend all day on HWY15. It knows its own mind, the imperative to head west. All the major roads head west, all share the ambition to head for the horizon. Clouds are building but we should stay south of this storm. We are obsessed with weather here and you need to be, it could kill you. Kansas is just 1 mile ahead, but the road takes a sharp turn to the right to take us to the town of Drexel for second breakfast. Population 651 and 6 churches of exotic denomination on the Christian menu.

This time it's not to Amsterdam.

This time it’s not to Amsterdam.

A small community and 6 churches. Missouri.

A small community and 6 churches. Missouri.

Road Closed. Just 1mile to go... I think NOT.

Road Closed. Just 1mile to go… I think NOT.

We cross into Kansas and then head north with a slight tailwind. Our forward speed cancels the breeze and we ride in a 95’f fug of humidity. Esther tells me to get up earlier and that she will not moan, promise. Some how the day runs away with us, lost in a haze of heat and stiff little climbs that drain the last drops of energy. Osawatomie, a difficult town to pronounce, but it has a city park with camping. Guess where the rail tracks are? All night trains go by. They are long slow moving brutes. Up ahead the engine is robbing the sleep of people almost a mile away as the cars still roll by our pitch.

Kansas!

Kansas!

Mail box in Kansas.

Mail box in Kansas.

Wichita or Washita ?

Wichita or Washita ?

Up at 6.00 in an attempt to get ahead of the heat and thermal wind. The landscape of rolling grass fields has the usual sturdy black cows, but they share the fields with oil well pumps that nod day and night. This is small scale oil, but still the smell drifts down to the road on the heat of the day. Today is 70% humidity and 96% is forecast for tomorrow. We have become road hardened after 2 months back on the bikes. Catching sight of yourself in a mirror is strange and unfamiliar. Angular, darkly tanned to the point of walnut, and with sharp edges with skin pulled tight over bone.

Crossing the long railway line. Kansas.

Crossing the long railway line. Kansas.

With Lily at her family's farm Judd Farm, Kansas.

With Lily at her family’s farm Judd Farm, Kansas.

2 days of sweating.

2 days of sweating.

By 10.00am we are in McDonald’s in the town of Ottowa having done a good stint on the saddle. It is strange how I scan horizons and roof tops of towns as they come up looking for that golden M and WiFi with aircon oasis. At home they are just not part of my life at all. Not sure I could live in Kansas is my considered opinion as we end our first full day here. The wind has been on our left shoulder all day. With 20 miles to go, it flips 180′. We pitch the tent behind Jerry’s Thrift Store. Jerry looks like every perfect Uncle you could ever hope for and shows us to our patch of grass personally. He points out the storm shelter and wishes us well.

Ready to relax, behind Jerry's store, Osage City, Kansas.

Ready to relax, behind Jerry’s store, Osage City, Kansas.

The storm, dry. Osage City, Kansas.

The storm, dry. Osage City, Kansas.

Watching the storm, dry. Osage City, Kansas.

Watching the storm, dry. Osage City, Kansas.

The forecast is for a fine night and the promise of tailwinds for the days ahead. Which is why it feels a little unfair to be running for the shelter of a barn at 5.50am. We have the tent in our hands and will deal with dismantling it later. It is as dark as night, darker even and with a malevolence. Lightning is dancing from cloud top to cloud top. Then comes the wind that pushes the trees over and rips branches away.

Big cloud formation to the side. Kansas.

Big cloud formation to the side. Kansas.

  There is a lull, and we make a dash for a more comfortable spot. Coffee and a chat in a gas station. A customer comes in, she works at a local store, ‘”Our worms are bigger than yours, people are always complaining about your worms “.  Fishing and hunting in general are big here. It is not a good day and many are considering that they should have just gone back to bed. Outside the storm is back and there are drivers coming into the store with harrowing tales. I go for a walk around to see what is on the shelves – a Tree Freshener, New Car smell !!!

Flint Hills. Kansas.

Flint Hills. Kansas.

Wind in our back (from East)

Wind in our back (from East)

We only need to ride a short way today, but we had better make the right choice. Two hours in SUBWAY and then we are off with a good forecast. For the first time things start to look like what you hold in your mind when you think of prairie. The horizon opens up and the sky begins to dominate. Off to our left the clouds of the tail end of the storm. Grass to the far horizon without fence or ditch. It is green after a wet spring here, but it will turn first golden then brown and almost pink before next winter. The wind is pushing us. It is from the side, but enough at our back to be a friend today.

Oil (or water?) pump. Kansas.

Oil (or water?) pump. Kansas.

Cattle on grass land. Flint Hills, Kansas.

Cattle on grass land. Flint Hills, Kansas.

Coca Cola wall advertising.

Coca Cola wall advertising.

We stay in Council Groves at the end of what feels like a day of sailing along HWY 50. A town, any town feels inviting when you have biked through barren country. This is a good town, with a feeling of warmth of character. We like it very much and eat like hungry pigs ( old Simpsons joke – more like ducks, pigs chew ). We go to sleep with one weather forecast and wake to a completely different one – slightly better for us.

Kansas (bits of it) on the GPS.

Kansas (bits of it) on the GPS.

Single 6 Ranch, Kansas.

Single 6 Ranch, Kansas.

After the rain of the storm, the humidity will kick in today. We have a long ride planned, but a tailwind is forecast. We will need every bit of help. As we step out of the door, the humidity hits – why did we not get up earlier? As we start, the forward speed of the bike helps to make it feel better. Out of the town and it is open prairie and hundreds of miles of straight roads with right angle junctions. My gps looks like tartan. I zoom in and out looking for a break with conformity, nothing. There is a lot of Kansas ahead and much is like this or worse, sorry Kansas, but you are hard to cycle across.

Stuck between a grill and some bars.

Stuck between a grill and some bars.

Coca Cola Mural, Kansas.

Coca Cola Mural, Kansas.

 Herington and all we can find is a Mexican restaurant for breakfast. It takes me back to Asia and I can not find any hunger to match the assault of Mexican food at 11.00am. We take a tour of the town and pick up lots of drinks and then head back to the riffle straight roads. It is hard to stay focused, even to keep the bike on the road and out of the gutter. It is straight, but the wind is on our team today. This would be hell going the other way. We stop once more for food and then it is back to the trial of mind against landscape.

Tire doughnuts.

Tire doughnuts.

Gridiron Cafe, Hope, Kansas.

Gridiron Cafe, Hope, Kansas.

The cook and his tattoos. Hope, Kansas.

The cook and his tattoos. Hope, Kansas.

The morning has been cool enough, but in the few minutes we were eating the cloud cover has gone. This is the full heat that makes every dip of the road into a promise of a miraged lake. Whatever the opposite of sensory overload is, whatever anechoic room of deprivation, none could be too much worse than going the opposite direction toady. Lindsborg or ‘ Little Sweden ‘, after 78 miles and we take a motel for a rest day. A new storm hits in the night. Kansas is hard, but I think we are doing well.

Good road 56. Kansas.

Good road 56. Kansas.

Slightly up hill. Kansas

Slightly up hill. Kansas

Sedalia, on the Katy Trail, Missouri.

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Second breakfast venue.

Second breakfast venue.

If you had asked Neil, Michael or Buzz how far away the moon is, they may have replied ” Just a bit over 3 days “. They would of course have fixed you with an unflinching test pilot gaze that made it clear there was no further debate.  In the rest of the world, and possibly here as well, time is money. Enigmatically, and certainly often annoyingly, only here in the USA is time also distance. We have it so often, that to get a meaningful answer to our question ” how far is it to X Y Z? “, in miles does rather throw us now. We are riding a bike, nothing could be more obvious. Saying it is 15 minutes to somewhere from here means almost nothing. There was a sign a few days ago – McDonald’s 6 minutes. Does that mean anything to anyone?

Farm Stead. IL.

Farm Stead. IL.

 

Single Tree.

Single Tree.

A rest day in Carbondale was spent in a 50/50 split between doing an interview for local TV and eating. The night draws in with a spectacularly pyrotechnic thunderstorm. We are grateful beyond measure to watch it from the safety of a motel room. The next morning is cooler which is nice, and very much less windy which is fantastic. Ahead is the Mississippi River and we intend to ride along the levees. We ride out on HYW 13, which is a bit busy but has a wide shoulder. To say we are refreshed would be putting too much of a gloss on things, but there is a perky attitude and we do smell much better – goodness, did we need that rest day! Game on.

Flooding near the Mississippi, IL.

Flooding near the Mississippi, IL.

 

Chester, IL, home to Popeye.

Chester, IL, home to Popeye.

As we pass woodland, there is a strong smell of Honeysuckle, the heavy smell of elderly ladies. This wonderful aroma will be with us for many hundreds of miles to come, held on hot afternoon air and breathed in by the gallon. Flat land, flooding and Catfish on the menu as a Friday special at the Bottoms Up Bar and Grill. There are big trucks with NRA bumper stickers and a slight ‘ tumbleweed moment when we walk in ‘. These are hard-working folks who would not use a tractor that was not green in colour. Every table has small piles of boot dirt left from home family farms. We pick up the road that runs by the Mississippi. It is a Friday afternoon and tempers are short and gas pedal foot heavy. Barges have unloaded tons of coal into big trucks, and they are all in a hurry to get the job done and home and a beer. It is not fun to be on a bike on the Highway 3 to Chester, miserable even and bloody dangerous, the worst 6 miles of the journey in the USA.

Walmart Garden ornaments for Sale.

Walmart Garden ornaments for Sale.

 

GTO.

GTO.

... and the name of the dog is...?

… and the name of the dog is…?

Chester, the home of Popeye and his universe of good and evil in cartoon form. For those of you who had forgotten, his dog is called Jeep. They all have statues around the town. We bike through to Walmart for supplies, and then head for the Eagle Fraternity Bar Grill and Campground for cyclist. There is one other person. Nominally, he is a cyclist as he has a bicycle with him. He catches our gaze occasionally as he talks. He is rocking backwards and forwards, and it is hard not to subconsciously prepare to catch him. He puts Marco Pantani to shame with his levels of self medication and like Marco, it is all rather tragic.

Olive Oil impersonator,

Olive Oil impersonator,

Crossing the mighty Mississippi at Chester, IL.

Crossing the mighty Mississippi at Chester, IL.

Entering Missouri.

Entering Missouri.

By morning the numbers of flags, never few in number, have quadrupled in patriotic enthusiasm. It is memorial day weekend, and we take in more Popeye sites before we head for the bridge across the Mississippi. As we cross, we ride into Missouri, our next state on our ride west. The biking now is flat, the wind and sun the new enemy of comfort and forward progress on heavy touring bikes.

The wind came from the back!

The wind came from the back!

 

GPS showing the Mississippi.

GPS showing the Mississippi.

There is quite a shock in coming out of the mountains onto flat lands. Eventually, this will be our landscape as we enter Kansas and face roads that vanish into infinity. Today it is new and interesting. We ride on HWY 61 and take a right to our meeting with the longest rail to trail path in the USA – The Katy Trail. We get to Festus by 2.30 thanks to getting up early and a tail wind. It was a rather uneventful ride through small towns that are just about holding on since the interstate was put in and bypassed them.

Camping on the grounds of the United Methodist church, Hillsboro, MO.

Camping on the grounds of the United Methodist church, Hillsboro, MO.

As we come into the edge of town, it is obvious that the chain Malls are holiday busy today. The route is less than splendidly scenic, the main goal being to swerve around St. Louis without coming to harm. We are off the tourist route, and camping is by knocking on the door of the church pastor. In Hillsboro, we ask a cop ” If you needed to find a place for pitching a tent for 1 night, what would you do? ” There was a pause, then a second and finally a third even longer silent pause. ‘ In 30 years of service I have never been asked that ‘. The conclusion was – The United Methodist Church ‘. He was spot on. Photos on the walls in the church tell the local story of small town USA: 1953, a huge congregation with many dozens of scrubbed clean children smiling eager black&white smiles. 1963, less kids, but still B&W. 1970, even less kids, but their world is now in colour. By 2004 we are down to just 10 kids surrounded by lots of people with silver hair and gentle smiles.

International tractor hybrid rat look.

International tractor hybrid rat look.

 

Advertising, MO.

Advertising, MO.

Great hosts, Mary  and Francis.

Great hosts, Mary and Francis.

We have exciting new roadkill to report, and all thanks to global warming – Armadillo. They moved up here about 5 years ago, and have no roadsense what so ever. We do not ride far the next day before stopping at a gas station. It could be just coffee, but turns into a room down the road a short way. Travelling enthusiast, coffee drinker and bike nut Francis invites us to ‘ his place ‘. A great time was had, stories told. It could have been the wine, the beer, possibly the Gin and you could not rule out the Tonic. One day lost to being as sick as possible and I may be pointing at the sausages as well. It is great to bump into like minded souls.

Lovely rural, quiet tracks, MO.

Lovely rural, quiet tracks, MO.

 

German settlers. MO.

German settlers. MO.

After the lost day, we are on the roads of rural Missouri linking up minor roads following streams and cool shelter of trees. This is a German heartland and we pass Wagner road and post boxes of a string of German names with vowels from the far end of the alphabet. There is bird song and cows and I think we could live here. It is certainly Rhineland and the Germans were eager for a new life. Already, tonight’s storm is brewing. ” You guys have 600 miles of flat ahead. You will be begging for a hill “. Francis had waved us off with this opinion and a bold statement.

The Lewis and Clark marker on road 100, Missouri.

The Lewis and Clark marker on road 100, Missouri.

The old theatre in Washington, Missouri.

The old theatre in Washington, Missouri.

We are in Burger King, catching a second breakfast and the A/C breeze, both of which we are enjoying. A cop comes in from his squad car. If there is any sort of fitness test for the job, this guy has found a way of cheating. If you had thought that Frank Cannon was a unlikley physique for a private investigator, this guy is that and possibly a pound or so more. His black uniform is straining and possibly the largest size available. It is tight at the arm, at the waist pulled into an hourglass by his utility belt and then tight at every point that it touches from there down. The firearm and cuffs are lost in the middle and almost out of sight. He takes a fire bucket sized Coke out to his car. We move on. Slightly ahead of what we plan to do today, we spend the afternoon exploring the small town of Washington. It is arty, folksy and full of people who know each other by their first names.

Katy Trail, MO.

Katy Trail, MO.

 

Katy Trail, Missouri.

Katy Trail, Missouri.

On we go. Crossing the river by a long and narrow bridge and holding up nothing less than three dozen cars, we pass into Warren County – hurrah indeed. We take a right, then a left and we are on the Katy Trail. The K stands for Kansas, the T for Texas, and somehow the M for Missouri has been dropped over the years as it got in the way of this catchy name. Trees in full leaf overhang the cinder path and offer shade. Cardinals dart from one side to the other, the males as red as Saturday night lipstick. Camping for the night is at the back of the ball park at Marthasville. It is heaving and children as young as 5 take to the field to learn a life lesson about losing.

The local Baseball game in Marthasville, Missouri.

The local Baseball game in Marthasville, Missouri.

” Stop digging in the dirt honey!!! “, ” Don’t throw dirt at the opposition Hank “. The mothers have the best excuses for a bad performance, ” We took him to the zoo today and he got so excited he did not have his nap “. It is great fun. Everyone can play rubbish and never get within a foot of connecting with the ball and still get loads of encouragement. Some have to run holding their helmets with both hands to stop it covering their eyes as it drops down their small heads. I am not sure every one of them would not enjoy playing soccer more.

Katy Trail crossing other little roads, Missouri.

Katy Trail crossing other little roads, Missouri. Esther sketching.

 

Flat between the fields, Katy Trail, Missouri.

Flat between the fields, Katy Trail, Missouri.

Within the first 10 miles of the next day, as I slip into the trance state of flat riding,  Esther asks one of life’s harder questions, ” Do Smurfs have blue tongues? “. Kali, blue goddess the fierce aspect of the goddess Durga, and all of the Avatar characters do not. I am unsure of the physiology of Smurfs, but I know there is a breed of dog with a blue tongue. This is flat land, very very flat and with big fields and distant mostly green tractors. The surface is good when dry, like now. But would be an utter nightmare when wet. We pass many monuments to times even quite recently when people woke to find the Missouri stretching out to meet their villages and covering their farms for many miles. The day ends at the Turner Katy Trail Bicycle Hostel in Tebbet. A one time store and then church and more recently derelict eyesore. Hardwork and a philanthropic spirit have bought it back to use. There are fellow cyclists there, so being curmudgeon and downright antisocial, we pitch our tent and are thankful they are all going the opposite way.

Heaven in the Missouri heat.

Heaven in the Missouri heat.

Approching Treloar, MO.

Approching Treloar, MO.

Grain Silo. Katy Trail, Missouri.

Grain Silo. Katy Trail, Missouri.

Yesterday was a 7 Turtle Day and 3 Snakes. Today begins with 7 Turtles within the first few miles. The surface grabs at our tyres today, holding back about 2 to 3 mph and making the trail harder than the flat ride it should be. We are grateful beyond words for the shade though, and love the change to woodland biking. Jefferson comes up on our right. The municipal buildings all look like every other capital building here. We ride on. The Missouri River comes up alongside our shoulders time and again. It is all very exciting, and then we drift apart like Facebook Friends.

Iron Bridge. Katy Trail, Missouri.

Iron Bridge. Katy Trail, Missouri.

 

Along the Missouri River.

Along the Missouri River.

Katy Trail.

Katy Trail.

St. Marcus Evangelical church, Katy Trail, Missouri

St. Marcus Evangelical church, Katy Trail, Missouri

A group of cyclists but not in Lycra. These are Mennonites, and there are many groups of them pedalling and others taking shaded stops to drink pop. The women wear long dresses, many the light blue of the butterflies that have been dancing in shafts of sunlight on the trail. The children are on bikes all one size at least too big. They look great in their wide brimmed straw hats. Esther has a stronger opinion – “the guys were hot, really good looking “.

Katy Trail.

Katy Trail.

Jungle like canopy on the Katy Trail, Missouri.

Jungle like canopy on the Katy Trail, Missouri.

 

Just caught, Missouri River Carp.

Just caught, Missouri River Carp.

Old Lions Club Hall, Mokane, Missouri.

Old Lions Club Hall, Mokane, Missouri.

Cabin that was just rescued from the woods. Tebbetts, Missouri.

Cabin that was just rescued from the woods. Tebbetts, Missouri.

High in the cliffs to our right there are Pictographs from the Native Americans. They show the sight of a good water source that flows out of the rocks. We ride over bridges built a hundred years ago and through cuttings that people have laboured to dig. All is now for the bicycle and I am not sure what the builders would have thought of their legacy. We end a 9 Turtle Day at the Katy Roundhouse Campground, just short of Boonville.

Rural Roads along the Trail. Missouri.

Rural Roads along the Trail. Missouri.

 

Katy Trail.

Katy Trail.

Bluffs along the Katy Trail and Missouri River, MO.

Bluffs along the Katy Trail and Missouri River, MO.

Wall decoration.

Wall decoration.

It is a quiet night at the end of a day that once again showed every sign of a terrible storm to come. Like a man who almost manages to sneeze, but then fails and ends with weeping eyes, this is going to catch us one day very soon. Next morning we cross the river and ride into Boonville. 19 miles further on we find a second breakfast at Pilot Grove. The dinner has the usual wonderful staff with the friendliness of Labrador. It also has the aural equivalent of torture, the poorly tuned radio. Almost 30% of all dinners have this, and it drives us nuts within a minute. Through the hiss we gather there is a 60% T storm risk. We will believe it when it happens.

Crossing the Missouri River at Boonville, MO.

Crossing the Missouri River at Boonville, MO.

One of the bridges on the Katy Trail, Missouri.

One of the bridges on the Katy Trail, Missouri.

Once more, as we ride on the clouds gather. We stop again and for the twentieth time this week we are asked if we are Australians. For goodness sake you cloth eared idiots this is an English accent spoke to you by an Englishman speaking my mother tongue at you.

Katy Trail, Missouri.

Katy Trail, Missouri.

 

Bothville Hotel, downtown Sedalia, MO.

Bothwell Hotel, downtown Sedalia, MO.

We need a rest, a day off and some good food. The town of Sedalia is famous for its art deco buildings, the fact that Scott Joplin lived here for a while and that Harry s Truman ate at the hotel here and learned that he had got the top job there. We book a room and wait for my new biking shoes to show up. The Bothwell Hotel is great, and to add to the star line up before us, Clint stayed here when filming Rawhide, we book a couple of nights. Do we feel lucky? Well when the shoes turn up a day early we do.

Shiny Chevrolet.

Shiny Chevrolet.

Old Ford.

Old Ford.

Mural advertising.

Mural advertising.

Hotel Bothwell, Sedalia, MO.

Hotel Bothwell, Sedalia, MO.

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