Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Onward and homeward

Day 39

37.53 miles @ an average of 11.1mph, 18 max
Total ride time of 3:22'32

Finally left Memphis, though I was really enjoying the company of TJ and friends. Frankly, it was just exciting to have someone to talk to who already knew my background, and had been reading my blog, and so was caught up on where I had been. This left time to talk about our lives other than biking, and I'm pleased to say that this was a great break from what has become the norm. I finally got to talk to someone and it wasn't just and extended introduction. So, in order to get out of Memphis, TJ gave me a ride to highway 79 and dropped me off. I was sad to see him go, but I had to get on with my trip, so I headed south and west. The southern part of the road wasn't too bad, but once I turned west the wind was in front of me at around 20mph and I felt like I was climbing a mountain all day, only without the prospect of an enjoyable downhill coast at the end. My right knee once again flared up after about 20 miles of riding. I hoped it would get better as the days went on, but pushed through the pain for the time being and headed towards my destination.
A little while after this I hit 1000 miles for my journey and hopped off to take a picture of my bike and the odometer, and take a short rest. As I hopped back on my bike the Proclaimers song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" came on, and I hooted in joy, and sang along with it, replacing every instance of "walk" with "bike."
So I pedaled on, and by the time I was coming within 15 miles of my campsite the wind had worn me ragged, so I stopped in a town and found a hotel room to crash in for the night. The other reason for doing so was that the temperature dropped to 37 degrees, and I would rather be indoors for that, even if I do have a sleeping bag that can handle that kind of temperature. Luckily the hotel wasn't too expensive, and not too dirty either. It was funny, though. The room was maybe 10x15, and the majority of this area was taken up by the king-size bed they somehow managed to squeeze in there. I swear there was barely room for my bike.

Day 40

61.04 miles @ an average of 13.3mph, max of 21.1
Total ride time of 4:33'58

After I woke up and packed all my bags to go, I noticed that I had a flat on my front tire, so I spent some time fixing that and getting ready to roll. This time the flat was caused by a staple. A freaking staple.
So, my planned stop was about 40 miles from where I was, but the next planned stop would have been 70 miles from there, so I decided it would be best to push on and shorten the ride the next day. So I pushed an extra 20 miles. This meant staying in another hotel, but at least I didn't have to ride as long the next day. I'm beginning to feel like I'm credit card touring at this point.
Got into a good rhythm this day and went around 20 miles between stops, which felt good. All this despite the fact that my knee still ached all day, though the pain wasn't as sharp or immediate as it was the day before. The pain, however, is beginning to affect my morale, and I begin to feel the desire to just get home and be able to relax. More than anything, though, I miss my friends.
At night I looked up ways to stop my knee from hurting so much, and decided to follow some of that advice the next day and see if it helps at all.

Day 41

55.16 miles @ an average of 11.8mph, 18.8 max
Total ride time of 4:39'48

Left the hotel feeling alright, but my course led me directly south. Into the wind. Again. I'm getting tired of wind. The first 24 miles were directly into the wind, but after crossing the Arkansas River I turned west and the wind wasn't quite as troublesome, but around 30 miles into the trip my knee began to hurt so badly I was nearly brought to tears. All this despite taking the advice I got online the previous night. After another mile or two the pain lessened, but it had been severe enough that I decided I needed to find a ride home, and at my next stop I called my mom to discuss what we could do. She told me that she could pick me up the next weekend, but that I needed to push on until then. She also said she would pay for hotels for the coming week. From here on out, I would be credit card touring. I finished out the last 18 miles, and, instead of camping, checked into a hotel in Star City which smelled like an old person's home, and decided I didn't want to stay there another night, so I set my sights on Monticello for the next day. I'm sad I decided to give in this day, but I don't want to cause permanent damage to my knee. I want to keep riding until the day I die.

Day 42

22.44 miles @ an average of 15.4mph, 32.1 max
Total ride time of 1:27'17

Started the day at a local diner where I sucked down about a pot of coffee and had a big breakfast of eggs and toast. I was waiting for the day to warm up a bit, as the morning was a bit chilly, and headed off once the temperature had reached about 60. Once I left, though, I was way overdressed and stopped along the road to strip down to my riding jersey, and while I was doing this, my foot got covered in ants. I didn't notice until I rode another couple of hundred yards down the highway, and when I looked down there were a ton biting me already. I brushed them off, but ended up with about a dozen bites around my ankles. I swear, ants are the bane of my existence.
Anyway, I rode on, planning to stop for a quick rest after about 10 miles, but I was feeling pretty good after that, so I decided to take a break after an hour of riding, but after that I still felt pretty darn good, so I ended up riding all the way to my destination in Monticello. I made pretty amazing time, if I say so myself (and I do), despite the fact that I'm back in hilly country. Actually, I'm happy about the hills. It's wonderful to finally have some time to coast between long periods of exertion.
Checked into my hotel early and got some food at the WallyWorld down the street, and just rested the rest of the day.

Day 43

No riding.

Kept resting in my hotel most of the day, and only went out a few times to eat at a local Chinese buffet, and to grab a snack or two from the WallyWorld. The only real interesting thing that happened was that, while I was at WalMart, I was walking through a section which had recently been mopped, but was not blocked off. As I got to the edge of it, where a woman was still mopping she looked up and immediately started yelling at me. "Uh, uh! You cain't go t'rough heah. You gots to go arouyound," she said, as she pointed back the direction I had just come from. I looked in front of me and saw that I was about two paces from the roped off section and told her calmly that I could simply take the two steps and be out of the wet floor area. She didn't take well to this, and repeated that I had to go back the way I came and walk all the way around the area, which of course would have made me walk on wet floor even longer. I explained this problem to her, but she continued to insist that I take the long way. "Okay," I said, "I'm just going to take these two steps and be out of your way, and off the wet floor." "Uh uh," she started again, but I cut her off, saying "You're retarded." Granted, not the nicest I've ever been, but you have to understand that this woman was exhibiting some serious lack of mental capability by insisting that I walk so far over the still-wet floor instead of simply stepping off of it and being on my way. She, however, had an amazing comeback: "Yo mama's retarded." "I'm sure that's why she has a PhD, and you're mopping floors at WalMart," I replied and walked off. She had something to say in return, but I didn't hear it properly, nor did I care to have her repeat herself. So, I finished my shopping and returned to my hotel, slightly miffed that I had let such a ridiculous woman get to me, if only for a second. Oh well...

Day 44

42.25 miles @ an average of 13.4mph, 21.8 max
Total ride time of 3:08'36

Went to bed far too late, as usual, and woke up around 8:45 to get some breakfast from the hotel, and packed up. Left town around 11:30am, and, despite the wind once again being in my face, made good time towards Hamburg, where I intended to stay for the night. As I pulled into the hotel parking lot, however, an extraordinarily obese woman called me over from to a gazeebo in the parking lot. "We're out of rooms," she informed me. I groaned and checked my phone for the nearest hotel. It was 12 miles away, and my knees had begun to hurt just 2 miles outside of Hamburg. I cursed my luck and headed west to the next hotel. Unfortunately, this 12 mile detour only cut about 1 mile off my journey for the next day. Luckily, it looks like I won't get rained on the next day, and I'll be in Louisiana by the afternoon.

Day 45

For some reason, I didn't write down my ride information for this day. Meh.

Wind. Wind. More wind. So freaking tired of wind. I'm also ready to go home. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, and if it does, I'll stay in this hotel an extra day and stay dry. Pain all day. Really not much to say, to be honest. This was probably my weakest day of riding since the early days of the trip. I stopped every 5 to 10 miles. Once I got to town, I stopped at the first hotel I came across and rented out a room. Luckily, it also happened to be one of the cheapest motels in the city, and it came with a coupon for the Mexican food place across the street.

Day 46

No riding.

Rain. No riding. Rested more. One more freaking day.

Day 47

25.77 miles @ an average of 17.4mph, 27.7 max
Total ride time of 1:29'01

Decided to go out with a bang, so I rode hard all day. I might as well have been riding a fixed gear, because I never stopped pedaling. I booked it all the way, and basically had the best ride of my entire journey. Even though the whole ride was pretty much on flat land, I still managed to average 17 point freaking 4 miles per hour. Blew my mind straight out my face when I checked it at the end of the ride. While I was riding down the highway a minivan was passing me when suddenly its side window exploded outwards for no apparent reason. Whatever the reason, though, its close proximity meant that I basically rode through a cloud of shrapnel, which freaked me out. I didn't check myself for injury, but I did check my tires for pops. Still didn't stop, and booked it the last few miles to I-20 where all the hotels were grouped. Found the cheapest one I could, and checked in. I walked a few miles to get stuff from the nearest gas station and played "Zombie, Run!" (an awesome app for Android) on the way. Basically, it populates the area you're in with "zombies" which you must avoid while you're walking around. I died four times before I got back to the hotel. Partly due to my inability to cross heavily-trafficked roads on foot. Still, awesome game.

Day 48

296 miles in 5 hours. WHAT!?!?!

Woke up to my mom calling me. She was outside my hotel, ready to pick me up. On our way back to Dallas we picked up some Cajun food. I got a crayfish poboy, and she got a crayfish etouffee, which was too hot for her, so I got to eat it. It was delicious. I'm so glad to be home. So glad to rest. Saw my best friend, and hung out with him. We went to a big Halloween party in Dallas, and though I didn't have any costume put together, my clothes were mostly 70's style, so we both went as disco dudes. Then slept in my parent's house, glad to be back. Glad to be done. Glad I was able to have this experience.

The whole ride: 1247.9 miles by bicycle in 6 states.

Already planning the next trip. Who wants to go with me?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Southward bound

Day 32 again

~10 miles

So, I know I mentioned this day in my previous post, but, as you might expect, some stuff happened after I finished posting. After I left the McDonalds where I had been using the Internet, I went looking at the Mammoth Springs state park, where Google said there would be camping. There wasn't. In fact, the entire park was mostly just picnic tables and an "interpretive walk" which described the springs and was about 400 yards long. I did learn some cool stuff about the springs including the fact that they're about 58 degrees Fahrenheit year round and pump out millions of gallons of water an hour, making them the 10th largest springs in the world. Fascinating. But not worth hanging around for too long. So I set off in search of a campsite nearby and found a privately owned one a few hundred yards up the road. It was small and privately owned, which meant I definitely had to pay to stay, which was unfortunate as it was situated right next to the train tracks. Trains ended up coming by every half-hour to hour, and I'm pretty sure I found out where the sound designers found the scream for the Black Riders in the LotR movies.
When I first got there, I found out that I was two dollars short on the money I would need to pay for the site, and ran around town looking for a place to get cash back, and was unable to find anywhere. I did find a bank where I used the ATM and was able to withdraw some cash, but then I had to find a place to make change. After running around for a while, I finally had money to pay the fee for the site, and returned to set up camp. Unfortunately, I found that the place I had wanted to claim for the night had already been claimed by a couple who were halfway through setting up their own site. I settled down a few sites down and began gathering wood for a fire. As we were both gathering wood, the guy chatted with me a bit, and when I was about to start building up my fire he came over and handed me a few sheets of newspaper to get the fire going. I thanked him and set to building, but a few minutes later he came over and offered me a beer! I thanked him again and offered him some whiskey, which he readily accepted. He and his wife came over and chatted with me, and it turns out they had been traveling and camping about as long as I had, though they had been doing so in a car. They were both a bit rough-looking, with dirty blonde hair, and leathery skin. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought they were related, but it turns out they had been married only a few months before. They were nice, but soon broke off the conversation, and went back to their site to cook dinner. After a little while longer though, the guy came back and offered me a turkey burger, which I politely declined, explaining that I am a vegetarian. He shrugged and started eating the burger himself. Over the next few hours we ended up roasting marshmallows together (they had the largest marshmallows I have ever seen, each one was as big as my fist) and I gave them some hot cocoa, and eventually they went to bed, saying they would see me in the morning. Unfortunately, I stayed up late, reading as usual, and when I woke up they had left. I wish them well.

Day 33

51.73 miles @ an average of 12.2mph, 39.9 max
Total ride time of 4:13'53

Woke up just before noon, and scrambled to get going since I wanted to cover the 50 miles to flat land before the sun went down. As I was scarfing down my breakfast, an old, beat-up, red Ford pickup rolled into the site and stopped where my neighbors had been the night before. The beefy owner stepped out and let his tiny dog run around. As I was finishing up, he got back in his truck and pulled around, making to leave, but stopped as he pulled even with me. "Where you comin' from on that bike? Dallas? That's quite a ride..." etc. He spoke in a slow drawl, which matched his movements, and before he even spoke for a couple of minutes I was tiring of the conversation. I just wanted to get going, but he rambled on, asking questions and stating that he could not go on a journey like the one I was on. Looking at his bulk, I thought to myself, "well, probably not," but said "You get stronger as you go." Soon enough he was complaining about Obama, and I was really ready to leave the conversation. I don't know what it is about this part of the country, but everyone seems really ready to talk about politics whether you brought it up or not. This strikes me as funny, as I was brought up being told that the three things you never discuss with strangers, or around the dinner table, are money, politics, or religion. This man managed to roll all three into a discussion about our current president. I groaned and tried to extricate myself from the conversation as quickly as possible. When I finally had, I rolled onto the road, and headed south.
After about 18 miles I stopped for a breather, and as I was standing outside the gas station I was approached by a younger couple who were interested in my trip. The normal conversation ensued, but these two seemed enthusiastic about helping me, and told me exactly how many large hills I had to expect on my way toward the flat land. They told me about the largest hill, which was "just around the next curve." The woman expressed that she would never want to climb it on a bicycle, "It's hard enough with this 4-cylinder," she said, banging the hood of their small truck. It wasn't "just around it curve," it was about two miles away, but I still appreciated the warning, as I was ready for it. Honestly, I've hit worse hills. This one was only about a mile or so long, and relatively smooth, without too much variation in the slope, so I took it relatively easily. On the way up, though, a question was raised. Why is it that young women always yell at me and cheer when I'm pumping up a large hill? On this one, a Mini Cooper convertible filled with young women blew past, yelling at me, while their arms waved out the open roof. Why do I never run into these women at my stops? It's always old men and married couples. I swear young women don't stop along the road, they just drive without ever running out of gas...
Anyway, I found a machete along the side of the road! As I passed it I decided to keep it, slowed to a stop, and ran back to pick it up. It isn't the best machete ever, I have a better one at home, but it will still work as a fire poker and wild animal/zombie protection (you never know when the zompocalypse will happen).
By the end of my journey, I was absolutely wasted. My legs were so tired that the last five miles to the campsite felt like agony. As I rounded one corner, however, I spied the lake through a group of trees. Seeing the burst of color from the sunset reflecting off the glassy surface gave me a burst of energy and I plowed through the last two miles, getting to camp just as the last of the light left the sky. My arrival reminded me that it was the weekend. The camp was already full of RVs, crying children, and yapping dogs. Just what I needed when I got to camp, annoyance. Anyway, I spent some time gathering firewood, getting my fire going, and cooking dinner, and before long, all the noise had faded away. Had I not looked up from my writing, I would have sworn I was alone. No such luck, but it was a nice thought.
As I went to sleep I made a plan for the next day. I only had to ride about 40 miles to the next camp site, but I needed to stop at Wally World for some more camp fuel. I keep using too much heating water for hot cocoa. Once I got to the site, I would call my friend TJ who lives in Memphis and ask him if he was going to be in town when I got there.

Day 34

~44 miles @ ~13.7mph
Unknown ride time
(Accidentally reset my odometer before I had everything written down.)

The first six miles out of camp were hilly, but not bad, but once I reached the highway to head southeast the land flattened out. Finally. Flat land! After leaving the hills my average was around 11.5mph, but by the time I reached Jonesboro, I had raised it to 14.8mph! To put it succinctly, I was hauling ass. Unfortunately, Jonesboro is surrounded by hills, and the shoulders are pretty much gravel, both of which slowed me down. By the time I reached my campsite just outside town I was down to around 13.7 average, but it's still my highest average so far on this trip, and I'm incredibly proud of that.
So, I got to the campsite, the signage at which was terrible, and so I was not able to find the primitive sites on my own. I settled down at an RV site and had already gathered wood and started setting up my kindling when the camp attendant came by and told me the price for the site I was at was $20. I told her that was absurd, and that I could find hotels for around that price. She replied that it was because it was an electric site. She then showed me where the primitive sites were, and promised to bring me some wood. Apparently, wood is part of paying for a site. With this in mind, I decided it wasn't so bad to pay $10 for a primitive site so long as I got free wood with it. I had the attendant bring me a massive amount of wood, and had burned it all by morning, enjoying warmth all night long. The nice thing was that the fire was incredibly easy to start because a few logs were still smoldering in a nearby site's fire ring, so I grabbed one of those logs and used it to quickly start my own fire. Once again, I stayed up too late reading.

Day 35

39.28 miles @ an average of 11.9mph, max of 33.9
Total ride time of 3:17'31

So I woke up early enough, but having stayed up late the previous night, I was tired as heck. The wind was also howling at 25-30mph. The lack of sleep in addition to the wind, which was either in my face, or straight across the road, pushing me into the lane of traffic, made me angry. I was not a happy camper. I had intended to reach Memphis by the end of the day, but the wind was keeping me going painfully slow. The wind only assisted me for about 6 miles. Six wonderful miles, I might add. Still, by the time I had gone about 30 miles into the wind, I was fed up and started looking for a motel of any kind. I found one for $25 a night, and it was possibly the worst hotel I have ever seen. Okay, maybe it was tied with the first one I stayed at in Broken Bow, but it was the kind of hotel that would feature prominently in a film like Spun. I wouldn't have been surprised if one of my neighbors was cooking meth. The paint was peeling off the walls, there were scratches in the door, the bathtub was covered in cigarette burns, there were no shades on any of the lamps, there were water stains all over the place. Still, I was happy to be out of the wind, and I settled down to enjoy the night, looking forward to the ride to Memphis the next day. I also got to watch the season premier of The Walking Dead, which I have been looking forward to since the end of the first half-season. Still, having read the comics, there are things I want to happen, which haven't, and that upsets me. Some characters are still present, who I want gone, and others haven't appeared yet, and I hope like hell that they do at some point...

Day 36

39.89 miles @ an average of 14.0mph, 24 max
Total ride time of 2:50'49

Not much to say on this day except that I rode my ass off to get to Memphis, crossed the Mississippi, and once I crossed the bridge, I stopped at a park where my good friend, TJ, picked me up and brought me to his house. That night I met a few of his friends here in town, including one who works at a bike shop, and is active in the bike community here in town. Even better, he's a professional photographer who is working on something he's calling "Project Bike Love" and, after hearing about my adventures, he decided that he had to take my picture, which he did in TJ's back yard. The pictures came out AWESOME. He's going to send me proofs soon, and I want to order a few copies, and one or two of them will be on my facebook for sure, if not here on my blog. Seriously, I love these photos. Check out this guy's site at
I promise, you will not be disappointed, and sooner or later my picture will be up there too! I'm so excited! Oh yeah, staying here in Memphis for an extra day since rain is for sure, and the temperature is dropping dramatically. I only hope that I have enough warm clothing for riding after I leave. It's gonna be a cold ride, and I'm really glad that I'm headed south where it should be getting warmer as I go along!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Just passing through

Day 28

54.59 miles @ an average of 11.1mph, 35.7 max
Total ride time of 4:52'46

So I ended my last post saying I was going to caverns on this day. Nope. I found out that the caverns I wanted to go to were included in a larger park, the entrance fee to which was $50+ and I was not about to pay that sort of money to see some caves. Caves are cool, and all that, but I just wasn't up to paying that much to see them. So, I headed east out of Branson towards Mammoth Springs. Along the way I stopped in The Smothered Mutt, a place that specialized in hot dogs, but had some delicious fried mushrooms, which I devoured. I chatted with the owners for quite a while and promised to like them on Facebook, which I have. While I was there the told me about a couple who had stopped through who were biking from coast to coast. They had a short write-up from their (the bikers') home town paper displayed below the counter. It kind of made me wish I had a riding partner, if only so that I might have someone to talk to on a regular basis, and so that the majority of my conversations weren't limited to "So where are you from? Dallas? You rode that bike all the way from Dallas? Well, have a good day, ride safe."
I rode on from there and, once I reached my supposed destination, I found that it was not my destination. Google had steered me wrong once again. The campsite was marked about four miles from where it actually is, and so I turned around and headed back towards my home for the night. On the way a motorcyclist slowed down and chatted with me for a few minutes while we rode, and we talked about bikes. Turns out he has the same mountain bike I have back home. I would have liked to continue our conversation, but we were holding up traffic, so he took off, and after another two miles I found the campsite I had been looking for.
The campsite, it turned out, was crap. Privately owned, open for all to see with no trees to speak of, no running water, no working electricity, and locked bathrooms. I hate campsites like that. I hung my hammock between two poles holding up the roof over a picnic table and lit a roaring fire to warm up by, and set to reading.

Day 29

23.38 miles @ an average of 11.1mph, 39.2 max
Total ride time of 2:05'26

Woke up and ate at the on-site diner, not because I really wanted to pay money for food, but more because I really needed to use their restroom, and, as I stated above, the campsite ones were locked tight. After breakfast I packed up, pretty slowly, and headed out on what turned out to be a mostly-uphill adventure. I really need to find a WallyWorld to restock on some much-needed supplies, such as fuel. Unfortunately, the closest one to me at this point is in Thayer, north of Mammoth Springs, and still quite a ways away. Along my ride I stopped in Gainsville and chatted with some very nice people, including a former triathlete who had recently had his shoulder replaced.
I found my campsite without difficulty this time (it was just off the highway I was trekking along) and set to work putting up my hammock. While putting up the rain fly I bent one of my stakes to the point that it won't be used again, but that's why I packed four when I only really need two. Still, it makes me want to get out of this rocky terrain so that I don't have to worry about bending stakes as often.
The owners of this campsite, Rocky Top, are incredibly nice. Before one of them drove into town he stopped by my site and asked if I needed anything. I told him no, though I should have asked about fuel, as I was almost out. Still, it's a great campsite with working water and electricity, a disc golf course, and a pool table in the office. I didn't use either of the latter, as I was too busy setting up camp and getting a good fire going, and once both were done, the owner was locking up the office and going to bed. Still, I would recommend this site to anyone who plans on camping for a few days, it's really nice.
Anyway, for the past few days I had been in touch with my friend Jamie, who has been working in Wyoming for the last few months, and said she wanted to camp with me a night, about which I was very excited. She had called me in the morning before I left my previous site and told me she was stopping through Branson to pick up a friend and that she would call me afterward to find out where I was. Unfortunately, she never called back, and I spent the night alone with my new mantis friend, who stuck around my site until I went to bed.

Day 30

39.06 miles @ an average of 12.7mph, 32.4 max
Total ride time of 3:04'31
Additional 5 miles walking on dirt roads I couldn't ride on (not included in average speed)

Another day, another late start. Woke up late and packed slowly, so that I ended up leaving my site around 1PM. Went into Tecumseh, the town nearby to the campsite and tried to buy some fuel. Unfortunately, the only fuel they had was a gallon tank, which I have no need of, and have no ability to carry on my bike. I bought it anyway, and borrowed a sharpie with which I wrote "free" on the tank after I filled my own fuel bottle, and left the tank outside the gas station at which I purchased it. Next I made a wrong turn. Rather, I went straight when I should have turned, and I didn't notice the mistake until a couple miles down the road. Not wanting to turn back, I continued on, feeling that, if nothing else, I could cut back to the road I wanted to be on at another point, though it did end up adding some miles to my trek, and kept me from getting to Mammoth Springs this day. Still, this is why you don't plan ahead too much on these types of trips. Anyway, I continued on, and somehow managed to skirt the rain that had been forecast for the day. The last 11 miles were foggy and wet, but beautiful.
Once again I followed Google instinctively, and passed up my intended campsite by about 1.5 miles while walking, and had to turn back. This was a completely primitive campsite buried deep in the woods along rough dirt roads. It was beautiful, but I kept hearing animals in the woods around me, and I was grateful I had built such a big fire to keep me warm, as it also helped keep predators away. Throughout the night I heard growls and shuffles, and often heard coyotes howling within a few miles of me. To say the least, I stayed up quite late, and only went to bed when the rain began. The rain continued, as far as I can tell, all night long, and I woke up with my hammock sagging from the moisture.

Day 31

20.10 miles @ an average of 11.4mph, 32.4 max
Total ride time of 1:45'07

Woke up late after a long, restless sleep, packed up camp, and walked the 2 miles back to the highway. The rain had turned the roads to mud, and the walk had me wet and filthy before I even began my ride. To say the least, I was cold, wet, and miserable all day. When I had my jacket on, I was too warm, when off, too cold. The only good thing about the ride was that I only saw 10 cars going my way the whole ride, which means about one for every two miles. I don't know if it was just the weather, or if I realized I've been away from home for a whole month, but I miss my friends and my cats. Still, I was glad when I got to Mammoth Springs that I could find a hotel and be warm and dry for the night. There I lazed about and did practically nothing but read, watch TV, and order a pizza.
Honestly, almost nothing happened on this day except me feeling exceptionally down.
Oh yeah, and my headphones stopped working. Rather, they work, but they continually pause/unpause my iPod to the point that it is nearly impossible to listen to anything. Going to have to purchase more tomorrow, along with more batteries, and some other minor supplies. Damn, I have the worst luck with headphones. They never last me more than two or three months.

Might as well talk about today, day 32, while I'm posting... It won't take long, it's been boring.
Here goes: did laundry, bought some groceries, bought batteries and new headphones. Now sitting at McDonalds (for free wi-fi, not buying anything, I promise) and writing this blog. Going to camp at the state park outside the springs if I can, and take another day's rest. Tomorrow I will be trying my best to get to flat land, and then finding a campsite. Day after, haul ass toward Memphis. Wish me luck. (Told you it wouldn't take long.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Eureka! (Springs and such)

Day 23

37.85 miles @ an average of 12.7mph, 38.0 max
Total ride time of 2:58'36

After checking out of my hotel I rode to the Sprint store to see if my phone had arrived, and it hadn't. I checked the FedEx website to see when it would arrive and it said "by 3PM," and I figured I wasn't going to stick around the store for it to show up. I would rather spend my time sucking down caffeine at a local coffee shop, so I wrote my name and number on a card for the store clerk to contact me when my phone arrived. As I turned to leave, however, the FedEx guy was walking in the door with my brand new phone! So, I got it activated and went to a coffee shop anyway where I spent far too long sucking down coffee and chatting on Facebook with friends. After picking up some lunch, I finally hit the road in earnest.
About half my ride this day was in the cities of Fayetteville, Springdale and Rogers, which make a line north towards Missouri. In Rogers I turned east and headed toward my campsite, but only after stopping at a local bike shop where the attendant stoner told me about the problems he was having with police in the area. I couldn't care much less, but I stuck around to rest my legs before hitting the last stretch of my ride to camp, which wasted even more time. I had hoped to find some portable speakers for the road at the bike shop, but they didn't have any, so I just purchased a patch kit and headed out.
By the time I reached the campsite it was just before sundown. The camp site was terrible, and the road down to the camp site was worse. Worse still was the price they charged for a site with no amenities: $15. On the way down the road toward my site I tried riding, but the hill was comprised of rocks the size of my fist and I almost fell twice, so I dismounted and walked the rest of the half mile to the camp sites. Once there I warmed myself by collecting firewood for quite some time, and then created a roaring fire and cooked dinner. I got to sleep quite late.

Day 24

30.51 miles @ an average of 11.0, 39.8 max
Total ride time of 2:45'31

Got a late start due to my late bed time, and therefore by the time I reached the caverns I wanted to visit between my camp and Eureka Springs, they had closed for the day. Still, I rode on, and after about 18 miles I stopped at a gas station/deli-type-thing for lunch and a quick break. Then I pedaled on toward my destination, but stopped about 2 miles outside of town when I saw the World's Largest Tuned Musical Wind Chime. You know when you watch movies about road trips the family always stops to see the "world's largest ball of twine" off the side of the highway? I had to stop, it was too funny. I snapped a bunch of pictures and rode off, chuckling to myself.
As I entered the town the first thing I saw was a hotel. And another. And another. And more, and more until I was sure that no one in the town actually lived there. With so many hotels I was sure the town had to be comprised completely of transients. I stopped at McDonald's (they have free wi-fi) to check Google to find a hotel with a decent price. I didn't find one with a great price, but I did find one with a Jacuzzi in the room and a sweet location right in the middle of downtown.
Turns out, the hotel was constructed in 1905 soon after the town got its start. As I learned later, the town of Eureka Springs has always been a tourist spot ever since the discovery of natural radiation in some of the springs in town. Some of you may know that in the early 20th century, after the discovery of radiation, it was believed that radiation was actually a healthy thing to expose one's body to. People believed that bathing in the slightly irradiated springs would heal almost any ailment, and so people flocked to the area from around the country. If this surprises anyone, remember that this was also about the time that cocaine drops were used to soothe the pains of teething infants, and Bayer was marketing Heroin as a way to stop morphine addiction.
So, the number of hotels really wasn't that impressive when you think about the fact that the entire town is based on tourism. Some of the locals told me that, were it not for tourists, the town would disappear due to lack of money. There would be no money in Eureka Springs without tourism. So, I felt mildly good about supporting the local economy while I was in town.
After checking into my room, I was told that most of the places in town closed down by 9, so it would be a good idea to go find some food before this happened. Downstairs and across the street from the hotel was a small "Indian" restaurant that served mostly hamburgers. Anyone missing the irony here? No? Good. I got a nice veggie sandwich, a samosa, some fries, and devoured all of it, along with a beer. Then I asked my waitress where one might go for a drink and a game of pool, and she directed me to the place the locals go to drink to get away from the tourists. Now this was what I was looking for. I headed off in search of good conversations, and I was not disappointed.
At the bar I met a ton of locals, all of whom were incredibly interesting, as well as incredibly interested in my travels, so I talked for hours, much longer than I had intended to, and finally got back to my hotel a while after midnight, where I filled up the Jacuzzi and watched Mythbusters. Shortly after my long, relaxing soak in the monstrous tub made for honeymooning couples, I crashed for the night.

Day 25

2.81 miles @ an average of 3.9mph, 12.3 max
Total "ride" time of 0:42'27

Decided to stay in town for another day since Eureka Springs is such a cool, little town. In the daylight I noticed it's a lot like the small mountain towns you run across in Colorado like Idaho Springs or Frisco. There were a ton of little art shops and rock shops and other locally owned businesses, so I bought some stuff from a few of them, including post cards and a birthday present for my dad. I spent the majority of my day just walking around, pushing my bike up and down the streets, talking to locals and learning the history of the town. Funny thing about tiny towns though, after a while people started walking up to me saying they had heard about me and wanted to know how my trip was going. This was positively strange. Complete strangers walking up to you and knowing your story is not something I'm accustomed to, but apparently the people sharing their stories of meeting a guy traveling the South on his bicycle were accompanied by a description of my mustache, so I was easy to spot. Still, throughout the day, as I met more locals, and told them my story, I had just as many people walk up to me saying they had heard it. I saw a bit of the grapevine at one point. After talking to one store owner I saw him go outside and yell to another, "This guy's traveling around on his bicycle! He came from Dallas!"
One of the people who I think was most responsible for spreading the story of the mustachioed traveler was a young man by the name of Steven, who I had met the day before at the locals' bar. I ran into him a couple of times throughout the day, the last of which was at the "Indian" restaurant, where I went for a quick beer before heading out of town. I told him I was planning on staying at the campgrounds just outside of town, but he said that it was dangerous to ride on that road at night, as there is not shoulder, but he offered me an alternative. As it turns out, Steven does not have a solid place to stay in Eureka Springs, and instead camps out in different places around town. He offered to show me one of the places he usually camps so that I might stay in town for the night without being bothered by anyone. I gladly accepted, and decided to stick around chatting with him until he was ready to show me where I would be sleeping for the night. Luckily, he also had something of a rapport with the waitress and was able to wrangle us up some free soup before we left, and somehow, in the middle of this, I ended up showing him contact juggling. He said he had another friend in town who also contact juggled, and wished that I could meet him.
Anyway, after finishing our soup, we headed to my home for the night where I locked up my bike and followed him to an open mic night at a local bar where he was planning on performing. As it turns out, he makes most of his money by busking on the streets of the city during the weekends when most of the tourists are present. His music is wild and intense. He beat boxes into a flute. I took a video of it, and I will post it as soon as I have a faster connection than the one my current hotel is offering. It is really mind blowing though. I've seen beat box flautists on YouTube before, but I've honestly never seen one quite as good as Steven. He blew me away. Anyway, after open mic we went back to my camping spot and he left me to chill with some friends, but after a few minutes he returned saying that I was welcome to come join them, and that his contact juggling friend was there! I went with him a few hundred yards down the street and met a group of people and contact juggled for them, and drank some beer and had a generally good time, but I was tired, and so I soon excused myself and returned to my hammock for a good night's sleep.

Day 26

42.27 miles @ an average of 12.0mph, 35.0 max
Total ride time of 3:33'18

Once again I left the town late and was unable to visit the caverns I wanted to, as I arrived just after they closed, but I rode on. And on. Despite the mountains I positively flew through the miles. I can't wait to get to the flat lands again as I'm sure I'll be making 50 miles per day easy. Still, despite missing another chance at touring some caverns I did reach a milestone. I made it to Missouri! More than that, I made it to Table Rock Lake! I'm at the destination of my journey, yet somehow I don't feel like sticking around that long.
One thing I noticed on my ride is that, at some point while Steven was helping me get my bike up the trails to my camping spot the previous night we bent the wheel a bit and there was a noticeable bump in the steering, so I decided to head to a bike shop as soon as possible to repair the damaged part. Still, it wasn't so bad that I couldn't get to my destination on the edge of Table Rock Lake, where I camped for the night. Apparently, I wasn't supposed to camp there, though. All the water in the park had been turned off, as had the electricity. Still, I made a great, roaring fire once again and stayed up way too late reading, which ended up being slightly problematic the next day. However, on the way to the campsite I was able to stop a couple of miles away and purchased a 1/2 dozen eggs, 3 of which I ate for dinner, saving the other half for breakfast. I also learned that toasting poptarts over a campfire is awesome.
For some reason I was in a great mood, and despite having ridden so many miles, I still had the energy to dance around the campfire to the music on my iPod for a while before making dinner. Maybe I'm just happy to be reaching the pinnacle of my journey. Maybe I'm just happy to be moving again. Who knows.

Day 27

22.29 miles @ an average of 11.0mph, 37.0max
Total ride time of 2:01'16

Woke up early enough, but it was so warm that I was feeling sluggish. Compounded with a lack of sleep, I ended up bleary-eyed for quite some time after rising, and took quite a while before getting on the road. Still, I knew my destination was Branson, MO, which was only a few miles away, so I didn't try anything to hasten my wakening. Once on the road I took it easy, especially since I had to climb a few hundred feet at the start of the day just to leave my campsite, but once I hit highway 65 I was flying. It was the first taste of a long stretch somewhat flat road I've had in quite a long time. I averaged 17mph, if not more, just on that road because it was miraculously flat in such a mountainous region. I guess that's what you get with highways, instead of going over hills, they just blast right through them so the road is straight as can be.
Anyway, I got to Branson and went to the north side where I had located a bike shop. I went in and asked the owner if I could use his truing stand, and he was more than welcoming, so I set to work, and had soon fixed the bump in my ride, but I spent the next hour and a half talking with him about riding and touring and life and idiots who drive cars, and all sorts of other stuff until he closed. I left the shop in good spirits and phoned a nearby hotel to check their rates and found the cheapest rate I've encountered on this trip so far. Google lied to me, however, and the hotel wasn't as close as I had seen on the map, so I got to see a bit more of Branson than I had wanted to initially. It turns out this town is a consumerist hotbed where all the people who were never big enough to make it to Vegas end up, and all the mid-west retirees go on their weekends to see one-hit-wonders from their youth. Seriously, this place wants to be Vegas. There are lights flashing everywhere. From my hotel I can see a mock-up of the Hollywood sign with a King Kong climbing a miniature tower. There's a giant building that's something like a mock-up of half the Titanic complete with iceberg. Every half-assed comedian I've ever heard of (and a ton I haven't) apparently is still alive and well, and performing lackluster shows on a weekly basis here in Branson.
I can't wait to leave.
There's a cavern nearby. I think I'm going to go to it tomorrow.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Trials and Tribulations

Day 19

23.97 miles @ an average of 10.0mph, 31.6 max
Total ride time of 2:21'11

So, this day started pretty well, but quickly turned to shit. I woke up early and went to a local coffee shop to chat with some friends I hadn't talked to in a while (love you guys, you know who you are). After a few cups of coffee I decided it was time to head out of town, so I packed my phone away and headed north on 23 out of town. A couple miles out I heard something hit my wheel, but didn't think too much about it until a van pulled up next to me and told me I had dropped my phone. I immediately pulled over, parked, and sprinted back to the phone as well as I could in my bike shoes. Unfortunately, there were about six cars behind the van and I think about half of them ran over the phone. By the time I got to it the screen was shattered all over, and only the bottom quarter showed anything at all. I cursed myself out for a while, figuring that somehow I hadn't zipped the phone into the pouch I use to hold it most of the time. So I turned back to town to find a temporary phone to use until I get a new one. Then I took time to activate and charge the new phone. By the time I was leaving town it was about 5PM and the sun was going to set in two hours, while my destination was over twenty miles away and uphill almost the whole way. I headed out without much hope of making camp by nightfall. With this in mind I picked up some whiskey on the way out of town.
On my way to my planned stop, however, I ran across a private campground next to a rafting river which had a great gift shop and cheap camping spots. This was about twenty minutes before sundown, and as you might imagine, since I was in the mountains, it was getting quite chilly and dark already. At the gift shop I went on a bit of a spending spree, something I often do when stressed out, as I was from the phone incident earlier in the day. I finally got some patches to sew onto my panniers, a warm hat to wear at night, a map of the Ozark National Forest, and some food and drinks, including beer. Once I got to the campsite across the road and picked out a good spot with a fire pit I spent a couple hours gathering wood and getting a good blaze going before hanging my hammock and starting dinner, but as the temperature dropped, I was glad I did the tasks in this order. I ended up having a good fire until about 3AM, at which time I put out all but the center mass of coals, which I warmed up by in my skivvies before racing to my sleeping bag for the night.

Day 20

30.16 miles @ an average of 9.6mph, 35.2 max
Total ride time of 3:08'33

I was awoken early in the morning by the roar of Harley Davidson motorcycles. Hundreds of them. I tried to go back to sleep, but slept only fitfully as there were groups of four to twelve motorcycles coming and going from the gift shop all day long. Every time a group would leave, they would all rev their engines to the maximum shout to show all the other bikers that they had massive genitals. This got incredibly irritating after a while, so I finally rolled out of my hammock and got some water boiling for oatmeal and hot chocolate. Breakfast of champions. Because I hadn't slept well (due to the fact that my feet kept freezing during the night, and then the early motorcyclists), I lazed about quite a bit and finally got packed up around 2PM, and then lazed about some more. I didn't leave the site until after 3PM. This, as I later discovered, was a terrible plan.
My ride for the day started with an 8 mile climb. Seriously. Eight strenuous miles of switchbacks and straight climbs with Harleys roaring by, deafening me with their penile-enhancement engines. Hundreds and hundreds of weekend warriors flying by on a three day escape from corporate enslavement. I don't think a single one of them was not a middle-aged person in middle management. After this weekend, I will forever associate HD's with mid-life crises. Anyway, I finally reached the summit of my climb, and was treated to a few miles of downhill, although I'm pretty sure I didn't descend more than half of what I climbed that day. After a few miles I turned toward Fayetteville where the nearest Sprint store was to get my phone replaced. Unfortunately, by this time the sun was quickly setting and the temperature rapidly dropping. I began to stop every few miles to don another set of warm clothing, and when I got to Crosses, AR I stopped at a gas station to ask about nearby lodgings. There were none. They had a diner inside, however, so I ate some greasy food and decided that I should keep an eye on the parking lot to see if anyone with a pickup truck with a decently-empty bed pulled up so I might ask them for a ride to Fayetteville in exchange for some gas money. One woman suggested I just hike down to the river and camp by that, but I wanted warmth, and I didn't think that setting a fire in the middle of the wilderness without a fire pit was such a good idea for multiple reasons. After a while, a couple of guys in a Toyota Tacoma pulled up to eat in the diner and I asked them if they would help me out, but the driver said he wasn't headed in that direction. No other trucks arrived within half an hour.
Feeling defeated, I remounted my bike and headed for Fayetteville again, cold, miserable, and looking forward to 22 more miles of this feeling. After about two miles, however, I saw the Tacoma pass by, and I thought to myself "Thought they weren't headed that way, bastards." After a minute, however, I saw the same truck headed back in the opposite direction. Ahead of me they turned into a gravel drive and stopped. The driver climbed out and called out to me, "Still want that ride?" "Fuck yes," I said, breathlessly, as they had stopped near the top of a large hill. They helped me get the bike in the bed, and I climbed in the back. They said something about it not being too comfortable back there, but I wasn't exactly in a position to complain.
I haven't gone that fast in weeks. It felt like we flew to Fayetteville, and on the way they asked if I knew where I was going to stay once I got there. I admitted that I didn't know, and they told me that all the hotels in the city were booked up and had been for months due to the fact that a large motorcycle rally was going on in the city that weekend. This explained the inordinate number of HD's I had seen on the road that day. Still, I was non-plussed, there must be somewhere in the city that wasn't completely booked. I asked them to drop me off at a coffee shop or somewhere else I might have access to wi-fi so I could look for a place to rest my bones. They obliged, and soon I was sitting at Hastings scouring the web for an open hotel room. I never did get their names, but I'm forever grateful to them anyway.
They were, however, correct about the state of hotel rooms in the city. The first five places I called were all booked up, and the sixth had two rooms available. For $179 per night. Plus tax. The hotel attendant assured me that this was a good deal as their normal rate was $249 per night. I told her I would call back if I couldn't find anywhere cheaper. There weren't any in Fayetteville. North of the city is another city, Springdale, AR, and I started searching there for hotel rooms, and finally found one for $89 after taxes. It was 7 miles away from Hastings. I'll pedal 7 miles at night in the cold for a chance to save a hundred bucks. I got there before 10:30 and was asleep not long after that.

Day 21

13.57 miles @ an average of 12.0mph, 32.9 max
Total ride time of 1:07'49

I woke up with the idea that I would get my phone fixed and head out of town. Never plan ahead. I got some breakfast (complimentary!) and checked out by 11:30AM, and was using the Internet access in the lobby when I noticed a guy taking huge stacks of money out of the gambling machines lined against the wall before the front desk. "What do people win from those machines?" I asked him. "Room credits," he replied. This started a conversation which led to me telling him about my travels and adventures, and he was impressed. Impressed enough that he bought me a room for the night. "Rest your legs for another night on me, man." His name was Herman. I haven't seen him since, but I'll remember him.
I unpacked my bags into the new room and, unloaded for the first time in a long while, headed to the Sprint store to fix my problem. Which led to more problems. Apparently Sprint workers are not even allowed to touch a phone if it is as damaged as mine is. All replacements and insurance claims are handled through a third party. Why? I don't think I'll ever know. It probably has something to do with them sending you faulty equipment in return for your broken equipment and Sprint not being culpable for that. Maybe I'm just jaded... Anyway, I spent most of my pre-paid minutes trying to get the people from that company to replace my phone, ended up having to call my dad to call them because they said that the security key I told them was incorrect, when in fact it was correct, and then I had to call them back again to get them to ship the phone to the Sprint store, which meant they had to speak to a manager to get him to say that they would accept the phone for me, which meant spending more of my valuable minutes, which meant that after a few hours at the Sprint store I was fed up and needing feeding. And my phone wouldn't be delivered until Tuesday. Stuck in town. Thank Herman for the free hotel room for the night!
So, I headed back to my room and stopped for some Thai food on the way. It was delicious. I got back to my room, ate, and searched the Internet for a bar. I found one a short distance from my hotel and went there for a couple of beers and some games of pool. I was one of three people there. It closed after 45 minutes.
So I went back to the hotel and read for a while until I finally fell asleep, tired and wanting to get out of the city, but knowing I would have at least one more day here.

Day 22

18.63 miles @ an average of 12.5mph, 30.4 max
Total ride time of 1:28'57

Because I'm stuck in an urban area, I decided to do what I would do in any urban area. I found a coffee shop. First, though, I found a Bank of America to cash a couple checks I had from graduation presents I still hadn't cashed in on. Then I went to a bike shop and got my chain re-lubed, which it needed after being outside so many days and through so many rainstorms. There I also purchased a pair of cold weather riding gloves for the mountains and the coming month as autumn approaches. These were both next to the University of Arkansas, so I decided to check out their campus. It's not as pretty as Texas State's, but I may be a bit prejudiced. Still, it reminded me a lot of San Marcos with rolling hills and lots of young people. The people didn't seem as friendly as Texans, though. I saw a group of people with ENO hammocks like mine all hanging out in a tree (pun intended) and I thought they might be working with ENO trying to sell hammocks. I went over to them to try to strike up a conversation, asking their affiliation with ENO, which they said they weren't, they just liked them, and I told them I'd been living in one of the hammocks for about two months. They didn't say anything, just kept to themselves. So I wandered away, failed to meet more people, checked out some bikes, found them to be mostly blue in color, and then headed to a nearby coffee shop. Where I failed to meet anyone, but had a few cups of coffee which were better than Starbucks, but still lacking when I think of the coffee in San Marcos. So, I pedaled back towards my hotel, 8 miles away, and stopped by the bar I visited the previous night about a mile from my hotel. There were actually people there, and one of the pool tables was open, so I started playing by myself and a guy walked up and plunked some change on the table. Glad to have an opponent, I finished off what balls I had left on the table and started playing him. We played for a few hours. He was good. I would say he was about my skill level, probably a bit better, which made playing fun. After he beat another guy out of $10 he started buying my beers, and we started playing for fun, first playing "next shot" and then we played a game where I played one-handed, while he played behind-the-back. I won both, and he insisted we go back to regular pool. After a while, and quite a few beers, I was famished and tired, so I took my leave of the bar, returned to my temporary home, and started some laundry while I waited for Domino's to deliver me a pizza. Both are finished now, and with that, so is this blog post.

Oh yeah, passed the 500 mile mark for my journey today. Looking forward to the next 500!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Hotels and Hillbillies

Day 15


Sat around in the hotel in Mena to give my knees another good day's rest after the mountain stage. Honestly, if you want to know what I did that day, check the schedule for the History Channel. Other than that, I read some, ate some, laid around some, and probably snored some. Bored. And expensive. Getting tired of staying in hotels because they're burning through my money...

Day 16

      38.46 miles @ an average of 11.6mph, 32.0 max

Total ride time of 3:18'41

Stayed up way too late in the hotel room, but made a cup of coffee before I left, which helped wake me up a bit. On the way out of town I stopped at a Ouchita State Park Ranger Station to chat with the rangers and ask about the upcoming parks. It's a good thing I did, because I found out that both of the parks I intended to stay at the next two days had been closed down, even though the official state maps all still showed the parks. The ranger did tell me about a small, privately-owned park south of Waldron, which I stopped at when I got to it about 20 miles down the road. When I pulled up the office was closed, so I sat down at a picnic table to eat my lunch, and as I did the owners pulled up in a grey pickup truck with some sort of machinery in the back. I walked over to ask them about fees and what-not, and asked if I could take a look at the campgrounds before I paid for them. They were amenable to this, and pointed me in the direction of the “campsites.” As I rode by them, I noticed that they weren't so much campsites as land that had been cleared years ago and left alone since. The grass was about as high as my thigh, and though they mentioned having fire rings, I wasn't able to locate a single one. This was around 2PM, so I told them that, because I had plenty of daylight left, I would look elsewhere. I thought I might ride past Waldron into a small patch of national forest where I might just hike off the road a bit to find a place to camp for the night, but as I reached Waldron I found it would be difficult to cover the next 10 or so miles to the stretch. Begrudgingly, I found another hotel and slept there for the night after consuming the entirety of a large pizza from Pizza Hut. Mmm, mm carbs. I would have made another blog post from this point, but found that, when I called the office for the network access code, the manager's cocaine supply had apparently run out, and he had passed out early. Have I mentioned before that hotel managers all seem to be on coke all the time? Anyway...

Day 17

      38.16 miles @ an average of 11mph, 37.5 max

      Total ride time of 3:16'07

This day's ride wasn't too difficult until the last 12 miles when I headed into the national forest to find a campground. The majority of the ride was actually quite nice and I was keeping an average speed around 13.5mph, but when I turned south to get into the woods it also meant heading up a small mountain. I had intended to reach Jack Creek and sleep there, but when I arrived, the campsites were laughable. The entire campsite was more like a giant picnic ground where you would expect someone to hold a low-cost birthday party on a weekend. There was also no one there. It was, however, quite beautiful. At the end of the loop in the road there was a small swimming/fishing hole set against a cliff of diagonally-slanted slate from which huge pines grew and reflected in the afternoon light. Despite the lack of other people and beauty, I decided that it would be for the best not to camp on top of a picnic table (none of the trees in the camping area were close enough to hang a hammock), and decided to head for the next campground which was only a couple more miles down the road. On the way back up the hill from Jack Creek I passed a couple of hillbillies riding an ATV with fishing poles slung across the front. I nodded to them and rode on to Knopper's Ford, the next campsite. The ride to this site was less strenuous, being nearly all downhill, but it was on a dirt and gravel road, which I believe I have mentioned before, my tires are not designed for. Still, I made it down the treacherous slopes and to the campsite only to find that there was no running water here, just as there had been none at Jack Creek. However beautiful Arkansas may be, their campgrounds are seriously lacking in amenities such as showers. To make up for it, there isn't a burn ban, so I began to walk around the campgrounds looking for fallen branches and trees. I noticed one other campsite was taken by a couple of trucks, though their owners were nowhere to be seen.

After a half-hour of gathering wood, however, the duo returned, riding an ATV. The same hillbillies I had seen entering Jack Creek as I was leaving! They called me over to ask how far I was riding, how far I had ridden, and other such questions I beginning to get used to, and I asked them if they had any extra water. They did, and offered it to me freely, as well as offering me some “vittles” they were cooking up, and I ended up staying with them and hanging out until about midnight. They told me good spots to check out while I'm touring, such as Mammoth Springs. They told me how to avoid being licked by a bear. And their jaws dropped when they found out I wasn't carrying a gun. They had six between them. The older, and fatter one, Jack, said, “Sheeit, boy! Don' you know you in hillbilly country? I mean some of us is nice, but I reckon most of 'em are mean as hell! I'm surprised you ain't had no one throwin' cans at you yet! I wouldn't go nowhere in this country without a gun.” One of the other man's guns, a small caliber pistol, had been sitting on the picnic table since before I walked up. I assured him that the majority of the people I've met on the trip have been nothing but perfectly cordial. Still, they remained in awe of my lack of armaments, and repeatedly returned to the topic. In fact, almost everything about me seemed to blow the two away, from my vegetarianism to my stove (on which I made them some hot cocoa) to my bike ride itself. By the end of the night Jack was offering me a ride to the main road in the morning in the bed of his truck so I wouldn't have to pedal on the dirt roads and risk a flat. I accepted graciously, and soon after the boys went to bed.

By this point, I still had not set up my hammock, so I found a campsite a bit down the road with trees close enough to accommodate it, and began to set it up, but not before building a campfire with the wood I had gathered earlier. I sat next to this until the wee hours and ended up sleeping in quite late.

Day 18

40.56 Miles @ an average of 10.8mph, 35.1 max

Total ride time of 3:44'03

Woke up too late for a ride. The hillbillies had gone, and too bad, because I discovered a flat on my front tire from a push pin or something like that which had worked its way into the tire and made a tiny hole in the tube. As I was fixing that an old man on an ATV (everyone rides those things out here) stopped by to chat and told me about his 50+ year old son who lives in Alaska who still does century rides. I thought, but didn't say, “yeah, on a light bike with no bags,” and after a while the old man realized I was more interested in fixing my tire than chatting with him, and drove off. Of course, the day started with that big hill on a dirt road that it ended with the day before, but it wasn't too bad. I can feel myself getting stronger and tackling hills more easily than I did even a week ago. I guess mountains will do that to you... Once I finally got to Booneville, about 12 miles from my start, I stopped to get some much-needed water, and then headed out toward Ozark. The ride there was not too terribly hilly, or anything, but a strong, persistent headwind kept my speeds down to a relatively low point, but I still managed to cross the Arkansas river and get a hotel room before sundown. Yes, another hotel room, but the next national park is still 10 miles away and up some steep hills. I'll be there tomorrow, and the next day, and probably the day after that, but for the foreseeable future, I'm in the forest in the mountains.

Anyway, as I walked up to my room, two couples from Wichita Falls were sitting outside their rooms, next to mine, smoking cigarettes. One of the guys said, “Man, I'm tired just looking at you!” And then offered me whiskey, which I gladly, and gratefully accepted. I chatted with them for a while (they were also amazed I don't carry a gun), and then bowed out to eat another large pizza (I saved a couple slices for breakfast), and get some stuff from the store. And now I'm about to go to bed. Sweet sleep, how I love you so.

Oh, and since I haven't had a quote or song lyrics for a while, here ya go:

"All the things I'm missin', good vittles, love and kissin', are waitin' at the end of my ride."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rest and test

Day 9

19.90 miles @ an average of 11.5mph, max of 29.7
Total ride time of 1:43'47

Felt better, so I took off from Broken Bow and headed north to Hochatown State Park by Broken Bow Lake, and stayed at the Steven's Gap portion of the park. As soon as I pulled into the camping area, I was amazed. It was absolutely beautiful. Half the ground was slate, while the other half was quartz, mostly rose. It was only about 14 miles to the campsite, but I rode another three back to the gas stations outside the park for supplies, and three back to the site. I arrived long before sundown so I spent a while swimming and skipping rocks around the site. I was continually blown away by the beauty of the place, and was wanting a friend or two to share it with. I guess that goes to show how lonely I've gotten from time to time on this trip.
As the sun began to set, I started reading Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card for about the fifth time. I absolutely love that book, and I think I finished about half of it that night before falling asleep.

Day 10

<6 miles, unknown time

I woke up late and decided to just stay still for a while since I knew that the next campsite to reach was quite a while away, and I really wanted to finish my book, which I did before sundown. Another reason I wanted to stay was the startling beauty of that campsite. I really think I will return to camp there again sometime in the future, as it really isn't far from Dallas, and I would love to share this place with friends. Anyway, after finishing my book, I rode back to the gas stations for more supplies, and as I got back, just before sundown, I was surprised to have neighbors drive up and begin to set up camp. Two good ol' boys from Dallas drove up in a truck hauling enough gear for a small army, as well as two bikes, and two skidoos. I walked up and started talking with them, and they introduced themselves as Arlyn and Scott. I was happy to have met someone else who wasn't afraid of camping without an RV, but even more delighted to have someone to talk to. They shared their beers and hung out with me until the wee hours, shooting the shit and tossing a frisbee around until Arlyn noted that it was around 2AM, at which point we all hit the sack.

Day 11

I checked the weather report when I woke up and found that thunderstorms were predicted for the area, and remembering my experience with the last storms I encountered, I decided it would be best to stay another day. I spent some time reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer until my neighbors returned, and then decided to spend time with them for a while. After an hour or so, the storms rolled in. It wasn't the same sort of brutal rain I experienced outside of Broken Bow city, but I am glad I stayed around the camp so I didn't end up riding in it.
Before the rains, Arlyn had set a fishing rod out in the hopes of catching a catfish, and when the rain hit, he was forced to leave it alone until the storms passed. When he went out to check the rod after the rain, he found a small type of perch had hooked itself through its side next to the bait that was already on the hook. After failing to remove the small fish, he went ahead and cast it to try to catch a larger fish using the smaller as bait. His first cast went short of where he wanted it, so he began reeling it in, and about three yards from the bank, a big smallmouth bass struck it and he pulled it in as the first catch of the day. After this, I started fishing with him, as the fish were still biting a lot after the heavy rain. He managed to catch another fish, a largemouth bass, while I caught two more bait fish, two small bass which wouldn't make a sandwich together. After that, I didn't find any more, but I did find some great pieces of rose and cloudy quartz to bring back with me to my friends back home.
We didn't stay up quite as late this night, but we had a good time, despite raccoons stealing food from the boys' bins, and were able to wake up early the next day.

Day 12

39.98 miles @ an average of 12.2mph, max of 33.3
Total ride time of 3:10'14

After I woke up and struck camp, the boys gave me a ride out of the park to a small diner next to the gas stations where we had a great, filling late breakfast, and then bid me farewell. Following so many days of real rest, I felt awesome, and made great time. For a long while, my average speed was over 13mph, and then I hit the mountains. I slowed down, and halfway up a very large climb I stopped at a dirt road that led off into the forest and found a couple of trees to hang my hammock between. This would be my first experience with real primitive camping: literally just a spot in the woods, never cleared for camping. Having heard of bears in the area, I was kind of spooked with no one around to keep me feeling safe, so I ended up wearing my bear bell while cooking dinner and setting up camp. I also kept my mace at my side, and constantly looked around for glowing eyes after the sun set. Still, I never saw anything come even close, but I still connected my bell to the top of my hammock so I could ring it every time I heard a twig snap, or a branch move. You could say I was kind of spooked. Still, I managed to get to sleep after some time, and woke up some time after sunrise.

Day 13

18.62 miles @ an average of 8.1mph, max of 42.6
Total ride time of 2:17'11

I awoke with my knee hurting again after riding so hard the day before. This day was nearly entirely uphill, and because of the pain in my knee, and the length and steepness of the hills, I ended up pushing my bike at some points, leading to my low average speed. About halfway through the day, though, I was treated to a great downhill section that was nearly four miles long. During this section I hit the max speed for the day, and for my trip so far. It was so exhilarating, I wanted to catch a ride back to the top, just to ride it again, but I pushed on, knowing that no one would want to give me a ride to the top. During the entire course of this ride, I didn't run across a single gas station or stopping point of any type, except for a rest stop which had running water I didn't trust. For this reason, I stopped there for a while to refill my water reservoirs and used iodine to purify the questionable water, which took longer than I thought it would. After this, were more climbs, which led me to the top of a mountain, where I stopped for the night an hour or so before sundown. I tried to get to sleep soon after sundown, but the wind kicked up to nearly 25mph and buffeted my hammock to the point that it was difficult to sleep due to the noise. I finally found a position where I could sleep without too much noise directly in my ear, and slept until sometime after sunrise, but still felt tired.

Day 14

31.16 miles @ an average of 9.7mph, max of 42.9
Total ride time of 3:11'05

Woke up with my knee feeling a little bit better, and ate a meager breakfast before setting off. I do think I'm allergic to something in these mountains, though, because my right eye was pretty much glued shut when I woke up, and I've been sneezing a lot today.
As I left my site, I saw a guy on a triathlon bike powering up the mountain. I said howdy, but didn't see him again as I was riding. Big surprise, he was riding a bike that weighed less than one of my bags. Anyway, the first few miles of riding were incredibly difficult, as they were all uphill, but after a while, I hit the ridge of the mountain, and from then on, the ride was mostly small rises which were more bearable. There were still a couple of hills I had to dismount and push up, but I'm getting stronger, both physically and mentally. I felt like the little engine that could at times, and was chanting to myself "can't stop, won't stop, can't stop, won't stop..." as a sort of mantra. I made it to the campsite I thought of staying at tonight without running into any places to buy water or Gatorade. I rested here for a while and ran into the biker I saw earlier in the day. We chatted for a while, and it turns out he's training for the Iron Man in Hawaii! No wonder he was able to pump up those hills. He found a tear in his tire, and had about 50 more miles to go, so I gave him a tire boot to get him back to his car, and he offered to pay me, but I refused. I figure it will come back to me in some way. Anyway, the campsite only accepted cash, so I went on ahead to Mena, the city a few miles on (14 miles, to be exact). This entailed a few more punishing climbs, but I was rewarded at the end with a five mile coast at 30-40 mph the whole time, all the way into town. Once in town, I found a hotel, got something to eat at a Chinese buffet (bad idea) and went to WalMart for more supplies, and bought more than was necessary. Still, I managed to squeeze it all into my bags, and I'm set to go to sleep and get started again tomorrow. I need to do some laundry at a laundromat if I can find one, but that shouldn't take me too long, and then I'll be back on the road. More camping and more mountains up ahead, but I'm getting stronger, and as long as my knee holds up, I should be making more and more miles every day!

'Til next time, wish me luck in my travels! Y'all be good now, y'hear? Oh, and be kind to cyclists!