To the Coast!

A few weeks before reaching Eugene, we’d planned to take a detour from our trip in order to fly down to San Diego to attend my grandma’s memorial service. The logistics for this seemed complicated, but actually fell into place very well. We’d planned to check with a local bike shop,  but George and Alice offered to store our bikes and extra gear for us, and we took a bus to Portland, spent a day there with a Warmshowers host, then flew to San Diego for a few days with family. It felt very odd and a bit surreal to be back in big cities, traveling without our bikes, and living normal life in normal houses!

We retraced our plane and bus route back to Eugene, and picked up our bikes in the afternoon. After approximately 7 hours of sitting in various forms of transportation earlier in the day, we were ready to get moving, so decided to start riding the 35 miles to Triangle Lake, where our maps said there was a campground. Biking in the evening, as the air cooled, was really pleasant – and it was nice to be back on the bikes as we entered the final stretch of our trip! We got to the tiny lakeside town around 7pm, and… no campground and lots of no trespassing signs. There was a church on the edge of town with lots of lakefront land, a family was camping there and told us they were just visitors renting the spot but pointed us to the pastor’s house next door. I can’t believe this was our first time all summer needing to knock on a stranger’s door about a place to stay! Steve, the pastor, called his neighbor and got permission for us to camp on their waterfront spot – a small lawn with a view of their dock – and let us use the church restrooms and kitchen. It ended up being a beautiful spot to watch the sunset over the lake, and we felt incredibly lucky and amazed once again at the kindness of strangers.

Back on the road after leaving Eugene
Our beautiful unexpected campsite at Triangle Lake

The next morning was a pleasant 40 miles through sunny pine forests and farms down the valley to Florence, which is ON THE COAST! Florence is a cute touristy seaside town, and we celebrated by getting seafood at a restaurant on the pier, although it’s technically a bay and not the true ocean. We were warned in the local bike shop that the next stretch of Highway 101 – which we’d follow all the way north to Astoria – was the worst, narrow shoulders and curves and wind and distracted cars. It was beautiful, soaring cliffs and fog drifting over the green hills giving glimpses of the ocean below, but cold and so windy, there were times we could barely move forward. We were going to stop at a store/campground that was on our map, but there was no store and we needed dinner, so we pushed on, dragging because we hadn’t really eaten enough that day. We finally got to Yachats, an ocean vacation town, went to an awesome little brewery/farm-to-table restaurant and looked up hotels. Camping in the cold fog just didn’t sound fun. We found a motel with a weird little lighthouse room with twin bunk beds, but it was cheap and dry and warm! We swam in the hotel’s basement pool and cooked our mac’n’cheese with our camping stove on the bathroom floor, and slept like rocks.

More blackberries!
Arriving in Florence
A
Beautiful coastline
Our tiny lighthouse motel room
Gourmet motel bathroom cooking…

Due to enjoying the comfy beds, we didn’t leave til 10 the next day. Cold and dreary weather is not motivating! Our route led along the beach for a while, and we trekked down across the sand with our bikes to get pictures by the water. Realizing we truly went sea-to-sea with our bikes felt pretty incredible. We passed through a lot of cute beach towns, stopped at Rogue Brewery in Newport, and planned to camp at a state park near Lincoln City but once again it was cold and foggy so we opted again for a hotel. Our tolerance level for toughing it out clearly plummets when it’s cold and wet!

Tires in the Pacific Ocean, we really went coast to coast!
Detours on Highway 101 due to landslide damage
No caption needed

We ate breakfast at the hotel and left earlier than the day before. Our route was hilly but beautiful, including a detour inland from Highway 101 which brought us sunny pine forests before returning to the fog of the coast. I got stung by a bee that flew under my helmet strap and ended up with a swollen cheek – this was my second bee sting while biking incident of the trip! Robert somehow seems immune. We passed Cape Wakanda, where beautiful rock formations shrouded in mist came in and out of view, and passed through the town of Cannon Beach with it’s iconic Haystack Rock. Finally, we stopped at the Tillamook Creamery for the tour, cheese samples, and ice cream. We meant to go a few miles further, but we hadn’t factored in that the Oregon coast on weekends during the summer is a vacation destination, and every hotel was either sold out or super expensive, so we found a tent site at an RV park near Tillamook. We cooked pasta sitting in the cold mist, making us both a bit grumpy.

We found some sun!
Cape Wakanda
Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach
All the cheese samples!

With the scarcity of hotel rooms, we went ahead and booked rooms for the next two nights in Astoria, the official end of the TransAm route, and it was surreal to think that we had only a week left of biking and needed to start thinking about what would come after. We spent a good chunk of the next morning sitting at our campsite working on job things – telephone interview for me and response to a job offer for Robert. We didn’t leave until nearly 11:30 with 70 miles to go to Astoria, not the best planning! We made good time, though, along the flat beachside parts, lots more touristy little towns and then some scenic cliffs. We went through Cannon Beach with its distinctive Haystack Rock – and amazingly, had sun for much of the day! It was exciting to come into Astoria after so long anticipating it – we entered from the south and had views of the huge Astoria bridge and the colorful town perched on the hill of the peninsula, with large freighters in the Columbia River beyond. It was cloudy but with that beautiful golden evening light shining on the water. We stopped for burritos then biked down to the hotel along the waterfront, stopping to venture out only a large pier for views and to gawk at the sea lions piled on the end, barking frantically at us.

Rush hour on the bridge heading into Astoria
So many sea lions

We spent the morning of our rest day sitting in the hotel lobby overlooking the ocean, working on planning and drinking lots of coffee. The historical signs told us that Lewis & Clark camped at the overlook where our hotel was located. We headed into town for the afternoon to visit a bike shop and explore, and thanks to it being the weekend of the Astoria Regatta, we joined an enthusiastic crowd to watch the marine parade of Coast Guard ships and local boats before getting a wonderful seafood dinner. We got soaking wet biking back to the hotel in the rain, enjoyed the hot tub and then to my chagrin found that the laundry room closed at 9pm, so we were unable to wash our completely dirty wardrobe. Between this, and the emotions of nearing the end of the trip, I was a pretty grumpy person when we headed to bed.

Astoria has great bike paths!
Marine Regatta boat parade

Heading into the next day, we were geared up for a week of finding our own route up the peninsula, now that we were no longer on an ACA route. We’d initially considered crossing the four mile Astoria bridge to the western coast of the Olympic Peninsula and going around that side, but as we’d researched we realized that route would be very remote, with limited services and lodging, and most likely very wet. Instead we decided to follow the river east and follow a more central route up to Puget Sound. It was a pretty pleasant ride from Astoria, winding along the Columbia River through wet forests filled with ferns and moss. We had several climbs but none more than 600 feet of elevation gain, and passed through several small towns. We got to take a tiny ferry over the Columbia to an island covered in farmland before connecting to the other side by a bridge, where we wound through neighborhoods to the larger town of Longview. We had to stop to look at the map a bit more since we no longer had the convenience of a pre-made GPS route to follow.

Our last state line crossing
On the ferry across the Columbia river

We planned to make it to a campground north of the town of Castle Rock, but shortly before entering town Robert got a flat, and upon further inspection of his rear tire, noticed cracks at the base of each spoke all the way around the rim. After a roadside discussion of how risky it would really be to continue riding with the tire in that condition, we decided to play it safe and stop in Castle Rock for the night. Since a repair would require getting to a larger town, this effectively ended our trip – it was still sinking in as we slowly rolled into town and tried to figure out the best way to get a ride from there the next day. It felt rather anti-climactic to all of a sudden just be done. At first we arranged for my mom to drive down and pick us up, since we were headed to her house, but serendipity and the kindness of near-strangers showed itself again when Gary, a cyclist we’d crossed paths with briefly in Kansas and who’d been tracking our trip on Strava, saw a comment from Robert about our technical difficulties. He and his wife just happened to be on the southern WA coast and was going to be driving back to the Seattle area the next day, and offered to swing by and pick us up. He even rigged up a rooftop bike rack out of wood that morning to make it work! We traded lots of bike touring stories on the drive, then finished out our biking by riding on to the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston to meet my mom.

The cracks that ended our trip…
Gary and his bike rack to the rescue
One more ferry

We spent several days at my mom’s house recuperating and planning for our next big step – the move to Denver to start our new jobs in just a few short weeks. We packed up our bikes to send them on to Denver, and felt a mix of bittersweet feelings as it sunk in that our TransAmerica voyage, this incredible journey of pushing ourselves, experiencing new places, and meeting so many people, had come to an end. It’s taken way longer than we’d planned to finish writing about our trip – expect one final post with a summary of statistics and things we learned along the way, and thank you so much for reading!

Western Wyoming!

Leaving Jeffrey City, we stopped at the cafe again as we were leaving to try the fabled giant pancakes we’d read about on other cyclists’ blogs. Although the place opened at 7am, I’m not sure how it was worth it for business as we were the only ones there and had to wait for a few minutes until a man wandered out of the kitchen area to take our orders. We recognised him as one of the guys at the bar when we’d stopped in the afternoon before, and I’m pretty sure he was either hungover or still drunk! Anyway, we finally received our not-quite-as-epic-as-hoped-for pancakes and headed on our way.

Apparently it was a day for misadventures, because a few miles into the 59-mile stretch of empty Wyoming desert that stood between us and Lander, I suddenly heard a snap and realized that my rear shifter lever was no longer doing anything when I moved it. We stopped to investigate and found the cable had snapped. There’s not much you can do to repair that without more tools and parts than we had, so we had no choice but to push on, making do with 3 gears instead of 27! With the bike stuck in a higher gear I had to stand up to pedal up the bigger hills, which was exhausting, but in general I think it made us go faster than we otherwise would have! The terrain changed drastically as we left the high desert plateau and descended into the valley to Lander – from dry and brown to rolling foothills with bigger mountains in the distance.

Descending into Lander

Of all days to have this happen, though, the timing couldn’t have been better – we’ve had so many stretches of this trip with no bike shops for weeks, and we were headed into a town with several. In Lander we headed straight to Gannett Peak Sports, which caters specifically to TransAm cyclists with on-the-spot service, comfortable couches, WiFi, and free ice cream bars and beer on tap. Both our bikes needed new chains and cassettes (the rear gears) so we got that taken care of while we waited. While small, Lander’s Main Street has a quite an outdoorsy hipster feel, and we spent the rest of the afternoon at a coffee shop and an outdoor store until it was time to head to our Warmshowers host’s house. Our hosts in Lander were Aven and Josh, a couple about our age who moved to Lander from South Carolina so she could take a nurse practitioner job on the nearby reservation. They had just recently moved into a beautiful 100-year-old home a few blocks off Lander’s Main Street, and despite already having friends staying with them for the 4th of July (we’d just missed Lander’s big celebration), they graciously invited us to join them for dinner.

Gannett Peak Sports

Catching up on journaling in the Lander Bake Shop

I think every person we have stayed with on this trip has had a dog.

Our hosts in Lander

We left early the next day for a long trek to Dubois riding through the Wind River Reservation, home to members of the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes, following a beautiful valley of lush ranch land and then climbing to some high plateaus. The river grew bigger and more tumbling as we followed it upstream, and closer to Dubois we entered a canyon with striking red rock cliff faces, where we saw a bighorn sheep grazing by the river.

Encountering some eastbounders on the road!

In Dubois – a small and very western-looking town full of log buildings, a giant skull framing the entrance to the laundromat, a bighorn sheep museum, and the “world’s largest jackalope” – we were welcomed by the Episcopal church, which hosts cyclists in their community room. We were joined by Miles, who we already knew, and Randy, another cyclist who was moving by bike from Denver to Bend, OR. We were able to shower at the laundromat’s coin-operated showers, which is a genius idea that I think more towns should adopt! We’d noticed posters earlier in the day advertising the Dubois Rodeo happening that night and couldn’t pass up the chance to attend a small town Wyoming rodeo, so we spent our evening at the rodeo grounds set against the canyon wall as the sun set. By the time we went to bed another 5 guys had arrived at the church, three eastbound TransAm-ers and two brothers following a different route around the US, so it was a crowded little room with everyone camped out on the floor! Thankfully there was only one snorer.

They let us secure our bikes in the old town jail – now known as the bike jail!

Entrance to the laundromat in Dubois!

The next day did not start out great. We knew we had to spend the first 30 miles climbing Togwotee Pass, the 2nd highest pass of our trip, and go through a long stretch with no services, and I awoke dreading the climb. Then we tried to pump up our tires with the pump installed in the church parking lot, which wasn’t working and ended up deflating my front tire completely and put us both in a bad mood. Some days, I feel excited about exploring the next stretch, but there are moments where I just don’t feel like gettin back on the bike and feel a strong longing to be settled again somewhere and back to normal life, and this was one of those days – I felt on the verge of tears for the first few miles. As we started up the gradually climbing road through the foothills, the sky ahead was filled with a row of foreboding dark grey storm clouds, and a few raindrops fell. We were lucky, though, that the storm was heading a different direction and we soon were back to sun and hot weather. When we reached the top of the pass, looking forward to the long descent, we were met by a strong headwind that slowed us down so much that we had to pedal hard even going downhill – one more frustration on a difficult day. As we came around a curve, though, all of a sudden we could see the jagged peaks of the Tetons come into sight across the valley, giving us extra motivation for the last windy miles across the valley to Grand Teton National Park.

Storm clouds before Togwotee Pass

Finally over the pass!

We planned to camp at Jenny Lake, and were a little worried when signs at the park entrance said all the campgrounds were full. The benefit of traveling by bike though – when we arrived, we found the hiker-biker campsites nearly empty, tucked back in the woods close to the lake! Jenny Lake was beyond beautiful – set right up against the face of giant mountains, surrounded by pine trees and meadows full of wildflowers. As we were setting up our tent I heard a rustling in the trees about 100 feet away, and a black bear came walking down a log and ambled away. We were reluctant to leave the next morning, and took a long walk on the trail along the lake to take about a million more pictures of the mountains in the morning light. This place definitely made our list of spots to come back and explore in the future.

The next day’s biking, after a late start due to a flat tire, was entirely in national parks – from Grand Teton NP, then entering Yellowstone in the afternoon. Yellowstone is notorious among cycle tourists for its crowded, narrow roads with no shoulder, filled with distracted RV-driving tourists, so we were a little apprehensive. Thankfully, though, we entered in the afternoon on a Sunday, so most of the traffic was headed the other direction out of the park. Once again we found easy hiker-biker camping at Grant Village, one of the main park centers. This is definitely the way to see crowded national parks without having to make a reservation a year out!

We tried to get an early start the next day to beat some of the traffic, following the road from Grant Village to Madison, making stops at sights along the way and crossing the continental divide for the 7th and 8th times of the trip! We dutifully made a stop at Old Faithful, where we watched the eruption from the lodge balcony while eating a disappointingly small overpriced lunch. We went to the visitor center store in search of more food and were totally overwhelmed by the crowds and the prices, which felt a bit like Disneyland, but ended up sharing a quart of ice cream which was the best deal in the place! For the rest of the day we stopped at the multiple geysers and hot springs located along the route, happily zipping in and out of the parking lots on our bikes bypassing the cars waiting in line for parking – we kept seeing the same people over and over again so I think we were progressing just as fast as the cars! This was my first time in Yellowstone and the uniqueness of the geologic features of the park was pretty incredible.

Old Faithful

Steaming hot springs water flowing into the Firehole River

Best parking spot in the place!

We ended in West Yellowstone, the town just outside the west entrance of the park, where we met longtime local residents Carol and Drew – Carol is the sister of one of Robert’s former coworkers, and they were amazing hosts, welcoming us with food and beer and a comfortable bed. Carol was going to take us hiking the next day in the park, but unfortunately they both were not feeling well the next morning but she insisted we take her car to go explore on our own! It was amazing how fast we could retrace what we’d biked the day before, and driving allowed us to see much more of the park than we could have otherwise. We stopped at more geysers and hot springs, saw some bison, and took a hike along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (realizing how tired we were when our 2 mile hike completely wore us out!). We finished out the afternoon with trips to the bike shop, the grocery store, and a coffee shop, having made the most of our day off the bikes before setting off the next day into Montana.

Carol and Drew

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

We saw a bison! Thankfully from the car, not on bikes.

Steamboat Geyser, the largest in the world when it goes off (which has been happening more recently)

Carol and Drew’s friendly lab Dillon, who was reluctant to give up his bed for us!

High Desert

We took 2 and a half days of rest in Estes Park and it was marvelous. Aside from an increased amount of down time, we were treated to 2-hour massages (Thanks, David and Alix!), and we went on a multi-hour hike. It was so nice to be able to cook in a real kitchen, drink good coffee, spend an evening watching Netflix, sleep in, and not have to worry about if it was going to rain. But as all things good, you can’t rest forever, as fun as that would be (?), although Estes will be less than a 2 hour drive for us come this fall!

Estes Sunset

Big dogs need big walking sticks

Us with Alix and David

At the top of Trail Ridge Road

David drove us back over Trail Ridge Road to Granby on July 1st, where we rejoined our route. It was a cold morning and we were conflicted about what we wanted to wear because we knew we would be starting a long climb to Willow Creek Pass shortly after leaving town. We went for windbreakers and bike gloves, even though we were still freezing, and sure enough 3 miles out of town we had to lose the jackets. We stopped on the two lane road, with no shoulders, where cars had good visibility, to pack up our jackets and put on the cold, thick sunscreen. In the middle of this process, Nicole heard a rustling in the trees on the hillside across the road. A moment later a moose and her calf came walking out of the trees, approximately 200 yards away from us, then re-entered at another point to exit again near the top of the hill, and finally disappear over to the other side. Neither of us got a picture of it though, so kids these days would say it never happened.

As we climbed to the pass we encountered some interesting geologic features that resembled straight-line walls cutting through hills across the landscape. Geologists call them dikes; I likened them to a mohawk hairstyle. From the top of the pass, the terrain looked to be downhill for the remainder of the day, however, the scale on the graph did a good job at hiding all the climbing we would encounter, nor did it forewarn us about the wind on the other side. Several times I was thrown across the lane by a gust, but the traffic was light so we took the amount of space we needed. As we ventured further north from the pass, the landscape dried out and flattened out rather quickly as we entered a large plain. Snow-capped mountains lined the horizon on 3 sides of us, all except where we were headed.

Dikes, or Mohawks

Top of CD pass #2

That wind…

We arrived in Walden, the self-proclaimed “Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado,” however, we only saw seagulls – lots and lots of seagulls. We checked in with the sheriff through a basement window of the large and elegant courthouse then went to the park to set up camp. The city pool, where we planned to take a shower, was closed for the weekend. We then walked down the main strip looking for dinner only to find restaurant after restaurant closed an hour to two before their posted closing time. We settled for the dollar store and made dinner back in the park. As we crawled into our tent, a lady came up to inform us that 65 firefighters would also be camping in the park that night and that they would arrive in an hour or two. It was hard to believe, but shortly after dusk group after group of firefighters came marching across the grass, opened their pop-up tents and went to bed. By the time we woke up the next morning they had already packed up and left for their shift of managing a wildfire.

The wind was at our backs that morning swiftly carrying us away from the mountains and further into the arid high desert. As we crossed into Wyoming, we stopped to take a picture with the sign and noticed in the distance a road zigzag over a large hill. We learned that road was our road, and it was 12 miles away. For the next 12 miles the hill was the only thing to look at. It never appeared to get closer and the cars driving up never appeared to get bigger, even as we came to the base of the climb. The wind was no longer at our backs and by the time we crossed over the top it was in full gale at our sides. This combined with the heat may have put me in a rotten mood and you would have found me yelling profanities at the wind. I was briefly distracted by gunshots coming from an SUV parked in the middle of a field, with a rifle sticking out of the window towards an antelope and its fawn across the field. I assume they were just trying to scare them away, and when it didn’t work, they drove closer and shot again, and again, until the antelope calmly bounced away and looking back as if to say, “what’s his deal?” It wasn’t until we arrived in Riverside where I ate a pint of ice cream and drank a 20 oz fountain drink scrunched in the 14-inch band of shade that wrapped the south side of the store that I started to feel back at ease. Nicole got a cup of yogurt and a small milk.

This is the Welcome to Wyoming sign

The rest of the day was calm which allowed us to look around a little more and realize there were more sun-bleached skeletons on the shoulder than roadkill. I was ready to hang a skull and antlers on the front of my bike, but I was only able to find one antler. Eventually we made it to Saratoga and went straight to the grocery store. We bought a half gallon of orange juice for immediate consumption, a half gallon of pineapple-mango juice to have with dinner, a Gatorade for the next day, and a few other items not juice related. We then found the city pool, behind which was a hot sulfur spring free to the public. It smelled, the stairs were slimy, it was crazy hot, and it was great. We showered, made dinner in the park, bought a pint of ice cream to share, then went to the city campground, which turned out to be swarming with mosquitos. But we had a lovely view from inside our tent of the bright red sunset over the calm adjacent lake.

Pretty nice hot spring for free!

Wildfire haze made the sun bright red

Pretty sunset, safe from mosquitos

In an effort to minimize mosquito contact the next morning we packed up like a NASCAR pit crew and cruised north 20 miles before taking a rest to eat breakfast. This brought us to Walcott, also known as the Shell gas station at exit 235 on I-80. During our breakfast break we met several other cycle tourists, including Stuart, who is biking the continental divide one to two weeks at a time each year, as work allows, and Miles, a recent graduate of vet school also westbound on the TransAm. From “Walcott” our route put us on the shoulder of I-80 for 13 miles. While many people were nervous about this, we were actually rather glad because this meant we would actually have a wide shoulder for cars and trucks driving equally as fast as on smaller roads. With half the highway closed for construction, everyone was squeezed onto one side for 7 miles thus slowing the traffic a little more for us. We exited at Sinclair and followed frontage roads to Rawlins, where we found a Subway and split a $5 footlong for lunch. We assessed our options for the rest of the day: the next place to stay was in 70 miles (we had already gone 40 miles), and there were 20 mph westerly winds throughout the afternoon, with gusts of 50 – 55 mph. We decided to call it a day and stay in Rawlins. We found the public library, air-conditioned, furnished with comfy armchairs, had ample free WiFi, bathrooms, water, outlets, and books to browse. It was pretty great. For dinner, we ate baked chicken on the demo patio furniture in front of the grocery store. The chairs were chained to the center post of the small table so we really had to squeeze in – we are getting oddly comfortable eating in places most convenient to us with little regard to its social acceptability. That night, the free camping option was the lawn on the side of Wal-Mart, and while it was not pretty great, it wasn’t horrible either. Actually now that I think about it, it was bad. On the west side of us was Wal-Mart with a parking lot full of RVs and flood lights, on the south side of us was a train yard that was active through the night, and on the east side of us was I-80. The only thing giving us privacy was a dozen pallets of fertilizer.

I-80 has the best shoulders!

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon

Eating by the front door of the grocery store

Wal-Mart camping

We started July 4th, biking north from the dusty cowboy town of Rawlins into the wide open scrub land. We crossed the continental divide twice each after a long steady climb, followed by a dramatic drop. Lots of antelope could be seen in the fields and ditches. We came across Split Rock, a natural landmark for the Oregon Trail and a Pony Express station turned US Post Office, which remained in operation until the 1940s. The mountains looked so bare and isolated across the landscape, like drops of biscuit dough on a cookie sheet.

Continental Divide crossing #3

Downhill to the next valley

Continental Divide crossing #4

Starting to see tourists headed to Yellowstone

We made it to Jeffrey City, a uranium mining town that collapsed in the 1980s when the mine shut down. The town had a church open for cyclists to stay, and by the looks of the walls, nearly every passing cyclist has stayed there. There were showers, which were much needed and appreciated, a full kitchen, and private rooms with mattresses. We were lucky to have the company of 5 other cyclists that night, and have a viewing of another gorgeous sunset.

Locals at the Split Rock Cafe in Jeffrey City – 5 dogs and 2 people in a fourwheeler!

Jeffrey City

Jeffrey City Community Church/Cyclist Hostel

Postcards from previous cycle tourists

Kitchen wall in the cyclist hostel

The group at the hostel – Bob and Donna from South Carolina, Jay and Stan from London, and Miles from Georgia

Kansas, Here We Come!

We decided to veer off slightly from the Trans-Am route in order to spend a rest day in Springfield, MO, and get Robert’s bike seat repaired. From Marshfield, this meant riding down the old Route 66 highway, which is now a frontage road and really not especially interesting – especially when you are sore and exhausted, fighting a strong headwind, and very ready to just get there, as I was – I’m afraid I was not in a very good mood. We took an obligatory picture with the Route 66 sign, and came into Springfield onto a busy commercial street with every strip mall and chain store you can imagine, all concrete and asphalt, and not a bit of anything green and growing in sight. To our relief, Springfield vastly improved when we turned off into some picturesque older neighborhoods with plentiful parks and bike lanes as we wound our way to our Warmshowers host Stuart’s house, first stopping for a lunch of local BBQ.

Yay? We’re not sure why so many people are obsessed with Route 66, but here we are

Stuart, his friendly and engaging kids Jane and Brady, and their lovable Great Pyrenees/Shepherd mix Jack warmly welcomed us, and as Stuart offered us a cold beer from the keg taps installed in a refrigerator in the garage, we learned that he is an architect who now runs Mother’s Brewing Company, a local craft brewery, and offered to take us on a tour later that afternoon once we’d showered and relaxed a bit. He’d taken the kids on a cross country bike tour 8 years ago, when in between jobs, and we enjoyed comparing experiences and hearing about what it takes to bike tour with toddlers, a whole different set of challenges!

Our delightful hosts, including the most cuddly dog ever

The brewery was great, we had the opportunity to sample nearly all their beers and found them all incredible, and really enjoyed learning about the chemistry and process of brewing and production in a bit more detail than we’ve ever heard before. That evening, another family came over for dinner and we met John, a former German professor now turned COO of Askenosie Chocolates, a local fair-trade chocolate company in Springfield that makes some amazing chocolate and works directly with farmers worldwide to fairly source their beans.

Mother’s Brewing Company taproom

It was delightful to sleep in and know that we didn’t have to cycle far the next day. We spent quite a bit of time at a local bike shop, where after several unsuccessful attempts to replace the broken parts on Robert’s seat, they ended up just giving him a brand new seat of the same model. We’re very thankful for Brooks Saddles two-year warranty! Excited to be in a city with a food scene and cafe options besides fast food and convenience stores, we shared half a dozen fancy donuts for lunch and sat at a hipster coffee shop for the afternoon to work on things. Good coffee is definitely one of the things I very much miss on this trip! We also stopped in at the headquarters of Bass Pro Shop, to marvel at the extravagant architecture of molded trees and taxidermy specimens set in realistic-looking wildlife scenes inside the colossal outdoor store. It felt incredibly light and free to be biking around town minus the 40lbs of gear we’re usually carrying – I decided that sort of short-distance commuting is, I think, my favorite way to ride a bike

Lunch!

Coffee Ethic, downtown Springfield, a remedy for our lack of good coffee on this trip!

Our day ended with an invitation to a potluck of a group of Stuart’s friends, at the urban farm that one of them owns which they converted from a formerly drug-filled and abandoned city block. We showed up at this house and were warmly welcomed by an incredibly interesting group of people, from the farm owners to some musicians to one couple who have been traveling around the US in an RV interviewing people about the current climate of divisiveness in the US and listening to their stories and experiences (you can see more about their project at www.somethinggigantic.com). The evening was filled with laughter, kids and dogs running everywhere, and the sounds of folk guitar and singing coming from the porch. We were really struck by what a connected, active, supportive community we had a glimpse of during our time in Springfield, the way Stuart welcomed us into it, and were inspired by the multiple people we met who started out their lives going one direction and have found themselves doing something completely different that they love. It was a great reminder that life is bigger and better than we often imagine it can be, especially as we dream about what we want our lives to look like when we settle down with a sort of fresh start after this trip.

Urban Roots Farm

From Springfield our ride was uneventful, with only a few small towns along the way and mostly a whole lot of farmfields, as we began our 5th week of cycling. We met several eastbound cyclists, including an Australian, a couple from Austria, and a guy from New Zealand. We also met our first cross-country racer – the Trans-Am Bike Race started on June 2nd in Astoria, and the riders are fully self-contained (carrying all their own gear in a minimalist bike-packing setup) and ride nearly nonstop, up to 250 miles or so a day, to complete the same route we’re doing but in a third of the time. We met the guy who was currently in second place, and he’d come all the way from Oregon to Missouri in 12 days. Crazy. It makes what we’re doing look like a breeze – I can’t even comprehend how it must feel to do that!

We’ve heard a lot about Kansas’ winds and days of nothingness – here it goes!

I was pretty proud of our own ride that day, however. We felt pretty good at each town we came to, and were making good time, so we decided to push to make it into Kansas, making it my first ever 100-mile ride and getting us to our 5th state of the trip! The city of Pittsburg, KS gave us an odd feeling as we rode into town, full of deserted-looking rundown buildings and people with a down-on-their-luck appearance. We’d planned to camp at the city RV park which let’s cyclists camp on their lawn, but when we checked it out, a couple was already camping there with two giant tents, some dilapidated mountain bikes, a giant mastiff dog tied to a tree, and a baby raccoon (!) they said was named Squirrel. We had greeted them and introduced ourselves as we usually do other cyclists, but in briefly chatting definitely got the vibe that they weren’t traveling by choice but were homeless. Uncomfortable with leaving our things there to go find dinner, we biked to Wal-Mart with all of our stuff where we got food and sat and ate in the Adirondack chairs that were for sale in front of the store as the sun set, people-watching. We’ve gone to so many Wal-Marts on this trip already, and usually sit outside to eat, that, we joked that it’s become our front porch. As we sat there we both couldn’t shake the feeling of uneasiness about staying in the RV park and about the town in general – I don’t know what it was and don’t know anything about Pittsburg, but I swear nearly everyone looked like they were a drug addict or homeless. Finally, we caved and booked a room at a hotel up the street, happily inside and safe from both the potential rain and creepy people!

A soft bed, air conditioning, and a bucket of ice – pure luxury!

Central Kentucky

Having been completely soaked from the stormy ride back from Walmart to our tent behind the firehouse, we stripped our sopping wet clothes and dried off, successfully keeping the inside of the tent dry, and we were pleased. However, waking up at 5 AM needing to run out of the tent to pee in the grass only to realize you’re only in your underwear can make you quickly forget that sense of satisfaction.

The change in landscape and economic prosperity west of Berea was nothing short of dramatic. Where sometimes it felt like 1 in 3 homes were burned down in the Kentucky Appalachians, now we were passing by homes of the Pinterest moms, where large decor dressed the front porches, whether that be the family’s last name scrolled out in a 4 foot tall script font or reconstructed wooden slats and a cute phrase from the Bible painted on… not that I ever, ever, ever look at Pinterest. Where there used to be a yard full of dogs and chain link fences, now we were seeing horses, long horn cattle, and white picket fences. The steep hills covered in trees were now much smaller gentle rolling hills of grass and coasting down one would only get you up to 25 mph where they used to carry you at 35 mph. The presence of coal disappeared and limestone began cropping up more and more often.

The pasture land continued on for some time and we were looking for any place to stop for water and a snack to get us by until the next town. We were being encroached by a car so we hurried over the hill we were working on then zoomed down the other side, but right as we were picking up speed we saw a sacred sign on the side of the road at the gated entrance of an empty farmhouse which read, “Bicycle Rest Stop”. I clutched my brake levers and immediately turned around. The lady in the car slowly came over the hill with her window rolled down and said, “I knew y’all would stop here,” as she passed by. This place was spoken of by cyclists from previous years and it was kind of magical. A small timber pavilion was casting shade on a small table and hammock, along with 2 coolers filled with all kinds of snacks and beverages coveted by cyclists. Fresh slices of banana bread were in ziplock bags on the table, then looking up into the rafters were full sized bike pumps and replacement tires. A self-composting outhouse was built next to the farmhouse and the level of orchestration of the experience of opening the door and stepping inside made the engineer in me giggle. A shower was placed behind the house, complete with shampoo, soap, and a towel in a large ziplock bag. It’s astounding that someone stocks this place with food and takes care of it without ever meeting anyone who passes through.

An oasis for cyclists

Loving the shade

View of the shower

View from the shower

Later in the day, we stopped at a Dairy Bar for milkshakes. We’ve seen a lot of Dairy Bars along this tour and apparently it’s a universal name for a small place that served burgers and ice cream. I’m a fan. Our original plan was to bike 50 miles to Harrodsburg but the weather forecast was showing 80 percent chance of thunderstorms. Looking at the sky and the direction everything was headed, we determined we were safe and we were feeling pretty good after getting out of the Appalachians so we decided to tack on an extra 30 miles to the day to make it to Springfield, KY. This brought us past one of the many historic preservation landmarks that President Lincoln had some affiliation to. This one in particular was Abraham’s grandfather’s house, given to the eldest son, leaving Abraham’s father with a life of hard labor.

Stone walls… where are we??

Those clouds are moving away from us… let’s go another 30 miles.

Misleading sign about Lincoln “cabin”

Abraham Lincoln may have once visited his uncle here for Christmas

We pulled into the small town of Springfield not knowing where we were going to stay, there was an option to camp in a park pavilion outside of town, which wasn’t our first choice. We pulled up the addenda on the Adventure Cycling website (the source of our route maps) and as luck would have it, a phone number was listed. We called, left a message, then received a call from another person a few minutes later. It was a pastor for the local Methodist church. He was out of town but said the parsonage was unlocked and likely had guitar lessons happening there at the moment. Sure enough, we walked right in the house to a guitar lesson. We felt blessed to have a cold shower and a sheltered place to sleep with air conditioning in the hot, humid weather.

Parsonage for our stay

As we were loading up our bikes the next morning, I noticed my bike seat felt extra wobbly. Looking closer, I noticed one of the two rails used to support the seat had completely broken apart. As a quick fix, I adjusted the seat position forward so the clamp would support both sides of the break. While typically a centimeter of change could cause lots of knee and back pain in the long run, it sure beat having to ride on one butt cheek. We walked the bikes a few blocks down to the sheriff’s office and I asked the receptionist if there were any abandoned bikes in their possession I could take a seat from. “Oh, you wouldn’t be able to find anything within the county, but there’s a junk yard not too far from here you could try.” I noticed a man from the neighboring business had come out to talk to Nicole, so I thanked the receptionist and returned to the bikes.

What the devil

This is not good

The man was Steven, an insurance agent, and he told us he had already contacted the local machinist in town to weld the rail back together. He gave us directions and when we pulled up, Mac was sitting in a chair in the garage door to his shop, just as Steven had described. Mac looked like he was in his 80’s and talked about all of his hip, knee, etc. surgeries he recently had and said it was a good idea to do this trip before we get old. We sat in comfy leather office chairs surrounded by scrap metal, drill presses, pipe benders, a forge furnace, and every tool you could acquire in a long career. About 10 minutes into working on it, Mac got a phone call – “yeah, yeah, I’m working on it right now…” then hung up. He presented us the refurbished seat. A crack was still evident but it was a single piece once again. He said it should get us by but not to count on it for the long term. I placed it back on the bike with the clamp on both sides to not stress the fracture and asked how much I owed him. “Hmm, nothin’. That’s free of charge!” then laughed. I thanked him and he wished us a safe journey.

Mac hard at work

As we pulled out of Springfield, ready to make some progress, a few isolated storms intercepted us. The rain did not last very long, maybe 15 minutes, but it was intense, heavy rain that soaked us to the bone. We turned on all our lights since there was no shoulder. Sunglasses don’t have wiper blades and riding downhill without them felt like needle pricks in your eyes, so our progress slowed a bit. Suddenly, the storm passed and we arrived at an alternate route to Maker’s Mark Distillery. Yes, we went to the distillery, and yes, we took a tour sopping wet in our Lycra bike outfits. It was worth it. During the tour a couple more isolated storms passed by, making us glad we avoided them, albeit standing in the air conditioned gift shop freezing cold.

Special room for Makers 46

They have a kitten!!!

We took a “closed road” to rejoin our route without backtracking and came across a gate, which used to be the old entrance. No big deal, we’ve had to unload and lift our bikes over countless gates in previous tours, but right as we started taking the panniers off, a car pulled up on the other side of the gate. A man we met on the tour jumped out of the car and helped receive our bikes as we lifted them over to him, then just as quickly as he drove up, he ran back to his car and took off.

Our destination for the day was Hodgenville, or as I like to call it, HodgePodgenville, or as they like to call it, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. We were so hungry when we pulled into town, we ran into the first place we saw. It was an ice cream parlor. Mmmm, ice cream. The city had a community center (essentially a large gym) for hosting cyclists, complete with showers, a brand new A/C unit, a concession stand (passing cyclists kept adding cash to a pile for whatever was taken), and a large grid of tables and chairs for weekly BINGO, scheduled to be held the following evening. The rain fly for the tent was still soaked so this was a perfect opportunity to spread it out to dry overnight. After some deliberation and some coaxing on my part to go look for a more substantial dinner, we walked to some nearby stores, then I worked on my last blog post before going to bed.

A few hills along the way

The community center

Hanging out inside

Sleeping on the floor of an air conditioned gym can make you forget how hot it is outside. It can also make you forget how late in the day it is when there are no windows to share some of that natural light goodness. Needless to say, we slept in, dilly dallied, and I reluctantly finished my blog post. I was still sitting in a chair in my sleeping bag when a lady walked in with her two kids to prepare the place for BINGO night. We hastily packed up and started our day.

Me, reluctantly writing my last blog post

At some point in the day, we crossed time zones, which made our timing for lunch perfect. We pulled into Munfordville at 11:40 AM and searched for local restaurants. There were a lot of chain restaurants up the hill by the interstate but one local hole-in-the-wall place, called the Green River Grill, was a block away. We parked our bikes and as we stepped inside a lady on her way out asked, “Y’all are cyclists?” To which I, the Minnesotan, replied, “Yep!”. “The City of Munfordville Board of Tourism just paid for your lunch,” she smiled as she stepped out the door. We keep getting surprised with new levels of hospitality and this was no exception.

Another Lincoln monument.

We enjoyed our simple lunch and hung out for nearly an hour and a half before deciding to leave. As we stepped outside, it was clear the skies took a turn for the worse. Before we could unlock our bikes it began to rain. We ducked under an awning to look at just what was up, with the sky, on the radar. A red cell was passing not to far away, with everything was predominantly moving east. I know Kentucky is going through some awkward transitions at the moment, but oh my gosh, the last few days have seen a flare up of acne on the radar. The good news was we were on the south edge of the severe thunderstorm warning and we were headed south… so we just had to outrun it. The minute the rain let up we raced out of town, taking the bridge over the Green River and southbound towards Mammoth Cave. The westerly wind was strong and at times I had to lean into it so not to be blown over. Nicole had made a bag to perfectly fill the triangle in my frame for this trip, but at times like this, it acted more like a sail. We had dark clouds with patches of rainfall and sheet lightning nearly surrounding us, but partly cloudy blue skies were ahead. Near Rowletts, an oncoming car threw some trash out the window at me. I stuck my arm out and looked back to gesture, “what was that for?” and pushed on in an attempt to stay dry.

We joined a higher traffic road after passing the Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo to squeeze through a little bit of terrain to the next valley to the east. It started to rain so we stopped under the first tree overhanging the side road to quickly check in with the radar. The severe weather warnings had been extended further south. Blast! We were 3 miles from the next town, we had to go for it. As we raced down the valley, dark clouds were spilling over the bluffs to the west of us as far as we could see. Most of them were dumping water. We passed a police officer while crossing some railroad tracks, he lifted his index finger from the steering wheel to say, “good afternoon”. The inevitable rain started coming down on us, but my mesh-topped shoes did not feel like they were filled water, the true litmus test of being soaked or not. We started evaluating our options for places to take cover. A car port at someone’s house? No, too crowded with things already. A row of pole-barn warehouses? No, the awnings are too small. A small resort of concrete teepees, titled “Wigwam Village Inn #2”? No, that’s culturally insensitive and they can go to hell for capitalizing on the novelty of a nation of people “rightfully” killed and slaughtered because they never owned the land under the Doctrine of Discovery. But wait, what’s that at the end of the road? A Dairy Queen! Ice cream has come once again to save the day! Within seconds of stepping inside the rain intensified and the wind picked up that we surely would have been blown away and swept down a storm drain had we not found shelter. I sat down at a 2-person booth to look at facebook, I mean, the radar; Nicole went to the counter to buy a coffee. She came back, cup in hand, blowing the excess heat off the top and as she sat down. “I like how you can watch weather patterns and storms move across large open spaces like this. It makes you feel so small,” she said. “I have no clue what you’re talking about,” I replied.

There were two more bands of severe weather heading our way, one was estimated to arrive at 7 PM and another around 10 PM. This gave us enough time to bike up to the Mammoth Cave Resort, where we initially intended to camp, but decided to go for one of the cabins instead. We checked in, unloaded our bikes, showered and changed into clean clothes then walked into the resort restaurant coincidentally also called the Green River Grill, where we enjoyed a lovely dinner to the sounds of a rain storm outside the window. The storm passed and we walked back to our little cabin to a chorus of toads, rejoicing for the rainy weather.

Arriving at Mammoth Cave National Park

Our historic little cabin for the night