Days 1-51: By my feelings [lots of media, may load slowly]
Writing this post was fun. And it will probably be LONG to read. I wanted to share my most memorable rides, people, and experiences. So, I went back and skimmed each post and watched every Relive video. This took a while and brought back so many great memories.
My last post was easier. I just looked at the numbers and shared what the data told me. This time, using qualitative research, I offer my:
Most memorable ride days
Memorable people I met on the ride
Most memorable experiences
I started JoeRides.blog to keep in touch with my family and interested friends. I was not sure how many people would read it, but I figured that at the very least, my immediate family (Chris, Kelly, Ally, and Mallory) would read it. I was actually pretty surprised that many other friends, colleagues, and family members started reading and commenting. That was really motivating. When I returned I heard about even more people who said they enjoyed the blog.
The blog had another unexpected benefit as it turned into journal of my ride. After a few weeks on the road, the days started to blend together. I would forget the details what happened each day, who I talked with, and where I stayed. In writing today's post, I went back and reviewed each day of the ride.
A few more numbers...
Before I jump into my new post, I wanted to share a few more "numbers." I thought of a couple more numbers I wanted to share that were no in, "Days 1-51: By the Numbers."
11 =number of books I listened to.
9 = number of states I rode through (California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, and Virginia)
5 = Number of rainy days. Only one day with a thunderstorm and big downpour and that lasted only about an hour.
2 = number of times I fell on my bike. Both times I was not moving, and failed to clip out. When you ride a road bike, your shoes clip onto your pedals. When you stop, you usually pull out of one (or both) clips. But if you only clip out of one and lean the wrong way (and you are clumsy) you can fall. Yes, twice.
1.5 = number of hours of television I watched (1 hour was part of the last Warriors-Celtics game in the NBA Championship and the other half hour was just background TV). I had little time for or interest in TV.
0 = number of times I crashed my bike. There were two close calls where I got going too fast and almost lost control in gravel on the shoulder. Both times I pulled it out before falling.
0 = number of really good "free" hotel breakfasts. I had one good breakfast at a B&B in Utah. A few Holiday Inn and Suites had OK breakfasts.
The most memorable riding days of the adventure
One of the benefits of going back through the ride was the realization about how different, yet also fun, the first part of the ride was. I was still with Bruce and Dave, and while I was not often riding with them, we usually started the day together and connected at the end of the day and sometimes along the way. There were a lot fewer people out west as well. The Western Express Route we started on was not as busy with cyclists and towns in the west are fewer and farther between. The roads were much different. Out west, secondary roads are often gravel, and the ACA route avoids those. Consequently, the roads tended to have faster (and sometimes busier) traffic. And of course the Sierra and Rocky Mountains of the west are taller, with longer (though not as steep) climbs.
Initially, I thought I would "rank" my favorites, create something like a "Top 5." While I could identify some clear favorites, it proved difficult to rank order them. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most memorable rides were in the mountains in the western and eastern parts of the journey, and not in the plains of Colorado, Kansas, and to a lesser extent Missouri (though the Ozarks were great, too).
Two themes come up on my list of what ended up being eight favorites. First, they all involved some challenges (steep and/or long climbs, longer distances, or tough weather). There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from overcoming those difficulties. Second, there was some sort of unique beauty about a ride. These are listed below by date.
Day 4: Plymouth, CA to Alpine Village, NV. 76 miles, 9364 elevation gain. This ride scared me. 9000+ feet of climbing on the fourth day of the ride. You may recall that I felt less than optimally prepared at the beginning of the ride. Fortunately the weather was good. When we planned the ride we knew there could be snow over Carson Pass in May. This was an early challenge to my fitness and I was happy to have passed the test.
Day 13: Cedar City, UT to Tropic UT, 86 miles, 6834 elevation (4 wheeees and 0 aarrgghhs). This was a truly incredible riding day. It started with a long 5000 foot climb right out of town and about 4.5 hours of 3-11% grade. There were lots of photo stops (see the Relive video below). Then a turn into a fantastic outdoor treasure, Cedar Breaks National Monument. Plenty of downhill (and some good wheeees) into Bryce Canyon where Chris and my first rest days of the trip were waiting.
Day 17: Boulder, UT to Hanksville, UT, 84 miles, 4521 elevation (6 wheeeees! and 0 aarrgghhs). This one was a surprise. I didn't know how beautiful it would be. Truly spectacular beauty. I discovered Capital Reef National Park. Wow! That place is incredible. I will come back and visit this place when I have more time to explore.
Day 18: Hanksville, UT to Blanding, UT: 124 miles, 8000 elevation (about 4 wheeees and 0 aarrgghhs). Ten years ago, as I first planned this route, I circled this segment on my plan. I knew then that this day would require some assistance. Recall that this ride was 124 miles with no services (no water along the way!). It was the one day I allowed Chris to sag me on the ride. Bruce and I rode most of this together and Lori and Chris were there with water when needed. It was even more difficult than I expected, possibly the single most difficult riding day. That said, it was also more beautiful than i expected.
Day 44: Berea, KY to Hazard, KY, 100 miles, 7785 elevation (no wheeees)
This was a particularly difficult riding day, it was long (100 miles) with lots of climbing. Plus, that climbing happened later in the day when it was particularly hot and humid and I was tired. I am not sure I would have called it a "favorite" back on Day 44, but I remember it more fondly a few weeks later.
Day 45: Hazard, KY to Breaks, VA 84 miles, 6073 elevation (two wheeeees, lots of aaaarghs)
This video will be new to you. When I first posted this on the blog, I forgot to include this Relive video. A shame since it was such a great day, even with no wheeees and a few aaaarghs. There were plenty of downhills, but most were steep and winding, so I was unable to really let loose and enjoy them--aaaaargh). The overall ride very challenging, with several very steep climbs. I rode a bit with two Brits (Colin and Steve) who proved to be very nice guys and had great stories of their adventure. I saw them a couple more times over the following days.
Day 49: Lexington to Charlottesville 76 miles, 5781 elevation (several wheeeees!)
This day had it all. The weather overcast but not raining. The ride started in a beautiful valley on a road with few vehicles. When I reached the town of Vesuvius, I started the most difficult climb of the whole adventure. It was pretty long (~2 miles) and very steep (extended stretches at 14-18% grade) climb to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway was such a joy to ride.
Day 51: Ashland, VA to Yorktown, VA 94 miles, 1998 elevation (no wheeees today)
The last riding day of the adventure had its ups and downs. It was drizzly most of the day. I got lost in Williamsburg. On the other hand, riding for about 30 miles along the Virginia Capital Trail and going through areas with such historical significance was really nice. And of course, riding into Yorktown, meeting up with Chris and riding up to the Victory Monument and dipping my wheels were the true highlight of the whole trip.
Memorable people I met on the ride
I met so many interesting people along the ride. This is another benefit of taking the Adventure Cycling Association routes. Other people do, too. I met some along the Western Express (San Francisco to Pueblo, CO) and then many more along the more popular TransAmerica Trail. I connected to that trail after Pueblo.
The most memorable conversations tended to be with fellow riders. While I regularly talked to non-riders, those chats tended to be brief. We had less in common. And I guess it was easier to talk to people sharing the experience of taking a long bike tour.
The last section of this post includes my most memorable experiences. Many of those include "people," typically people I met more than once and spent more time with. If that was the case, I included their story in the "experiences" section below. I have pictures of most of these folks as it became a routine for people I met to ask for my photo and vice versa.
Nestor. On the ferry from San Francisco to Vallejo we met Nestor, a delightful young man and fellow cyclist who was ferrying and then riding to Napa to visit his girlfriend. We enjoyed a great chat with him on the hour-long ride to Vallejo.
Brandon and Sarah. These two young people are trying to re-build the economy in Austin, Nevada. We stayed at their hotel and at at their restaurant. They are hard-working people and I wish them the best.
Thomas. I met Thomas a few times over a few days in Nevada. He was from Pennsylvania and had a goal of riding across country before he turned 40. This was his last year to do it. His family was sagging him in an RV.
Trina, "The Popsicle Lady" (photo below) offered cold drinks or popsicles to cyclists. Her husband Doug was riding his bike across country. She drove their van and made friends along the trail. I met her on Day 27: Ordway to Eads.
Scott (photo below). For about a week, Bruce's friend Scott sagged for Bruce and Dave in Western Colorado. He took us to his family's winery and was a pleasant companion for about a week.
Blane (photo below) worked on my bike in Pueblo.
Matt. I met Matt in his hometown of Pueblo. He gave me a tour and guided me to my hotel.
Breakfast at Cake, Batter, Batter in Eureka, KS and meeting Deanna, the owner a very kind and generous woman.
Stopping at the Lizard Lips Bar & Grill and getting Earl the Lizard who kept me company the rest of the ride.
Michael and Gary (photos below). I met Michael and Gary taking a break on a long, hot riding day in Missouri. These two guys have already gone from San Francisco to Los Angeles. From there, they connected to the Route 66 trail, then cut up to the Grand Canyon and connected to the Western Express Trail in Utah. They are heading to Maine and then back to Chicago. I thought I was on an adventure!
Franz. Early on Day 35 I saw about 10 cyclists in groups of 2-4 who were carrying no gear. We waved but didn’t chat. Then Franz (from Germany), the last of them, flagged me down. I learned that all of them are on the Bike the US for MS ride, which raises money and awareness for multiple sclerosis.
Terry. In Carbondale, Illinois I re-connected with an old friend of mine from my days teaching at Emory University. Terry is now the Dean of the College of Business at Southern Illinois University. We had breakfast together.
Suman. I met Suman, another TransAm racer a few times. The first time we met (Day 44), he told me he was slowing down so that he could finish next weekend when a couple of his friends from Connecticut could come down and ride the last 100 miles with him. Then I saw him on Day 46 and he had changed his mind. He told his friends not to come down and instead, Suman rode 500 miles in three days to get done and get home sooner.
I found that I met many fewer people in Virginia (at least after the first stop in Breaks, right over the border). First, there were few riders going the other way--and those that did I met on hills where stopping to chat was tough. I think many of them avoided leaving from the east coast in July. Second, the towns I stopped in were bigger. So I didn't meet fellow riders in hotels.
The most memorable experiences of the ride
I have artificially categorized memorable "rides," "people," and "experiences." As of course, there is a lot of overlap. The best riders were usually great experiences. And most (but not all) of the best experiences were with people. So I mostly categorized rides that were great experiences as "rides." People that I met but did not spend as much time with, I generally put into the "people" category. And experiences are reserved for stuff that didn't seem to fall into the first two categories. And a few of them get mentioned more than once.
Riding from Hanksville to Blanding with Bruce. I would be remiss to not go back to this particular ride (also mentioned above under rides). It was a 12 hour riding adventure.
So many wheeeees! Most were so fast I didn't want to take a photo or a video, but here are a couple.
Hanging out in Summersville with Felix and Jacqueline (from Amsterdam, Holland, photos below). Rolling into my Summersville, Missouri hotel, I was greeted by Felix. He is riding the TransAmerica Trail east to west, so I would not see him again. Early in his ride me met Jacqueline (see her photo below). Jacqueline is also from Amsterdam and while they don’t usually ride together, they often stay at the same hotels and keep a similar schedule. We hung out for several hours, drinking beer, eating dinner, going shopping. They filled me in on what was ahead (including the dogs).
An evening and morning at the Historic Rose Hotel on the Ohio River. This little (only four rooms) hotel is owned by the state of Illinois. It is right on the Ohio River with a porch overlooking the river. You may recall my blog post, "E-Town Slows Me Down" which described how rolling into this hotel caused me to stop and smell the roses.
The pictures that follow tell a bit of that story. You can see the porch. You can also see the sunrise I enjoyed the next morning as I stuck around longer than planned to enjoy coffee on that porch. I also met Matt there (more on him in the next experience).
A night at the Sebree First Baptist Church Bike Hostel. After coffee and a lazy morning on the porch at the Rose Hotel I did not have enough time to ride my planned 100+ miles to the next hotel. The ACA maps showed a bike hostel in Sebree--about 70 miles down the road. I could do that. While I had previously avoided hostels, assuming they were noisy and mostly full of young people who might keep this old man awake, I decided to go to this one. What a great experience. This was a really neat experience.
Matt (from the UK) rolled into the hostel a few hours after I did. We had met at the Rose Hotel and talked some that morning. We were the only guests at the hostel and we ate together, hung out and talked. I enjoyed getting to know Matt. Pictures of the hostel and Matt and I follow.
Connecting and reconnecting with TransAm Racer Julio. I met Julio on Day 42. He is a TransAm Racer. We stopped at the same convenience store and were both getting a meal. So we sat together and ate our food and talked. This was his third time riding in the race, but he had not finished the other two.At the time, he was struggling and not putting in as many miles as he wanted. He was hoping for 150 miles a day. Because most racers were riding about that many miles per day, I usually only saw them once or twice and then they were well ahead of me. Because of his struggles, I met him at least a dozen more times in the next 7 days. Each time he complained about his physical struggles and how he was not feeling great.
The last time I saw him was in Christiansburg, VA. We had both started in Damascus and rode 100 miles. I was done and looking for my hotel when I heard Julio whistling and calling me over to him in a parking lot. I asked him how he felt and he said "Great!" He planned to ride another 75 miles that day, and he was looking at riding the last 300 miles in the next two days. He later sent me a photo of him at Yorktown Victory Monument (the end of the ride). See that photo below.
Riding with Steve and Colin (from the UK) and hanging out with them at the Gateway Motel. I met these two Geordies (I learned a new word) from Newcastle, UK riding out of Hazard, KY. They are raising money for Cardiac Risk in the Young. We rode together for about 20 miles and then continued at our own respective paces. I met them again at the end of the day, at the Gateway Motel in Breaks, VA where we were later joined by Julio. We all hung out and Steve and Colin had some amazing stories about their ride-especially the start in Montana. Learning more about them personally was great, too. Two really nice guys.
Dan rides west, but I follow him on Strava. In the Appalachians I met Dan from Pennsylvania. Riding the other way, Dan was one of the few westbound riders I met in the last two weeks of the ride. He warned me of a loose pit bull up the road. He told me about how earlier that day he stopped at a Baptist Church where their choir was singing outdoors (a tradition started during the pandemic). He chatted with the church members for a while. He told me about camping in someone's front yard, and now they shared moonshine whiskey with him.
I put down Dan as an "experience" because I continue to follow his journey on the social media app Strava (often used by cyclists and runners to share their workouts). He posts photos and a description of each of his days. I like reading Dan's stories because it shows a different way to ride. Dan is camping most of the time, and generally riding shorter days than I (although he has had some recent days of ~100 miles). He meets a lot of locals and experiences small towns. His is another way to experience the ride and I am living vicariously through his experience. Right now Dan is still in Western Kansas, so he has at least a month and a half ahead of him.
Riding in Kentucky is just such a pleasant experience. Here are just two photos to show some of it. The first a view in the Appalachians. The second one of the many quiet, tree-lined, low traffic (no painted lines) roads I enjoyed riding there.
The end of the ride, Victory Monument and wheel dip. Of course the ultimate experience was riding up to Yorktown Victory Monument and then dipping my wheels in the Atlantic Ocean. I achieved my BHAG. See video and photo below.
I have a few more blog posts in me. Inspired by a comment from my colleague Charlie, I will share my favorite photos and videos. Then, I will finally post my reflections on the ride. That last one is still being tossed around in my brain, though I have a few ideas.