Good news: everything is going according to my plan and since the last blog-entry I have made it through Illinois and Missouri and have crossed the border to Kansas today! But let me start from the beginning.
After my night in Carbondale, my next destination was the town of Chester. It had a lot to offer! It’s the “hometown” of Popeye the sailor! It has a lot of statues and monuments documenting it, a museum and even the grocery store is called “spinach can”. Besides that, it was also right next to the Mississippi River and the last town before the state of Missouri. For me, crossing the Mississippi was special, because now I really had the feeling that I’m moving far far towards the West. Also, people had been telling me that the humidity gets less west of the river – and it really is true, the days are still hot with about 30-35 degrees, but it doesn’t feel like you go into a sauna when you step outside.
But there was also a downside to leaving Illinois: after about 10km, the hills started again. I knew that the ‘worst’ and steepest ones were yet to come in the Ozarks Mountains. But I didn’t spend my first night in Missouri in my tent in the mountains, but in a jail! It was my own choice though and I hadn’t comitted a crime – no worries. In Farmington, the old jail has been rebuilt into a cyclists hostel, called Al’s Place. Since a lot of cyclists pass this town every year on their way from coast to coast, it’s another legendary place to stay at on the route and I was really glad I did. After getting the code for the door from the police department, I had a whole jail to myself. But it was a great, luxurious apartment with a kitchen, TV, computer, air-condition and everything a cyclist could ask for. And then there was another treat: On the way to Farmington, I noticed that my pedal was about to break. It didn’t sound very good and I was frustrated, because that would have meant 1 1/2 extra days (It was a Sunday and the local bike shop wasn’t opened til Tuesday 10am due to Labor Day weekend). The jail also had a bike-storage room in the basement and as I put my bike there, I saw 2 extra pedals on the floor – some other cyclist had left them there since he didn’t need them anymore. Those are the stories that make such a journey so special. It might sound stupid, but I was in a really good mood after that because it was so random and lucky that I found a pedal there that actually fit on my bike.
On Labor Day, I hit the Ozark Mountains. The weather was just beautiful – it has been the last couple of weeks – and the scenery aswell. The Ozarks are known as a rollercoaster-ride amongst cyclists. You have a constant steep up and down and if you pedal hard enough downhill, you might get to about half of the next climb. And during the couple of days in this mountain range (by the way: it’s the only one going from west to east instead of north-south on the American continent), I realized what an impact the mood and mind has on your days and cycling. While I was annoyed in the hills of Kentucky, I was in such a good mood in the Ozarks that I was riding faster and easier than ever. I didn’t have to worry about dogs, thunderstorms or anything else and I have to say that those days have been some of my most favorite so far – scenery, weather and not a lot of traffic.
When I got to my destination on Labor day, Ellington, I only had one concern: “what are you going to eat?”. Since it was a very small town and it was a holiday I didn’t really have a lot of options. I just got a salad and some tomatoes from the small supermarket and chilled at my campspot at the city park when some people showed up to have a BBQ. And to my surprise, it was the sheriff and his family – (you can tell how small the town is when I tell you that the first person I ran into was the sheriff and the second one the mayor). After a couple of minutes they invited me to join their party and I was really glad! I didn’t have to go to bed hungry, but had lots of food and a nice evening with the sheriff and his family.
I had some more memorable nights:
– in Marshfield, I set up my tent in a city park next to an arena (I’m not sure what kind of arena – it had a lot of sand in it, maybe a rodeo). I was just about to go to sleep when the lights of the arena were turned on shining right on my tent and I hear tractors and other heavy machinery. I look out of my tent and see that the local farmers were getting the field ready for the next event. So instead of getting sleep, I watched them work and wondered why they hadn’t started earlier.
– the next day marked my exit of the mountains and I was going to spend it at the local Motorcycle bar in Everton. I had heard about it from other cyclists on the way and you get to camp for free if you eat at the bar – a condition I was more than happy to meet! Not only did I have a delicious pizza and get to share stories with the funny owner, but I also took a shower in a schoolbus. The owner had rebuild an old schoolbus into a “showerbus” with 5 showers. I asked him how he came up with that idea and he said that he was going to rent a shower-cabin for a weekend-event and they wanted 13.000$, so he decided he could get it done cheaper and he sure did. Plus it’s unique and just another thing you wouldn’t see if you didn’t travel on your bike. Because why would anyone go to a town called Everton with 500 inhabitants in the middle of nowhere?!
Today was another big day! I finally entered Kansas. As you know I had been dreaming about Kansas for a long time, because it means FLAT. I was really motivated and started early, but had to find out soon that Kansas also means “nothing there”. Before getting to my destination for today, Pittsburg, there was a stretch of 50km without anything – no grocery store, no gas station, just fields of corn. Ok, to be honest, I’m only about 10km behind the border and therefore 40 of those km still belong to Missouri, but I will have to get used to it. The longest stretch without anything on my way through Kansas is about 100km and I will have to plan everything very well so I won’t run out of water or food on that stretch. I’m still looking forward to it and can’t wait for the next couple of days. I saw my first sunset in Kansas earlier and it was amazing – it’s going to be even better when I’m out of the city and get to see it with an ’empty’ horizon.
Just a few more random stories that I didn’t include in here:
-in Houston, Missouri, a couple recommended to get breakfast at the local hospital because it was really cheap and good. The next morning, I followed their advice and was not to be disappointed! I got scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuit and gravy and oatmeal – and all ofthat for free! The older lady working there gave me a hug when I was going to pay and said: “breakfast is on me today, young man! Be safe!”
-in Ashgrove, Missouri, I was taking a really long break because it was early and I only had 12km to go to my final destination. As I was sitting in the city park, the sheriff pulled up and was trying to convince me to stay in his town for the night. He even offered me to stay in a house with kitchen and air-condition, but I still rejected the offer since I wanted to keep moving. Still a funny situation and again showing the hospitality of the people here.
-and a story I completely forgot to mention in my last blog about Kentucky. I met my biggest fan there! I was going down a hill, when I saw a car sitting in a driveway on the right and the lady inside was waving and telling me to stop. When I did, she jumped outside and was really excited. She had seen a lot of cyclists go down that road and had always wanted to talk to one and finally it had happened. We talked for a while and she told me that she would be late for church just because of me, but did not mind at all. We took pictures and exchanged numbers and ever since, LaDonna checks on me every couple of days to make sure I’m alright. Just another reason why I liked Kentucky after all!
One last thought:
Since I have a lot of time on my bike, I think a lot. And one of the things that fascinates me the most is the community of the cyclists. Every other day, you meet other cyclists and you start building a network. Sometimes you just talk for a while and exchange advice for the upcoming route, but sometimes you also exchange numbers or emails and keep in touch for further questions. About a week ago I met this couple, Scott and Ashley from Chicago, who are going the same way I am, but at a slower pace. Ever since, we write emails back and forth talking about what is coming up. I also still talk to Peter, the guy I was riding with for a couple of days and who knows..maybe he will catch up at some point. And I even talk to a guy I have never met: the 2 British guys I had met a couple of weeks ago gave me the email-address of Mike, who is about 2 weeks ahead of me heading for San Francisco aswell. So I contacted him and he keeps sending me emails with stuff I should know and be prepared for on the way.
So what I was thinking on my bike is that this whole trip is like a ‘treasure hunt’ on a very big scale. You talk to people and get advice or recommendations for some little town or turn that is thousands of km away from you, but at some point you will be there and remember the words and be thankful for it.
Alright, I think that’s it for now. There are so many stories to tell that it’s hard to put them into order. Also, some of them might not even be that great for a neutral reader, but I try to make it as interesting as possible.
A short outlook: I have planned my days for the upcoming weeks and should be in Pueblo, Colorado on September 16th. I will have a restday there and get my bike checked and will then head into the Rockies. I can’t believe I’m that ‘close’ (it’s still about 1000km) and hope everything keeps going well.
Thanks for reading and the next update will hopefully follow from the westside of Kansas or even Colorado!
P.S.: That was the entry I wasn’t able to upload yesterday. I’m actually in Chanute right now and have to say that Kansas isn’t as flat as I have hoped so far and I also experienced the first headwinds (the cyclist’s biggest enemy in Kansas). Therefore I will probably start riding at about 4AM on some days here in Kansas to avoid the heat and the winds that pick up around noon.