Canyonland.

23 Oct

We began today at the bottom of a large canyon, only a 50 mile climb would get us to the remote town of Hanksville (pop 200) where we could fill up on water and food. Having made Hanksville in the early afternoon we bought supplies from a lady who announced ‘when my husband passes a cyclist he plays a game to see how close he can get’. We didn’t stay long.

Refreshed, we set off following the Fremont river which marked the beginning of another steep 70 mile climb that we would now follow for the next 24hrs. Beginning to see what the Utah welcoming sign meant by ‘life elevated’.

Following the meandering river deep beneath the canyon tops as the sun slowly set was an incredible end to a long day of incline. The deep blue river, mixed green and autumnal orange tress against red rock and a darkening purple sky were magnificent.

We made it to a state campsite just after dark, bumping into a pair of young american cyclists we’d met some days before. Moments later we were all turfed out and sent on our way as the most miserable and hostile ranger in the history of humankind was not happy for us vagabonds to camp on state ground. All we required was to put a mat down and fall asleep, but to do this on state land would be considered trespassing. They do like having a lot of rules in the USA and this one seemed to be his favourite.

It would be a further 10 mile climb before we got to BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) and finally pitched our tent freely at 10.30pm, tired, hungry and annoyed. I told the ranger he was the worst American i had met in 2.5 months, on learning they have the same rights as police officers I was glad to of left it there.

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Good morning.

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I wish it didn’t say that on my pannier cover.

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Fremont river.

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Jacobs Chair

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My little campsite.

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Welcome to Utah.

23 Oct

I’m very much looking forward to having my ‘life elevated’ i thought, as we marched on across the state border into Utah. The Mormon state.

We spent our final night in Colorado in the small town of Dolores before pushing on early the next morning to reach the state line shortly after lunch. As often seems the case, towns nearing the border offer little in both character and food supplies which only serves to encourage fleet of peddle and excitement for what’s in store over in the next state.

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Once into Utah our target this evening was the town of Blanding (pop 6,000) which we achieved after a swift introduction into the steep ups and downs of this canyon state. We were instructed that camping in the town park was not allowed and nor was a celebratory beer to mark the arrival of a new state. This was a strictly dry mormon town. Bland not just by name.

With little else to do we wondered the streets and stumbled across an evening junior high football game, a perfect opportunity to chat up the locals, looking to find ourselves 6ft x 6ft of grass or maybe even a shower. With english accents so loud and regal they’d make Boris Johnson sound like a cockney we took to the stands, but achieved very little.

Having failed to engage any mormon empathy we headed back to the park under darkness and camped stealth next to an electricity plant, just as our headlights and phones started to fail. Irony.

The temperature dropped below freezing and the park sprinklers erupted into action ensuring any hopes for sleep were quickly abandoned.

Waking early we collected enough water and supplies to see us through the next few days. We were headed out into the Canyonland desert and would be far from civilisation for the next 170 miles. Because the route profile was endless canyons and the weather hot, it’s hard to estimate how long it would take, so we prepared for the worst. In recent days there had been a steady trickle of kind motorists making sure we have enough water as they pass, and we carry iodine tablets anyway, but as long as it doesn’t get any hotter we would be ok. Having said this i started to bonk mid-morning so poured chocolate down my throat and sat feeling pretty terrible as i waited for my body to catch up, entirely my own fault.

The final water source was a small gas station whose attendant told us that cyclists recently told her highway 95 was the toughest road they have ever ridden. We are getting used to this now. They never seem to say ‘the safest’ ‘the easiest’ ‘the road with the least bears’, it’s always the worst possible news, but it’s never true. We hoped.

By the afternoon we had made our way deep into canyon lands and the scenery became ridiculous. An odd choice of word but i do mean ridiculous. Whilst Colorado was endlessly scenic, lush and colourful, this is like nothing I’ve  seen before.…

Things i can now do whilst cycling.

23 Oct

Drink.

Eat.

Pick nose.

Apply sun cream to all areas.

Apply vaseline to most areas.

Remove/Apply/Stow t-shirt, jacket, hat, gloves.

Salute.

Take photos.

Write notes.

Read large map.

Do running arms.

High five.

YMCA.

Sing endlessly without full knowledge of lyrics.…

Colourful Colorado.

18 Oct

The week crossing Colorado was magnificent.

Beautiful people, beautiful landscape and beautifully challenging cycling.

The weather was good to us for the large part, though nights were sometimes bitterly cold and every descent meant a quick change into all warm articles of clothing available. The wind (as so often whilst travelling west) was against us, often meaning the relief of reaching a summit was quickly put aside at the realisation you would be required to pedal downhill also. We both bonked or came close on a number of occasions as ensuring a constant flow of nutrition became complicated with climb after climb, but it was all well worth it. Colorado is simply spectacular.

Leaving Salida we slowly climbed Monarch Pass, at 11,312ft our highest peak and marking the continental divide which means all water (and cyclists) now flow towards the Pacific. A definite landmark.

Onwards we passed through the college town of Gunnison, were hosted by the excellent Tony, Amanda and Jasper who treated us to dinner in Montrose before we finally took a day’s rest in Telluride (chalet home to Tom Cruise and Oprah among others).  We were due a day off to explore the town and surrounding countryside, catch up on admin and for me to rid my lungs of a cold. Telluride was the perfect place for this, set at the top of a 16 mile climb but worth every single pedal.

The overriding memory of this state will be the colours of ‘colourful Colorado’. The dark rivers, rich green trees leading up to autumnal oranges, snowy peaks and deep purple sunsets. Sometimes hard to keep riding when there is so much to look at. Everyone we met and stayed with were always excited for us on what we were about to see, and they had good reason. Colourful Colorado did not let us down.

A cyclists playground.

Refreshed after a day’s rest we carried on to Dolores and towards the Utah border.

Prime your index finger, and have a scroll below.

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So cold it’s acceptable to dress like a robber.

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Eddie admiring the view.

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The continental divide.

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The back of Pete.

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It posed for me, so i stopped. Then it ran off.

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Eddie resting. Lazy.

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Rocks, trees and James.

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Favourite type of sign.

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Can’t remember the name of this lake. Nice though.

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Another climb.

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And another.

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A damn dam.

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Black Canyon’ – Incredible place. 

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Excitement.

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Another rest for Eddie. 

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Excellent words, entirely ignored.

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Colourful Colorado.

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Poser plural.

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Poser singular.

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Poser bike.

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Nice place for a rest.

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Autumn, a good time to visit.

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The final pass.

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You see a mountain. I see knee pain.

The only way is up.

15 Oct

The Rockies.

After a few days ‘rest’ in Denver we arrived back in Plueblo and found a professional to ensure our bikes were suffciently ready for the mountains. We then nervously headed off out of the desert into the large, dark, intimidating mounds that lay due west.

It’s fair to say we had a bad start. A chest cold, aggressive headwind and a dark, angry sky are not classic foundations for taking on The Rockies. With an extremely slow 50 miles under our belts we crept along to the base of the first climb and slept in the yard of Mike and Angel who boosted our wilting morale with stories of the beauty that lay ahead of us.
We awoke the next morning to a significant drop in temperature leading to a panicked search for deep-buried clothes yet to be required. We hit the road to take on the opening pass to make our first mark on this famous range. The first cut was undoutedly the deepest with 4 hrs of steep incline leading to an undulating plateau and a descent served with a side of 30 mph headwind trying to wrestle us back where we came from.
The afternoon got a little more relaxed finishing with a 30 mile river road along a winding canyon that rolled us into the town of Salida under darkness to stay with our host from the Warm Showers website. Zack, Robyn and Ethan are passionate cycle tourers and treated us to a home cooked meal, excellent advice for the road ahead, but most importantly they filled us full of excitement for the cyclists theme park that Colorado has in store for us. They were also kind enough to set us up with other friends in Colorado who would give us shelter as we pass across the state – such a generous family.
Tomorrow we take on the first major climb, Monarch Pass marking the Continental Divide. Everything after tomorrow flows to the Pacific.
Starting to feel like we might actually get there. But for now the only way is up.

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A night in a city is very exciting for us. And Mr Beasley.

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I will always regret not trying deep fried cheesecake cubes with creme anglaise and chocolate sauce. 

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Modern art.

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Denver in the sunshine.

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Back on the road.

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The only way is up.

Just deserts.

8 Oct

Cows eyes glow in the dark.

It scares the pants off you when you wake one up as you trundle past under darkness.

After a fine week of Kansas peddling we finally reached the border with Colorado this evening under moonlight. It was with great sadness we waved goodbye to what has been a magnificent week in this vast desert.

We made it to the small town of Sheridan Lake where we found another church to rest in. After dinner and a quick basin-bath we slept soundly having realised we were now well over half-way across this continent and to reach the West coast was now something we might really achieve.

Colorado.

As with most state crossings it’s surprising how immediately the scenery changes at the border. The grasslands of Kansas quickly replaced with arid emptiness. Nothing at all. Not a sausage.

We rolled on into east Colorado and entered our next time zone, exciting as it represents progress but the name ‘Mountain Timezone’ only serves to remind of the challenges ahead.

Eddie, my bike, a little bored by the lack of scenery and knowing he was to be discarded the following day as we take a rest in Denver decided to make his feelings known. With a sharp ‘ping’ i lost a spoke costing us precious time as we try to reach the city of Pueblo to catch a bus the following morning. All repaired we carried on only for another one to break as i rolled in to our lunch stop. After a bit of self-truing (spinning and guessing) we finally got him mended but only managed to make the town of Fowler tonight, short of our target.

We had hoped to make 30 more miles but it was getting late and we had passed through numerous towns offering nothing in terms of food or water with all stores long closed. We finally reached Fowler, a town bordered by a peculiar number of correctional facilities, found a bar and scoffed anything they would serve as we talked the evening away with drunken prison guards.

We found a nice park bandstand to sleep in preparation to race the remaining miles to Pueblo tomorrow morning before heading up to Denver for a few days rest before we get stuck into mountain time zone for real.

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One of the windiest and emptiest states but this is the only wind farm we passed. Bit of a waste.

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I hope i do.

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Living up to its name.

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I took a picture of my handlebars. You’re welcome.

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The Colorado Botanical Gardens on the left.

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Loads of Tarantulas on the roads, but apparently only dangerous at night. I’ll sleep during the day then.

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If i was Pete this caption would read ‘i spoke too soon’ but i’m not.

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Park life.

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Progress. Only one more time zone to go.

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Very faintly in the distance is the next challenge.

Silent Nights in Kansas.

7 Oct

When a Kansas resident asks if you are enjoying your time in the state and you reply in the positive, the response is eyes lighting up and faces gleaming with pride. Outside of Kansas people have told us how boring it will be, the monotony of straight roads and bare landscape, towns offering little and the people also.

As with most things we are warned about they often turn out to be wild exaggeration or just false.

Much of the towns we’ve rode through since Chicago have offered little but fast food and petrol, with the vast majority of stores empty due to a mix of ageing populations, economic fluctuation, the fall of small town America, and the rise of Walmart and the requirement for everything ready-made, drive through or just plain fast.

[There is a popular chain of sandwiches called Jimmy Johns (like a poor Subway), which is amusing because the key selling point promoted above all else is speed. They will make you a massive sandwich in the time it takes to get the money from your wallet. It’s not tasty at all, not healthy one bit, it doesn’t even look nice, but wow it’s fast. Sandwich-eating Americans must be the busiest people in the world.]

Kansas has in fact been incredible.

The people are friendly, polite and hospitable. Every town has a small museum, arts centre or theatre, something that distinguishes it. We have slept in churches and parks with ease and the communities have accepted us with smiles and open arms. As for the landscape, the grazing animals, burnt grasslands and corn fields are endless, but uniquely beautiful in their enormity and calmness.

We are travelling due west, so while the Kansas afternoon rolls into evening the sun slowly falls asleep onto the road ahead of us. It’s magnificent. The world around us falls silent as we peddle on into the sunset, like we are chasing it around the curvature of the earth. The suns final assault is rainbow jets of colour lighting up the sky before darkness finally falls and you are left with more stars than you can shake a telescope at. They fill the sky like a dome, you crawl into your sleeping bag, look up, and feel like you are out at sea.

Kansas has much to offer.

We’ve been joined by Jackie (from North Carolina) whom we met camping in a city park and is riding with us for 5 days to Pueblo Colorado on route to her cousin’s wedding. It’s been great to have her along, endless miles of peddling whilst learning more about this great country and putting the world to rights. It should all be sorted by the time we leave Kansas.

The last few days have been hot hot hot and today was no different as we rolled into Scott City under darkness and camped in the park. To impress Jackie we added broccoli to our staple tomato pasta, results TBC.

I wrote in my journal, “Belly full of the same plain pasta I’ve been eating for 2 months, laying on a concrete slab in a cold city park next to Pizza Hut.…

Off to church.

30 Sep

As we munched down lunch today we were approach by two mormon missionaries interested in what we were up to and where we were headed. Pete took the lead on conversation whilst it took every ounce of my concentration to not congratulate them on the success of their hit musical.

Anyway, they were exceptionally nice, told us more about the missionaries working around the world and gave us details so we would always have help should we need it. Deep in the bible belt God is an extremely popular fella around here.

The afternoon was spent battling through the Kanssas cross winds. Since planning this route the desert winds prevailing against us have been a concern. Currently they are firing across us northerly which slows us down about 4 kmph, when we turn head on it’s more like 14 kmph and feels like climbing a mountain but without the views or sense of achievement. With at least 4 weeks of desert cycling left we will take each day as it comes.

Tonight we reached the small city of Hutchinson and slept in the basement of a Zion Lutheran church. Was nice to be under a roof with God looking out for us, although he wasn’t able to stop Pete snoring.

Tomorrow marks the start of route 96 which we will follow in a straight line for 400 miles into Colorado. No turns. Not a single one.

Hmm.

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Navigation in Kansas is straightforward. Literally.

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Trying to show the wind who’s boss. It was the wind.

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Straight on it is then.

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Corn and lycra.

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Evening from the handlebars.

The second half.

30 Sep

Cows look up with a face full of grass, appearing disgruntled for the disturbance at dinner time. The grass is tall and burnt-green in colour stretching on to the horizon and out of sight. Prairie dogs howl from the far off bushes as the sun slowly settles for the evening.

We roll along the smooth bitumen, the wind now a cooling breeze and the sky baby blue. Horses of varying sizes and colours look up to analyse these two mystery vehicles approaching. A group of 10 begin to trot along side us which quickly turns to a magnificent galloping pack.

Today has been remarkable, every hot mile enjoyable and a record 208 kms achieved.

Early evening hours are the favourite in any day. The legs are warm, the air is cool and the opportunity awaits to watch in peaceful contemplation as nature slowly winds down to rest, unaware of the silent cyclist voyeurs spinning past.

Days like these are a privilege and a reminder after a few weeks of toil how utterly perfect this cycling lark can sometimes be.

I notice a plane many miles high in the darkening sky, heading west. Maybe to San Francisco? I want to get on the tannoy and tell the passengers what they are missing. A smug thought i admit.

Night falls and the only sound is the slow turn of the peddles and the quiet rumbling of an englishman’s stomach. We reach the ‘City’ of Casaday (population 98) and pitch the tent on a small patch of grass by the road.

We’ve already made a significant impact on this huge state. It’s sad really, although there is much further to go i have no interest in leaving Kansas soon. It continually delivers on towns, landscapes and people.

We are now about half way across this continent.

I’ve just learned that Leicester city beat Man United 5-3. We will be hoping for a similarly impressive second half.

 

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Through Missouri.

22 Sep

Missouri scenery is like English scenery on performance enhancing drugs, or at least a protein heavy diet and regular gym sessions.

Lush green grass, paddocks lined with wildflower and hills rolling on endlessly.

But the grass is greener, taller, the trees are bigger and lusher, the wildflower denser. And the rolling hills. Well. They don’t really roll. They climb slowly up for a few miles, undulate at the top, consider going back down, but no, another undulation, then continue up into the sky and beyond. Never come back down. Sea level is not a concept to the Missouri muscle mountains.

Beautiful?

Yes. But hard to see through the sweat.

The weather improved as we peddled hard along the dual carriageway heading south west towards Kansas where we plan join up with the Trans America Trail.

We arrived at the college town of Fulton, where Churchill famously delivered the Iron Curtain speech and the site of St Marys church, brought over from London and rebuilt to commemorate the occasion.

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Staying a bit too long in Fulton we arrived in Jefferson city (Missouri state capital) a little too late when darkness had already fallen. It’s a beautiful small city with lovely architecture and the famous domed capital building overlooking the Missouri river.

Having arrived late we had messed up accommodation plans and would now be forced to find supplies and make our way out of town under darkness for an hour or so to find a rural spot to pitch. Not a perfect strategy but it was this or a bench. We found the downtown area and started looking for a food outlet.

Suddenly the amazing Cara appears working at a restaurant on the main st, spotting two lost dirty englishmen and asked what we were up to. Quick as a flash we were given a seat, cold glass of water and a bed at her parents place a few miles down the road. Pete and i had a look around town and chatted to locals until Cara finished work then we road off to the Alexander family home. Mary, Greg and family were incredible hosts and we chatted late into the night before being packed off with lunch in the morning. An excellent, loving and extremely kind family.

Ploughing on through the endless hills and beautiful lakes of central Missouri we struggled to make much headway in the heat and headwind. The first ever puncture in over 3600 kms of cycling set us back a bit and it was a relief to settle along the shore of the Lake of the Ozarks this evening.

Tent up, a quick dose of curried chicken soup and it was seconds before two weary smelly Englishmen were asleep. We had made contact with a couple in Fort Scott who had agreed to host us tomorrow night, but it would require a huge cycle and the weather and landscape to help us out. Our biggest day awaits.

 

We screamed and shouted at every hill and gust of wind but they would not yield.…

Into Illinois.

21 Sep

These last 4 days since leaving Chicago have undoubtably been the hardest of this journey to date.

It’s difficult to keep morale high as we as pass through industrial regions along busy carriageways with endless lorries and so much road kill that it becomes better to put your nose inside the cycling shirt that out in the rotten air.

The weather has also been against us which means slow progress. This morning we plodded slowly on south as stiff bodies struggled in the cold and wind, my knees it seems deciding this new taping might be a small victory, but the war is still to be won.

A day spent following the river but not really seeing it, we passed through rural towns each one with a McDonald’s and a Subway as standard but little else. We ended the day in our target of Beardstown which was not as quaint and friendly as we’d hoped so we made a quick exit before camping up beside the road.

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Obligatory photo.

 

The next days route followed one of many commercial railways in the region shifting steel, earth and grain around the country. One hour flew by this afternoon as I worked out exactly how one might peddle up beside a train, hang on and climb aboard. Would Pete notice? Just for a few miles? How I would cope with cheating would of been the next thing to consider had I not hit a pot hole and quickly come back down to earth.

We reached the Mississippi River, the border to Missouri at 2pm this afternoon crossing the bridge in dreary weather. We refueled and sat exhausted before forcing the bodies back in the saddle for a final push to make a small impact on the state before nightfall.

We’d hoped for refuge in the town of Vandalia, but as we rode in this evening we quickly realised it was the home town of a large womans prison and didn’t offer much outside of incarceration. However peddling on we lucked upon the house of Paul and Cindy who let us sleep in the backyard, presented us with soup and watermelon, told us positive weather forecasts, and things looked up.

Tomorrow we will head towards Nevada, Mexico, Columbia, and possibly California and Lebanon if we get far enough. All within a few hundred miles of each other. You can’t help feeling the town namers are guilty of a great deal of plagiarism around these parts.

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Just when you think you are in the middle of no-where.

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The Mississippi river.

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Cornfield camping. 

 

 …

Chicago to Utopia.

21 Sep

Not easy getting back on the road.

Legs and bum have to re-rememeber their place in life, you have to re-engage with collecting food and water at the right opportunities, get navigating again and be brave with cycling late and finding places to sleep.

Neither of us wanted to leave Chicago. It was great to explore a new big city, going to museum, comedy clubs and feeing like a proper tourist. Peddling out of any city takes hours and is never enjoyable, hitting suburb after suburb before at last the landscape slowly becomes greener and the traffic lights further apart. On Sunday morning we got our heads down and plodded out into Illinois, hitting the canal and heading south west.

We are trying to get down towards Kansas City to re-join the Trans America Trail (for which we have maps that will take us across Kansas towards the Rockies). At the moment we are very much making it up.

Tonight we sleep just off the canal path not far from a good dose of raccoon poo, put the tomato pasta on and let the Mosquitos bite us to pieces. Again this evening’s sunset was stunning layers of colour and we passed 3000 kms just it before it went in for the night. Tomorrow we want a big day to make an impact on our long journey towards Denver.

Unfortunately this didn’t happen. 

Today the temperature dropped significantly and we were greeted by relentless rain.

Battling against wind, rain and bitter cold (where any break was just a shiver-fest) along with the monotony of corn field after cornfield, this was without a doubt our hardest day in the saddle to date.

Every day we set a target, not always achievable but important to have something in your sights. Today’s was the city of Peoria.

You spend all day talking about your target and as the hours pass you begin to shape this target in your mind. Preoria, with lush green grass, families fighting each other to take you in and feed you full with dinner, invite you in to use their bath, wash your clothes, there are fountains in Preoria, statues, sunshine, bike shops and buzzing nightlife. Preoria is perfect. It’s Utopia.

Mid afternoon we made a pit stop to shelter and purchase some nut based energy. The checkout lady asked where we were heading so we told her proudly “the city of Preoria”, and she replied “You might get shot'”.

It’s an odd feeling cycling your heart out in the cold and wet as night falls, low on energy, 9.5 hrs cycling on the clock and your only reward is to slowly wheel into a town where people think you will be quickly shot.

Setting your own targets often ends in disappointment but then expectations are often a little too high.

We were awoken in the night by banging next door and a voice that said ‘i have a warrant for your arrest’ before 3 people were taken away in handcuffs.…

Chicago – 2892kms

11 Sep

Made it.

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We arrived in Chicago on 9th Sept, just over a month since peddling off from London

 

We passed through miles of massive steel and oil/gas industry as we hugged Lake Michigan on the final 80 kms into Chicago.

One the of the benefits of this mode of travel is that you see stuff that you would miss if you’d arrived by car, train or plane, and the cities we passed South of Chicago were an important display of the truth of this region. The cities of Gary, South Chicago, East Chicago are dangerous and destitute places. The booming steel industry headed to China many years back and there is very little that remains in terms of wealth or ambition. Road surfaces that mirror the poorest third world countries, houses offering the first 3 months rent for free, chains and fences border every property and shops boarded up for tens of years prior to our arrival. Cycling through the vast industrial lands is impressive and you can imagine the boom and excitement of another age, but it’s very long gone.

Suddenly in the space of a few metres the road changes to brand new asphalt, there are parks, yachts, joggers, cappuccinos and it’s all forgotten. The U.S. wealth divide is extraordinary with the richest 1% owning more than the poorest 90%, and the close proximity of poverty and lavishness that makes this juxtaposition much more brutal.

When you enjoy the delights of cycling Manhattan or the Chicago shore line you can never guess what is hidden behind the curtains in these forgotten places.

 

We have both been excited to reach Chicago and everyone we meet speaks so highly of it. It’s time for a deep pan pizza, some comedy clubs and rest.

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It was closed. But the erect pole made me laugh.

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The next Leg is a long one as we head south-west across Kansas towards the Rockies.

The target is set for San Francisco for October 29th.

Much later than that and we’ll be thrown out.

 …

To Chicago.

11 Sep

350 miles : Sandusky to Chicago.

Arriving in Sandusky Ohio we went back through U.S. customs with the usual squeaky bums. The officer read my stamp incorrectly and told me i should have left the country a month ago. Luckily we cleared up the inaccuracy and i changed into clean pants.

We’d planned to head off to a camp spot but immigration had eaten up time, it was now 9pm and a severe weather front was approaching. We eventually found the cheapest motel in town. Sandusky is famous for its theme park which has some of the biggest, fastest, most dangerous etc in the world, so the motels are usually packed full.

Not this one. We were in room #2. The receptionist was in room #1.

Definitely a sleeping bag on bed sort of night.

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A good sign when the door’s been mended a few times.

It turned out to be an excellent decision. The weather front arrived and for a short time it looked as if the world would soon end. Our little tent might not have survived the experience.

When morning came we headed due West across Ohio towards Indiana. The landscape was flat, which although isn’t the most interesting does mean we can tear through the kilometres and it’s a bit easier on my rubbish knees.

Over the next few days we would pass the 100 miles a day mark twice as we targeted reaching Chicago within 4 days.

On the first evening Pete had success on the second attempt as we stayed with a family near Whitehouse, Ohio. On the first go he met a farmer and scary dog, neither in the mood for hospitality. The second accommodation negotiation was with Jim and family who were happy for us to pitch in the field behind their house. This negotiation was much helped by his daughters thinking that we sounded like members of One Direction. Clearly that farmer isn’t a fan.

As we crossed the border into Indiana almost immediately we began sailing up and down rolling hills passing seemingly endless fields of corn or soya beans, soya beans or corn. The undulations were welcomed to break up the monotony of long straight roads and two options of what will be growing either side.

We approached the town of Montpellier for lunch having practised our finest french accents, which were unfortunately not required. The county fair was in full flow so in we turned and were quickly given complimentary guest passes and a bottles of cold water. Maybe they actually do think we are One Direction. Or at least their older brothers. Or dads.

The state fair was extraordinary. But excellent. All sorts of events taking place and the whole town enjoying the day. The must-do’s were to try a pork sandwich and a milkshake. I did both followed by an overwhelming need to sit down and release gas.

We walked past the endless food stalls, cow girls trials, goat watching, school dance competitions but the event that really caught our eyes was the ‘hit your pig with a stick’ event.…

Leaving too soon.

11 Sep

Today was a game of 2 halves

First.

Head wind.

Knee pain.

Boiling hot.

Struggling to walk at lunch.

Second.

We speed up as the wind drops in the late afternoon. Peddling west along the coast of Lake Erie, endless corn fields and wind farms slowly moving in the breeze under a deep purple evening sky. Always the best time of day.

We reach 142 kms at 8.30pm.

Night falling we spotted no obvious places to camp wild and stopped at 2 regional campsites but both were too expensive for our needs.

Now dark, we begin looking for some space by the side of the road – Pete ran into a cafe that was closing to ask if we could pitch round the side. He met the owner Albi.

Things happen when you meet Albi.

Albi said yes before Pete had completed the sales pitch and offered keys to the cafe so we could use the toilet. Best possible outcome.

While we were eyeing up the size of the sink for a basin-bath Albi quickly continued outside to the few remaining diners and asked, ‘who will offer these guys a shower?’

We sat and chatted to the group for a short while and then our evening improved exponentially.

A newly married couple John and Kathy said they thought what we were doing was admirable and they owned a small b&b in town and would offer us their remaining room for free tonight.

So overwhelmed and exhausted a few tears dropped into the ice cream Albi had laid on.

We cycled a short distance to John and Kathy’s where they presented us with a beautiful bedroom, shower, wine, HOT TUB, and excellent company. And a HOT. TUB.

Fortune can change so quickly in this business. One moment we are staring at another night by the side of a road crawling into sleeping bags in the same clothes we’ve peddled in for days. Within a moment you are washed, wined and chatting to new friends before a night in the comfiest of beds.

After the best nights sleep of this trip we headed up to Albi’s cafe for a chat and hearty breakfast before cycling on towards Kingsville to catch a ferry across Erie to Ohio USA.

Canada.

Canada has been some of the finest days of this trip so far, delivering on so many fronts. Stunning lakes, glorious countryside, the vibrance of Toronto and the laid back, more trusting nature of communities. But without doubt the open kindness and willingness of people to want to know about what we are doing and support us has been extraordinary. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Never.

This hop into Canada was far too short, and it is with much regret we leave so quickly. There is much peddling still to do.

Back to America, 350 miles to Chicago.

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My view for much of the day.

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Breakfast selfie.

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When the wind drops and the sun retreats things get easier.

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Smelly Englishmen.

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Bike. Corn. Long straight road. 

Lake Erie.

11 Sep

My knees, a small headwind and the huge amount of food that Chuck had packed us off with us slowed us down for the first few hours of the day. We still made 65 kms as Pete, myself and 20 wasps enjoyed our lunch of salami and cheese sandwiches looking over lake Erie in the sunshine.

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Lake Erie by day.

The afternoon was spent hugging the lakeside along the straightest of roads that go on for miles. They do get a bit dull though. I’ve started a new game called ‘drip-sweat the ladybird off your handlebars’, i won’t go into detail but its a rip-roaring success. It’s also becoming increasingly tough to enjoy the views across the water as a moments lapse will result in cross winds leading you quickly into a corn field collision.

We reached our target tonight at Port Stanley, 140kms covered and a gallon of sweat released we enjoyed a beer as reward.

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And by night.

Tonight we employed our usual technique of talking to anyone who will listen in a bid to get an offer of somewhere to lay the tent. As with last night this was extremely easy, i soon bumped into Daryl who offered us a patch in his back yard.

We peddled up the hill in darkness, eventually found Daryl’s house and enjoyed a beer as he helped us plan the route to Chicago. It has been extremely easy so far to find a place to pitch in Canada, people are welcoming, friendly and open. Tomorrow will be our last full day in this country before we head back to the U.S. on the south side of Lake Erie. I’m coming back to this country very soon, maybe not on a bike. But probably.

Knee update: Have received strong medical advice, tomorrow we tape them up like a poorly wrapped birthday present.

 …

Beyond Toronto – 2000 kms.

10 Sep

Beyond Toronto.

After a few days of relaxation and retoxication in Toronto we made it back down to St Catharines last night.

A big thank you to Sam and Jojo for their huge generosity in looking after us for the long-weekend, it’s a city i will definitely be returning to.

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We made a stop at the Liberty bike shop where they analysed our riding positions and looked at reducing this knee pain of mine. All analysed we continued south down the Welland canal taking us towards the north shore of Lake Erie beginning the 950 kms stretch to Chicago.

To celebrate this new leg of the trip we were greeted with heavy rain showers, a headwind and the longest, straightest roads to date. The handlebars turning so infrequently you worry they will rust over. Not even a radio 4 podcast could relieve the monotony of 100kms of straight road.

Having notched up 90 kms we both agreed that we wouldn’t be hitting todays target so thoughts turned to getting supplies and looking for somewhere to sleep.

We reached the small town of Selkirk, bought some dinner and sat outside on the steps drying off our drenched remains in the final glimpse of evening sunlight.

Within moments a man had offered a spot in the old caravan in his yard whilst also a friendly young store worker had called his dad to ask if we could sleep behind their house. His dad said yes and that he would be waiting in the ‘shop’ (garage) with a beer. This sounded like the superior of the two offers and we peddled off.

Chuck and the Heslip family all came out and we spent the evening in the shop with cold beers, late night clay pigeon shooting, learning the fight rules of ice hockey and an education in how to hunt bears. A great family.

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The clays had little to worry about.

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Terrifying.

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2000 kilometres since Shepherds Bush, London.

Tomorrow we press on along the north shore of Erie, hoping for less wind. Rain, snow, sun, whatever, just less wind.

And a new set of knees.…

Day 12 – A waterfall and a new country.

10 Sep

A waterfall and a new country.

A sharp banana fuelled 30 kms and we were queuing up to enter Canada.

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Immigration is always nervous wherever you are, but especially in the US. However, we were confident that only the most committed officer would search deep into the pit of the moist warm cycling attire within our panniers.

We were waved to the front of the huge car queue, where i said to the officer ‘do we not need to queue with everyone else?’, he replied, ‘if everyone road a bike the world would be a better place, no?’

Passport stamped.

I liked Canada after about a metre.

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We immediately cycled south down the shores of the Niagra river towards the falls. The river is huge and stunning with botanical gardens, the Queen Victoria Park and nature reserves along it’s Canadian side.

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Terrible photo of river and power lines.

There are huge power plants either side of the river and falls that harness the energy to feeds over a quarter of all electricity used in New York State and Ontario. Quite ugly but necessary.

On the unnecessary front it’s heartbreaking to see the endless casinos, motels, amusement arcades and the like only metres from this beautiful natural phenomenon. They may have looked exciting and ambitious years ago, but these days they look tired, worn, and more often closed.

I mentioned this to a nice lady we met, before she revealed she was married in the hotel of the casino i was referring to. We peddled on.

The falls are magnificent. Mesmerising. You could stand there and waste hours without knowing, a bit like staring at an open fire.

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Uncomfortable poses.

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American side on the left, Canadian on the right.

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Canadian falls.

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Eddie enjoying the view.

The necessary photos were taken and we moved off towards St Catharines, one of many huge towns around the falls that challenged our orienteering skills, which are light at best. From here we are get a return bus trip up to Toronto for a well earned rest.

My knees have been a big concern this last week. I’m getting slower, the pain is increasing and as we approached evening in Lockport yesterday the pain in my left knee was too great to peddle.

There is some distance still to go on this trip. A few rest days and a call to my physio friend should help but fingers are very tightly crossed.

To Toronto.…

Day 9-11 USA.

10 Sep

We’ve been following the canal on a 90 mile stretch that leads through Rochester and on towards Niagra and the Canadian border. The surface is poor so it’s slow progress but far superior to the monotony of trucks whizzing passed you left ear.

Arriving in Rochester city we both remarked that it was nice to see people closer to our own age. For the past 2 weeks we’ve been in rural New England where the majority of inhabitants are farmers, families, retirees and holiday makers, so it was nice to be cycling passed a wider demographic if not so pleasant to be back in a city.

We stayed with Margaret, a cousin of Paula whom we stayed with in Amesbury a few weeks back. Margaret’s husband Guillaume and two daughters are deaf so the evening was spent learning lots about sign language and the U.S. education provisions for deaf people. They are a lovely family, extremely hospitable whilst two beds, a shower and clean clothes lead to a happy pair of Englishmen snoring before heads had hit pillows.

Another day continuing along the canal we reached Lockport, our final destination before Niagra falls and Canada the following day.

We rolled into Lockport in the early evening and rewarded ourselves for a long day in the saddle with a beer in the only bar we could find. A few people came and showed interest into what we were up to and we got chatting to Ryan and Gina, two teachers from Buffalo. It was interesting to hear their experiences of teaching in this very tough area of the country with Buffalo, Rochester and Detroit being some of the poorest cities in the US.

As usual we were without plans for accommodation but had taken directions to a grocery store to stock up on food before hunting down somewhere to put the tent up. Suddenly from behind the tomato section Ryan and Gina reappeared saying they would love to offer us there back yard for the night.

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Ryan and Gina.

A fine evening of local beer and cooking our staple pasta dish on a real hob instead of our petrol stove (lighting it gives me head rushes I’m really starting to enjoy) before bedding down in the comfort of a well-tended garden.

Tomorrow a waterfall and a new country.

 …

USA Day 7-8.

2 Sep

Days like this.

We awoke on the land of a kind old mad named Fey who worked with his brother as an oak table maker.  He had offered us a camp spot on his property after learning that we would be sleeping on the dirt round the back of the petrol station next to a dumpster.

We cycled our hearts out for 140 kms through the heat of a cloudless day to make our first big landmark in the US, the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.

Rewarded by a quick swim, a warm breeze, Pete’s veg pasta and a camp fire under a canopy of stars as we pitch our tent next to the lake.

I’m not eloquent enough to describe how brilliant an evening like this is, except to say that on these nights i could do this forever and every drop of sweat seems worth it.

Getting here under your own steam makes it so much more of a pleasure.

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View from the tent across Lake Ontario.

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Dining room under the stars.

 

 …