Into Alabama

22: Kosciusko MS to Livingston AL: 114 miles, 16.2 mph, 5500 feet of climbing, 7569 calories (not enough to offset those consumed at the ice cream social).

Summer lingers in the South. I hear of rain in Seattle, frost in Spokane, and leaves falling in Winchester. Here it’s 65 at dawn, with a gentle sun that warms us into the 80s. The morning is cool enough that horses and even cows race with us as we pass by. Of course, country dogs try and fall to catch out wheels. The east wind  fights a rearguard action as we advance across the state. I hide behind Australian Jonathan as he pumps his tree trunk legs, indifferent to the wind. We climb rolling hills. As the day progresses, we leave farms behind and see more clear cut forests with kudzu taking over.

I love the names given to Mississippi rivers: yesterday it was the Sunflower, today the Pearl, and, of course, the mighty Mississippi.

I rode hard, attaching the hills. But I still took time for pictures and prayers. I enjoyed the cars clustered around the small country churches. My worship was the rhythm of my pedaling; my sacrifice was my sweat.

IMG_2094

I had never been in Alabama before. It’s my 49th state. I look forward to what it will show me.

Tracking the Tacoma Train

Day 21: Indianola to Kosciusko MS: 100.5 miles, 17.5 mph, 2300 feet of climbing, 4874 calories

Reality is starting to intrude. My dreams were troubled and my thoughts drifted to real world stresses. I know this idyll must come to an end. But I will cherish fall in the southland.

This was a wonderful day for cycling: moderate temperatures, light breezes, and a fall sun presiding. We rode up from the bottom lands and cotton fields into rolling hills and forest. After getting caught in afternoon wind yesterday, I wanted to move fast and get in early. Success: showered, laundry drying, a nap, and a Negra Modelo in hand by 4.

IMG_2075

Going fast means traveling with a predictable cast of characters. The lead group is usually Charlie, Wes, and the Hart brothers. Charlie complains he only has a half horsepower engine on his trim frame. He compensates by being the first on the road and the fastest through lunch. The day Susan made him wait until slower riders had left, he was a study in potential energy. He looked like a cheetah poised to take off after an antelope. Todd and Terry are world class athletes. You could tell them apart because Todd crashed and got road rash. But then Terry crashed and got matching injuries. That’s the official story. Being brothers, I think they just got into a fight with each other. I love riding with them, but they’re out of sight by the time I get started.

The other lead group usually includes 4 friends from the Tacoma area. They run a fast pace line most of the time and can easily crank out a century at 25 mph. I promised myself to avoid pace lines of more than 4 people: too much sitting up makes my hands go numb and it’s not safe to ride down in a pace line. But they’re content to let me hang on at the back. I sneak to the front and lead when I can. Today I got a good pull in after we stopped for a train. I tried to help out  coming out of a stop sign; I led for all of 200 yards before the lunch stop. Some contribution!

IMG_2073.JPG

I left lunch with Bob and 2 others, before the Tacoma crew. We set an easy pace to Kosciusko. But sure enough, a mile out of town the Tacoma Train passed us, going are 10 mph faster. I felt like the rookie at the Tour de France that gets chased down e by the peloton just before the finish.

Years of riding will change your body. Some may complain that varicose veins are ugly. I call them secondary circulation. They fuel the engine of the Tacoma Train.

IMG_2098

 

Mississippi

Day 20: Monticello AK to Indianola MS: 108.8 miles, 14.7 mph, 791 feet of climbing, 5955 calories

IMG_2020We entered absolutely flat bottom land. What was advertised as an easy ride turned into a long, slow slog into a headwind. Empty fields, fallow for winter,  lent a dreariness to the day.

IMG_2059

I have such ambivalence about the Deep South, focused on race. Seeing cotton fields ready for harvest made me wonder how it would feel to pick it by hand. Going to the football game, watching the integrated Indianola Academy dominate, left me wondering about the public school team in this 80 percent black district. I wish I could go to the BB King Museum. If I’m going to have the blues, I’d like to honor the legends. So I hum old songs by

Albert King and Mississippi John Hurt.

 

Resting on a Bed of Nails

Day 19: Arkadelphia to Monticello AK: 98.9 miles, 16.2 mph, 2818 feet of climbing, 6345 calories

IMG_1997OK, it’s more catchy than true. But check out the profile for today’s ride. It looks intimidating. In fact, all those spikes turn out to be short hills you can power over. I got plenty of rest yesterday, so today I celebrated and went at it hard.

Bob and I rode together from mile 22 to 44. It was good to reunite as the “dynamic duo.” His cadence and speed keep me motivated; his alertness keeps me out of trouble. But he takes shorter breaks and so he eventually moves ahead.

After the second break, I decided to treat the next section as a time trial. I put my head down and started pedaling to mile 60. When I came out of the aero position, there were 7 riders who had been drafting. I got congratulated for my “monster pull.” Of course, had it truly been monstrous, there would have been no one keeping up. But no one passed me either. It felt wonderful to be affirmed by really strong cyclists. It felt ecstatic to be in my body, feeling so strong. After almost  3 weeks of daily centuries, I thought I’d be depleted. Instead I am better than ever on the bike.

Logging seems to be a primary industry locally. Large logging trucks passed by regularly, always safely and politely. The other landmark was Paul “Bear” Bryant’s childhood home.

I wondered why I have been gaining weight. So I decided to track my intake (which instantly skewed me towards healthy choices). I only had 3 cookies all day! The culprit is that I ate 8 meals! And I skipped the ice cream with the gang.

IMG_1982

Rolling Across Arkansas

IMG_1940

Day 18: Mena to Arkadelphia AK: 99.5 miles, 15.9 mph, 3993 miles of climbing, 6502 calories

This was a recovery day for all the riders. Yet I still got to the motel by 2:30, in time for a nap and the laundry.

We rolled past farms and pine/oak forests. The countryside felt familiar. Creeks have water flowing. Trees show just a hint of fall. A brief shower took the edge off the heat. It was a lovely day.

Over the course of this trip I have been watching for woollybears, the brown and black caterpillars loved by northern children. I doubt they are all Io moths, but I have seen them braving the highways since California. First they were pale yellow, then grayish white, then darker gray. Today I saw one that was a familiar, though solid, brown. I’m coming home.

Gratitude while Climbing the Ouachita Mountains

IMG_1930 17: McAlester OK to Mena AK: 99 miles, 13.4 mph, 7533 feet of climbing, 7061 caloriesIMG_1921

My son’s pet response to a greeting used to be “I’m living the dream.” I liked that. I thought it was catchy. But I wondered how it squared with “living reality.” My solution is to consciously seek gratitude as I live each moment.

I am grateful for a body that works as I sweat up 13 percent grades. I am grateful for the beauty that surrounds me as I cycle. I am grateful for life as a friend grieves the death of a cyclist struck by a car. I certainly pray intensely during moments of pain, but I try to live more in prayerful gratitude. A long day of cycling affords the opportunity.

IMG_1904Today started with 50 miles of easy pedaling through rolling hills. Then the road got steeper and we struggled into the Ouachita Mountains, following the ridge line of the only east/west range in North America. I never knew Oklahoma was so beautiful. Fellow Virginian, Wes, commented “it looks like Virginia.” Indeed, the roadside view today could have been Old Rag from Syria. The ride, for all it’s daunting reputation, felt much like riding Skyline Drive. We are all tired but satisfied after a good meal at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge.

Quirky things about cyclists:

Loving chocolate milk. My table mate ordered one, the other 3 of us immediately followed suit, and within seconds the virus spread to adjacent tables until half of the diners were drinking chocolate milk. I wonder what the staff thought.

Strange kits. These pictures of my buddy, Mose, are to make my pork-loving friend, Hal, jealous.

 

Taking Stock

 

16: Purcell to McAlester OK: 113.4 miles, 16.6 mph, 4154 feet of climbing, 7263 mile calories

After 16 days of riding in 5 states, it’s time to take stock. Personally, I am doing well: my enthusiasm and will are good, I feel strong, and my weight has stabilized. We live in a beautiful country, blessed with good roads and access to our basic needs. PAC tours is doing a good job of supporting us and I am riding with people I truly respect.

I still hope to raise money through endpolio.org. After only 6 cases in 2 countries during the first half of the year,  there has been a flare up in a Syrian refugee camp. We still have work to do to eliminate this disease. I will keep pedaling; I hope you will keep contributing.IMG_1891

Today was rolling hills through farmland, which I tackled alone. Then the landscape flattened out and I joined strong riders to complete the trip efficiently.

Tomorrow will be a test, with 2 long climbs and steep grades. My slow cadence, big gear style of riding isn’t well suited to long tours like this. My knees are sore. I hope I have enough reserves to do well tomorrow and for the next 11 days.

Where the Wind Comes Sweepin’ Down the Plains

IMG_1870IMG_1869 15: Weatherford to Purcell OK: 112 miles, 15.2 mph, 4616 feet of climbing, 7393 caloriesIMG_1863

I awoke at 5, anxious about today’s ride. Not so much the rollers but the wind. For 2 days we’ve gotten 20 mph gusts out of the south, and today we were headed southeast. Indeed,the route  when I first turned south, the blast slowed me from 20 to 12. So I fell in with Matt and Richard for a pace line. Fortunately, the wind dropped in the afternoon when I pushed on alone. My right knee is hurting. But my fears eased as I discovered that the route resembled my familiar training roads. The hills of Milldale and Red Gate Roads could have been transferred to Oklahoma. So I sped down the descents and stood to power up the climbs. For the last 30 miles, I cruised in with 4 of the most experienced riders. We got in early, no rain, no problems with wind, with time for a chocolate malt before a shower. I am  tired but relieved.

The roadkill this trip includes my only view of elk and coyote. Today’s addition was 2 armadillos. I also got to enjoy 4 Sandhills cranes flying overhead.

IMG_1866

Midway

14: Shamrock TX to Weatherford OK: 105 miles, 16.8 mph, 2717 feet of climbing,  6814 calories (take this with a grain of salt, as I do, literally)

As soon as we crossed into OK, it became greener, with more trees. Despite the red soil of the Deep South, it felt like homecoming for an easterner.

 

 

We continued to follow Route 66, at times on pavement laid down in the 1920s. I rode with Bob (pictured below) until I lingered at the interesting museums in Elk City and Clinton. Then I rode alone, enjoying my pace.

 

 

Ernie is a tough, competitive 68 year old triathlete. I first noticed when he sped up to pass me into a rest stop. We played tag today.  I passed him early only to have him pass me by timing a stoplight. I passed again but then he zoomed by during a detour. I approached on a hill only to see him do a standing acceleration. So I waited for the crest of the hill and went into a full sprint. I was going at least 35 on the descent and chuckling about our competition. Sure enough, within a mile he pulled out of my draft and pulled away. I let him go. When I grow up, I hope I can be like Ernie.

Lunch today was our halfway party. I celebrated with pecan pie (penance was a salad for dinner). It’s  hard to believe we’ve been at this for 2 weeks. I feel like a teenager: no car, no job, all meals provided. I could get used to this lifestyle.

 

Route 66

Day 13: Amarillo to Shamrock TX: 93 miles, 1093 feet of climbing, 4955 calories

There’s not a lot of kicks on Route 66. The cultural highlight was the barb wire museum. I knew it ended the open range, but not that it also ended the use of cavalry charges in war fare.

 

Wil Rogers said: “When you get the mountains and trees out of the way you can finally see things.” All I saw was range or farmland (sorghum?). As the day wore on, we started getting some hills, and I eagerly attached them. I am ready for more of a test (and it will come).

 

The culture came into focus on Friday night. We went to the homecoming game and watched the Shamrock Fighting Irish demolish the Roughriders. The stands were alive with miniature cheerleaders and football players. The whole town was out. When the band took the field, some of the players came out (in uniform) to play their instruments. Everyone contributes.