Boy Meets Road

This post is probably going to be huge, due to the fact that I haven’t updated in almost a week and the fact that the trip has been cut tragically short.

This post was supposed to start something like this:

Oh yeah baby! Today all our hard work, perseverance, and terrible eating habits have paid off, and we have officially completed the first century of the trip! For those who aren’t familiar with cyclingo, that translates to “100 miles”, or “I no longer have sensation in my toes”. But neuropathic issues asides, woo! It can only go uphill (downhill?) from here!

Blah blah blah

Instead it’s going to be more like:

bicycle-crash

But first, it’s time for the SOOPER FAST WEEKLY RECAP!

DAY 11

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47 miles of the Ozarks. As a completely unrelated side note, the Ozarks are now my least favorite mountain range in the continental US. Met a cool old guy named Roger Robison, a former architect turned fellow bike tourer. He runs his own blog called Roger Rides West, so you should definitely check it out.

DAY 12

33 largely unforgettable miles, save for the fact that my toes started to go numb, presumably from boredom.

DAY 13

Concerned about the level of excitement in my lower regions, I decided to sit this day out. We were camping, so I basically bummed around in the car all day trying to avoid the muggy Kansas heat. I was largely unsuccessful.

DAY 14

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Easy 50 mile day (remember, Kansas is flaaaaaaaaat). After I stopped at the most epic bike shop ever where they did a casette swap in like 5 minutes, we biked through 45 miles of steady road and 5 miles of dirt road, in which we learned that sand is to a bicycle as a bad boy/girlfriend is to basically anyone: hard to control, gets you into trouble, makes everything dirty, and is generally not worth the effort unless you get a kick out of it.

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Speaking of romance, an ostrich attempted to woo Kevin with a mating dance. It was not successful.

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Also had a little too much fun at the local waterpark, which wasn’t much bigger than a tennis court..

And now, for the main attraction…

WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED YESTERDAY?

This was the setup: Flat road. Full bellies. Amazing weather… for summertime in the Midwest, at least. If we were ever to get over that 100-mile hump, today would be the day.

Normally, we start pretty early: wakeup at 6 AM, actually get up at 6:30 AM, pack up for an hour and leave for the next destination. Today, though we woke up at 5 so we could make use of as many not-sunny hours we could, out of fear of the heat.

That turned out to not be a problem on this particular day.

I have since come to believe that weather forecasts in the Midwest during summertime are about 50% accurate for any given day. We were supposed to have mostly cloudy conditions, followed by afternoon heat, followed by evening thunderstorms. What we actually had were clouds and thunderstorms, with brief sections of sunny weather. This is to be the beginning of one of two patterns describing yesterday: that nothing went at all as it was expected to, usually in the worst possible way. In other words, Finagle’s Law.

The first thing that happened was that I encountered some railroad tracks around 20 miles in. This isn’t unusual in for the Transam trail: it runs along old highways and backcountry roads that are closer to the old railroad tracks than the new highways to minimize traffic and maximize safety for bikers. We had all encountered train tracks before, so I didn’t think anything of it.

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In retrospect, I should have. The train tracks were deeper than they normally were (something difficult to see when it’s dim and raining), and I approached them at a shallow angle, less than 45 degrees. My front tire slipped into the tracks and got stuck, causing a rapid deceleration that flipped the bike and ejected me from the saddle. Landed on my right side and my head hit the pavement, cracking the helmet in the process. I don’t think I passed out, which was good, as being sprawled out on a rural state highway in dark, rainy conditions is a good place to be in. As far as scrapes go, I got off very lightly, with the only nastyish one being to my right hip. The slickness of the road may actually have helped me in this regard, causing me to slide more than skid. The fact that I was wearing full raingear also definitely helped.

When I caught up with Hongyu and Kevin, it turns out that Kevin had also fallen at the tracks, but didn’t get hugged as badly by the pavement. Unfortunately for him, when people don’t accept the road’s love, it only gets more clingy.

80 miles in, conditions were perfection. The storm had stopped, and in its wake it left us a tailwind that was pushing us along at a zipping 25 mph due to Kansas’ thrice-blessed geological boringness. I was leading, checking that I was still within visual range of my partners using my fabulously practical vanity mirror, when I noticed that I could not see them. I stopped for a quick drink break, figuring they could catch up.

After 10 minutes, they didn’t. I reluctantly turned around and pedalled into the wind, which reduced my speed to something like 14 mph. After around a minute of this, I was getting annoyed… a feeling that changed rather quickly when I saw why my buddies had stopped.

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Kevin had hit a bit of gravel while riding on the shoulder, and he momentarily lost control. Things happened so fast that he couldn’t really respond before he found himself on another unexpected date with the pavement, ending with a nasty rash and bad feelings all around. When I came upon him, his forearms and palms were bloody with abrasions.

(Picture not shown since some blog readers may be delicate flowers)

This is where the second pattern emerges: how lucky we were – or perhaps more accurately, how minimal the bad luck we got was.

The first is the fact that I’m a licensed EMT, so dealing with this stuff is kinda my job. I cleaned out Kevin’s wounds as best I could using the leftovers from my hydration bladder (like a Camelbak, not to be confused with a urinary bladder) while waiting for our support van to arrive.

This is where the second bit of luck comes in. Since Kevin had crashed only 7 miles away from our rest location of Scott City, our support van was able to meet with us in minutes. After it got there, everyone got busy packing up the bikes while I got my first-aid kit out. Luck #3: me being paranoid enough to have a FAK. I burned through several alcohol swabs and all my iodine swabs and sterile dressings as I treated Kevin.

Then things got worse.

We were on a road running through prairie, of which there is a lot of in Kansas. There must have been the perfect confluence of time, location, weather, and fleshy food, because after a few minutes we were swarmed by flies. And I ain’t talkin’ ’bout no houseflies neither. These were cattle flies, bugs that like to dine on blood, and the were gunning for us. Being the hot stud I am the, the hungry flies seemed to be disproportionately attracted to my ankles as I helped Kevin into the van (Hongyu would bike the rest of the way to Scott City). I could attempt to describe the horrible, agonizing itching I endured today. Instead, I’ll just leave you a picture to cringe at.

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Those red bumps are all bites. Both my feet look like this. I have learned what true suffering is.

Anyways, there I was: attempting to clean and dress Kevin’s abrasions in a bumpy van while under continuous attack from the flier nation. As my calm, medical-professional voice was being periodically interrupted by my violent, filthy swearing at the %@#$ing flies, I noticed that we were slowing down. This is where the last major stroke of luck hit: Scott City had a newly-constructed hospital, something that was definitely not a standard fixture of the small towns we passed through. We were able to get him into the ED in less than 20 minutes, all told.

The final bit of luck was that Kevin got off as lightly as he did, with only some sick scrapes and a broken index toe to show for it. I suppose me being thrown from my bike, hitting my head, and still being able to write this counts as well.

Unfortunately, luck can only go so far. If you recall, the main support driver for our trip is Kevin’s dad. Because Kevin’s not in a fit state to ride for a while, and because of personal reasons that cause his dad to be very, very concerned about infection, our ride’s been terminated. Kevin will fly back home to Virginia to recover, while me and Hongyu are getting drive home to California. Sucks, but that’s the way it is.

That doesn’t mean I’m done, though. Oh no, not by a long shot. Tune in for more news tomorrow the next time I get wifi!

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Title Drop

Staying at Al’s Place (no relation) in Farmington, Missouri. Used to be an old jail, which perhaps makes it all the more surprising that it’s a really, really nice place. A lot of stuff has happened over the past few days, but I’m *blog name* about going in-depth right now.

I also forgot to mention that on one of the previous days – must’ve been Day 8 – a thunderstorm came by during the night and blew down our main tent. I was camping in my rinky-dink ultralight setup for that night, which managed to stay up while the large car camping tent everyone else was sleeping in went down. Don’t know how that slipped my mind, but it did.

DAY 9:

Went (?? Forgot, will update with proper distance. Somewhere in 30s) miles. Nothing too remarkable, other than biking into a town with 3 bike shops on the same block. Got some parts and tuned up all 3 bikes while talking about movies with the bike docs. Ugh, I’m going to need a week to catch up with all the stuff I’ve missed.

DAY 10:

47 miles, about 3 of which were biker paradise: flaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat. Then came more hills, which was typical, and an encounter with another bike tourer, which was not. His name was Yum, from South Korea, and he was a pretty cool guy. Very polite and very outgoing, we talked for what must have been 15 minutes about conditions, places to check out, and generally cycling stuff. Near the end, we stopped by a brewery and got to taste some locally-made brews. Good times.

Derailed

Modern bike derailleurs are wonderfully robust pieces of machinery, capable of up to 33 speeds of variable gearset goodness. Problem is, they’re also very finicky, especially for the rear derailleur, as I learned today. Like for basically everything else on a bike that’s not the chain or the fork (think steering), the majority of bike controls are regulated by tensions through spun cables. For the rear derailleur, increasing the tension shifts the bike into higher gears (into the wheel), while decreasing shifts it into lower gears (towards the chainstays). The device is very very picky with the amount of tension necessary for proper functioning, and too much or too little tension results in missed gears, sticky gears, noisy chains, and an overall headache. Couple that with the hottest day yet and you have a very miffed Albert.

DAY 8:

37 miles today through more hellish hills. Other than me messing with and messing up the derailleur tension and Hongyu playing classical music for the last few miles of the ride, it was pretty uneventful: more heat, more bugs, more godforsaken hills.

Also, guess what the weather will be like tomorrow!

Sweat’n’Grease

It’s summer here in Eastern America, and that means scorching temperatures, sticky humidity, sudden thunderstorms, and swarms of bugs. Dealing with these things requires special oils, treatments, mixes, sheer suck-it-up-ness and/or passing out somewhere where no one will bother you for indeterminate amounts of time – and this is if you’re not doing anything. If you’re biking, like we are, then you gotta throw in liters of water, more oils and greases for your bike, and no desire to have children anytime soon (if you’re male).

Updates!

DAY 6:

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Respectable 58 mile day through the scenic, gently rolling hills of rural Kentucky. Lots of farms and churches, with the weather being as scorching as it usually is. After biking through hours of them in Virginia and Kentucky, I can now say with absolute certainty that I hate scenic, gently rolling hills.

Also Kevin took a rest day for family things.

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We also found a tank.

DAY 7:

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Pathetically easy 20 mile day today. Took a ferry across the Ohio River into Illinois. Camera died before I could take pics of the river crossing, so all you get are pictures of hay bales. We’re also staying at a 200 year-old house that has more power outlets and better wifi than all of the hotels we’ve stayed at so far. Go figure.

Now it’s time for…

THINGS I PROMISED I WOULD WRITE ABOUT EVENTUALLY

DIET

Usually, bike touring involves sitting your butt on a bike saddle for more than half the day while waiting for the latter to break in – though it’s usually the former that breaks first. It also involves a lot of pedalling, and when you add up the total calories burned in a single day, it usually adds up to a lot. Also, because this is an endurance sport, you want lots of carbs to be absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, so that your muscles get lots of glycogen. Because of this, our diet for the past week has been one of cheap gas station candy and Southern goodness.

This would all be fine if we were doing this thing 100% on our bikes all the time. However, we’re not actually doing that, and because the weather makes us feel more exhausted than we actually are (at least, in terms of energy expenditure), the result is that we’re starting to get more round than we were at the start. For now, we’re going to try to switch over to things that won’t give us diabetes/heart disease before the trip is through, though since we’re still in the Midwest, that may prove to be difficult.

Speaking of which…

THE SOUTH

I heard someone say “you guys” with a twang today. I don’t know if she doesn’t actually say “y’all” or if she was just being polite, but now that we’re in Illinois, it’s probably a good time to reflect on our brief time in the northernmost part of the American South. And while it was a bit of a culture shock passing through a place where people had Southern accents unironically, my brief week there has been a pretty pleasant one. Lots of friendly people, to the extent that we had far more warnings about “crazy country drivers” than run-ins with said drivers. Not a bad place to be, all things considered, though just be careful of the food: it’ll stuff you up, in multiple senses of the word. They fry everything.

I will also now have fond memories of Dollar General stores.

ELECTRICITY

Kevin brought some Marc Pros on our trip, a device that stimulates involuntary muscle contractions to improve muscle recovery. There are three upsides to this:

  1. It actually seems to work.
  2. The units are really freaking expensive, so I get to use one without sacrificing my wallet to the athletics gods.
  3. Hongyu seems to be really sensitive to it. Him using it involves lots of squealing and exclamations of “Oh my God I feel like I’m high”

That’s all for now. Time to digest the overly-greasy catfish dinner I eat earlier. Ughhhhhhhhhhhh

Damp in Camp

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It rained.

Thunderstorms occur in every month of the year in this area of the states. For us, they tend to happen at around 3-4 PM, bringing the temperature down (good thing, since it’s usually around 80-95 degrees F during the day) and the rain with it (less good for everyone but me). It wound up raining 2 out of the past 3 days, and while I personally enjoy biking in the rain, this is a sentiment not shared by my friends.

Quick’n’dirty trip report:

DAY 3:

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Kevin sat out the trip due to sickness. Hongyu and I biked 53 miles, stopping at a small town called Draper. After eating at a restaurant that was far, far nicer than any expectations we would’ve had about a small town diner, we encountered some funny church signs and got some heavenly chilled Gatorades by a kindly older gentleman mowin’ his lawn. We were then hit by two consecutive thunderstorms. I had full raingear; Hongyu did not. One of us had more fun than the other, and I’ll let you guys figure out who it was.

DAY 4:

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Kevin felt better, so we all set out and biked 36 miles in total – an easy day. Along the way, Hongyu had a religious awakening, and after getting some American flags (cuz ‘Murica) we sat in on a Sunday service given by an extremely passionate preacher, Seth. Hongyu then proceeded to shout patriotic and/or religious slogans randomly for the rest of the day. This continued well into…

DAY 5:

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After pulling into Kentucky, we started out on what would be a brutal 54 mile day through near-100 degree F temperatures and 6 huge hills. We stopped in Hazard, a rather poorly named town, for a break, where a stray dog ate Hongyu’s gloves. After a wrong turn and a near-miss with heat exhaustion again (prevented by the timely application of vanilla Oreo milkshake), we managed to pull into camp for the night.

It’s getting late now, so I’ll have to cut this one short. Hopefully I’ll have more time tomorrow (ha!).

Pride Goeth Before a Hill

This all started for me the day when my friend Hongyu approached me and asked me, “Do you want to bike across America with me?” Since this is an outrageous thing to suddenly ask someone without letting them think about it first, I obviously said “Yes.” p

They’d already had an itinerary and everything, and were looking for a 3rd person to join. What was there to lose? This sort of thing is right up my alley, and the timing was perfect since it was after graduation. Room and food were mostly taken care of. I was feeling good about the whole thing… until I actually saw the itinerary.

Hongyu need to be in San Francisco by a certain date to start work, and because we had secured a support van the other guys figured they’d be able to do 100+ miles per day. Experienced cyclists are probably snickering or shaking their heads right now.

Fast forward to yesterday, and we learned just how completely absurd that line of thinking was.

The distance required by our itinerary was 160 miles. We managed to trudge half of that through temperature in the 90’s, humidity in the “extremely moist” region, and a bout of heat exhaustion on my part before finally getting picked up a McDonald’s in the middle of nowhere. For the record, I have never been so happy to see a McDonald’s in my entire life.

Other things I have never truly appreciated until now:

  • Gas station stores
  • Paved roads
  • The high sugar content of candy
  • The fact that Sour Patch Kids don’t melt in heat
  • Chairs
  • Air conditioning
  • Brakes

The second day was filled with better knowledge of our own limits, a more critical appraisal of our (insane) itinerary, and hills. Kevin, who purchased a fixed-speed bike for this trip, definitely suffered in the extended uphill sections and had to walk a couple of extended slopes. The Appalachians are a load of smiling bullsmiles due to the repeated ups and downs of the smaller hills, so you’re never really done with the uphills. And they can be steep.

But hey, at least it didn’t rain!

Tune in next time for fun with electricity, the realization that we’re in the South, and the perks of the bike touring diet.

The Calm Before the Storm

Calm

Oh this is gonna be fun.

Did some last minute prep, tried a bit of our energy concoction (it’s basically saturated sugar water at this point), and finagled with maps until we got something close to resembling directions.

Speaking of directions, check out Random Directions, a blog maintained by one of the other riders. One of the posts talks about the planning phase of the trip, and how it’s a problem that computers are unable to solve within a reasonable time frame (i.e. less than infinite units of time). Worth a read, if only to see that we initially thought that 200 miles was a reasonable assumption for daily travel.

Anyway, it’s time to tuck in early. Wakeup’s at single-digit o’clock, so this’ll be fun.