Desert to Pavement

Lots of riding going on this week. My new job schedule (part time hours) currently leaves me four days off in a row which allows for lots of riding time and exploring. So, lets start at the beginning.

Last week we had some visitors from Warmshowers. Rob and  Devon spent two days with us and we were thrilled to have two traveling cyclists! they were wonderful guests and it feels great to be able to give back some of the excellent hospitality we experienced on our tour. You can check out their travels at brosonbikes.com.

Bros on Bikes in Santa Fe

Earlier this week I took a ride that began on the paved bike path near our house. A mile out of town the path turns into sandy hard pack and offered enough steep ups and downs that I was soon lamenting my smooth, treadless tires on the climbs.

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After another two miles it turned into a winding double track. I met a women in her 70’s who was visiting from Cooperstown, NY. She was on a sweet twenty-niner and looked to be holding her own even though we’d just come down a steep ravine that had been washed out from the storms last week. Need I say I was impressed? Eventually the trail turned into a hilly single track. It was fun doing some technical riding but also hot and I’d already finished off one bottle of water and wasn’t sure how far this path went. After about five miles it dwindled into a sandy rut that was not rideable…at least not for me on the touring bike. That’s when I stopped riding and started looking for a way back to a smoother riding surface. Crossing the railroad tracks I ended up on a paved road and took a left into Eldorado. From there it was smooth sailing home on New Mexico bicycle route 9.

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Today Four of us took a ride on route 14 going south out of Santa Fe. Lovely shoulders to ride on with long, rolling hills. Would make for a some good touring but that will have to come a bit later when the weather cools off a bit. Here’s some pics of the ride.

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Day 54 Paris, TN to Martin, TN

We’re headed to Martin Tennessee today and hope to find an affordable motel to stay in. There are not many warmshowers hosts this far west in Tennessee and looking ahead at our route into Arkansas, cycling hosts and campgrounds will be few and far between. I’ve been taking a closer look at our savings and seeing them slip away faster than expected due to less hosting availability and scary weather that forces us to seek shelter which includes a sturdy roof and walls to protect us from high winds, hail and heavy, sideways rain. I’m starting to realize we won’t have the funds to travel as far or as long as we’d hoped. This equals a lot of stress and we both know we’ll have to make some definite decisions in the near future. For today, we’ll just keep riding and hope Martin offers more than how it appears on a map.

Egan prepared a delicious pancake breakfast for us and has offered to ride the first part of the day with us. Yes! We’re super excited to have company as well as someone who knows the local roads and can help us navigate away from busy highways. Egan rides a cool folding bike and often takes his dog Reese with him in the rear basket. Reese was disappointed to have to stay behind today. After eating we pack up and head up the road to have a friend of Egan’s join us. We spend a couple of minutes debating the route and then we’re on the road again. It feels good to be riding with friends.

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This part of Tennessee is less hilly. Well, actually it’s quite hilly but the hills are rarely more than 200 feet of elevation change and frequently shorter. I’m feeling pretty wiped out after some heat exhaustion and not being able to keep down much in the way of calories. The pace this morning is steady and we soon cover the first 10 miles without a problem. The countryside is beautiful farm land with wheat and barley that’s ready to be cut.

Trio riding near Paris TN

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Eventually Egan and his friend needed to head back and we say our goodbyes. Having them join us was a real pleasure and took a lot of the monotony out of the day, While Hannah and I are still enjoying traveling together, there isn’t much to talk about at this point. We usually just pedal along in silence and now and then hand signal for a pee break, the need for more calories or curse at trucks that go by too close and too fast, so having others riders along and new conversation is a relished treat.

My energy seemed to sink with their leaving. Not only was I feeling physically crappy but emotionally it was hard to see them go and get back to the grindstone of pushing forward into Arkansas. All those short hills felt like monster climbs and I felt like I was dragging along on the flats as well. Hannah lead and made an effort for frequent stops and kept reminding me to eat and drink more.

The remainder of the days riding was slow and quiet. We opted to avoid one of the main roads due to it having no shoulder and a speed limit of 55mph. Too many folks heading home from Memorial Day weekend with trailers full of ATV’s and boats. We didn’t have directions for a detour but checked the road map and it looked like we could find our way to Martin on the back roads with just the map and our sense of direction. It added an element of mental challenge to the day and the side roads were almost abandon of vehicles besides a few tractors.

hannah riding by hay fields in TN

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Liz riding through hay fields in TN

Surly LHT leaning on tree in TN

hannah riding by hay fields in TN

hannah riding through hay frield in TN

We reached Martin around dinner time, after an encounter with a group of about 5 dogs that spooked Hannah. We spotted the Eagle Inn just where we entered the town on the north side. At this point I wasn’t interested in searching out a better place to stay so we got a room and went to a diner across the street for dinner. The room and the food were not great but it was calories and a dry place to sleep. Once we had settled down for the night I sorted through our finances and we then knew the decision of where to ride and for how much longer was going to come sooner than we thought. I fell asleep rather disappointed and frustrated with our situation and hoped that eating dinner and a good nights rest would help sort out my mental well being.

Day 52 – West Nashville, TN to Tennesse River Area

Since the weather promised to play  nice all day we felt capable of doing a longer mileage day. We had connected with a warm showers host near the Tennessee River who had a yard we could camp in and even though the ride there would be about 60 miles, and at least 40 of those miles would be on Route 70, we decided to do it.

Liz in TN

We ate breakfast with Bill and Sametta and then took a stroll around their beautiful gardens and finally set off a bit later than we expected.

route 70 in TN

Route 70 is not the worst road to pedal on. In fact, huge sections of it in Eastern TN were quite nice but the western portion was not quite up to par with the sections we’d already ridden. A couple of folks at a local farmer’s market warmed us of this. I think the comment they made was “Oh yeah, now you get to go up and down, and up an down and up and down.” They actually made is sound like driving it in a car would be tiresome, let alone on a bicycle. Well, they were not exaggerating.

Route 70 did go up and down for miles and miles and miles! Every time we’d crest the top of a hill and I’d look out to see what was next I’d see another hill. That wasn’t even the hard part. The rough part was that the view of the next hill looked EXACTLY like the last one. So after about 10 miles I started to to say things to myself like “Didn’t we just ride this hill? I think we just went up this hill.” It was monotonous to say the least and after two shots I stopped taking pictures because they would all look exactly like this one.

riding route 70 in TN near dickson

On the plus side, the grades were not that difficult and you could get up a lot of speed on the downhills that helped you up the next hill….but it might have been the first day I was bored on this trip. Actually, there was some action to mix the ride up a little bit. It looked like this.rumble stip in shoulder in TN

A 3 foot wide shoulder encumbered by high grasses hanging over it or crumbling pavement and a rumble strip inside of the shoulder that left about 6 inches of space to ride in was frequent.

There was plenty of heavy traffic as well and since it was the middle of Memorial Day weekend most of the traffic consisted of huge trucks hauling boats, campers and trailers full of off-road vehicles. It was scary at times and really started to take a toll on me after twenty miles. It was just too much to try and focus on staying in that six inch space while steering a weighted bike with trucks whizzing by at 55 mpr while trying to pedal uphill in the hot sun. We took stops often and kept trying to figure out another route but there was a lack of side roads in this part of TN. At least we were making good time.

We passed through Dickson, TN and made a stop for cold drinks and some Allegra cream for bee stings. Hannah got a wasp caught in her jersey on the way down one of the hills and got quite a sting out of it.

dickson TN wall art

As we sat on the concrete in the shade outside Walgreen’s I was feeling pretty mentally low. I just didn’t want to ride in the heat anymore. I didn’t want to ride on a busy road that wasn’t bicycle friendly that felt like an endless battle with traffic. I think Tennessee was starting to take it’s toll on me and I found myself wishing we had not chosen to ride in this state for so many miles. I think the state of TN alone is keeping the car companies in business with pick-up truck purchases. I come from rural area in PA with rough roads and hard winter weather where most folks actually need a truck to get around, so this isn’t a city girls perspective on the truck culture in TN. And they’re not just pick-up trucks; they are HUGE pick-up trucks with loud diesel engines that belch black smoke (since TN has no emissions testing/standards) every time they step on the gas…which they always do when they drive past someone riding a bicycle.

Alright, I had my rant now let me get to the rest of the day. Eventually we got off Route 70 and headed north along the river towards our host’s home. From here we took a series of smaller back roads that were fairly quiet though some what hilly. This part of the ride was enjoyable despite our being hot and tired and having already ridden about 45 miles. Here’s a video I shot of part of the ride so you can see how nice it was.

After that it got a lot worse. The fellow we were staying with lives out on the edge of the river and the last 7 miles included some huge ups and downs at grades close to 12%. They were not something we could ride at this point in the day but had I known what was to come I would have been doing a dance of joy because they were at least paved.

Hannah riding on TN back road

The last two miles were not paved but were gravel roads that were made from thick, chunky, river rock and sand that saw so little traffic that they are not hard-packed at all.

hannah on gravel road in TN

I know it looks pretty in these pictures but neither of us cared about pretty views at this stage in the day.

crappy gravel road near TN river

The hills were so steep and the road material so loose we couldn’t ride down them with a loaded bike and 35mm tires. What’s worse than pushing a loaded touring bike up hill? Having to walk one down hill. I wish I had taken more shots of what it was like but I was in such a foul mood at this point it didn’t occur to me to record it. It wasn’t just the road either. The mosquitoes were out in full force and walking a bike isn’t fast enough to avoid them AND the directions from our host to reach his home were sketchy (no road signs or markings at numerous intersections???) AND it was staring to get dark.

I won’t go into too much detail about our host but it was the only poor experience we had with a warmshowers host during this trip and not just due to the location and road conditions to reach his home. We found out later that he isn’t a cyclist at all and doesn’t even own a bike. Well, that was sort of obvious because if you did live on a road like his and you did ride a bike you would have mentioned the road conditions in your WS profile or to us via the exchanged emails and the couple of phone calls we’d had. Okay, so I’m still bitter about it and need to move on. This is definitely a first world cycling issue. No one was sick and no one’s life was in danger.

In the end we camped and I fell asleep looking forward to waking up and getting to push my bike back up the steep, two miles of gravel road to get us back on a paved road.

Day 35 Blue Ridge, VA to Blacksburg, VA

After two enjoyable nights with our hosts we decided to move on to Blacksburg, VA on the third day of rain. The forecast for the day showed 50% rain….which I understood as rain on and off throughout the day but it ended up meaning constant rain for the first half of the day and no rain in the second half. That meant we were very, very wet within the first hour of leaving a dry house. Honestly, after working hard to be upbeat on the first wet day of riding, it was hard to muster the energy to keep our chins up in such wet weather again. We looked for drier places to take breaks but at this point not much was dry and roads were starting to flood in low areas as creeks and ditches swelled with two days of heavy rain.

dry underpass break on a rainy day

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cows near flooded creek

About 10 miles into the ride we came across another cyclist. His name is Mike and he’s from Vienna, VA and is riding the TransAm (short for TransAmerica Trail) route that goes from Yorktown, VA to Astoria, OR, labeled as bicycle route 76.

We made introductions and then parted ways in a heavy drizzle. Later on, after some long miles of steeper and hilly terrain (with plenty of bike pushing instead of riding) we decided to take a lunch break just outside Catawba, VA under a pavilion at a local church. It was dry! We pulled out crackers and cheese and peanut butter and made some hot chocolate and hot cider. It was hard to stay warm once we stopped moving. I really wanted to change out of my wet clothing but it seemed pointless since we’d be back out in the rain in less than half an hour. A few minutes after our arrival, Mike came along and we hailed him from our dry haven. He gladly joined us for a break and mentioned another TransAm cyclist who was just behind him. His name is Bob and he is from Yorkshire England and was just as wet as we were. The four of us shared some snacks and Mike and Bob’s humorous rapport with each other soon had us laughing.

Catawba VA pavilion with cyclists on a rainy day

We rode with Mike and Bob for the remainder of our day and they truly helped keep our minds off the chilly wet weather. Not only was it great to meet some fellow cyclists but it was nice to have new folks to interact with who were just as wet as we were. Misery loves company. As the first half of the day passed the 50% chance of rain also passed and the ride through the Catawba Valley was beautiful.

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bob, mike, and hannah riding

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lht by fence

flooded ditch

liz, hannah and bob

Finally, as we approached Blacksburg, Hannah and I left our new friends to head into town to stay with our Warmshowers host Don of “Bike the US for MS” while Bob and Mike continued on bicycle route 76 into Christiansburg, VA. Hannah’s knee was giving her some trouble again so we pushed our bikes up a very long hill where where Don met us with his truck to offer up a ride back to his home for the night.

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By the time we arrived at the farm the sun was out and the sky was clearing. Cassie from Montana, who works for Bike the US for MS, was making a delicious dinner that was accompanied by cold beer and we finished dinner off with some homemade banana bread and hot tea with good conversation about bicycles. By the time we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags the wet morning was vastly far away in my our minds. Thank you to Mike, Bob, Don and Cassie for laughter and camaraderie on such a wet day.

P.S. – Bonus shot for the day…this sign at the base of someone’s driveway. It’s hard to read so I’ll tell you what it says. There is image of a gun pointed at the viewer and the text reads “I don’t dial 911”.

i dont dial 911 sign

Day 3 to Elaine and Tom’s

We left Terry and Lousie’s around 8:30am with the intent to cover about 40 miles to a Warm Showers host near Jarretsville, MD. We had a wonderful breakfast of eggs and bagels and bacon (for those of us that eat meat) packed our bags, gave hugs and hopped on the bikes and headed down the road. A few miles into the ride Hannah’s knee was giving her a good amount of pain while riding uphill. She has an old injury in that knee and  wasn’t sure if the injury was acting up or if the knee was just tired from excessive use…or both. She didn’t have pain while walking so for a while we would pedal the flats and downhills and walk up the climbs. This made for slow going, especially since I discovered that pushing a loaded touring bike is much harder than riding one, but eventually we made it to MD Route 27 which is a designated cycling route with wide shoulders at a nice grade and we were able to move along at a good pace.

Hannah pushing her bike

Hannah pushing her bike

Most of the day’s ride took us through small towns and along country roads with very little traffic. About three miles of our route included the NCR rail trail which was beautiful!

Hannah on NCR rail trail

Hannah on NCR rail trail

There were many walkers and bikers on rail trail and quite a few folks were interested in where we were going and where we had come from. I think you could easily get tired of having this conversation with people you meet on a trip but it’s so nice to know people are interested in bicycle travel that I don’t think I will ever mind answering the same questions over and over.

“How much does your bike weigh?

“Where are you going”

“Where do you sleep?”

All valid questions for folks who have not been introduced to bicycle touring. I hope the short bit of talk we share with them increases their awareness about what you can do do and where you can go on a bicycle. It’s also nice to run into people who have toured before.  For example, we ran into a fellow at small grocery store who talked about a cross country ride he had done in the 90’s. He let us know our legs would start to feel warmed up after about 10 days and it was nice to hear his advice with a positive outlook!

Hannah's bike on the NCR rail trail

Hannah’s bike on the NCR rail trail

Around 5pm we arrived at Elaine and Tom’s home, our Warm Showers hosts for the night, which was a beautiful house nestled back in the edge of a wood. If you have not heard of Warm Showers you can check out the website here warmshowers.org and see what this community of bicycle travelers is all about. Basically, it’s a site that allows traveling bicyclists/hosts to register on the site and offer a place to stay for those currently touring. It is international and there is no push to offer more than you can. Some folks offer a lawn to camp in and others full bedrooms, showers and meals. Tom and Elaine fall into the later category. They opened up their home to us and made us feel most welcome! We showered and chatted with them over salad and pasta and then hopped into a comfortable bed for the night. The next morning they cooked us eggs with toast and fruit and filled our panniers with extra fruit and hard boiled eggs for the road! At that point, Tom took a look at the route we were planning on that day and noted that the Conowingo bridge over the Susquehanna River as not safe for cyclists, although they are allowed to ride on it. There are very few places for a bicyclist to cross the Susquehanna safely and without traveling many miles north or south of their intended route. Tom then offered to put our bikes and bags in the back of his truck and drive us over the river. Of course we took him up on the offer and soon we were on the east side of the river and ready to head towards Delaware. Elaine and Tom were extremely generous and their kindness will most certainly be passed along.