So I'm here! In Durham, NC! 2 months ago, as I set off from my uncle's place, I didn't imagine the things I would see and do. I'm so happy that I was able to push through all the little problems and issues that came up and get all the way to my originally intended goal.
I've been pushing myself more than usual for the last few days, but I've felt great throughout. I did 110 miles today! With significant uphills too. Then again, I wasn't ready to do a small 50 mile day today and push the trip another day! It's funny to contrast today with my second day on this trip, where I felt like I wasn't going to be able to make the 60 mile ride! I've certainly grown stronger since then.
The last few days had a significant amount of urban riding, and I was continually reminded how different riding in the city is compared to the country. There were a few times when roads were filled with traffic, but for me, the bigger problem has been navigating in cities. I keep missing my turns and then have to figure out how to get back to where I need to be.
There are advantages to city riding too of course. Elizabethton had a beautiful trail that took me almost all the way up the Appalachians on a scenic, gentle slope. And I hit bits of trail in North Carolina too.
I've been getting a lot of help from people along the way for the last few days too.
At Bean Station, the Inn Manager, an Indian, was really intrigued by my stories. We spent a bunch of time talking about my trip and how he got there and started doing what he's doing. He used to be a software engineer at Northrop Grumman! He decided at some point that he wanted to slow down a bit, so bought a motel along with a bunch of friends and now runs the place! Pretty cool! He even cooked me some authentic indian food and didn't charge me for the room!
As I was riding from the Tennessee-North Carolina border into Boone, there was a huge storm approaching from behind. The road was narrow and there was thick forest on both sides, so I rode on, figuring I was going to get drenched anyway. Just before the storm got to me however, this guy pulled up next to me and asked me to get in! I told him I was ok, but he insisted. He said the storm was going to be severe and riding in it wasn't safe. He seemed genuinely concerned. So I stopped. We loaded the bike and I got in. He rode me all the way up to the nearest gas station and dropped me off there. The storm that followed was absolutely huge. I was so glad I wasn't halfway up the hill in the middle of nowhere at that point!
I stayed at two warmshowers too, both of whom were very nice. One of them happened to have his birthday the day I was there, so I joined his family in the birthday celebrations, and had some delicious ice-cream cake.
The last two days have been pretty annoying. The day before yesterday, I broke a spoke, which I was able to fix because it was on the non-gear side.
Yesterday I broke another one! On the gear side! I had no option but to put on a FiberFix and keep going. But I didn't secure it properly and a few miles in, the wheel had gotten seriously bent to the point it was touching the frame! I stopped and redid my FiberFix. I knew there was no way I could ride like this for 150 miles more to Damascus (the closest bike shop en-route).
I checked for other cities with bike shops around and found London, 26 miles to the south, but the shop was closed on Monday and opened only at 12 today. At least that's what Google said. Anyway, there was no other bike shops around so I went there and checked into a Motel for the night.
I woke up, waited till 11:30 AM, and then went to the shop, only to find that it was permanently closed! There was absolutely no other bike shop for several miles! I tried desperately calling a few motorcycle shops in the city, but none of them could fix bicycle spokes. In a last ditch attempt, I messaged a Warmshowers host about 10 miles away to see if she had any ideas about what I could do.
I did not expect what happened next. Rebecca (the WS host) went far out of her way for me. She called friends in London, but no one knew a mechanic with the tools. So she drove up, scooped me and my bike up and took me to the only bike shop in Corbin, 17 miles south. The mechanic wouldn't come in until the evening, so I had to wait around until then. The people at the bike shop were amazing though. Tom, the owner even invited me to dinner, and we all had a great time. Jeff, a friend of his, even payed for my dinner! Amazing hospitality to a biker, who is lost in the middle of nowhere. When we got back, the mechanic Ken had already started working on the bike. He fixed the spoke, trued the wheel, adjusted the derailleurs and made some other small adjustments. All in all, the bike felt solid again. Tom charged me 70 bucks for all that. A little steep for just fixing a spoke, but considering the pickup, dinner and tune-up, I guess it was alright. I am staying with Rebecca tonight. Hopefully, I can get out early tomorrow and get some solid miles in.
I just completed 3000 miles!!! I thought my trip was only about this long but I still have 500 miles to go.
The last few days have been fun. I stayed at fire houses the last three nights. Two at Utica and one at White Mills. Yesterday at White Mills, they even responded to a minor accident. That was pretty cool.
The people here in Kentucky have been very nice so far. They have all been very welcoming and have a characteristic hill-billy accent.
For the last two days, I have been riding with Kawika. He is a bike racer living in Maui. He knows a lot about bikes and biking. He even has some really cool gear - AR goggles and camera. Though he had to slow down a bit and I had to push myself a bit, we both rode together for 2 days. It was a fun ride and I learnt a lot too. Most importantly, I learnt to use the upstroke as much as possible.
My knees have been holding up remarkably well. I have been keeping a good pace and doing 60 plus miles days without any pain. Hopefully, it will stay that way for the next 10 days or so. I have definitely changed my pedaling style a bit and I think that's helping.
Google says about 540 miles to go. I should be able to do that in 10 days.
I really haven't been writing the log punctually, off late. Need to make it a habit. The last few days have been pretty good. The terrain is more of the same - rolling hills with farmlands as far as the eye can see. It hasn't been as steep as it was in the Ozarks. So, it has been quite easy. It's still very hot and humid and for the past 3 days it's been raining in the afternoon/evening.
My knee hasn't fully recovered yet but I have been doing 60 mile rides without too much of a problem. I make sure I am always in a low gear when climbing even small hills and I never push too hard on the pedals. Speaking of pedals, I also switched out my platform pedals with toe clips (finally!). This was in Carbondale, so it has been only 3 days now and my quads muscles still haven't strengthened enough, but I can already feel the difference. Hopefully with this, I can make it all the way without damaging my knee.
Last night, I stayed at a church and tonight I am at a fire station. The TransAm section of the trip has been full of this biker friendly accommodation and it has been fantastic.
I have only got about 650 miles to go to Durham. I have been trying to estimate how long it will take me to get there and right now it feels like 14 more days. That's a week into August. I would've liked to finish before August but that is certainly not going to happen. Oh, well.
A new problem has cropped up over the last two days - knee pain! I had a slight pain for a while in Kansas, but it seemed to have gone away. But now, especially with all the steep climbing, it's come back.
Yesterday was pretty good. I woke up early and quickly made my way through many ups and downs to Houston. The next stretch to Summersville was a lot more difficult. About 9 miles from my destination, the knee pain cropped up. Before too long, I could barely keep pedaling.
Each push with my right knee made me cringe. I stopped near some buildings, went to a nearby church, and just sat on the steps for a few minutes, catching my breath and trying to rest my knees. I didn't have much of a choice but to push on to Summersville of course. So I put some relief spray and kept going. The spray help to numb the pain and I managed to get to Summersville in one piece.
It was a fairly cool day because of thick clouds so I would have loved to do another 20 miles to Eminence. But, my knee wasn't letting it. It was done for the day. So, I stopped and stayed at a nice little community run lodge.
Today, I started a little late. The plan was to ride to Eminence and see how my leg felt. It did surprisingly well though there was once steep climb on the way. So, I decided to push to Ellington. This is a notoriously hard 27 miles stretch with three steep climbs. The first climb went well, but as I approached the second climb, my knee started troubling me again. I managed to get up but my knee was showing clear signs of fatigue. So, for the last climb, I decided to not to risk it and pushed my bike up. I also made sure I was putting as little stress on the knee as possible while riding by keeping the gear ratio high.
I finally got to Ellington and got to the city maintained Route 76 Bike Hostel. It is a nice little place - an entire house with showers and AC, just like the one at Ash Grove. It's is so awesome that the management at such small towns recognize and support us, the bicyclists.
I was not writing for the past few days. However, the last few days have been pretty good. I've been averaging over 60 miles a day and the stays have been great.
At El Dorado, I stayed at a motel. At Chanute, I had an awesome WS host who had a big beautiful house and three really fun dogs! Pittsburg was also a motel and at Ash Grove, I stayed at a really nice house next to the City Park. They have an entire house there that they reserved for cyclists! It's got AC, showers and a kitchen. The guy in charge of the place - Mike was really nice too. Today, I am camping at the city park. I was a little apprehensive when I found out that there were no showers or even a sink here (all they have are flush toilets), but this place is really beautiful. The city parks all through Kansas and Missouri are just so pretty! Most of them, especially in Kansas even had pools and showers that were all free! Really nice.
Two days back, I decided to take a small shortcut. I was going off route since I had stopped at El Dorado, which is not actually part of the route. While finding my way back to the main route, Google Maps suggested a county road which would save me about 3 miles compared to the highway. What it failed to mention, however, was that the entire 6 mile stretch was a gravel road! I took it, without realising that fact. When I hit the gravel, it was clear that this was a mistake. My heavy touring bike was not suited to such loose gravel. For some reason, I pushed on, hoping that my wheels would hold together and I wouldn't slip and fall. Looking back, I have no idea why I didn't just turn back and take the paved highway! Somehow, my tires withstood the ordeal and held together until I got back to the highway on the other side.
I thought I had gotten through without any damage, but didn't realise that I had broken two spokes on the back wheel! It took me until lunch the next day to find out when I noticed a slight wobble on the back wheel. Luckily, I had prepared for this. I had two FiberFix kevlar spokes that I had packed for exactly such an emergency and now I had a need for them both! Good call, Vivek!
I had no idea how to put them on though, or even how to remove a spoke for that matter! Luckily, I was with Gary and Christian, and Gary helped me with removing the spoke and figuring out how to install the FiberFix. We also met a couple from Bulgaria going the other way, and they stopped and took a look at it too.
So with the temporary fix, I pushed on to Ash Grove. I mentioned to Mike (the guy maintaining the house there) how I had broken the two spokes and stuff and to my pleasant surprise, he offered to drive me down to Springfield the next morning so I could get it fixed at the bike shop there.
So early in the morning today, we loaded the bike onto his car and he drove me to Sunshine Bikes in Springfield. Eric, the mechanic at the shop, did a great job of fixing the spokes and checking up my bike and didn't charge a dime for the effort! Thanks Sunshine Bikes! I've been receiving so much awesome support from many unknown people. It really makes you look at people in a new way!
So once that was fixed, I rode to Marshville, where I met a Punjabi gentleman managing a gas station. He was very excited by what I was doing and had a lot of questions for me. Once I answered all of them, he told me there was a temple in Springfield and that I was welcome to stay the night there. What an awesome experience that would be! I was tempted, but I really wanted to get to Hartville today. He even offered to drive me to Hartville! Of course, I politely decline the offer. So the nice man settled on letting me have whatever I wanted from his shop, all for free. I picked up some peanuts and candy bars and got back on my way.
The last few days have been very humid and fairly hilly too. The hills are short and steep, and tire you out quickly. I've heard that the rest of the trip is more of the same. But I don't have a whole lot left to cover now!
I woke up in my hotel room to find dark, overcast skies. I checked my phone and it said that there was a severe thunderstorm warning in the area. Sure enough, in a few minutes, dark clouds enveloped the sky and there was heavy thunder and rain.
I decided to sleep in until it passed, secretly hoping that the bad weather would be around for a while and I would get a rest day (or at least half a day rest). But it cleared out by about 9:00 AM, though there still was heavy winds. I didn't get out until about 11:00 AM.
I first went to the AT&T store in town and got my SIM card cut so I could put it into my HTC phone. Now hopefully I can have my phone online even in small towns (T-Mobile doesn't work in many places except the biggest cities).
I then got some lunch and headed out at about 12:30 PM. My knees were not doing well at all. They hurt every time I pushed hard while trying to accelerate. It was clear that I needed a rest day. Both my body and mind were tired from all the back-to-back long days.
I decided to push 30 miles to Lyons anyways and see how I felt there. It was a hot and humid ride, and it reminded me of the kind of weather in Kerala, my hometown. I got to Lyons at about 2:00 PM, and my knees were feeling much better, so I decided to keep going. The rest of the ride was largely the same. There were some very narrow roads near Nickerson. Some parts of it had no shoulders at all with just one lane for each way. Scary! But I made it to Hutchinson without any issues. I called up a WS host and he was very nice and let me camp in his lawn for the night. So I am at his place now. I will probably take a rest day tomorrow and rest up.
Today was a pretty tough day. I did a relatively small 70 mile day yesterday, and today was a longer 90 mile ride. While yesterday’s ride took just 4 hours, today it took 10 hours!
The main difference was the wind. From the time I got onto the road at around 7:00 AM to the time I finished at 5:00 PM there was continuous headwind. The first 30 mile section was annoyingly hard. With 60 miles to go, I wasn't feeling great. I pushed on anyway and got to Alexander, 20 miles further along. There I found a nice little rest area with water, restrooms and sheltered picnic tables. I refilled my bottles and took a quick 20 min nap on the picnic tables.
Then a slow, hard ride to Rush Center and I had completed 60 miles. At this point, I was considering just stopping here and getting a motel at a nearby city. I didn't think I'd be able to go all the way to Great Bend. However, I met a bunch of girls riding the same way. They were going to stop at Larned
(about the same distance as Great Bend, but a different route) and they didn't seem to be put down by the distance. So I decided I should push myself and go all the way to Great Bend. That ended up being a pretty good decision, as I was able to keep a much better pace from then. The wind had also died down a little, so it was a fairly nice ride. I also finished my second 1000 miles!
I got to Great Bend, got a nice motel for $45, and had two dinners (since I didn't really have lunch).
Alright! I set a new distance record! We did 127 miles today! I say “we” because I rode the whole day with another cyclist - Joe. We were at Gillian's place in Ordway together and decided to leave together this morning. And it worked out great!
Joe has a slightly higher pace than me, so I was always pushing myself out of my comfort zone to keep up. The morning session was really nice - there wasn't much wind and it stayed cool. The terrain was completely flat, so we were able to maintain an average speed of 17 mph.
We got to Sheridan Lake by around 12:00 Noon. And that was already 90 miles! We assumed the next 30 miles to Tribune would be easy, and so decided to take some rest at the church in town, before we set out again. The church was a nice little place with AC, carpeted floors and a kitchen. There wasn't even a single person in sight though. We got water from the kitchen and slept for a little while in the church.
By 4:00 PM we were back on our saddles, cranking out those last 30 miles. By now however, it had gotten really hot and the wind had picked up too. Those last few miles were not fun! The sun and wind were really draining us. We stayed close together throughout and drafted in each other. That helped quite a bit and we finally got here to Tribune. All the motels were full. So we pitched camp at the park. There's a swimming pool right next to the park. The pool and showers are open to bikers for free! So it's all good.
The day started off in Denver! I had gone there yesterday to meet some friends and check out the city. I took a bus from there back to Pueblo, went to my warmshower host's place (she not only let me stay an extra day, but also let me keep my bike at her place while I was in Denver), got ready and set off.
Today was a 53 mile, flat ride. There wasn't much by way of scenery. It got really hot in the afternoon and there was a constant headwind that was a little annoying.
About three quarters of the way in, I met three other bikers going the same way - Troy, Jens and Karina. They were going at more or less my pace, so I decided to stay with them through the rest of the day.
That was the first time in this trip that I rode with a group, and it reminded me how different the experience is. Troy reminded me to stay close to him so I can draft. Trying to stay on his tail, however, was harder than I expected. I had to keep the pace of the group, not my own. I feel like I'm better off biking on my own.
This was the first day on the TrasAm trail (since the Western Express trail ends in Pueblo), and I can already see so many more bikers on the streets. I was told that this was going to be the case, and I imagine this will continue through the rest of the trip.
Tomorrow, I plan to do a 100 mile day. Not sure how far I can go. It really depends on the winds. Hopefully I can make it all the way without getting burnt out.