Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ain't No Grief From Me

Last week we thought we were rockstars! We rode so many miles per day we thought we could knock out all 50 states in no time! Today, I fell off my bike.

I guess you can say this week brought us back to reality. We had been spoiled too long with flat roads and tail winds. I think it was Missouri when we felt like we had truly left the beauty of the open plains for the more manicured farms admidst trees and rolling hills. Soon enough, those rolling hills turned into hard climbs, but we loved it! At first.

From Fayetteville to Little Rock, our mileage took a hit, thanks to good old Mother Nature. We ran into more uphills, harsh head-winds, thunderstorms, and tornado watches. We had been told not to worry about tornados... They come in the spring. But two tornado watches in one week has left us to believe otherwise.

In between the hours of waiting around for the wind and rain to dissipate, we rode through some of the prettiest scenery of the trip, and, thanks to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator of Arkansas, Bud, we found scarcley-traveled, wide-shouldered, nicely paved roads all the way from Fayetteville to Little Rock.

We continued to find friends around every corner. Just two miles outside of Fayetteville we already had an offer for a place to stay. Kevin, a triathlete, drove by us, turned around, and asked if we wanted to stay at his place. As tempted as we were to turn in for the day, it wouldn't sit well with us having a two mile day. We declined the steak dinner and warm bed, explaining to him we wanted to get at least 15 more miles. Instantly, he offered up his mom's place.

Sure enough, 15 miles away, Retha was waiting for us outside her house, waving us inside. We were her first guests she had ever taken in like this, and she was so thrilled to have our company. Before we left, she gave us dinner, breakfast, a donation for our charities, and her brother's address in West Virginia. We were humbled by how happy our visit made her.

The next day greeted us with threats of a thunderstorm and a dense fog. We had been waiting for this day, knowing we would be traveling right on the edge of Ozark National Forest and had been told about the fantastic views. Unfortunately, all we could see was about ten hazy feet before everything disappeared into the fog. It was a harsh climb up into more fog, but a long descent made it all worth it and we flew into a truck stop restaurant just as the rain really started to come down at about 11:30. In the restaurant, we saw on the news a Tornado Watch in our county so we settled in for some burgers and fries.

For four hours we had to entertain ourselves while waiting for the tornado watch to seize. We played Rummy 500, wrote emails that would be set when we had wi-fi, and made phone calls home. Luckily, at 3:30 the sun came out and revealed a beautiful day. We took advantage of those last few hours of sunlight and hit the road. Even with my entire left crank falling off as I pedaled uphill, we still managed to make it 40 miles to a closed park to set up camp for the night and enjoy some macaroni and cheese and pepperoni and spinach. Mmmmmmm.

Adam's conversation with a police officer earlier that night:

"We heard there's a park down the road that we could camp at. Is that right?"

"Yeah, there's a park. But you can't camp there."

"Well, is it alright if we camped there tonight and left early in the morning?"

"You ain't gonna get no grief from me."

It seems like every morning lately we've started off with clouds and the next morning it was so cloudy and cold that after breakfast we got back in our sleeping bags! Bad mistake! We have since made a rule that before we get out of the tent, we have to put away the sleeping bags to resist the temptation again. We held off until we thought it would get a little warmer, but the day remained cold with the winds against us. To make matters just a little worse, Adam's cleat broke off his shoe and he had to ride without clipping in.

Needless to say, we only made it another 40 miles total. Adam had high hopes to make it another 18 miles that night to stay with Kevin's friend, Rich, but with the sun setting and my body tiring, I knew that was a dream. It got real dark, real fast and we had no where to go. After searching for a place to sleep for some time without any luck, we found a restaurant to warm up and ask about camping. Debbie, the owner, invited us to camp out in the back of the restaurant where there were some picnic tables and grass. We were so relieved and decided to eat dinner there instead of cooking out in the cold. Dinner at The Dinner Bucket was yummy, and Debbie and her husband Ray wouldn't even let us pay.

We had high hopes of a warmer, sunnier day, but the next day was again cloudy and cold. Mother Nature sure had it out for us! We got up early, said our goodbyes in the restaurant, and headed to Dardanelle to meet up with Rich for a late breakfast. He showed up with a brand new set of cleats for Adam that he got for "free," as he told us.

After breakfast, the sun finally started to come out and we headed towards Petit Jean (pronounced Pet - It Jayne) State Park. The climbs were insane!!! There isn't a mountain in Arkansas that reaches 3,000 feet but when there is a hill, they don't joke around! It was the hardest climb yet, but the top was sunny and warm and a perfect place to rest our legs and enjoy lunch. Tuna-fish, spinach and cheese on a tortilla has become one of our favorites.

I still don't think we ever got the proper down hill happiness that we deserved after climbing that mountain, but we pushed on a bit further to make it a 60 mile day. With 40 more miles to go before Little Rock, our legs felt like lead the next day and each hill was a push. We stopped outside of Little Rock for a late lunch before riding uphill into John and Allison's condo complex. Ahhh... A little rest and relaxation.

We had it set up for a bike tune-up and presentation at the same shop as well as a presentation at a school down the road. The presentation at the school, though technically flawed (no audio), went great! We had a group of 7th and 8th graders listening, answering questions, and being absorbed in the presentation for 45 minutes. Being a 7th grade English teacher, I knew how difficult a task this could be, but we were pleasantly surprised.

The presentation at the bike shop was a little different. Luckily, we had audio and visual. We just didn't have an audience. Only five audience members. John, our host. Richard, the owner of the shop. Dan, the manager of the shop. Addie, Dan's wife and their dog, Roux. What? Dogs totally count as audience members! Even with our scarce audience, we still gave our presentation and it felt good, we can't wait to get out to more shops, libraries, whatever and show people what we're doing! Let us know if we're coming through your town and we can set up a presentation.

That night, as if thunderstorms and tornados weren't enough, there was actually an earthquake in Little Rock! Seriously, what is Mother Nature trying to tell us? Does she just want us to get the full experience? We never actually felt the earthquake, but it registered a 4.7 on the Richter Scale.

We left Little Rock the next day excited to get some miles under our belt and head south. The days are getting warmer, though still cloudy in the morning and we still had to bundle up. But two days in a row we had 70 mile plus days and today when we started riding, we didn't even need our jackets!! It was 70 degrees and sunny all day long. The past two nights we stayed in church backyards. Once with permission, once without.

But tonight, we're in the only motel in Jonesboro, LA because of the threat of thunderstorms.
Here's Adam's clothes drying method!

It looks like Mother Nature isn't done with us just yet, but we've done ok so far. I got more shaken up after my tiny fall today than we've gotten over the weather hiccups. I'm just happy for some warm weather. Yay, Louisiana!


  1. Glad to hear your wipe out was not a bad one. Never fun! Thanks for the post and the great pictures! With your permission, I would love to try to paint a couple of them!

    If you come through Kingston, NH, perhaps you can speak at Daniel J. Bakie Elementary School.

    Take special care,

  2. Wonderful pictures! Your presentations story reminds me of Greg Mortenson's experience in "Three cups of tea". He used every opportunity he could to communicate his message about building schools in the Karakoram range of Pakistan, and always had such a positive attitude when he did. He was always surprised at the positive reaction he got in return.

    As always, love the post!

  3. Yeah, the scrape on my leg wasn't even bad enough to take a a picture of and post. It definitely shook me up, but I'm all good.

    Adam says it'd be cool if you wanted to paint some of the pics. Would love to see what you do! And it seems like Kingston NH won't be too far out of our path- we would love to do a presentation at Daniel J. Bakie Elementary School!!! Should be there mid-may!

    Eric- I have heard so many people talk about that book- I need to download it and read it on this trip, I guess!!

  4. next blog! next blog! next blog! Louisiana!!! next blog!

  5. You guys are awesome! I found your blog when thinking about doing a 50 state tour myself, even with my limited cycling experience.
    You guys are definately an inspiration to me and I look forward to hearing about the rest of your journey! Keep up the good work!