Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Which Way Do We Go?

This is a constant question we ask ourselves. There are so many different roads to take, but do we take the more direct, more heavily traveled route? Or do we take the back roads? Most people think the obvious answer is the back roads, but let me tell you that sometimes those back roads are more dangerous than the interstate. If it's a narrow road with no shoulders and a moderate amount of traffic, usually they are cruising and not willing to give much room to us cyclists.

The toughest time to find good roads is when we're coming into a city. But riding into a city with someone who knows his way around was a relaxing, and beautiful, way to begin our little retreat in Tulsa. We were very ready for a break after a 500 mile week and had luckily found Mike and Marilyn Schooling, who wanted to do nothing more than make our stay in Tulsa as comfortable as possible. We finally got to experience some biscuits and gravy, had a great sushi dinner (in Oklahoma none the less), and felt like part of the fam for the two nights we were there, although there was a point where we were a little nervous we might get stuck in Tulsa for a few days.

Oh yeah... that would have been tough if we had to stay there for a few more days... haha.

On Friday we were at Superleggera, a new bicycle shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and while they were cleaning out the grit that gets all over the place after riding 1,700 miles, a piece of the bike snapped. The exact piece is called the rear dérailleur hanger. Its tiny, inexpensive, and breakable. It had gotten knocked slightly out of place while riding and when they tried putting it back into place, it was too weak and snapped. Usually this is an easy fix, but Chad, the owner of the shop, explained that they had already called every bike shop within a 200 mile radius to no avail. Because it was President's Day weekend and the supplier had already closed for the weekend, we were looking at the earliest leave date of Wednesday.

Mike was quietly coming to terms with the fact that we would be hanging in Tulsa for a few extra days while I looked at my bike, hanging on the rack at the store, out of commission. Until that moment, I hadn't realized how attached I was to my bike. We had been through a lot already, and that bike was the only way I'd be making it to all 50 states. Adam may be my partner on this trip, but my bike has become a piece of me. We have traveled almost 2,000 miles as a team and it took me until it broke to give it the proper appreciation.

As it happened, we were able the track down the needed piece on someone's Cannondale tandem bike... And they were in Tulsa! How lucky were we that they were willing to disassemble their own bike and give me that piece so my bike could work again and we could be on our way. During the four hours it took to find the piece, get it, then install it, we were happily entertained by the keg they had with free Marshal Brewery beer. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night. And we had a guest appearance from Robert of We-Cycle in Phoenix. So good to see him even if we were a little preoccupied with broken bike parts.

Just as we had gotten a ride into Tulsa, Mike and Marilyn gave us a nice push out. They rode about 25 miles with us through mostly back roads to a cute little restaurant and it was there that we said our goodbyes and were once again on our own. Mike and Marilyn did give us a nice parting gift, though. These are guardian bells and are thought to keep evil bike demons away and keep our bikes healthy. They've been working well so far!

Mike gave us some great route ideas, and while we traveled on towards Kansas, we were comfortable on the road, and even rode past Mickey Mantle's hometown baseball field! We even got to feel a little fame when two people that day came up to us and asked if we were the couple on T.V. Mike had set us up with two T.V. interviews while we were in Tulsa and they worked! Check out our interview with NewsOn6 and Channel 8!

That night we found a great, secluded place to camp. We've really enjoyed getting off the main road and taking back roads. The only house around had a cute little dog who came to play with us for a little bit. It was a little skittish at first, but Adam lured it in with a piece of jerky and Rosanna, as we named her, became our best friend. I'm actually surprised Adam gave up any of his jerky. He has been spoiled rotten with homemade jerky from friends we've met along the way, to some of the best jerky you can buy! Rich, a friend from the bluegrass fest in Blythe, CA, sent some turkey jerky that even I liked!!

We woke up the next day to the best possible scenario. Warm weather and a southern wind! Those 20-30 mph gusts pushed us all the way into Kansas. It was one of our favorite days of riding, just enjoying the warm air and the push into state #6. If you ever travel into Kansas through route 69-A, look out for Toto. I'm serious. He's just wandering around right on the state line going in and out of Kansas. Tried getting a picture of him but he would run off then come back as soon as the camera was put away. Sneaky dog.

We spent one rainy night (the first rainy night of the trip) camping in Kansas and headed to Missouri the next day. We rode through back roads for most of the day and fell in love with the scenery. Large farms with cows and horses everywhere! We took it slow and took lots of pictures.

When we had to get onto more highly traveled roads, the shoulders were wide and the hills were so gradual we felt like we were flying. We flew all the way into Anderson, Missouri where we met up with Alicia and Jeff Brady. The Brady's are the parents of Kate Murr who recently bike rode across the country with her husband and two toddlers, 2 & 4 at the time. You can check out their website at She contacted us willing to give us a place to stay in her hometown but when we told her our route wouldn't take us there, she told us about Anderson, right in our path!

It was here that we had one of the best meals of the trip! Pork Chops, baked potatoes, broccoli and cheese, biscuits and salad with blueberries, avocado, and dried cranberries. Sometimes I think we should have a sign on us that reads: Will Bike for Food. To top it all off, Alicia made a cherry pie that was so good we couldn't help but go for seconds.

The next morning, Jeff took us to his log cabin that he built on a river about 15 miles away from their house. In a way, it reminded us of the place we were engaged. I'm pretty sure this was our dream home.

After the tour of the cabin, it was time for us to make our way into Fayetteville, Arkansas where we planned on getting a motel and actually going out for our first date night of the trip! To get to Fayetteville, the choices were grim: busy interstate, an alternate, semi-parallel road with no shoulder and tons of businesses, or a 15 mile out-of-the-way ride down a busy back road with trucks spilling chicken guts onto the side of the road. We chose the busy alternate road that we got so frustrated on that we left, chose another busy alternate from that one, then finally made it to a beautiful, country road that took us into town, close to the bike path. All in all, it probably added on a good ten miles, but really, what's ten miles on a 12,000 mile trip?

Since there were no campsites around and we wanted to have a night alone, we stayed at a Days Inn. Date night at Pesto Cafe, the Italian restaurant up the road, was incredible. We wowed the waitress by finishing all of our food, including the three refills of bread she brought out for us.

Now we sit in our hotel room deciding upon the next leg of the trip. Should we take the road more traveled and visit cities and towns along the way? Or should we go with the path less pedaled and get lost in Ozark National Forest. I'm guessing we already know the answer.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

We Wouldn't Walk 500 miles... We'd Bike 'em

We have had seven intense days of riding.


(For those mathies out there who actually added this up, no it's not quite 500 miles but close enough) We did this partially because we were behind a bit and needed to get back on track, and partially because we have had so many many people from Oklahoma invite us into their homes and we wanted to take full advantage of as many of those offers as we could. It isn't everyday that Mike, one of the guys behind the scenes of the biggest bike organization in Oklahoma (Oklahoma Freewheel), posts on every bike group's message board that we are coming through Oklahoma and could use a place to stay.

We were overwhelmed with how many responses we got, and felt bad when we had to turn someone down because we had plans to stay somewhere else that night. Even though the weather has been beautiful and we could have camped every night, we decided to take advantage of warm homes because we know we won't always get that opportunity. In the past seven nights, we've gotten to spend four in a warm house, have a warm shower, and meet warm people.

We did camp a little, though, and after 80.2 miles, we found Elk Creek RV Park in Elk City, OK. Unfortunately we got there about ten minutes after they closed the office so we couldn't do any haggling, and just put the $18 for a campsite in the envelope. In the morning, when Tammy, the manager, came in, the first thing she asked me was, "How the heck does he fit in that tent?" We talked a little about our trip and the cold weather we'd just gone through when Tammy reached into her pocket, handed me $30, and told me to go have a warm breakfast. One thing I have learned on this trip is to never turn down an offer like this. We thanked her profusely and sat down to a yummy Denny's breakfast complete with eggs, pancakes, bacon, Moons Over my Hammy (sandwich) and, of course, grits.

Over breakfast, we realized we had two days to get 120 miles to Oklahoma City. Originally our plan was to take it easy after three tough days of riding and stay 40 miles away with Warren and Jan. We keep realizing that we can't really ever plan anything because nothing goes according to plan. The weather said the wind would be with us that day, and completely against us the next so we had only one choice. Unfortunately for us, since we didn't leave Denny's until 11:30, we had some serious riding to do all afternoon. Instead of staying with Warren and Jan, we stopped for a late lunch there to at least get to meet them. We had to meet this man who had been given a medal of honor by the president for his work on Apollo 13! I mean, he was in the room when they said, "Houston, we have a problem." They treated us to lunch and introduced us to Joe, who lived 15 miles down the road closer to OKC and invited us to stay at his ranch house that night.

What a treat! We thought we were going to have to find a spot off the road to camp, but this was perfect. For the next hour and 1/2, we raced the sun to Joe's house and completed our 60.5 miles day as the sun set on his beautiful farm. He lived there by himself with a dog, Little Dog, and a cat, Little "O." Along with the burgers, we had great conversation with Joe about traveling, photography, and life in general. Once he had found out my brother, Dave, was in the Peace Corps he wanted to know all about it. He is close to retirement and looking for ideas to spend his retirement in a positive, active way. He was so friendly, and warm, I hope he finds whatever it is he hopes to find in retirement. I'm sure he will.

The next morning, we left bright and early, just like we planned, at about 10:00. We are just about the laziest cyclists around. I guess that's why we're always riding into our destination with little to no sun left on the horizon and it wasn't any different this day. The day was spent battling the wind and coaxing Adam through the fact that, no, the wind will not always be at our back. At one point in the day I remember him saying, "If we make it to Oklahoma City today, I have complete confidence that we'll get through all 50 states." In all reality, it wasn't that bad. Yeah, we had to push a little harder to get there, but we finished the 62 mile day on a bike path circling beautiful Lake Hefner(almost felt like home), and pulled into Tanya and Ryan's house as the sun made a beautiful sunset across the lake.

We couldn't have asked for a better Valentine's Day than to spend it with the Brown's. We walked into our room and they had a whole basket of Valentine's candy and energy bars for us. They cooked us dinner and even gave us a Starbucks card that they assured me they would never use. Definitely a perk for me to get my Starbucks Via fix every morning on the road.

Tanya, a librarian at Christ the King Catholic School had read one of Mike's posts earlier in the week. She just so happened to be reading, "Hey, Mom! Can I Ride My Bike Across the Country?" to her students, and we just so happened to be riding through her city. We jumped at the chance when she asked if we wanted to present to her classes! Finally!!! We were so excited to give a presentation in front of 120 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. And they were just as excited to meet us. We brought in our bikes for them to see and had a Power Point complete with Adam's pictures and some videos. We even got all 120 kids to do our Texas Dance with us because they loved it so much. How cool!

At the end, the kids were pumped to do a fundraiser for us and Christ the King Catholic School will be doing a fundraiser to benefit our charities. Because Adam and I have worked in schools and are so connected to kids, it is important for us to try and include them in our tour this year and this was a great way to do that. Tanya wrote to us saying that four kids rode their bikes into school today and we've been inundated with emails from the kids. I love it!!!

After we left the school, the wind was coming from the south so we decided to use it to our advantage and instead of take a more direct route northeast to Tulsa, we rode straight north to meet up with Doug and Ilda, another couple offering us a place to stay. Along the way, we were told we must stop at Pops on Route 66. Good thing we did! The place had every kind of soda-pop in a bottle you could ask for(they even had Foxon Park), and it was $2 burger Tuesday.

Now, I have to backtrack here just a bit. When Adam and I first started following Route 66, we couldn't wait to experience all of the history! But when we biked through the towns, they were all run-down ghost towns and we wanted nothing to do with them. How ignorant we were!! That is exactly what Route 66 is all about! The more we rode, the more we were able to appreciate the history behind Route 66. We have learned to love the Drive-Ins, the seam in the road every 10 feet keeping us awake, and yes, even those ghost towns. In the beginning, we looked at an old gas station as just that, but as we ride by them now, we can let our imaginations roll a little and "see" people on their way west stopping to fill up and grab a soda-pop! Maybe we're just imagining it because we would love a soda-pop on these hot days (yes, it feels like we've gone from Alaska to Florida in just a week), but it's been a fun part of history to experience along the way.

I'm not sure if it's just trial and error, but I have no idea how people get around all of these dirt roads in Oklahoma. We ended up on a dirt and gravel road and couldn't get out. Every way we went, there were just more of these gravel roads and we ended up backtracking just to find more dirt roads. At one point, I really questioned where we were after we asked a guy in the car the best way north. He told us this dirt road was the flattest, but to watch out for the kids because they like to throw rocks! What!?! Lucky for us, we ran into no kids with rocks, but I did get chased by a mean black dog and had to yell at him to stop following me. I was all shook up after that encounter but the tides were about to turn. We found real live pavement and that's not all! Doug was waiting for us with two Gatorades on the side of the road. We were about 25 miles from his house, but he drove all the way out to meet us and give us a much needed pick-me-up. We felt like we were finishing up a race during the last few miles, in the dark, when Doug came again to cheer us on and lead the rest of the way. What a great feeling that was! And when we made it to his home, pizza and ice cream were waiting for us!

The next morning, Adam came in from the garage and said he couldn't find our bikes, all he saw were two brand new Cannondales! Doug had stayed up that night to wipe off and clean out the dirt from the day before in the chain rings and brakes for us. He said it it was a treat for him (he loves working on bikes), but really, it was a treat for us!

Finally, almost to Tulsa. Though the wind wasn't with us, it wasn't against us and we had 65 miles to get to Tulsa where Mike and Marilyn were waiting for us to arrive. We've been so excited to meet Mike since he's our Oklahoma Sponsor, has gotten us people to stay with in OK, and has worked tirelessly on planning an event for us in Tulsa.

Well, after we biked 50 miles into Lake Keystone State Park...we stopped. Instead of pushing another 20 miles to Tulsa, we took advantage of a pretty state park in the daylight and decided to get in some good camping on a lake. We even had a guy from News on 6, a local Tulsa News Channel, come out to our campsite and interview us! You can see the interview here!

So today we're on to Tulsa. Mike called us last night and was so excited to meet us that he's actually coming out to the park and riding back into Tulsa with us! We're excited to spend the next few days in Tulsa with Mike and his wife, Marilyn, for some much needed, "coddling" as Marilyn says.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thank goodness for bad weather

Seriously, these past few days would have been very different if it were sunny and warm instead of cold and snowy. The second snowfall of New Mexico started in Santa Rosa only minutes after we zipped up our tent for the night. Santa Rosa was supposed to get maybe an inch of snow, but we woke up with our tent covered and no signs of it stopping.

We painfully decided it'd be best to wait out the storm in a motel. One of the perks of the motel? A T.V! And it just happened to be Superbowl Sunday. We decided to splurge for our first holiday on the road. We went out to the grocery store, bought chips, dip and chili-makings and came back to feast in front of the television. After missing the entire first half of the game changing rooms to find a room with a working television, we made it in time for the half time show. There was something so comforting about partaking in an activity that all of America was doing at the same time.

Because of all the time spent waiting for the weather to get better, Adam and I tried as hard as we could to get to Amarillo, Texas before storm #3 came in. We packed in a 100 mile day before the storm, and woke up at 5:00 the next morning to try and beat it to Amarillo. That night, we were lucky to stay inside at Russell's Truck & Travel Center only a few miles from the Texas boarder. When James, the manager, heard we wanted a place to camp, instead he offered us a place in the Travel Center's Route 66 Museum filled with memorabilia and an amazing collection of classic cars. I'm not sure if Adam did any sleeping that night he was so excited to take pictures of the 3rd-off-the-line Ford Thunderbird and the 1959 Corvette with 1.1 miles on the odometer. I just thought it was cool that Yoda was watching over us as we slept that night(he's over in the left side of the pic).

That's James, below!

Adam going trigger-happy with the camera!

The next morning, the gusty winds blowing against us should have clued us in immediately, but we had it in our heads to get to Amarillo where we had a warm bed waiting for us for a few nights to wait out the storm. We even made it to Texas and as we were filming the ride to the state line, I laughed at New Mexico for trying to keep us there.

Well, two hours of biking, one Texas state line dance, and only seven miles down the road, New Mexico got the last laugh. We finally gave in to mother nature, turned around and headed, shivering, back into the New Mexico Welcome Center. It was discouraging to make it four miles into Texas just to turn around, but it was the right decision.

Very quickly upon entering into the welcome center, we received a text from James. He was worried about us riding in the stormy weather and wanted us to let him know immediately how we were doing. I called him back and without hesitation, he offered us another night's accommodation at Russell's.

So this time, after getting a ride back to Russell's (we agreed that getting rides backwards is OK) James told us we'd be sleeping in the chapel and gave us a key to a bathroom to keep our things safe and take a shower. What courtesy he was giving to us strangers! We spent the day there, and as more and more people came in, it was obvious this was a tight-knit community. Ranchers started coming up to us asking if we were the bikers! How did they even know? There wasn't a single house around, but these 'locals' all knew we were there.

Late in the day, right before Adam and I were about to have dinner, James approached us again and told us that Don, the rancher who gave us the ride from the welcome station, called him up and told him he was on his way to take us to his house to wait out the storm. We were in awe. He was coming out in a blizzard to pick up two strangers and take them to his home with his wife and daughter!

While at the McCoy's, Adam and I were treated like royalty. They gave us a bedroom and offered us a shower and laundry. And if we lost any weight in this trip we gained it back in that day and 1/2 stay. That night we ate Don's cheesy potato soup. Tina, his wife, made sausage and apple waffles the next morning. We had chili for lunch and then their neighbor, Paul, invited us for dinner the next night and made Thai food. It was a strange feeling, eating home-cooked, yummy Thai food at a big old ranch in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, but it felt so good.

Paul's chopping up beef from the farm for our Thai food!!

Beer in a mason jar!

Paul wouldn't let us leave without giving us eight burritos to bring along with us for lunch for the next few days. His reasoning for eight was that three of them weren't as huge as the others. Don wasn't joking when he told us, "If you starve here, it's your own damn fault."

On Wednesday when we couldn't ride because of the cold, Adam asked Don if he could drive around and help him with the chores around the ranch. Like usual, this consisted of someone else doing the work and Adam taking pictures, but I was sure glad he did because I didn't step foot outside that cold, cold day but with Adam's pictures, I felt like I experienced it all while keeping warm inside.

When the forecast finally called for some warmer weather on Thursday(into the 20's), Don brought us back to the truck stop to try again for Amarillo. Clear skies and a very slight west wind gave us hope we'd make it this time. We sat down for breakfast with Don, happily thinking we could pay for his and give him just a little something back in return for all he had done, but as soon as he got his coffee, his phone rang. See, Don's the guy you call when anything happens in town, and the bus had gotten stuck that morning, so off he went. We ate our breakfast without Don and sat a while, waiting for the temperature to rise a bit. Some of Don's "neighbors" came by to chat with us while we sat. We asked how far away they actually lived from Don and they laughed and told us, " 'Bout 14 miles or so." I guess that's a next door neighbor when you've gott 55 sq mile ranches.

A little while later, what do you know, Don shows up! He unstuck the bus and came back for his breakfast. When we argued over paying the bill, Don told the waitress, "If you want a good tip, you'll know who to bring the bill to." After everything he had done for us: rides to the truck stop, to his house and back, all sorts of food, a warm bed and good conversation, we couldn't even pay for his breakfast! I guess the deal is that he'll be visiting CT one of these days and we'll get to pay him back then. And I believe him, too. He helped out one guy from Germany a few years back and what do you know, they actually went to Germany to visit!

With that, it was time for us to leave the surprising little sanctuary we found in Endee, New Mexico. But they weren't done yet. On our cold journey to Amarillo that day, we had more truckers beeping and waving at us as we biked along the interstate than anywhere else we'd been. James must have been spreading the word about these two crazy bikers, trying to ride through blizzards and such for charity, and these Texas truckers were happy to give us room on the road and a good luck wave!

We finally made our way to Amarillo where we met Paul again. He let us stay with him and his wife in their home in Amarillo, brought us to the best burger dive around(wouldn't let us pay), made us a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast, and helped us navigate our way out of town the next morning amongst snow-filled roads.

While we were biking yesterday, Adam and I talked about how ignorant we had been. Before, this had all just been flat ground with some cows every once in a while. Now, we knew what was behind it all. Real ranchers. Real cowboys. Real working farms! Good people, hard at work, willing to take in a stranger who needed a little help.

So although we were thankful for the storm, we really are ready for some warmer weather. And today we got it! Though I still started the day off like usual, with bike shorts, bike pants, weatherproof pants, an Underarmour shirt, a cycling jersey, a cycling jacket, my weatherproof shell, my balaclava (ski mask), a hat, a helmet cover, two pairs of shoe covers and winter gloves, I ended the day with half that and even a little sweat. As we rode into Oklahoma today (state #5) the birds sang to us, giving us hope for spring.

Fun one-liners from the trip so far.

"You guys training for the winter olympics?"

"Y'all know your nuts, right?"

"You got snow chains for those tires?"

"D'ya have heat on those things?"