Welcome friends!

We'll keep you up to date on our crazy tandem adventures... in the hope that you'll help us reach our goal of a dollar raised per kilometer ridden. 100% of donations will go to either Oxfam or Kiva, your choice. (In the case of Kiva your "donation" is actually a loan so you'll get it back!)

Mid-May to mid-August 2010
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Bolinas, California

Monday, August 23, 2010

The day Tammy put her foot down, the birthplace of Kool-Aid, and 1500 miles for another year

Our last day on the KATY rail trail across Missouri was stop-and-go due to debris on the trail from the previous day’s thunderstorm. Once, our rear tire went POP - gravel under the rim had worn through the tire and it went flat very suddenly. We were prepared though. We replaced the tube and tire and off we went. Four times, we were stopped by sticks - one knocked the timing chain off - that’s the chain unique to tandems that is tight and doesn’t move, almost impossible to knock it off but of course we managed it. It was a pain to get back on. Another stick wrapped itself around the rear cassette and made all the gears skip.

We stayed in a caboose that night! Our host was a very friendly fellow called Damen Cruce (Cruces' Cabooses)

At this point our deadline was getting closer, and it was time to decide if we could make it to Denver, Colorado, or if we had to cut northwest to Hastings, Nebraska, a few hundred miles east along the Chicago-San Francisco train route. We spent a couple hours debating the matter as we pedaled. We had 9 days left, Denver was at least 700 miles away, all uphill, and the rear wheel was wobbling precariously AGAIN. We had stopped at several bike shops over the past couple weeks to get it tightened up, but every time, it would be loose again after a day or two. Eric argued valiantly for heading to Hastings, while I (Jane) pulled at strings in hopes of pushing on to Denver. I put up a good fight but it was soon apparent that Eric had logic on his side. We could get on a bus or hitchhike if it looked like we were going to miss the train, I argued. I wanted to look at our route on a map and see an ‘L’ shape (since we traveled south and then west), ending squarely in the western part of the country, not a ‘U’ ending right in the middle (of course my visualization was way off since it would never be much like an L or a U but rather a sideways crescent moon…). Like I said, I was really pulling at strings! Eric replied, “But I love ‘U’s!” What more could I say?! Logic won, and we turned north.

The next day we rolled into the suburbs of Kansas City, the rear wheel wobbling worse than ever. It didn’t seem like we could make it to Hastings, let alone Denver. We called several bike shops in the area and described the problem and the fact that it had been “repaired” repeatedly. It was time for a more serious overhaul. Two of the shops we called advised us that the wheel would have to be replaced, and it would take at least a week for the parts to arrive (a tandem wheel that can take a drum brake is not something most bike shops keep in stock). A third shop thought they might be able to build us a wheel, but when they saw what we needed they decided we’d be better off visiting Kansas City’s real bicycle guru. Mark Pace runs the Pace Bicycle Haven 27 miles away on the other side of the city. It was a nerve-wracking ride on the shaky wheel, but we made it, and right away knew we were in good hands. The pictures say it all:

Mark had everything in stock to build us a wheel in 3 days. It was a tough pill to swallow only a short way from our final destination, but we figure this bike will be getting us from A to B for many years to come. We would still have time to ride to Hastings doing about 60 miles a day, and a proper rest was probably what we needed to get our spirits up again anyway. We explored Kansas City, saw a movie for the first time in almost 3 months, and got psyched up for the final week.

The first day back on the road convinced us that if we didn’t get started before sunrise we would fry by the time we reached our day’s destination. We left at 6:30 am and got lost twice getting out of the city, had to take 2 long detours around construction sites. The second detour took us away from the flat Missouri River floodplain straight up into roads that would make an exceptionally thrilling roller coaster ride if we didn’t have to pedal up! By 3 pm we had no idea how much longer the detour would be, and we felt dangerously close to heat exhaustion. I had a bad headache. Every 15 minutes we had to pull over into the shade offered by an occasional tree. At the bottom of another crazy steep hill a pickup truck approached and I stuck out my thumb. He stopped right away and said he would take us to the campground, stopping at his house for ice water on the way. That evening we wallowed in the lake for hours, much like the cows we’d been passing in the fields, crowded into ponds with only their heads above the water! Even after the sun set it was uncomfortably hot most of the night. We’ve decided we’d love to come back and finish the cross country ride, but will choose a different time of year to be in the Midwest!

We enjoyed beautiful sunrises every morning that week. The roads were generally rolling, but flat enough to see and be seen a long way ahead and behind so we got going in the dark and avoided riding in the mid-afternoon heat.

On our second last night before reaching Hastings, warmshowers hosts brought us to the main event in their town that night - a home auction. Half the town was there, mostly just to watch and socialize. The entire contents of the home were laid out like a big yard sale and each item was auctioned off, from tiny figurines to dish towels to furniture and finally the house itself. There were several vehicles for sale too, not all of them belonging to the family selling the house. In fact the town council took advantage of the auction to sell a couple old town trucks, one went for $175. We debated buying it to get to California but it’d probably cost that much in gas every day!

We made it to Hastings the next day, and set up camp at the county fairgrounds on the sand in the 4-H Arena. The bleachers made a fine picnic spot and the bathrooms were air conditioned so we have to admit we hung out in there for longer than necessary!

Our train was due to leave at 1:30 am and the station didn’t open until 11:30pm, so we had the day to kill. We enjoyed a ride around Hastings and a visit to the museum, particularly the exhibit on the history of Kool-Aid, invented by a young Hastings man in the 1930s.

It must have looked strange as we packed up our tent and belongings at 10 o’clock at night to ride to the station! Getting the bike on the train was simple in theory… they sold bike boxes at the station, and only charged a $5 handling fee. However, we had a terrible time trying to take the pedals off to get it in the box. The metal seemed to have seized tight during the months on the road. Luckily there was no time pressure because the train was 3 hours late! Finally the bike was packed and we were ready by 1:30 am, so we curled up on a baggage cart to get some sleep!

The train eventually came at 4 am and we got on quietly with 2 or 3 other passengers and settled into our seats with so much leg room I couldn’t reach the foot rest! Even so, a sleeping berth would have been nice, but you have to book months in advance to get one. We had a hard time sleeping but it was better than a plane. When the sun rose we were treated to breathtaking views for most of the day, riding smoothly over the Rocky Mountains, part of us wishing we could be on the bike so it wouldn’t whiz by so fast, the other part grateful to let the train’s engines do the work!

Climbing up into the mountains shortly after the train stopped in Denver around 8 am.

We hung out in the lounge car chatting with a variety of interesting travellers. Night fell as we rode through the desert of Utah, and as we entered the Sierra Nevada mountains the sun rose again and we had another day of scenic views, arriving in Oakland in the late afternoon.

We reassembled the bike and rode to a warmshowers place where Todd cooked up a great meal on the BBQ. Next morning we took the subway through a tunnel under the bay to San Francisco, where people kindly jumped to our aid as we struggled to push Tammy up the flights of stairs in and out of the subway stations. From there it was a short ride along the Embarcadero, with views of Alcatraz and the bay, to the Golden Gate Bridge! We rode across it in fog and wind, brimming with excitement. It was strange to feel cold again!

A few hours ride around Mount Tamalpais brought us to Eric’s aunt Mary’s house in Bolinas where the rest of his family had arrived only a few minutes earlier from the airport. It was a happy reunion followed by busy pre-wedding mayhem, and a fantastic outdoor wedding. Congratulations Kate and Willy!

We are still waiting to hear from Oxfam as to how much has been raised so far, but the Kiva total is $775 and $435 had been donated to Oxfam by May 11. Our total is 5319 km (See "Racking up a big bill") so this is our final call to all of you to help us reach the goal of a dollar per kilometre. We're probably a quarter of the way there. If everyone reading this blog donates a penny per kilometre, we can make a HUGE difference toward Oxfam's work in handling emergencies such as recent flooding in Pakistan or their ongoing campaigns to fight poverty and injustice. Every little bit counts towards helping organizations like Oxfam and Kiva work themselves out of a job!
Donate to Oxfam
Join our Kiva Lending Team

Best wishes to you all and thanks for following us on this adventure. We'll keep you posted as to the results of our fundraising.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nitty Gritty and the Bean Capital of Little Egypt

Inspired by Jim’s appreciation for the “nitty gritty” of long distance cycling, we’ve decided to indulge you with the latest flat tire story. Well, actually, it’s a continuation of the same story. On the same tires. With the same inner tubes. Which are, of course, the source of the problem.

Rewind a couple days before the last blog post. When we left the bike shop in Danville, Kentucky, we had 3 spare tubes with only one or two patches on each, so we thought we’d be fine. Little did we know it would be the last bike shop we would find until we entered Indiana several days later (which we had never planned to do in the first place).

We ran out of good patches much quicker than expected. All we could find were some cheap ones at Walmart (“Scabs”). The first of the 3 spare tubes became a write-off outside a clinic in Greensburg (where, by the way, we ended up in the local paper – check it out!- http://www.record-herald.com/ ). It had a number of small holes spread out all over, who knows why. We replaced it with one patched with a Scab. 5 miles down the road, and just as we got to the bottom of a steep hill (thankfully not halfway down!), Eric felt the front of the bike start to wander out of his control. The tire was flat again; air was escaping from under the patch. We put in the other spare and kept going.

We made it to Mammoth Cave and spent 2 nights camping there. There were torrential downpours both nights; a little river was flowing under our tent, but inside we were mostly dry.

We explored the caves on tours guided by park rangers (about 6 miles out of the more than 360 miles of explored caves there, longest in the world) – Eric was basking in the cool air, wishing we could sleep down there instead of sweating in the tent! The different uses of the caves were fascinating, from saltpeter mining for gunpowder during the war of 1812 to fight those Brits up in Canada, to a Tuberculosis hospital in the 1840s. A friend of the cave’s owner found that he felt better after breathing the cool moist air of the caves, so they began an experiment, charging huge fees to 17 tuberculosis patients who came to live deep inside the cave hoping to be cured. Several structures were built; the stone ones are still there – the room where they ate what was brought down to them by slaves (who also worked as guides for the rich tourists who came on cave tours and were often spooked by frail TB patients in white nightgowns emerging from a lantern lit tunnel begging for assurance that the sun still rose), a storage room, and the office. After several months, 4 patients had died, and it became apparent that living in the cave would not cure the disease.

Back at our campsite, the tire had gone flat again. We re-patched the tube, and set off the next day. We were heading northwest, following country roads toward where we planned to re-join the TransAmerica cycling route two days later at the border with Illinois. We would cross the Ohio River by ferry at a place called Cave-in-Rock, and in the next town, we would stop at the bike shop. There was also a bike shop in the city 30 miles south of Mammoth Cave, but that was well out of our way, so we crossed our fingers and Eric gingerly avoided all rocks, pieces of glass and irregularities in pavement. Alas, it was not to be. 2 hours in, another flat. The puncture, however, was nowhere to be found. We filled a bag with water and moved the tube slowly through it – no bubbles. Installed the other patched tube.

2 hours later we pulled in for lunch at a gas station, the only business for miles around. Bellies full, ready to go, and guess what greeted us? Yep, another flat. As we were re-patching the tube, a man came over. He took the tube we couldn’t find a hole in, and blew it up big enough to float down a river on. Sure enough air was escaping from under one of the patches. Blowing cigar smoke in our faces and telling us of his youth fixing and selling bikes from the dump (and when Eric wasn‘t listening, about a one night stand he‘d had years back in Hawaii with a little Canadian girl just like me), he confidently applied a new patch from a kit designed for car tires. He assured us it would hold, sold us the rest of the patch kit, and sent us on our way.

We rode for 2 miles on the tube we’d patched with a Scab before it went flat. We thought, ok, that’s fine, we’ll put in the one the man patched and all will be well. But luck was not with us. The valve snapped when we were putting the tube in the tire. So, another write-off. We put a car patch on the only remaining tube, and hoped for the best. What ended up happening wasn’t the “best” we were hoping for but it did turn out alright. The tube went flat about 10 minutes later, near the exit to a major highway. That highway didn’t lead to where we were headed, but it did lead about 40 miles north, to Owensboro, on the border with Indiana. We decided to hitchhike there, find a bike shop and re-design our route to go across southern Indiana and Illinois, cross the Mississippi River in St.Louis, then take the Katy Rail-Trail all the way across Missouri.

We waited by the exit for less than 10 minutes. A fellow called Marty pulled over in his jeep, but couldn’t help much as he was only a couple miles from home. When his acquaintance James drove by in a truck, Marty waved at him and I ran over to explain the situation. James was going to Owensboro, but the entire cab and back of his truck were filled with the tools of his trade (and a lot of dirt and junk, as he admitted himself). But like many people we have met, he was eager to help. He cleared out the front seat as best he could, Eric and Marty hoisted the bike up on top of all the stuff in the back, we squeezed in and were on our way. James kept us entertained the whole way with stories of life in rural Kentucky.

In Owensboro we had no trouble finding 2 new tires, 4 new tubes and a good bike patch kit. So off we went the next morning. 10 miles in, we realized our troubles were not yet over. The front wheel was wobbling and the casing for the bearings had popped out. We stopped (Eric cursing at the sky at this point) and tightened it as best we could, but we knew we’d have to find another bike shop soon. It started to rain as we debated hitchhiking back to Owensboro or risking pedaling another 30 miles to the next city, Evansville. We opted for the latter.

The country roads were straight and mostly flat, laid out in a huge grid between vast fields of corn and soybeans. Not a single car passed for the first hour, and no one seemed to be home at the few farmhouses, so we were glad that the wheel held itself together. Eventually we joined up with Route 66, which we followed to Newburg where we had lunch by the Ohio, the rain finally having stopped.

Shortly thereafter we entered Evansville, and soon found ourselves on a major city highway with no shoulder. We had some trouble getting across it to where we thought there was a bike shop. We ended up walking on the sidewalk for a while, feeling lost and stressed. A few minutes later a man pulled over to see if we needed help. He was directing us to a bike shop when a young woman walked up to see our bike. As it turned out, her husband and a friend are opening a bike shop next month and currently do repairs out of their car and garage. She called them and they drove over with their car full of tools. Turned out they didn’t have the parts we needed so they sent us down the road to their future competitors. There, it was quickly fixed and we were on our way again, but it was already suppertime and we still had at least 3 hours of riding to get to our day’s destination. We called it an early night and found a cheap motel.

To make up for it the next day, we rode 101 miles, about 160 km. It was a tough day, very hot. Our backsides, wrists and hands were aching, not to mention our leg muscles after we ended up on some loose gravel roads shared only with huge farm machines (a lesson for using google maps bicycling directions - the shortest way is NOT always the fastest!).

At 5 pm, 85 miles down, we rolled into Wayne City, where the welcome sign proclaimed “Bean Capital of Little Egypt.” Desperate for a cool drink we went into a gas station, where about 10 middle-aged and older men were sitting and chatting around a picnic table in the middle of the store. One of them explained that back in the day the soybean mill there brought farmers from around the region to Wayne City and it’s been called the Bean Capital ever since. When the town barber walked in the men suggested he open his shop specially for us so we could get haircuts! He pulled out his knife in case Eric wanted a shave on the spot. We had a few laughs then wrapped up our “century” (what cyclists call a 100 mile ride) a couple hours later.

Next day we rode another 70 miles and boy were we tired. Had a nice surprise at lunch - ordered pizza at a dark, gloomy tavern where men sat smoking and telling stories of their army days (“I killed people for a living”), the only females were in bikinis on the beer posters. The owner served us, refilling our drinks the moment we finished them. As we were finishing our pizza he put “Jesus take the wheel” on the jukebox (we think it was a reminder to us that people drive too fast and accidents happen), cleared our table and said “It’s on the house. Be careful and stay safe.”

Warmshowers hosts awaited us that night outside St Louis - we had an apartment to ourselves with a stocked fridge! They cooked us a great meal and shared stories about their only other warmshowers guest, who was a monk from Canada going to Nicaragua on a $20 bike and not a penny in his pocket. He kept a blog also, where people could donate to a school in Nicaragua. For religious reasons he couldn’t eat with them because they were eating meat, and insisted on sleeping on the floor despite the big comfy bed they offered. We’re looking forward to hosting cyclists when we’re home again, it’s a great way to meet all kinds of interesting people!

The next day we visited the Cahokia Mounds on our way into St. Louis. Three local cyclists led us there since they had no set destination and we were lost when they passed us! It was a fascinating place, the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico, now a World Heritage Site.

(“Woodhenge” - a reconstruction of the calendar the Mississippian people used to mark the solstices and equinoxes based on where the sun rose)
(Crossing the Mississippi to St. Louis, the “Gateway to the West” - where Lewis and Clark began their expedition up the Missouri River, which we too would follow for the next 4 days)
(Most of the neighbourhoods we found ourselves riding through in East St. Louis and Old North St. Louis were very run down, but you could see how grand they were in years past)
(About to cross the Missouri onto the Katy Trail)

We made it to St. Charles, Missouri where the Katy Trail begins, and have been riding on it ever since. It’s a well-used trail near the bigger towns, but for long stretches between towns we were alone except for one other couple on a tandem going the other direction. They had stopped to fix a flat tire (on the same “puncture resistant” tires we had been using during the time we were getting flats constantly. Hmmmm..). We had one flat ourselves but it didn’t bother us much since we’d had a couple days flat-free. ;-) The trail is crushed limestone so it’s a bit slower than pavement, but we’re travelling through the Ozark Mountains now so the graded rail-trail is ideal. The roads through this area have been described as a roller-coaster ride for cyclists.

(We treated ourselves to a nice B&B in St. Charles, where Rhona and Leo spoiled us with baked goods and fresh fruit ;-)

Yesterday we camped outside a B&B called Rendleman Home, run by a very friendly bachelor called Doug who had an old friend visiting. They grilled us steaks, potatoes and roasted veggies on the barbeque and we laughed all evening. The two of them were like an eccentric old married couple, bickering and giggling alternately - every story started with “Remember that time when…”

So, it’s been an eventful week with lots of ups and downs. In many ways, we’re eager to be finished, to see our families and friends, and let our sore muscles, calloused hands and bruised bums heal. But we know we’ll miss the daily adventures and simple pleasures like a turtle slowly crossing the trail, the sense of accomplishment upon reaching the day’s goal, the scent of the trees and undergrowth after a thunderstorm, the ever-changing skies, the constant companionship of one another and the spontaneous conversations with people everywhere we stop.

Well, we have some sheets and towels to fold! We’re taking a rest day at a hostel/b&b in Rocheport, Missouri, and the housekeeper of 6 years quit this morning with no notice! So in exchange for a meal and a discount on the bed we’re cleaning the rooms and doing the laundry. ;-)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The only thing that's flat has been the tires

Sorry we haven't been very diligent bloggers lately, we've been busy climbing over the Appalachians.

One of highlights has been the stunning views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic road built as a make-work project during the Depression, spanning over 400 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. The ride up to it and along part of it, from ~600 feet in Charlottesville to ~3200 feet, took most of a day, and of course, less than half an hour to get down!

A traditional "re-fueling" station for cyclists on the TransAmerica Trail, for over 30 years. The walls were totally full so we signed the roof!

This river was so shallow we just had to lay right down on the rocks to cool off - but we were melting in the heat so it was absolutely necessary. And very pleasant. ;-)

In Troutsville, Virginia, we had a joyful reunion with George and Judith, a couple whom we had met a month and a half ago in Maine! They were on vacation at the time. They pulled over to talk to us, and invited us to call when we were near their home in Virginia. So that's what we did, and they spoiled us in fine fashion! They and their friend Leon treated us to a delicious family style meal at a popular country restaurant. They then drove us an hour off the route to their farmhouse where an extremely comfortable bed awaited!

We'll never forget their generosity and that of all the people we meet (such as the woman who only talked to us for a minute outside a grocery store then out of the blue gave us a 25$ gift certificate to a restaurant)! Sometimes people seem compelled to take care of us out of concern or even pity, other times they want an account of life on the road. Mostly people are just plain friendly and we're inspired to be as welcoming to visitors when we're at home again!

I showed such great appreciation for the mashed potatoes that the server brought an extra bowl of them for me to eat with my ice cream!! I was genuinely stuffed though, so I had them wrapped up and naturally, ate them for breakfast.

A view of George and Judith's farm, and our entire array of clothing hanging on the line. This is in the valley between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny range, which we would cross a couple days later.
Stretching the sore muscles before yet another steep ascent on a rainy day. The mist hanging on the mountains made them even more beautiful...

Another traditional TransAmerica cyclists' resting spot - Linda's Victorian Rose B&B in Booneville, Kentucky. For the same price we have paid for rather dingy motel rooms elsewhere, we had a 3 bedroom house all to ourselves. It was so nice to share a meal just the two of us in a real kitchen, especially when Linda sent up 2 portions of fruit cobbler fresh from the oven! It used to be the parson's house when the B&B was a church.

Typical roadside junkyard...

Western Virginia and eastern Kentucky were definitely the hilliest terrain we've encountered. Rain was welcome after so many days of heat, but it meant we were getting flat tires much more frequently. We tried to keep our spirits up as coal truck after coal truck roared past and some days we didn't reach our destination till late in the evening. The tiny, run down towns squeezed into the narrow valleys mostly didn't even have service stations, let alone bike shops, so our tubes are pretty patchy right now! As usual though, people are friendly, waving and shouting questions, generally giving us plenty of space on the road. In Pippa Passes, Kentucky, we'd hoped to stay at a church, but a group on a mission trip from Georgia was camping out there at the time so we were sent to another church up the road. The teenagers gathered round as we fixed yet another flat tire. "That's, like, sooo cool." "That's beastly."
Typical roadside repair...
Typical sweaty faces resting after a steep climb!!
The "Big Hill" down to Berea put our brakes to good use. That marked the end of the steep mountains and the beginning of the rolling hills and farmland we've been riding through for the past 3 days.Shared a campsite with Rita and Chelsey from Rhode Island and Illinois. They were ready to go before the sun rose - we were taking things a bit slower before heading to the nearest bike shop...

...where we ended up spending several hours while Tammy got a thorough tune-up (bent axle, broken spokes and wobbly wheels and pannier racks, among other things!)

Riding the quiet country roads between farms is mostly very pleasant, getting up close and personal with the cows.

All the best from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky - which we're taking a day off to explore!