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

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!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tammy's First Parade and the Manufacturers of Swing

Happy Fourth of July from Charlottesville, Virginia! We hear there were some great shows in Halifax for Canada Day, but of course this year we celebrated a couple days later! (When in Rome... ;-)

Our constant companions, Tammy the Triumphant Tandem and Tina the Trusty Tent, have stood up (as have we) to another stretch of sweltering hot days, interrupted by the occasional thunderstorm. We have managed to avoid some of the heat and all of the rain by getting up at 4:30 am and riding till about 2 pm, before ducking under a campground pavilion or other such shelter while the storm rages (usually for less than half an hour).

In fact it's been more of the same "pros and cons" - we have met more interesting people, including a couple other touring cyclists now that we have turned onto the TransAmerica route heading west. We've seen more lovely scenery, worked our way through mood swings (though we continue to iron out kinks and are learning how to get along better and make decisions together, understanding that we are both equally likely to be wrong given that neither of us knows what's around the next bend... seems obvious, eh?)
So this post will be the usual series of photos... with the details of yesterday's festivities fleshed out below.

Amish country

Our shadow shortly after sunrise

Amish country...

Sometimes our plans don't work out... but often that leads us to pleasant surprises. The bridge was closed... meaning many many miles of detour. So we walked along the lakeshore, found a lovely spot to camp and swim (below), and yes, Jane used the construction workers' portapotty (it was Friday evening)

Another time our plans didn't work - every place to stay in Washington DC was booked up for some random carnival we had no idea about. We stopped at a boat rental place in a park to borrow their phone. The staff were so helpful. They looked up motels and hostels for us until we finally found a full hostel with an overflow bed in the library where we could stay! Once we knew where we were going, we decided to rent a canoe, and in the end they didn't charge us. It was a lovely break from the bicycle (we could have rented a pedal-boat - yeah right!!)

Washington DC was fantastic for its variety of places to eat. Ethiopian food is sooooo good, and a nice break from sandwiches and hard boiled eggs!!

The Capitol

National Botanic Gardens

Canadian Embassy.. ;)

The "International Guest House" where we stayed in the library. Run by Mennonites, a very welcoming place where homemade cookies and tea are served at 9 every evening.

Yep, we camped at a fire hall, Mineral, Virginia

Denis also camped at the fire hall.. and rode with us to Charlottesville, helping us with a flat tire along the way.

Fourth of July!!
Jane was disappointed to learn there wouldn't be an Independence Day parade right here in Charlottesville, but the local paper listed one in a small town 10 miles away. We called the number given and were told that if we wanted to be IN the parade, meet at the church parking lot by 3:30pm! To convince Eric to ride 20 miles (2 hours) in 100 degree weather on a REST day was a feat which involved another phone call to the same number. This time Jane explained we're Canadians who rode here on a tandem and are really keen on taking part in the festivities, but was there any chance that they knew of someone with a truck who would be driving back to Charlottesville after the parade and could give us a ride. She (Ronna) said no, she didn't know of anyone, but if we wanted a cool place to rest and have a cold drink, we could hang out at her place for a while before riding back to the city.

After some pleading on Jane's part, off we went, and soon noticed it was all downhill, and dreaded the way back even more. But when we got there and met Ronna, dressed as a clown offering wheelbarrow rides to kids watching the parade, she told us she had decided she would drive us back herself in her station wagon!

Zigzagging our way along the road between a police van with siren blaring and a pair of clowns was a blast and a half (maybe the half for Eric and the blast for Jane ;-), especially when people saw the 2 flags on our backpacks and shouted "Canada!?" "WELCOME!!" Later Eric gave a delighted Ronna a ride on the tandem. (And, he has a new shirt!)

The festivities continued in the city, where we sung along to Minnie the Moocher with the "Manufacturers of Swing" who played for a wound up crowd, many of whom were breaking out the jive and the Charleston (we tried to join in but felt extraordinarily clumsy on our stiff cycling legs).

The fireworks were wonderfully honeymoon-romantic, lying back on the grass together as the sky exploded and the hushed crowd ooohed and aahhed... for the first 10 minutes or so. It just kept going, for a full half hour, on and on. Finally 5, 6, 7, 8 balls of light flew into the sky all at once and exploded their shower of sparks - the grand finale, everyone starts to get up... but no! There's more! 10, 11, 12 blasts together light up the sky! THAT was the finale. No... look, at least 20 thrown up, so that all the sparks and smoke seemed to form a solid wall of light, and all we can think is, Isn't this a recession? Throwing dollars into the sky and exploding them, while people are actually getting a wee bit bored?? We had to laugh. All in all it was a great night of American culture, pride, and a bit of extravagance.