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. ;-)