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.