Remnantology

Dedicated to the examination of the remnants. Phil Levy's words in reference to history, archaeology, Judaism, academe, music, outdoorsing…

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Clinton, Missouri

Off the Grid Riding Magic Trails

So many miles. Kansas is over now–not for the people who live there–no worries, they are all fine. But for me, it is now a memory. Kansas was the place I knew least about when I planned this adventure, and so it was the place I was most curious about. It has not disappointed. The landscape was so much more varied than I might have imagined. The people too have been wonderful–with of course one notable exception in a white minivan. But now that that I am a border ruffian and have fled the state, it seems a good moment to reflect. First some background though.

I had said that I did not need to have a real plan until I got to eastern Kansas. Until then I was free to imagine continuing on the ACA Trans Am to Yorktown, or turn right and head down to Florida on some mix of roads. There also was the possibility of heading north to ride the Katy Trail across Missouri and then cobble something together to get to Pittsburgh and then sleepwalk down the GAP and C&O to DC–old home week. Well, as it happens the Dago gang ran into some trouble, and I arranged to meet up with Xander in Newton and then head up to Chicago with him. That is the plan, and we met at Newton where he cooled his heels waiting for Captian Slow. Xander took up a berth with a wonderful Warm Showers family in the most amazing Victorian mansion-ette! I wish Rami had seen it–it would now be his most favorite home on earth. My slow progress afforded Xander time to learn the town, settle in, find a job, marry a nice local girl, run for office–the lot. I am not sure he really pursued all those possibilities. At any rate, we set off a few days back to finish off Kansas and hit the Katy Trail–the 260 mile rail trail that cuts across Missouri avoiding both cars and Ozark hills. The Katy is not on the ACA route, but many many people do the detour north to make use of the land’s longest bike path. We worked out a route to the trail head in Clinton that took us along a small rail trail called the Prairie Spirit Trail on our way–a sort of narrower practice run for the Katy. We only needed it for about 30 miles, but it made a great break from road shoulders. 

So, here I am in Missouri, on my way to Chicago and ready to write things about Kanasas. First off, the land was very diverse. The western end was part of that vast plain that stretches out to the Rockies. But east and more east and it gradually became a more familiar farmscape. At one point there suddenly were lots of German names and we entered a Mennonite hot spot. It has been my experience that Mennonite-rooted communities are very friendly places, and indeed that was true in Kansas as well. The odd thing was that 70 miles farther east it was suddenly cowboys again–and not just cowboys, but cowboys in leather chaps and big spurs. In my order of the world, Cowboys were west of Mennonites–not EAST of them! The rules matter! Kansas was flat, but there always were rises and drops. As we got farther and farther east, the rises became more pronounced. Right at the border is became downright hilly. In fact, we rode through some very long climbs and crossed a ridge that would have been at home in Nevada. The reward was riding through the spine of the last surviving bit of tall grass prarie. We had one very hot afternoon in that prarie when we needed water. The town had no stores and we saw no pumps. There was a high school though, and someone had obliegingly blocked a door open with a bit of  two-by-four. That was essentially an invitation, and in we went to fill bottles. That led to sitting down and that in turn led to nap time. At some point one of the two-by-four-dependent workers needed water, and he came down our nap hall and more or less stepped right over us. If our presence was a problem that was the chance to call attention to it. They did not, thus it was not. In the town of Buhler a nice fellow paid for my orange juice and blueberries and a local woman informed me that the recreation center let cyclists take showers for free. I was over there quickly and washed almost as quickly. That little break made what ended up being a 114 mile day a much happier affair. On our last night in Kansas we stayed with a wonderfully sweet family and had a lovely time chatting, joking, and cleaning bike chains. Kansas was a great. 

The Warm Showers network has been amazingly helpful. We met such wonderful, friendly, and welcoming people in Eureka, Parker, and in Eads, Co. It takes a special person to want to be a Warm Showers host. Some are cycling enthusiasts themselves and welcoming others is a good way to payback for revived kindnesses. I know that I stop for every hiker I see trudging along Rt 7 on their way to get groceries in Great Barrington–it just feels wrong to not stop. Janet and Orvin in Newton certainly have done time on their bikes, but they also have a wonderful capacity for caring for others. Robyn in Eurka is one of these as well–a sweet and caring person with a strong care-taker edge. The Campbells in Parker were both cyclists and care givers–but in their case, the whole family was in on the game. They were a great source of information about the upcoming Katy Trail which they rode and knew well. All in all, travel like this is made managable by these sorts of trail angels. It is remarkable that so many people are willing to reach out and open their doors to sweaty road-dirty strangers. But then again, most of the people riding out here are, if not cut from exactly the same cloth, are at least trimmed and edged in similar fashion. Gillian in Eads said that when she opened her ranch to cyclists (in exchange for farm chores), her neighbors said she was crazy and that people would steal from her. She was suitably dismissive saying it was hard to imagine a cyclist trying to rides off with a television, or perhaps a goat. In fact, the only thing most cyclists are liable to steal is storage space for all the things they want to leave behind to lessen the load. On that score, I think I am finally done mailing back all the things I regret carting along–like my sleeping bag! 

Trail angels like these generous people are part of what makes this so great. We live with this constant lie that we are somehow autonomous entities–that we rise and fall on our own merit alone. The truth is that we all are part of some vast hive and our successes are usually a mix of divine favor, luck, timing, and the kindness and labor of others. People who think otherwise are just a bit blind. They need to get out on the roads on a bike more often.

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Larned, Kansas

Riding the ACA TransAmerica Bicycle Route

I got hit today. It was not severe and I was not hurt–I was just clipped by a white minivan’s rear review mirror. But I was very shaken up and really really angry. I was just a few miles outside of Larned at the start of what was going to be a long day. Instead, I had a very short and scary day that ended in Larned right where it began.

I had not planned on staying in Larned at all. This stretch of Kansas has long patches of nothing. Towns that are really just crossroads and miles and miles without any kind of service. It is nothing as bad as the desert–there is water–but it is pretty solitary. I had a great time riding up and over the Pawnee Watershed hills and later made a stop of at the NPS Fort Larned park, because, history. Storms the night before had disrupted my sleep, but even so it seemed warmed out. At 1:30 it turned out it was 104, so that explains the warm feeling. When I rode into Fort Larned I was pretty glad of the shade and cold water. When I rode into Larned proper about 7 miles later the allure of a town was too much to resist. Not that I have been really roughing it all that much. Kansas is dotted with good facilities every 60 miles or so. Over the past few night I stayed in the great gym in Scott City and camped out next to the old High School in Bazine thanks to the nice family that now own it, live in it, and welcome cyclists. But between these wonderful watering holes there is not much. It seems that most riders follow the same path and land on the same lily pads. 

When I got to Larned I learned of the afforbale motel right close by and I succumbed. Soon, I had grocery shopped, cooked, eaten, bathed, and was falling asleep by 9pm. Up by 5 or so today, granolaed, and back on the road soon thereafter. I went a few miles south of town stopped only by a small traffic jam caused by a loading grain train blocking the Main Street. South of town the route runs along Rt 19–a fairly narrow road graced, as it happens, with no shoulder. The white line more or less marks the edge of paving. The next thing I noticed was that the speed limits was 65–and that struck me as a bit  fast even though the road is arrow straight. Right away a roadrunner ran across my path. I think I saw one once before in Arizona but not as close as this. Yesterday I saw a dead coyote by the side of the road, but I have little evidence to implicate this particular bird. The charm of RT 19 I think is that it is lightly trafficked, and indeed, I think only one or two cars passed me before the white minivan. His mirror hit me mid-arm and did not even knock me down. I saw the van speeding off hugging the white line. He made no effort to stop–even though the impact had slammed the mirror back on the door. The road was empty so the minivan had all the room in the world to avoid me. I sceamed and fumed to no avail. I tried to flag down the next car, although I am not sure just why–I think I was just panicked a bit. At any rate, the car just pulled into the oncoming lane and ignored me. Some people are awful. I collected my wits for a bit and made sure I was not actually hurt. I was facing  about 50 miles of nothing eastward, and so I thought it best to head back to Larned in case there was a real problem. Only on my way back did it dawn on me to call the police–hit and run is still a crime. Of course I was probably too late for the sheriffs to have found the van. Nevertheless, once the cars had made it past the train, the sheriffs past me rushing down Rt 19. One doubled back and check in. Deputy Perez suggested I see the EMS team. At first I did not think it was called for, but as we talked I decided to let him call them. Sometimes adreneline can cover pain and I did not want to trust my judgement. The EMS guys did not see anything worrying, and soon Deputy Perez gave me a lift back to the motel–Room three left just as I left it. I filled out some report forms and went back to sleep to silence the anxiety. 

Larned was not in my plans, but I was clearly parts of it’s. I found the local coffeeshop/scrapbook suppply store/tuxedo rental and here I sit watching the cattle trucks and the grain trucks pass by. Burgers and buns, burgers and buns–albeit in their most unprocesed state.  Things here are oddly expensive–and 16 dollars seemed a lot to pay for head shearing–maybe for a full shave–but not just the machine. A store here advertises used c-pap “so clean machines” but most of the store fronts are empty. The streets are largely paved in brick, which is charming, but a bit rattley. I will leave tomorrow at dawn though–“so clean” after a bath tonight. 

In 1700 through, this place was a paradise. The land sits between the Pawnee and the Arkansas Rivers meaning endless water. The soil is fertile–hence all the trucks carting proto-burger buns, and in the old days, the burgers themselves roved in large herds on the plains beyond the rivers. It was easy to get your meat and three veg, and quaff a stiff drink of Colorado snow melt. They tell me that a few miles from here there are surviving ruts from the Santa Fe Trail which ran right through here. But for the Pawnees, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, each wagon on the trail was a speeding white minivan, swatting everything it could with its massive rearview mirrors. I got off easy. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Ordway Co. to Tribune Ks.  

Riding the ACA Trans America Bicycle Route.

Wind. That is the defining thing out here. It colors every action and defines every moment. There are short gusts, sudden blasts, curling sweeps, hot waves, and cooling zephyrs. Most of all though, there is a constant barrage of headwind pressing against a rider’s desire to go forward. This Mid-western Mistral never really stops–it just presses and presses. It is my constant irritating companion and the sound of its demanding hiss for attention never leaves my sad ears. Sometimes I imagine it as small horse jockey. He is wearing a grarish livery of purple and yellow checks and has his two-toned horsey helmet strapped on tight. He has his little hands clamped hard onto the flats of my handlebars, and he is leaning in towards me, pushing me back with all of his might. His feet are flat to on the ground and as I ride forward despite his pushing, the heels of his riding boots scrap backwards along the pavement leaving little scratch marks and trails of gravel. All day long he stares angrily up at me. Oh, and he is screaming at me too. Sometimes I take a break for a drink or just to enjoy the shade. But when I come back to the bike, the jockey has rearranged himself. For the next few miles, he is going to lay flat on his stomach behind the bike and grasp my rear rack and make me pull him along. I don’t think he minds much how he does it–as long as he is slowing me down. At one bend in the road, near a non-place delightfully named Chivington for the man who oversaw the attrocities committed in 1864 at Sand Creek a few miles to the north, I managed to give the jockey the slip. The road reoriented, and for a moment the Jockey was off his post. He was still there, screaming at me the whole time, but for a mile or so he was sort of hanging onto the left end of my handlebar. Suddenly, my speed jumped up. In no time I was overpedaling and had to shift up three or four gears. The ground was flat but my speed increased even as I felt my effort actually lessen. From the usual 11mph (my depressing Spinal Tap joke–this only goes to 11) I sailed to 13, then 15, then 17mph. The Jockey was still there and screaming, but he was less intense and I could see he was having a hard time giving me a hard time. But then the road turned again, he found his footing once more, we resumed the position of our all-day battle.

The trucks have a role to play in this too. It is harvest time in this part of Color-ansas, and huge vehicles are shooting to and fro. The horizon is often dotted with lines of giant combine machines strolling along looking like backward mechanical brontosauruses. I see their drivers at every convenience store I stop at–dusty young men in baseball caps mostly, who seem to be in endless good cheer razzing one another and eating snacks. Some trucks carry the grain hither and thither to the silos that are the only buildings breaking the horizon. In Colorado, they also mark towns–but in Kansas they are more frequent and often just sit along rail lines. Other trucks though carry huge farm machines between fields. These are simply enourmous 18 wheelers plus a second trailer bearing 6 more, and are heralded and followed by warning SUVs. The machines have to move between fields because their owners’ livings depend not on the owning of land, but on the operating the machines to harvest it. Teams of harvesters move between towns and fields as needed as well, sometimes staying a day, other times a week or more. My hostel in Tribune is now home to two teams who are in the fields all day and just go to sleep at night. One of their number though seems to be on his own. He just sorts of haunts common room watching Shrek, or sits glumly outside watching the horizon while his fellows work. He has a new cast on his forearm–a clue perhaps to his seemingly unwanted leisure.

But there is no leisure when the trucks speed by on the road. Their effect differs depending on which way they are headed. The ones coming towards me are the worst. Their arrival is preceded by a momentary silence and then, all of a sudden, the Jockey has five or six friends with him. For a second or two, they are all over me. One jockey wearing black and white stripes is pulling my bike to the right while another all in orange satin, is doing all he can to pull me leftward. The two tug and sway and the bike feels all skittish and unstable. I have to remember each time a truck is coming to get low in the drops and brace for the Jockeys. Meanwhile one dressed in a red top with light blue jodhpurs jumps onto my shoulders and grabs my helmet jerking my head side to side–he kicks my chest with his feet. One time, a jockey in a yellow and green kit tried to grab at any loose items I had on my racks and throw them into the grass, all the while kicking at my panniers. But, blessing of blessings, once the truck passes and the attendant SUV zips by with its dopler-shifted “f*** Youuuuuuuuuuuuuu” trailing in the distance behind me, the new Jockeys all vanish just as fast as they showed up, and I am left alone with my usual friend screaming at me as always.

It is slightly different when a truck comes up from behind me. These of course, present more danger to me than do the ones in the oncoming lane. They are closer–and that is scary enough–but they also once in a while pick up some road refuse and throw it at me. One rock hit me smack in the middle of my back and I had to stop for a moment to recover. If I am going to be hit, it will be by a driver trying to get to the same town as I am. But, my deadly friends have an odd effect on the Jockey.  I have two mirrors so I generally know when things are coming up–larger than they may appear in the reflection. The first thing that happens when a truck gets close is that my Jockey lets go for a moment. On top of that, there is a hot wind that pushes from behind and for a second it is as if everything is lighter than air–no jockey, no loaded bike, just a pushing hot blast. The local drivers know there will be cyclists on the road and they are all adept and thoughtful in giving us plenty of room. Most occupy the oncoming lane as they fly by. This much appreciated consideration has an effect beyond putting safe distance between us. As the truck passes and the Jockey is for the moment disoriented, there is a moment when the full size of the vehicle actually blocks the wind entirely and it is as if I am drafting the truck. The Jockey is, for a second, gone. It is a welcome respite and almost makes up for the mortal terror of having to share the road with these beasts. But, it is a tiny a respite, and as soon as the truck farts its way away, the Jockey is back. He slaps me in the face for thinking that there may be some possibility of a life without him. How dare I dream, how dare I hope. “I am the Gulag and you are Ivan Denisovich, I am Alcatraz and you are my Birdman, I am French Guyana and you are Dreyfus!” he screams at me as he settles his little gloved hands back onto my bars, and the ride continues as before.

You can laugh now, you screaming harpie–but I will win. I will wake up earlier and earlier each day to ride as many miles I can while the Jockeys still snooze and take medication for their sore throats. If 5:30 am is not early enough, then tommorow I will try 4:30 am–whatever it takes to find the times when you are slacking. And as I get lower in altitude and deeper into Kansas, stable heat and greater humidity will sap your energy. Each mile I ride takes me a little bit closer to the place where your grip will finally fail you, and you will slip, and my wheels will roll right over you. I will back up and roll over you a second and a third time for good measure. And you too trucks. I know your routines now and can avoid the hours when you are most eager to get home. The harvest can’t go on forever. As long as I can make miles, I am winning.

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Leaving Pueblo arriving Ordway Co.

Riding the ACA Trans-America Bike Route.

The off-the-bike week of responsible parenting has ended, I saw Rami off on a flight from Denver and he was home in 5 hours. It took some wrangling to make it all happen but it worked and I got to see Denver and Colorado Springs as well as Pueblo–my Eastern Colorado Trifecta. Tears were shed and many hugs and loving cuddles as well. Rami was sad to go, but he was being very mature in wanting to split his summer, and he deserves much credit for all the hard riding he did. This was not as long a tour as last year’s but each mile this year was five times as hard as one on last year’s ride. There are miles, and then there are miles. These were the latter kind.

The hero of the week though is Bikeflights.com, and specifically Gordon at Bikeflights. There was lots to ship home and Fed Ex wanted 210 bucks to take Rami’s bike to Tampa. I was livid since I have had bikes shipped to me for as little as 45 bucks. UPS said 210 and the post office said perhaps as little as 150. It took a while and a prompt from Sarah, who had to endure me screaming into the phone about being trapped in Pueblo, capitalism, and my own stupidity–not in that order. But then Bikeflights–dear sweet professional understanding Bikeflights wafted into the story like a calm gentle breeze. In no time at all I was back at Fed Ex, this time with a Bikeflights shipping labels which had cost 65 bucks and the Surly was on the way to Tampa. Use this company! I have no idea how they make money–I think they are operating on a Manna from Heaven business model, but like the Manna, they are heaven sent. I don’t think they taste of coriander or whatever food you want them to be like the original though, (look it up–it is in Shemot, which I think in English is Exodus–second book at any rate).

So, after shipping bikes and clothes, and sending off Rami, and once the Big Red Silverado was moored back in its hanger, I was free to be a cyclist once again. Incidentally, I learned on the drive to Denver that there is a sort of brotherhood of Silverado drivers–the Silveradudes, if you will. Rami was the first to notice that each Silveradude that we saw was sort of checking us out. Our’s was brand new–we got it with less than 1000 miles on it, so, yeah, brand new, dude. Rami also noticed that the newer models have squarer mirrors than did the tatty old ones–that’s right dude, square mirrors. I am not sure though that Rami and I  really fit the profile of proper Silveradudes, and on reflection, that might be why they were checking us out. Where was the gray tee shirt or plaid button down? How come no baseball caps with sunglasses on the brims? My beard might pass muster–but those silly glasses? I don’t think so! And what about Rami’s magestic mane of Semitic warrior ringlet locks anointed with scented oils? Waaaaaait a minute–something is amiss here! Better notify Silveradudes’ Central that some distinctly “ethnic” non-Marlboro man types are trying pass themselves off as vrai “gens de pickup” (or words to that effect, although my last sentence may somewhat highlight exactly the sort of issue they would be sensitive to).  We managed to evade any problems, although when some little pissant in a pimped out little car tried to steal the Short Term Parking spot we  had patiently waited for, the aforementioned pissant got a full blast of the front end of the Silverado, and some carefully chosen bons mots from the man blasting the horn. With a huge grin Rami said to me–“see, it is times like this when it shows that you are a Brooklynite.” To my recollection, I did not curse. But I did make my point using PG rated socially acceptable verbiage.

By 9am after docking the Silverado at Hertz, I was wheeling through Pueblo on my way to the turn on 4th St. That road was a bit busy, so I hopped down to 3rd and wended back. That led me to the coffeeshop there where habit made me stop. It was an oasis. Pueblo has had a hard time. Industry has left, the loss of jobs, meth, OxyContin and so on have clearly ravaged the town as have the big boxes sucking businesses out of downtown. There are a number of nice old buildings–all early 20c vintage–including a good Kress building and a great old leather shop once run by a man named Mayer, his name still in the stonework. There also are some valient well-meaning folks trying to bring life back to the old place. But it is hot, and windy, and not an easy battle to win. One local explained to me that marijuana legalization has been terrible for the city. She said that what happened was that once the state legalized, tens of thousands of dealers from all over the nation flooded the state thinking they were going to get rich quick. Of course the market was not set up in a way that would allow that, and  now all these people who had spent what they had to get to the Promised Land now found themselves no better off than they were elsewhere. Pueblo has a very low cost of living, and so in time they have flooded the city. It is no joke–there are sun tanned homeless and near homeless all over the place. It is different than Sacramento where the city seems to have just allowed tent cities to spring up here and there. In Pueblo, they are just everywhere. It is unsettling. This country has failed so many of its people.

The coffeeshop–the Solar Roast–though was a place apart–although I ended up giving one of my hard boiled eggs and some money to a guy on a bench right across the street.  People were friendly and chatty in the coffeeshop and religion again emerged as a topic. I need to write a seperate post on that, but later. For today though I scooted out of town and headed east quickly entering the plains. First impressions? LOOOOVE it! Fascinating landscape and I really wish I could have seen it in 1700. Most of the others places I have seen so far look more or less as they did then–the Sierras, Carson’s Pass, Nevada Hellscape, Utah Hellscape, Rockies and Bullwinkle, Golden Gate Park, Chinatown–all places largely the same in 1700 as today. Maybe. But this place is different. I rode and rode in what I can only call a sea of land. Sitting in Ordway late in the day, eating frozen blueberries, and talking with the local friendly old man who likes to chat, I could see the land out there and it was just like being at the beach–except the beach was a road crossing and the sea was land.  Trust me–really weird.

There is a stock auction in Ordway tomorrow and the trucks were coming in. The cattle trucks have two levels–upper and lower. I noticed they were very tall, but it was only this afternoon I realized that there were two levels with two floors. I guess I thought ranchers just stuffed cattle in to fill the space–like cabbages or Tokyo commuters. What do I know about cows? As my son pointed out–I am a Brooklynite!

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Salida Colorado

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.

The Slingshot is nearly compete and we have landed in Salida, Colorado on the Arkansas River and about 7000 feet above Tampa. The drive here was fine and we all listened to and discussed a wide array of music as we went round and round with each person picking a song from their devices in turn. This made for an engaging and entertaining drive. Salida was the destination because Sam’s family had a home here that for the moment was empty. It was in fact a nice modern three story which they rent out. We quickly settled in and made use the chance to clean clothes and selves. For most of the drive we followed the ACA route. We loaded up with water bottles so that we could help hydrate anyone we saw. As it happens we saw very few cyclists. Even groups I knew were out there we did not see.

It was a mixed feeling to drive the stretch we were skipping over. Part of me feels bad for skipping the deserts and some of the harder climbs. But at the same time, most of me really does not care at all. We had a lot of soul searching and heartache when we made the call to turn back and there is no point in second guessing. What is more, seeing the temperatures reach as high as 107 in stretches of bone dry desert showed it was right to leap ahead. We came down into one valley in Colorado and it was the first time we saw flowing water since Dayton. The main groups I know of out there are supported. Indeed, I feel sure we would have been fine if we had a support truck with us. We heard that the solo guy we saw a few days earlier had been swept up by the Wounded Warriors’ party: he and his one water bottle will be fine. We also heard again and again that this was an unusual heat. So be it.

The only city on the route big enough to take the one way rental was Pueblo, so it is there we will return to riding on Monday. I would like to have returned to riding farther west, but there was no viable option. So, for now we are planted in Salida walking the streets, looking at art galleries and bike shops, watching kayakers on the Arkansas river, and hiding where we can. This is a sort of art festival this weekend so the streets are filled with mingling visitors, street musicians, and a gaggle of silver painted revelers.

I have not been able to shake a low level flu for about 4 days and it is getting on my nerves. On Friday I bought medication so here’s hoping. We are encamped at the edge of a farm on the edge of town. The couple who own the land welcome campers and have mowed out a few nice tent sites. Our’s is by a small river swollen with snow melt. One highlight is the friendly llama who pops by our camp now and again. The wind is ferocious and constant and locals tell us that both the wind’s and water’s intensities are aborations. This land has always been known for its weather extremes, and road washouts and flooded rail bridges have been causing problems here since the third quarter of the nineteenth century. But these days, it is like the climate has gone mad and no one is safe. We are on the course of the Tour Divide–a long endurance cycling ride that takes riders from Canada down to the Mexican border along the continental divide. We have seen a few of the riders and they looked beaten. One guy in a roadside convenience was in good spirits, but was pretty worn. He was talking to another rider about the rumor that one of their number had been killed the week before. Great. I wonder if that was a source for our rumor. The stories move up and down the trail and get changed a bit on the way. I have seen the same thing on every tour or hike I have done. Usually talking with fellow travelers is a great way to gather info–this summer it is scary. The only self supported riders we saw on the Slingshot were a very nice and determined couple we met as they climbed to Austin. They told us that they had come upon a road accident a few miles back and it was pretty unpleasant. As we talked the wrecker passed us carrying the ruin–it was an SUV that rolled so badly it looked like a giant muddy beer can. Great. The good news is that the driver should be fine. We saw a Tour rider in a coffeeshop in Salida as well. she had a big ace wrap on her right leg and was icing her knee while she charged devices and studied maps. Everyone is having a hard time but soldiering on in their fashion.

The Tour Divide is not for the faint of heart. It is over 2700 miles long and mostly on back country trails. The kits the riders use are very different from the sort of road touring outfits we use. For one thing, we ride touring bikes which are in essence beefy road racing bikes designed to carry weight. Touring bikes also have longer chain stays than do road bikes. This creates a longer wheel base making for a stable platform–road bikes can be really twitchy. Yeah. I am missing my road bike. A touring bike’s longer chain stays also mean that a rider’s heels won’t slam into rear panniers. The supported groups we saw along the way were all on road bikes–made heavy by two (count ’em, two) water bottles, meaning they could ride light and fast up hill and down while we slogged along with fully loaded self-supporting dump trucks. The Tour Divide riders are all on mountain bikes The have suspension and are designed to take the knocks of dirt trails. In recent years here has been an explosion of “bikepacking” bags and sacks makes to fit onto the frames of mountain bikes and their endurance cousins. They are a sort of ultralight counterpoint to touring bikes. Our panniers mount to the side of our front and rear wheels, whereas bikepacker bags are designed to stay in line–thus the bikes have a very slim profile head on, but make use of all sorts of spaces and voids in the frame. The Tour riders and their bikes we saw were all muddy. It looks like a proper ordeal.

Tomorrow morning we will break camp and head down to Pueblo. The deal with the truck was that we had to keep it for a week or pay an early return fine. I dunno. Sam, Chester, and Xander headed out on Friday so they will be one or two days ahead of us when we set out after our Hertz enforced break. The downtime may be a blessing. More chance to drive this flu away.

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Mid-Slingshot. 

Speeding through the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route

After yesterday’s long and hot, but by no means unpleasant return to the Carson City greater metropolitan area, we settled in the Dayton State Park for a night’s sleep, again under cottonwoods. Dayton is the site of Nevada’s first gold strike–roughly at the same time as Sutter Creek’s in California. Today, it is a small suburb of Carson City with a few older buildings on the side, some new and fairly uniform subdivisions, shopping malls, and of course, 

Harris, the celebrated Redheaded Tweaker down by the river of whom we learned earlier. The state park with its brush and trees is also down by the river, but largely free of meth production. The park is an understandable  Dayton highlight. 

We pulled in and were immediately thwarted by the park’s incomprehensible fee structure. It is presented as a set of unclear options from which campers are suppose to select the one, or ones, that best apply to their visit, and then deposit the correct fee in the box, or risk facing the advertised $200 pick pocketing for failing so to to do. Take a look at the sign, and take your best guess at what was the correct fee per bicycle. Take your best guess now, before you read on, so that you can relish your choice before my big reveal later on. I will say this dear reader–there is like zero chance you will get it right. We sure didn’t. One read of the sign could mean we each needed to fork over one dollar. We have bikes, one buck per bike, five bikes, five bucks total. Simple. Or–maybe we are “campers” (abliet sans “vehicles”) and that would require 17 dollars per human camper (still sans “vehicle”) for a grand total of 85 dollars–a bit steep it seemed. But maybe we are both bicycles AND campers–that would mean the 17 dollar fee PLUS the one dollar bike fee for a total of 90 dollars. But we are also “entering” the park, and that seems to cost 7 dollars–a total of 35! Should that be added onto the 5? Or maybe the 85? Or maybe the 90? Who can master this chaos? In the end, we opted for a simple five dollars each and stuck the envelope in the slot and rode on. There are some simple rules to follow in these situations. If the people creating the fee structure cannot be bothered to make it clear, then they probably do not care all that much about people getting it right in the first place–or they are used to people getting it wrong. If you don’t care, I don’t care. 

Our camp was lovely and we slept fine. At 6am though a ranger came over to tell us we had to move since the sprinklers were going to start in 15 minutes and we were not in the camping area in the first place. Fair enough on the sprinkles–the grass did seem a bit too oddly golf course-ish to be a natural occurance. But not in the camping place? How’s that? In his view, the camping spots were near the front of the park–while we were in the back. There is a sign he said; they are marked he said. Really? We saw nothing at all to support his view. Were we talking about the same park? He might as well have said “you are only allowed to camp near the herd of elephants,” or “camping only under the rollercoaster”–also things of which there was no indication at the crucial moment of park entry. We hastily moved and all was fine. Oh, and how much did you guess was the correct fee? Well–the ranger told us it was actually 10 dollars per bicycle–a sum the park decided to make public through a clever game of numerical absence. I am thinking of a number between one and five and I list them as 1, 2, 4, 5. In my list, 3 is noticabale in its absence. That is the way the Dayton State Park assesses its fees–by not listing the sum of 10 dollars (and also by shrewdly not answering its phone during office hours) they have in fact highlighted it by ommision, and so obviously, 10 dollars is the fee. Simple!

The other joy of the morning was discovering that someone had stollen Xander’s riding shoes in the night. I wonder if the theif paid the park single entry fee of  5 dollars if he or she was a local, or 7 dollars if he or she traveled a long distance to steal the shoes. 

At any rate, we got our Slingshot conveyance, replaced the missing shoes and we are now in full slingshot. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Bike For Dago

Xander, Sam, and Chester are riding for a cause. They are raising funds to help children in Kenya go to highschool. They have a gofundme and a video here.

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. The Slingshot is in Full Swing.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.

Sure, I rode this stretch already, but the view was different. Does that count? The fact that the Sierras are so unlike the places I know makes backtracking–um, I mean Slingshotting–seem just like more adventuring. There were a few reasonable climbs today, but what made them hard was really just the heat. It is pretty damn intense. In fact, should climate change carry on as it has so far, in few decades outdoor activity in this part of the world in the summers will not be possible. The big ACA ride circa 2067 will have to be over before May in order to not kill the riders. It will be as impossible to ride here in 2067 as it is now impossible to ride in places like Needles, California where it reach 123 at 2pm today. We also learned that it was too hot in Phoenix for airplanes to take off. Hot. For me it is just about the intersection of aquatics and mathematics. I figure I am drinking roughly a liter of water every hour–that means about a liter every 10-17 miles on average depending on terrain and wind. These numbers are fine when there is water around–even if just at a convenience store. But once past Middlegate–or really past Carroll’s Summit–we were hitting distances like 65 to 75 miles between there being water. That means carrying about 7 liters of water for each of us–and that makes the bike so heavy to get over the mountain passes that I need to drink more to get the load over the hump. It is a losing circle. It seems that one, or possibly two cyclists have already died from dehydration over the last two weeks in this route. I hope that is just a rumor. For these reasons I am happy with The Slingshot. It is costing us more money we don’t have, and I will miss out on Utah, but it will get us out of the worst of it and back on the road. It will still be hot in Colorado, but there will be more water. It’s a moist heat. 

The line is working out well. Our new ride companions, Sam, Chester, and Xander are in good spirits and in good form, so we made good time–well–they all dropped me twice today since I am sticking to my slow and steady approach to heat and hills. We formed a pace line since the head wind was very strong. The drafting worked well until I fell back from a pull and Rami took over on the point. Suddenly the line was speeding up by 2 or 3 MPH and I just let it pull away. Rami is liking the group and I think he wanted to show his mettle. It was kind of fun though watching him pull away–a sort of metaphor for parenting. It also is a sign that The Slingshot is the right call. 

We revisited the convenience stores we hit on the way out and drank drinks. We saw more old folks with odd cars–this time open engine mock hot rods. I am so of two minds about this still. On the one hand, it just more consumer culture sociability and we all participate in that in one way or another. On that score the Mock-Rods score over the ‘Vettes since I am pretty sure that each of these guys did a lot of the actual mechanical work themselves. Skill is always impressive and admirable. The ‘Vetters on the other hand, just make a monthly car note payment to be in the ‘club’ and that is less impressive. On the other hand though, what it comes down to for me is that leisure gas consumption is one part of what is making it impossible to be out here on a bike. It is not an innocent hobby–they are actively participating in something that is harming others, albeit inderectly–depending on how much room they give cyclists. As seniors, they may not be around to see the long term results of their emissions, but they are the last hold outs of a world-view that thought these resources were bottomless, and that is having a hard time understanding the harmful consequences of habits they have always seen as at best a major boon or at worst, harmless. 

Tonight though we sleep under cottonwoods with the smell of sage in the air. Fifty years from now though, this will probably be a desert too. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Backtrack Phase One. 

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route

Let’s call it “The Slingshot”–that sounds better than backtracking. The idea is to roll back a bit to leap forward. Our time is limited, and we have a hard time making the miles we need to get to the eventual rendez-vous. My name for the tour was well chosen. 

Today we made 58 miles in good order with two climbs and a steady headwind. It was of course terrain we had done before, but that is the principal of The Slingshot. I am glad to be leaving Rt 50 behind even though much of the land it traverses is lovely. There is a bleak and foreboding to Nevada. It is a place creatures like us were not meant to live in, and there always is something appealing about those places that have bested us and not the other way around. Sure, there are big boxes here, and Modern Homoamericanus has done all he can to force his needs upon this unwilling landscape. But the sun, and the dust, and the blistering heat are constantly shouting back that man is not the master here. Yesterday in the shade of the cottonwoods and again this morning loading the bikes in the shade of an old bunkhouse, I noticed that the air was just perfect–as far as I was concerned you could just pipe it into my house. But as soon as I stepped out of the shade an into the sunlight, the bright glittering molten sledgehammer came down on my head like sixty pounds of baked potatoes right out of the oven. Meanwhile, we learned that it was hailing in Ely. Someone does not want us here.

It was not always thus. Rami and I napped mid day near some petroglyphs. We had made it through the salt flats where the heat was well over 100 degrees. The picnic tables at the petroglyphs are the first shade we saw in 40 miles or more and we had planned to rest out the worst of the heat there. God himself must be smiling on The Slingshot since the sky was filled with clouds for the first time since we were here. They acted as a parasol and made some of the climbing easier before they took their leave. While we rested, distant dark clouds scuffed into view,and I could see rain falling on the far mountains. About 10,000 years ago this world was totally different and we have to thank the ancient petroglyphiacs for some of this information as well as data from some sites. The killing salt flats had been salt marshes and were home to water birds, sandhill cranes, and of course the people who ate them. Rami reflected on the idea that one problem with man-made and man-enhanced climate change is that it’s speed means that there is not time for animals to adapt. He thought maybe the little tan chipmunks had had the time to adapt to their new environment. Indeed they have–at least to the one they are in now. The animals were on us the second we sat down at a park table. They darted around our shoes and chased around under the table waiting for whatever scrap or crumb fell. They even scampered up the bikes to get in the open panniers and a few even reached up from the ground to try and claw at the bottoms. Adaptive little buggers. We eventually fed them some science fruit squeezes and watched the show. 

It turns out there is a heatwave now and even locals are concerned over it. People tell us all the time that we are crazy–that is common tbing for cyclists to hear. But the heat has added a level of wonder to people’s condemnations–and fairly too. Today was the first day we saw other cyclists on the road. We had passed one or two here or there before, but few tourers and no feeling of mass. Today we passed a large supported group traversing Nevada, a lone east-bounder who looked in fine form and second who was less so. The second’s problem was the he had only one water bottle, was dry already, and had a big backpack on. He was young and strong and would probably be fine, but he knew he needed to adapt to his new environment–like a chipmunk.

We also passed a group of three cyclists who were taking a break. It is always good to stop and chat to see what you might learn about the path. In this case, it was a group of friends from Chicago heading east to, well, somewhere. A bit like us. They seemed up to the task and we rode on. Later in the day tbough we stopped for water at the first convenience after the desert flats and the three riders were there. They had back tracked too and must have passed us while we’re napping with the chipmunks. Now we are a small group riding The Slingshot back towards Carson City. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Middlegate Station to Carroll’s Summit and Back.

Riding the ACA Western Express Bicycle Route.

We spent a quiet Saturday hanging around the roadhouse. Rami played pool when he could and we drank lemonade on our “tab,” and watched the comings and goings. The main event of the day was a gathering of Corvettes from Reno. They arrived driven by members of a driving club of sorts. The members pick destinations and then visit them en mass. Each destination therefore is carefully vetted (hehe). In some ways, this is a quite honorable thing to do. It is after all a group of humans sharing an interest–even if it is one that is quite noticably contributing to rendering the planet uninhabitable for other humans. It being satur-rest-day though we were in a good mood and I was determined to see the good in this sort of thing. I told Rami that in truth, I would probably go check out a Mini rally if such a thing were to happen near us, and he agreed. Plus, it was sort of cool to see so many–maybe 40 or more–of the same sort of car filling up the parking lot. We hoped to see a North Dakota plate, but no luck, and just to be contrarian, we devoted considerable time to walking around and admiring the one old white station wagon parked amidst all of ‘Vettedome. It felt Dada. We noted that in many ways this was no different than going to an art gallery (except of course the dust, the crushing heat, the smell of exhaust, and dodging the cigarette smoke). It is true though–these vehicles are at least some people’s epitome of design and that is indeed art. I know it when I see it. Jeremy Clarkson had this to say about Corvettes in general and the 2014 Stingray in particular. Interesting in a Clarkson way.

My good humor was crumpled a bit though when two ailing old guys in Corvette T shirts (let’s call them Hacky Nicotine and Man With a Tube Up His Nose) at the next table started talking about the speeds they like to attain, and were sharing tips on how to handle the road at 200 mph. I hope this was just posturing, but it is pretty distressing to think that these fuel addled consumer maniacs might be careening down a highway not too far from here. Tube was concerned about staying on the road on curves but Hacky assured him that it was best to always straddle the center line. Tube had never tried that he said–and let’s hope he never does!

Eventually, the owners of 40 odd ‘Vettes’ finished up their burgers and shakes, and the aged driving couples slowly and achingly reinserted themselves into their expensive environmentally destructive conveyances and rode off to seek the Fountain of Youth elsewhere. I assume it offers up both regular and premium. Old people today, what are you gonna do!

Later in the hot day though our friend from Friday rode up behind his five identical brown mules. His arrival caused quite a fuss and people came out on the porch to watch. Clarkson reads the ‘Vette as a symbol of a driver’s allegiance to the right of the American political spectrum (such as it is). He may well be right. How I wonder would he interpret a curiously worded messages of X-tian evangelical fervor block printed onto the canopy of a pair of horse wagons? By way of contrast–and I had to look this up–the average horsepower of a ‘Vette is about 575. The wagon had 5 mules and we can probably rate each at 1.25 HP per mule. That means that the ‘Vettes represented a total of 23,000 horse power, or 18,400 Mule power. To match its engine, each ‘Vette would need a team of 460 mules to pull it, likewise, the wagon would need a team of 460 mules to be as powerful as ‘Vette engine. That team would be about 4600 feet long, or .871 of mile in length–a mile of mules! Food for thought indeed.

The Mule Driver turns out to be a guy named Boehmer who began his wandering in Ohio and has not stopped in close to a decade. Fans surrounded him when he came out of his wagon and he had a little flyer he was sharing. He seemed to like chatting with folks–especially the kids–but he had to tend to his mules. They waited patiently for water and fodder and after a while Boehmer moved the whole party down to a dry paddock for the night. When we set out this morning, the mules were free ranging in good order near the wagon camp. Seeing Boehmer on the road was very heartening as I said–mostly in that it was good to see others moving along in a non-gas-powered manner. Boehmer remembered us riding with him on Friday andappoliged that he had not been able to reply to our greetings in good form–the passing cars were too loud. The point I think is that in this world of cars, drivers are all anonymous–just people speeding by in metal shells. You notice the others traveling at lower speeds though.

We woke early on Sunday and had a quick oatmeal, grits, and tuna breakfast. We planned to follow the 722 road since it seemed more scenic and had water. I am a bit gun shy after Dry Friday, and so the promise of water along the way was too good to pass up. And at first we were right. We had our first shade in a while as we entered one of the most beautiful canyons I have ever seen. Free ranging cows scampered onto the road while some galumphed away–the dead one at the road side though just stayed where she was though. But things began to go bad early–about ten miles into what needed to be a sixty-four mile ride. It seems that someone a Middlegate Station took it upon themselves to remove the two bolts that held Rami’s rear rack onto his seat post tube. It is hard to imagine that the bolts both decided to simultaneously loosen and fall out all on their own. No–this had to be someone’s idea of a prank. The two bikes had been locked up on the porch next to our window so I have no idea when this might have happened. But happen it did, and all of sudden Rami’s whole rear carriage was dragging behind him. Not good. I fixed it with spare bolts but was both pissed and feeling a bit violated.

The next problem was exhaustion. We started the day earlier than usual, and Rami was missing his beauty sleep. The fact of a small breakfast only made the matter worse, and so we paused in a lovely glade by a fresh running brook under some pines and cottonwoods. We napped in the cool shade and snacked a bit before heading up towards the summit. The problem is that once again we hit a long steepness that was too much to bear. We rode and walked, but then we saw the switchbacks–each dealing with more than 100 feet–and my soul died a bit. It was close to 2 PM and there was clearly no way we would make the fifty miles to Austin where the next water was. I hate these moments. What is the right thing to do? Forging on feels right in all circumstances. But at the same time, I can’t ask Rami to push past what is comfortable. But he will usually put on a bra even face making it hard to know the true story. There is always a tension between adventuring and parenting. In this case, my own despair at the steepness of the switchbacks and my water worries were thumbs on the parenting scale. We had chosen wrongly for today and chose correctly to head back to Middlegate Station and the roving bolt thieves. I re-rented our room and tonight we are keeping the bikes in it with us. Tomorrow we will stick to Rt 50 and hope for a better result – albeit in a far less lovely setting. 

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