Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
It wasn't raining when I left Gamaliel, only after a heaping breakfast of sausage and eggs prepared by Don, though it was in the forecast and had that look. It was a cool, cloudy morning, but already felt steamy, due to all the rain the days before. Had to go around a long way because a road was five meters underwater.
A couple hours into the day, flat #2, rear tire. Wire bead from a truck tire this time. I would've patched it, but realized I'd lost the rubber cement. Instead, I put the slow leak tube in and kept going. If I got another flat before I could find a tube, a patch kit, or at least some rubber cement, I was screwed.
About an hour later, I was at a truck stop and checked in the auto parts are of the store to see if they had rubber cement. They did! $1.39 and I was back in business, though I figured I may as well wait until the day was through before going to the trouble of patching and replacing a tube.
The day went by slowly due to the relentless Ozarks. No hill went on for more than a mile or so, but there was not a flat spot to be seen. My forearm got plenty of exercise from all the shifting. At the end of the day, the total showed this to be the third hilliest day on record, only after one day in California and one in Utah. Both of them were days of greater distance.
By the end of the day, I hated downhills, because I knew that meant I was about to go up again. The hills only got bigger and steeper as the day went on. At least it wasn't hot, though it was ridiculously humid from all the recent rain, and the sun came out in the afternoon, raising the moisture in the air to a boil. Throughout the day, it was obvious that it was raining to the east, and the weather was coming from the west. Once again, confirmation that the farther east you go, the worse the weather gets.
I mercifully made it into Jasper at 5:30 PM or so. I'd only logged 135 km, roughly an average day, but it had taken several hours more than usual due to the hills. I found a Baptist Church right away, and since it was Wednesday, they were about to have an evening service. I was in luck! Had it been any other day of the week, there would be no one around to ask.
After inquiring for a floor and a ceiling, I wound up with a hotel room! I stayed for the service, then headed over. Spent most of the evening watching a documentary about the Magic/Bird Lakers/Celtics rivalry while I tried to stretch out my sore legs.
The day from Jasper into Dover looked like it went through an even Hillier area, but the elevation profile seemed to indicate less ups and downs - today, the road would go up and stay up, with some inclines and declines thrown in.
The climb out of Jasper was like nothing I've seen since Utah. Steep and long. And while it wasn't exactly hot at 6:30 in the morning, you generate plenty of your own heat struggling up a hill like that. Throw in the 90% humidity and you've got a lot of sweat first thing in the morning.
For the most part, the information was correct, the road stayed ridgeline most of the day, and while there were plenty of ups and downs, they weren't as bad as the ones from the day before. Plenty of good views, though. The surface was good, the traffic was surprisingly light, and I made good time all morning, arriving at my destination around noon. Turned out to be a shorter distance than originally thought.
Mile-for-mile, the previous four days, in the Ozarks across Missouri and Arkansas, had more climbing than any other four-day stretch on the entire tour. More than California, more than Utah, and a lot more than Colorado. Hotter and more humid, too. I'd originally been pointing to Utah, saying, "That'll be the hard part, with the most heat and hills." Wrong on both accounts. But Utah finishes in a strong second.
A noon finish is early in general, and I was worried that my WarmShowers host wouldn't be pleased; some are happy to offer a place to sleep, but not a place to hang out all day. Thankfully, they were happy to see me, promptly offering cold water, a shower, and lunch! Spent a quiet afternoon journaling and skimming one of Finley's books.
Finley was in the process of finishing the Trans-Am in three parts, with only the westernmost states remaining. His kids had had an impressive scrapbook printed from his photos and journals, and he also had a book detailing the history of the Trans-Am route. It was put together to celebrate the "Bike-centennial" in 1976, and Adventure Cycling, a bike touring company, was born out of it afterwards. Adventure Cycling now had dozens of routes all over the country, some short, some long, and they make their money selling maps and guidebooks and also offering guided and supported rides on their routes.
I've thought of being a tour guide, but you have to go to one of their training camps, prohibitively far away, and pay a lot of money to attend. So much money you'll barely make it back as a tour guide, and only if you get assigned to one of their longest routes. Come to think of it, that's a genius system they've got going. The workers pay to get a job, and they get paid back with the same money. You essentially work for free. Better than outsourcing or slavery, because the workers don't even realize they're being exploited, just like an internship.
I've also offered to work at their office full-time, since I could come up with better routes, would go out of my way to include more and better info, have a better idea how a guidebook should be laid out, and with my GIS and web development backgrounds, could probably make better maps and add a lot to their website. They've always been uninterested. Their loss; I'm enjoying the hell out of teaching, and I don't even have to move to Montana. Their location has always been a head-scratcher; is there anyone who likes riding bikes that would voluntarily move to a cold state, where you can only go for a ride 20% of the year? Actually, that might explain a lot...
Christy whipped up a satisfying dinner of chicken, vegetables, fruit salad, and if that wasn't enough, followed it up with homemade peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Dang! Every time I have cobbler, I'm reminded that I should have it more often. Got one of the best night's sleep I've had this whole time and was sent off with a breakfast of bacon, eggs, biscuits, and fruit, with more fruit packed for the road. I barely ate a thing all day.
For the first time since western Kansas, it truly got hot. It was sunny and still humid, reaching 35 C by mid-afternoon. There were still hills, but each passing day, there are a few less. But when it's hot out, they feel worse. Not because your legs are sore, nor because you're out of breath, but only because nothing in your life will make you feel hotter than pushing a 30 kg bike up a hill in sweltering heat.
Once again, I was making good time, in large part due to taking almost no breaks. After what I'd eaten in the last 24 hours, there was no need to refuel. Ran into friendly people all day, who kept warning me about running into rednecks and rough characters, only to meet more friendly people. I like small towns.
Mount Ida was the biggest town I'd seen all day, with a population just over 1,000. I wisely visited the Sheriff's Office since I correctly figured there wouldn't be anyone at any of the churches. One phone call later, I was sent over to the First Baptist Church and told to wait for Pastor Steve Rogers. Yes, Captain America.
Pastor Steve eventually arrived, asked about my ride, then told me to roll my bike down the hill to the trailer behind the church. Trailer, alright...probably still better than my tent.
By "trailer", he meant full-blown mobile home, not an RV with no engine like I expected. Three bedrooms, two bath, full kitchen, shower, air conditioning. Today, that last one was important. The church had it for missionaries and trainee ministers, and Steve figured it would be a good place for me to stay. Works for me!
While most folks in Arkansas have been warm and friendly, it's also been the area with the most audibly angry drivers. Honks aren't common; for one reason or another, the locals favor sticking their head out the window and shouting profanities as they drive by.
Combine that with the enormous uptick in wild dogs and you've got a state that confirms its own stereotypes. It's not clear why anyone bothers to keep a dog that they don't intend to train and allow to run wild. At that point, you don't have a dog, you feed a stray. All it does is cost you money and make an obscene amount of noise at everything it sees. There must be an upside to keeping such an animal around, but in all my years, I haven't discovered one. My only explanation is the owners are as in-domesticated as their dogs and are therefore incapable of bringing them to a level of refinement greater than themselves.
It's a shame, because Arkansas is a beautiful place, and most of its people are good people. A few ruin the atmosphere.
It was humid, as always, but stayed cloudy and threatened rain all day. As a result, it never got hot. Like the day before, there were some hills, but not a ton. Unlike yesterday, they mostly came early. Only halfway through the day, I realized I'd finished essentially all the real hills on the entire tour. Everything from here on out would be flat, with an incline or a short bump here and there. I cruised easy and smiled.
The clouds around me never got too dark, but a particularly ominous one stayed on my right throughout the day. During a break, I looked at a radar map and saw that it was sliding SSE as I was moving SSW. We'd probably cross paths at some point. With about 40 km to go in the day, rain picked up from the sprinkle that had lasted all day and began to fall in earnest. At the same time, the sound of thunder. Here we go!
But it didn't happen. The storm cell stayed to the west, and after 20 minutes, the rain slowed back to a sprinkle, then stopped. I made it into town before 3:00 PM with 150 km behind me, feeling like I could do 80 more. Despite feeling like a mostly flat day, it had over 1,000 m of climbing, a large amount by most standards. After the Ozarks, everything feels flat.
It was Saturday, the hardest day of the week to find arrangements. The best standby, churches, is almost not an option because no one's ever at church on a Saturday. During the week, a minister might be there working, and Sundays there are usually people around, even in the afternoon. But not Saturdays. That day, you have to get creative, or lucky.
I went to the fire station and asked a firefighter if he knew of a church that could help out. Firefighters often know their town well, and since they do a lot of community work, often know all the good folks. Presumably, they'd know who to ask, and since there wouldn't be anyone there, they could call their cell phone.
Instead, they told me to go straight to a church where there was a block party going on. Cornhole, volleyball, giant checkers, ladder ball, and live music that sounded good but needed the volume turned down. I was welcomed from the get-go, encouraged to drink all their soda and eat all their hot dogs and cookies. Turned out the pastor was out of town, but within minutes, I was told I could stay in the annex building, which included a giant comfy couch.
Chatted with a bunch of folks there, told them about Camp Good Sam, got to talk to another math teacher! I couldn't go 20 minutes without someone telling me to eat another hot dog or drink a soda. It's like they wanted to kill me with their generosity. Twice, when no one else was around, someone asked if I needed money for the ride. I politely declined. A place to stay is always helpful, and I'll gladly eat anything given to me, but I'm not trying to shake down people for cash. If I didn't have the means to support myself, I wouldn't do it.
A little later, I wondered if I should've said yes and simply given the money to Camp Good Sam. And while that would be great, it would also be dishonest.
from Western States