Monday, October 10, 2011

Additional Pictures

My Nieces drew up a finish line on the day of my arrival!

Proud Parents.




Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Last Day-I Made It!

I just now realized I left everyone hanging. I did make it to Little Rock, or more accurately, Benton. Benton is a suburb of Little Rock. But not many people this side of Marshall have ever heard of Benton.

As I continued down 67 from Arkadelphia to Benton, I saw that the clouds were very gray to dark gray and the humidity caused me to drench with sweat. At least as much as lycra allows. I attributed this and the high mileage that I hit the last couple of days as reason for my slow speed. It took me 2 hours to cover the 20 miles between Arkadelphia and Malvern! The highway was lined with more pine trees than I could count. I couldn't look away from the greenery that continued to open up in front of me, very beautiful.

A few miles outside of Malvern I felt my back rim hitting bottom. Did I have a flat tire? I stopped to pump it up and it held. Had this been the reason for my sluggish pace? Was I running on a low tire this whole time?

Once I got into Malvern I stopped to ask directions to the nearest eating place. This was about 2PM. The good news was that I was only a block away. The bad news-I had a bonafide flat in the back tire.

Being that I was in downtown Malvern on an overcast Sunday afternoon it was not a problem to find an unused parking lot so that I would have plenty of room to change the tube. I also received many offers of assistance from helpful passing motorists and pedestrians. A loaded touring bike creates enough attention on its own-one upside down in a parking lot steps that up a bit. One lady came by and offered help and we had a short discussion about my adventure. Then she added that she actually didn't have a bike pump or bicycle tube and she doubted the Wal Mart would have what I would need anyway. We shared a good laugh about that. Being prepared smooths out such minor bumps.

On inspection, I found a pinch flat in the back tube, so I probably did let the tube get too low. There is not much that is ever a threat to the tubes since I inserted a kevlar tire liner between the tube and the tire before I left.

The first replacement tube developed a tear at the bottom of the nozzle. That was probably due to pumping the air too vigorously. The second attempt resulted in another pinch flat. In other words-an improperly mounted tube. The 3rd time was a charm, and with that I was on my way to McDonald's.

Most every town I stopped in either had a McDonald's or a Subway. Although the golden arches are infamously known for their blatant lack of good food, a grilled chicken sandwich(ask for light mayo)and orange juice is more than sufficient fuel. Their oatmeal is also good. On the day of my collapse at the trailer park in Henderson, I had 2 of these sandwiches, fries and an oatmeal. Normally I avoid fries, but they provide a good source of salt, especially when I am perspiring more liquid than I can possibly take in. It's not Whole Foods, but it kept me going.

I didn't feel my speed increase substantially, and the closer I got to Benton, the steeper and taller the hills became. I would get to the top of a hill and then look over at the next hill. It was like riding the beginning a roller coaster descent and looking at the upcoming riser. I was more than prepared for this test. It was tempting to ask my parents to come get me, but whether they picked up on my hints or not, they let me ride it all the way in which I was really grateful for.

There were many ankle biter dogs unleashed along this stretch that enjoyed giving chase to my rolling thunder. One dog that was on the opposite side of the highway was smart enough not to cross the highway to attempt any attack on me.

This reminds me-a few days earlier in the trip there was a dog of more substantial size that was very interested in expressing his extreme dislike of me crossing his homeland. I used my whole can of pepper spray on him. He was able to recover and came at me yet again snarling, fighting terror with terror. Now that I was out of pepper spray, he must have decided he was straying too far from home and gave up the chase.

There was some difficulty in finding a way into my parent's neighborhood. Even after entering the city of Benton, there was no access road to the freeway. My parents were able to determine that 67 ended up turning into 288 which crossed I30, and eventually circled back to crossing 30 again. At that point I still had to ride into town and circle the square on one way streets to find a road that lead back to where the I30 access road started.

When I first crossed I30 on 288, I rode by an eagle preservation site. There were no eagles, but there was an army of no parking signs on either side of the road. The city had to do this because they were afraid that the crowd of people that would assemble there to observe the majesty would drive the birds away. The signs themselves, spaced out about every car lenght would have made a great picture, but it was getting to be very late afternoon/early evening, and so my priority was to get to my parent's house.

Shortly after that was a bridge which headed back in the direction of I30. The late afternoon sun was shining through the trees and cast a beautiful light on the last few minutes of my journey. My concern throughout planning and undertaking this adventure-was this crazy? Was I being reckless without abandon? Possibly. But this moment seemed to communicate somehow that the universe was smiling on my accomplishment and that my Higher Power was issuing a beautiful stamp of approval on what I had done.

I had further difficulty navigating my parent's neighborhood. They had me come into their neighborhood the opposite way that I generally drive into it because there would be much less congestion this way. With a few phone calls I made the final approach to my parent's house at the end of the cul de sac. I wish that I had used my camera to capture the moment I saw my family-mom, dad, sister and 2 nieces jumping up and down at the end of the block cheering the successful completion of my trip. This will be forever etched in my memory. It was at that moment when my dad took the following picture....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 8-Into Arkansas

I woke up at 8 and only took an hour to get rolling. After eating breakfast at a local diner, I rode 35 miles to Hope, the birthplace of Bill Clinton.

Budget Hotel in Texarkana was where I stayed the night, and I have to say that without exception, locally owned hotels are the way to go, especially if you are watching the bottom line. For around $40.00 I was able to get a sort of homey bed and breakfast feel at every local hotel I stayed at. Plus, the person that checked me in was always the owner instead of someone that probably isn't living the dream. The beds and furniture were nicer, the ac was colder, the towels were better, etc. The chains at this price range always give me the impression that they are running close to the bottom line, skimping out on these things. You may have to go more into town depending on the layout, but local is defintely the way to go for something like this. And generally, the 'town' is not the McDonald's and convenience stores that are built next to the freeway.

At Clinton, a girl that knew how to operate the GPS on her phone told me it was only 88 more miles to Benton if went via I 30. So it was decided that I would ignore the funny Arkansas sign that prohibits cyclists, pedestrians and parades.... I was able to get away with this for about 35 miles, and then a local trooper pulled me over to tell me to take the next exit and get back on 67. I have to say that 67 is a much more scenic route, quieter, compared to the truck and traffic heavy I 30.

That is the first time I have gotten pulled over on bicycle by a policeman.

Just before my run in with the law, I stopped at this sign:

Sent this to a manager I used to work for to show him that I was going to make it. This was the exit I had to take to satisfy the officer.

While I was here a truck driver on the other side of the freeway had pulled over and was trying to engage me in conversation. This was pretty impossible because of the trucks and traffic going by. I crossed the median to go over to where he was. He could not believe I had come all the way from Austin. He thought I was making it up. Then he asked me if I was homeless(!). I said, no, I work at Dell. Well then he thought if I worked at Dell then it would stand to reason I would have someone following me by car. Some cyclists travel that way but I chose not to do that.

Eventually we parted and I was back on the road. Had the run in with the officer and took that Gurdon exit to Hwy 69. It was a much better route, as I stated before. These two routes demonstrate the tension I feel while cycling-I like to cover to most ground as much as possible, but 67 really allows cyclists to better appreciate the beauty that our mode of transportation allows. This is one reason why I don't take many pictures.

That and my loaded bike takes a bit to get going after I stop.

One more thing. After arriving in Arkadelphia I ate at this local Mexican restaurant by the motel. I asked the waiter if he was really, really, really hungry what would he order? Without pause, he recommended this:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Day Seven-82 Mile Day

Stayed in a hotel last night. Woke up at 9 and left at 10:53. Progress!

If I didn't make some significant mileage today, I considered my Sunday deadline for arriving in Arkansas in jeapardy. So I pushed myself a little bit harder and took fewer breaks. The temperature never broke 80 degrees, so I took advantage of that for all it was worth and made it from Marshall to Texarkana. As I pulled into town I stopped at a very good Chinese buffet and was able to load up on veggies and fruit as well as all of the other things that were there. With just over 100 miles to go, I decided I would see if I could get it all done the next day.

When I first pulled into Texarkana, I stopped at a convenience store to ask directions. I met a member of the Texarkana High School football team who had seen me in Henderson on Thursday climbing one of those crazy hills while they were going to Henderson to play a game. He was beside himself that we were talking today! Budget Hotel in North Texarkana, just off I 30. I am now in Arkansas!

Day Six-Mileage Isn't Always The Thing

Is it unfair that I didn't want to leave the comfort of Don's RV Park? But as Don said has I left, 'you have many hills to cover and many more miles to go'.

Onward and upward.

I couldn't make myself write about Thursday's journey that night after arriving in Marshall, because I was disappointed that I had only hit 44 miles out of an expected 70. But there were some other gifts that made it clear to me that those 44 were just what I needed.

In Tatum, between Henderson and Marshall, I had made a stop to refill on water. My bike was always a sight to see and it had attracted the attention of Peggy, a neighboring shopkeeper next to the store. Peggy was a very outgoing and funny lady who thought I was a celebrity equal to the likes of 'Girls Gone Wild'. The wild girls bus had stopped across the street from her store once and the whole town came out, including her. She was the first and only person on my trip that wanted a picture with me, so I got one with her as well. We had some fun talking for awhile, and this gave me some new found energy to keep on going.

Perhaps our photo is hanging on a refrigerator or wall somewhere next to one of the wild girls.

About 10 miles outside of Marshall the wind started blowing and I knew that the gathering storm clouds were about to break. Fortunately, I was on a bridge that went over a road. I couldn't find an entrance ramp to the road like you would normally expect to find, so I rolled my bike down the grassy embankment, across a small ditch, and across the road below and quickly got under the cover of the overpass. As I crossed the road I saw a big truck that I took for road construction equipment or a military vehicle, as the road did not quite look finished. A foreman eventually drove by and motioned for me to talk to him. He told me it was a coal mine road. He also said one of those very large dump trucks would be rolling by but I never saw any of those. He had me roll my bicycle behind a concrete barrier and had me get farther up the concrete embankment just in case the bigger truck drivers didn't see me.

A heavy rain with distant lightning did start. While I waited out the rain, I saw that Ms. Judy from the night before had called and had told me that her daughter in law just north of me in Atlanta, TX, had reported getting heavy rains. We made a back up plan that if I got stuck I would call her and have her pick me up. Eventually the rain and lightning did die down and I was able to continue on into Marshall with no further complications from weather.

On a side note, when I had noticed the gathering storm clouds earlier in the day prayed that I would not get a drop of rain on me if the clouds broke. This prayer was answered, but I did get a little bit from road spray from cars going past. I offered no prayer for road spray so I can't fault anyone for that but myself.

Day Five-Collapse and Recovery

When I planned this trip for last September, I called RV parks all along my route to see which ones might offer tent camping. I made a note that Don Harris not only allowed it but offered an unoccupied RV for me to sleep in. When that trip fell through, I had misplaced all the information I had come up with.

I woke up in Palestine at 9 AM and was on the road by 11. Argh. There were lots of hills today and I know that they will continue until I get to Arkansas. I ate much better and had much more energy. Started off with peanut butter. Also had 2 cans of salmon, 3 bananas and 3 apples. The last 10 miles of this 60 mile day were rather difficult. I was trying to get into Henderson, but my legs, my whole body were done. Sixty miles was very respectable considering the non stop steep rollers between Palestine and Henderson. There were several RV Parks along the way, but I had no cash. I finally saw one with a sign that said 'credit cards accepted'. To say I gave in and rolled in and collapsed on the lawn by the closed office sounds a bit dramatic, but is not far from the truth. I didn't lose conciousness. I had intended to call the phone number posted on the sign once I recovered enough to do so but never had to because the owner pulled up while I was spread out on the ground next to my bicyle, with one foot still clamped to the pedals.

It turns out that the owner, who offered one of his vacant RVs was Don Harris, who I had talked to last year. Because of the many RV Parks along the way, it was coincidence enough that I had turned into his. And then when you consider that if I had made better mileage the day before, I may have skipped Henderson altogether. We had an interesting discussion about spirituality, his very ill wife, and how he came to be where he was and how we both agreed that how we treat people along the way is more important than anything else we might accomplish in life. I was honored to be one of those people today that he helped. He also had Ms. Judy, one of his assistants, run me into town so I could eat. I was only about 4 miles out, but I knew I couldn't go any further. When I got back from doing laundry, in which 8 quarters I used were those were from Don, I saw that Ms. Judy had placed a blanket outside the door of the RV.

Fourth Day-Bonking Towards Palestine

Bonking is a term that cyclists and runners use to describe what happens when your body is short of the energy it needs to for you to accomplish what you are doing. It is like having your blood sugar get too low. Symptoms are crankiness, lethargy, not feeling like doing anything, and not being willing to admit that immediate replenishment is needed.

This happened to me today. I did eat, but not enough for the work I was doing. Apparently, when you are riding a bicycle cross country it is ok to eat pretty much whatever you like and as much as you like. I eat very healthy most of the time so I had to remember to change my eating habits in proportion to my what I was doing. After a long day with not as much progress, it was 9 miles outside of Palestine(palace-teen)when became aware as to what was going on. I ate a can of salmon, some peanut butter and took a nap under an old beautiful oak tree by the side of the road. When I woke up Whitney Houston's 'Somebody Who Loves' me was playing in my head so I felt that was a good sign.

Total of 45 miles today, and staying in my tent again at an RV Park. I can hear nearby trains and trucks from the highway, but I fall asleep quickly.