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.

Third Day-On To Fairfield State Park, 72 Miles

From September 19, 2011....

It turned out to be a good thing that I did not get to set up my tent. Rain, lightning and trains woke me up last night. I slept until 9 AM. Didn't leave Franklin until 11. I have no idea why it takes me so long to get everything together and to get rolling. Went to the store to stock up on bananas. A girl that worked in the deli filled my bottles with ice. She said, 'have a nice ride!'. She had no idea. Met an 84 year old man in good shape who said that he dances with 8 women every night at a local bar. The reason so many? He wears them all out!

In Marquez(French, pronounced 'Mark-ee')I met a lady at the local convenience store whose father in law is a cyclist, and she was checking out my bike. I told her about my idea to go up to Fairfield State Park via 75 from Buffalo to Fairfield. She said the ride would be real pretty up there, and that was the first greenery I began seeing on my trip.

When I got to Fairfield, I had in 60 miles for the day. I was told there it was only 5 more miles to the park. In all, it ended up being 8 to the park and another 3 to the campsite once I was there. A difference of 6 miles may not seem like much in a car, but on a loaded bicycle after a long day, I decided that from now on I would add 5 miles to whatever future mileage estimates I would be given.

The park ranger was very helpful getting me checked into the park. I was a bit delirious after my ride and he was ready to go home. But a few minutes after I got settled into my campsite, a car drove up. It was him and his son, who had gone into town to get me a plate of steak fajita tacos and some Gatorade in a plastic Sunny D bottle. The bottle will be put to use to hold ice throughout the rest of the trip. A real trail angel.

It was already dark riding into the campsite, and I set up my tent this way. So that I would be able to find my tent from the bathhouse, I hung my red safety flasher from the middle of my tent. It looked very erie from a distance but I was able to get back to my site in the dark.

And so here I am, surrounded by nature, and I can see every star in the universe. I was having some fun with some raccoons earlier. But while I took a shower they tore a hole in the mosquito net of my cheap tent. I started growling at them and they left me alone. There eyes make them look lovable, but all they want is as much food as they can get and they seem to be interested in mine. I noticed a large bite missing from a package of tortillas I bought once I got back in the tent.

I've got the cycling down good, but I need to find a better way to organize my gear. Every night I go through all my bags looking for what I need and now my tent is a mess. But it is in the low 70s at 11PM so am looking forward to a good night's sleep. I will need it because the last 6 miles to the park was downhill, so I get to start tomorrow's ride with some climbing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Second Day-Franklin:Middle Fingers and Thumbs up

Thank you for everybody who is reading this blog. I am a couple of days behind in my postings. I am trying to get caught up. Some of that has to do with internet access in the places that I'm accessing to update my blog. Some of it has to do with the way I have to enter text into my phone. I am a terrible typist on my phone especially for the amount of text I'm typing. So I am using a voice to text feature on my phone. I write out at the end of the day my reflection. Then I speak that into the phone, which takes my voice and translates that into the written word you see. It is not a perfect system and I have to go back and make updates and corrections to that which I have spoken into my phone. This is a bit time consuming.

These events happened on Sunday.

When I pulled in to stay at the Country Inn in Rockdale last night, I felt a little guilty that I didn't try too hard to find a place to pitch my tent. But I just decided because I thought I might play at Allen AME church this morning I needed to get cleaned up and be presentable. And I had some thoughts about not going to church because since services started at 11 I knew I wouldn't be leaving town until early afternoon. My connection with Allen is with Andre, the head music minister I play with at First Baptist Church in Lockhart. He played with Allen AME growing up and his mother and family still go there. Andre said they might need a musician and the church welcomed me with open arms and prayed blessings on my trip. It was a huge shot in my arm and encouragement that touched my heart. I can't believe I thought about not taking that step of courage. If that was not enough, they also took up a collection for me after church. Allen AME blessed me in so many ways, and I thank you very much for all of your unexpected gifts.

I ate at the Subway in town and several people asked about my trip. I ended up leaving at 2 o'clock. The thermometer registered 104. Thirty miles from Rockwall was Hearne, a town I used to travel through going between college and home. The town has really developed over the years. I remember when there was nothing by the overpass and now there is a McDonalds and many other small town type retail stores. To eat dinner at the city park would have meant going over the overpass and back over again so I gave up some comfort for a shade tree at the side of the road. And I received a fine display of someone's third finger who was driving a pickup and a horse trailer. Sorry that I cannot conjure up sympathy for you if you pull up behind a cyclist at a stoplight and then get mad when I can't go faster than 17 miles an hour fully loaded. Go ahead and honk at me, see how that works out for you.

On the south side of Franklin, there is an rv park called 'RV Park'. I went up to the office and though it was closed they had a number to call. I called the number and I asked the lady that answered if I could tent camp there. But she responded that she had no place available for that. Beautiful lawn though, lady. Anyway I asked her if she knew of any other place because I was losing light. She suggested Rockdale. Now I had already told her I was on a bike on my way to Arkansas, so regardless of the fact Rockdale was the city I just came from, I wouldn't be able to turn around and make it there by the time the sun went down. So I firmly believe my "are you serious I'm on a bicycle" response was justified. For some reason my keypad locked up on my phone so I couldn't do a dramatic hang up. Instead I struggled to pull the battery out of my phone to end the call. As I went back down the driveway towards the main road to continue on into town, I decided to get a picture of the rv park sign for internet bad mouthing. She got the last laugh however. I was standing in an ant bed while I took the picture. I found the local Pioneer Motel and Horseshoe Cafe for 39 dollars, a Sleep Inn or a Best Western for 100 dollars. You do the math as to which one I picked. The receptionists at the chains looked at me as if I was a homeless person off the streets. The person who checked me in at the local place was the owner and a very nice person.

While I settled in my room, I was unpacking my bike bags. I found that my body spray was not closed and had successfully expended itself in my toiletries bag.

I am making good time. Out of 480 miles to cover uncover I have 7 days ago, so I am ahead of schedule.

Thanks to the guy in the red truck outside of Franklin who gave me the thumbs up, and the ambulance driver and the woman who waved. You guys keep me going. But someone please let me set up my tent!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

First Day-Rockdale, TX

Thanks to 'Contact Info' for the comments on yesterday's article and for coming along with me on this ride. I have heard that name before but can't remember where.... I can't seem to leave comments on this blog from my phone, but I always welcome any feedback or questions anyone has and will address them in the articles. I know that others are also following this as well.

Woke up today at 5:45 AM, got out of bed an hour later. After some cleaning up I left the house about 9.

I decided to leave directly from my house and I got quite a few stares and hellos and some nods of approval in my neighborhood from cyclists and drivers alike. My bike is quite loaded down-four bags, a tent and a sleeping bag. There was also a group of female roller skaters going the other way. The weather this morning was humid and in the low 80s, it got up to over 103 around noon. That was when the wind stopped. It's been blowing all summer long and it just stops on my ride today. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The first part of my ride didn't seem unusual as it included my work commute. I actually stopped by work to turn my out of office on and refill my water bottles. There were the usual angry drivers along the way. I didn't begin to feel the reality of what I was doing until mile 48. At that point there was a good chance I wasn't going to be spending the night at home.

Five miles from Rockdale I turned into a rest stop for some refreshment. And I found myself caught in a rainstorm that seemed to desire to make up for its long summer absence from Central Texas. Just when I thought it couldn't get more intense, then the wind picked up which stretched the limitations of my humble picnic canopy and caused me to consider that I might need to spend the night there or get washed away by floods. Or get struck by lightning. None of that happened and was thankful I was where I was when it happened and not on the road. It seemed a huge deluge not having the relative shelter of a car. But this is what I came here for. A closer connection with the outside world. I am getting that and the sense I am being taken care of.

Because I may play for my music minister's home church tomorrow here in Rockdale, and also because I don't care to chance the rains tonight, I decided to spend the night in a local comfy hotel. I have the rest of the week to experience more adventure.

One other thought-not much to do here in these little towns, but I will probably be horizontal at the end of each day so it may work out just fine that I am not in the Grand Canyon or LA or someplace like that.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Day Before, Final Preparations

When I got off work today I was like a spring that had been sprung. There were many final preparations to be completed today before I was ready to go. I didn't want to be in my car speeding towards my destinations, I wanted to be on the other side of it all, completed and done and ready to go, in bed and and awaiting the morning in sleep. As I took a break of sorts to get a book that I wanted to read during my trip, a fear came out. Where will I sleep each night? So much about a cycling trip is spiritual. Anyone can ride a bike. But can I trust that I will be taken care of and live in the moment I am in instead of the wreckage of the future? This is why I am doing this. The cycling is secondary. An adventure is an adventure because of the unknowns. I have 480 miles to learn this lesson and many more.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Riding From Austin, TX to Little Rock, AR-By Bicycle

I've been cycling since I was a little kid. I began to get more serious when I got into BMX racing back in the late 70s. I was sponsored by Hall's Bike Shop in Big Spring, TX during that time. If anyone knows Tony Hall or any of his family please let me know. Above is a picture I took this year of the shop in Big Spring that Hall's occupied.

At 13, cycling provided me a way to relieve stress and the freedom to wander away from my home and see the world beyond our house. If not the world then at least the immediate neighborhood and miles of trails on the side of the hill we lived on.

In college I bought the 89 Centurion pictured above. It is sitting next to a 'No Bicycles On Sidewalk' sign. I rode it for a few years until I got plantar faciatas in both feet. A 16 year break from cycling followed. Then I decided I was ready to re-enter the world of cycling. It was only two years ago that I bought a mountain bike for riding in Austin's beautiful Greenbelt where I was able to recreate my childhood joys. This led to me deciding to rebuild the Centurion road bike last summer. Encouraged, I bought a new fully accessorized Surly Long Haul Trucker in February of this year, which now has 2200 miles. The picture below is of this bike sitting at the McDonald's in Mustang Ridge, TX, between Lockhart and Austin.

After reading the transcontinental cycling adventure books 'Riding With the Blue Moth' by Bill Hancock and 'Momentum Is Your Friend' by Joe Kurmaskie, I was inspired in 2010 to do my own long distance ride. Austin to Arkansas would be the logical choice since my parents live there. An ear infection and a cold that I caught two weeks before I was supposed to leave prevented that trip. Although I was disappointed by this, in the long run it was for the best. When that 20 year old bike was redone the wheels were not rebuilt. Before I could put 500 miles on that bike, those 20 year old spokes started breaking. This was without any traveling load on the bike. If I had not gotten sick and had attempted the trip on that bike I would have never made it. This and other reasons made it necessary for me to get a better bike for such a journey.

This coming Saturday morning, I am attempting it again on my new bike. As is suggested by the name, the Long Haul Trucker is built for long distance riding. It is designed to carry 200 lbs of weight in addition to the rider. I won't be carrying that much weight so I expect no problems.

I plan to follow this route:

My current plan is to update this blog from my smartphone and announce on Facebook when I do. My Facebook website is https://www.facebook.com/#!/C3Hamby