Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Valley of Fire

Riding the "Valley of Fire" Nevada state Park June 24, '09. It was only 110 but a dry heat on this ride thru the park. Ms. Vickie and Dan took the picture of the sheep at the Mouse's tank. Beautiful and rugged countryside made for a great ride even with the heat and big hills to climb.

Long Haul Trucker Stalls and Quits but doesn't die

A brief introduction:

A little background info before I bore you completely with my latest tales of the road. About a year ago I decided for my 65th birthday to set out on an extraordinary adventure, navigate by bicycle from somewhere in the upper Northwest of the USA travel diagonally across the country and end my sojourn in Key West Florida. Hey, you gotta have big plans when you live to be 65. When I was young I thought for sure I’d never make it to 35, you can imagine my surprise to not wake up dead on my 35th birthday. Now I don’t know why God has kept me around for so long but since he has I’m trying to repay him by doing what I can when I can for other folks who deserve a helping hand. Thus, as part of my big adventure in the summer of 2011 I will ride not only for myself but for the benefit of one of my favorite charities yet to be named. Ok, now you have a short background of how I arrived at today’s tale.

I normally ride a Specialized S-Works Roubaix carbon fiber bicycle it’s like having a Ferrari Sports car with a Volkswagen engine when I’m the one powering it, weighing in at a whopping 15 lbs. This is the same bike that a number of the pros, Tour D France caliber of rider, ride and they average 25-27 mph while I do about 15-17 mph. Hey its still fun to ride. Needless to say this is not the kind of bike one uses to ride across country carrying personal gear for such a journey. Therefore, I purchased and outfitted a Surly Long Haul Trucker; this bike is easily capable of carrying 500 lbs, geared to allow one to climb mountains or walls if one is into extreme sports. Alright! I got the right bike for doing what I want to do. I just had to check what it weighs with my gear, came in just over 105 lbs add another 215 lbs for me and I’m still almost 200 lbs under this bikes carrying capacity, piece of cake. I’m ready to go anywhere

Now where should I go for my maiden trek? Gees that’s a no brainer, I live at the edge of the foothills of the Ozarks so if I go SE from home I can get into some pretty good hills to see how well the bike and I work together. Checking out a map I select a route going East to Stockton Lake for my first day, about 55 miles, continue on SE to Willard, another 55 miles. Ah, Willard that was the starting point for one of the MS Rides I did two years ago? I emailed the MS office in Springfield and they emailed me back the route from Willard to Joplin, alright that’s only 83 miles, good choice you’re on a roll Frank. I do remember that Willard to Joplin did have quite a few hills, ah never fear it will be my third day out I’ll be ready for the challenge of those hills. Alright fourth and final day I’ll ride N from Joplin to home, another 60 miles, with luck I’ll have a nice tailwind from the south to propel me home in all my glory for having completed my first self contained trek. There it is a sweet 250 mile, give or take a few miles, loop around SW Missouri.

I wanted to depart Monday June 14th but decided to hold off as there was a forecast for showers Monday evening clearing out by Tuesday morning. Did I ever mention this part of the Country is nicknamed Tornado Alley? Well the showers turned into severe thunderstorms with sustained winds in excess of 70 mph, golf ball size hail possible and the of spawning several tornados in the area of my trek. Tuesday morning comes and the weather radio keeps broadcasting the Stockton area under severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings and I guess at least one was sighted. Man, lucky I had enough common sense and held off my ride until after the storms passed. It was two in the afternoon before the storms cleared out making it a little late in the day to attempt to ride 55 miles on a bike loaded with gear, on my Roubaix it would be a piece of cake but I’m treading in the unknown here.

Thus, I decided it would be wise to have nephew Dan drive my rig and me halfway to Stockton. Ummmm, that doesn’t set well with me but why be stupid. Hold your tongue, only Ms. Vickie can get by with calling me names unless you’re itch’ in for a fight. I’m not as dumb as I look.

Dan dropped me off at the Jct. county road E and Hwy 97, just past a little wide spot in that you would have swore was in movie set of Deliverance. Quick sidebar here, one of my stroke of genius ideas last Saturday I went to Wal-Mart and picked up one of them child safety flags on a whippy pole, removed the orange safety flag and attached a good ole’ USA Flag just to let the good ole’ boys know I’m a good ole’ boy, too. It worked better then I could have ever imagined as all cars and trucks would slow down and move to the extreme far side of this very narrow road without a shoulder, some even gave me a good luck honk after they passed and everyone gave me a friendly wave to boot.

Back to my quest, it sure is hot and humid out, wonder what the temperature is? Dan tells me the gauge in the car is registering 94˚ with this humidity, quick calculation in my head equates it to be somewhere near 110˚ for a heat index temperature. I’ve ridden in hotter condition it’s still a go. See ya in a few days.

Whoaaa, hold on Dan I need to rearrange the front pannier, that’s like a daypack for bicycles, I’ve managed to only go about 50’ when I discovered this little problem. Did I mention I’m a quick learner? Sometimes, like now, it’s kind of easy as the front wheel was pulling me out onto the roadway rather quickly. I think I need to put that single front pannier on the right side of the bike, sure enough now the bike pulls hard right. Instead of taking this pannier off, I have to keep it on because it has some of my clothes I’ll need a few days from now. Besides I have to learn to live with a few hardships while on the road. Once again I tell Dan, l see you in a couple days. Wait a minute you better take a picture of me on this bike for memory sake. Why are you going to die? No I’m not planning on dying. I just want a picture to commemorate this first ride. OK, so finally after three attempts I’m on my way.

Stockton Lake State Park here I come, it’s only a mere 25 or so miles I’ll be there easily in a couple hours. Alright here comes my first hill. Whew that was a bit more then I anticipated but hey this bike is geared for climbing and it did just fine, it’s the engine powering it wasn’t quite prepared for the high RPM’s he’d have to pedal to keep going. I spent most of the winter months riding and indoor spin trainer and got my pedal strokes to average about 100 RPM but I know I just exceeded that during this first climb. Kind of leaves you breathless. At least I can coast down the hill. Opps no time to catch my breath here comes another hill and another and another and yet another. Whew, I didn’t expect this many hills so close together, this could be a roller coaster ride but for the fact I’m unable to swoosh up the next hill, its all a continuous grind. Boy do I wish I had my Garmin computer on this bike to check my heart rate. I’ve been known to get my heart rate just a tad over 220.

For you that don’t believe I can get my heart rate that high, yes I can. A couple doctor friends told me I better get myself checked out so I did last winter. You know all the stress tests; treadmill, nuclear something or other and a 24 hour heart monitor. Finally, several thousand dollars out of my pocket later a Cardiologist’s clears me as being one of he lucky few folks who can sustain a high heart rat. His advice keep riding my bike and come see him if I find I can’t breathe during exertion. Maybe I’ve come to that day today?
I don’t have a Garmin computer on the Long Haul Trucker but I do have a basic bike one. Ah oh, I can’t see my bike computer from the saddle of my bike.

Oh well, I’m not stopping until I’ve ridden at least an hour, that’s only another half hour from now. After all I can go out on my S-works and ride two, three or more hours without stopping, I can tough out an hour on this beast even though it’s a 100+ lbs heavier. Finally I’ve put in an hour, just up ahead there is a gravel road I’ll pull off and rest a bit. There’s a utility truck there doing some work on a transformer, too as well as an elderly lady talking to them. I roll up, stagger off my bike and down a whole bottle of Gatorade, then hang my head over the saddle of my bike dripping sweat profusely. The lady walks up to me asks, “Where you coming from”? Nevada but I only started at the 97 junction. “Well it looks like you got caught in that thunderstorm we had this morning about 11:30. It sure was a doosey, 70 mile an hour winds, I’ve got grapefruit size dents in the aluminum siding on my home, guess a tornado touched down between here and Stockton, lots of trees down, power lines, these guys are fixing the transformer. They tell me there are lines down all over the county”. You want to come over to the house, cool off and have lemonade”? To that generous offer I reply, “Sounds good but I don’t want to let my joints stiffen up and I just drank this bottle of Gatorade, I’m good to go. Thanks anyway”. With that I climb back on the Surly and pedaled off. Ten minutes later, I wish I had taken the gal up on her offer. Part of this trekking thing is to visit with folks as you go, make new friends. Oh well I’ll do better next time.

Rolling into the little town of Stockton sure enough I see limbs across the streets, guys cutting up fallen trees and utility workers feverishly working to get the power back on the downtown area, all of half block in each direction. It’s like the whole town is out working on cleaning up the debris. I pedal on, winding around fallen limbs as I go. On the outskirts, which happens to be only a few more blocks I see a Sonic. Oh man, strawberry limeade that’s just what I need. The Sonics now have steel picnic table under the front canopy so I’ll be able to get some shade while I have a drink. “I’ll have large strawberry limeade, no make it a Route 44 size”, I tell the young lady on the intercom. Forty-four ounces of the coldest sweetest drink I’ve ever enjoyed. After downing most of my drink I notice one of the car hops is wearing roller skates just like in the old days, wow and she’s really tall, must be near 6’ and fit. She reminds me of what I’d envision an Amazon woman would look. She must be a basketball or volleyball player. I can’t resist, I’ve got to strike up a conversation, say missy how far is it down to the 215 junction, I already know the answer but am pleasantly surprised the young gal tells me 4 miles. “Where you heading”? Stockton Lake State Park, I answer. “That’s a great bike ride, nice rolling hills, great view of the countryside, you’ll probably see deer and turkey and the lake is beautiful blue. I ride it every chance I get on my bike. I bought a hybrid for riding at MU up in Columbia. I’m a sophomore there. I’m home for the summer, working here and living with my folks. You look pretty beat, are you sure you want to ride the rest of the way to the park”? I can call my folks and ask them to let you stay at our place tonight”? Wow, I don’t think she took a breadth while rattling off all this information. Maybe I’m wrong and she’s a debater. My son can talk this fast. I decline the offer, ask the gal her name. “Sandy”. Sandy thank you that is very kind of you but I’ve already made a reservation at the State Park Marina lodge for tonight. To which Sandy quickly responds “Well, I know it’s not in the code of bike riders but I could call my folks and they can come and get you and take you to the park, the last mile to the Marina has some good hills”? Thanks but I’ll make it. With that I mount up for the last 11 miles to the Park, wave good bye to Sandy and push off. Wow, I’m thinking the first two folks I meet on my little trek are just like those I’ve read about and been told about by other touring bike riders.

Folks are friendly to touring bicyclists. What a great Country we live in folks care about one another and are almost always willing to lend a helping hand. I know there will be exceptions, somewhere sometime but not today. For today, I’m happy to meet the good ones.
The last 11 miles is beautiful, just as Sandy said it would be, and I forget about the grind of the hills even that last mile to the Marina. Of course the Marina sits on the water and the duplex I’ll be staying in is at the top of the hill, a rather steep hill. Upon entering the Marina I discover there is old couple, Harry and Mary running the place. Striking up a conversation with them I learn they operate the Marina concession for the State Park during the summer. Then they go down to winter at a Florida State Park, snow birds. I’m envious of their life style and wonder what the heck am I doing having a business of my own, I should live this way. Better yet, I should become a bicycle hobo and spend the rest of my days on the road. My irresponsible subconscious is telling me, “Yea, now you’re talking Frank get out of the rat race and enjoy yourself on the road, alone and free”. I tell myself to shut up and grow up. “Never mind” my mind replies”. Gees, maybe the sun has fried my brain already? Whatever get up that hill boy.

Yep, I rode my Long Haul Trucker back up that hill to the duplex you thought I’d walk it up, didn’t you? The duplex is like half a cabin, when I open the door to it, first thing I feel is cool very cool air-conditioned air. Ahhh! This is nice and much bigger then I thought it would be. A sitting area, with a bed that folds out of the wall, reminds me of my very very young life living in a one room apartment in Chicago, my parent’s bed folded in the wall during the day. Most of the furniture is cut from logs, have carved deer, turkey, bass, walleye and various birds. I suspect the furnishings are the handiwork of some of the Mennonites that live around this area, they do really neat stuff like this. There is a small kitchen with stove, refrigerator, microwave and all the dishes and towels and etc. Last but not least a separate bedroom , with a great bed, that felt so good to lay my weary bones upon. Better get up before I crash, only have an hour ½ to take a shower and walk back to the Marina for dinner. Cleaned up feel great, step outside and remember its 90+ degrees out with almost 100% humidity, welcome to summer in Missouri. By the time I walk back down the hill to the Marina my clothes are drenched again, including my wallet which I was also foolish enough to carry in my bike jersey instead of in one of the many bags on my bike. I wonder if they will complain taking dripping wet money at the Marina. That was no problem I told the young lady taking the money I fell in the lake earlier, so she’s not afraid to touch the money from and old sweaty fat guy’s body. Oh that’s OK, we get wet bills all the time the many tourists and fishermen who pass thru these doors. I check out the menu to see there is a very limited selection mostly burgers, hot dogs and of course breaded tenderloin and breaded chicken tenders and breaded this and that typical Missouri fare. Ok, so I’m not going to get to carb load with spaghetti tonight, do you serve alcohol I ask the teeny bopper waitress to which she replies, “You can only buy alcohol in the Marina”. Well give me a cheeseburger and an order of Suzy-Qs. While my order is being cooked I walk back in the Marina to find the beer cooler, there it is beer but only by the six-pack or larger. I guess I’ll have to get my carbs from a few beers. So I get a six pack of Mich. Ultra and head back to the restaurant. I ask if it’s Ok, if I take my burger out onto the dock and eat. The little gal says, “Sure lots of people do that”. Thanks and I’m out the door and cracking open my first beer, it goes down almost in one swallow. There’s a little breeze and I’m sitting at a picnic table in the shade enjoying watching the huge carp and catfish at the docks edge with their mouths gaping and bumping into each other looking for a handout, I toss in a piece of my bun and you would have thought I was on an Amazon river.
Those fish attacked the bun like piranha in a feeding frenzy. I feel like a kid again that was cool. I spent the next several minutes absorbed feeding the fish and downing another cool one or two. When I finally turn around, I see a couple guys have set down at the picnic table across from me. “Oh, hi there”, I say.

They nod and say something like “Howdy”. These two guys look like they just came off the set of Deliverance. I swallow feeling a sudden dryness in my throat and all I can think about is the line, “make you squeal like a pig”. Slowly checking these two characters out, I decide to start up a conversation and ask, “What you boys up to”? To which the skinny one without front teeth says, “Oh we jus come down here to cool off after cuttin’ firewood”. I notice they too have a six pack of Budweiser, that’s pretty much what all the locals drink in Misery-ouri, so don’t bother to offer them one of mine besides I’m already on the fourth one of mine. We sit there looking at each other, the water, the boats and the fish. Finished my sixth beer and decide to go inside and get another six-pack and bring it out. I offer them one but they refuse as they have somethin’ better, where upon the stockier of the two pulls out a brown pint bottle with no label on it. “We make this here ourselves, you want a try some”? I shrug and say no thanks, I’ll stick with my beer. For the next half hour we make small talk about nothing, then the skinny one leans over to me and says, “you wanta know what we’s really here fo”. I’m thinking to myself I hope not what I’m thinking you’re thinking of doing to me. Again with a tight swallow in my throat I ask, “Sure”. “We’s her to catch some of them fish after the place closes”. Whew, what a relief they weren’t thinking what I was thinking they were thinking. “Say” I ask “didn’t I see a sign saying no fishing from the dock”? The skinny toothless one smiles and leans over to me and quietly whispers, “We don’t read non and it don’t matter what no sign seys anyway”. Oh that’s cool, I finish off my 10th beer and decide its time to head back to the duplex so these boys can get on with their fishin. As I’m leaving I lean over and whisper to them, “good fishing”. All the time I’m walking back up the hill I keep looking over my shoulder to be sure I don’t have unexpected guests following me. First thing when I enter the duplex is lock the dead bolts on the front and rear doors and check to make sure all the windows are locked, at least I want to slow down any unexpected visitors.

After checking the doors and windows, I notice there is a small flat screen TV in the room, which I turn on and discover the 9:00 Fox news is on and the weatherman is saying tomorrow is going to be the hottest day so far this year with the temp in the mid to upper 90’s and with the humidity heat index near 110” Oh yea and he added the wind will be blowing from the south at a breezy 25mph. Such good news, I’m heading south tomorrow. I’m going to bed and hopefully wake up to discover my 10 beers caused my hearing to be impaired.

Well have to say, 10 beers and pedaling 25 miles on a fully loaded bike up and down hills, I slept like a log. When I rolled over to check the time on the alarm clock it was 8:10 and the sun was up and bright as hell. After taking a shower, I stepped outside to almost being bowled over with the heat and humidity. Guess it’s time to revaluate my route. Looking the maps over I see I can ride almost directly south from Stockton to Sarcoxie about 50 miles away. Doing this would be no harder then going to Willard but would cut off more then 40 miles for my third day’s ride into Joplin. Yep, that’s what I’ll do. By the time I get my gear loaded back up on my bike, rode it down the hill to the Marina it was 9:35AM by the time I started today’s ride, a little late to get started. The temp had to be near 90˚ already and the humidity near a 100%, great. Oh well, maybe the road will begin to flatten out as I go south. This turned out to be wishful thinking on my part. More and bigger hills awaited me. 45 minutes into today’s ride and my heart is going to pound right out of my chest if I don’t stop.

At the top of yet another dastardly hill I see a nice tree shaded knoll to take a break. I downed a full bottle of Gatorade, a power-bar and a Salty bar for energy, finished this off with a handful of Jelly Bean Sport Beans, there that should give me the energy pick-me-up I need to continue to ride. Oh yea, in my haste to get moving this morning I decided to forgo having breakfast as I didn’t want to climb the hill out of the Marina on a full stomach. Big mistake, I’m not taking in the carbs or right calories to sustain the energy required to ride in these conditions, idiot me.

Checking my bike computer I discover I’ve only traveled 5 miles in 50 minutes, that’s not good I hoped to average at least 10 mph. Yesterday, to my surprise I had averaged 12 mph. So today heading into a 25 mph headwind I thought I’d be able to maintain the 10, did I mention I’m an idiot? Well in my defense I thought there would be fewer hills. OK, so I am an idiot. Let’s be nice myself, I’m not an idiot, I’m an optimist. Well I only have 45 more miles to go directly into the wind so I better suck it up and get moving. Another 4 miles and I stop to enjoy the beauty of Lake Stockton as I cross another bridge. As I’m looking around I see my next bridge only about ½ mile away and perpendicular to this one, that’s cool. Then I look past that bridge and see a rather long uphill climb ahead of me. “Don’t panic” I tell myself the hills will be done by the time I get to Greenfield another 9 miles down the road, ended up being 11 miles. By the time I reach Greenfield I’m stopping to rest every 1 ¼ mile. Oh yea, it did flatten out the last mile into town. I need something to drink. Don’t go thinking I’m not drinking enough I used to do lots of scouting and always preached to my boys to stay hydrated, which I do too as I’ve already drank about a gallon of liquid for the day and it’s only noon. I stopped at a little drive-in diner, there’s a nice shelter with picnic tables behind it. I order two large limeades and an order of fried green beans, as well as a large cup full of ice for my hydration pack. While enjoying this nice break from the road, I decide maybe I need to rethink my route choice yet again. It’s still 27 miles straight south to Sarcoxie battling a 25 mph headwind, which riding against is like riding up hill all the way, throw in the hills and I think maybe I need to cut this first mini-adventure even shorter. I check my maps and sure enough I can go two miles south and pick up Hwy 160 west for 48 miles then I could head north with this fantastic wind on my tail instead of in my face. The downside Hwy 160 is heavily traveled by all sorts of trucks going fast and very little shoulder. My US Flag worked yesterday it will carry me again today with traffic, I hope. I’ve got a plan and I’m going with it. Besides I’m also feeling a bit more then a little guilty as Ms. Vickie isn’t happy with me for deciding to take a few days off to ride my bike around the Countryside, so this latest change of routes will get me home two days earlier. She and I have drastically different ideas of what’s important this late in life. She still works all the time, while I work only half the time and enjoy myself the other half and that’s the final word. That’s my declaration but I still feel guilty knowing she’s working and I’m playing. Doesn’t this trek sound like loads of fun? It’s the endorphins I seek, the outdoors, the challenge of pitting myself against well myself.

Decision made, for the third time I’m changing my trip plans and heading west at Hwy 160. I’ve taken a good break, eaten and drank and feel exhilarated to get moving again. The road for the next two miles to Hwy. 160 is relatively flat and I’m riding at a pretty good speed, and low and behold I even get a pretty good down hill run just before the 160 junction, life is great. That is until I turned onto Hwy. 160. OMG-WTF!!! The Texting generation will know what I’m saying here the rest of you will figure it out. Noooo, this isn’t fair. For before my eyes there is a hill a very long hill; I estimated it to be a mile at least. Coming to a stop, I just stood there shaking my head how can this be Hwy 160 is relatively flat, at least it is from Golden City on but that’s another 13 miles from here. Finally after several minutes of cursing to myself I set my teeth together in total defiance I’ll be dammed if I’m going to let this latest hill whip me.

I checked my bike’s computer mileage, wanted to be able to verify how long this hill really is, and off I charged with all the energy of a mad man gone berserk, which I think I am by now. At top of the hill, my heart pounding as if it were trying to escape through my unzipped jersey, I pulled off the road to check the mileage on my computer. Yep, I was right 1.1 miles from the foot of this hill to the summit I knew I could judge distance.

A let go a big sigh of relief I had made it to the top without stopping or walking. Now I need to catch my breath, too tired to dismount I just stood there straddling the Surly, my head laying over the handlebar, tongue hanging almost to the ground when a couple in a SUV drives by, they slow to a stop and back up to check on me. The lady passenger rolls down her window and I feel the cool air coming from the interior of the SUV and the sweet smell of her perfume, I think for a moment I must be on the road to heaven. I’m brought back to the here and now when the young lady asks “Are you alright”? To which I reply, “Sure, just trying to catch my heart, it’s trying to escape thru my chest”. She asks” Do you want a ride”? No I’m OK, I just a need to have a discussion with my body for a few minutes. To this she and her husband, I guess he was, shake their heads in unison, and say “OK, you be careful. This road has lots of trucks going fast on it”. Thanks and they were gone. After downing yet another bottle of Gatorade the lactic acid burn in my quads is settling down and I set off to the next hamlet, Lockwood six miles down the road. Well the hills weren’t as steep making it into Lockwood but the headwind I thought would ease up now seems to be coming from the southwest, which means I’m still battling a headwind. I’ve had one car and one huge grain truck pass fairly close but everyone else has given me a wide birth, yes the USA Flag works.

Like many of the little communities in Southwest Missouri, Lockwood isn’t much more then a wide spot in the road. It did have a convenience store, which I immediately rolled into as my body was revolting against my mind. My body is screaming “stop, stop, stop or I’m going to kill you you ole’ fat fool”. I dismounted and stumbled into the little store, it felt more like a walk in meat freezer they must have had the AC on full force. By the time I paid for a 24 oz coke and a bottle of ice cold water I was shivering and thankful to go back out into the heat. Nice, right in front of the store were three wrought iron benches which I immediately laid my spent body in one. Then I begin thinking, I’ve only covered 31 miles today and I need to go another 30 miles west before heading 24 miles north. That’s it, I surrender to my body’s plea for my sanity to call it quits for this trek and call nephew Dan to have him come and pick me up. He’s been up in K.C. getting an oil change on our van is now on his way back and about an hour and half drive from me. That’s good I give him the directions to find me and tell him I’ll keep going until we meet up. Come on body we won’t have to ride, at most another 10 miles.

Just after hanging up my cell phone a guy rides up on a Honda Goldwing dismounts and is heading inside to get a cup of coffee. Who drinks coffee when it’s in the mid 90’s? I tell him, “Nice ride, looks like its brand new”. Where upon he immediately stops in front of me and says “ Nope it an ’88 with over a 100,000 I ride it everywhere, even take my handicapped wife on it with me. Built a rack on the back of it to carry her wheel chair, we go to Bolivar, Springfield all over the area she enjoys getting to ride with me: He extends his hand “afternoon my name is Gary how’s your day going”. I lied to him and replied, “Oh its going great just decided to enjoy a little break from the road. My name is Frank Briscoe I’m from up in Nevada, I’m taking my first self contained road trip”. Gary says, “Yes, I see you have a nice ride there, yourself. I ride a bicycle most everyday but I only do laps around the neighborhood, get tired pretty quick in this weather”. Over the course of the next hour Gary and I get to know each other like old friends getting reacquainted. Gary is about 5’8”, slender build with a muscular frame, styled white hair and groomed mustache, obviously well educated and looks about my age he definitely isn’t from this area.

I’m thinking to myself he was a politician but never asked. I guessed he pumped a little iron so I did ask him that. Yes he confirmed but with a Bowflex machine. Along with walking and jogging were all part of his everyday activity as well as taking numerous vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Gary had grown up in Lockwood, moved away when he went off to college never thought about the town again until he decided it was time to retire in 1996.
I asked, “Did you say 1996”? Gary replied, “Yes, I was living in Florida and thought about returning to my roots, came to Lockwood checked it out figured I could live here for a fraction of what it cost in Florida so I moved back. Only trouble is all my friends from those early years have passed away, now I’m friends with their sons, daughters and grandchildren. That’s what happens when you get to be 75”. I did a double take on that one, “75, I guessed you to be about 65 at most, you sure are taking good care of yourself”. I figured I’d spent about as long as I should with my new found buddy Gary, though we probably could have continued on for a few more hours as I found him to be a most interesting fellow but I needed to stretch my legs. I got up put my helmet, gloves and hydration pack on and mounted my bike to ride away. Before, I shoved off Gary asked one last question, “How do you manage to ride that bike with that belly of yours”? I thought just when I thought I’d met a perfectly nice guy he has to go and ruin it all by telling me I’m fat, be it in a round about way. To which I smiled, shook my head and replied “Oh, I’ve been this way all my life and I’m just used to carrying a spare tire around my middle. Gary, take care and you have a great day”!

I’m still shaking my head about Gary’s last comment a mile down the road. Well he is right, I am fat and I have let myself gain back 20 pounds since Deer Season last year, I’m sure that’s part of why I’m dragging my butt today. Then again I ask myself did God send Gary to slow me down so my body could rest a little longer, maybe. You see I didn’t go much more then another two miles when my body stopped sweating, a distinct sign I was in a state of heat exhaustion. Slowly I rolled to a complete stop, I needed to cool down and get out of the heat quickly but I still have a mile to go to Golden City and there’s no shade in sight, this is bad. No more then these thoughts were rushing thru my mind when I see a Ford van approaching, yes it’s our van Dan’s at the wheel and though I can’t see him I know God is his co-pilot. Lord, I’m truly a believer yet again you have saved me from myself.

Now that I’m back home, I’ve come up with a list of excuses for ending my first self contained bicycle journey short of my goals. Here they are; 1. I picked the hottest days with the highest humidity so far this year. 2. I had a 25 mph head wind to battle with all day. 3. This is the first time I’ve ridden a bike weighing in excess of 100 lbs. 4. The fit of the bike needs some fine tuning. 5. My route choice had many more hills then I realized there would be. 6. The hills are much closer together not allowing time to recover. At least when I ride Red Rock Canyon in Vegas or Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, there’s a nice downhill reward after the steep climbs to the summit of those beasts. 7. Oh yea, Gary reminded me I’ve gained 20 lbs since last November and need to lose them. 8. Maybe I was a little too ambitious for my first self supported trek. 9. The engine on my bike needs an over-haul its 63 years old running on only 5 of 8 cylinders.

Epilogue: What did I learn from my first self contained trek? Next trip I’ll go somewhere flatter, in cooler temperatures, be sure the bike fits better, cut my mileage per day to about 2/3 of what I think I should be able to do, lose that weight I’ve gained the last 8 months. You might say, I’m say I’m going to do a little tune-up on my body and equipment. Will I still plan to ride across the Country? You bet, unless the ole’ body gives out on me I’ll be on the road again. After all my Long Haul trucker just stalled out and quit on me it didn’t die. As Toby Keith says it in one of my favorite songs, “I ain’t as good as I once was but I’m good once as I ever was”. To all my friends now and those I’ll meet on the road, I’ll be seeing you somewhere down the road.