30 April 2008

Rest Day

I woke up a few times in the nights to the sound of what I thought were dogs but was told by Nick (last night's host) in the morning were coyotes! This state park has brilliant showers and toilets (better than some hotels I have stayed in) and so I was able to clean up before hitting the road. Today is a rest day for me (apart from a 20 mile trip into Carbondale) and so I have taken my bike into the wonderful people at "Bike Surgeon" to give it the once over and to check out my gears which are still skipping a bit.

I have gone done got me a room at a big chain hotel up on the strip mall end of town which has a washing machine, dryer and swimming pool, so I am planning on swimming, washing and generally chilling for the rest of the day before striking out for Missouri tomorrow.

On yesterday's post I forgot to mention a nice bunch of guys I had lunch with yesterday just outside Eddyville. They were a team of tree surgeons that I had passed on the way up the beast of a hill I mentioned, and when they finished they joined me on the picnic table outside the service station / diner type place close to town. Having complained about how expensive their lives were in the US, they couldn't believe how much we pay in London for housing, petrol, cigarettes and beer and so whilst they would rather work in our cooler weather, they couldn't stomach the financial cost. Also, apparently up in Montana and the North West of the US, tree surgeons working on Giant Redwoods have to camp out in the trees overnight as they are so big!

They left me with the advice that if I find a tick on me then I shouldn't just kill it but I should remove it, bag it up and label where it was from so that a doctor would have a better idea about how to cure me of its nastiness. This scared me somewhat!

The top photo is of Crab Orchard Lake which I ended up next to today, having got a bit lost again on the way into Carbondale. Off to do nothing for the rest of the day :-)

29 April 2008

Trail of Tears

Last night's motel really was bad - it was only $30 but the bed cover had moth holes in it, there was a giant spider in the bath which I killed quickly, the TV barely worked, when I turned the lights out I could hear scurrying sounds suspiciously like cockroaches and the shower didn't even work having killed its protector!

I got up at about half six and hit the road soon after on the way to Elizabethtown. After 10-12 miles down a gravelly track more than a road, I made it onto what is known as "The Trail of Tears". Back in the early 1800's when American settlers headed west into Illinois, the Native Americans (Red Indians to us Brits) were progressively shifted off the land. In 1839 about 14000 Cherokees were kicked out and forced to move 800 miles to modern day Oklahoma through this part of Illinois. Short of food and held up by floating ice in the Mississippi, over 4000 of the Indians died, hence the name Trail of Tears.

Anyhow, history lessons aside, I had a tasty breakfast in Elizabethtown at Ms Lizzy's restaurant which was pretty much in the front room of their house but all good. The ride to Eddyville was good apart from one monster of a hill which spoilt the ride a bit and then I headed on for the last 30 miles or so to Goreville.

I pitched my tent up here in Ferne Clyffe State Park with a few giant wasps dive bombing me, and then had to repitch it about 20m away when I stepped back onto an ants nest which aggravated them somewhat. Winding down for a dull night with a book and a stick of beef jerky, I got chatting to a couple with a dog who were walking by, who invited me over to their trailer (giant motorised caravan thing) for dinner. They were a relatively young retired couple called Nick and Christina Daley from Ann Arbor Michigan with 3 kids in work or University and seemed to be enjoying life with an empty nest. After some good eating and some chat I have headed back to the tent in the dark which was scary with some of the creatures that probably live out here and am off to bed now.

28 April 2008


At last! Kentucky is behind me after far too long. The riding has been tough, the area run down and the people pretty inhospitable with some pleasant exceptions for which I am grateful :-)

Some tough roads and hills did their darnedest to slow me down but by tea time I had taken a pretty ferry ride over the Ohio river from Kentucky to Illinois and was in new territory. Psychologically crossing a state border makes a real difference as it counts in your head as tangible progress beyond the day to day map panels you get through.

Despite some bitchy hills starting within the first 500m of today's ride, I made really good time, grabbing a pulled pork bbq sandwich at a tiny town called Beech Grove where people seemed to be stopping in for lunch at 10:30 in the morning. I sailed through to Clay where I got directions out of nowhere(I was looking at my map in the car park of the bank when a booming voice came telling me to turn left! It was a drive in teller at the bank through a microphone but it terrified me at first).

I stopped at a Mennonite school in the middle of the countryside to get some water and they all seemed a bit confused by my accent and purpose. It took a while to explain that I didn't want motorcycle repairs, just some cold water. They looked a friendly bunch otherwise, lots of kids in Amish style clothing with big black hats like orthodox jews (although my budgie smuggling lycra shorts probably looked just as silly to them).

Through Marion and onto the free ferry across the Ohio river, and I got to my destination for the night - Cave in Rock. This is meant to be a big tourist draw but to be honest it looks like a one horse town where the horse died. My motel is scabbersville but I was too tired to push on to Elizabethtown so I'm planning on getting straight to sleep and getting up at silly o'clock to hit the road.


A good day's riding yesterday resulted in a 90 mile trip to Utica in Western Kentucky. The Appalachians are now firmly behind me although there are still plenty of hills to get through for the rest of the state. The last 12 miles into Utica were quite mean in so far as at first glance it looked like a nice flat country lane and I could see myself coasting into town but it turned out to be a rollercoaster set of gradually larger hills all the way to the end. I have crossed the timezone border into "Central Time" now and so am now 6 hours behind the UK.

Utica is a pretty small town with no hotels or fancy shops but I had the chance to stay at my second fire station of the trip. Lots of these small towns can't afford to run full time fire stations and so have volunteer outfits, manned by the locals. Back in Mineral, Virginia on my second night, they had a really fancy station with a gym, several beds, showers and TV room. If I was a local, it would make sense to join up in order to have your own social centre!

The one in Utica wasn't quite as grand although I was allowed to kip inside and even got a mattress which is nicer than pitching a tent up again. At the shop/service station/pizza shop combination building, I grabbed a pizza and bumped into two other cyclists who are doing the same route as me! We exchanged dog stories, Larry tweaked my gears for me and it was nice to have some fellow transam riders to chat to.

The fire station had a washing machine which was much needed and they had a cold shower but there was no light in there and I saw too many spider webs for my liking with my torch so I'll live with being smelly for another day.

The top photo is of some Amish folk who live in this area - there is a large Amish community in the area and so obviously there are less cars and more horses and carts as they don't use electricity (all a bit like that Harrison Ford film, Witness. Anyhow, I'm heading for the border with Illinois today and will hopefully have time to post about today's journey tonight.

26 April 2008


I don't really like Kentucky. It doesn't help that the Eastern half is incredibly poor and so looks like a cross between a series of ghost towns and a scene from the Beverly Hill Billies.

The riding itself is pretty rough with endless hills but the weather has been turning wet with intermittent showers followed by bursts of sunshine.

The bane of my time here in Kentucky is dogs. For some reason their hick owners don't lock them up or train them to behave and so you constantly have to try and outpace them when they come tearing out at you ferociously!

I have pepper sprayed about 8-10 hounds so far although more often than not they recognise the sight of a wielded spray can and back off. The biggest pack I have been chased by is 5 beasts which scares the hell out of you!
The photo above is of a good dog who came racing after me but just wanted to be my friend and run along beside me. When I got to a hill and slowed down he did the same and stopped to get his breath when I stopped. I felt sorry for him when I went to take his picture as he winced in expectation of being pepper sprayed so he must get it a lot.

Anyway I am camped up in a town park near Hudson KY for the night and we have light rain which isn't fun. Hopefully staying at another fire station tomorrow if I get the miles in - Sundays seem good riding days as the roads are deserted.
As a brief after-thought I was thinking how best to describe the areas I am going through as they are a world away from the big city US that and most people know. Whilst riding today I twigged where these towns reminded me of - Rambo I (First Blood). They are just like that town where Stallone kicks off and having been in Kentucky for a few days I can see why he did!

24 April 2008


I woke early after a good rest on Wednesday and was out of the Interstate Motel by half six into a really chilly and foggy morning so I had my leg warmer lycra trouser things on within 5 minutes.

Pleasantly I made it across the state border in about 3-4 miles, all downhill, which continued to my breakfast beef jerky stop! Everywhere I stop seems to lack any fruit apart from raisins (which are becoming a staple of my diet) and so I have the choice of crisps or jerky or snickers bars.. I am doing well and sticking to my 'no fizzy drinks' rule which I have been on since January although it is getting tough when you stop for food and they don't serve juice so you are stuck with water..

The rest of the day was uneventful apart from the usual high speed encounters with pick up trucks and lorries until just past a town called Bypro when I managed to get hit in the back by a lump of coal from a passing coal truck on a descent down a hill! I had no idea what it was at first as it felt like I had just been punched in the back but when I got to a safe place to stop I saw a black mark on my shirt where I had been hit. I mentioned this in the next town and apparently coal lorries contantly spill lumps into the road (I have seen a fair few pieces along the way) but I didn't expect this!

Anyhow, I made it to Hindman by teatime and pitched the tent up pretty quickly and was off to bed with lots of insects and beetles crawling around on the outside of the tent :-(

Today was a pretty relaxed day of riding - lots of rollercoaster hills which I am getting more confident with racing down in order to maintain some momentum. I guess you have to strike a balance between being cautious and having a tough climb so I hope I have found a happy medium. The only scary part is when you race down a hill and go through an exposed area ie with no trees either side such as on a bridge as then you get hit with a cross wind that comes out of nowhere and knocks you a foot to one side or the other.

No fun filled adventures to speak of today other than more blazing sunshine which I thought I had left behind in Virginia, although apparently we are in for storms tomorrow so I am B&B'ing it tonight rather than having a wet tent in the morning.

22 April 2008


Today was the shortest day of the trip but one of the most painful in terms of climbing. It wasn't too sunny which was nice although there were bursts which made it through the cloud and added to the burn on the back of my neck.

I spent the whole morning climbing at about 6mph up a series of switchback hills (they keep doubling back on themselves) and drivers were far from friendly if you edged out into the road where they wanted to pass.

I had resigned myself to this being a Hobbes day - nasty, brutish and short and all 3 were achieved since I was done by lunchtime. Having paid my one dollar to get into beauty that is the Breaks Interstate Park I spent the afternoon lying down reading and ignoring the picturesque surroundings, enjoying being off the bike for the rest of the day.

21 April 2008

Road to Damascus

It was a nice start to the day with 20 relatively flat miles in cool morning mist. Everything was spoiled by a little hill called Mt Rogers which killed all the way up and was littered with stones and bumps on the way down. These hills don't even have the satisfaction of a visible peak, just endless switchbacks which prevent you from getting any momentum or steady cadence.

Damascus is a small town in western Virginia which I had planned to go to in order to get my bike looked at by the local bike shop folk as my gears have been playing up. Before I set off this morning I had a go myself and with the help of some pliers seemed to get them straightened out so all Damascus was good for was water which was much needed after the climb up Iron Mountain which drained me on the way in.

Weather was crappy today - rainy then humid and then sunny! It makes it hard to plan clothing although the stops to change were appreciated. Short day planned for tomorrow!

Sorry if the last few days have been a bit dull - I am just trying to get past these mountains and get some mileage in the bank so that I can take my time on the more interesting parts with more to see apart from bloody hills.

20 April 2008

More Mountains

Signal is really poor up in the hills so just a quick update on two fun packed days of pedalling uphill slowly.

Saturday wasn't too bad to start with with a relatively flat first 40 miles i.e like British hills! The second half was little more than a series of big climbs and I think I had tears of frustration in my eyes to accompany the swearing from my mouth as I reached the top of a killer hill only to find another at the top. It can be pretty soul destroying but at least this range of mountains are nearly done.

Today I rode til dark, putting in some solid mileage. There was an abundance of what can only be termed 'critters' on the road. In England we don't really have a term for assorted animals and roadkill so critters will have to do. I saw dead snakes, squirrels and some kind of raccoon thing and manages to avoid riding on any guts! Drivers were a nuisance today with lots of them speeding past without pulling very far out so that you get sucked in my their tailwind type thing.

Dogs cropped up again today and one tried to eat me at high speed, not having spotted my can of HALT which was ready in my map case. I got him in the face and he stumbled away to the side of the road. I just hope he doesn't send word to his pals in Kentucky...

The weather was turning today as you can see from the snap and I got caught in some light showers towards the middle of the day. Good milage though and a satisfying day apart from the stench of cows as I knocked off the last 5-10 miles this evening.

18 April 2008



I had a nice stopover in Charlottesville last night with a cheap and cheerful motel bed and wifi for the first time. It is a really pretty town and the biggest I have been through so far and is largely made up of students from the University of Virginia. The Uni was made infamous by last year's shooting of 32 students by a crazy Korean guy and the anniversary was on Wednesday.

Yesterday I decided to do some kit streamlining as looking at my load, I feared that I had too much 'luxury weight' to be able to take on the mountains ahead. I binned some cheap clothing and mailed some excess electricals back home. The bags are a lot lighter now but I hope I haven't overdone it and left myself short....will keep you posted on that front.

I set off at silly o'clock this morning as I wanted to make a good start on the Appalachian Mountains ahead of me and soon came to a beast called Aftin Mountain. This was painfully steep and so I was glad to be attacking it early before the afternoon sun kicked in!

About half way up I was tempted to stop off to visit 'The Cookie Lady' a famous woman among TransAm cyclists, who offers food and shelter to riders. I had received an email the previous day from the Adventure Cycling Association saying that she had recently had a stroke and so I
thought I would keep my good pace to the top of the hill instead.

About to Climb
Pouring with sweat like a catholic priest on a school bus I headed on to the picturesque Blue Ridge Parkway and then finished my book in the shade for 3 hours to let the temperature drop before the scary downhill ride into the town of Vesuvius.
Entering the Parkway
The name was apt in terms of heat since this 3 mile descent went at such a speed that you have to stop to let your brake pads, rims and tires cool down for fear of them breaking. V.scary!

The rest of the day was relatively flat by rivers with a couple of short climbs before a very late arrival at a cheap hotel for a well earned bed. I think in hot weather it makes sense to split the day like this to avoid the afternoon heat.

View from Parkway