TransAmerica Cycle Blog#4: Coal rolling to the river...
Hello again friends, supporters and sponsors. The journey continues, and will finish here :). I'll pick things up from Breckenridge, CO, where I had stopped for a much needed rest day. The previous weeks battle with headwinds had taken its toll, and I was extremely grateful for some regular food, a massage, and a beer with an old friend. Hoosier pass still lay in wait, but I wanted to savour this moment before this big climb. The Rockies, and especially their Eastern slopes, are famed for frequent and sudden storms. The winds sweep across the Great Plains unchallenged, and hit the mountains, pushing vast volumes of air into the higher altitudes. This sudden rise can yield spectacular results, with lightning, rain, snow and hailstones the size of your fists not uncommon. Thankfully, and remarkably, I evaded all of the above. I don't quite know how, but it did. The weather Gods were truly in my favour, even if I was constantly wondering how long my luck would last!
I climbed out of Breck the next day. Clouds were forming in huge giant columns over my head, but for the moment they held their peace. I could see they might break at any moment, so I pressed on with haste. Hoosier pass was to be the highest of all the passes I would eventually conquer, and effectively marked the end of the Rocky mountains and the start of the Great Plains. My friend, Dave had been slightly affected by altitude sickness on his drive up from Denver, which made me realise how completely in tune with my surroundings I had become. The effects of my more gradual accent and three weeks of flirting around a continental divide had finally paid off. I finally made the summit, breathed in the achievement, and headed downhill as the clouds closed in behind me. Squalls gave chase, but never caught me. I enjoyed this moment as much as I could, for I knew that it was the beginning of the next and somewhat uncharted psychological test, the Great Plains. It was remarkable to look down from the eastern slopes and see the clear geographical line that divides the vast mass of the Rockies with the Plains. To the east, for as far as the eye could see, was simply nothing, just a flat landscape, devoid of all features and running onto a distant horizon where the earth met the sky. I pushed on knowing the downward ride would add distance and momentum to my journey, travelling well into the night and arriving at a campsite near Pueblo at 11pm. My GPS clocked 150miles that day! I guess that I had been somewhat spoiled in terms of scenery up until this point. Every day was different, every view varied, the weather changeable (but kind), the people generous and friendly. The Plains were opposite in almost every way.
For five days a battle raged in my mind, consciousness and spirit. Tedious straight roads, a line heading ever Eastward. At least that part was constant. Service stations became few and far between, and of these, the food on offer was limited to that doused in sugar or deep fat oil. The Pains were a bleak culinary minefield, far from the healthy protein-rich calories I needed to sustain my assault through this featureless wilderness, but calories nonetheless. The grid network of roads offered little alternatives, and I simply had to stick to the route and take what came along. Sometimes I would cycle for hours without turning, without speaking to anyone, just lost in my own little world. It was tough in a way I never imagined. I realised how important human interaction is to our mental and spiritual well-being. Friends and family sometimes kept me entertained with quick calls from home. They were a great break to the reality of my situation, and really helped me stay focused on the task at hand. I followed my line, sometimes almost hypnotised by the shimmering air as danced above the asphalt. On occasions a moment of natural beauty, the rising moon, it's glowing sphere rising majestically upwards from the distant horizon, blood red. It was an incredible and moving sight to witness. Lee, the cyclist I met at the Colorado border, warned me that Kansas was a brute, and so it proved. The headwinds he had had battled through flipped 180 degrees, and they nearly brought me to my knees. I fought their resistance over every mile with my own, head lowered, teeth gritted. I camped under a bridge, in a church, and in a host of other unusual confines, often riding well into the night to remain in touch with my goal. The drivers here respected the cyclist a little more than I had anticipated, however I still had a few frights from lumbering freight beasts! I eventually made it to Missouri, where the tedium was at last broken at Golden City. It had taken 5 days to reach it since my descent from the mountains.
Flat lands gave way to rolling hills, and these rolling hills soon became the Ozark Hills, and the Ozarks are a force to be reckoned with. The Rockies had a few short and sharp slopes, but in general, the passes were long, gentle and continuous. The Ozarks were short, sharp and brutal. The headwinds to my relief, abaited, but they were replaced by my first dose of humidity and I spent three further days in almost complete saturation. It never relented.
My fitness showed during these tough times, and despite the hills and the pouring sweat, I felt good in my body. The routine was really helping, and I was soon through and heading towards the Appalacians. As I left Missouri I seemed to pass through a small band of true redneck country, where every pick-up truck I encountered seemed to claim righteous ownership of the road. I got ‘coal rolled’ a few times, which is an american term for some seriously antisocial behavior. Basically the driver will drop their (illegally modified) engines into neutral, and as they come side on to you, put their foot on the gas and belch out huge clouds of toxic excrement. It takes the word mindless to a new level...! Thankfully Missouri became Illinois, briefly after crossing the Mississippi, and then the Ohio River into Kentucky. Crossing that famous river was another important geographical milestone for me, for I could suddenly feel as if the end was in sight. Kentucky proved to be a state of two halves; the affluent west with its lovely brick or cladded houses, and the poorer east, characterised by caravans, delapidated sheds and rusting cars. It was interesting to pass through, however the poverty was an eyeopener. Unfortunately with the poverty came a new menace, dogs. Many of the rural properties had dogs, some small, some large, some quiet and some loud. Most took a keen interest in cyclists, and prior reading had warned of dogs attacking cyclists as they rode past. There is nothing more daunting than the sound of a low bark in the darkness. To then turn your head torch in the direction of the sound and see six sets of beady eyes pearcing back at you and moving quickly towards you. I had many chases, and in the end I opted to stop and confront - even if everything inside me was screaming the opposite!! I eventually passed through, unscathed.
By this time I had already relayed the information to Julia, my girlfriend, that my targeted finish date of the 8th October was extremely unlikely. We had made prior arrangements to meet me at the finish line, however these relaxing post ride plans would not materialise. I would be doing well to finish for my actual flight home on the 14th, let alone make it there on the 8th! It is a testament to her character and patience that she embraced my predicament and became my mobile supporter for the final State. We met just outside Virginia and she drove ahead along my route, ensuring I had company and that I would be suitably fed at the end of each day. Her support really kept me going just when I was beginning to waiver. The hills continued until Borea, where they became the Appalachian’s. The sting in the tail. As fate would have it, Hurricane Michael made landfall on the 10th October, wreaking havoc in Florida before tormenting other eastern states on its slow orbit north. The humidity I had earlier experienced was a result of this huge weather system, and thankfully I was two days too late to be seriously affected by the winds (which would have stopped me for sure!). But in their absence, I got rain. My first rain since Montana - which was quite incredible! So my weather dance came to an end and I got a complete and utter dousing for three days. Rivers flooded, cars were abandoned, and my GPS stopped working! I was close enough to the finish that I could work out the way, however it was a little unfortunate.
The relentless hills continued into Virginia, and proved to be another tough mental test. Having cycled 3600miles to this point, it was almost as painful to then count down the final 500! After a fast start on one of these days, I had my first mechanical failure just outside Wytheville. My main gear cable snapped in the shifter. I had a spare, however I lost a little time addressing this issue in a McDonalds car park! :) My handywork held, and I then made a beeline for Yorktown which was two days away. A long, final descent prevailed and the forrested hills opened out into rich farmland. I skirted around huge sink holes, fallen trees, snapped phone lines, and other debris that bore all the hallmarks of an area that had been battered by a hurricane. I eventually made it to Yorktown, where I ran out of road. I arrived on the 14th of October at 13:08pm, placed my front wheel into the Atlantic Ocean and sucked in the feeling. 4100miles. Unsupported. 10 states. 105miles per day. 168093ft ascent. One tyre blow out. One hurricane. One mechanical failure. £8,300 raised for Anthony Nolan (so far!), 24 potential stem cell donors signed up (so far!). It felt really good.
In concluding, it is still yet to sink in quite what I have done. But I know I could not have done it without the support of you all. My girlfriend Julia, mum and her partner Tim, family, friends, supporters, donors, you have all helped me through the dark times and with that I could share with you the moments of true beauty. I know that the money we have raised and the potential donors we have signed up will help to save or support somebody's life. I am extremely greatful to you all for your generosity, extremely thankful to have been given the chance to fulfil one of my dreams, and incredibly lucky to have completed this ride without any major incident. People have asked me why I did this ride, and I had plenty of time to think about it! There are many reasons, but the main ones are listed here. I rode for my mum and her fight, to show how much it means to me to still have her with us after such a long battle with cancer. I did it for Mark Quinn, her stem cell donor. You can never truly thank someone who has saved the life of a family member, but I hope this goes some way to expressing my gratitute to you Mark for your selfless decision to sign up, and I hope too that this story may be an inspiration for others to follow what you did. I rode in memory of my friend Tom Watson, who sadly died from Leukaemia at the age of 30, six years ago. Tom, I am sure, would have loved to have been part of my journey. I did it for everyone who has battled through, or is currently fighting the disease. These battles are not faught alone, and there are many families facing uncertain times. I hope this ride will build upon the amazing work other fundraisers are doing in extending awareness of blood cancer and also the raising money to help the cause. And finally, I did it for Anthony Nolan, to say thank you again and to help them promote their incredible life saving work. Blood cancer will remain with us until we find a cure. Every penny and act of support we make is a step towards that cure, so thank you for everything you have given. If the only thing it did was to make familiar the name Anthony Nolan, then I am happy. If it has been inspiring, then I am honoured. If it has made you donate, or become a potential stem cell donor, them I am truly humbled. I am sure to l return under the alias of supermarrowman at some point... but for now he needs a bit of a rest! :) Thank you. Micah