Sunday, July 31, 2011

Falls of Cold Beer

Sebree to Falls of Rough 7/29/11

More of Kentucky's green grass and rolling hills. Really, the terrain is not so rough. And of the weather, I would say, there's only about an hour a day now that is seering my flesh. So, that's positive.

Had ice cream in a combination pottery painting place and soda shop. (I'm sorry, I can't get enough.) Nothing spectacular to speak of on the route. Just more cows and horses. Ended up in Falls of Rough. Which sounds like a badly translated phrase that might mean 'come upon hard times', which would be an apt description for the area. Just like the rest of the small towns we have seen in the west, everything has been closed or abandoned. The few stores that are open have a few cans of over priced, dusty peaches in thick syrup. Found a dirt cheap place to stay called the Pine Tree Inn. Remember Clark Griswald's hilkjack brother and his RV dwelling family? That's who vacations in Falls of Rough.

Scrubbed the bug guts off our faces, peeked out our dirty, cracked window to see the pool. Looked pretty good. But we were bummed to see that it was full of people. Oh, are we misguided. If we had known what kind of people we would have found, we would have done a little dance.

We sheepishly slipped into the pool, quickly, to avoid the embarassment we inevitably feel when people notice our preposterous shark belly tans. Treaded water for about sixty seconds before one of the eight people propped on the edge struck up conversation. "Where are you coming from" was immediately followed with, "Would you like a beer?" Ok, we can dig these people. They hassles us for being from Ohio as they are from Michigan. But that tension dissolved fast.

After two beers, I must admit, I was quite the Chatty Cathy. We haven't been drinking at all in the last month or so. The heat and length of our rides pretty mucb prohibit any kind of fun. Just ride and sleep. My tolerance is low.

It is the Decker family reunion. There are 200 people involved. And, the only reason they are staying at our cheap ass motel and not in the resort and golf area across the street is the black mold discovered in their suite that morning.

We are grateful for the black mold. Because it was the catalyst that led to us meeting this wild family. We heard awesome stories about the Papa of the family and his famous mullet that lasted all the way to 2005. After many more beers, that Papa and myself boogied down to bad summer jams, donning wet bathing suits in the motel parking lot. We're a classy pair. Chris astounded everyone with the number of bratwurst he could throw into gravel and then consume. We played cornhole until Julie broke the grill with a mean (and purposeful) over hand.

It took all the discipline we could muster to peel ourselves from the party. The sun was setting, which surely indicates we should be sleeping. We got hugs from everyone and dragged our feet all the way up the stairs to bed like the littlest VonTrapps.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

John and Romans

Carbondale to Elizabethtown, IL

Hot, slow ride to Elizabethtown today. Ended up at a darling bed and breakfast called the Rose River Inn. Stayed in the Rose Room itself. Looked like something out of romantic comedy. A room in which Sandra Bullock might refuse a marriage proposal. Even the lamplight was rose colored. The proprietors were quite something as well. She in a tank top and cotton shorts with cropped red hair. He in Elvis glasses and a Harley shirt. They showed us to their pool. It was all we could do to stand up. So, we skipped it and opted for fried catfish in a "restaurant" on the water. Basically it was a pontoon boat with a roof and a deep frier. It was delicious.

We retired early. We drank lemonade in the nubby blanketed bed and fell asleel watching The Big Chill. In the morning, we were served stuffed french toast, fresh fruit and coffee. (Five dollars!!!)

Met another cyclist named JeanPaul. He had come from the East and this was the morning he had decided he had enough and he was going home. An army man and ultramarathoner. He said it was too hard. He was getting a cab and a greyhound and going home.

I'm sorry, what? You came a thousand miles without a single mountain and you have decided this is just too tough for you? You have a tattoo of running shoes on your calves. I just can't wrap my head around this. Does that make you a pansy or me superhuman? Let's go with the latter.

Elizabethtown to Sebree, KY

Rode a ferry across the Ohio River which took out about a half mile from the ride. Woohoo! Thank god for small favors. And no, this doesn't count as cheating, there is no bridge. It was nice to be on a boat for all of five minutes.

Entered Sebree at a reasonable hour. Pulled into the First Baptist Church, where we had heard tell of a bike hostel in the basement, with air hockey.

We were met by Bob and Violet, the pastor and his wife. Both in their early seventies. Bob jn a perfectly pressed plaid short sleeved shirt and Violet in cute summer cottons. They look like the neighbors of Dennis the Menace.

Bob and his beautiful grandaughter gave us a tour of the spectacular combination youth ministry center and bike hostel. A brand new fifties diner themed kitchen, shower, laundry, couches and big screen tv. Before letting us partake of this luxury, Bob wanted to discuss the book of John and Romans. We glassed over. We had just finished a six hour bike ride in 99% humidity. I shifted from foot to foot. Ten mintues later, he was still going.

"And this number, ya the chapter number
..and that is how you read the bible."

"Mmmhmm. Oh. Yah." I smiled, a squinty smile. The one that says, I love you so much and everything about you, but please let me peel of spandex, for the love of John and Romans.

He let us alone. He told us dinner was at six thirty. Dinner? Oh, why didn't you say so. I LOVE John AND Romans! Showered and put on the least offensive clothes I could find. Which, right now, include a plain white tshirt that is brown in the belly and Northface hiking pants that have been whipped with chain grease. The only way of sprucing up my hair and face is combing it down and matting it against my head and maybe throwing on some chapstick. I feel pretty. Oh so pretty.

Bob and Violet had invited their neighbor Glen over for dinner. Violet's sister also joined us. Dinner was spectacular. Homemade cornbread in a cast iron pan, bacon and bean soup, chicken, corn salad, cantelope and cobbler. Boy, oh boy.

I must admit, Bob's rather dry opening speech was not an indication of the warm and lively tone that was to follow at dinner. Violet showed us pictures and log books of all the cyclists that had passed through in the previous years. People who set out to tour the U.S. on a unicycle, a two seater (not tandem), a parapalegic who had cycled using his hands, a woman who had worked on a farm in every state as she cycled. Unbelievable.

"You have had some truly extraordinary people come through here."

"You are extraordinary, too." She said.

Violet explained to us that Glen had just lost his wife to cancer in May. She told the whole story of the growth of her tumors in grizzy detail. She let Glen finish the story.

"62 yeara we were together. And now she's gone." He cried. I cried. We looked at each other, two strangers brought together in an intimate moment because of Violet's radical honesty. Maybe it was good. Maybe she's smart. Maybe this a good way for people to cope with trauma. I don't know. But now I had my hands on an old man I had never met and we were sniffling together, wiping big fat tears into cloth table napkins.

At the end of the meal, Violet had us stand in a circle to hold hands and pray. Typically this makes me itch. Tonight, it felt good. Felt like family. Her prayers were so ernest and so full of urgency and I had already been crying over Glen's wife, it was all I could do not to explode into hiccuping tears.

"Dear god, thank you for Bob. I love him SO much." Bob closed his eyes tighter, squeezed her hand tighter and mouthed all of the words Violet spoke. After the circle was broken, we all hugged big out of breath hugs.

These people made me feel so homey and happy. I cried all the way to my matress on the youth group floor.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Neither rain nor sleet nor cancelled doctor's appointment

7/26/11 Chester to Carbondale

There she stands, in nearly every town, even those without supemarkets, without gas stations. Typically white or baby blue, most always brick, clean American flag blowing in the (head)wind. A beacon of hope for a weary traveler who is out of Clif bars and motivation. Ladies and gentleman, the post office.

Today contains a story that is another testament to the true magnificence that is the United States Postal Service. In the office at Gorham, Illinois, where I was mailing home a wine glass to myself, I left my stupid credit card. I discovered this fact before trying to pay for a cookie dough blizzard (lunch blizzard). I promptly called Marietta Gerler of the USPS, who I had already had a lengthy and warm chat with that morning. She said, "Oh my, my. I'm so glad you called. I was so busted up when I saw that you had left it."

These people, they get so emotional. Let me remind you a bit of my postal service experience this summer. I have had a package delivered to my bike, on the road, in the dead desloation of mid-Kansas. I have had people bend over backwards to fit things into tiny, cheap, flat rate boxes. I have been greeted, upon entering the post office, in more than one state with, "You must be Lauren Kraft." To which I respond, you must have guessed from my naturally curly hair.
They know, because my package is the only package that has come through General Delivery and has been sitting on the dusty floor for a week.

"Tell ya what," she said, like she was about to tell me a secret, "I'll drive it to ya after work. Will you be in Murphsboro?" I was in Murhysboro but didn't plan to stay. We planned to push on.

"I will be. You would do that? You don't need to do that. You really don't need to do that." But I wanted her to. And I'm sure she could sense that. We ended up spending the afternoon in the library, waiting for the card. We met Marietta at the Casey's combination fuel and pizza place. When she arrived, I half expected her to hand me the card through her window and leave. Then I remembered what kind of people we're dealing with out here. She got out of the car and hugged me as though she were my own grandmother. As if she felt desperate that I was out in the heat and would do anything to get me out of it. "Im just so glad you called me. I get to be someone's angel today. That makes ms happy."

She had driven twenty miles out of her way on a workday to give me my card. She said originally, she had had a doctor's appointment in Murphsboro, but it had cancelled. She had come just for me. I asked for her address.

"I'm going to send you the best Christmas card ever."

"I really hope you do. I really hope you do." She hugged me twice more and slid out the parking lot in her big fat Oldsmobile.

Anyway, enough schmoopy. We rode ten more miles to Carbondale. Civilization! College students! Jimmy Johns! Bike shops and co-ops! We love it here. Hit up the grocery for the usual granola yogurt breakfast. Found a motel. We went for something cheap. The online reviews read, "Wouldn't wish this place on my enemy...hope you like rats crawling on your face...actual puke on the curtains." It goes on and on. I googled it in front of Chris, the screen pointed away from him.

"What does it say?"

"Uh. Four stars. Recently remodeled." Yeah, that's the ticket.
In the lobby, a very pregnant angry woman, covered in eye makeup in all the wrong places, eyed my sweaty face skeptically.

"Someone told me on the phone, if we pay cash, it's cheaper."

"Uhh. Ok. How does forty bucks sound?" Done.

We were on the second floor. No elevator. Two heavy bikes. Like a Laurel and Hardy scene. Ridiculous. I stuck the keycard in and winced.

King sized bed, elaborate headboard, giant tv, armoir with gold trim, couch, suite-sized.

"Ohhhh. There's so funny operations going on here."

"Definitely. Something."

Biggest and cheapest place we have stayed yet. We don't know the details and we don't want to. Slept like a baby.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

7/25/11 Gone to look for America

Farmingon to Chester

There is no plan. And that is the plan. We are lucky this it true. Today meandered and turned and stopped and started again. And in the end, it was pretty much perfect.

Started the morning with magically free lattes at the Bauhaus Coffee shop. Someone had made them by mistake. Chatted with a deaf guy who worked there. First deaf person I have met on the entire trip. He was equally geeked. He said he hadn't met someone who knows sign language since he left Gallaudet. We exploded akwardly at one another. Asking in unison, "What's your name? Where are you from? Where did you go to school?" It was a nice moment. I felt us wanting to hug at our parting, but we both knew it was inappropriate.

We rode about twenty miles through wine and beer country. We desperately wanted to tour one of the wineries. They were all closed. It is Monday. Grumblesticks.

On the way up a nasty little hill, we saw a sign that read, "Cave Winery. Open Today." What the heck. A farm-cozy little place completely devoid of pretentiousness. In keeping with the theme, we had some free wine. We bought some cheap ass Ritz crackers, some cheese "spread" and walked down to the cave to have a truly unique lunch. We were followed by a fat old labrador mutt. The sign at the front of the cave read, NO PETS. The dog remained so close to Chris' leg, you would think they had been Mutt and Master for ages. Inside the cave, people sitting at round tables stared at us as if to ask, 'Did you read the sign?' Too bad. The dog comes with us.

I love the surreal moments that are born from the serendipity of bike travel. I am in a cave, drinking free red wine, dog at my feet, water is dripping from stalactites and people are laughing. Just outside the cave, a fecund wonderland of fern, waterfalls, butterflies, dragonflies and so much more.

We rode a golf cart back to the top of the vineyard. (Some atheletes we are.) Sat in the pavillion and chatted with the owner. He talked about his background in business and the interest in chemistry that led to the investment, all while his dog, Norton laid on the cement, pawing his calves for attention.

We stayed so long chatting, drinking, being prayed over by strangers, we nearly forgot we had to continue on. Remounted and headed for the Mississippi. Landed in Chester, which is the home of Popeye. This is indicated, street by street, with different statues and oversized cans of spinach.

Stayed at the Eagles Lodge in a minicabin provided by the club. A creepy little shelter filled with attached wooden bunks and all the clothes other cyclists had deemed unworthy of schleping. After I gave the whole thing a good scrubbin', it was not so bad. We had deep fried wonders for supper in the lodge. All the while, multiple volleyball tournaments were conducted outside.

I have been privy to the manner in which so many Americans celebrate summer. As someone who previously had a hard time considering herself a patriot, I don't know if I ever set out looking for America or that I even cared to investigate the American experience. Rather, more selfishly, I set out on an athletic endeavor or journey of self discovery, as many young people do. And I definitely never knew that there was something genuine and folksy happeneing out there in the Heartland. I guess I always assumed it was tainted with consumerism, or drinking, or politics. I envisioned a garish caricature of Joe the Plumber, chugging PBR, American flags on his truck and Keith Urban blasting out its doors. Don't get me wrong, he's out there. But I have seen so many glorious vignettes of the American experience, I cannot deny its beauty, nor it's diversity.

I have seen a flute concert on the side of a mountain at sunset, a rodeo in the light of a full moon, fireworks cascading over a waterfall on the fourth of July, family reunions, family picnics, aramadas of canoes loaded with squealing children, old fashioned ice cream socials, county fairs, town hall meetings and handshakes between neighbors.

Someone said to me the other day, referring to the danger of bike travel in this day and age, "There are good people and bad people. There were good people in 1950 and there are good people now." I have to say, I agree. Good people are still around. And it's these people who have managed to shape some kind of patriot out of me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

7/24/11 This one is about biking.

Ellington to Farmington

68 mile ride today that could have been a 58 mile ride. This is what happens when you elect me as a navigator. Today's elevation map shows one particularly beasty hill that resembles closely, a witches hat.

I had been riding for some time before noticing, hey... this road is flat! We stopped to reroute. Chris silently planned. A cow looked at me with disdain. 'How could you do this? And on such a hot day.'

Here's the great news: My route? It has a BBQ joint, neatly placed at lunch time. Also my route? No mountain. Ten mile detour FTW.

Almost immediately following ideal BBQ lunch we discovered our route included a bike path. Like a huge slice of chocolate cake. No one screaming "…HOT DOG" in your face, just trees, and silence.

If Farmington, MO wasn't bike friendly enough, dig on this, Dear Reader: They have a bike hostel. A jail from 1870 converted into a loft apartment. Absolutely beautiful. Furnished with leather couches and cute little bunk beds. The sole purpose of the place is to house cyclists on the TransAmerican bike route. Who thought of this? I don't know, google it yourself. I'm tired.

We made tacos in the kitchen and watched the Tour while reading bike blogs from others who have passed through. I know, enough with the bike crap already. I'm sick of it to. Let's talk about something else.

7/22/11 and 7/23/11 Lewis Black Rant

The Lazy L, as it turns out, is the most charming little motel we have ever seen. Recently remodeled with a log cabin theme, the place is a sanctuary. The owners are beyond friendly and provided us with Subway coupons, which is like gold considering it is pretty much the only thing we eat anymore.

We took a rest day in Houston and were afforded air conditioning and a bed for another night courtesy of one Nick Swineheart, the Noblehearted. I can't find words to explain how grateful we are to have friends and family such as you. It is not an exaggeration to say that we would be sweating through our skivvies in a city park if it weren't for you.

We spent some time at the library in Houston while the sky opened up and dumped the weighted contents of the entire summer. We had planned on going to the pool but gave it up when the rain persisted.

In it's stead, we watched bad tv, made popcorn with a MICROWAVE that was INSIDE our MOTEL ROOM and drank a bottle of wine. The combination of these simple pleasures are unrivaled.

As much as I enjoy riding a bicycle, the discomfort level, as of late, has become particularly high. Much like having a root canal, every moment that I am not having one I like to remind myself, 'Hey, check it out! You are eating a taco and looking at a bird, NOT having a root canal. Isn't that nice?'.

I have come to savor every moment off the bike like the last bite of cookie dough in my dinner milkshake. (Lunch milkshake is usually strawberry.)

Johnny and Matty finally caught back up with us after a two day stint with Grandma Matty. They slept on our floor, which was a tight squeeze. But, might as well snuggle up on this last night with the two of them. They have decided to do a 135 mile day tomorrow. We have decided that we are doing a much better job of enjoying this trip when we take it a little easier.

Left this morning, bright and early. Rode 70 miles. So...I may be eating my salty, deliciously prepared words that, just yesterday I fed to a stranger at a feed store. The Ozarks are hard. I said it. They're hard. And their difficulty is multiplied by the heat and humidity of a tropical forest. Add to the mix zero shoulder and insane toothless hillbillies yelling, "GET OFF THE ROAD", and "HOT DOG!".

Get off the road? Get of the road?! Forget that we spent over $250 on maps that strategically take us away from heavy traffic. Forget that we are dragging our poor, sweaty, tired bodies up 13% grades in the heat on bicycles whilst you ride your fat, hot dog-fed butts in your rusted El Dorados, feeling the wind in your hair at 80 miles an hour.

What would you rather I do? Drag the bike sideways through the woods to avoid any and all cars?! Yes. You're right. I'm sorry for inconveniencing you on your way to the combination bar and canoe livery. Next time I will make sure to keep my bike as far away from the road as possible.

Entered Ellington with an angry, fierce hunger just in time to find Saso's Pizza. Previously the town's bank in 1910, now the place is filled with happy people, arcade games and tasty pizza. We totally scarfed some of their 'za. We were happy just to be in air conditioning so we settled in for a few hours. Chatted with the owners, a couple from California and their daughter. Every time we made motion to leave, we somehow got sucked back into to a conversation with them. They were just that sweet. The lady of the business had a kindly disposition and smiled so hard, so consistently, I'm not sure how she manages to see out of the millimeter slits she keeps for peepers. She fed me chocolate covered coffee beans. Her husband outfitted us with Saso's t-shirts. And we were on our merry way to a motel.

Finished the 'za in the motel room. Watched a Steve Carrel film. A good day.

Friday, July 22, 2011

7/21/11 Where are our Sirens?

Marshfield to Houston MO

Another day without Matty and Johnny. Which means another day without ridiculous English phrases such as, "Ice lollies" and "Wooly jumpers". (One means popsicles and the other I am still puzzling out. Something to do with hairy-chested men.) Another night without Matt's martial law enforcement of 7:30 pm light's out. This is not to say we have been partying down.

Another late start. Still riding these roller coaster hills like giddy school children. Made our usual thirty mile pit stop. Today it happened to coincide with a diner that had a strawberry waffles for $2.99. God bless the midwest. We haven't seen food this cheap since we left Ohio.

Met an awesome dude named Jason who is touring America solo to raise money for cancer research. Chris and I had found his stickers in the basement of the church we slept in and had already adorned our top tubes with the banner of his cause. Slightly embarrasing but hopefully encouraging to Jason. He is a Navy man with a wife and child who was granted the military volunteer of the year award. A really mellow dude, total zen master with a fully-cultivated Road Beard. I read his blog today and it seems we reached our wall on the same day of our trip. We comiserated about sore butts and heat. You can read about him and his cause at

Sat at a combination feed store and gas station. A slightly handsome but squishy around the edges fellow in his late thirties with a John Deere hat and a smirk sat behind the counter looking like he had nothing to do until harvest time. He asked us where we were going. I told him, "East". He snorted. "You won't make it far with those hills". The blood starts to bubble. The kind of blood bubbling that occurs when opposing team's supporters hassle me in the parking lot before a soccer match. I tried to explain, avoiding a cocky tone, that I had just come through three mountain ranges and I was not afraid of his Ozarks. Double snort.

He went on and on. "Probably shouldn't do much more than twenty or thirty miles." I stared at him with loathing. I was hot. Don't fox with me when I'm hot. Don't fox with me when I've been sitting on that cowboy saddle for five hours. Don't fox with me when I have not been properly hydrated. Honestly, JoeJohn, just don't fox with me.

I stared at the shevling units to my left, various sundires, mostly farming related. "You ever been hit with a cow prodder?"

"What? Never. What?" He looked mad. It made me feel better. I clarified, to ensure that I was not threatening him, "Late night, drunk with some buddies... things get out of hand?"

"Never." Akward silence blanketed the room and I revelled in it. We took a final pull from our respective Gatorades and sauntered out like a pair of a confident cowboys.

Three miles from our destination, we found Dog's Bluff, a swimmin' hole and popular spot for locals during this record breaking heat wave. We hopped in, cooled down and let the fish bite our feet. A family reclined in busted chairs on a shale-gravel island down the river about 200 yards. Full figured ladies in bikinis with spikey blonde hair chatted loudly and sang made-up family songs to their kids. Darrell, sunburned and tattooed, munched on jerkey and watched the kids try to drown one another in the water. We asked them where we could find a good place to stay around town. "Ohhh, oh. We know a good place. The Lazy somethin'...The Lazy Owl? I have no idea. DARRELL. WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THAT PLACE WE STAYED AT FOR PAPAW'S FUNERAL?" Darrell grunted, shook his head and returned to his beef stick. "I don't know. But it's clean."

In our experience in the last 45 days, when a person instructs you to go to a particular hotel and says anything along these lines, you are in for a real shit hole. Excuse my language, but you wouldn't call it anything else if you saw it. Despite this, we took their direction, headed east about three miles. The route was, unfortunately, just up the road and passed the dog from Sandlot. Here he comes, front paws smacking the blacktop, every move forward folding his body in half, drooling everywhere. My sweaty paw gripped the mailman spray. I had no chance against him. He scared me so badly I could barely standing climb. My knees were knocking against the top tube at every turn of the crank. After much traffic headed his way, he conceded the loss and turned around. Beasts like this, met along our path only serve to deepen the sensation of true Odyssey. As we near the Applacian Mountains, I have to wonder when our Sirens will call, and what form they will take. I hope it's a bluegrass festival. I could really use a festival.