One of the things I have come to accept as I have been riding my bicycle across the country is that there really is no such thing as the "perfect" ride. As the title of this blog suggests, there is always "something" that makes it a challenge, and sometimes it can be a combination of several things, thus making it really, really, challenging.
Take weather for instance: It might be clear, but then it means it might be warmer, or windier. I might have a tail wind, which is usually welcome when riding a bicycle, but in my case, since I am traveling so slowly, a tail wind means there is no "relative" wind and I am traveling in the equivalent of an air bubble where perspiration does not dry and overall cooling is limited. Or if I have a headwind, or even a cross-wind, which I have come to prefer, a little wind is good, but too much, and I'm cycling through pea soup.
If it's cloudy, then it might be somewhat cooler, but there is the additional threat of rain. It might be hot, with the rain helping to cool things down, or...just make it that much more humid. It might be hot, and dry, which helps with drying perspiration, but then I have to be extra sure I'm hydrating more, and the heat, especially with No Shade Anywhere, can take its toll pretty quickly.
Time of day is also a factor. I've come to prefer a later start so at least it is cooling down at the same time I am wearing out, but that has meant riding into the night on several occasions...something I have actually come to enjoy...except for the bugs, that tend to come out more at night. Just as I was crossing a long bridge into Columbus I got zapped by a big ol' beetle right in my left cheek, not to mention the all too frequent "gnat in the eye". I tried wearing a lighter pair of safety goggles for night riding, but I've stopped using them because they refract oncoming light so badly it makes it nearly impossible to see anything. Instead, I've learned to just keep my eyes squinted a little more to protect them from the bugs, and I tend to tilt my helmet way forward to block the blinding lights of oncoming traffic.
And then there are the road conditions. I might have access to wide shoulders...only to find they are covered with chip-and-seal (i.e. they are made from a layer of tar with small bits of gravel scattered over the top, and that's all, no "finishing" of the surface to make it smoother). I've noticed this to be the most common in Texas thus far. The pavement may have very distinct seams every 20 feet or so...not much to notice in a car going 60 mph with a reasonable suspension system, but for me, it's a bump to my bike, my butt, and my trailer over each one, and this can go on for miles at a time.
On the other hand, the shoulders might be smooth...in most places...but then be littered with gravel and pieces of truck tire treads, or old shoes, or pieces of wood, or who knows what. And...if there are "rumple strips" or "sleeper bumps" as I like to call them, then I have to endure hammering over those to avoid everything else that might be piled up in the shoulder. The shoulders may be full of fissures, ridges, and pot-holes, like they were in Louisiana making them completely unrideable. Or...there might not be any shoulder at all, forcing me to ride in the main lanes. This latter case, however, and just for the record, has not proven to be a problem. As I have been telling people lately, most people do not want to be involved in an "accident" of any kind no matter how "crazy" they might be as a driver. If nothing else, they don't want to see their insurance rates go up! : ))
Sometimes the roads might be fairly flat. Truly flat doesn't happen often, there is usually just a little bit of grade and, for me, a long up-hill grade means No Momentum as much as a shorter, or steeper up-hill grade. Of course, going down-hill for a while afterwards is always a plus, unless the down-hill part is Too Steep as I found out on my way to New Braunfels (more about that later). Furthermore, flat roads can become very monotonous as well, especially if there are not many markers along the way - small towns, changes in vegetation, an overhanging tree for a bit of shade, etc.
Even riding through Florida and Mississippi along the coast, where the roads were mostly at sea level, I still had to deal with much higher overpasses and bridges that were built to accommodate the larger ships sailing through the region.
Finally, there are the physical factors that I deal with. Did I get adequate food or enough sleep the night before a ride? How many days and miles in a row have I been riding? Did I hydrate sufficiently prior to getting on my bicycle? Did I take enough but not too much anti-inflammatory medication (generic "Aleve" for me)? Is it "that time of the month"? Are there enough places to stop for more water along the route? Are there any places to actually stop and rest as necessary? Depending on how long the ride is, do I need one pair of riding shorts or two for the extra padding?
Dare I say...the Devil is in the details?! : ))
On July 3rd, I had many of these factors coming into play. I'd stayed up fairly late talking with my host Chris and his brother and his friend Casey...again. However, I managed to get a relatively early start in spite of that, leaving Chris's apartment in Columbus around 8:20 AM. (Sure, I wanted to leave earlier, but that's just the way it worked out.)
Although the roads were in pretty good condition, there was a lot of chip-and-seal, it was really hot, I had a slight tail-wind giving me that air-bubble effect, and...then...there were...the hills. As you can see by the attached image, those hills, though not extreme, were up and down and up and down for pretty much the entire ride. I don't think I was able to go much more than 1/4 to 1/2 mile without facing another hill. That dropped my average speed from 6 to 8 mph down to more like 4 or 5 mph.
Nevertheless, I persevered. Even when I started this particular day, I knew it would be one of my most difficult, if only because I would be traveling 70 miles, my longest distance yet, in the Texas heat. I did not, however, realize until I was fully into it that the hills would be virtually non-stop. I had been in a bit of a rush as always to get my course plotted, and notes taken, so I failed to look more closely at my route map and the info on "elevation changes" at the bottom. Truth is, I don't think I really wanted to know because I knew it would not make any difference one way or another. I would just have to do what I had to do, no matter what.
As I had done on so many other days, I simply paced myself. Opting for slow and steady "turtle power" rather than racing anywhere, with the exception of racing to get to the McDonald's in Weimar before they stopped serving breakfast! : )
On approach, I wasn't sure if Weimar had a McDonald's or if I would make it in time, but when I saw those "Golden Arches" a mile or so directly ahead, at the intersection of the access road I was on and the main exit off of I-10, I looked at my watch reading 10:20 or so and thought, "Maybe, just maybe, I can make it".
I pedaled as hard as I could, up another hill (!). I think I got in the door at 10:27, sweating and breathing hard, with a line of people in front of me and only one person at the counter to take our orders. My heart sank when the manager turned a lever over the packing station and the breakfast menus disappeared as they were replaced by the lunch/dinner menus. I guess the woman in front of me got the last of the sausage biscuits. However, when it was finally my turn I made it clear to the clerk that I had made quite an effort to get there before 10:30 and I really hoped they'd still be able to accommodate my order for oatmeal and two Egg-McMuffins (one for then and one for the road). They were able to "take care of me" as she put it, so my extra effort did not go to waste. Furthermore, while I was there at the McDonald's I was able to make contact with the Fire Chief in Luling which eventually led to my being given the opportunity to stay at one of the two Fire Stations there.
I made one more major stop in Schulenburg at a place called the "Iron Horse Filling Station". I took advantage of the "Pizza Buffet Special", although I knew better than to overeat, so I paced myself on that as well. I talked for a while with one of the staff who took interest in my mission after seeing my bicycle parked outside the building. She graciously added her name to the membership roster for the NAPF and was even kind enough to let me have my lunch for free. I made sure to get a re-fill on all of my water bottles, before once again heading down the road.
It was about 2:00 PM when I left Schulenberg. It would be another 10 hours before I reached Luling. I took HWY 90 which was relatively quiet, and once the sun set, I had the advantage of clear skies and a full moon making it much easier to see...easy enough to see my first Live armadillo for just a few seconds before it disappeared into the tall grasses along the side of the road.
When I arrived in Luling, I was once again graciously welcomed by the on duty fire fighters there. Special thanks to Keith, who gave up his sleeping quarters for the recliner so that I would have a bed and a room to myself. I took a shower, stored my cold-food, rigged some lines between my trailer and my bicycle to dry my sweaty gear, and went to bed, letting everyone know that questions would just have to wait until morning!
And, sure enough, there were a few questions the next day, including some from the "relief" as they came to work around 9:00. Since I still had another long ride ahead though, I didn't want to stick around too long, so I tried to get away as soon as I could, loading up on water, and with a couple of doughnuts for the road thanks to Nadi.:)
It would prove to be insufficient, however, to get me to my destination in New Braunfels. I had been making very slow progress all morning, more hills, this time a stronger cross-wind, high heat, chip-n-seal roads, and then one particularly steep hill that I tried to take at full speed, seeing how the opposite side was just as steep and I wanted as much momentum going up it as I could get.
About midway down...there's a change in the sound of my trailer, from its usual hum to a grinding rattle. It was still rolling though, so I figured it was something to do with the wheel bearings, or maybe a change in the roughness of the road...until I stopped at the bottom of the hill to take a closer look: Turns out, the solid rubber tire had come completely off the plastic rim of the left wheel, so the rattle I was hearing was that plastic rim against the road.
I propped my bicycle up as best I could along the side of the road and started walking back to see if I could find the tire, thinking if I did find it, I might have a chance to force it back on the rim. One lady passed me in a white car and I tried to get her attention so that she would not run into my bicycle parked ahead, then, as I turned around to see her go up the hill, I realized my bicycle was no longer propped by the side of the road, but had fallen into the street. As I was walking back, she returned to make sure I was okay, then another vehicle came by, this time a big, black pick-up truck. It too made a u-turn at the top of the hill and pulled off the road once it reached my bicycle, about the same time I did.
And, so, I was ultimately "rescued" by Cody, who assured me he was not crazy or anything! No, he was just a good ol' Texan, an "angel" in his crisp white shirt, who happened to show up just when I needed him. Although we looked for a little while longer to find the lost wheel, he was sure it would be a much better idea for me to just let him load up my bicycle and then take me to New Braunfels himself, to which I reluctantly agreed. I wasn't reluctant because of Cody, just that this would be my first "break" from my "geographically continuous route under my own power."
I saw from the passenger side of the truck, that yes, there were still quite a few hills left in my journey, and it was clear and hot, and given the painfully slow pace I had been on since morning, in part because of the 70 mile ride I had completed too few hours before, I accepted the fact that I was "done" for the day anyway. Even though I had been willing, even "surrendered" to endure whatever lay ahead, it seems "the Universe" had other plans for me, and losing my trailer tire was enough of a "major mechanical failure" to finally get me off the road.
However, the lift from Cody also meant I got to New Braunfels closer to my originally planned time. My friends Cassey and Michael came from San Antonio to pick me up there and we had dinner at a local, though "traditional German" restaurant. (As Michael commented, we were in "New Braunfels" after all, so it seemed only right to go to a German Restaurant! : ))
I spent a few more relaxing days with Cassey and Michael, watched most of the episodes in one season of "Top Shot" hosted by Colby Donaldson of earlier "Survivor" fame, and returned to New Braunfels to await the arrival of a set of new wheels for my trailer.
At this point, I have gone ahead and purchased at least a one-way plane ticket to Santa Barbara (all I could afford right now, and that thanks specifically to the generous donations from Chris and his brother Stephen back in Columbus). I am not sure if I will make it all the way in the time I have left, but I am going to try to make it to Weatherford, Texas, and then my Aunt and Uncle will be driving me the rest of the way to Dallas where my friends there will make sure I get to the plane on time.
I'm really looking forward to the NAPF workshop, excited by the possibilities of what we will learn together, and the opportunity for me to get clearer on what my mission can be or will be after I get back to Texas. I'm kind of at a "half-way" point right now, so it is a good time to re-group, re-organize, re-energize, make some assessments and changes based on lessons learned, and see how to get myself the rest of the way across the country as I continue to Pedal for Peace!
Thanks again to all of my readers and to everyone who has offered their support thus far whether in the form of food and shelter, cash donations, signing up for membership in the NAPF, and/or emotional/moral support. It has all been meaningful to me and I am extremely grateful to be able to keep doing what I am doing because of that support.
Not sure how many more blogs I will be able to post between now and the time I leave for Santa Barbara, but know that I am still "on course" and I will be back with updates as soon as I can. : ) Also, I am still looking for more people to become NAPF members to contribute to my tuition credit. If you would like to sign-up, please send your name, zip code, and e-mail address to me at: llbell_100 (at) Yahoo.com.
Thanks again, Everyone! : ))
Pedaling for Peace
On April 15, 2012 I started riding my bicycle cross-country from Jacksonville, Florida in voluntary support of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) and the work of author and Peace Leadership Director for the NAPF, Paul K. Chappell. By July 4th, I had covered over 1300 miles to just west of Luling, Texas where a major mechanical failure brought this first stage of my cross-country journey to an end. After storing my bicycle and trailer with my aunt and uncle in Weatherford, Texas, I flew from Dallas to Santa Barbara, California to attend the NAPF First Annual Peace Leadership Summer Workshop. I then lived and worked in Santa Barbara for several more months before I returned to Jacksonville and sold off the rest of my possessions that I could to help fund a continuation of my journey. Starting June 8, 2013 and ending August 9, 2013, I rode from Weatherford, through 400 miles of the central Texas hill country, including Austin, Texas, back to Luling. It was at this point that a friend of mine invited me to work for a brief period in Pennsylvania before flying me back to Santa Barbara where I continued volunteering for the NAPF as well as for the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. As of August 9th, 2014 I began"Stage III" of my cross-country adventure, this time heading south from Santa Barbara to San Diego and then east to El Paso, TX. It was there that illness, winter weather, and diminishing resources brought that leg of my journey to an end. After staying with another friend in Columbus, GA for several months, I moved "back home" to Kentucky to stay with my dad for a while and build a better "resource base" for future endeavors including review and further tracking and primitive survival skills training at Tom Brown, Jr's Tracker School , and a possible longer tour of the east coast, northern tier, and north west coast back down to Santa Barbara, CA.