Friday, August 8, 2014

8/7 recap: first day on the road

The sun rose early Thursday, as it always does; only we didn't see it because our bedroom in the bike shop dish have any windows. We were awakened by the ring of the door as the owners came in around 8:30. We gathered up our stuff, with not too much haste and were ready by 10. We snapped a photo to commemorate and were off.

The goal for the day was to ride due east for about 40 miles and that's exactly what we did. A turn or two from the bike shop got us onto the "highway" and out of Newton and we followed it without a single turn or variation from dead-straight for the next 39 miles to our destination for the day of Cassoday, KS (population 129). The road was called a highway, but was more of a country road, well paved but a fairly small shoulder. That didn't actually matter because there was not much traffic on it anyway. It was a beautiful partly cloudy day which kept the sun off for most of the ride. I had been worried and convinced that I had packed too much stuff (still am), but it turned out to be a bit easier than I thought. It was great first day out. 

There was one concerning moment midway through the day, when the following interaction took place:
Me: this countryside is quite lovely
Peter: yeah, isn't it great, this is how all of Kansas has been. Just fields of wheat like this forever.
Me: Um... Peter?
Peter: what?
Me: That's not wheat, that's corn.
Peter: wait, what?
Me: That's corn, dude.
Peter: Is it? Hmmm, I guess you're right. But I promise you I've been riding through actual wheat fields. 
Me: actual grain wheat fields, or fields of corn that you think is wheat?
Peter: Actual wheat. I know the difference between corn and wheat. 
Me: Do you? You say that, but you didn't just now. 
Peter: Shut up.

Needless to say, every plant we see now is being called out as wheat. Oh good times. 

So we made it to Cassoday, and found the hub of town: a gas station/convenience store/cafe, which in a small town is one pump outside a small store that has a couple of racks of snacks and a table where you can eat food they make in the kitchen. The kitchen being a small room off the main room with a fridge and a hot plate griddle stove. That being said the burger we had, albeit small was quite delicious and the fries were excellent too. After lunch it was mid afternoon and we headed back around the corner to the park where we were going to camp for the night, because camping in public parks is legal in Kansas and in such a small town a park is basically anything with grass, trees, and a swing set. We set up our tents and found a gazebo with an outlet to plug in our phones to charge. It was still afternoon so we read for a while, and then walked back to the store to get some dinner stuff. A couple of bud lights later we were ready to eat, and had our vegetables, beef stew and triscuits and felt pretty satisfied.

The light was starting to fade so we headed across the street to the "Cassoday: Prairie chicken capital of the world" sign and took some awesome Arrested Development inspired photos.

As night fell we cleaned up and got ready for bed and hoped that the freight trains that kept passing about a quarter-mile wouldn't blow their horns all night as they had been all afternoon, but alas we weren't so lucky. I don't know what they were announcing to a town of 129 all night, but they were vigilant about it. Also it seemed to get really humid so it turned into a rather sweaty, noisy night. 

Days totals- miles cycled: 39, rolling time: 3:06, prairie chickens seen: 0.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Travel days 2-3 recap; 8/5-8/6

Detours, kindness, and lots of traveling 

Tuesday started as I awoke from a not very restful sleep aboard the train which was now at the Salt Lake City station. We were scheduled to stop for half an hour at 3:30 am. So I wasn't concerned until I realized it was after 5 and we were still not moving. I made my way downstairs onto the platform where a few passengers were milling about in the predawn light and was told that there had been a huge storm in eastern Utah and the tracks were flooded. A couple hours later, we were told that we were going to be detoured up through southern Wyoming and that we'd get moving soon. Eventually we did get moving and everything was fine. They said we actually wouldn't be delayed very much as the path through southern Wyoming was flat and fast so we would make up for the lost time and the extra distance because the road over the Rockies was slow anyway. Everything continued to be fine for a while and the huge landscapes of Wyoming made excellent viewing so I didn't feel cheated of the supposed stunning views of the Rockies that we were going to miss on our detour. Also I was seeing some of the regions Peter had cycled through, so I felt connected to the big picture of the trip in that way. 

During the day, I experienced some of the random kindness I've heard about happening to people doing adventures such as these. I went to lunch in the dining car, and was seated with a middle-age woman and her older mother, and another guy. First, the guy offered to "buy" my lunch since it was included with his sleeper-car package but he didn't really feel like eating, so he let me order his entree for myself. The four of us had a nice time chatting, and I told them about my upcoming ride, and as everyone I've told has been, they were very supportive and enthusiastic. We finished lunch and said our goodbyes and have-a-good-trips. As the older lady shook my hand she pressed a folded bill into my palm (the standard subtle-tip maneuver) and mouthed a quiet "shhh" to show that she didn't want me to make a big deal of the gift. I was very surprised and touched by her generosity and her desire to keep it discreet (as most kindness should be done) and gave her as heartfelt but still low-key of a Thank You as I could. When I got to the next car I looked down at it, and saw she had given me $20. It really made my day. 

The train continued on through the afternoon and the lovely vistas of southern Wyoming. After a while I realized we were going very slowly and not flying along as we'd been promised. Not long after that, the conductor announced over the speaker that we were indeed going slowly because we were stuck behind a freight train, but they would soon be turning off and we could pass. We did pass but I never felt like we accelerated too much and started to wonder about making my bus connection in Denver at midnight. Of course we were still many hours away so I didn't worry about it until later in the day when we were stopped several times out in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason. Apparently there were electrical storms in the area and they were messing with functioning of the rail-switching equipment on the tracks. Time kept passing and the estimated arrival time (originally 6:30) became 7, 10, 10:30, 11, and we kept moving slowly, and night was falling, and it soon became evident that I wasn't going to make the bus I was planning to take from Denver to Wichita. I didn't actually have a ticket for that bus anyway, so it wasn't a huge deal and some quick work on my phone revealed some other alternate routes. We pulled into Denver after midnight and I disembarked to get my luggage (a rather large and awkward but not particularly heavy bike box, and a rather heavy but regular-box sized box) then shuttled my boxes outside one at a time to find a taxi to the Greyhound station.

Overall my time on the train was highly enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone that has a few days. It was a very chill way to travel. The scenery was excellent and supposedly we didn't even get to see the best part, the Rockies. And for $130 from Sacramento to Denver, you can't beat the price. 

Day 3
After the taxi dropped me off at the Greyhound station, I was told by a local homeless man that the doors were actually locked on this side of the building. He then offered to help me carry my stuff, and not having much choice (I didn't want to leave a box just sitting there in front of the sketchy folks lurking outside the bus station at 1am) I accepted. I took the bike box (because the contents were worth five times that of the other box) and he took the other. He seemed like a decent guy so I wasn't really concerned he would run off or anything, and he was carrying a 45 pound box. He helped me around to the other side, so I gave him a couple bucks and we were homies after that. I made my way inside and into line for the ticket counter where I waited for a while only to get to the front and be told that they were closed for buying new tickets and all the people in line were just changing existing tickets. By now it was after 2 and so I found an out of the way spot to hole up in for a few hours until the ticket counter opened again. I texted with a friend who was up late for a while, but because of the frantic nature of the past few hours wasn't really too tired. I finally dozed off after four only to be awoken before six by the general coming to life of the station. I was able to get a ticket to take me from Denver to Newton, Kansas where I was to meet Peter. I saw my homeless friend again that morning, and he smiled said hi. He then offered to get me "a Folger cup", but used a "wanna buy some drugs?" kind of whisper, so I'm not actually sure what he was offering me, it didn't feel like coffee. I politely declined and he said "cool man" and went on his way with a smile. It never hurts to make friends with the locals.

The bus ride was mostly uneventful albeit a nice trip through eastern Colorado and western Kansas. Again I was basically following the route Peter had cycled and I'm glad I was able to see that part of the country. 

Myself, my bike, and my box of gear were deposited at a gas station that apparently doubles as a bus stop, and Peter met me with KFC and Bud Light, because he's an amazing friend. It's not quite Pollo Campero and Gallo beer (very much the Guatemalan equivalents, and our traditional airport-greeting fare on our Habitat trips), but you do the best you can in central Kansas. We unpacked and reassembled my bike there in the parking lot, strapped all the gear on it and walked back to where we were staying the night, an awesome bike shop in which the owner had converted a room to a bedroom with bunkbeds for touring cyclists. It was totally awesome. So, shout out to the Newton Bike Shop for being amazing. Only $10 for the night and use of any tools you want. 

In all a good, albeit long, travel adventure to get to the actual adventure. It would have been easier and faster but more expensive to fly, and this way I did get to see a good chunk of the country which has put me in a good traveling mind going forward. Total cost of the trip (Sacramento to Newton, KS) was $285 and 55 hours or my life.  Also, it dawned on me that in the past week I've spent the night in an airport, a moving train, a bus station, and a bike shop, which I think is pretty sweet! 

Picturesque Wyoming landscape

Sunset over the plains and distant storms of Wyoming had a very end of the world, Armageddon look to it

Kansas is very flat and mostly just plains and fields but also has a real beauty to it

A rainbow shines over the very end of my journey, welcoming me to Newton. Hopefully it's a good omen. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A word on "low output, high cadence"

"Low output, high cadence" is a phrase used to describe the most efficient way to function for most body systems. When tasked with doing a repetitive action, the body is able to perform a task for a longer duration if it does small steps (low output per cycle) at a quick turnover (high cadence) rather than big steps (high output) at a slow rate (low cadence). The easiest example is endurance sports (hence the title for the blog). In cycling, it is more physiologically/metabolically/aerobically efficient for the body to spin a smaller (easier) gear faster, than it is to push a bigger (harder) gear slower, even if the speed generated is the same. So, at the same speed, the person turning the smaller gear will be able to go for longer than the person churning the bigger gear. Running and swimming show a similar body fatigue difference when using easy/fast or hard/slow techniques, though the physiology of those sports is influenced by outside factors(gait biomechanics, fluid dynamics) more than cycling. It's an interesting physical phenomenon, because for the most part the total work is the same with both techniques, but eventually the big exertion of each repetition catches up with you. I've found this philosophy to be true and useful in my own training, but it's not applicable for humans exclusively. Evidence of this efficiency can be seen troughout the animal kingdom. Someone studied the croaking habits of bullfrogs and found that the frogs that did the bigger/louder croaks stopped croaking earlier in the evening than those that did smaller croaks. So, it's proven by science...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Day 1 recap - 8/4/2014

The usual morning scramble to finish all the little things that need to be done before taking a trip. A trip to Target on the way to the train station to get the last few things and the box carrying all my gear could be taped shut. A the train station as I checked in my two boxes (one containing my bike, the other all my gear), I looked on as they weighed them. As predicted, it was heavy; 37 pounds for the bike, and about 48 for the gear, making a total of 85 which seems like a lot. Going to have to think about that, and see if I can get that down some. Or maybe redistribute some of that towards the front, since all of the weight will be toward the back of the bike (except for some of the bike weight). Once I get to Kansas and actually start riding it, I'll be able to make a better assessment if any adjusting needs to be done.

It's been surprising in the buildup to this trip how many people can relate to some aspect of it. In any group I told about it, there as always at least one person who had taken the train to Denver, and many knew someone who had undertaken some kind of long tour like this, though it seems doing it by motorcycle is more common. At the train station, the attendant showing is to the train was a lady from the Midwest who had ridden the Katy Trail in Missouri, and the man I was seated next to on the train recommended the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. So it seems we'll see some cool stuff out on the road. Not that that was actually in doubt, but it's still good to hear.

As for the train ride itself, it's a neat experience. Very different than flying. First, the seats are much bigger and spacious, with ample leg room and above seat storage. The train is also much quieter than an airplane. I imagine it's a lot like flying first-class, but having never actually done that, must leave it as a guess. The second big thing is the station experience. There's no real security screening, so checking your bags is easy and you can walk directly to the platform. There were a couple of sheriffs milling around asking where you bought your tickets (online? at the station?) which I thought was an interesting question, and where people were going, but that was it. Maybe they can tell just by watching your reactions and answers to those questions if you're up to something shady (or maybe I watch too much Lie To Me) or maybe they're just providing a presence. Either way, boarding the train is a painless experience. And lastly, and perhaps the biggest thing contributing to a positive experience is that the people on the train want to be on the train. You don't really take a train to get somewhere. You take the train to see the country from the ground and have the train experience. Nobody actually wants to be on a plane, they want to be where they're going, and that makes people grumpy. Couple that with the cramped, uncomfortable nature of planes and it's no surprise that flying can bring out the worst in people. The train has none of these shortcomings other than being a rather slow way to travel. So if you have time, trains are cool.

Of the trip there's little to report. We went up through the Sierras which are lovely, and it was overcast and rainy. The only downside is the train is a little chilly, like they have the air conditioning set a bit too cold. Not too big of a deal. And with a big bag of food mom packed for me, I was set for the long haul. Overall, not a bad first day of travel.

At the station waiting to board

There's my luggage headed to the train, the two boxes on the very back of the cart.

The adventure begins

After months of waiting and planning, the time has finally come. The bicycle and all the gear has been packed. Some of it has even been tested. And now I'm off on my transcontinental adventure. Unlike my friend Peter, who I'm connecting with in Kansas, I'll be doing the western half of the country by rail/bus. He'll have the great experience of being able to do the whole thing on two wheels. I have no doubt that the eastern half of the continent will be plenty of riding in the upcoming weeks and months (gasp!) to get my fill.

The plan as it stands at the moment is loosely as follows: I'll take Amtrak from Sacramento to Denver, where I'll switch to Greyhound to Wichita, Kansas. In Wichita, I'll unpack my bike and ride the 30 miles north to Newton, Kansas where hopefully Peter will be waiting. From there we'll cruise east for a couple days to the Missouri border, where we'll turn northeast to meet the Katy Trail, a bike/hiking trail that winds east across Missouri to St Louis. Then it's southeast across the southern tip of Illinois and then basically due east across the whole of Kentucky. Our route through Kentucky should be neat, with such sights as Mammoth Caves, the Makers Mark Whisky distillery, and hopefully a short detour to Sacramento, Kentucky (population 517). After Kentucky, well cross Virginia to our destination of Yorktown, where we'll find ourselves on the shores of the Atlantic. 

From there we'll turn north to see friends and family in DC, New York, and Boston. I have these grandiose ideas of side routes we can do around the east coast and New England, but being as how I've yet to pedal even one mile on this journey, planning to add hundreds of bonus miles at the end might a bit premature. But whatever happens and whatever paths we choose to take it's going to be an experience. Adventure awaits!