Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Roger, Initiating Cyclist Escort Now"

Add ImageDay 26 - July 1, 10:08pm
80 miles. Springfield, IL to Pittsfield, IL

Today was great. Smooth is really the word. I'm pretty sure it came down to the great breakfast that we had courtesy of the Church in Springfield. Having just cereal some mornings was really not cutting it and seriously affecting our ability to bike. Not the case with egg casseroles! The 5am wakeups are also becoming pretty standard procedure. I'll say it again, my morning routine is rocking and I officially packed my bag before Rob, which if you know how much of a zen master he is at organization says a lot.

A little cloudy and chilly this morning as we went back into corn country but the headwind was not serious. We were keeping a great pace all day and it was the first time ever that I haven't been waiting for lunch even though it was at mile 43 and we only snacked once. Conclusion: Big breakfasts from now on.

Couple of serious highlights today. Around mile 6 we stopped in this empty lot with three huge gravel piles to stretch. Of course, it wasn't long till us guys started to race up the tallest one we could find. Yes, It was a challenge even for our quads of steel. It was also super unnecessary, masculine, and fun. Aren't the best things in life?

I rode with Ryan Farr, Dan, Miranda, Clarissa pretty much all day and we had a great rhythym going. At one point we had to cross this super steep bridge to get over the Illinois river. We slowed to let this silver car go by us and then began our ascent. Little did we know that the driver of the silver car was actually an undercover cop who immediately turned on his sweet hidden strobes and proceeded to give us a full escort over the entire bridge. We couldn't have been more amped and he enthusiastically returned our fist pumps. Seriously, we are always joking about how funny it would be if a police cruiser spontaneously decided to escort us. To have an undercover car do that just blew our minds. How cool would it be if he had been tailing us since Providence as our hidden guardian accomplice only to appear in times of need. Hmm...Maybe we're not that important.

Highlight #2: Now that the corn is finally tall enough we decided that the time for frolicing was ripe. Let me tell you, running through corn stalks is just super. It's as overwhelming and crazy as you'd think it'd be. It was even better when we played our game of hide and seek for about 25 minutes. I had some time to really look at it up close and i realized that corn is actually a very interesting plant. It grows so tall and its stalks are super strong. It also has a really weird texture that just makes you want to run your hand along them.

The last part of the day saw some smooth cruising despite my 3rd flat of the trip. But it was all good since Clarissa gave me her Muscle Milk bar which apparently had 25 grams of protein(!?) in a little 5 inch bar. All i was missing was a creatine injection. We found a post office and i finally got to send some out that I've been holding since Kentucky. It's way harder than you'd think to send post cards on this trip given how little time we spend in each state and how little time we have to stop and look for them. Trust me though, everyone is trying their best to get them all out.

The church in Pittsfield put out an amazing spread for us as well as arranging for us to get some pool time in, as well as free haircuts and organizing homestays. I kept my hair but had this great Pizza/pasta dish and for dessert this wonderful strawberry fluff, jello like substance that i had to have them take away from me for my own safety.

I'm staying along with Max, Ryan Ellis, and Dan Coop with Lawrence and Rachel. They're such a sweet and warm couple. Rachel used to be a school teacher while Lawrence used to raise hogs(pigs). In fact, our very own Pittsfield was once the hog capital of the world. The details on when and how that title left are still oddly hazy with everyone i ask. Though the tradition of Pigs Day is still alive and is actually next week.

Their house is awesome. Lawrence showed us how he converted his old hog barn into a great woodshop where he keeps busy on fun projects including this great bench. (fun fact: Metal inside of wood turns it black, who knew!). He also has a great arrowhead collection. They had this great pool deck that literally overlooked 80 acres of corn right next to their house along with a sea of fireflies. The sunset on the drive home was nothing short of breathtaking in its fiery orange and pink and their Golden Retriever Denver is just a great bundle of energy.

Just hearing Lawrence talk about his hog work and looking out over the huge field of corn really took my head for a spin. I've never ever been to a place this rural and to see the kind of quiet, simple, lifestyle here(at least relatively) is so mindblowing. All i can see from my back window is a parking lot, and here i am in someone's backyard where there are 80 acres of corn extending almost infinitely. What gets me even more is the generational history of these places. Ever since it was settled, farming has been the way of life here, plain and simple, with duties passed on from children to grandchildren. The kind of freedom to travel around and see new places that i take for granted may not have been necessarily present for these folks growing up here. At least thats the impression I get. All i could think about was how two people (Lawrence and myself) could lead such tremendously different lifestyles and what different worlds we were both from, and how many more great honest, hardworking people like him there must be in our country. The cool thing though was that despite our differences and my awe for his work we were just two dudes having conversation and laughing. I mean isn't that what it all comes down to?

You can also clearly see how large scale agrobusiness with its thousands of acres has disrupted the traditional family farm but thats a whole other conversation. I'm definitely gaining a much greater appreciation or at least consciousness of where the food in my grocery store comes from and how this whole process of massive food consumption is fueled.

Anyway, farming blows my mind and Lawrence and Rachel are great. Tomorrow is relatively short into Hannibal, Missouri. It's apparently the home of Mark Twain(Samuel Clemmens) or something so im sure there are many adventures and stops awaiting us!`


Day 27 - June 30, 11:03pm
Build Day. Springfield, IL

Today was the first day aside from our day off where I woke up and thought, hey i'm actually awake and don't want to sleep more. Wonder when that'll happen again...

We were working at a Habitat Site today doing interior work. It was my first time ever doing drywall. Some did that while others drywalled. Putting up the sheet rock on the ceilings by hand was an adventure to say the least. Once again, I have tons more respect at every site for those who do construction for a living. It really is a craft that deserves respect. Dan and I were talking about how great it would be to build our own houses by hand one day. Aside from being way more economical I can't imagine the sense of pride, accomplishment and fulfillment that must come with it.

Got back to the church and finally had some free time. It's odd i realized how we clamor for free time all the time but i always find myself not really knowing what to do with it. I guess that's what happens when you get used to leading such a simple life of eating, sleeping, biking, and building. I find this pretty interesting in general of how you don't know what to do with something once you have it, despite having wanted it.

It was nice though to simply not have to do anything organized and just literally sit around. I decided to induldge in some reading which was fun. Even funner was the nap i fell into while reading on this super recliner. Gotta love those, reading naps are the best. Got at least an hour in and felt great.

My chore group is breakfast and laundry and we headed to the laundromat to wash clothes like we do every 3rd riding day. Inside we came across the mythically proportioned "MEGA LOAD", a beast among washers. I expect it to provide at least 2 weeks of good joke material. We also had fun watching Ryan Farr try out one of those machines where you try and get quarters to slide off a ramp by inserting quarters of your own. He was up 50 cents at one point actually, aka the first throw, but for some odd reason he wasn't able to keep the luck going. It's almost like the game was "rigged" as the owner of the laundromat herself mentioned.

Tomorrow is 80 or so miles and I'm looking forward to recovering from my last less than pleasurable ride. Crossing into Missouri should be fun. It's crazy how we're crossing whole states in 2 days and even moreso how we've come 1,400 miles. Perhaps its because i have more internet access than most, or maybe that ive had so much road time to think about the real world, I've felt a little detached from the wonderful bike and build isolated bubble. I mentioned this earlier and how great it is to just live in the present and focus on simplicity to the exclusion of real life responsibilites. Hopefully that rhythm will return starting on the road tomorrow.

Mind over Matter

Day 26 - June 29, 9:42
92 miles. Effingham, IL to Springfield, IL

First of all, I never really touched on the name our last town, Effingham. It's one of those things that you're relieved to find out you're not the only one who takes pleasure in.

Marisa and I were on sweep today meaning that we were suposed to be the last riders at all times. The last time i swept with Noah it was super fun and everyone ususally feels the same way since its basically an excuse to just take it slow and check out everything you can along the way. While i had high hopes for the day, we got a foreshadowing of what was to come when we did only 5 miles in the first hour.

It started out with my second flat tire of the trip. I've had a few tire problems in my time, but never an actual staple folded into my tire. Seriously, I don't think an actual stapler would have done such a good job of lodging it in there like that. It took 25 minutes altogether, not my best time. We then found out that Dennis' tire had one upped me and gotten actually slashed. When we caught up with them they had used a folded up dollar bill to plug the hole and inflate the inner tube. (It really works!)

The scenery was more of the same flat roads and farmland over and over and over and over again. We were literally in seas of corn. So much corn. So much. The only thing there may have been more of than corn was headwind. It just didn't want us moving. The craziest part was tthat no matter what direction the road turned, even when it did a full U turn, the headwind was still there to greet us.

Fortunately we hit a sweet bike path around mile 49 that took us about 11 miles to our second lunch. It was covered on both sides by trees so there was no wind meaning we could comfortably go 15mph or so as opposed to our previous of 9mph. It was so nice to be able to ride without worrying about 18 wheelers coming up on my ass and was a much needed mental break from the never-ending highway. It was so scenic and kind of made me feel as if i was riding through Narnia or something. Except without the centaurs and evil Ice queens and such.

I've established that after lunch is always my least favorite time since you've done so much but need to keep going and almost always gorge too much on food. But this time was especially bad. I hate to say it but around mile 70 I felt like i would shoot myself if I could. We were back in the Farm Sea and up against the worst headwind ever. The lack of a shoulder on the highway didn't help. Marisa was being a super soldier by powering on despite her bad knee, and it was no fault of her own, but it was personally maddening to have to pedal at 8 or 9mph when I knew that i could easily push 15 and get there twice as fast.

What really topped off this mess was that we could literally see 5 miles ahead of us at a time. The road was basically saying "Hey look at how much more of this constant peddling you have to struggle through!" It really reminded me of that shot from the wizard of Oz with the long winding road headed towards Emerald City with green on either side. It was basically that minus Toto and with a Corn Harvesting plant instead of Emerald City. Oh and I guess the yellow traffic lines do technically make it a "yellow road" I love it when analogies work out!

It was getting late and we just buckled down and kept pushing until we hit another bike path at 83, at which point the main struggle had finished. We ended up pulling into the church at 7:40, 12 hours after we had departed the first city. The church treated us to some great turkey burgers and Sherbet, that fun ice cream that instantly reminded me of those Flinstones Push Pops I used to inhale as a child.

This was definitely my most mentally challenging day yet, and speaks to how much cycling is not just physical. I had to start chanting at certain points to keep my mind from realizing how upset I was. It's kind of amazing how far we can push ourselves when we need to and I wonder/hope if I'll be able to carry this fortitude with me in my normal life.

Despite all of this, I did get to finally run through tall corn at one point, since it's been previously too short. It was super fun and way easy to get lost. I hope to venture deeper in the future. Maybe some bicycle themed crop circles wouldn't be too bad either...

Build day tomorrow!
Also, there are apparently some blog readers from Russia which is awesome, Privyet!