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Related Photos The Pittsburg, KS to Ellington, MO Stage Back
(via Highways 126, 37, 160, 38, 17, 106 and numerous County Roads)
September 1, 2004
Having had a restful three days in Pittsburg, we were ready for our ride into Missouri today. We again fixed waffles at the motel breakfast bar before heading north to rejoin the route. A couple of days earlier, we had given our story to the Pittsburg Morning Sun through a phone interview. This morning, we were to meet Ray, the newspaper’s photographer, along Highway 126. We were a bit early so we stopped to pump up the tires. A few minutes later, Ray called us on our cell phone. He indicated that he was two blocks east just beyond an overpass.
We hopped on our tandem and headed east amidst the morning traffic. Two lanes necked down to one just before the overpass so a few commuters had to wait for us as we pedaled up and over. Ray was standing along the left side of the road. Traffic was still pretty heavy so he didn’t get a clear shot. He got back into his vehicle and passed us for another action photo. Once we got past the high school, there were fewer cars on the road. Ray leap-frogged us until we reached the Kansas border, five miles later. There, we stopped to chat and to get some still photos. We also had Ray take some photos using our camera before leaving our home state. After all, we had zigzagged on 711 miles of Kansas highways during ten days of cycling.
The Morning Sun published our story the next Sunday in their weekly magazine insert. With the headline, “A phenomenal way to see the country,” their write-up on us was nicely done. A color photo showing us standing next to the “Welcome to Kansas” sign was a huge 10 x 12 inches. Unfortunately, the article was not web posted. After the photo shoot, the “Welcome to Missouri” sign awaited us. It was time to cross over into another state. Just two miles into Missouri, a short hound dog chased our rig for two hundred feet. Since the hound wasn’t threatening, we decided that this was the welcoming committee, giving us a “show-me state” greeting.
This western edge of Missouri was very flat as we were definitely in farm country. Fields of sorghum, soybeans and corn lined the road. Corn harvest was ongoing as truckloads of corn were seen along the road. Domestic buffalo were visible in one large pasture. Other photo ops included an ivy-covered silo and numerous mobile beehives. The boxes housing the bees were placed on trailers. Some trailers were unhitched and others were connected to semi-trucks. Most of these mobile beehives were located near soybean fields to aid in pollination.
As we followed the straight and narrow Highway 126, we went through some areas that were impacted by flooding. Some of most peculiar signs we had seen on this tour alluded to this environment. The signs, with the words, “Water Gauge,” had markings of 1, 2 and 3 FT at their respective heights. These roadside signs alerted motorists to the water’s height over the road. With no standing (or flowing) water or rain clouds to be found, it was apparently safe for us to bike through the area.
After about 35 miles of cycling, we reached Golden City, MO. This small community had the only available service for the mid-day so it was a must stop. We had heard from other bikers on tour that they served very good pies at the cafe. We ordered lunch, making sure to leave enough room for pecan pie. One waitress was promoting the “ALL-mond Joy” pie to other customers. The “ALL-monds” and coconut on this kind of pie was said to be a delightful treat. We figured that this was the Missourian pronunciation until we heard a second waitress correct her with “AH-mond.” The first waitress replied that she had always pronounced it, “ALL-mond.” As it turned out, she was from California. Yes, their pies were very good.
Before finishing our meal, a waitress handed us a biker book. It was a large, spiral notebook with notes from bikers who had passed through on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. Some comments were recommending accommodations along the route. One westbound biker said, “I’ve climbed my last hill for 600 miles.” We wondered if he later found Kansas (and the 3000 ft climb to Pueblo, CO) to be as flat and unchallenging as he thought it would be. An eastbound rider was berating the infamous south wind in Kansas. After some interesting reading, we scribbled in a few notes about our little trip.
Leaving Golden City, we headed south on Highway 37. We were very pleased that we had no head wind to contend with. However, we did bike through a quick sprinkle. An irrigation system that was watering a field was over-spraying onto the highway. Biking (at 10 mph) through this shower reduced our body temperatures briefly. We noticed that some of the previously harvested fields had some discarded, yellow produce that was scattered about. We were wondering, “Is that quash?” At our next rest stop, we stopped to examine one field more closely. The crop had been cucumbers as the rejected produce had dried to a yellowish-green color.
After four miles, we turned onto eastbound County Road A. Throughout the state, Missouri uses letters to label the county roads. We now had to pay attention to the letters or we risked getting lost. These secondary roads tended to be narrow but lightly traveled. From our tour map, we could see that the next eight miles appeared to be the last stretch of straight road. Through the balance of Missouri, the route was very curvy. As we advanced, the flat terrain transformed to small, rolling hills. Crossing over Highway 97, County Road A changed to County Road Z. We thought we did pretty good, going from A to Z in only forty minutes!
We passed by two farm equipment dealers that were spaced about two miles apart. With the nearest town, Lockwood, MO (population ~ 1,000), four miles to the north, it was curious to see these two substantial businesses in a sparely populated area. There must have been a great deal of prosperity in the local farming. Having traveled seven miles on a hilly CR Z, the name of the highway abruptly changed to CR K. With the letters changing randomly, we stopped to double check the map again. The Missouri back roads made us appreciate the simplicity of following the 1,400-mile Alaskan Highway. We never had to worry about missing a turn!
After cresting a small hill, we were startled to see a steep descent, which was followed immediately with a steep ascent. We flew down the hill, reaching a maximum of 39 mph (a speed unseen since the Colorado Rockies). As we ramped up the next hill, the eight percent grade rudely greeted us. About a third of the way up the hill, all of our momentum was completely spent. We had shifted safely to granny gear, but oh, what a quick transition to go from 39 to 4 mph! Well, we had been there, done that. Trudging up the hill at 3 to 4 mph, our drive train and our bodies were straining to conquer the quarter mile climb. As we reached the top, we couldn’t believe our eyes; the subsequent downhill and uphill was a carbon copy of the previous. Hmmm, we must be getting close to the Ozark Mountains.
With the arrival of the big hills, our perspective changed for the balance of the day. We stopped more often for rest, we drank more water and we ate more food. The next small town of Everton, MO had no services so we were keenly aware of our task at hand. We must bike 14 miles (with a projected 12 to 15 hills) to reach the next town with services. Arriving in Everton, we pedaled through without stopping. It was a small, declining town. Our map addendum had correctly informed us that the restaurant and B&B were closed. A service station remained but did not have icy drinks for sale.
Just outside of Everton, we joined Highway 160. This was the same highway that we traveled on in south central Kansas. The Missouri version of this highway had heavier traffic and was not very wide. After climbing a long hill, we noticed that the tandem was a little unstable. We then realized that our rear tire was nearly deflated. Fortunately, we were close to a side road, which allowed us to get completely off of the highway with space to repair the flat. Upon inspection of the tire, we found that the sidewall, just above the rim, had split open to allow the tube to blow out. It was obviously time to replace the tire. We pulled out one of our two backup tires and a new tube to fix the flat.
The day’s final five miles into Ash Grove, MO were the most treacherous as the hilly road got very curvy with limited sight distance. Sometimes the cars waited to pass and other times they would go over the centerline on a blind curve. It was a relief to reach town. What an afternoon! At the outskirts of town, we called the B&B where we had a reservation. After learning that their location was a mile beyond the downtown area, we decided to eat an early dinner before heading over.
Only one restaurant in this small town appeared to be open. So, we placed our orders at Fred’s Fish House where nearly every menu option was fried. The waitress asked us where we were biking from. When we answered Alaska, she quickly related to a short bike ride that she took while in New Mexico. Later, she asked if we were camping in the City Park, the only camping option in town. When we noted our planned stay at the B&B, her response just floored us. In a giggly manner, she described how she and her friends used to harass the bikers that camped in town. “Wow,” we thought to ourselves.
Other bikers on tour had told us horror stories about small town youth bothering cyclists at their campsites. Youngsters in one town were reported to have rolled a tractor tire down a hill and onto a tent. The tent’s occupants were taken to the hospital for treatment. Was this story fact or fiction? The gloating from the waitress sure got us thinking. And, we thought the adventure was on the highway! Well, the fish at Fred’s was pretty good but we thought against leaving a big tip.
After the meal, we climbed for about a mile to reach the bed and breakfast on the southeast side of town. The B&B was an old farmhouse operated by Fred and Joan. For five years, they spent their weekends driving up from Springfield, MO to renovate the house. They hosted their first guests in 1999. Not wanting to manage frequent stays at their site, they do not advertise outside of the bicycle maps. They provide a well-placed rest stop for bikers. In return, the cyclists provide them with stories of their adventures.
Our hosts were excited to hear about our trip as we had the longest journey of any of their guests so far. We showed them our North American route map and used our laptop to present the slide show we had prepared for the Habitat for Humanity potluck dinner in Manhattan, KS. Fred and Ruth enjoyed the pictures but did not have a computer to check out our website. They encouraged us to write a book so that they could read about our travels.
Miles cycled – 71.6
September 2, 2004
Joan fixed a huge breakfast, complete with fresh fruit, omelets, grits, toast and bagels. We enjoyed this wonderful meal with our hosts at an elegantly set table. Our bike and trailer had been stored in their garage overnight, which made the morning packing easier. Fred took a photo to add to their collection of guest pictures. This bed and breakfast stop was only our second as the previous B&B stay was our first night on the Alaskan Highway. It was nice to be pampered sometimes.
Departing the B&B, we rode downhill to Ash Grove’s downtown area. The main street with its line of red brick buildings was somewhat quaint. One building had a large mural, which reflected the city’s railroad heritage. In the middle of town, we turned north onto County Road V to resume our route. Having got reacquainted with hill climbing the day before, this morning’s start was more of the same. We went up and down, up and down, whew! These relentless hills were never more than a quarter mile long but they were steep. Along the way, we saw mostly pastures of goats, cattle and sheep.
After eight, struggling miles, we reached Walnut Grove, MO. This small town had a convenience store so we stopped for some icy drinks and to rest our tired legs. Continuing from Walnut Grove, we headed east on County Road BB. This road was no easier than County Road V. Up and down we went as Randall was getting a lot of practice, shifting quickly to granny gear. Getting the drive chain to go from the middle chain ring to the small chain ring was not always an easy transition. If a lot a force was put on the pedals, the chain might not shift over as desired. Ideally, you want to pedal at reduced power for a couple of seconds when shifting to the small chain ring. Whenever the start of an upcoming hill had a steep start, that couple of seconds of effortless pedaling would seem like eternity.
On one hill, we failed to shift to the small chain ring and had to stop. Once stopped, we raised the tandem up on the kickstand and hand cranked the pedals to shift to the desired, small chain ring. This stoppage was awkward for us as all momentum had been lost and we were left standing on the side of a steep, narrow road. The grade where we stopped was about nine percent, not an easy place to launch a tandem with 140 pounds of gear. At about a hundred feet up, the grade changed to a more tolerable seven percent. So, we decided to walk our rig to that point. The seven percent grade would make for an easier launch.
As walked the bike, we noticed that the pedals and crank arms were turning also. Yikes! This was not normal. We instantly had flashbacks to our first day on tour. While riding up a steep hill on the Dalton Highway in Alaska, our rear hub failed. We were wondering, “Oh no, not again.” Being on the side of a hill was not the best place to make an assessment on equipment issues so we continued to walk our rig about 500 ft to the top of the hill. Given that we were about a half-mile from a convenience store, we decided to pedal over to that location. The store’s parking lot would give us plenty of space to look at our rear hub.
Once we reached the parking lot, the tandem was put up on the kickstand again. Randall then held the drive chain and tried to turn the rear wheel in a forward rotation. After some initial, stiff resistance the wheel started to turn. Something inside the hub was causing the nine-speed cassette to stick. The cassette was supposed to turn freely in a counterclockwise direction. For now, it was turning freely. What would happen with more steep hills ahead?
Today was the day we had reservations for a minivan. As noted in our “Medicine Lodge, KS to Pittsburg, KS” stage story (see August 29-31, 2004), we had planned to drive a rental car from Missouri to Indiana so that we could attend the 2004 Midwest Tandem Rally. With the suspect rear hub, we debated about the most appropriate route to Springfield, MO. We had hoped to bike an additional 16 miles east to Fair Grove, MO before heading 12 miles south on Highway 65 to reach the rental car agency in Springfield.
A local contractor who was shopping at the convenience store asked us where we were biking to. When we told him about going to Springfield via Fair Grove, he discouraged it because there were a lot of big hills going that way. He promoted County Road Z which went to Willard, MO as one of the flattest roads around. So, our choices were 28 miles of hilly roads or 17 miles on mostly flat roads. Unable to decide which way to go, we started pedaling south down the highway. CR Z was actually part of our tour route for three-fourths of a mile. After this short jog, we were to turn east on CR BB to stay with the route.
When we reached CR BB, we turned onto it and then climbed up a short hill. At the top of the hill, we stopped to inspect the rear hub. The hub was sticking again and this time, it was more difficult to break free. We looked to the east and could see the big hills ahead and decided that it would be best to take the flat route. After the side trip to Indiana, we would be returning to this point to resume our tour. So we turned around and headed south (on CR Z) to Willard and Springfield. Even though Willard was not on the TransAmerica route, our bike map listed a bike shop there. When we arrived in Willard at 11 AM, we learned that the shop did not open until 2:30 PM. Knowing that we would have a rental car within a couple of hours, we continued on to Springfield.
At the outskirts of Willard, we found ourselves back on Highway 160. This portion of Highway 160 was even busier than what we had seen a day earlier. To our relief, there was a 6 ft shoulder which gave us some protection. After going six miles southeast, we reached Kearney Street on the northwest side of Springfield. The rental car agency was four miles east on this four-lane street. This major city street, as expected, was not very bicycle friendly. After going a nerve-wracking two miles, we stopped at Wendy’s for lunch. We figured that by 1 PM, the traffic would diminish somewhat.
Following a restful lunch, we reached the rental car agency at 1:15 PM. While Barb processed the rental paperwork, Randall copied bicycle shop information from the phone book. We were allotted a minivan with “stow and go” seats, which gave us an empty area in the back for all of our gear. For the next half-hour, we loaded everything we had into that minivan (where else would we put our stuff?). With the wheels and the rear fender off, the bike frame fit neatly inside. The trailer and panniers were placed to one side. Having everything aboard, we were ready to drive to Indiana but we had one detour to make. We needed to find out what was going on with the rear hub.
Randall’s search for bike shops in Springfield area yielded six possibilities. Without any referrals, we had no idea which one to try. The first bike shop we visited was too busy to help us. So, we used our cell phone to find a shop that would have time to look at our suspect hub. Once we got a positive response, we drove five miles south to Cycles Unlimited. Kelsey, the shop mechanic, took our hub apart to investigate the problem. The look on Kelsey’s face told us it was not good news. The pawls were okay, but the ratchet ring was disintegrating. Some of the ratchet points had broken off and were floating around inside the hub.
This failure was particularly surprising as we were using a reputable hub. When we had rear hub problems on the Dalton Highway in Alaska, we asked our Michigan bike shop, Prestige Cycles, to build us a new wheel from scratch using a Phil Wood hub. On July 14, in Coleman, Alberta, we put this newly built wheel on our tandem. There were no known issues with the existing wheel and hub but we wanted to have some increased confidence in our rear hub, given the past problems we had. The old wheel was to be our backup so we shipped it to Prestige Cycles for refurbishment as needed.
So, 2,300 miles later, we were faced with another hub problem. Kelsey cleaned it up as much as possible, so we would at least have something to ride at the Midwest Tandem Rally in Indiana. We would be riding in the rally without the 140 pounds of gear so we expected the hub to be okay. Having defined the hub problem, we left Springfield to begin our 552 mile drive to Columbus, IN. Randall called Andy at Prestige Cycles and arranged to have the backup wheel shipped to the Springfield, MO bike shop. Andy was also going to contact the hub manufacture to learn how we could resolve the broken hub. After driving 298 miles, it was time to call it a day as we checked into a motel in Mount Vernon, IL.
Miles cycled – 34.8
September 3-8, 2004 – – – Midwest Tandem Rally
We arrived in Columbus late Friday morning after driving the additional 254 miles of interstate highways. Once we checked into our motel, we reassembled our tandem and hitched up the trailer. We then packed up our gear as it looked during the tour. With everything loaded up, we rode our rig a few blocks over to the convention center so that the people registering could see it. We talked with several people about our trip, including a couple who rode their tandem 600 miles to the rally from Iowa. They were interested in doing a cross-country tour and asked us a lot of questions.
When we picked up our registration packet, we noticed a USA map which was marked with pushpins. Those who rode their tandem to the rally placed a pin on the point where they started. We put a pin in Alaska but also inserted an asterisk to note that we drove from Missouri. After registering, we went over to the fairgrounds for the evening cookout. There, we met a couple from Rochester Hills, MI (the city where we previously lived). We told them we were discouraged that we had not collected more donations for Habitat for Humanity. With our adventure about two thirds finished, we estimated that we had reached only about a tenth of our goal of $60,000. They countered that we were giving Habitat for Humanity more exposure and that would help many local chapters, even if we did not reach our goal. In effect, we were planting seeds.
Over the years, the Midwest Tandem Rally (MTR) has been the largest gathering of tandems on the planet. Since it is held in a different city each year, we had been to rallies in St. Charles, IL, Duluth, MN, Kansas City, MO and Dayton, OH. This year, the MTR was in Columbus, IN, headquarters of Cummins Engine. Through an endowment, Cummins has made this city of 40,000 very unique. They have paid for renowned architects for many of the public buildings including the schools, the post office and the county prison. This created an atmosphere where many of the private businesses and churches also used famous architects. As a result, Columbus was “different, by design.”
More than 500 tandem teams registered for MTR 2004. The Saturday and Sunday rides started with everyone leaving at 9 AM. The local police assisted with the mass starts by providing the tandem teams with the right of way at busy intersections. This meant that some motorists might have to wait in their vehicles for ten minutes while a stream of tandems passed by. Fortunately, the early morning traffic was minimal so few motorists were inconvenienced. From the tandemists’ point of view, these mass starts were a blast! As the mass of tandems followed the routes through the southern Indiana countryside, they became more and more dispersed into small groups as each team went at the pace they were comfortable with.
One of the things we have enjoyed at the MTR was meeting other tandem enthusiasts like ourselves. The rally also allowed us to renew old acquaintances. While positioning ourselves for the Saturday mass start, we happened upon a couple from Kentucky that we met at a Santana Tandem Rally in Pennsylvania in 2001. Jeffrey grew up in Columbus, so he and Jody made it a point to attend the MTR this year. The long line of tandems positioned for the mass start, was a favorite setting for us to observe. Couples, families and pets were all lined up for a big day of riding.
A foggy morning start was not the optimal way to see the sights but the fog did break about an hour later. The Saturday ride was mostly flat and took us on country roads that passed fields of corn and soybeans. The morning rest stop was in the small town of Hope, IN. They had bananas, oranges, blueberries, muffins, granola and cookies for us to eat along with water and Gatorade to drink. It was quite an impressive array of treats for those who were pushing the pedals.
For our ride strategy, we decided to do the shorter routes both days. This would limit the stress on our troublesome hub and allow more time for rest as Barb was fighting a cold. Riding without the 140 pounds of gear certainly made a big difference as we rode 18-20 mph at times. We enjoyed the extra speed, as we knew the cargo would be back with us in a few days. Heading back into Columbus by late morning, we stopped at the Christian Church for lunch. One of the many architectural marvels in town, the church made a nice setting for a delicious meal and live music. After lunch, we pedaled the five miles back to our motel.
As part of the MTR activities, workshops were conducted on Saturday evening. These sessions covered various topics from basic maintenance to touring with children. Because we were uncertain if we would make it to the MTR, we did not commit to doing a workshop. However, when the rally organizers found out we were in town, they hastily added us to their schedule. For our hour presentation, we gave a brief overview of the trip and displayed our North America route map. We then ran our slide show with the viewing time set to four seconds per photo so that we could take our audience from Alaska to Missouri in a half hour.
A projector was unavailable so Jeffrey brought in a large monitor from a computer system he was setting up for his mother. Thanks to Jeffrey, our small group had something larger than a laptop to see the show on. The primary interest of our listeners was, “How did we plan for our trip?” and “What did we take along?” After the workshop, we were invited to join Jeffrey’s family for dinner at his mother’s house. We got to visit with them and another Kentucky couple that was attending the rally.
For Sunday’s ride, we had a gorgeous, sunny morning to line up for the mass start. The second day’s route was more hilly as southern Indiana borders the Ohio River and is known for its substantial hills. Not far away in Bloomington, IN, a well known cycling rally called the Hilly Hundred is hosted. Biking ahead of the pack for a while, we stopped at an intersection where we were to make a right turn. Barb positioned herself across from the intersection and took 40 photos of tandems making the right hand turn. This time, we were standing still and letting the adventure come to us! To see more photos from the rally, click this link: Midwest Tandem Rally 2004 Photos.
After navigating several curvy hills, we stopped at the mid morning rest stop. Food and beverage tents were set up at a private home along a lake. Tandem riders had a great view of the lake as they loaded up on the various treats. Continuing on the winding roads, we appreciated that the county had recently resurfaced some of the highways so the roads were very smooth. The lunch was hosted at a country church. With the morning sun warming us up, it was nice to have a meal and chilled refreshments. After lunch, we went up and down a few hills before returning to the motel. The rear hub held up okay and we averaged 15 mph despite the hills.
That Sunday evening, the MTR wrapped up a wonderful two days of riding with a banquet. We sat with our friends, Dick and Charlotte from Michigan, and met new acquaintances from Ohio. Following a big meal, the entertainment was a barber shop quartet. They sang the first verse of “Bicycle Built for Two.” Many are familiar with the lyrics, which start, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.” Fewer know that she turns him down in verse two. Because of this, the second verse is generally not mentioned at tandem rallies. At the end of the banquet, the MTR 2004 organizers made their traditional handoff to the planners of MTR 2005 (to be held in Grand Rapids, MI). The Columbus rally was well received by many of the tandem teams as the MTR 2004 staff had done a wonderful job.
The Monday morning following the tandem rally, we enjoyed the company of college friends, Allen and Brad, from Chicago and Indianapolis. Knowing that we would be soon moving to Washington state, they drove to Columbus to visit with us. Allen’s family had been closely following our trip and wanted to hear about our adventure first hand. Under a shade tree in the city park, we showed our slideshow from our laptop. It was great to see them again.
That Monday afternoon, with the minivan all loaded up with our tandem and gear, we headed to Springfield, MO. We drove nonstop as we took the same interstate highways going back. Arriving late to Springfield, we checked into a motel. The next morning, we took our tandem to the bike shop to replace the rear wheel. The refurbished wheel that had been shipped from Michigan had arrived at Cycles Unlimited. Before putting the wheel on, the disk brake rotor and 9-speed cassette had to be transferred from the old wheel. Once those parts were removed, we were to ship the old wheel to the hub manufacturer, Phil Wood. Through a prior call to our Michigan bike shop, we learned that the manufacturer was expecting to repair the hub without charge.
As he removed the 9-speed cassette, Kelsey noticed some wear and recommended that we change out the cassette, chain rings and drive chain. These components had seen more than 5,000 miles and were wearing out. Cycles Unlimited had the cassette and chain in stock but would have to order the chain rings. Barb’s sister, Susan, the coordinator of our parts inventory in Leavenworth, KS, had the needed chain rings, but it would take a couple of days for them to be delivered. Knowing that we would need to get more parts, we again reviewed the wear components on the tandem to make sure there were no other issues.
After further inspection, the disk brake pads were found to be fairly worn out. In addition, the disk brake rotor was slightly warped. Since new chain rings, pads and a rotor would have to be shipped from multiple sources, we decided to take the minivan for a road trip (again). Confirming that all of the needed parts were in our parts inventory, we hopped in the minivan and headed for Leavenworth, 200 miles up to the north. To our advantage, we had the rental car on a weekly rate with unlimited mileage.
Arriving in Leavenworth in the evening, we gathered up the requisite parts and spent the night at Susan’s house. It was nice to be able to visit with family on a short notice. Departing early the next morning, we arrived at the Springfield bike shop after 10 AM. By 2 PM, the repairs on the tandem were completed. We were very appreciative that Kelsey serviced our bike on a busy workday. Kelsey also shipped the old wheel to Phil Wood for us. We tagged the wheel with a return address of Leavenworth so that it would go to our parts inventory as a backup. The hub manufacturer earlier sent us an email expressing their regrets that we had a problem with one of their hubs. Realizing that it was too late in the day to resume our tour, we checked into a motel.
Miles cycled – 76.6
September 9, 2004
Finally, after almost a week away from our cycle touring, we were returning to the point where we left off in Missouri. Last night, we made some good progress with our journal writing so we stayed at the motel until checkout time to keep the momentum going. Just before the rally, we had posted our story up to Saratoga, WY. We were hoping to get the segment to Pueblo, CO posted in the next few days. In the effort to describe our trip in sufficient detail, we were in awe of how challenging this task was. The waffles at the motel’s breakfast bar made for a good pre-ride meal. We were ready to start touring.
Not wanting to bike back through the busy Springfield traffic, we drove our loaded minivan to Willard where we pulled into a small park area. We then unloaded everything and completely packed our tandem and trailer for touring. The minivan was checked and double-checked to make sure we had not forgotten anything. The next step was to ride our rig down the road for a quarter mile to confirm everything was working. Riding back to the minivan, we parked the tandem in the shade. As we propped the bike up on the kickstand, the stand detached itself from the tandem’s frame. Ugh!
Upon closer inspection, we determined that the interior threads of the kickstand’s mounting bracket had stripped out. The threads of the 10 mm bolt that was pulled out of the bracket were fine. From that type of failure, we concluded there were two possible solutions. We could buy a longer bolt or get a new kickstand. A longer bolt would probably give us a good mounting because the old bolt only screwed in about a half inch. Using a screwdriver to probe into the interior threads, we estimated that there was at least a half an inch of threads that the old bolt wasn’t using. Why were we so intent on fixing the problem? For 5,000 miles of touring, we used our kickstand hundreds of times without ever respecting its value to us.
Most touring cyclists don’t use a kickstand as the extra couple of pounds is considered too much of a weight penalty while the simple alternative is to lay the bike on its side or up against the wall. With our rig, if we were to lay it over on its side, we would have a very difficult time getting it back up! Without a kickstand, we would have to take turns holding the bike up during rest breaks. We would no longer have the convenience of servicing the rear wheel while the tandem is propped up. When we would lean our rig against a wall, we would have difficulty accessing our bags on the backside. We hadn’t biked one mile and we were already missing the kickstand.
Finding an ESGE double-legged kickstand at a local bike shop was not an option as they are rarely stocked. Locating a 10 mm bolt with a socket flat head was not going to be an easy task either. While Barb stayed with our rig in Willard, Randall was to return the rental car to Springfield. Desperate to find a replacement bolt, Randall stopped at a hardware store in Willard and searched two stores in Springfield. Having no luck, he returned the minivan to the rental car agency. A rental car agent then drove Randall up to Willard. It was now almost 2 PM so we decided to have lunch at the café across the street.
After lunch, the local bike shop opened at 2:30 PM so we checked to see if they had a bolt or kickstand. With no success there, it was time to move on or we would not make it to our planned destination before dark. We pedaled seven miles north on County Road Z where we reached County Road BB. Making a right turn onto CR BB, we were now back on the TransAmerica route where we had left off, prior to the tandem rally. Our bike was responding well with the refurbished rear wheel and new drive components. Barb was nearly recovered from her cold and was feeling more energetic. It was good to be back on the saddle again.
As we returned to the large hills, we passed by several pastures of cattle. We also saw two, substantial barns along the way. When we sped down the long, steep hills, we had to watch for school buses coming from the side roads. After six roller coaster miles, we crossed over busy Highway 13. Once we crossed this highway, CR BB turned into County Road CC. We then followed this curvy and hilly road for ten miles before reaching Fair Grove, MO. Having had a pretty good workout, we stopped for icy drinks and snacks at the convenience store. Fishing must have been popular in this area as the store had a sign advertising “Canadian Night Crawlers.”
Departing Fair Grove, we headed east on County Road E. The hills were not nearly as big as we got some relief from the climbing. Two classic John Deere tractors were seen along the road. We continued to go by several pastures with grazing cattle. A large, Angus bull was bellowing and kicking up dirt to help fight the flies. We were also seeing a number of family dairy operations. The local time was about 5:30 PM and the cows were lining up for their evening milking. After eight miles, CR E turned into Highway 38. The terrain was even more flat but the roads were still curvy. Getting away from the hills was a good way to finish our day.
As we got closer to our destination, the sun behind us was approaching the horizon. We were getting some good photos of our shadow along the road. As we reached the outskirts of Marshfield, MO, we saw a sign that proudly stated, “Home of the Lady Jays, Girls 3A Basketball State Champions.” This same sign also greeted us with, “Welcome to the Top of the Ozarks!” To get into town, we had to go on an overpass that took us across Interstate 44. At 7:30 PM, we reached our motel. After showering, we walked to A&W Restaurant next door for dinner. Although we had not gone a lot of miles today, we were certainly ready to get some sleep.
Miles cycled – 34.7
September 10, 2004
We got up at 6 AM and then took advantage of the motel’s continental breakfast. There, we feasted on fresh fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, cereal and pastries. We wondered why we couldn’t get a breakfast like that every morning. After all, we were riding a bicycle across the continent! Having stuffed ourselves with breakfast, we went back to the hotel room and laid down. That was a mistake. At 9 AM, we woke up from our nap. We were probably tired from the past, irregular sleeping. Hopefully, we were adjusted now.
After checking out of the motel, we ventured through downtown Marshfield, where we stopped at the local hardware store. With a population of 4,400, this was the last large town we would see for a while. The store did not carry the metric bolt that we needed for our kickstand but we did purchase a plastic ruler. The ruler would later help us determine exactly what length bolt to order. We departed town and continued east on Highway 38. The terrain was somewhat flat with an occasional hill. Now, we were seeing miles and miles of bailed hay. Some of that hay probably fed the large herds of cattle we saw the day before.
Many of the farms we passed by appeared to be small, family farms. Later, we saw a sign warning, “Horse Drawn Vehicles” and another with a picture of a buggy and the caption, “Share the Road.” Apparently, there were Amish in the area, but we did not see any. One farm had a very tall windmill. This windmill confirmed what we have observed up to now. The wind in Missouri was not nearly as strong as what it was in Kansas. We were VERY thankful for the change. Even with the extra height, the Missouri windmill was turning very slow and was stopping at times. One field along the road had a half dozen vultures feeding on a carcass. Another vulture circled overhead. We had better keep moving!
The road now followed the Woods Fork Gasconade River for the next six miles. The terrain was mostly rolling hills with lots of curves. Up to now, most of the motorists had been courteous although the Missouri drivers were not giving us as wide a berth as what the Kansans were given us. A few miles from our next town, a Toyota pickup truck approached us from behind. He gave us a toot with his horn as some other vehicles have done just to be sure we were aware of their presence. Barb gave the driver a wave to let him know that he was heard. However, this driver continued to toot the horn, with many short blasts. We don’t think he intended for us to pull over and let him pass. We believed he was alerting any oncoming traffic, “I’m coming through!” The high pitched “toot, toot” horn of a Toyota was hardly intimidating.
As we came to a crest on a small hill, we could see that a pre-fabricated home was being prepared for relocation. One half of the double wide home was sitting on a truck bed, just six feet from the highway. The exposed back of the half section was being covered with sheets of plastic. The remaining half of the house was still resting on the foundation. Within two miles of the next town, the campaign signs were quite abundant. As election time drew closer, the “fall colors” were certainly more prevalent. Most signs were professionally printed but a few were homemade. One declared, “Vote Glenn (Bubba) Adler Sheriff.” Another sign was for the elected position of coroner. We could not see that anyone was running against this candidate.
After making a sharp turn to the north, we could see that the road was breaking away from the river and ascending up a hill. For one mile, we slowly climbed up that hill. At the top of the hill, we passed by a dozen, parked school buses that looked like they had been retired for a while. From there, we flew down the hill to downtown Hartville, MO, being careful not to miss the one stop light in the middle of town. For our lunch stop, we went into a café near the traffic light. The first thing we noticed on the menu was that frog legs were listed as a Friday night special. We would have to be content with the lunch options.
While we were enjoying our Philly sandwiches with homemade onion rings, a couple of men from the sheriff’s department came in and sat at the table next to us. One had handcuffs and both had what appeared to be stun guns attached to their belts. They also had empty gun holsters. The empty holsters reminded us of everyone’s favorite, small town deputy, Barney Fife. Barney wasn’t always allowed to carry a gun. We thought that they might ask us where we were going, but they never make eye contact with us. They just sat there and smoked their cigarettes the whole time. We had never been so ignored by law enforcement.
Hartville, with a population of about 500, had a number of older, distinguish buildings lining its main street. Some of the signs also attracted our attention. “If the Colonel had Our Chicken, He’d be a General,” “Bullfrogs Pawn” and “Heavenly Hash Café.” On the east side of town, there was a fairly large, grain mill. Leaving town, we were still on Highway 38. After two river crossings, we had to climb up another big hill. This mile long hill was quite a burden with its eight percent grade as we had to go to granny gear for most of the climb. With the temperature in the mid 80s, the hill climbing was a bit more challenging.
For the second day in a row, a school bus passed us as it was taking children home. The local schools were apparently back in session. With the Missouri roads being so narrow, we were very much aware of the buses going by us. After about 16 miles of relentless hills, we crossed over into Texas County. Less than a mile later, we passed another tour milestone: 5,000 miles. We stopped and Randall held up five fingers for the photo op. In the absence of a kickstand, it was a bit challenging to hold up the one hand and then keep the tandem upright with the other hand. The kickstand will have to be repaired before we reach 6,000 miles as we will need both hands for signaling the mileage!
After having biked about 45 miles since our morning departure, we reached Bendavis, MO at 4:30 PM. Approaching a convenience store, we bypassed the initial entrance because the transition to the parking lot was not very smooth. Instead, we continued down the highway briefly to catch a more bike-friendly, second entrance. From our biking maneuvers, the storeowner, who was standing outside, had concluded that we were not stopping. He immediately shouted, “Eighteen miles to the next services!” Once we got our rig to lean against a wall, we entered the store to get some icy drinks and snacks. Soon after we entered, he handed us a biker’s book.
Chuck the storeowner, was quite a promoter of his business. He encouraged us to setup our tent in the back if we wanted to spend the night. We thanked him for the offer, but wanted to do a few more miles. Chuck countered, “You have some steep hills ahead with 12 percent grade!” Needing some ice to cool our drinks, he had us open a full bag to fill our bottles. With the afternoon being somewhat warm, the chilled drinks gave us some relief. We then glanced through the biker’s book. One eastbound cyclist wrote, “Do you west bounders think those hills were tough? Wait till you hit the Kansas and Wyoming wind!” Like the previous biker books that we had seen, this book had some character. On the front cover, someone had pasted a card depicting the “Going to the Sun” highway from Glacier National Park.
After we made an entry into the biker’s book, Chuck proceeded to describe the culture in this part of Missouri. He had lived in the area since 1990 when he came to care for his elderly parents and their farm. The family was not originally from Missouri but was well accepted as they worked hard and treated others with respect. In a blunt, outspoken manner, Chuck recounted how outsiders had moved in to take over some of the local farms. The new owners never fit in, as they perceived themselves to be “better than the locals.” Things just didn’t work out and the locals eventually bought them out and the outcasts moved on. “These are nice people,” he said, “But they live on their own terms.”
As he lit up another cigarette, Chuck informed us that the town of Bendavis (which appeared to be not much more than his store) was named for a variety of apples. The area’s orchard did not thrive but many of the family farms and dairies were successful. This year had been cooler and wetter than usual (we heard that in Kansas also). The cattle were still grazing on the green pastures, when they normally would be eating hay by now. With the large number of grazing cattle we had seen in the past couple of days, we did not dispute his assessment.
Chuck went on to proclaim that we were in Baptists country with 250 churches listed in the phone book. Although we recalled seeing a number of country churches along our route, the quantity he mentioned seem pretty high. We later did a Yahoo yellow pages search and found 203 listings for “Baptist Church” within a 50 mile radius of Bendavis. Some of the Baptists that live in the immediate area would not patronize his store because he sold liquor. He noted that he got a lot of traffic from more distant towns as they made their liquor purchases away from where their neighbors might see them.
During the course of the day, we had ridden through spider webs a number of times. The web strings would stick to our arms and bike, but fortunately, we had not been bitten. Describing our web experiences, Chuck led us outside to a tree in front of his store. There, we marveled at the huge size of the Zipper spiders. They get their name from the zipper like formation at the center of their web. Chuck had lots of stories to tell. When he struggled to remember one person’s name, he said he had “some-timers” (as oppose to Alzheimer’s). We could certainly relate to that type of memory loss.
With another 17 miles to our destination, it was time to hit the road. Chuck repeated that there might not be any services along the way. A few miles outside of town, we passed by an old, white country school. The school’s sign read, “Alice School – Est. 1915.” After the school, we biked ahead to Fairview, MO. Behind several abandon vehicles, a store could be seen but it did not appear to be open. At Fairview, the road bent sharply to the north and then curved slightly to the northeast. For the next several miles, we were riding on a ridge where we had tremendous views to the south. Looking down the hill, the roadside pastures were sprinkled with ponds and grazing cattle. Beyond the pastures, we could see a tree filled horizon about ten miles away. We absorbed the beauty during our rest stops and later realized that the previous town was named Fairview for a reason.
Because the ridge we were riding on was somewhat flat, we were making good time. After riding several miles on Highway 38, it changed to Highway 17. We gradually got closer to the trees that we had seen in the distance. Later, we skirted a couple of forested areas as we passed by tall towers used for spotting forest fires. Near the end of the ridge, we reached Bucyrus, MO. This town was not much more than a post office. Riding down from the ridge and over a river, our tandem accelerated to 38 mph. We then climbed up a mile long hill before resting. The fall colors (political campaign advertisements) were starting to appear along the highway so we knew we were getting close to a town.
Coasting down the other side of the hill, we reached the city limits of Houston, MO. With a population of 2,000, this community was the county seat of Texas County. Hmmm, were we riding in Missouri or Texas? We checked into the Houston Motel, which was operated by a gentleman from South Korea. He mentioned that we could put our bike in our room if we wanted but the town was very safe. Our stuff would not be bothered if we left it outside. We showered before walking across the street to a Chinese restaurant.
When we returned from dinner, the motel owner was standing outside. He inquired about our trip. Although he had hosted a number of cross-country cyclists, he was really impressed that we started in Alaska. He thought that a lot of Americans just did the minimum to get by. They were not compelled to seek adventure or fulfill their dreams. For our trip, we took the risk of leaving it all behind for six months to bike across the continent. He declared that when we have completed our journey, we could ask any of our coworkers what they had done in the last six months. They would struggle to come up with anything noteworthy. We would have a wealth of experiences to relate.
Miles cycled – 65.0
September 11, 2004
At 5:30 AM, we walked to the convenience store next door for breakfast snacks since none of the restaurants were open yet. The store had “No Smoking” signs posted through out. We did not realize that this type of sign would soon be a rarity, as smoking became the norm. When we returned to the motel, it was still dark, so we waited about fifteen minutes for better visibility. Heading out from Houston, we took Highway 17 to the southeast. The morning had patches of fog, which gave the countryside an eerie appearance. Eventually, the sun broke through and shined brightly into our eyes.
For the next nine miles, our route was full of zigzags and hills. We turned left and then right, left and right, again and again. Once we reached Yukon, MO, we turned right and faced a rare, half mile of flat highway. South of Yukon, we passed by the Chit N Chat grocery store. As we climbed up a short hill, the road bent sharply to the right and followed with a steep descent to a river crossing. Flying down the hill, we had to slow down for a sharp turn onto a one-lane bridge. Having lost all of our momentum, we stopped for a rest before climbing out of the river valley. After a mile of climbing, we passed through Eunice, MO. The community’s one business, Cooper’s General Store appeared to be open.
The land somewhat leveled out for the next six miles. The hills were gentler but somewhat long. As we rode over the hills, we noticed that the farms were smaller and more traditional. Instead of pastures full of cattle and a few horses, we saw smaller, fenced in areas, with pigs, sheep and goats. Chickens, ducks and geese were seen wandering about. Dog sightings also increased but most were confined by leashes or fences. A few loudly escorted us to their property line. It seemed that the dog “union rules” only required border to border barking. Two loose dogs on the road actually avoided us when we arrived. The size of our rig must have intimidated them.
We stayed on Highway 17 until we reached Summersville, MO, a town of about 500. At the point where we were to turn east onto Highway 106, we stopped at an older service station. This business appeared to have been recently reopened as a new sign was waiting to be hung outside. The selection inside was limited to bottled drinks and a few snack items. The new operators were stressing the service part of their business as they pumped the gas for all the vehicles that stopped. We purchased one bottle of Sprite and a couple of packages of peanut butter and crackers.
The cheery clerk asked us about our trip. She was accustomed to meeting cyclists that came down the TransAmerica route and enjoyed hearing their stories. Thus, she was blown away when she learned that we had started from Alaska and were going to Florida. She eagerly accepted our Habitat for Humanity card and then proceeded to tell everyone nearby about us. As we left, she was telling the next customer in her gentle southern accent, “All summer long, we see bikers going from Oregon to Virginia. See these people right here? They’re going from Alaska to Florida!”
Heading east on Highway 106, our scenery changed as the trees were very abundant. We appeared to be riding along a ridge but it was difficult to tell because of all the trees. Occasionally, we would dip down on a short hill, only to quickly climb back up over the next hill. We felt that we were gradually gaining elevation and then confirmed it when there was a break in the trees. In this opening, we could see quite a distance. As we biked along, we continued to get brief glimpses of the wooded valley below. Later, we stopped at a scenic overlook, but the trees were too overgrown to see anything.
We had been told by another cyclist, that the hills really begin around Alley Spring. Being just a few miles from this point, our anticipation was building. A large sign greeted us to the entranced of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Just beyond this sign, another sign warned trucks of a steep descent ahead. For over two miles, we coasted down this curvy, winding hill. Because of the limited sight distance, we had to brake repeatedly. We had not seen a long descent like this since Colorado. As we got closer to the river, we could hear the voices of canoeists below.
Our momentum carried us past Alley Spring and to the bridge over Jack’s Fork River. The bridge provided a good view of the area. At the time we had arrived, a dozen canoes, each carrying one couple, were launching from the riverside. The water was clear and calm in what was quite a beautiful setting. A canoe rental company had dropped the canoeists off and would meet them downstream either later that day or the next, depending on the length of the trip. A number of people were enjoying the mild weather as it was the first weekend after the Labor Day holiday. We imagined that this place must really be packed during the peak of the summer vacation time.
Having come down a long hill, it was now time for a real workout. The 1.5 mile climb out of the river valley was one of greatest challenges we had on this tour. Because the road kept bending, we had no idea how far we were from the hill’s crest. After we reached the first bend, the seven percent grade increased to ten percent. Although this steepest segment was only a quarter mile in length, going back to a subsequent seven to eight percent was not exactly the relief we were looking for. Half way up the hill, a van driver with a load of canoes encouraged us with, “You can do it!”
Because there was no safe place to stop on this narrow road, we pedaled at three mph all the way to the summit. Once we reached the top, we were exhausted, dizzy and out of breath. We rested for nearly ten minutes and drunk a lot of water. A motorist going by offered, “Is that a hill or what!” Venturing on, we rode downhill for nearly a mile where we came to another one mile climb. Although this hill was a consistent, seven percent, we were pretty spent from the previous hill. Having completed the second substantial hill, we flew down a steep descent into the village of Eminence, MO. Our brakes squealed as we stopped at the flashing red light marking the main road through town.
During the course of this bicycle tour, we removed ourselves from the usual comforts of life in order to enjoy a tremendous adventure. On this day, we adjusted our schedule so that we could take in a special interest. Our alma mater, Kansas State University, was featured in a nationally televised football game. From our planning, we knew that an Eminence sports bar would have a TV available. Our Eminence motel was not an option because there was no TV. So, we conceded a shorter riding day with a very early start to make the timing work out. We were keenly aware that scheduling and adventure were not always a good mix.
From our brake-squealing entry into Eminence, we made a right turn to the downtown area. We found the sports bar but learned that it did not open until 2 PM. Our football game would be over by then. While Randall held up our rig, Barb walked into the restaurant above the sports bar to ask if there was some place else in town to watch the game. The operator said that she knew of no place else that had a TV. A nearby cook informed Barb that Missouri University had already played this week. Barb said we were hoping to watch the Kansas State game.
The cook then offered, “You can watch it in my apartment. I have a satellite dish.” A stunned Barb replied, “Excuse me? You are offering your apartment to complete strangers?!” John, the cook, went outside the restaurant with Barb so that he could point out the location of his apartment on the side of the hill. After receiving the keys to the apartment, Barb handed him one of our Habitat for Humanity cards. With the unusual opportunity John had given us, Barb felt that we should give him something more substantial as collateral for all of his trust in us.
With apartment keys in hand, we walked our rig one block up the steep hill and then over a half block to the apartment. Securing the bike to a pillar on the first floor, we went up to the second floor apartment. We found the game on John’s TV and settled in for two hours of football broadcast. After enduring a very difficult 42 miles of morning touring, we were now watching our college team suffer a losing fate. Ohhhh, the agony of defeat. We were grateful that because of John’s generosity, we could mourn the loss in private.
John got off work at 2:30 PM and joined us for the final ten minutes of the game. Although he attended the University of Arkansas on a diving scholarship, we soon learned that he was from Leawood, KS and was a KSU fan. When we thanked him for trusting us with his apartment, John said we had honest faces. Having previously worked in the Kansas City area, he moved to Eminence to help care for his parents. He made a lot less here, but the cost of living was significantly lower so it almost evened out.
As we described the scope of our trip, John was incredulous to the magnitude of it all. When he asked how we were leaving town, we said that we were heading east on Highway 106. He was apparently familiar with the route as he reacted with (laughing hysterically), “Ha, ha, ha! Man, do you know about those hills out there! Those hills are… well, you’ll do okay if you have gotten this far (tapering with a nervous laugh).” We appreciated his vote of confidence as his laughter certainly was etched into our brains. He thought it was great that we living out a dream, riding across the continent. We offered to buy him a late lunch, but he’d been working since 5:30 AM and preferred to relax in his apartment with a few beers.
Leaving our bike at the apartment, we walked back downtown for a late lunch. We decided to dine at Winfield’s where John worked. Winfield’s, a restored fountain and emporium dating from Eminence’s roaring 20s, gained a second lease on life when it was reopened in 1999. One section of the building was setup for casual dining with a soda fountain while another section featured formal dining. The third section was a general store with everything from school supplies to shoes. They were negotiating with a current pharmacy student in hopes of bringing a pharmacist back to Eminence. The restoration details were remarkable from the tin ceiling to the wooden floor. Four ceiling fans were belt driven and a chandelier hung in the main entryway. We enjoyed our sandwiches and pie ala mode in elegance.
After lunch, we hiked back up to the apartment to reunite with our rig. We then rode to our motel on the north edge of town. Along the way, we passed by the sign, “Welcome to Eminence – Where the Hills and Rivers Meet!” That slogan seemed to fit pretty well. We crossed the Jacks Fork River again and could see tents set up along the shore. The motel offered no phone service so we pulled out our satellite phone to check email. For a town with a population of 600, Eminence had a lot of stuff that attracted our attention. There was a car wash nearby with one sign which read, “No Loose Trash, Hay or Manure.” Another sign stated, “No Mud Blast Vehicles – Owner on Site.” We later saw one of the mud blast jeeps that was heavily covered with mud.
Late in the evening, we walked to Dean’s Barbeque for dinner. The barbeque cooker was sitting outside as the wonderful smell was successful in luring us in. Inside, a cowboy theme was prevalent. Two of the tables had horse saddles as chairs. Since we rode on a saddle daily, these tables did not appeal to us. However, they seemed to be a hit with the kids. The one restroom was labeled, “Cowboys and Cowgirls (Just Not at the Same Dang Time!)” The menu had armadillo eggs listed as an appetizer. We chose the pork sandwiches instead. To complete the atmosphere, one sign warned, “Always Drink Upstream from the Herd.”
Miles cycled – 42.6
September 12, 2004
For breakfast, we walked to a small cafe which was operated in a convenience store. The next table was full of older men getting their morning dose of cigarettes and coffee while wolfing down the house specialty of biscuits and gravy. We chose French toast and bacon. The locals chattered unceasingly, but were difficult to understand because of their heavy ascent. Apparently, a couple of them had been installing cellular transmission towers in the hills (this seemed like a reasonable thing to do since we had no cellular coverage in the area). One fellow rationalized about the new towers, “This is so your woman can keep track of you!”
According to the bank marquee, the temperature dropped from 65 to 55 F while we were eating breakfast. It was not light enough at 6:30 AM so we waited ten minutes in the motel room. The days were getting shorter so we have to adjust our start times. The map we were using said that eastbound travelers would feel like the route is all uphill, beginning with a five mile climb out of Eminence. John had enlightened us about the hills the day before. We were trying to get an early start with our ride as we were highly anticipating the challenge ahead. We were also hoping that the early morning traffic would be lighter on these narrow roads.
Heading out, we crossed over the Jacks Fork River again and turned east on State Route 106. We began climbing right away as the grade varied from six to eight percent. Keeping a steady cadence, we reached a hillcrest after 1.5 miles and then descended a brief distance down to a river crossing. Continuing on, we endured one-mile climbs up two subsequent hills. On top of the third hill, we stopped to rest. We had traveled nearly five miles. We wondered if we had seen the worse or not. Physically, we were holding up pretty well as we were pleased that our bodies had recovered from yesterday’s difficult climbing.
For the next seven miles, we went over a series of long hills with gradual climbs and descents. We were definitely in a heavily forested area because we rarely had distance views. Logging trucks were said to frequent this area. With the road being so narrow, we were not looking forward to having one of those big rigs pass us on a hill. We came to a large park service sign which read, “Ozark National Scenic Riverways.” We had previous biked through a section of this park at Alley Spring and were now entering it again.
After a bit of climbing, we were amazed to see a very long downhill ahead of us. Flying down the hill at 40 mph, the road bent and we could see the next big hill ahead. When the road started to slope upward again, we pushed hard to maintain our speed. Reaching a bridge, the surrounding view enticed us to squeeze the brake handles. The Current River was a show stopper for us. We were just in awe of the beauty of this setting. This tree lined river had calm waters that were crystal clear. We parked our bike on the wide bridge to absorb the wonder of it all.
Having had a nice rest, we were ready to tackle the next hill. A quarter mile up the hill, the grade jumped from five to eight percent. We shifted to the small chain ring to manage the abrupt change. After five revolutions of the pedals, our drive train locked up. We were forced to quickly dismount the bike. Our drive chain had wrapped itself around the small chain ring in a tangled mess. Randall untangled the chain as we were puzzled as to what was causing the problem. We recalled that the day before, the chain sometimes appeared to get caught but would then break free on its own. In all of our biking experiences, we had never seen anything like this.
Making a difficult launch on the steep hill, we resumed our climb to the top. We biked up a couple more hills of moderate climbing without issue. On a subsequent hill, we again encountered a steep bank. We were already in granny gear (using the small chain ring) from the start of the hill. Again, our pedals locked up. We quickly stopped to untangle the chain. Even though the grade at that point was about 10 percent or more, we knew that something was amiss with our drive train. In the next four miles, we had two more chain entanglements that broke our momentum. The last occurrence was on a hill that was not that steep.
Looking at our map, we could see that we were still five miles from the next town. We noted that the road followed a river which might mean fewer hills. Knowing that we had to resolve the issue at hand, our goal was to reach that town, access the problem and then fix it. The stoppages we were experiencing were very unnerving as it reduced our margin for safety. We felt very vulnerable when we unexpectedly stopped, on a narrow, curvy road. For the next five miles, we refrained from using the granny gear. There were two hills that we really needed it but we persevered with some difficult pedaling.
After arriving in Ellington, MO, population 1,000, we checked out the service options. There was no bike shop as the nearest one was 70 miles away. Touring around town, we found a motel, two restaurants, a hardware store and a grocery store. We decided to check into the motel and convert our room into a bike repair shop. To our advantage, we had a phone, refrigerator, microwave and work table. After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we began to determine the root cause of our drive train problem.
Using an eight millimeter Allen wrench, Randall took off the triple crankset assembly which included the right pedal, a crank arm and the three chain rings. With the removal of five chain ring bolts, the small, 24 tooth, chain ring was separated from the assembly. Upon closer examination of this chain ring, thick burrs were observed on the sides of all of the teeth. New chain rings and a chain were installed on our tandem in Springfield and now, 170 miles later, they were failing. When we started in Alaska with new components, we went 5,000 miles without an issue. What happened? Researching bike maintenance issues on the internet, Randall found what bicycle specialists in the field called our problem: chain-suck.
As defined, “Chain-suck is when the chain fails to disengage from the bottom teeth of a front chain ring. The teeth snag the chain and carry it up and around the rear circumference of the ring. With the chain winding back onto itself, the drive train is jammed.” As to why this condition occurred, Randall noted two possible two variables: the chain and small chain ring that were installed in Springfield may have been different then those we started our trip with. To confirm this, we would have to wait until the next day to contact Kelsey at Cycles Unlimited. He still had our previous small chain ring.
That evening, Randall started searching online retailers for metric bolts, kickstands, chain rings and chains. After finding eight retailers that were happy to sell him bolts, at quantities of 100, he came across www.boltdepot.com. Bolt Depot was able to ship one, 10 mm X 60 mm socket flat head bolt for our kickstand. The cost to express ship this bolt to Ellington was much greater than the bolt itself but we wanted a kickstand very badly. Sources were also found for kickstands, chain rings and chains but we would first need to chat with Kelsey. We later walked over to the grocery store to pick up enough food for several meals as we looked to spend up to three days here.
Miles cycled – 27.4
September 13-15, 2004
After breakfast, we were able to reach Kelsey by phone. He said that the 24 tooth chain ring we had used previously had the name Salsa on it. We rationalized that the Salsa chain ring must have been made from stronger aluminum than the Rocket chain ring that failed prematurely. He went on to say that the new chain he installed was a road grade SRAM. Randall then recalled past bad experiences with that grade of chain and realized that he did not think to specify the more robust, mountain grade SRAM chain. Most bike shops do not carry the mountain bike version because they cost about twice as much as the road version. The road grade chains may work fine for a single bike but they are put to the test on a loaded tandem.
While discussing our problem with chain-suck, Kelsey encouraged us to use a metal file to remove the burrs from the sides of the teeth. Understanding that he was trying to offer a temporary fix, we elected to order a Salsa chain ring replacement instead. Being stopped on the side of a steep hill because of chain-suck was the most unnerving thing we had experienced on the tour. Randall thanked Kelsey for his information and went back to the internet to confirm his sources. He then placed a phone order with Precision Tandems of Kansas City. In addition to a chain, we ordered two chain rings so that we would have a backup. We also ordered a new kickstand in case the new bolt did not work out.
Our ordered parts were expected in two days so we could now focus on updating our daily journal. Although we prepared most of our meals at the motel, we did eat out a couple of times. The two main restaurants were catering to the buffet crowd with all you could eat, breakfast, lunch and dinner. The efficiency of the buffet carried over into other aspects of the service as both restaurants packaged their eating utensils in small paper sacks and placed them on a paper napkin.
We indulged in the buffet the first time but felt that it was too much food. Even if the price was nearly the same as ordering off the menu, we were conscientious of the fact that we were not riding. The people in the restaurant spent a lot of time visiting among themselves, but did not talk with outsiders. The waitresses were very friendly, always checking to see if we needed more tea (sweetened or unsweetened). One time, when a waitress asked us how we were doing, we said everything was fine except that the portions were too big. She laughed and then apologized for the size of the entry.
During our stay, Barb asked the motel owner what the area was like. He explained that he had been in Ellington for six years but was still considered an outsider. Many locals were not happy that he bought the place even though no one else seemed interested in purchasing it. He felt harassed the first couple of years, but things got a little better when a new mayor was elected. According to the owner, many in the area do not appreciate the revenue tourism brought in, particularly with the factories shutting down. Given past reports of tourist harassment, he said that some locals view tourists as competition for their favorite boating or hunting spots. However, a long-term drop in tourism would ultimately result in fewer jobs.
Taking a break from our story writing, we walked over to the hair stylist. Our hairdresser was so impressed with our adventure that she cut our hair for free. We then forwarded a cash donation to Habitat for Humanity for the amount the hair cuts would have cost. Later that day, Barb told our story to the local newspaper, the Reynolds County Courier. She described our story in detail as the reporter was not asking any questions to sustain the interview. He did not seem accustomed to having someone walk in off the street with a story. Arrangements were made for a photo shoot as we left town.
The parts orders arrived at the motel as expected. Randall used the metric bolt to install the kickstand. The longer bolt screwed over an inch into the mounting bracket for a very firm kickstand. He also assembled the new chain ring to the crankset and connected the new chain. We now had a functioning bike! We test rode it around town and on a couple of hills to make sure it was shifting okay. Not wanting to carry the extra kickstand, Barb mailed it to our parts inventory in Kansas.
In the late afternoon, another touring cyclist checked into our motel. We met Will (from Canton, MI) who was riding the TransAmerica after starting on the Western Express route in San Francisco, CA. Throughout his cross-country tour, he was staying exclusively at motels so that he could tour with very little weight on his bike. We were happy to post our Saratoga, WY to Pueblo, CO stage story in the evening. At twelve plus pages, it was quite an endeavor. Looking forward to our ride in the hills the next day, we went to bed early.
Miles cycled – 1.6
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