Ladies and gentlemen, after months of waiting we are going to bring the blog to an end! Well not completely on this post, but we will at least get a start on filling you all in on the last portions of our adventure. Over the next couple of weeks we will be bringing you all of the details of our excursions between Omaha, NE (our last post) and New York, NY (our final destination). Thank you all for your patience and enjoy!
Arriving into Omaha was quite a shock. After nearly a week of flat Nebraska, we stumbled across the less flat area of Nebraska: Omaha. In comparison to the rest of Nebraska, Omaha resembled the Swiss Alps. Up and down, up and down for nearly 2 hours until we came to the doorstep of a beautiful two story house, the home of Ms. Morgan Harris and her 5 roommates.
The damsels were more than hospitable, providing us with showers and a delicious feast. But more than the basic amenities, the ladies taught us an invaluable lesson in communication, women can both talk and listen at the same time. During the feast, we sat and listened to a room full of 10 girls manage to carry on approximately 25 separate conversations at the same time. It was truly incredible. Something that we have never experienced before and probably will never experience again. This carried on for approximately 3 hours before the ladies decided enough was enough, and brought the spectacle to an end. Ladies, if you happen to read this, thank you. Not only were you incredible hosts, but your conversation abilities are mind-blowing.
After the feast, we said good night to the ladies, and were off to bed. We awoke in the morning to the incredible smell of potatoes and eggs in the kitchen. Morgan, being the amazing host that she is, had made us a huge breakfast to fuel us for the day. So after fueling up, we thanked the ladies and ventured onward, into the great unknown that is Iowa. Da-nuh-nuh, da-nuh-nuh!!!!
After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Missouri River, we made it into Iowa. The muddy behemoth that lay as the border between the two states we had seen just 3 weeks earlier at its headwaters in Three Forks, Montana. The river was now unrecognizable from the fast moving mountain stream at its origin.
At about this time, we quickly realized that Jordan’s wheel was needing a replacement. He had lost many spokes and became untrue. This was apparent due to the fact that as he rode, his wheel rotated like a poorly thrown frisbee on the axle.
We stopped at a local bike shop where we heard about something called RAGBRAI, occurring a month after we were there. The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa is self explanatory in idea, but in reality the great challenge in the week long ride is to keep up with the party. It is not uncommon to see many of the 30,000 riders downing brews, singing songs or occasionally sleeping en route. It sounds like one hell of a time and has even made many lists of things to do before you die. We will surely do it some day.
After we fixed the travesty that was Jordan’s rear wheel, we continued on our own RAGBRAI. We found that unlike Nebraska, Iowa is not flatter than a pancake. It was great practice shifting gears, lowering our gears for the uphill and then descending with great speed to try and gain as much elevation as possible in the following hill. As much work as it was, we enjoyed the predictability of the theory of gravity over the volatile wrath of the wind gods. It was beautiful and the rolling hills continued over the fairy-tale like landscape.
Just before sunset, we discovered that Jordan had a flat tire. We all stopped to fix it, each humming as we carried out our duties. This was not an unfamiliar job for Jordan, who had just as much work experience in replacing tubes as any bike mechanic. We inflated the tire and Jordan was screwing off the adaptor when BOOM. The noise rang out accompanied by a blast of air. Jordan, whose head was right next to the tire, got up off his stomach. His hair was a mess and he had soot underneath his left eye. He dug his finger into his ear as he said “What was that?”. It was apparent by the volume of his voice that Jordan had temporarily lost his hearing. Jordan’s tube had burst right in his face, releasing a large portion of its contents into his face. After we realized everyone was ok, we laughed.
Jordan, now looking like a cartoon character who had held onto a stick of dynamite, fixed the tube once more. We continued on eventually spending the night in the dug out at the baseball stadium of a local high school.
The next day we awoke from some commotion at the school, packed our panniers and rode off to breakfast. In Iowa, many small towns have little greeting signs with clever slogans designed to capture the town’s spirit and make visitors feel at home. We ventured to the town of Stuart for breakfast and were greeted by our favorite welcome sign which read “Welcome to the town of Stuart: Home to 1700 good eggs and a few stinkers!” Here is a list of a bunch of the towns and their welcome signs http://dmjuice.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120716/NEWS03/120716011
Stuart had just gained a few more stinkers, but this didn’t stop their hospitality. While trying to pay for breakfast at the grocery store, the ladies at the counter did not accept the check for our breakfast sandwich. Furthermore, we received a tip while using the WiFi at a local McDonalds that there was a local bike trail called the Raccoon River Valley Trail that would lead us directly to Des Moines. This ended up being the best bike trail since the centennial trail back in Idaho and was a great way to shortcut and gain some extra time to get Sam to the city of Chicago in time for his flight.
While cruising on this trail we ran into a fellow biker whose name was Caleb. When we asked for some local tips on bike routes, Caleb was a massive help. He got ahold of his friend Karolyn who knew the Des Moines bike routes well and gave us her address stating, “She’s really cool, she’s a cyclist and she said she will give you guys lunch too”. It was a great deal and our hearts were soon set on finding Karolyn. We met Karolyn down the street from her house where she had biked to meet us. Karolyn set out a set of lunch meats in a buffet style and we helped ourselves as she looked over the routes and helped us plan the rest of the day. She got in touch with her friend Carlos, who lived in Grinnell and let us know that we had a place to stay there. The problem was that Grinnell was 55 miles away from Des Moines, which would bring our daily total close to 130 miles, our largest day by far. However, the thought of having a place to stay can motivate men to do things they never thought possible, and we were determined to make it to Carlos’.
We continued to bike over the massive rolling hills, thinking each hill ahead of us would be the last hill of the day. The bike short’s butt pads help significantly, but the inevitable soreness began to take hold. Finally, after what seemed like eternity, we coasted into the city of Grinnell. We cruised over to Carlos’ house, who is a landlord during the school year, but lives and works in his old multibedroom house in the summer time. We were the most physically tired that we had been since the first week in Washington, and Carlos pointed us to a Mexican Restaurant where the servings were meant for two.
After we gorged ourselves with enchiladas, burritos and fajitas, we went back to Carlos’ fully satisfied. Along with doing renovations on his two houses, one in Grinnell and one in New Orleans, one of Carlos’ main hobbies was making stop-motion animation movies. His friend Katie and him had set up a little world of clay figures on a big table, equipped with lights and cameras. We watched several of these videos, many made with lots of help from elementary school children who bring a hilarious and clever twist on the storyline and animation of the short films. Check them out at http://www.tinycircus.org/. We ate ice cream and watched many of these videos until it was time to sleep.
The next morning we awoke very well rested and headed to the Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat buffet. Unfortunately, we had not learned from our mistake at the Arby’s that fast food in large quantities does not lead to productive biking afterwards. We biked slowly but surely until we reached the city of Cedar Rapids. After finding out that our first choice of a sleeping area, a local set of dugouts, was occupied by people playing baseball, we decided to camp near the river in a clearing/fishing road. Our eyes dwindled as the fireflies danced over our heads.
A relaxing night of sleep turned annoying as I swatted at my face over and over again as gnats flew in circles around my head. Tucking my head into the sleeping bag, I tried to balance the risk of suffocation with the noise level of gnats. Eventually the level of frustrations grew and I hopped out of the bag. The three of us got packed up and ready to bike. We knew this was our last day of biking with Sam and we cherished our last morning of waking up together in a park. We had a ways to go until Chicago though, so after our short sentimental moment, we started Sam’s last day of biking.
It was a blazing hot day as we traveled through the terrain of western Illinois. The sun beat down, sweat droplets dripped down, and Jordan’s tire continued to flatten down. Jordan could not have had more problems with a back tire! While fixing his flat of the day, Sam called his aunt to check in and let her know where we were. To our surprise, she had decided to drive out and pick us up. She was concerned with the heat and worried for our health, came to get us. We still had about 100 miles to go, and didn’t feel right taking up her offer, but we didn’t mind losing our packs. After stripping our 30+ Lbs. packs, and thanking Sam’s aunt, we hit the road again.
Even without the packs, it was a long and tiring day. The sun slowly faded and our legs slowly tired. Just as the sun set, we found a bike path that would take us to the end of the trip. 127 miles later, we arrived in Lake Bluffs, Il. Our longest day yet took us to the suburbs of Chicago, and to Sam’s awesome relatives, SAM”S RELATIVES LAST NAME! They welcomed us into their home, gave us a nice cold Dos Equis, and took us to the back porch for dinner. And oh what a dinner! We each had two full racks of ribs, a bowl of beans, a loaf of bread, an artichoke, and mashed potatoes. It was a feast! Mmmm… Delicious! We sat and digested our meals, showered, and said goodnight, exhausted from our longest day of the trip.
The next day seemed short and bittersweet. We started the day off with celebration, biking down to the shores of Lake Michigan. We might as well have made it to the Atlantic. The lake spread as far as the eye could see to the right, to the left, and in front. It was mind bottling. Carrying our bikes across the sand shore, we walked into the waters. Goosebumps spread up our back as the cold temperature, and the sentimental value of the experience crept up on us. After taking a picture, we swam around a bit, but eventually got back on the bikes and headed for the house.
The next part is what the three of us had not been looking forward to, Sam had packed up his bike and it was time to head to the airport. We got in the car and enjoyed a tour of the city as we headed to Chicago Midway. Arriving at departures, we had to face reality. It was heart breaking; it was like one of the musketeers had decided that building cabins and digging up bones was more important then fighting the Cardinal and his guards, it was like Andy had decided the Indiana Jones toy was more fun to play with then Lance Armstrong action figure. After hugging it out, Sam headed into the Southwest terminal, never to be seen again. (We have heard from him on the phone though, he’s okay!)
Sam’s family housed and stuffed us full of food for another night, treating us to some Chicago style pizza and actual beds, but the next day, it was off to explore the city. To check out our day, Check out the link!
Finished with exploration, we took the train out into another suburb of Chicago and stayed with our friend from NAU, Molly Fitzpatrick, and her awesome family. We were instantly greeted with appetizers and beers, followed by huge and succulent burgers, and topped off with brownies for desert, delicious! We hung out before bed for a while telling stories and reminiscing about our freshman year at college before we fell asleep. It was a great night with some great people! Thanks Fitzpatricks!
The next morning, we were stuffed with food, escorted to the train by Molly, and headed out of the city. It was an easy ride along the lake to get to Indiana. We had a fantastic time in Illinois, and the city of Chicago. It was Michael and Jordan’s first time across the Mississippi River, first time in Illinois, first time in Chicago, and finally, our first time to Lake Michigan!
Entering Indiana was uneventful, to say the least. Riding down a residential street, Mike turned and said, “Apparently we just crossed the state line.” No sign, no change in scenery, no parade. This was a pretty good indication of how the rest of the state was, though there were a few exceptions.
After our less-than-extraordinary entrance into Indiana, it was time to catch a break from the relentless heat. A local YMCA proved to be our desert oasis. We stopped in and sat at a little table near the entrance, devouring Clif Bars and water. People passed with the normal puzzled look on their face that says, “Why are they so sweaty? It almost looks like they have been biking outside. Ha, that would be crazy! Its wayyyyyyy too hot out there for that!” We generally look back with a smile that says, “Yeah, we’re that crazy” as sweat drips down our face. Finally a woman stopped by to ask the question that was on everyone’s mind. “Are you guys biking? Where are you coming from?” From this we went on to explain our trip. It turns out we were talking to royalty! We were speaking with the mother of the mayor of Hammond, IN! She tried to get in touch with her son, but was unsuccessful. So instead she took down our information and said that she would try to get an article put into the YMCA newsletter about us. So if you happen to be in Hammond, IN, stop into the YMCA. You never know who you might meet. After our conversation, we got back on the bikes and continued eastward.
The rest of the day, and the remainder of the state, was spent battling an old foe, cars. Indiana is not the most bike friendly state. There are narrow shoulders to say the least, poor signage, and unforgiving truck drivers. With the white line separating the shoulder from traffic as our only ally, we rode and sweat for the remaining sunlight until it was time for a break at a gas station. We were still very unsure as to where we were going to sleep for the night, but once again the goodness of people prevailed.
As we sat sweating on the sidewalk we talked with a guy named, Brad. He told us a little about some touring that he had done in the past, and then he went on his way. About 5 minutes later, he rode back to the gas station and asked if we wanted to stay with him for the night. Yes. We rode to his place where we spent the evening discussing Star Trek and bicycles while watching a Grateful Dead documentary. A little background on our new friend Brad: Brad spent the 80’s and 90’s touring the country (in a car I think) following his favorite band, The Grateful Dead. He made a living making “devil sticks” (we had no idea what they were either but found out that they are sort of like juggling sticks. Don’t worry they aren’t associated with drugs). Following that chapter in his life he spent time owning a pedicab service, farming, and now he does tree work in Rolling Prairies, IN. He was quite the hippie renaissance man. Thanks to Brad and his flower-power mentality though, we had a roof to sleep under for the night.
We woke up early the next morning, thanked Brad for his hospitality, and away we went. The rest of Indiana can be summed up in the number of pictures that we took, one, right as we were leaving the state. Everyone has told us from the beginning to make sure we take tons of pictures. The issue is that we didn’t really see much to take pictures of in the state. We rode down a lot of not very bike friendly roads, saw a lot of trees, saw some farms, and that was about it. Indiana proved to be relatively boring but after two and a half days, we made it out and into Ohio.
This was a very wordy post, but we will post pictures soon. Also be looking for more posts in the coming weeks as we bring the saga that was our trip across the country to an end. Cheers!