Joining the Cycle Superhighway (USA Day 43)
I’ve never woken to such sticky air before. Our bags, our skin, our brains clogged together in this awful mess of damp and heat as we packed up and walked our bike down a path so thick with hot gravel that cycling it was more than impossible. Our moods were high with a blitz spirit. If all Missouri could throw at us was humidity, heat, a mountain range, plenty of cows and a few ticks, we’d be alright, and within ten miles we’d be joining the world-famous TransAmerica Trail (TransAm for short, or TAT for shorter, or T for shortest) and following it all the way to Oregon. That meant more clearly marked routes, towns that catered to cyclists, fellow tourers and more than the occasional bike shop. Exciting!
By the time we reached rideable roads, a thick, mushy headache had descended. My fatalistic brain immediately went to heatstroke, obviously, so I furiously googled my time of death while Amy bought a pair of replacement sunglasses in a gas station. However, the sun had mercy and clouds rolled over, I necked so much water that I solved the Midwest’s flooding problem and got stuck into another day of hills. After Marshfield, as the grid system took over again, we found ourselves navigating these straight up-and-down rolling rollercoasters of roads, never flat but always fun. Our legs are ready for this now, so when we crest a hill to see the next twenty minutes mapped out on the road ahead always ending in an absolute wall that blocked the rest of the view, we were regularly delighted. How has this happened? We love hills!
By lunchtime, my head had sat down and shut up, leaving my legs to do the hard work. The hills never stopped, not for an instant, not even when we did, and we let the full force of a thunderstorm puke down on us without even donning our jackets. I suppose that’s an insight into how hot and sticky we’d previously felt.
Despite having joined the TAT early in the day, the first time we felt its effect was in Walnut Grove, an old, dilapidated town on top of a hill (trust me on that) where a lady in her car wound down the window and asked, “Goin’ east or west?”
“Oh…west!” Amy replied.
She nodded, a nod that showed she met folks like us almost hourly. We’re so used to people receiving our story in disbelief. Now it was our turn.
Y’all meeting up with those boys? They’re in the city park.”
Well, we couldn’t find the city park, but the boys found us in the next town. Basically, imagine a thin band of America that loves bikes, the people on them, the money in their pockets and the burns on their necks. So there we were, sitting in Ash Grove’s park, and a man wandered over with a set of keys. The apartment across the street was ours, plus kitchen, shower, sofas, no questions asked. Within an hour, four more cyclists staggered through the door, two going West, two East, and an evening of CycleChat began. We shared maps, bear spray and tips for the future. This is the new normal for us now. It feels…good. We feel less unique, but now we feel a part of something bigger than us. Tomorrow, Kansas, and no more hills until Colorado. Here we go.