This leg of the trip involved higher mileage days, far fewer rest days, and much less scenery. My daily average (including rest days) nearly doubled from 46.7 miles per day to 83 miles per day. I was very eager to get to the mountains, and did not particularly want to spend a lot of time in Kansas. As such, I did a lot less picture taking and writing, and devoted any hours where I had energy left after riding to working, as it had been tough to keep up with things in KY where I had very sporadic/sketchy cell reception. I tried to piece together the days as best I could and tried to remember to take notes of anything interesting.
By Berea I had sent nearly half my set-up home (or out to Oregon to pick up when I got there). Got rid of the 2 large rear panniers and a whole lot of stuff with them. By this point I was down to one set of bike clothes, one set of off bike clothes, and minimal camping setup/toiletries. Still held on to the camera and laptop of course which added a good bit of weight, but never considered ditching these.
Berea, KY to Springfield, KY / 78 miles
The scenery in Berea very much set the tone for the rest of Kentucky. Had a great day of riding...rolling hills through farmland. Kind of reminded me of riding in Lancaster (PA). Got to Springfield pretty early in the afternoon, scoped out the Idle Hour park/pavilion where I planned to stay that night, then went into town and had a beer/lunch at Mordecai's and worked for a while. Charlie, another westbound TransAm rider, showed up a bit later. We had a beer then he went to check out the park. We met up at Pizza Hut for dinner then headed back to the park to set up camp. We were happy to see Matt had showed up at the park in the meantime and was camping there that night. I had some cell reception there, so I worked for another few hours, probably until 10pm or so. Overall a pretty mellow day, especially compared to the tougher riding in eastern Kentucky.
Springfield, KY to Constantine, KY / 77.8 miles
We all got up and rolled out around the same time, but went our separate ways pretty shortly after. Matt had mentioned wanting to go into town, and I had planned to do a bit of a longer day than Charlie wanted to do. Charlie and I grabbed breakfast at the supermarket next to the park then headed out. Overcast pretty much all day, then a downpour in the afternoon and evening. Rode past the Makers Mark distillery but it was early in the morning and closed. I took cover out front of a defunct convenience store that supposedly allowed cyclists to camp outside. I saw a light on inside and knocked a few times but nobody answered. I set up my tent on the porch and got in to get out of the rain. Planned out the next few days and binge watched season 2 of Master of None that I had downloaded because I had pretty poor service. A few hours later a guy parked his car out front of the porch where my tent was set up, walked into the store, and brought someone out with him. He said something about the bathrooms not working and asked if I was ok out front. I said I was, and he drove off.
Constantine, KY to Utica, KY / 67.9 miles
Overcast morning then beautiful rest of the day. Mellow riding. Took a mid afternoon nap on the side of the road. Got into Utica and slept at a volunteer fire department that leaves their doors open for touring cyclists. I hung my stuff out to dry from the night before and relaxed for a bit before going to sleep. Saw some familiar names in the guest book. Planned out the next day's detour into Evansville, IN.
Utica, KY to Evansville, IN / 56.9 miles
Took a detour up into Indiana to visit the McMahons! Went up into Owensboro where I stopped for some bike repairs. Drivetrain needed a really thorough cleaning and also there had been some phantom shifting and clicking going on recently so I wanted to get my cassette and derailleur cables checked out. I hung out for a bit in a Starbucks while I waited for the bike shop to open. Met a couple cool people....Steve (very active runner and cyclist) and Heather, who works for Liv bikes and gave me a mystery pouch of super athletic food of some kind that she says was the only thing she ate during her first Ironman! Went to the bike shop, got a new chain and got everything cleaned out and headed on to Evansville. Unfortunately the issues came back, so when I got to Evansville I ended up just getting a new cassette at a bike shop there. While I was riding through Evansville, a guy pulled over to talk to me from his car. His name was Jake and he said that he didn't see a whole lot of touring cyclists come through so he figured he'd say hello. He had done a bit of the TransAm in the past and was getting ready to leave on a trip to Thailand. While my bike was in the shop in Evansville, I got a haircut. Continued on to the McMahons. When I got there they had an amazing smelling dinner ready, and immediately showed me where the shower and bed was :) Had a great time hanging out with them. Mrs. McMahon showed me the weather forecast for the next day, which involved hail and tornado warnings. I figured I'd check the weather again in the morning then decide. Video chatted with my Dad and Susanne for a bit, then took one of the best showers ever (their shower head is amazing) and passed out pretty early.
Evansville, IN to Marion, IL / 74.6 miles
Got up and had an early breakfast at the McMahons involving lots of eggs, bacon, coffee and orange juice. Rode on a pretty busy road into IL for a while. Beautiful weather in the morning, and the forecast said that the craziness wasn't supposed to start until 8am or so. I planned to be in Marion well before then. Around 4pm, as I was on the side of the interstate, the storm clouds rolled in. A fairly hard rain started, and a couple driving a pick up truck pulled over and asked if I wanted a ride. I said that I was only a few miles from where I was going and that I should be fine, and thanked them for stopping. They drove off. and about 5 minutes later the sky unleashed...I couldn't pedal the bike forward, was getting blown sideways into the road and the rain was coming down as hard as any storm I had ever seen before. I got off my bike and started pushing it forward and stuck my thumb out. There was nowhere to take cover and I was worried about things getting worse/it turning into hail/etc. About 30 seconds later a pickup truck pulled over and a man named Jerry got out and helped me load my bike into the back of his truck. He was incredibly nice, and drove me to an Econolodge in Marion. I got him a beer at a bar across the street and we talked for a bit before he headed home. I hung out in a Starbucks nearby for a bit then went back and checked in at the Econolodge. The rain died down, and I debated continuing on, but decided to play it safe. Very glad I did because it started right back up about an hour later. Video chatted with the family...was really great to see them all. Got a little homesick after the call. Got ready for the next day and went to bed.
Marion, IL to Chester, IL / 61.9 miles
Left Marion and headed down the road a bit to Carbondale, where I hung out in a coffee shop for a bit because there was a crazy headwind. Drank a LAVENDER LATTE which was delicious. Headed on to Chester. Fairly uneventful day, got in to the Fraternal Order of the Eagle hostel pretty early, where I ran into Holly again! I met Holly in Afton and she had decided to rent a car and do some specific stretches of the ride, and I doubted I'd run into her again. I took a shower then we hung out at the bar for a bit. Later on, 2 guys with American flag jerseys rolled up. They introduced themselves as Jordan and Lincoln. I was amazed to finally meet them...I had seen their names in guest books and heard about the infamous Freedom Tour but they had consistently been a few days ahead. We all went out for Mexican and drank tequila and had a good ol' time. Came back to the hostel where I tried to sleep then ended up just pitching a tent outside because it was pretty cramped.
Chester, IL to Middle Brook, MO / 78.2 miles
Saw a marker on the map that had a beer mug icon and a tent icon, which seemed like a good objective to get to for the day. Crossed the Mississippi river into Missouri. Other than that fairly uneventful day, got to the beer mug which ended up being a closed bar on a pretty remote road. Nobody was there at the campground either so I just set up a tent. There was a really cool broken down car across the street with a tree growing out of it. Rinsed of in a nearby river then hung out and cooked some dinner aka instant mashed potatoes. Jordan and Lincoln showed up a bit later. Had some Jack Daniels while Lincoln worked on troubleshooting his tire. He had gotten a ton of flats in the past few days. There was a wild old truck across the street with a tree growing out of it.
Middle Brook, MO to Summersville, MO / 77.2 miles
Big climbing day in the Ozarks (and pretty hot). Finally caught up with "The Brits" (Chris, Laura and Steve) and Brian who I had heard about several times along the way. Rode with them for a bit. Ran out of water at one point and had to ask someone out front of their house if I could fill up from a hose. I hung out at a McDonalds and worked for a bit in Eminence, then continued on to Summersville. Went for a swim in a river with Jordan and Lincoln then climbed up a fire tower and hung out there for a bit. I rode up ahead a bit and stayed at a little motel connected to a church called the Country Inn. I couldn't find anyone there, so I went to a convenience store. The cashier there happened to know the owner and her daughter and called them....they gave me instructions over the phone and I got in and went to bed pretty early.
Summersville, MO to Hartville, MO / 61.1 miles
Fairly uneventful riding. Hung out at a Subway for a little. Camped on the lawn out front of City Hall. Had some bummer personal things happen during the day so I drank a bunch of beer and decided to do a long day the next day to get my mind off things.
Hartville, MO to Pittsburg, KS / 143.2 miles
Got an early start to push into Kansas. Stopped in Golden City and had some awesome food at Cooky's. Rain cloud followed me from there into KS. Very weird because sunny on either side and ahead. Got into Pittsburg just as the bike shop was closing. I had ordered a new sleeping pad and pillow and had them shipped there. Picked them up and camped at an RV park in town.
Pittsburg, KS / Rest Day
Had tasty pancakes eggs and bacon at Harry's Cafe. Dropped my bike off at the shop to get new derailleur cables. They gave me a loaner bike which was great. Did some laundry and worked for a while in a coffee shop. The Brits, Jordan and Lincoln all showed up in the afternoon. They did some work on their bikes then we went out for some beer then headed back to the RV park where we all camped. I had planned to do 100mi the next day, the Brits planned to do a shorter day, and Jordan and Lincoln had planned to hitchhike across Kansas because they had a deadline to hit, so we all figured we wouldn't see each other again. We had a good time at the bar and stayed up a bit at the campsite hanging out.
Pittsburg, KS to Toronto Lake, KS / 99.4 miles
Long but fairly easy day to Toronto Lake. Light rain throughout the early evening up until sunset. There was a little bit of a climb just before the lake. A guy driving a pickup truck stopped at the top of the climb, got out, flagged me down, and handed me a can of Cherry Pepsi. He introduced himself as James. He was very nice. We talked for a minute while I drank the Pepsi, then parted ways. Set up my tent in the rain at the Toronto lake campground, then took a shower in the bath house there. Was stuck in the tent for a couple hours during the rain, so I planned out my next few days. The rain stopped a bit right around sunset and I was able to walk down and check out the lake. Apparently I didn't take any pictures today.
Toronto Lake, KS to Newton, KS / 98.4 miles
Packed up in a drizzle and rode up the road a bit to a cafe/gas station called Lizard Lips. I walked in and one of the owners asked if I wanted a riding companion. I said that would be wonderful and he handed me a small plastic lizard. I named him Dimitri and he hung out in my map holder. I sat there eating breakfast for a few minutes. To my surprise, The Brits showed up about 15 minutes later, then Jordan and Lincoln showed up another 15 minutes after that! They hadn't made much progress hitchhiking, and The Brits had gotten a very early start because of a bad experience the night before at the place they were staying. Something about conspiracy theories and a large DVD collection. We all hung out for a minute then I headed on as I had planned to get into Newton that day and the others were unsure yet of their plans. I met really nice couple, Mike and Timi, in Cassoday. They said they planned to get into Newton that night as well. I got into Newton just before a storm started and got checked in at the hostel, which was extremely nice. Talked to the owners Heather and James for a little bit, showered, and drank some beer. Everyone else rolled in a bit later. We all hung out chatting and drinking beer for a bit, then went out for some Mexican. The Newton bike shop is pretty well known amongst Trans Am riders. They have a really nice hostel and were featured in the documentary on Netflix "Inspired to Ride." I found signatures on the wall from friends who had done the Trans Am before me...Mike, Lee and Kevin. Really cool feeling to find this history in a tiny town in KS. Rejuvenated my stoke for the rest of the ride. Newton is also just shy of halfway on the Trans Am.
Newton, KS to Sterling, KS / 60.2 miles
Planned to do a longer day but ended up cutting the day short because I killed a few hours mid-day working in Buhler. Decided to go all in and make it a full work day so finished in Sterling and worked for a while in a motel there. Also it had been really hot during the day and I got drained pretty quick.
Sterling, KS to Larned, KS / 53.6 miles
Worst riding day of the trip so far. Crappy/rough slightly uphill roads all the way through the Quivira national wildlife refuge with a headwind. Also couldn't stop and rest because would get swarmed with flies. Made very little progress the first part of the day and was really frustrated/starting to lose confidence because of the 2 short days. Got to Larned and called it a day, felt discouraged about having to endure more of this for the rest of Kansas. I checked out the city park there and took a shower at the pool. Went into town and worked at a cafe for a couple hours. Eventually the Brits and Brian showed up. We all went back to the city park together, set up our tents and got ready for bed. The Brits mentioned getting up pre-sunrise for the next few days and doing 100+ mile days to get out of Kansas. We agreed to ride together as long as we could. Definitely came at a good time for me personally after the discouraging past couple days. Looked forward to riding with them and figured some teamwork would equal less painful days and getting out of there more quickly.
Larned, KS to Scott City, KS / 119.2 miles
Got up at 4am and were on the road by 5. Sunrise was beautiful. for about 30 minutes while the sun was coming up, Kansas wasn't so bad :) We did it peloton style, traded off leading. It was great getting to know Steve Chris and Laura and talking to them while riding. Made the miles pass quickly. We took quick stops every 15 miles or so rather than any big ones throughout the day. We got into Scott City fairly early on and went to a guy named Josh's house, where we were staying. He was a fairly new Warmshowers host and a pilot. He lived on the airport. Super nice guy. I went into town for a bit with Steve and worked at a Subway. Talked on the phone with my Dad and Susanne for a bit. Was really nice to hear from them. Got back to Josh's house and ate some burgers and hung out. He sold me on getting my pilots license. Added to the list :) Brits set up sleeping pads on the floor inside, I set up a tent outside because it was cooler. Electrical storm rolled in in the middle of the night. Concerned the wind may pick up/turn into a tornado or something, I grabbed my stuff and went inside.
Scott City, KS to Eads, CO / 104.6 miles
Got into Colorado!! This was an exciting moment for me. I had been looking forward the whole trip to getting to the west/the mountains, and finally getting out of Kansas was a big milestone in my trip. Got swarmed with flies while taking a picture by the "Welcome to Colorado" sign...Steve only got a picture of himself running away. We got into Eads pretty early. It was really hot and we heard the mosquitos in the city park were supposed to be pretty bad. I suggested we just split a motel room because it was super cheap and then we'd have a shower and not have to worry about the insects/etc. and we would have A/C. We checked in, grabbed dinner at a diner nearby, then passed out very early. I woke back up at 9pm because it was super hot in our motel room despite having the A/C on. I opened the door and left it open the rest of the night.
Eads, CO to Pueblo, CO / 111.4 miles
Another 4am wake up, but felt pretty refreshed after the motel. We started out the day in a very spooky/thick fog for 15 miles. The road we were on didn't have much of a shoulder, and we were concerned about cars not being able to see us. We kept our ears sharp (specifically Laura) and whenever she thought she heard a car we bailed out immediately into the grass on the side of the road. While the safest option, this made the first part of the day go pretty slow. Got into Pueblo early afternoon. The Brits had a Warmshowers and I got a hotel room so I could get some work done. Hung out at the hotel bar for a bit then went to another bar nearby for dinner. Very relieved to be out of the flat of KS and so excited for the mountains!!
Pueblo, CO to Royal Gorge, CO / 59.7 miles
One of the most memorable days of the entire trip. Had a huge smile on my face for most of the day. Will never forget rolling out of Pueblo and seeing the Rockies pop up on the horizon for the first time. The toughness of KS, KY, etc instantly disappeared from my mind. Got lunch at a cafe in Florence, then rode to Cañon City. Did some laundry and bike maintenance outside the laundromat. Had planned to stop there for the day but was having such a great time riding that I continued on to Royal Gorge. Stayed at Prospect campground. The owner, Danny, gave me some chicken that his mom had made. Had an amazing view from my camp site. Cool, dry mountain air and the first night of the trip without the rainfly up on the tent. One of the best sleeps I had in a while.
Royal Gorge, CO to Hartsel, CO / 49.6 miles
Got up early and discovered none of the water was working at the campground. Didn't have any and was a bit worried....got about 15 miles into the ride and was feeling a bit dehydrated (today was all uphill....>4k ft of climbing in <50 miles) and flagged down a truck who happened to have a water bottle. Riding was gorgeous. Barely looked down at the Garmin at all. It felt like each climb I went over a new set of snow-capped peaks appeared on the horizon. Such a good day. At the top of one climb there was a guy named Paul sitting outside a pickup truck with waters and gatorades. He offered me one which I gladly accepted, but was slightly confused. Thought maybe he was handing them out to the racers, so I asked how much I owed him. He said I didn't owe him anything and explained he was a friend of a guy on the TransAm who was just a little bit behind me and was his support car for the next few days. Got into Hartsel early, set up my tent behind a barn that looked like it hadn't been occupied in a while. Hung out in the cafe, and a whole crew of other riders showed up, including Paul with the support car. The crew consisted of Jim, Keith (Old Timer), Frederik and Ekaterina, Patrick and Bobby. A bunch of Jim's friends stopped by and hung out as well. We exchanged stories from the past month of riding and watched the sun set over the Rockies. We all decided to ride over Hoosier Pass together because another TransAm rider, Jay, had gotten hit by a car going over the pass and really badly hurt (fractured vertebrae, punctured lung, among other things) and was in the hospital. Also the roads and drivers in this area were notoriously bad in general.
Hartsel, CO to Breckenridge, CO / 42.3 miles
Crazy day. I had booked bus tickets from Frisco into Denver for a week of climbing and such before continuing cross country. My plan was to get over Hoosier Pass, print out tickets in Breck, then head on to Frisco and catch the bus in time for some dinner/drink plans I had in Denver. Roads up through Fairplay and Alma were pretty crappy....little/no shoulder and terrible drivers. Other than a few close calls made it through without incident. Talked to Frederik for a while, who was working in academia doing some really interesting computer-vision related machine learning work. We chatted as much as we could but then had to stay single file for the rest of the day going up over the pass. Ride up the pass was beautiful. Could see a bunch of peaks in the ten mile range. Crystal clear, cool day made the climb go by quick. We hung out and had sandwiches at the top of the pass. I went on ahead so I could make sure to get my tickets printed out and get to Frisco in time. Enjoyed the long coast downhill into Breck. Printed out tickets, then went back to Marmot and bought a new rain shell along with some off-bike clothes to wear in Denver. Hung out at the brewery for a bit, then continued on to Frisco. Was riding on Main Street in Breck in the bike lane and a shuttle bus side-swiped me, knocking me off the bike and wrecking the front wheel. We yelled at each other for a minute before he drove off. I got a photo of his tags and called the police and the lodge that owned the shuttle bus. The general manager drove out and the police arrived. I explained that I needed to get to Frisco to catch my bus, and Josh drove me there. We dropped my bike off at the shop there, then I walked over to the bus station, probably looking pretty rough (hadn't cleaned up any of the scrapes or anything so a bunch of blood on right arm and leg). Waited at the Greyhound station for 2 hours and the bus never showed up, nor could Greyhound give us any idea of when it would show up or where it was. I suggested that the 5 of us waiting for the bus just split an Uber into Denver. Everyone was pretty fed up and agreed. Got into Denver and checked in at my Airbnb, dropped off my stuff, took a shower, then went out for the night. Many beers were needed and consumed.