My ride across America

Jul 6

Day 19 (Montgomery City, MO)

Today I drove the lunch van with Chris Lubas.  Leaving St. Louis was sad, mainly because of the Tempur-Pedic beds, but also because I wish we could’ve stayed longer to explore the whole city.  I enjoyed the last brief reprieve we had to take in the WashU campus as we packed everyone’s bags on top of the van, but once we left, it was go time.  Step one was to drop off Bianca and Nate at a Starbucks along the way so that they could call up our future hosts and make sure we had places to stay. 

Lubas and I drove around asking for lunch donations and by lunchtime…we had one tray of pasta, 4 salads, a bag of chips, and only two groups that made it there to eat it.  One of the groups had managed to make their way something like 15 miles southwest of our lunch stop, putting them an extra 15 miles off our intended path.  Another group made their own “shortcut” onto a long stretch of gravel that they ended up walking through. 

In the meantime, there was a huge mid-day rainstorm that forced all of us off the road for an hour or so.  Lubas and I spent that hour sticking people’s bags into the van.  Afterwards, we found a McDonalds with a special promotion: “Come through the drive-thru from 12-1 and if you’re the 200th customer, get free value meals for a year!”  At that point, we hadn’t gotten any food yet, it was just about to start, and I was craving chicken nuggets, so we went for it.  Around 12:45, we went through the drive-thru and….didn’t get it.  Thinking back on it, we were in a pretty rural area of Missouri and I’m not sure if they even got 100 customers going through, let alone 200. The food was still awesome though.  McDonalds’ new ads have been all about the numerous dipping sauces they have with nuggets, so we asked for “all of them.”  The lady in the drive-thru said, “hold on, let me check with my manager…”  As we watched the screen, it suddenly filled up with different sauces, including grape jam. 

"All of the sauces"

Brian joined us in the food van after lunch and we got to work on dinner foods.  Last time Brian and I did the lunch van, we pulled together some chinese food (a first for the group!), so Brian decided to promise Clayton and Arvind that we’d get more this time.  We started out with some good momentum, getting two buckets of chicken from KFC, a couple of pizzas from Pizza Hut, and salads from McDonalds.  Having built up some confidence, we went to our first chinese restaurant.  Bam. Rejected.  We thought that was the only chinese restaurant in the town, so we got a bit worried.  Drove around a little and we found another one.  Another no.  Somehow, we found one last one.  As we were giving our spiel to the guy at the counter, the woman behind him was commenting as we talked (seemed like it was in Cantonese, so neither of us understood it).  It looked like we were about to get a yes from the guy, but before he talks, the woman says something to him and…hit with another no.

Earlier in the day, we had stopped by Balls Q Shack to ask for food.  It just so happened that the owner of the store had his own cancer story to tell.  His grandmother, Gladys Ball, had recently passed away from cancer and his cousin, Rona White, was still fighting cancer.  Brian, Chris, and I told him that we would dedicate our next ride day to his grandmother and cousin.  He was so grateful and was just really excited about what we were doing.  He also told us that he’d make us a tray of muscachone (sp?).  He ran a BBQ restaurant, so we just figured it was some kind of BBQ’d meat.  None of us knew, so we looked it up on wikipedia.  First result:  Whoo…hope it’s not that.  To this day, none of us have been able to find a legit result of what it is on the internet.  Thankfully, it turned out to be a lasagna-like dish with meat.

By the time we got back with all the food, it was around 9, dark, and everyone was starving, especially since some peoples’ detours had led to 13-hour rides.  We dumped the food on the picnic table and as people devoured it, we tried to find a tent to sleep in.  All of them were taken except Steve’s, so Brian and I hopped in with him.

Jun 26

Day 18 (St. Louis)

On the day we rode to St. Louis, we started out from a Super 8 motel in Salem, IL and did a 91 mile ride to WashU.  Now in St. Louis, there’s a pizza place called Pointers where you can order a 28” pizza (the Pointersaurus) and do a one hour food challenge with one other person to finish off the whole thing with at least 2 meat toppings or four veggie toppings. 

We were also scheduled to help out with dinner in the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in St. Louis the evening we arrived.  A side note about Hope Lodges: they’re homes away from home for cancer patients who are receiving treatment in one of the nearby hospitals.  They’re great places where we all had a great time meeting cancer patients and their families while helping them out with dinner. 

So because we had a busy evening, we had to find a way to bike the 91 miles to St. Louis, finish off the Pointersaurus, and clean up all in time for our Hope Lodge dinner.  There were around 10 of us who wanted to go for the challenge, so we split into two five-person groups who were going to go full-speed to St. Louis while the rest of the riders took a normal pace. 

My group was me, Brian, Arvind, Katie, and Jenna.  The day started off exciting with a pouring rainstorm and a blast of lightning that was immediately followed by the thunder.  The lightning was so bright that some of us thought it was a traffic camera flash.  Needless to say, we pulled over after that and waited for the lightning to pass us by.  That happened quickly enough so we picked up the speed right away, going around 22 mph through the flat roads of Illinois.

All was going well for 30 miles or so.  We were keeping our pace, everyone felt good going fast, and we were on track to make it to St. Louis with time to spare for our pizza challenge.  Then came our first injury.  Arvind moved to the side to avoid me as I was passing him and Jenna was coming up at the same time so their tires collided and Jenna hit the road.  She was ok, but a bit shaken up, so the lunch van stopped by to pick her up and there were four of us left. 

Brian had pulled a little ahead of the group before that happened, so he was waiting about 1.5 miles ahead of us.  He started up as we rode by him and within one minute, he has a flat tire.  We all joked, “Brian, you couldn’t have hit that flat and fixed it while you were waiting for us?”  Took about 10 minutes to give it a temporary fix and we picked up the pace again, albeit a bit slower for Brian because a tire that isn’t fully inflated makes it harder to ride.  For the next mile, I chilled with Brian behind the other two when suddenly, his bike jumps up nearly a foot in the air.  Turns out he hit some huge rock on the shoulder.  He was fine, but with that went his tube and his tire.  Down to three of us.

Once we got past all that, it was pretty uneventful and we just went fast until we got close to St. Louis.  Getting over the river was one of the scariest experiences I’ve had.  We rode over the “bridge for bikes” over Martin Luther King Blvd.  Apparently in St. Louis, bikers know how to ride over a single lane shared with traffic on a 1-ft shoulder covered with grates and holes.  Lots of fun, but clearly, didn’t get a chance to take pictures.

So our first day in St. Louis was mostly riding, the Pointersaurus challenge, and a bit of late night starcraft and LoL with Brian and Chris Lubas in WashU dorms.  By the way, WashU has amazing dorms.  I wish I had known this before I applied to colleges.

Our rest day was also in St. Louis and we had a ton of fun stuff to do that day.  If I remember correctly, we started out with Pappy’s Smokehouse, a famous BBQ joint and, yeah, it had a food challenge.  It’s called the Big Ben and it has: “A full slab of Ribs, a Beef Brisket and a Pork sandwich, 1/4 Chicken and 4 sides.”  Crazy.  I just went with a half rack of ribs.  We also got to meet Pappy himself and took pictures with him.  While we were eating, we met a couple of nice ladies who talked to us about what we were doing and donated around $90 to our cause.

Next, we went to the City Museum, pretty much a sweet indoor playground that’s 15 stories tall or something.  It used to be a shoe factory, but it was converted to what it is now, filled with metal structures to climb, 15-story slides, a small skate park room, and lots of cool exhibits/shops.  We stopped by the Arch after that, took a bunch of pictures, and then headed back to the WashU dorms.  Did I mention that they have Tempur-Pedic mattresses?  Got some amazing sleep there.  Yeah, St. Louis was pretty awesome.

Jun 6

Day 5 and Day 6 - Ligonier, PA to Youngstown, OH

So I’ve realized that since I didn’t bring a laptop, my blogging is going to be kind of limited to whenever I manage to borrow someone else’s or get the motivation to writing out a whole post on my phone.

Now for Day 5, I ended up leading a group of riders including Stephen (our ride director) and Jane (one of the fastest girls on our ride), so in other words, we went really fast.  So fast, in fact, that I didn’t get the chance to take any pictures, but we averaged something like 15 mph up and down our last stretch of the Appalachian mountains to be the first group in.  Ended up at a YMCA in Slippery Rock, PA for the night.  Set up our own tents, camped outside, and promptly fell asleep…until I woke up the next morning to the nice cool spray of freezing cold super soaker water in 33 degree F weather.  Yeah, apparently it’s still cold in parts of Pennsylvania.

Day 6, another day, another state.  This time from PA to Youngstown, OH along a countryside path and then an inter-state bike path.  Originally announced as a 42 mi day, this was supposed to be an easier flat day after the past couple days of mountains.  We stopped by a nice river crossing in Pennsylvania where we saw a couple of fishermen:

And from there, a lot of rolling Pennsylvania hills until we reached:

It’s a great stretch of flat biking with nicely paved roads, but apparently, it’s maintained more constantly on the PA side, so once we hit Ohio….bump-a-bump-a-bump every couple seconds as we biked along.  A bit longer route than expected, but all in all, a good day and one of the best showers we had once we got to the church/YMCA.

Jun 1

Day 4 - Frostburg, MD to Ligonier, PA plus a summary of days 1-3

Alright, biking is really hard.  For real.  Oh yeah, blogging too because this is my first time.

Brief summaries of days 1-3: Day 1 was 70 miles, felt crazy long, especially in the summer heat, and ended up with a crazy uphill.  No pictures of it, but just take my word for it.  So I thought that was pretty bad, but day two was even harder.  So here’s how our ride director described it the day before: “It’s pretty much all flat with two big mountains near the beginning and end of the ride.”  Doesn’t sound too bad.  He even showed us an elevation map, looked legit.  Starts out good with a couple of hills, not too bad.  

Mountain 1: 

Starting the climb:

You can see the mountain rising up in the background here.

And then a bunch of steep slopes to make up a three-mile uphill climb:

But it all turned out ok after an hour climb with a nice view:

and a sweet 3-mile downhill:

So the above all happened sometime before or around noon.  The next 30 miles included mountain 2 and the temperature was somewhere in the high 90s around then.

The road we took slopes around the background mountain here:

Here’s an idea of the slope:

and the elevation:

Ok so day 2 was super hard, especially for day 2.  Day 3 was really chill and made up for how much day 2 sucked.  Flat roads:

fast downhills:

and a cool river on the way to Frostburg State University:

After we got to Frostburg, we went to Dan’s Rock, somewhere really high up where you can see three states at once (Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, I think).  

Ok quick summary of Day 4 so that I can wake up for Day 5.  It was supposed to be harder than Day 2, but it didn’t feel that bad.  Maybe I’m getting used to cycling.  First task after waking up - climb Big Savage Mountain: 

Followed it with Little Savage Mountain and went through a bunch of rolling hills in the countryside until hitting this monster of a hill: 

but it all turned out ok!