We started the morning by being joined by a local rider named Paul, whom we had met the night before while hunting for a place to stay. He was nice enough to meet up with us in the early hours of the morning and lead us along the back roads, avoiding the major roads and the morning traffic. We rode and chatted with him for 25mi before we parted ways and Paul returned home and we continued east.
We cruised through the cornfields with the occasional train passing by with its 100+ cars stretched out behind for up to a mile. The ever-present heat and humidity slowed us in the afternoon but we soon reached Kearney and ducked into a Walgreens to cool off and sort out our lodging for the night.
We called the hotels in town and were surprised to find all were completely booked. We learned that there was a big car show in town as well as a basketball tournament and thus all the hotels were sold out. In a tough spot, we scraped our brains for any hint of an idea. After a moment, we remembered passing the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus and wondered if they might have dorms we could stay in. So we called up the Residential Life office and spoke with a wonderful woman, Gayle, who, after talking with us for a bit, waved the $12/night/person fee for staying in the dorms and allowed us to use two of the rooms for the night. We were happy to escape the heat and with an attached bathroom/shower, we couldn't be happier.
After dropping our bags in the rooms, we rode our stripped down bikes a couple miles away to a nearby Applebees where, once again, we were welcomed in by the General Manager and treated to a fantastic meal.
While we were there, we had an amazing experience. A couple overheard us speaking to the GM and another employee about the ride and why were doing it, and they walked over and handed us a very generous donation. We asked their names but they wanted it to be anonymous and thanked and hugged us for what we were doing. It was a very rare, touching moment that reminded us still of the impact we can have. Not long after that couple, we were reminded this time of who it is that we're trying to help. A man walked up to us with his son in tow and told us that his 5 year old son Connor, unsure in the moment and holding with father's leg with a firm grip, had been diagnosed with leukemia at 18months but had since been in remission. He made a donation and stayed to talk with us about our ride and Lea's Foundation and we were happy to see how well Connor was doing. We gave him high-fives before he left and he flashed us a big smile as he and his dad returned to their dinner. These were the kind of moments that make all the hills, all the heat, all the humidity worth it.
7.16.11 - Kearney, NE to Hebron, NE - 124mi
Another early start to the day so we could get as many miles done early as we could. The ever present wind still pushed us back while we bobbed up and down on a sea of corn and pastures.
The kindness of Nebraska was still on display as we had to stop at a house on our route because we had emptied our water supply but there was no gas station in site. We knocked on the front door and a young boy answered and said that we were welcome to use the hose to get water. While we were there, the parents returned and were pleased to help us and eager to hear about our ride. After cooling off in the shade and re-hydrating as best as possible, we bid them farewell and cycled on.
A couple of hours later, we were riding the back roads and a car pulled up next to us and passed us a cup full of ice water. It was like being a professional cyclists with a team car to pass us supplies. We had never met the couple in the car and we never saw them again and we don't know how they came to find us, but we were very impressed with their generosity.
After another long afternoon battling the heat, we pulled in to Hebron where we were generously given a room at a local motel and picked up a couple of pizzas for the evening.
6.17.11 - Hebron, NE to Falls City, NE - 124mi
Another long, hot day. The heat just doesn't let up and neither do these hills. While we aren't at the altitude we were at in the west, we still do a comparable amount of climbing. It seemed like for every mile we progressed, there was a matching hill we had to climb. None of the hills were gradual climbs and each required us to shift into a low gear and huff and puff as we climbed.
Today was much like the last. Cornfields, back roads and hot, humid weather. We treated ourselves to frozen drinks from Sonic when we arrived in Falls City, which went a long way to cooling our overheated bodies.
Sunrise over the cornfields
6.18.11 - Falls City, NE to Kansas City, MO - 115mi
What was supposed to be a 95mi day finished eventually as a 115mi day. Our destination was the house of Steve and Maureen Bramley, parents of a college friend of mine, Tyson, and with that came a planned rest day so we got another early start (by which i mean we wake around 4 and hit the road around 5:30) with the hopes of finishing in the early afternoon and enjoying the much anticipated hospitality awaiting us.
We were immediately stymied on our journey when we learned that the over-filled Missouri River had left its banks and taken over some of the road we had intended to take. We were lucky to find some local farmers who had also risen early and they directed us on which back roads to take around the flooding. They failed, however, to warn us of the hills we would face, although in hindsight, it might have been better not to know. Either way, we faced some long, very steep hills and as we crept to the top of each, we saw our ETA to the Bramely's home slip further and further away.
Our next major detour occurred when we learned that the bridge we intended to use to cross the Missouri River in Atchision, Kansas was closed due to flooding. With very few bridges in the area crossing the powerful river, we were forced south to Leavenworth, KA, home of the infamous penitentiary. Despite the conventional view that Kansas is flat, we were forced to ascend a 20mi, 2000ft hill in order to get from Atchison to Leavenworth. It felt like crossing the Continental Divide again, minus the altitude.
During a quick lunch in Leavenworth, I called Steve Bramley to touch base with him and update him on our progress. He said that he would drive out to meet us and at take our bags from us to help us out a bit. Buoyed with that bit of information, we set out through the country roads praying that the road would dodge each hill we saw and keeping a sharp eye out for Steve.
He eventually caught up with us and we eagerly piled our bags into his CRV and followed him as he led us along the country lanes, zigging and zagging as we headed to the KC International Airport where we would meet up with Maureen and together, she and Steve would herd us along the busy streets and highways of KC back to their home.
Their patience with our achingly slow pace was very much appreciated and, in the late afternoon, we rolled through the shaded neighborhood streets and came to a halt, finally, at their home. It was many hours past our original finishing time goal and we were tired and sore and ready to rest. They fed us, helped us rehydrate, fed us more, asked us about our journey so far and showed us to our beds.
7.19.11 - 0mi
Rest day. Much, much needed. We really pushed our legs and minds to make it to KC in the time we did. Our bodies demanded rest and we happily obliged.
7.20.11 - KC, MO to Rocheport, MO - 144mi
The Bramleys showed us an amazing amount of hospitality on our rest day and their generosity extended one more day when Steve offered to drive our bags out to us at the end of the day, thus allowing us to ride for the day with only one bag of necessary supplies. What would take us all day to do on a bike would take less than 2 hours in the car. It was a mildly depressing thought. On the other hand, no bags! What an amazing feeling. Our unburdened bikes zipped along the roads with an ease we had not yet felt.
The ride went well, but we hit a slight snag when we were detoured around a bridge under repair. However, we were able to adjust our route and found that we saved a few miles on the new one. With no weight to carry on our bikes, we made great progress but once again, the heat attacked with ferocity and we were forced to take shelter in a small B&B on the route. The proprietor provided us with ice water and we lay on the floor of her dining room (which was thankfully not yet open for dining so there were no guests there) and closed our eyes for a quick nap.
Semi-refreshed, we began moving about after an hour or so and with the peak of the heat passed, we saddled up again and rode on. After a couple more air conditioning stops, we eventually made it to the town of Rocheport. Rocheport sits on the Katy Trail, a gravel paved route that runs east-west 237mi across Missouri and we planned on riding the trail from Rocheport to St. Louis.
With no campsites available in Rocheport and with the high heat and humidity, the Bramley's extended their generosity even further and paid for us to stay in a B&B and then took us to eat at a beautiful restaurant over looking the Missouri River Valley. Their kindness goes beyond words and I will be forever in debt to them for the help they gave and the kindness and generosity they showered us with.
It was tough to say goodbye but with both parties facing an early morning, we said our goodbyes and turned in for the night.
7.21.11 - Rocheport, MO to St. Louis, MO - 148 mi
Another long, brutal day.
We started off on the Katy Trail from Rocheport and enjoyed the flat, winding, scenic and, most importantly, shade covered trail. We passed under rock cliffs carved by the original course of the river and through the dense wooded areas of the river valley. Most of our early morning ride was spent in the comfort of the shade and although we had our full weight again and the trail was graveled and not paved (the gravel acts like sand to slow you down, especially when it clumps up in small patches where it feels like someone's suddenly squeezing your brakes), we still made good time on the flat route. The trail opened up a bit in the afternoon and with the sun overhead, we were left with little or no shade in some areas.
As we rode in the sun, we wandered from side to side on the trail, hunting for any bit of shade we could find. We would pick up any morsel of shade like a starving man looking for scraps.
Only a couple of miles shy of our turnoff from the Katy Trail, James suffered the first wreck and drew the first blood of the trip. While trying to adjust something on the back of Greg's bike, he lost control of his and tumbled to the ground, the full force of the impact landing on his hip. The graveled trail munched his soft, sweat soaked skin and we were forced to administer trail side first aid.
James showed true grit though and was able to ride the 6 miles to the nearest gas station where Greg's aunt and uncle, Maha and Suhail Khouri, our hosts in St. Louis, were waiting to take our bags from us while we rode the remaining 35mi to their house.
From Washington, MO, we looked at the map and found a road that we thought would be the most direct route to their home. What the map didn't show was elevation. What we rode was 18mi of the hilliest, steepest, most energy draining road we've seen. In the late afternoon heat, we faced hills so steep we had to drop down to our granny gears, which we haven't used since the early days of our trip when our legs were unaccustomed to pedaling uphill. We crept up each hill, head dangling between our arms, sweat pouring off our faces, arms and legs, showering the road under us. Our mouths dripped a mixture of sweat and spit as our lungs heaved taking in massive amounts of air trying desperately to supply our aching muscles with the oxygen they craved. We crested each each, paused to survey the road before us, hoping vainly to see a flat expanse before us, and then whipped down the equally steep, long downhill side gathering as much momentum as humanly possible to take us up the next waiting hill. Hour after hour, we repeated this until our desiccated bodies begged for a break. We finally reached the end of the hills and turned onto the major road leading to the Khouri's house and faced a new peril of being caught out in the dark without all of our riding lights. We hadn't expected to see both a sunrise and a sunset in one ride, yet here we found ourselves, riding the last few miles after dusk. Luckily, with no major hills to retard our progress, we made it to the home of the Khouri's, ironically perched at the top of a hill, safely.
Exhausted. Both mentally and physically. The hills had taken a toll on us we weren't prepared to pay. We shuffled inside and were presented with a feast of Middle Eastern food, which we eagerly and heartily dug in to. The variety of food and the perfection to which it was cooked was exactly what we needed after such a trying day.
We enjoyed the company of Maha and Suhail during dinner but quickly found our beds and fell into a deep and restful sleep.
7.22.11 - 0mi
Rest day. Full of unbelievable Middle Eastern food. Such a pleasure to try dishes that James and I had never seen, most of which we couldn't even begin to try to pronounce. But they were delicious and filling and more than we could have even hoped for.
7.23.11 - 0 mi
Rest day #2. After checking the weather channel, there were hints that the heat could break on sunday, so we gave our tired, beaten, aching, fatigued legs another days rest. And we got more amazing food. Hard to pass that up.
Also had bike maintenance to do. 2800mi on our tires had worn them to the threads and our bike chains were stretched to the breaking point by the stress of the mountains of the west and the constant hills of the mid-west so both needed replacing. Add to that 4 weeks of dirt and grime and together that equals a morning spent sweating and working on the bikes. Still better than actually riding them though.