Day 17 – Talimena Lodge, AR

IMG_0363

Today was a milestone in several respects: we crossed into Arkansas and it was the last really big climbing day. We’re done with the plains and have now entered the Ozarks, and boy did my legs notice! There wasn’t too much climbing during the first half of the day, but the second was spent riding in the Ouachita [Wa-cheet-a] National Forest on the Talimena Scenic Byway. The Talimena has some steep climbs ranging from 10 to 13 percent for several miles. The climbing is similar to what I’ve done at home on Wachusett Mountain, but there’s more of it, and I never rode Wachusett after 16 straight centuries! It turned out to be not too bad, and the scenery was beautiful! We’re spending the night at the very nice Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, which is in a state park. There’s a Keurig machine in the room! Makes up for some of the fleabags we’ve been in the past couple of nights.

A few random observations. Most of the day was spent in Oklahoma and we’ve all noticed how forested that state is, contrary to our expectations. Today we passed through pine forest, I think yesterday was more hardwoods.  And most banks are local: no Bank of America or Chase Manhattan, not even big Midwest banks like PNC or Fifth Third. All regional banks like the “Bank of Eastern Oklahoma” or my favorite, the Happy Bank (based in Happy, Texas). And lots of Payday stores. Some of this could be due to the fact that we are passing through rural areas, not major cities, though I got a glimpse of Oklahoma City in the distance the other day.

Today’s ride was 99 miles with 7,500 ft of climbing.

2015-09-29-P1020027IMG_0367 IMG_0371

Advertisements

Day 15 – McAlester, OK (Where?)

IMG_0359

This was another day of “rollers” through Oklahoma farmland and horse country. The horse below seemed to be posing for us! We also are noticing how many farms have operational oil wells. The farmers sell the mineral rights to an oil company, which digs the well. Amazing that this is profitable when oil prices are so low, but I suppose that the cost of transportation is a lot cheaper than Saudi Arabia or Alaska. Dinner was at a great rib place that seems to be a chain — I wish we had chain rib places. I’m noticing also that the locals’ accent is now definitely southern, and not Texan. We’re less than 100 miles from Arkansas, in fact we will be there tomorrow.  Arkansas!  That’s almost east!

The riding today wasn’t too bad for most of it, though we had headwinds and hills in the last 20 miles. Today’s ride was 114 miles.

IMG_0031 IMG_0361

20150808_144136_resized

Day 15 – Purcell, OK

IMG_0355

A good day today! The winds coming out of Weatherford were coming largely from the south and were gentle, so wind was not an issue today. There were a lot of rolling hills but nothing terrible. We passed through lots of farm land and horse country — my impression of Oklahoma being some kind of dust bowl was certainly wrong! In fact, today I saw the reappearance of something I had forgotten about — trees! There were none in the desert, high desert, or plains. They cut down the wind too.

We’re staying at one of the fleabaggier hotels on the Tour and dinner came from Subway. We did manage to dine al fresco, though.

Today’s ride was 112 miles with 5,000 feet of climbing.

2015-09-27-11.35.51

IMG_0354

IMG_0340

Day 14 – Weatherford, OK

IMG_03362015-09-26-15.13.50-2

We woke to hear howling winds from the east, the direction in which we were riding. And indeed, the first 25 miles or so of the ride was straight into a 20-25 mph headwind, accompanied by rain and, briefly, sleet! We rode in a peloton of about six, taking short pulls at the front, and we knew it wouldn’t last all day. The Oklahoma line passed, unnoticed and unremarked, somewhere around Mile 14.

By the time we reached Erick, OK, the rain had almost stopped and the wind was tolerable. Erick is the home of a museum dedicated to Roger Miller, author of the song “King of the Road.” I am told that Main Street in Erick sits on the 100th meridian which, among other things, was considered by area banks to be the demarcation line for the drought and non-drought areas. So farms to the west of Main Street could not get loans, but farms to the east could.

Much of the day was spent on historic Route 66 and we stopped briefly at two museums, the best in Elk City. The portions of Route 66 we are on are essentially frontage roads for Interstate 40. I’m told that frontage roads are more important in the west than in the east to keep slow moving farm equipment off the Interstate. (As you’ve probably figured out, “I’m told” is my shorthand for “I have no idea if this is true”).

The last half of the ride was sunny, even hot, with a tolerable headwind and what we call “rollers” for hills. We expect pretty much the same thing tomorrow, but more of the hills.

Today’s ride was 104 miles with difficult conditions in the morning.

20150808_144125_resized
This one is for the map geeks that want to see where we are and where we are headed. The stars are each day’s stopping point.

Day 13 – Shamrock, TX

2015-09-25-09.00.49

Today was the “active rest day” that we’ve been promised for quite a while. After waking to an under inflated tire and changing my tire and tube in the hotel room (and finding and fixing a problem with the wheel that might have been causing some flats), I headed out with the group due east, parallel to interstate 40. Chris is riding with us consistently now, having given up for the time being on keeping up with “Fast Eddy.” I predict that changes, but it’s good to have him with us. Lynn was drafted into a “Girls’ Day” ride and the “girls” hammered at over 20 mph all day.

Most of the day was spent passing through incredibly flat prairie and grassland, dotted with grain elevators and sorghum fields. The flat landscape makes this part of Texas ideal for wind energy. Supposedly, Texas generates more wind power than any other state, though my friend Jim Miller points out that Iowa generates more per capita (because almost no one lives there).

We were on the interstate for a mercifully short time, and spent a fair amount of time on a portion of historic Route 66, which still has the ruins of old gas stations and motels that long ago saw consistent, lively business. We had lunch at a Route 66/Barbed Wire museum called the Devil’s Rope (a nickname for barbed wire). The museum made the point that barbed wire was the most significant factor in taming the west, but I was tired and couldn’t follow the logic and didn’t even bother with a picture.

No flats unless you count the under inflated tire that I woke up to, which I’m not counting.

And we saw a big honkin’ tarantula on the road! About eight of us crowded around it trying to take pictures, like some weird arachnid paparazzi. A dump truck waited patiently for us to get out of the road.

Today’s ride was 93 miles with less than 1,000 ft of climbing.

On to Oklahoma tomorrow!

IMG_0315 IMG_0326

Day 12 – Amarillo, Texas

IMG_0296

IMG_0312

We crossed into Texas about seven miles from our hotel in Clovis. It might have been our imaginations but we thought we immediately noticed better road surfaces, and slightly friendlier truckers. The majority of the day was spent traveling northeast on Highway 60, which paralleled an active freight railroad line. I might have been very bored but for the passing trains, and the game we played trying to get the train engineers to blow their whistles (they almost always did — maybe they were fighting boredom too!).

Highway 60 is lined with grain elevators and cattle feeding pens. I learned a little about how the cattle industry works. We passed through a few towns that seem to exist solely because of that industry, with names that proudly show it like Bovina and Hereford. Toward the end of the ride we passed through downtown Canyon, TX, a small, pretty city with a big water tower that is home to West Texas A& M University.

The riding today was mostly flat but with an unfortunate headwind. Supposedly, winds out of the north are rare here. Just lucky I guess.

I got my sixth flat. I’m very good at changing them now. Believe it or not I do not lead the group. Jerry, an older experienced rider has seven, and I don’t think Chris is too far behind me since he got two yesterday!

We’re staying at the “Big Texan” hotel and had dinner at its steakhouse. We watched a girl try to finish a 72 oz. steak in an hour. If she had done it, she would have gotten it for free. Sadly she didn’t make it. They put her up on a big stage with a digital clock, so we could all watch her try not to get sick. I felt sorry for her, but she asked for it!

Today’s ride was 112 miles.  Today’s steak was 12 oz (the smallest they had, pictured below).  Probably still in calorie deficit for today.

IMG_0302  IMG_0308

20150808_144112_resized

Day 11 – Clovis, NM (near the Texas state line)

IMG_0026 IMG_0027 IMG_0029 IMG_0030The morning weather reports suggested we’d get rained on at some point between Roswell and Clovis, since rain was predicted for both cities. The morning sky was beautiful and threatening clouds circled around us all day, but we never felt a drop!

Today’s ride was through very flat prairie and ranch land. We struggled with a wind from the south (i.e. from our right sides) almost all day, except when the road turned straight north and we had a tailwind. The challenge today was purely mental: riding all day on the same road through flat plains that passed through only two towns (Elida and Portales) all day. Pictured above are some locals from Elida outside the post office, which doesn’t open until 1:00 because it shares a postmaster with two other towns, and a sign for Eastern New Mexico University’s football stadium, the home of the Greyhounds, in Portales.

I’m doing pretty well physically, my legs are holding up and maybe even getting stronger and I seem to recover pretty well overnight. Like many, I’m struggling a bit with saddle sores. Mentally, the “Groundhog Day” aspect is getting to me, and we always seem to be rushed with too much to do each night.

Today’s ride was 112 miles. Tomorrow we reach Texas!

Day 10 – Roswell, NM

IMG_0283

It rained overnight and when we got ready to leave the sunrise was beautiful. After breakfast we backtracked out of Ruidoso, which meant some climbing for the first 10 miles or so, but then several miles through rural farmland. Any serious climbs were over by lunchtime — the last bit of the Rockies! The afternoon’s ride passed through rolling hills in the high desert, though “Boy Scout Mountain” (above) loomed over us the whole time. There were serious headwinds so those “rollers” could have been challenging, I’m glad I was with a group. We rotated taking the lead and it wasn’t too bad. On the high desert you can see the weather that is heading toward you since it’s so wide open, and as we approached Roswell we were racing a big storm. We made it to the hotel, washed our bikes, dragged our bags to our rooms, and then the storm hit — we beat it by about half an hour!

I had to work on my bike when we got back so I missed the shuttle ride to the alien museum. My friends said I didn’t miss much! Tomorrow’s our last day in New Mexico, then on to Texas!

Today’s ride was 99 miles.

IMG_0025

Day 9 – Ruidoso, NM

Today’s ride has us almost through the Rockies (at least that’s what they tell us). The day started very pleasantly with a flat roll through farmland around Socorro where they grow, among other things, chili peppers! We headed east through gradually rising scrubland and passed the White Sands Proving Grounds and the Trinity test site where the first atomic bomb test took place in 1945.

Most of today’s climbing occurred after lunch as we approached Ruidoso. I couldn’t count how many hills there were. There were several heartbreaking climbs where all you can see is the rode curve ahead and you hope/expect that the top is around the curve, but when you get there, all you see is another curve. We had one of those right after another, with wonderful but short downhills in between. All after mile 85.  This was probably the toughest day I’ve ever had on a bike. But I started to actually enjoy it when I knew that nothing that this route could throw at me was going to break me! Today was another test.

Today’s ride was 105 miles with 7,500 ft. of climbing.

P.S. To all those who have left comments on my blog, it’s difficult to reply because of spotty cell and wi-fi service.  But I read everything and appreciate all the support!

IMG_0270  IMG_0274

Day 8 – Socorro, NM

IMG_0266

We passed several milestones during today’s lengthy ride. We headed east on Route 60 from Springerville and after 13 miles passed into New Mexico. That also meant we are now one time zone closer to the East. Unfortunately, we stayed on the same Route 60 all day! The first 80 miles or so had rolling hills and forests that slowly took us to above 8,000 feet in elevation (we started at approximately 5,500), and around lunchtime we reached the Continental Divide! In theory that means that it’s downhill to the Atlantic….

The ride after that was generally descending, a very welcome break. One exception were the “High Plains” where we passed through acres of radio telescopes aptly named the “Very Large Array.” Though very flat, we hit significant headwinds. On the whole today’s challenge was more mental than physical, just convincing yourself to stay on the bike for that long!

Today’s ride was 156 miles, the most miles on any one day of the Tour.

IMG_0268 IMG_0267