Friday, 31 October 2008

Emporia – Burlington (October 30)

Day 46

A nasty, straight, uphill stretch into a headwind to start the day. If only Burlington could have been situated halfway towards Kansas City, but no, I was making another crazy detour in a south easterly direction. No signs in Olpe, where the woman in the post office told me to go to the end of a street and then turn south. When I got there, the reliable sources of sun and wind informed me the only options were east and west. An old man stared at me long and hard here, walked a few steps, stared some more, a few steps more and stared again. Got to Hartford; again no signs. I reckon it's a ploy by the store-holders to get you to stop. Made more wrong turnings, before somehow stumbling upon Burlington, another small well-to-do town in the Hillsboro mould, where I made for the high school, to meet a teacher there. Kelly had also seen the ad in the Emporia Gazette and had arranged a four-hander with three of her 'gifted' students; identical twins Nate & Nick, and Michaelyn. Kelly travels between Coffey County high schools assisting the brightest handful in each. The twins had impressive vocabularies for all of their 16 years and one of them bingoed with VITALLY right at the end of the first game. I think he and his brother had been communicating telepathically. In the second game I managed a slender victory, partly due to QATS/ZITS (46) with the Q on a triple. It was a lot of fun being in these children's company, especially when the bell rang and all the other kids who had been watching us, went home. To start with a pupil filmed us and a teacher taking notes for the school paper. While we were playing (in the school library) a group of children came in dressed up like cadavers with white faces. This was in connection with SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions – particularly drink-driving) and there's a grim reaper character who plucks children out of classes to dress up for this purpose. I couldn't help thinking that they would be more effective by going into bars in these get-ups. Children drive here too of course. You can be the sole occupant of a car from the age of 15, for school trips alone. If you have a farmer's permit you can drive anywhere, supposedly on farm business, at 14. All those present had their own cars and drove to school. They could hardly think of one child or teacher who walks to school. Something else I learned today was that the reason counties are so small is because when they were set up it was felt important for any outlying part of a county to be less than a day's horse-ride to the county town. Coffey County has less than 5,000 people with a whole raft of administration and bureaucracy. Maybe time to update that rule? Kelly's husband worked at the nearby nuclear power plant, which explained why the facilities in this small town, including the school, were so good.

After this most enjoyable afternoon, I spent the evening and night at the house of Joel & Becky (along with six cats including a Manx called Li'l Bit) a few minutes ride away. What a beautiful house it was too. Before this trip I had it in my head that Americans didn't have much taste; but so many times I've stayed in pretty homes, with daring colour schemes like this one. The sitting room was a mid green, one of the restrooms mid grey and the dining room had a loud, leafy wallpaper in red and yellow, Every nook and cranny was stuffed to the gills with cabinets of dolls and toys, Gone With The Wind ephemera, antique furniture and framed adverts from yesteryear. Becky loved seasonal decorations too, and hundreds of Hallowe'en novelties littered any remaining square inch. Next week these will all be changed for Thanksgiving knick knacks and soon after, xmas stuff – including separate sets of lights for each celebration. Upstairs, I was permitted to enter Joel's ' man cave', with its aeroplane models, replica firearms and other boys' toys. For tonight's feast of sensational salmon, pork, ice cream and room temperature Newcastle Brown Ale, we were joined by a family friend, and a daughter, with her two small children. I found the gender cliches amusing, as the tough-looking boy played with a gun and the girl flounced about in her dress and gazed at her bejeweled self in the mirror. For Hallowe'en the boy would be dressing up as Spiderman and the girl, whose prettiness was oft repeated, would be a princess.

The next day I was woken by a cat nuzzling my face and felt a little fuzzy. Breakfast consisted of sausages and French Toast (dried bread dipped in egg) apple juice and coffee. I didn't realise that you can actually walk the streets here with a loaded gun here – as long as it isn't concealed. However, there are some places, like schools and libraries where guns are prohibited. As with quite a few other people I have met so far, Joel & Becky have said they will pay me a visit and I wonder if they will?

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Hillsboro - Emporia (October 29)

Day 45

Set to reach 70 today, while Britain languishes under snow. I identified a Blue Jay this morning and also found out the birds of prey I have seen are Red-Tailed Hawks. Back to Little Pleasures for green tea and internet. The lady who ran the place came from Hawaii and now she was about as far from the ocean as you can get. She said 79 degrees is a low temperature there. She was so lovely and smiley that I wanted to hug her; I think I'm coming over all American. My only criticism of her cafe related to the play list : Norah Jones, Norah Jones and Norah Jones. Come away with me... You go on ahead, I'll join you later.

Took the 'D Road' out of Hillsboro and beyond Marion it became a dirt track, which was ridable until the limestone turned from powder into lumps that were even worse to ride on than sand. Fortunately 99% of the roads in Kansas run straight north/south or east/west, so if the sun's in the sky it's impossible to get lost. I have lost my compass though, which along with a bottle of headache pills I left in Twin Falls, is my only loss. A big hill today. In Kansas! Then another, in the Flint Hills no less. Cottonwood Falls was a rare find and the purtiest little town I've come across. It had everything my heart desired : a cobbled main street, cutesy shops, tennis courts, a wide river with a waterfall, a masonic hall, docile Mennonite womenfolk... There was a clapboard house for sale here on three floors, with three bedrooms, 1.5 baths (?), hardwood flooring, porch, back deck, 1,853 square feet. Drum roll. $83,000! In a way Kansas is what other states aspire to, even though they wouldn't admit it and poke fun at it. It's the traditional, moralistic, rural, agricultural idyll; with close-knit small communities. OK so it's boring, but boring is what most grown ups secretly hanker after.

And so to Emporia, home of William Allen White, a famous newspaper editor, as well as a preacher who murdered his wife and his lover's husband, but didn't get the chair because there is no death penalty in Kansas - and also of Janice – a famous Scrabble player (she had won this year's tournament in the shopping mall) who had come across me through an advert in the Emporia Gazette. She had given me her location and of course I couldn't find it, so she came out in her car to look for me. Her address was 'x number Industrial Street', but it was actually NOT in Industrial Street at all, but down a side road. How was I supposed to find that? I feel sorry for the postmen. Here I met Janice, her parents, her brother and husband. Her father had been through the ringer in hospital and was now the walking wounded, quite literally, as he had some kind of open wound, which had a drip attached to it. He seemed to be doing very well though, and he, along with his wife and daughter, played Scrabble with me. Janice won, but then luck increases and skill diminishes the greater the number of players. That's how I comforted myself anyway. Janice works for her brother at a doctor's surgery and they all live in town. Janice's parents told me that they were registered Democrats and yet they were reluctantly voting for McCain because they didn't agree with Obama's platform. A lot of people vote in advance here, giving them time to study the complicated ballot paper. Unfortunately I had to rush off because I had double-booked myself tonight and had another game the other side of town.

And so to Lesli's house (also via the Gazette) where she lived with her son, two dogs, cat, tank full of fish and numerous birds. One of the dogs was a white husky with scary, frowning, pale blue eyes. The other dog was a black lab who would sidle over to me backwards because he wanted his bottom scratched and would lift a back leg to illustrate his pleasure when I consented. The house was full of toys, dolls, fairies, pictures of fish and wooden objects carved by Lesli's grandfather – including a 3' x 3' Scrabble board/table with giant inlaid wooden squares and correspondingly giant letters to go with it. It made Scrabble a bit of physical work out as well as a mental one, as you had to stand up to reach the distant side of the board. Tonight's dinner was highly tasty spaghetti bolognese, not so tasty iced tea, followed by coffee cake. We were joined by Lesli's sister and her parents later, who all lived within a few blocks, as do another sibling and a grandchild. I lost a game of Scrabble to Leeanne, Lesli's sister. I'm sure DUFFING is a SOWPODS word. Then beat Lesli in the next two games, with good letters and copious bingos (MANAGERS, TRAINEE, and STAINER – the best letters for bingo-making purposes). We also saw the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Tampa Bay something or other in baseball The World Series. Then it was time to flop on to the couch, accompanied by trickling sound effects from the fish tank.

The next day I weighed myself and found I'd put on three pounds since leaving the UK! Whilst shaving the back of my head I also found out there were tanned splodges because of the holes in the helmet. Foodwise there was scrambled egg and more coffee cake. Lesli introduced me to her parrot, Willy, who sat on her arm and had a black leathery tongue, which she was quite willing to let roam all over her face.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Wichita - Hillsboro (October 28)

Day 44

The temperature rose from the 20s overnight to the 50s by mid afternoon. The wind was southerly and today my long suffering machine and I were going north. Ha ha! Wind and food; these are pretty much all I think about. It was a good route, along a minor road, past small fields and houses, trees, streams and pleasantly undulating terrain. If only every day were like this. I liked that the views were brief; I know that America is freakin' ginormous, but I don't need to have this fact shoved in my face ALL THE TIME. The countryside reminded me of The Weald, on the Kent/Sussex border, while most of Kansas is reminiscent of The Levels in Cambridgeshire. One week to go until the election and there are no Obama signs at all round these rural parts. No al fresco lunch today and chose a steak hoagy from the 'Sandwiches & Such' section of the menu at Mom's Cafe in Whitewater. Most cafe grub is less than half the price of the equivalent fare back home – and twice as tasty. So many old folks working in restaurants here, as well as grocery stores and libraries. Continued on the same minor road and it deteriorated into a dirt track – which is one drawback of Google Maps, as it doesn't differentiate between black top and unpaved roads. Asked a man fiddling about with an agricultural machine for directions to Hillsboro and he asked me where I was from. I told him and explained I was lost. “I would say you are,” he laughed. He rerouted me and related his job of pumping animal waste from farms in this area. I'm thinking about how I'll adjust with humdrum life back home after an experience like this. I wonder whether I'll be sick of cycling, or whether I'll be sick of being in one place and not cycling? Will it be strange to put things in cupboards and drawers, rather than pack everything into a few plastic bags? Will my weight balloon because I won't be exercising much, but still want to eat this much? Will I find the grey days and rain of Scotland depressing? I think I know the answer to all these questions and need to mentally prepare myself for the dismount.

Passed a Mennonite museum, and then upon arriving in the pretty little town of Hillsboro, I saw a couple of what I took to be Mennonite women in the library (they wore black skull caps and old-fashioned dresses). Couldn't get wi fi here, so went to Little Pleasures Cafe, where I had a cup of green tea – I'm converted. The lady in here was uber friendly, as was everyone I spoke to, and one man even asked if I was married - after I'd told him how long my trip lasted, so it was relevant, but kind of personal, especially when our conversation lasted one minute.

As soon as I stepped over the threshold at Charles' house (tonight's Warm Showers host) he said he'd invited as many people as he could muster, so that I could be exposed to their radical Republican politics and I thought, “Uh oh.” He was joking. I was introduced to Charles' wife Elly, her father, Art, her brother and other neighbours and friends. They were all of German descent, could speak the language and Art spoke with a slight German accent. I asked if there were a lot of Mennonites in the town and it turned out they were all of this order, although they didn't belong to the serious bunch, who are puritan (no cars, electricity, fun, smiling) and do everything they want to, except most of them don't drink or smoke, or do anything considered harmful. Most of the assembled were either teachers or had some job connected to the local schools, or were retired from such work. For religious Republicans they were a lot of fun, and disappointing in this respect. I would have much preferred them to be dour 'fire and brimstone' types. I am joking. Charles looked like Bill Clinton, but I didn't dare mention it.

However, let us talk about the far more serious subject of what we were put on this earth to do above all else : put tasty stuff in our mouths. Tonight's ham-stuffed pork chops in cheese & onion sauce and sweet potatoes roasted with marshmallows, brown sugar and corn syrup were to dine for and very nearly my favourite meal so far. The fact that they were so filling and I made a pig of myself was their (and my) only downfall. We would have had Charles' piece de la resistance, a chocolate cheesecake, but because one of those present, Tim, didn't like chocolate, we had the pie instead. Yes, unbelievably he didn't like chocolate. The apple pie, my first one yet, was still par excellence, with particularly fine, cinnamon-dusted pastry.

I hadn't played the game I had intended to play every day over here since Denver, but that was redressed later, when Charles and I Scrabbled into the night, me winning both bouts with a bingo. Charles had dreadful letters and on two separate occasions his rack contained only vowels. He told me some interesting things he'd heard about Obama, which he was at pains to point out he couldn't prove. One was that when invested he had sworn allegiance to The Koran and the other was that he would not salute the American flag.

I slept in the basement. A lot of houses in Kansas go down one story instead of up, I think because of tornadoes. Again my hosts were up and away before I woke, as they had early starts. Even Art, who is 96 years old, said he usually wakes at 4 and forces himself to stay in bed until 6. Charles had baked a kind of omelette pie with bits of bacon on top in a casserole dish, and I had this with toast. Art helped me and told me about his formative years in North Dakota or Montana, I forget which, when his family lived in a place without running water (they had to dig wells by hand) and he only went to town a couple of times a year.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Sylvia – Wichita (October 27)

Day 43

How could it be back in the 30s again? What is wrong with this country? This was because the wind was from the north and the wind in this state is like nothing I've experienced before; it never gives up, not even for a second. I thought the wind was bad in Scotland, and sometimes it is, but it doesn't go on and on and on and on... like this. As Dustin from Great Bend had told me, although it's flat in Kansas, “The wind is our mountain”. The craziness of American street numbers goes on too, and heading south from Chuck & Bev's place, the streets intersected went : 30th, 17th, 4th. Apart from a predilection for the number 13, what on earth could be the reason behind such numbering? Then I headed east along a quiet road parallel to the highway, through miniature towns with no stores. I had cycled 50 miles, it was after 2 pm, there was only trail mix in my panniers and I needed food. I came across a petrol station in Haven after I turned on to Highway 96 and picked up a barbecue chicken sub. It had a strange, but not entirely unpleasant flavour. Today, to alleviate boredom, I counted caterpillars. The only rules were that they had to be within the hard shoulder, they had to be wriggling and I had to avoid squishing them.

I also enjoyed looking at the white lines. So straight and smooth. I like white lines, especially when they're painted by the Wichita Linesman. I need you more than want you and I want you for all time, etc, etc. Following H-96 as per Google Maps directions I came across a sign that read : “Pedestrians – bicycles – motor scooters – motorized bicycles – animals led – ridden or driven – u turns – PROHIBITED”. It wasn't even a freeway and bikes weren't allowed on it. So I came off at that exit and made my way across Wichita, the biggest city in Kansas, at something approaching half a million. I found 13th Street, which was on the Google route and sallied forth until I turned off on to North Point Drive. 10 miles later... I was still on the same street and I was still in Wichita, although I was close to the opposite side of it. I was so worried that I was going in the wrong direction and would have to turn round again... No, for once I got it right and saw the turn off.

Finally I made it to the des res home of John & Diane, in insurance and nursing respectively. It was in a picturesquely located cul de sac of four or five houses, overlooking a golf course. Why were the numbers of these houses all in four digits though? Why not number them 1, 2, 3, 4? A bit novel, but it might just work. Diane was evidently the house-proud type and not only were the lighting, rich colours and soft furnishings all ultra stylish, but the only book on the coffee table was about interior design. John rides his bike to work. In America! It's true. Not only that – he leaves at 5 am (the same time as his wife) and rides 15 miles each way! Diane presented me with the most delicious meal of my trip so far. I told her this and she didn't believe me. I even had double helpings of both courses – and she still didn't believe me. Fanfare... It was chicken lasagna and salad, which might not sound very special, but it was so flavoursome and the salad had dried cherries and pecans in it. For afters there was apple crisp, which is cooked apple slices with cinnamon, brown sugar, etc. They also forced me to drink lots of beer – forced I tell you. Then we watched sports, with Diane flicking between baseball and football. Quite the sports fan, she tried to explain the rules of football to me, but I'm still clueless. There is no local, geographical element to an American's favourite team, they support the one they like, regardless of distance or relevance to their lives. They often support several teams as well.

As with many city folk, John & Diane were a bit condescending about parts of rural Kansas, especially the western part and agreed with my analysis of Dodge City, as 'smells of poo'. Chuck & Bev had told me there's a scenic overlook there where you can look at hundreds of cows being fattened up in the feed houses before they're slaughtered. John & Diane grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, the state atop Kansas and were in the same class together. They started dating at the age of 15. Now they have three children and one grandchild. John sung from the same song sheet as myself about many things, as he was pro cycling/anti car and pro healthy lifestyle/anti laziness. He agreed with me that it should be illegal to use a cell phone whilst driving, but also informed me that it is against the law for cyclists to use earphones. Where's the logic in that?

By the time I rose at 8.30, my hosts were halfway through their workdays. They had left me in their house, while their son slept downstairs. How trusting is that? Made myself a couple of cream cheese bagels and a cup of green tea (no they weren't Mormons – it was all they had).

Monday, 27 October 2008

Sylvia (October 26)

Day 42

The next morning Chuck & Bev made me sausage gravy with biscuits (like scones) and peppery eggs. I asked if I could stay another night and they were happy to have me. We went out for a bike ride, but as it was along trails, they lent me one of their mountain bikes, while they rode a mountain tandem. They had a road tandem too and a whole bunch of other bikes. They were bicycle crazy, wore matching gear and had a bicycle forks-shaped toilet roll dispenser. They had started riding across the States from San Francisco last summer and had reached Nevada when Bev lost her wallet, and by this time Chuck was homesick too, so they decided to call it a day. We went on a ten mile tour round the Quivira Nature Reserve, right on their doorstep, during which the wind raged from the north, chilling us to the bone. I saw a couple of garter snakes, decoy ducks and other water fowl too far away to make out.

The rest of the day was spent eating and relaxing, with a grey cat by name of Puddin' glued to my lap; but then I had cycled a week's worth in four days, so I guess it was time for a rest. We watched trashy TV, drank beer, and both lunch and dinner featured venison (burgers and chili). So far I've only watched TV in motel rooms, when channel-hopping has been my modus operandi; however, today I realised how many and how often ads are repeated here. There was one interesting Obama one in which there is footage of McCain saying he has supported Bush in 90% of his policies. What a dumbass. Obviously it's old, but didn't he think saying such a thing might come back to haunt him? Both Chuck & Bev are voting for Ralph Nader this year, and mainly because he is not one of the main candidates it seems, as they believe the big two are only in it to line their pockets.

When I went to bed there were four cats on there to squeeze in between. Missed Bev in the morning, as she had to be out by 7 to get to Hutchison for her classes in time. Chuck cooked up some bacon and eggs, then I was ready for the road.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Dodge City – Sylvia (October 25)

Day 41

In retrospect I was a bit harsh in my assessment of Dodge City; off the main drag there are some decent brick buildings. The wind came from the west today as I marched on eastwards - and it was in the 70s! It seems odd to me that houses in small towns are often beside huge, humming lumps of machinery, which may well continue to hum through the night. That being said, industry gradually diminished the deeper I dove into Kansas, and it became mostly prairie, except for the occasional nodding donkey. Flat, yet there is the odd small hill and plenty of trees. Missing interaction and excitement today – even took to reading through the information at the front of my diary about public holidays and conversion tables out of sheer boredom.

Missed Raymond Road, intersecting with the Highway, where tonight's Warm Showers couple lived. I actually remember seeing it and not registering the relevance. Then I missed the sign to the town of Sylvia. I had ridden 100 miles at this point, so I guess I wasn't registering much of anything, A lady at a dog kennels, whose door I knocked on, five miles down the road pointed out my error and back I went. So, I saw a sign for South Raymond Road on the south side of the Highway and assumed the dirt track opposite must be North Raymond Road. It was sandy, so much so that the ruts were problematic for riding a fully laden bicycle and when I had skidded about a few times and fallen off once, I decided to walk, thinking it wouldn't be very far (I had promised myself never to dismount whatever the weather or how steep the hill – I hadn't counted on sand). Six miles later... It was dark, it was scary, there were no houses and it was all dirt track. I couldn't call my hosts either because I had no reception. What a crap phone network I'd chosen. The further I went the more stubborn I became and didn't want to backtrack. There were rustlings in the bushes, which I believed to be deer, although it was too dark to see. The paltry light from my front lamp picked out a skunk, which either didn't see me or was quite happy for me to be in such close proximity. I also saw the stars, which were pin-sharp and the Milky Way was much in evidence too. Eventually I came across a farm building and saw a man tinkering about in the lit, open doorway of his garage (by which time I had ridden/walked 117 miles). He was about as surprised to see me there as I was relieved to see him and he gave me a lift (yes, another cheat) in his pick-up truck to my destination – which at least I was heading in the right direction for – about another five miles up the road. His name was Bill and after his home burnt down recently. he was living in a trailer. He had several other properties he said, so I'm not sure why he hadn't moved into one of them. The house had been insured, but he'd lost the paperwork in the fire and when he phoned the company, who were based on the East coast, they said they didn't have any policies in Kansas and he said there was nothing he could do about it.

Chuck & Bev were also quite surprised to see me, as by now it was nearly 9 pm. They lived in a rustic, old house that Chuck's grandfather had built in the 1890s and it had a stove that was nearly as old as the house. They had a dog, six cats that lived inside and six that lived outside. The cats were all different colours and two had lost their tails. Chuck & Bev warmed up some 'Company Casserole' containing venison from a deer Chuck had shot in his back yard. You have to pay a permit per deer you shoot (about $30) and a further butchering fee (about $80) – unless you chop it yourself and then it's free. Chuck had also shot a goose flying low in fog over his property. Chuck worked as a custodian at a local school, Bev was a student and both were born in Kansas. Chuck had been married four times (twice to Bev + two sisters) and Bev had been married five times! We talked and drank beer, until it was time for a bed choc-a-bloc with cats; they were on the bed, in the bed, running, fighting – and even in my dreams.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Ulysses – Dodge City (October 24)

Day 40

Received an email from Joel in Burlington, KS, who I'm staying with in a few days. Here's some of it :

The weather is a bit unpredictable this time of year due to the change in seasons. The temperature has been known to drop 15 to 20 degrees in less than an hour when a "Blue Norther" blows in from Canada. You can usually see it coming if you are out on the plains--BIG, DARK cloud bank that looks like midnight coming from the North--if you see it--find a hole and crawl in it. If you ever feel that you are in danger from weather, beasty, or man, don't hesitate to dial 911 on your cell and ask for assistance. For that matter, don't hesitate to call me any time if you need a lift or help. You are now close enough that I could be there with my FBRU (foreign bicyclist rescue unit) in a few hours.

We will communicate later, as you get nearer, to find out what we can do to make your stop here as restorative as possible. Your diet of meat and bread concerns me for several reasons. Give some thought as to what you might be craving or wanting to try. I am considered a "better that average" cook and would be willing to try something from your slate of personal favorites, but I draw the line at haggis; however, I do have one in a can that one of my exchange students brought for me. Knowing what is in it, along with the sound it makes when I shake the can, makes my gorge rise.

Be well and be safe-

If I'd only turned left at Lamar I could have stopped in Holcomb yesterday (where the events of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood took place) and might have reached Great Bend tonight. I'm very impressed with the service in grocery stores here; they are always friendly, polite and there is often someone to carry heavy shopping to one's car, especially the elderly or women with young children. Sunny and in the 50s again today, except the Wicked Wind of the North continued to blow. Kansas land seems to be completely taken up with grain and the occasional 'nodding donkey', and every half mile there are straight roads leading off to distant farms, metallic cylinders and industrial plants. Overhead, geese wheeled and warbled, waiting for slowcoaches to catch up. The library door in Montezuma has a sign like a no smoking one, but with a gun in place of a cigarette. Oh man! I couldn't take my AK47 in there and shoot up some kids. Another huge wind farm by the road and this one had its own 'overlook', just in case you hadn't noticed the hundred foot turbines for the last ten miles. I'd understand it if they were painted different colours or were lit up at night. I had no idea how many counties there are in some states. Kansas about a hundred counties, each about 30 miles square, with a county town a few thousand strong and a several smaller towns. Tiny though they are, they have their own sheriff, commissioners and countless other tin pot officials. Some even have their own sales tax, which is a different percentage than the surrounding counties.

Worn out by the time I turned into Wyatt Earp Boulevard in Dodge City, although the fact that I'd ridden 273 miles in the last three days might have had something to do with it. A statue of a cow takes pride of place, and as it didn't seem very attractive and smelt of cow poo, I could see why it was so named. Hard time finding a reasonably priced motel. One elderly receptionist with about two teeth in her head suggested I go elsewhere for wi fi because “Ours ain't worth a crap.” By the fourth motel I was too cold and hungry to refuse, even though there was no wi fi. The smiley lady at the desk had fled Laos when it turned communist in 1981 and she told me about another cyclist who had stayed there a month ago... “About your age – 30 or 31.” I liked her. It wasn't Chris though; he's not omnipresent. Alongside the bible in my room, I was surprised to see a booklet entitled The way to Happiness, a guide to modern living with no religious content. They had beer at the restaurant down the road – and not only that – they managed to find one at room temperature! I overheard a waitress reply to a customer who enquired how she was, “I'm doing fine; wouldn't do me any good to complain if I wasn't.”

Friday, 24 October 2008

Springfield - Ulysses (October 23)

Day 39 (halfway!)

Paul in Philomath just sent me this round robin :

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary.) Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy). Your new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

It does not of course reflect the views of Scrabble Travel Blogspot.

Whilst leaving my trusty steed outside the post office in Springfield, it shifted forward with its wet front wheel nudging the glass door, as if a dog waiting for its master. In the library it made me chuckle to see that the only reference to the election in the half dozen headlines on the British Yahoo homepage was about Sarah Palin spending campaign funds on clothes. The tumultuous sky unleashed a barrage of snizzle, followed by snow, sleet, rain and drizzle; all from left to right, now that I was travelling east. After 20 miles of the former precipitation, I took refuge in the Walsh grocery store, where feet were dried with tissues in the restroom, wet socks were changed, hands were revived in hot water and hunger pangs were treated. They often have microwaves in grocery stores and I assembled a sandwich (all the constituent parts came individually wrapped) and heated it up until the pepper jack cheese dribbled down the side. Back to the fray to contend with the second weather type on the list. My right foot was soon soaked again because the strong side-wind propelled water off the wheels in that direction. This is when I found out the $5 Walmart gloves weren't waterproof and I cursed my meanness.

The third moisture variant had given way to the fourth as I stole across the border into Kansas. The puny state sign looked funny contrasting with the ten foot tall “Welcome to colorful Colorado' one facing it. Hello Mid West, hello Central Time. The landscape changed straight away; it was still flat and open, but now there was corn, sunflowers, green, green grass and NO sagebrush. There was also a proliferation of grain-related machinery – industrial islands towering above lakes of gold. These silos and other structures played havoc with my spatial awareness, as they seemed to be in the foreground, when actually they were 10 miles distant. Great swarms of birds feasted on crops and a mile overhead hundreds of geese headed south. How do they fly such great distances without the promise of a hot meal, hot shower or motel bed each night? I saw a couple of anti-abortion billboards too, using bible quotes to strengthen their case. Johnson City up next, and I had to ask for help to unwrap a chocolate bar because my fingers were frozen. Sat in the library, where popcorn was being given away, to thaw out for a while. Then it was onward to Ulysses and the Peddlers Inn (not pedalers). Draped my clothes over the radiator, as well as every pair of socks I have brought, which by now were all wet. There was a bath. A bath I tell you! One of those things you fill up with hot water and sit in. Yes! Aaaah. They had their own restaurant too, so I needn't brave the elements again tonight, and rubbed shoulders with burly workmen. Don't bother changing out of your dirty overalls or even take your baseball cap off guys. They had French fries, German fries and - in case you hated both nationalities – frozen fries. No beer. Tap water please, no ice. Studied the Kansas map tonight. Not only is it a broad state, but I'm lengthening my stay by zigzagging about all over the place to take in Scrabblers and Couchsurfers. The Kickapoo Indian tribe have a reservation in Kansas. I didn't know there were Glaswegian Indians.

I breakfasted alone until an old man by the name of Madison joined me. It was as if he knew I was coming, understood what made me tick and plied me with information about SW Kansas. Those cylinders I had seen yesterday were actually salt water tanks and connected to the oil and gas industries. The town is named after Ulysses Grant, a Union General during the Civil War; it has a population of 5,000, is 35% Hispanic and there had been a double homicide in August. I wonder what views the big man upstairs has on gun control.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Kit Carson – Springfield (October 22)

Day 38

Amazing wind-assisted progress to Eads, 21 miles south, in less than an hour. At the gas station in this town people asked “Are you heading south?” With a knowing smile and “Kinda late in the year to be riding a bicycle ain't it?” I didn't fancy any of the lunch options from the chilled cabinet, so bought a pastry instead (not one of the iced cheese variety though). Drank coffee here too, and perusing a local magazine, came across an advert for a company who film funerals. The road continued past The Queen's State Wildlife Park and I wondered what queen and what wildlife were being referred to as I couldn't fathom any self-respecting royal personage or wild animal visiting this featureless plain. It was only lunchtime when I arrived at my intended destination of Lamar (on my original route) so decided to press on towards Kansas. First of all I lunched in Subway, where a poster read 'Come join our sandwich artistes', and checked emails at the Welcome Centre, staffed by sweet old do-gooders. One took me under her wing and asked me to put a pin in a map to show where I was from and again I put it in a different part of Scotland because Glasgow was already spoken for. I wondered whether other pin-pushers had stretched the truth further than I, or perhaps this small town really had been frequented by Mongolians and Kazakhs. Another map depicted all the US states in different colours. I hadn't looked at the whole country like this since leaving home and it suddenly dawned on me that tomorrow I would be halfway through my holiday and I was only two-fifths of the way across. Don't say I haven't accounted for a few hundred miles somewhere... My befriender said they were giving out T shirts to visitors and all I had to do was sign my name in a book. I chose a grey one with the slogan 'Dude where's my ranch?' It was quite fortuitous because I'd just run out of rags to clean my chain. No, I didn't use this gift, but a T shirt on its last arms. The old lady imparted all kinds of information, although the only thing I can remember is that she had eight children. Yes, another supersize family. Lamar is an unusual small town, in that there is a train station there, and one can travel all the way to Chicago and Los Angeles.

Heading east, the wind had switched to be behind me again, which was very decent of it. Next up roadworks for ten miles. Men stood at each end with stop/go signs and a vehicle bore the sign 'Pilot car. Follow me'. This section was a bit surreal, with long periods of silence during which my only fellow travellers were tumbleweeds. At one point a white stallion galloped alongside me, lit from behind, outlined in gold; although it's possible this was a dream. There followed a wind farm of epic proportions along a ridge and there were a few houses right on top of them. I'm sure Americans don't see wind turbines as an eyesore or selfishly consider the effect on their house prices. 28 miles out of Lamar it occurred to me that I hadn't noticed a couple of towns that I should have gone through and that there was no sign of Holly, tonight's destination. Then the penny dropped. The wind hadn't changed direction - and that would also explain why the sun hovered to my right. I had gone 28 miles south instead of east. You stupid, stupid idiot. Nothing else for it, but to carry on to the next town of Springfield. Every mile of the following 20 was a mile in the wrong direction, yet there was nothing else for it. It was cold and I had to find the nearest motel before the sun set and the temperature plummeted. The only prizes for my stupidity were a new PB distance & speed of 109 & 18.8 respectively. Another Polish couple at J's Motel, where the proprietor was desperate to get rid of me so he could continue with his online chess game. You could have 'Pie alamode' at the Longhorn Steakhouse, but I of course had my usual boeuf au pain.

I thought I'd imagined the Longhorn diners eying me suspiciously last night, but again this morning? It felt like I was in Texas what with the country & western tunes and the drawly accents. “Guy, you need a little more splash?” asked the bouffant blonde, perma-tanned waitress.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Limon – Kit Carson (October 21)

Day 37

Two weeks till the election and McCain has been gaining ground in the polls. Exciting or what? Today in this crazy country it was sunnier, less windy and about 20 degrees warmer than yesterday. In Limon Library, where I rescued a sleepy butterfly, a highly excitable woman was running an activity with pre-school age children and I wished I was one of them. There was also a large calendar with a picture of a cow on it, along with the obligatory Stars & Stripes and Native American artwork. The woman in the library could well have been in charge of the insects along the highway as well, such was their industriousness. In Scotland most of the six legged workforce are dormant by late October, whereas today I saw plenty of beetles, crickets, butterflies and caterpillars. The sagebrush is gradually being replaced by beige grass in this High Plains Country. Britain of course is much more densely populated, but even so, it seems to me that most of my homeland is either used in some way or pretty. In The Wild West there are great tracts of no man's land, which only exist in a 'between' sense. I wonder how it would effect one's equilibrium and creative juices to move to such an open, nothingy sort of place? If you lived on a blank page would it fire your imagination or deaden it? It reminds me of a Hopper painting in which there is a gas station set against an eternity of corn. I have always wanted to step into such a world, which is simultaneously eerie and suspenseful. I wonder also if there's an inverse link between the barrenness of land and the human fertility. It would make sense that if you lived in a dull and/or desert environment, you might, at least subconsciously, desire to populate it. This is what I will probably remember about The West; as well as gas, guns and God.

Today I was missing English bitter and longed for a pint of flat, hoppy, brown liquid, served at room temperature in a good old British boozer. Some days I don't know how I reach my destination. I look back on the 60/70/80 miles that have been covered, and what with the wind and monotonous terrain, it seems like a miracle that I was able to keep going. Arrived in Kit Carson, a 200-strong town, with no library, and only one motel/restaurant. The elderly lady here remarked that I shared my surname with the local hospital. In the shop window of the one, small grocery store, I saw an advert for a three-bedroom house on the market at $72,500.

The weather turned nasty this evening; first there was snow, then rain, sheet lightning and gale force winds. As the lady in the cafe (where I was the only diner) said, “Good thing you got off the road”. Everything on the menu had a biblical name (well it was the Good Sheppard Inn) and I had the Samson Burger. The pantry and kitchen were in the same room as the 27-seater cafe, so I could watch my food being prepared silently and efficiently by Margaret and Stuart. 'No out of town checks' a sign on the wall said and there was an article about Margaret (aged 70) and her mother (87) who had recently retired. After the burger and a slice of pecan pie, Margaret told me all about the Indians, of which she was one, or at least fractionally. If you can trace your ancestry back to Indian blood, you get 'an Indian number' and if you live in Oklahoma you get a lot of benefits from casino profits. Oklahoma was where all the Indians were dispatched from the south-eastern states, along The Trail of Tears, in the nineteenth century. I had already wished I was heading further south and the more Margaret filled me in on Oklahoma's rich history, as well as her rolling, green hills, the more I wanted to go there. Instead I was lumbered with Kansas. Sorry Kansas, but that's the way I feel about you.

I had to be up early for a breakfast date with Margaret, as she was taking her mother to see a doctor in Lamar, where I was headed. Fay had seen many health professionals and tried all kinds of medical treatments for some kind of debilitating condition. In November she would be going on a 'prayer healing' vacation. “Did you want to stay in your room today? It's kinda windy.” Fortunately the wind was coming from the north and Lamar is due south of Kit Carson. I didn't have Margaret all to myself this morning, as a good-looking, young oil worker by the name of Dustin came in. He was a keen cyclist and offered to put me up if I passed through Great Bend in Kansas, which was only slightly off my intended route. There's a lot of oil in eastern Colorado and western Kansas apparently, and Dustin travels to various sites maintaining electrical equipment.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Castle Rock – Limon (October 20)

Day 36

(NB if you have photos relevant to my trip - please email them to I am unable to load pictures from my camera)

Cereal at Mac's house and then bid farewell to one of the most generous and easy going people I've ever met.

My route has been adjusted slightly by cutting inland earlier – and also diagonally – so I will meet my projected self in a couple of days. It was a good thing too, as there was a fearsome wind out of the south, although it still hampered my progress. First stop, the library, full of nubile women and their broods. So many times I've seen the rear view of a beautiful hunk of woman, only for a big old bump to be revealed when she turns round. Is it something in the water? Today I'm missing British sarcasm and moaning. People are just too damn nice here. You can buy a 'treed lot' for $200,000 in the Castle Rock vicinity and Mac had pointed out million dollar homes yesterday. Real estate is pricey here because of the proximity to Denver and also thanks to the influx of Californians (Mac and family were from there too). Headed east on a shoulderless, quiet highway, through trees and hills, then just hills. Stopped in Kiowa to refill water bottles and to dine al fresco in the park. Often when buying a sandwich in a cafe it comes with crisps, which isn't really helping the obesity situation, especially when I didn't ask for them. Mac told me about a restaurant in Nebraska which serves a 5 lb hamburger. They take your picture with it and this is put on the hall of fame if you finish it and the hall of shame if you don't. 'Country Clutter Collectables' could be bought here, and they get top marks for their honesty. Women buy up this mock-old fashioned, Far East tat by the truckload, line their nests with it, only to discard it all in a few years and start all over again.

The next 50 miles were through British-themed open moorland, with grey skies to match. Houses are plonked arbitrarily on hillsides, with no gardens or trees. Unless their occupants are working the land, you wonder why they would choose such a windswept place. Left my bum bag behind whilst donning leggings and had to go back for it. Thank God I realised pretty quickly. A man leaned out of his car window, while driving past, to enquire where I was going and as I was returning for the aforementioned article at the time, I replied “The wrong way”. How friendly is that though? From there on it was a cold, grey, windy blur and I was utterly drained upon arrival at Limon, where the sign on the Interstate (I had to ride it for a few miles) whined “Please visit our town”. It was dark by now and I didn't see much of it as I headed straight for the Safari Motel. This is how the conversation went with the unsmiling Polish lady at reception :

Me - How long have you lived here?
She - In Limon 12 years.
Me - You don't seem very happy about it.
She - Why would I not be happy if I have lived here 12 years? Are you on a bicycle?
Me - Yes.
She - That is why you are very red in the face.

I could have chatted to her all day... but my stomach had a date at Southside Food & Drink, right across the road. They did a 'chicken fried chicken' and a 'chicken fried steak'; but I settled for a burger and a glass of Killian's Irish Red.

A breakfast (pastries, muffins, coffee, orange juice) in the office was included in the tariff. I asked the Polish husband if there were any motels in Kit Carson, 60 miles away, but he'd never been there and was unable to find out.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Castle Rock (October 19)

Here's the photo of the game I played with Phyllis in Fort Collins that appeared in the Loveland newspaper.

Day 35

It was another hot one during this, a rest day, when we drove to Mac's wife's house nearby, where both his daughters, Eliza and Hanna joined us. His wife. Carrie, was the complete opposite of Mac on the tidiness stakes and her home bustled with mock-antique ornaments and autumn-themed decorations. The teenager banter was entertaining, especially Hanna's, who calls everyone 'dood'. The food was fantastic, especially the orange-flavoured pastries out of a packet (so heavy and intense) but sadly for me, they were another Mormon household and their cupboards were coffeeless. For all the religion in the West it seemed a little odd that a local paper was crammed to the gills with adverts for sexual services, strip-clubs, etc. Mac was so good to me; he made me feel like one of the family and I decided to stay another night, especially as I had plenty of time now that I wasn't heading further south to Colorado Springs and Pueblo. I was pretty worried about the next state on my itinerary though, Kansas, as a lot of people I have mentioned it to has said I should avoid it. It can't be as bad as southern Wyoming surely? Mac dropped me off at a bike shop in the afternoon, while he took off for an emergency NA meeting for something or other. Had the bike equivalent of an oil change (a new chain) as I have now ridden more than 2,000 miles. A guy in the shop told me how a group of his friends had cycled non-stop from San Diego to Maryland in nine days. However, they only cycled one at a time, while the others relaxed in one or more RV's, where they had their own masseuse and acupuncturist. On the way back to Mac's a girl shouted out of a car window “Ooh nice crack!” As far as I'm aware I had no cracks on view.

Mac hadn't returned from his meeting when I returned. However, Lyvonne, or Lavonne or something, Mac's landlady, invited me upstairs for a beer and showed a lot of interest in my route and gave me suggestions, as she had 11 siblings who lived all over the Mid West. Felt a bit guilty about the beer when Mac returned, yet he seemed OK with it. In the evening we went back to his wife's place for a barbecue. I don't think Mac does a lot of cooking - or washing-up if his kitchen is anything to go by. The barbecue could have fed a dozen, not just the five of us, and featured huge slabs of beef, garlic rolls, roast potatoes, fried onions and salad. No alcohol or coffee of course, although there was decaffeinated tea on offer. I helped Mac clear the garage after dinner (tips and icebergs came to mind) where he pointed out the 'Mormon stockpile' of porridge oats and tinned food. This family weren't 'kosher' Mormons though – they voted Democrat for one thing. There is another child, a boy called Haydn, who was away on a hunting trip. His girlfriend had recently given birth, but it wasn't his child. Not only was he surprised, but so was everyone else – including her – as supposedly she didn't know about it and she had delivered the baby herself. Carrie managed a retail store and used to work in another one called London Fog, selling winter clothes. The girls put out Hallowe'en lights and a character called Marcus the Carcass, who was made up of lit-up head, hands and feet, and sits on a lawn as if rising from the dead. Hallowe'en is a big deal here, at least in a commercial sense. Next we played boys vs girls Trivial Pursuit, although as is often the case with this game in my experience, we didn't finish it. Saw the weather at Mac's and it looked like I was in for milder temperatures and rain.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Littleton – Castle Rock (October 18)

Day 34

A crazy day. Although only riding 33 miles to Castle Rock, I fitted in two bouts of Scrabble. To begin with, Tom escorted me on his bike to the Platte Bar & Grille, 12 miles away still within not so Littleton. He took me along scenic paths, well-used by other cyclists, all wearing fancy gear, right down to specialized sunglasses. None of them even looked up as they passed, as in urban areas cyclists ignore each other, whereas in the country we smile and wave. Just like the roads here, cycle paths are awash with signs and regulations. It was just like a highway in fact, with a centre line and 15 mph speed limit signs. I could well imagine a division of bike cops enforcing this with speed guns. There was also a separate pedestrian path, along which people were jogging, or at least 'seriously' walking. Cars are the only method of transport to get from A to B, so no one uses paths to actually get anywhere – it is purely for exercise. Tom told me Denver is the healthiest city in the country and he certainly fit into that demographic. At the age of 68, he still rode fast, frequently and often went touring - he had circled much of Scotland. The views were nice along the Platte River, bursting with autumnal foliage and endless estates of beige, wooden houses. The sprawling Denver metropolis is 3 million strong and is the largest city in the top left quarter of the US.

Met Deborah at the aforementioned bar, frequented by bikers and enthusiasts – all dressed up like they had bit parts in Easy Rider (they don't do things half-heartedly here) and of course all the motorbikes are ferocious, growling things. We sat outside accompanied by the dulcet tones of revved up engines and heavy rock. Too much overt testosterone for my liking. Deborah took my mind of things however, with her pale blue eyes, big hair and personality to match. She had been the first Denver resident to contact me, but as I hadn't heard back from her in a while, I had arranged a game with Judy instead. Then she got back in touch a couple of days ago and I never say no to Scrabble. Working in marketing, a Catholic and unusually in my experience – born and raised in her current location – and not married with several children. I had a BLT with a couple of pints of de rigeur untasteably cold beer and we were joined by Deborah's friends, Jennifer, Jason, and their daughter, Jordan. I had all the luck in our Scrabble game, picking up both blanks and effortlessly fitting them into two bingos (TEASING & STEALER – bingotastic letters). I also commandeered three of the Ss, although my opponent did manage to play FOX with the X going two ways on a double word for nearly 50 points. After her friends left, Deborah told me about her ex-marriage and recent dating activity. She'd met this great guy recently, and on their third date he confessed he'd done a 15 year stretch for domestic violence (the length of the sentence would suggest extreme violence). She then turned detective and found out he'd carried out another violent act towards a woman since he'd been out of prison. Deborah came across as a tough cookie, able to look after herself, but also not stupid enough to think she could change a man like that.

We parted mid-afternoon and then it was goodbye to the Rockie Mountains as I pedalled a further 20 miles along Highway 85, in a southerly direction to the town of Castle Rock, named after a butte that does indeed look like a castle. Is it is my imagination, or does every young woman driving alone have a mobile phone permanently glued to their ears? Why don't they visit their female friends once in a while? Here I hooked up with Kris, who lived in Colorado Springs, another 40 miles south, but as she was unsure about offering me a bed while she had young relatives staying, she had kindly agreed to come up to Castle Rock. We met at Qdoba, a Mexican chain restaurant – but it seemed pretty good. I had nachos with black beans, beef, guacamole, etc, and compared to Mexican food I've had in Britain, which I've found bland and samey, this had a unique, piquant flavour. Kris was another example of the 'married young with numerous children' brigade and when I complimented her on the size of the rock on her ring-finger, she said it had been an upgrade. Her eldest, a 20 year old, has just got engaged too. Very well-travelled, she had lived in Amsterdam for a year and both her, and her husband worked in the accountancy field. On the Scrabble front, my luck didn't hold out from earlier and although securing a win, it was a frustrating encounter, with letters that didn't gel. Kris played ITTY (we didn't have a Scrabble dictionary so I didn't challenge) and I added a T to it, much to the amusement of a staff member.

Mac, the truck driver encountered in Laramie, met me here and drove me back to his place. Upon stepping into the passenger seat I thought “Uh oh”, as I tried to avoid stepping on empty tin cans and plastic bottles strewn about the floor of the vehicle, and as expected, his house continued the theme, with pathways dividing cardboard boxes and piles of stuff. This doesn't diminish the fact that he was a very nice guy, a big teddy bear of a man, renting a basement since splitting from his wife. He then took me to a place called Village Inn, another chain restaurant, where we met up with the local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous. Mac used to have a serious drug problem (as well as with alcohol) and meth amphetamines was his tipple. Meth is again on the rise and a serious problem with young people, including one of Mac's daughter's, who also turned up. I think Hanna had just been experimenting and Mac said all the other people there were clean. They were a nice bunch anyway and we talked about regular stuff as I tucked into a brownie pie. There were about a dozen choices of pie and they all sounded divine, so it was a difficult choice. They only cost $3.99 for a huge slice and a mere $7.99 for a whole pie to take away! Mac hasn't touched a drop of alcohol, smoked, injected or anything since February 19th 1988, yet he still goes to NA, I think more for the camaraderie than anything else, and is vice-chairman of the 'Mile High' group (somewhat ironic name) and they meet once a week (this was the social part after the meeting). All the waitresses knew about NA and joked about it – there's also an AA group that hangs out there!

Back at Mac's place, I met his ginger cat, Chance, who his children had stolen from a neighbour's house. Mac justified their actions by explaining the neighbours hadn't put up lost posters or anything. Chance pees down the drain and kicks a towel about that is laying there to mop up any drips. Slept on his couch, which was just fine, although it was pitched within a sea of chaos.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Fort Collins - Littleton (October 17)

Day 33

Clouds clung to the pinnacles of distant mountains like silk, as I continued to travel southwards through Colorado. It was a good road, lined with glistening-leaved brilliant yellow, red and green trees, landscaped shrubberies, water features and rock gardens. Down to a T shirt for the first time in a week and today must have been over 70 degrees, with a gentle breeze. Stopped in Loveland for to pick up a copy of the newspaper, where Phyllis and I were shaking hands on page 2. It was a good picture and the photographer had cleverly hidden the word PORN on the board with our hands. Stopped at Panera Bread, a chain cafe, in Longmont, where they give you a plastic device that bleeps and flashes when your sandwich has been made up. This afternoon a four inch grasshopper gave me a fright when it landed on my leg and I saw lots of gophers – mini fat otters – squeaking from their burrows, like housewives gossiping. It had been going well until I neared Denver, as although still on the edge of the city, the highway became busier and the shoulder disappeared. For the first time since my arrival I experienced cycle rage and disabused cars driving disrespectfully close and fast. They had two other lanes, so why did they have to go in mine? Often they would beep their horns and shout at me - but only when they were whizzing past and I couldn't make out a word of it – and not when we were stationary at lights. Maybe I wasn't supposed to be there, yet there were no signs to this effect and in America if there isn't a hundred signs telling you not to do something then in must be OK. Talking of signs, it amuses me to see real estate ads (plastered all over streets and press) usually with photos of smiling, attractive women. I wonder if some men choose agents on their looks and if this ever causes arguments with spouses.

I was also mad with myself for rushing, as today's Pixie Pit host had asked me to try and make it to the school she taught at by closing time at 3 pm, because the children would love to see me. I arrived in Littleton, a suburb to the south of Denver, at 3.15. It was a big place and it took me ages to find a library, with various people's bad advice and/or my inability to follow it. The little, old library lady gave me a map of Littleton which didn't have the street in question, even though it was in Littleton. She then gave me a huge map of Denver and much to my consternation tried to find the street herself – without using the index. She couldn't find it and then looked on an internet map site. We found a street with the same name, but she said it wasn't the right street because the street number was too high for that neighbourhood. I took down the directions anyway and made me way to this street, six miles to the west (still within the same massive suburb. So, I found the street – South Miller Court – however the numbers didn't go up high enough. I spoke to people living there and they said that was the end of the street and there was no other section. They also looked up the exact address I had on internet and drew a blank. I phoned my hosts and they said I must be in the wrong place. I followed their directions (another few miles along nasty beeping roads) and they came out to meet me in their car and shepherded me to ANOTHER South Miller Court in Littleton. There are two South Miller Streets as well. Who in their right mind...

I was hot, flustered, thirsty and exhausted when I finally sat down in Judy and Tom's cavernous house (they said it was a pretty small house) and fixed me a tasty meal of meat-stuffed peppers and Californian white wine. Tom had owned a bike shop and had a whole host of bicycles, including a titanium one. He was aghast at my footwear and insisted I try a pair of special shoes with 'cleats' that lock into special pedals, the merits of which he was so convinced in, he fitted a pair to my Trek. Judy told me about the half-sister she has recently discovered in Yorkshire, from a union between her father (before he met Judy's mother) when he was stationed in England during the War. Now deceased, her father hadn't told anyone about his other daughter or her mother. Once again this couple had lived in various locations throughout the US and their politics were split along typical gender lines (ie she was Democrat and he was Republican). Tom was very clued up about the Middle East and American foreign policy, and I was shot down in flames when I tried to criticize what I saw to be its 'bully boy' tactics. Tom believed (and made his points with articulacy) that Uncle Sam 'sorted countries out' for no gain or political leverage and rebuilt their economies just out of niceness (I'm paraphrasing). On a gloomier note he was convinced that if/when troops pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan that Iran would start to throw their weight around and possibly even deploy nuclear weapons. Make words, not war - that's what I say – and that is exactly what Sheila and I did. My armies of letters soon had control of the board, with two early bingos (GREEDIER & REPUTED) and Judy's arsenal suffered from poor capability, as I had all the incendiary devices (both blanks and most of the premium tiles). Then it was time to head upstairs and I saw what Tom had meant about their fondness for soft beds, as it was one of those mattresses that sinks underneath you like jelly; not that I cared, as I'm always so tired that I could sleep in a broom cupboard.

The next day it was predicted to reach 80+ and I changed my plans to only go as far as Castle Rock, which was where the truck driver who had offered me accommodation in Rawlins lived. Tom and Judy plied me with breakfast and maps before a late start.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Laramie – Fort Collins (October 16)

Day 32

Evan escorted me to the dentist on his way to work. It was actually a dental nurse who saw me and she said it should be OK to wait for my tooth to be fixed (capped) when I got home, providing it didn't start to hurt. The main thing was that it didn't affect my masticatory enjoyment, otherwise it would have to be attended to immediately. Dropped by the university library before heading out of town. Why is it that young males with baseball caps look cool in the US, whereas British cap-wearing men just look stupid? So, Chris stayed with Evan a few days ago. I found out some more stuff about him. He lives in Santa Barbara, California, he wrote to heart disease organizations (who he is raising money for) all over the country before he embarked on his trip and many of them arranged free accommodation in fancy hotels, meals in top restaurants, bar tabs... He works for a man who makes magicians props. I wish I could say abracadabra and make him disappear, that's for sure. It looks like my wish will be granted soon enough, as he's travelling in a more southerly direction through Oklahoma and I'm going through Kansas. I did begin to head south today however, and the Westerly wind was extra strong across my bows. Finally it was warm enough to strip down to shorts and I found a nice spot in the lee of a building, to have lunch.

Crossed into state number six, Colorado, this afternoon and straight away I got phone reception (nothing in the whole of Wyoming) the road improved, it was greener, there were trees and interesting rock formations. Then it was all yellow again for a bit, but then it did gradually become more verdant as I dropped down to Fort Collins at 4,894' (I don't think I was ever below 6,500' in the eight days it took to cross Wyoming). Another university town, it seemed like a nice place, but with too much traffic for my tastes and it seemed ridiculous that I couldn't stay on the main road through the downtown district (there were 'no cycling' signs) when there were three lanes for vehicles and no sidewalk.

Continued to the south of the town to meet Sheila, who had recently moved from California with her husband, to be near their daughter and grandchildren. Sheila was happy with the relocation, but Larry missed the golf course he lived on in Californian and his golfing buddies. They had a big, beautiful house and they had guests – from Sheila's Scrabble club. Tucked into the buffet first, which Sheila had prepared and the others had contributed towards – the best part of which was the pumpkin cake.. The organizer, David (who had once cycled from New York to Denver) asked me to make a speech and so I talked about who I was, why I was doing this crazy venture and my experiences so far. Then they all said who they were and where they came from (many were from 'back east'). It was so nice to be at a Scrabble club in someone's house, with food, drink and a relaxed cosiness – rather than the austere atmosphere of some clubs. I played two games, both of which were hard fought and hard won – by me. In the first one, against Phyllis (who had a board made out of a picture of Tiger Woods), I put down QUILL with the Q on a double letter (also making QI) and it reached a double word tile (71 points). In the second game, with Eleanor, my HEADCASE was disallowed, but I'm sure it would be an acceptable SOWPODS play. Everyone came over to talk to me and were admiring of what I was doing, including one lady who had a Scrabble board brooch with the word FUN spelt out. A photographer from a newspaper in nearby Loveland turned up and took about a hundred photos while I was playing with Phyllis. He said it would be in tomorrow's paper. Then I headed for bed, in the basement, which was like a whole separate house. Every room had intercoms and about six light switches - but property is reasonable here, Sheila told me, at least compared to the San Fransisco area, where they were from.

Over a breakfast of homemade blueberry pancakes and bacon, Sheila and Larry told me about the foreign exchange student from Glasgow who had stayed with them some years ago. He was 11 years old, hated everything about America and his strong accent made communication arduous. It had been a full family migration from California, as both their children lived down the road. Their daughter, Christie came over this morning and her young son was entranced by the bell on my bike. Then I packed up my plastic bags once more and Larry escorted me on his bike out of the neighbourhood, and back on to Highway 287.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Elk Mountain - Laramie (October 15)

Day 31

A month into this trip and it was another cold one, as I made my way up a dirt track for the first 25 miles, then on to a highway from Medicine Bow to Laramie, thus avoiding I-80. It'll be in the 60s again on Monday, Tammy had said at the weekend. Yeah right. That's what they tell all the tourists. The unmade road was fine, except when a vehicle passed, sending up a cloud of dust. Elk Mountain remained in view behind me for much of the day's 83 mile ride, wearing a fluffy hat. I saw a herd of about 50 antelopes. Lambs to the slaughter. They should at least be given a fighting chance. I wanted to teach them to disperse when they are frightened – not stick together, give them flak jackets, helmets, hoof-operated weapons. Stopped in the tiny community of Medicine Bow to get a BLT sandwich made up at the cafe/bar and while waiting I took a few Tootsie Roll chewy candies from a jar on the counter. Working my way through them while riding, I discovered one had bits of bone in it. Wait a minute, that was no bone, that was about a quarter of one of my tooth. It didn't hurt, but it was at the front, halfway between the middle and the back, so it would show when I smiled. Along with my accent, my smile was the way I worked my ticket over here. I wondered if it needed to be attended to and whether it would be covered by the travel insurance. Sat in a park in Rock River with the sandwich. Another town of about 200 souls, yet the park had undercover seating, play equipment and barbecues. Feeling weary today, I don't know why. The land opened out this afternoon and it was all yellow. And so to Laramie, a good looking, prosperous university town with plenty of cyclists. In the grocery store I was once again struck by the tallness of the people; some of the men are around 6'6” and many of the women are 5'10” or more – and often with child.

Tonight I had accommodation arranged with a couple, and approaching their address a man on a bike shouted out to me that he was my host and he had one more lap to do, then he would meet me outside his house. Evan lived opposite a park where some kind of cycling race with obstacles was taking place. I had come across him through a rather dodgy sounding website called Warm Showers, which was in fact similar to Couchsurfing – aimed at the biking community. A young engineer from Iowa, he lived with his wife, Kennedy, a politics teacher, who had a migraine and I saw little of her. They had two feisty Basset Hound puppies and a very affectionate white and grey cat. Evan cooked me up a pasta dish with a spicy sauce, choc chip cookie dough ice cream and beer (one was called Fat Tire from Fort Collins and had a bike on the label). We got along tremendously and talked a lot of politics, as well as watching a bit of the final presidential debate on TV. Obama seems to be doing well in the polls and in recent years only Regan managed to overhaul such a deficit in the polls. Who knows though and it is pretty exciting. I'm really not getting to see a cross-section of America, as even though most of the Western states are safe as houses for the McCain side, just about all the people I've stayed with are wimpy, pinko, fagots like me. Actually Evan is still undecided. He showed me a sample ballot paper and compared to the ones in Britain it is so complicated. An A4 sheet with about 20 sections in both sides for all kinds of dignatories. You can even put your own suggestion in for some of them. Apparently Pistol Pete, the mascot of the Denver Cowboys football team gets a lot of votes. It doesn't beat the goat who was elected some years back as the sheriff of some county in the boondocks, and was armed with a badge and gun. It's a true story folks.

I was unbelievably tired tonight and while typing this, sitting up in bed, when a wave of exhaustion halted me mid-sentence – much to the playful cat's annoyance. The next day Evan made me cereal and enough pancakes to sink a battleship.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Rawlins – Elk Mountain (October 14)

Day 30

More sun, wind from behind and the temperature nudging into the 40s. Woo hoo! Still mad with myself for 'cheating'. It didn't snow and it wasn't windy on Sunday afternoon. It would have been so easy to ride 15 miles west and then back again. If only I'd thought of it. I bet Chris cheats and doesn't even admit it. Easy riding, along I-80 (where else?) with a couple of big hills, but as the gradient can't be too severe for the trucks, they weren't that onerous. Nestled down out of the wind, by a river, for my lunch break, where I noticed every single riveted section of the bridge had a bee or wasp nest adhered to it. All rivers are flowing east now I'm over the continental divide. And so to Elk Mountain, named after, er, Elk Mountain, which I'd seen way off before Rawlins and rises to 11,156 feet. It is a charming town of less than 200 people, a few peaceful miles from the Interstate, with unmade roads divvying up ramshackle homesteads. Couldn't believe there was a library in such a tiny place; a one room wooden shack with strips of purple tinsel hanging in the inner doorway. There was only one large table for me to type at, around which several children and one mother were engrossed in Hallowe'en craftiness, and one girl had snot that threatened to drip from her nose every time she breathed out, only to withdraw once more. The elderly lady behind the desk came over to me as quickly as her zimmer-frame would allow, to tell me she had been having trouble with her laptop connection too. She suggested I drive by the Senior Centre, where I should get on the internet. This didn't work either and I slowly peddled around the town, with its golden-leaved cottonwood trees, its cats, dogs, goats and children, and took pictures. Later I discovered that The Garden Spot Pavilion used to be here and such artistes as Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong performed there. Also, that Wyoming is called the 'Equality State' because in 1870 local woman Eliza Swain was the first US woman granted the right to vote in an election. Furthermore, George 'Big Nose' Parrot, an outlaw from these parts, had the unique distinction of having his skin made into a pair of shoes after he was hanged.

Then I checked into the Elk Mountain Hotel, or rather knocked at the house next door, because there was no one at reception. It was a good thing I didn't come here yesterday as it was closed on Mondays and there was nothing else for 15 miles. Chris had been here. I could smell him. It was a gorgeous place (ie expensive) in a Gone With the Windish kind of way – and my room would have been fit for Scarlett O'Hara – all plump pillows, brass bedsteads and frilly flounces. In this slice of yesteryear apple pie, it didn't seem right for it to be run by a couple from Sidcup, and their accents grated. I had been homesick, but only in a fantasy sense, Susan was a sweetheart though, especially as she only charged me $85 instead of $120. Yes, she said, Chris had been here. What was he like? Oh, your build, quiet. Annoying more like. Sat downstairs in what Susan quaintly termed 'the parlour', sipping Earl Grey, listening to Mr Sinatra and other crooners and a grandfather clock's chimes at three minutes past every quarter hour. Dare I even look at the restaurant menu? There was local venison; a snip at $36.95. I had the chicken salad with ranch dressing and a bottle of Samuel Adams beer. It was so nice to relax in my boudoir, where I powdered my nose and rouged my cheeks, particularly after the last few nights. Did He sleep on this very bed? No, he always camped and didn't even have a sleeping bag, only a blanket. Tough as nails he was.

The grandfather clock chimed all night long and most times I heard it. I had a Continental breakfast of granola, sunflower toast and blueberry & redcurrant pastries. Anything cooked was extra.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Leg 5: Rawlins, WY - Colorado Springs, CO

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Point of Rocks – Rawlins (October 13)

Day 29

I left the 'motel' with some trepidation, for although it was sunny, there was plenty of snow, and where was the wind coming from? It seemed to be coming from the west. Thank you wind. The cafe part of the bar, bizarrely closed at weekends, rustled up a splendid feast comprising :

4 plate-length rashers bacon
3 eggs over hard
2 slices toast
Hash browns
1 coffee + 2 refills
1 orange juice

The waitress, who was unbelievably attentive and polite, had written “whimpy” beside bacon on the bill, as I had requested it not to be crispy. It was a good thing I'd slept well again and was wide awake, as she gave me change out of 20 when I had given her a 50. So, today then, another biggie, psychologically more than physically, as I had lost confidence as a result of being picked up by Tammy and I hadn't peddled one inch in nearly 48 hours. I had also cheated. Point of Rocks was about 15 miles east of the pick up, so really I should have cycled west for 15 miles first. Of course I didn't. It wasn't like anyone cared. I was only cheating myself. I will have to tell people, yes, I cycled across America, except for 15 miles in Wyoming. Today's ride commenced with a classic Adrian blunder. When Tammy had taken me to her power station, we had driven along a frontage road (short access roads parallel to freeways) and she had pointed out where I could turn on to the Freeway further up. I did this and it turned into a dirt track. The Freeway was getting further and further away. Finally I carried my bike (a few feet at a time due to the weight) across snowy sagebrush – I didn't want to push it in case of thorns. Then I had to take off all three panniers to get it over a barbed wire fence.

I had also been stressing about the state of the shoulder, yet I needn't have worried, as it was as snow-free as the rest of the freeway. I think the reason snow disappears must be something to do with the dryness of the air. Pedaling uphill was noticeably tough because of the cold, thin air; however, it was mostly downhill today and the wind licked me along. By the time I'd reached Rawlins my average was 18.4 mph! I crossed not one, but TWO continental divides today, which makes no sense to me. What REALLY confused me though was that the first divide sign gave a height of 6,930 and the second one, 7,000. These two signs were about 50 miles apart and it seemed like I was going down (the landscape opening up in front and not behind) for 90% of the time. Anyway. I had crossed the backbone of America and it was to be largely downhill from here, in both senses of the word. There doesn't seem to be a Wyoming logo on the road signs, which is probably due to there being no graphic designers here. “We'll pay you double the salary you get in Denver if you move to Wyoming.” “No thanks.” “Triple?” “Thanks, but I have my mental wellbeing to consider.” There was a truck whose every side was plastered with the words “Jesus Christ is Lord not a swear word”. What were they transporting? Bibles? If the truck was being used as a billboard alone, how could spending money on gas instead of helping the needy be a sensible use of resources? In Wamsutter, where I had planned to spend a night, there was a man in the Subway cafe with gold caps on every single tooth. He might have to be careful not to smile in big cities late at night. There was no more snow on the ground at, what I had thought to be a lower altitude, although there were football sized lumps of brown ice in the shoulder, dislodged from trucks, but thankfully none fell on me.

And so to Rawlins, which I'm sure was a really nice town (it had a gentrified Wild West feel with many of the old clapboard houses turned into shops with all the original features intact) except it was mighty cold, especially with that icy wind and I headed straight for the cosy confines of the library. There was an email from Nate in Twin Falls telling me Chris had been in the news AGAIN, in Cheyenne, where the police had given him an escort through the town. I bet everyone loves him. I bet God loves him too. Then to the Best Motel. Yeah right. How long does it take to run vacuum the floor once in a while? It was run by a silver-haired Asian man, and his wife who couldn't speak a word of English watched me the whole time. When her husband showed me the room, she stood at the back door of the office. Later, when I couldn't get wi fi, he made phone calls, called people in, and then we went up to his bedroom, where his wife was in bed, to look at the router. We got it to work eventually. Tonight I broke with tradition and had Spaghetti al Salmone at the Rawlins Buffet, where, unlike all the truck drivers, I was too mean to fork out $13 for the 'eat all you want' buffet. One such trucker asked where I was from (I just have to open my mouth and people start conversations) and he invited me to stay at his place in Colorado! Mac picks up old tyres from garages and his company shreds them for reuse in playgrounds.Today was Columbo Day, yet how come none of his programmes were on TV? During the night I was woken a few times by the freight trains as usual, which criss-cross the land. They sound their horns three times when approaching railroad crossings, as unlike in Britain, there are often no automatic barriers.

The next morning I dined at Square Shooters Eating House, where I watched a man describing a woman's curves with his hands to a friend. He was doing no such thing – he was describing the size of some animal he'd shot. In the local paper there was a photo of a rodeo rider called Keefe Rice; didn't he know Keefe was a surname, not a Christian name? The idea of life in The West appeals to me on many levels, but if I was to emigrate here without a woman I'd die a lonely man, as all the womenfolk are married off at 20 and progeny fly out of them like rabbits.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Point of Rocks (October 12)

(Three posts today as no wi fi until Rawlins)

Day 28

It had stopped snowing by 11 am, but Sunday ennui had already set in and I decided to stay put. I had planned to get to Wamsutter on Saturday, to Rawlins on Sunday and then have a rest day in Rawlins on Monday. Instead I was making today the rest day, I would try to reach Rawlins on Monday and the next place on Tuesday. Bumped into Tammy shoveling snow from the gas station forecourt and I helped her out with a broom, after which she took me back to her trailer for toasted fried egg sandwiches with coffee. Later she took me to the 'living' ghost town of Superior (past a pick-up truck that had skidded off the road last night and turned over)and I had a beer in the Canyon Bar dating from cowboy times. Tammy reckoned Butch Cassidy (who was a butcher in Rock Springs) and the Sundance Kid drank in this bar, which was run by an octogenarian lady, with dust covering every surface, from the intricately carved cherry wood bar to the animal mounts. Tammy told me how Mark's grandfather (who runs Point of Rocks) shot the tyres of a truck when he caught the driver stealing diesel and peppered this and other tales with the catchphrase “Hoooooly smokes!” She drove me up to the Jim Bridger Power Station as well, the biggest this side of the Mississippi, then to the laundromat, where we chatted to another trucker from Nevada who had some controversial theories about politics and women which I won't go into. Thumbed through the Sweetwater County Guide this afternoon, while Tammy took a nap. Some things I came across :

1.Main news on the front page – “Genealogy Class Set. Librarian Micki Gilmore will teach a class on genealogy...”
2.Front page of the pull-out hunting section – a beaming 12 year old girl holding the antlers of the bloody-nosed antelope she'd just shot.
3.Lost & found ads – Money has been found outside the Family Dollar store.

In the evening I rejoined Tammy at the bar, where we again shared a pizza (and she insisted on paying for everything) although she didn't drink beer with me as she had to be up at 5.30. Another trucker, who looked like John Voight with a moustache, said the reason the oilfields round here - and the offshore ones in the Gulf - were capped was because the military wanted to keep them in reserve in case of World War III. Tammy had introduced me to him and told him about my journey, but as is the case with a minority of people either side of the Pond, he wasn't remotely interested in what I was doing, who I was or where I came from. People like this are such losers. When I was able to turn my back on him. Tammy told me about her time in construction and how she walked across girders hundreds of feet up without a safety harness. One time a crane driver gave her a lift to the top of the building in his basket. When she had finished a small job, she hopped back into the basket, but this time he played a prank on her and dropped the basket so it was in free fall, until it was five feet above the ground. There was a sign in the bar that read “Your wife called and you can stay as long as you want” and I hadn't noticed before that the wooden structure in the middle of the bar with all the optics was an old wagon, or the wagon wheel candelabra suspended from the ceiling. Tammy gave me pepper spray in case I was attacked by wild animals and she drove me back to my domicile, where we said our goodbyes. John Voight was on TV tonight, in Deliverance, which I really shouldn't have watched, being a lone city boy in such a place, but I did. Weirdly there was an episode of Southpark on another channel with a piss take of the 'pig squealing' incident from this very film.

Rock Springs – Point of Rocks (October 11)

Day 27

First of all I stocked up on provisions and paid a visit to Rock Springs library – or tried to – as the snooty woman there wouldn't let me in before the opening time of 12. As this was half an hour away and there was nowhere else to go, I decided to leave posting my blog and straddle my machine. Yes indeed, I was up against a 25 mph headwind from the start, and although I soon warmed up, my speed was pitiful and there were 76 miles to cover. My head was down the whole time, I had my cagoule hood pulled over my helmet and I rode standing up to try and gain momentum. After 12 miles a pick-up truck pulled up in front of me, a woman climbed out and told me I would not make it to my destination as a storm was coming and she knew about Wyoming weather, having lived here 30 years. I stubbornly tried to resist her offer of a ride, but she said I would die if I continued and that was that.

I could barely talk to her as we drove to her home town of Point of Rocks, some 20 miles up the road from Rock Springs, because I felt so disappointed with myself for giving up so easily. Perhaps she didn't know what she was talking about... It didn't seem that bad... Maybe she was like Kathy Bates in that film Misery and I would end up having my ankles smashed with a hammer and she would make me rewrite my entire blog so as to conform to her radical religious views... Actually Tammy was very nice and totally normal. She took me to the petrol station in this place, which was little more than a trailer park, where the grandson of the man who owned the whole town let me stay in a motel room (a portakabin) free of charge! It was rough and ready, like student accommodation, although I was very grateful. I don't mind dirt on the floor, foil covering a crack in a window and having to take a panel off to turn the heating on because the knob has broken. It had a very effective fan-operated heater, hot water and a comfy bed. Then I went to the one public indoor place in Point of Rocks (ie a bar) where I stayed in the company of Denese and an assortment of truck drivers, from 2 to 8 pm. The storm did arrive soon enough, with horizontal snow drifting in from the north and a wind chill factor well below freezing. The weatherman said it was unseasonably cold and snowy in these parts. Great. It was forecast to be as bad tomorrow, but back up in the 60s on Monday, when I would have to try to get back on schedule. As usual people were aghast at what I was doing, especially with what I was wearing. “Are they your warmest clothes?” they would ask. Tammy had been camping once on a beautiful summers day when it was in the 70s. Suddenly a storm arrived out of nowhere, the temperature plummeted to the 30s and it started to snow.

Tammy, whose grey hair curled out from under the woolly hat she never removed, worked as a janitor at a nearby coal-fired power station and she was one of the most interesting people I'd met up to this point. From an Illinois family of nine children (the other eight were all racist she said) she used to be a street performer and was accomplished in martial arts, and once hospitalized a 6'4” man making unwelcome sexual advances. She was of the opinion that some political leaders, such as Gandhi and Kennedy shared a 'world view' and others, such as Bush, had a narrow view. She also believed the Bush Administration was behind the 9/11 plane crashes and Lyndon Johnson had Kennedy assassinated. Everyone she speaks to says they hate Bush and that they will vote Democrat, and yet something doesn't add up because this state is staunchly Republican. It may have the lowest population, yet it is economically vibrant due to the oil, gas, coal – and trona mines (producing baking powder amongst other things). People come from all over the US to work here because of the job situation and because wages are high.

We had a few beers and a pizza, played pool (she didn't care for Scrabble though) and we listened to bar room banter. There were no tables, only the curving bar, around which people would start conversations with anyone else who cared to listen. Tammy would say “Where are you from?” and “What are you carrying?” as soon as they walked in. One man said that his former profession (musician) and present one (truck driving) were much the same, as the majority of both were spent on the road, and the only difference was that he was paid more for the latter. He was away for a fortnight at a time, returned home to be with his four young children for a weekend and then he was off again. A conversation with another man went like this.

He : My longest marriage lasted 17 years.
Me : How long was your shortest marriage?
He : Four days.

Tammy took me back to her trailer, which although tiny, was cosy and had a handmade spacecraft feel with its silvery insulated walls, and its minimalism appealed to me. She earned $350 a week, parking and plumbing in her trailer here cost $200 a month + electricity. She was also paying for her daughter's rent - a student in nearby Green River. She showed me her pencil drawings and then drove me back to the 'motel', where I settled down in front of the box with milk, Whoppers and Trail Mix for the night.

In the morning it was snowing some more.

Lyman – Rock Springs (October 10)

Day 26

Delayed my departure until after 11, wishing I could have sat in the cosy Lyman library all day. Today I wore my warmest clothes :

2 pair socks
Lycra shorts
Cycling shirt
Black jumper
Thin waterproof coat
Fleece gloves
Woolly hat
Cycle helmet

I'm so glad I picked up the gloves at Walmart in Evanston and the sunglasses were a godsend for keeping snowflakes at bay. It really wasn't that bad, except it took 20 minutes to warm up and the same after each stop. All that mattered was keeping warm and dry. The cycling took care of itself. Parts of me were toasty warm most of the day, but the usual suspects of feet and hands were pretty numb throughout. Every mile or so for 60 miles there was a billboard advertising Hotel America (60 miles away). Perfect families taunted me in luxurious hot swimming pools, jacuzzis and snuggled up in Egyptian cotton. At least they were something to lose myself in and gave rise to an emotional response. There was a herd of cows and cowboys with lassos before I left Lyman, then I saw an antelope. Often when I go on a long ride I get a yearning for a certain kind of food and although I'm hungry, only that one item will hit the spot. A couple of days ago it was coffee ice cream. Not today obviously; in fact today's craving was brought on by the brown buttes speckled with white, reminding me of chocolate cake mix when the flour and cocoa are added. I would have loved to be somewhere cosy with a slice of my Mother's chocolate cake and a coffee, listening to the Archers, or anything on Radio 4 delivered by a Home Counties plummy vocal. Yes, I was homesick today. I missed silly things like Countdown, pansies and Branston Pickle. I was also reminded of home by a large haulage firm called England, printed on the side of their trucks in a red Gothic script. I had my lunch in the dry, at an exit doubling back under the Interstate, also providing a good place to urinate. From Green River onwards impressive buttes stood erect against the grey sky, straight out of a Western. Their lower slopes were snowy, yet because the rocky tops have straight sides, the snow doesn't stick and they remain darkly threatening. I go into a bit of a daze on such roads as this and a couple of times drifted down exits when my bike blindly followed the curve of the shoulder. I also have to remember to look behind when crossing these exits, in case a vehicle is turning off at high speed.

Came off at Rock Springs, as the snow had switched to needles of pain. This is where I hooked up with Denese, another Pixie Pit player, in her house beautifully decorated in warm earth tones. From Jamaica, she worked in mental health and is also a member of the LDS church, the fastest growing denomination in the world. Denese and Steve had invited a couple of their work colleagues along for a chicken buffet and a game of you know what. A photographer showed up too, from the Mining Rocket, a local paper, the name of which bears witness to Wyoming's coal-mining, in addition to the oil and gas reserves. He doubled as a reporter and took some pictures of us starting to play. We played two four-player games and I've never known Scrabble to be such a springboard for humour, with plenty of word-based jokes, although they wouldn't seem so funny written down. Denese was the star of the show however, easily triumphing in both bouts and her tour de force was going out with ALCOVED on a triple word. I challenged, but this adjectival form was there in black in white. We watched some TV, which made a nice change for me, as either I can't get motel sets to work or I endlessly trawl the cables aghast at the endless stream of garbage that some people out there must actually enjoy. We watched two episodes of a comedy cop show called Monk, where the eponymous cop shares his Christian name with me, but that's where the similarity ends as he is plagued by OCD. Denese offered me her bed to sleep on, while she took the couch. It would have been rude to refuse.

Awoke as if from deep sedation and for once I was the first person in an American household to rise, as Denese and Steve were not up until after 9. Denese made a delicious omelette packed with sausage, onion and peppers; but once again no caffeine to be had in an LDS home. It had snowed some more overnight to produce a thick blanket, although it didn't look too inhospitable in the sunshine and I pooh-poohed Steve's offer of a lift. I was determined to continue with my mission statement of using only peddle power up every hill and through any kind of weather. There was no answer when they phoned the one motel at my next stop of Wamsutter and the internet forecast 25 mph headwinds plus more snow, and still I was hellbent on cycling.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Evanston – Lyman (October 9)

Day 25

In the 50s today and with a boisterous westerly wind that had me bobbing along across a dull, desolate swathe of southern Wyoming, with its precious oil and gas reserves. First stop Bear River State Park on Mike's recommendation, and although picturesque, I didn't see any animals apart from buffalo. This is where I had my lunch, having been working in the library, and it was after 2 pm by the time I got going on the freeway, although it was only 45 miles to Lyman. Plenty of dead hare in the shoulder, exposing pretty white bellies speckled with blood. The views really were tragic, until I reached the top of a hill and it opened out into a creamily-lit spectacle of buttes and the silver peaks of the Uinta Range 50 miles to the south, rising to 13,000 feet. Today I recorded a new highest daily average speed of 16 mph and a new top speed of 49.5 mph, shattering my previous record by nearly 5 miles! I'm still gutted that I didn't make myself more aerodynamic to break the 50 barrier.

The one horse town of Lyman lies a couple of miles south of the Interstate thankfully and it was there that I spent an uneventful Scrabble-free night in another miserable motel. I couldn't believe it cost $55 in such a remote place and I was even more non-plussed when once again working the remote control was beyond me. I also have a problem with trying to lock doors here, can't fathom why switches on lamps require two turns before they go on or off and isn't it about time the Yanks got with the programme in the bedding stakes, and replaced their sheets and blankets with duvets – or do they sound too French? There was one saving grace to the room however, in the form of a dazzling picture, which was one of those paintings that's so bad it takes your breath away. It was an over-egged, lurid green landscape and half the surface was flecked highlights, and the paint seemed to have been applied in haste with the the end of a decorator's roller. The lady at reception said “Just you?” And at the Branding Iron Inn the young waitress used exactly the same words, emphasizing my loneliness so far from home, so that the words “Just you?” ricocheted around my head and echoed out across the wilderness. The teenagers in here stood out like a sore thumb, with their 'ghetto wear' of low-slung jeans and askew baseball caps, compared to the older generation's 'ranch look'. I asked if there were any local beers. The gormless girl understood the words, but not the question and said “We've got Budweiser, Bud Light...” which taste like carbonated water to me, so I stuck with tap water, although I don't know why they always fill the glass with ice when it's practically freezing outside. Snow is forecast this weekend... So, another buffalo burger and then back to my prison cell, replete with its 'wood effect' walls and chartreuse carpet.

Felt refreshed this morning, with no headache or stiffness in my back. Then I looked out the window... It was snowing. And to think it must have reached 70 degrees in NW Utah two short days ago. It's stupid to think this way, but I wish I'd headed south earlier, through New Mexico, the top of Texas, Oklahoma, etc. I bet that's what Chris did, the smart arse. The trail on him has grown colder than moose breath. I'd always wanted to go to Wyoming because it was cowboy country and so remote; now that I was here I got a bad vibe from it and the people, who haven't been as friendly as in other parts (apart from Mike's family of course). Felt strange to be having breakfast in the company of smokers, as in many states it seems to be legal. More iced water... A guy came in holding a fire extinguisher type thing, which he was attached to by a tube. Darn good coffee, especially after 48 hours without. I wonder if anyone has seriously contemplated joining the LDS and not been able to do it because of the no caffeine rule. Sorry God, but why did you have to make coffee so good? It would be a deal breaker for me anyway.