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I started writing this last post about three weeks ago; in many ways, living normal life is much harder than biking 100 miles in a day.  When we were cycling, we had no other obligations.  Now that we’re home, we’re divvying up the hours of the day among work, home, family, friends.  Good things all, but blogging doesn’t take precedence over washing dishes, grading papers, calling students’ parents, and doing laundry in this life…I wish I were on my bike.

We pedaled into Yorktown, Va, the terminus of the TransAmerica bike route, on August 7th.  In the weeks since we’ve been home, our tan lines have faded, our muscles have softened, and our memories of summer ’09 have become rose-tinted.  According to us right now, there were no hardships on the entire trip.  Thankfully we have our journals to keep us honest.  But seriously, our last week was blissful, a perfect blend of all our favorite things about bicycle touring.

Virginia is just so dang pretty, and we agreed that it’s one of our top 3 favorite states on the ride.  We loved the rolling hills, but we also had a couple super challenging climbs. (The infamous climb out of Vesuvius to the Blue Ridge Parkway was killer! We were in our peak shape by that point, yet we struggled to go 5 mph.  I’m not sure what the grade of that climb was, but it felt steeper than anything else on the trip. For you Greenville cyclists, Altamont’s got nuthin’ on this.)  We also rode along farms and orchards, and toward the end, plantations.  Our infatuation with this state came as no surprise–it was our favorite on our AT thru-hike in ’06.

Another great thing about our last week was that we were able to meet/hang out with some stellar peeps, including our longtime buds Jonathan and Emily who now live in Blacksburg.  They met up with us for lunch one day and had very little trouble convincing us to stay the night at their place.  Jonathan made us a mean blackberry cobbler with blackberries he picked from their yard–the best dessert of the entire trip (let’s not count the deep-fried Oreos, which really belong in their own category).  We also got to meet and stay with the legendary Cookie Lady, June Curry, in Afton. June has been allowing cyclists to stay with her since 1976, and we found my aunt’s photo from her ’86 ride in an album June had in her bike hostel.  Joel’s sister Amanda and her husband, Bronson, picked us up outside of Richmond the night before our finale, and we had a great time hanging out with them and their crazy cat.

The mark of a good vacation is that when it’s over, you feel happy and rested but not quite ready to go home.  Our last day, we stalled as much as possible, including making an unscheduled stop at an obscure plantation for two-and-a-half hours.  My mom, Joel’s parents, and my sister Jennie, whom we dedicated our ride to, came up to Yorktown to watch us pedal the final yards of the 4, 262-mile route.  Though some of you wouldn’t consider biking every single day for two months a vacation, to us it was a retreat.  We loved the cycling aspect, but the trip also gave us time to reflect on our lives–how we’re living, what we’re living for.  It helped us set new goals for ourselves and think about our priorities.  Riding for the National Kidney Foundation added a dimension to the trip, too.  On the days we felt overwhelmed, discouraged, or bored (Kansas, coughcough), thinking about people like Jennie, who live life well despite kidney disease, gave us energy and a good kind of “quit yer bitchin'” guilt trip.  We also thought of you wonderful people who gave over $1800 (!) to the National Kidney Foundation. Thank you for your generosity and support of this worthy cause.

We’re grateful we had the opportunity to ride our bikes across our beautiful, rugged, diverse, purple-mountain majestic country. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Spring 2010–Wanna join us?

XOXO,

Renal Riders

P.S. As I wrote, it’s been a bit difficult adjusting back to normal life. To ease the pain of separation anxiety, we’ve been doing as much as we can around the house on our bicycles.  Take a look:

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MOILKY

I’m about to go to bed.  Not to sleeping bag, but to bed.  My parents have been hanging out with us for over a week now.  They pick us up every night and put us up in a hotel, then drop us off again where we left off.  Some implications you can draw from this: We are more rested.  We have not eaten ramen and tuna in over a week. We smell good (that’s a stretch, but our odor hasn’t caused anyone to gag recently). We are making killer miles.  Think of my parents as our sherpas, or if you’re not into hiking, think of them as the subject of that song “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”  Their help is invaluable, and we’re amazed by their generosity and support.

I haven’t written in a long time because I’m just now recovering from a bout of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by Kansas.  We discovered that the Wicked Witch of the West didn’t simply melt into nothing, as The Wizard of Oz led us to believe; she actually morphed into a headwind that haunts cyclists who dare roam Kansas.  Okay, that was super corny, but Kansas wasn’t our favorite state (it won our “that state’s gonna be a jerk” poll, so those of you who voted for it knew what you were talking about).  The flat terrain allowed us to do big milage, but hills and trees were a welcome sight.  We did meet some nice folks there, cyclists and locals alike.  Erin and Bethany, two sisters from PA, started their ride in San Francisco and are headed to Miami where Erin now lives.  We ended up riding with them for about a week and had a ton of fun with them (we all graffitied that train together).  Joel accidentally sprayed them with grizzly mace, and they still hung out with us. To get the whole story–a MUST read–go to their blog, http://crosscountryforacure.blogspot.com/.  The people in Kansas made up for the state itself–everyone we met was friendly and genuine. I think they would win “Most Affable State” if we had a contest.

That reminds me! I picked a name for my bike! The winner is Chocolate Sparkle Pony, submitted by Annie.  Annie, a prize, straight out of a crazy antique/junk shop in the Ozarks, will be in the mail soon.  Some honorable mentions:

Most literary: “D.H. Lawrence”

Most ironic: “Range Rover”

Greenest: “Zero Carbon Footprint Glider”

Most Flattering: “Iron Womanator”

Funniest: “Better-than-a-class-full-of-teens”

Thanks, guys, for the great ideas!

We’d heard lots of horror stories about the steep hills of the Ozarks, and while they were  indeed steep, it made for awesome downhills!  Like, 40 mph with the brakes on! So much fun.  Also, we didn’t mind the hills so much because after Kansas, we were just happy to have something to do other than play I-spy (something green: corn; something blue: sky; something red: roadkill).

We met a few naysayers who told us that “the good stuff” on the TransAm lies only in the West; they were wrong.  For the past few days, we’ve ridden on country roads lined with purple, white, and pink wildflowers.  A few evenings ago, we watched one of the prettiest sunsets we’ve seen on our trip.  One Westbounder we met back in Montana encouraged us to keep looking for the more “subtle beauty” of the East.  Even though we’re not taking in the dramatic, white-capped mountains of the West, the lush, green foliage and pastoral scenery of this region are just as moving and feel like home to us.

Meeting locals is one of the best parts of the trip.  After our ferry ride across the Ohio River from Illinois to Kentucky, we met a sweet couple who insisted on sharing their beer with us.  Trail Magic, if there ever were!  Another sweetheart, Lisa, works at the KFC in Houston, MO. When we told her we’re riding to raise money for the National Kidney Foundation, she didn’t hesitate to contribute to the cause. The generosity of strangers continues to amaze us.

We’re in Damascus,VA, right now, reminising about the AT.  In about one week, we’ll be in Yorktown.  We’re excited to see our friends and family again, but kinda sad that the trip’s almost over.  Any ideas for what our next big adventure should be?

Kansas

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We’re in Pueblo, CO. Do you know what that means? It means we’ve reached our halfway point! We started our ride on June 11th, so we’re right on schedule to finish in time for me to get back to school.

I’ll try to fill you in on the happenings of the last week and a half. Just skip it if it bores you.

We had a great time with Josh in Yellowstone. Josh invited his buddy Tony to keep him company while Joel and I were riding during the day. Tony one of the funniest people (funny ha-ha not funny weird) I’ve ever met. I think he must have thought that there’s something wrong with me because I repeated almost everything he said…he’s just so quotable.

In Yellowstone, we caught up with two other Eastbounders, the super-cool Rebecca and Mia. Both live in Walla Walla, Washington, where they go to/recently graduated from college. Mia’s mom biked the TransAm in 1976, the route’s first year in existence. Just after Yellowstone, three other female TransAm-ers heading West, Dolly, Eleanor, and Kaitlyn, shared a campsite with us. I has so much fun hanging out with other girls…thankfully, Joel had Josh and Tony to keep him company. Dolly’s mom also rode the BikeCentenial Trail, so it was cool to see two 2nd generation female TransAmerica riders together. My aunt Tricia biked the TransAm in the 80s and inspired our trip, so I feel a family connection, too.

On the 4th of July while you were eating a hot dog, gulping a beer, and watching fireworks, we were riding our bikes. Big surprise, I know. That day, we had planned to stop at a Mormon historical site with free camping past Lander, WY. We misread our map, though, and by the time we discovered our error, we were a good 20 miles shy of the campsite and 15 from Lander. Backtracking was not an option (negative miles are worse than many unnamable things), but it was quickly getting dark AND stormy. We pulled up to a ranch in the middle of nowhere and sheepishly asked if we could camp in the yard. Al and Tim, two longtime ranchers who both have houses on the property, graciously let us stay in their shed away from the wind and rain. They were full of interesting information about the area–Tim’s family has owned the property since 1931– and were a blast to talk to. The next morning, Al even brought us coffee and muffins and gave us bottled water for the desolate ride ahead. I love the South, but I think we’ve got some pretty good competition for the most hospitable region of the U.S.

Another example of Western hospitality:

Our first night in Colorado, we met a couple at our campground named Gus and Nancy. They’re both retired and love to travel around in their RV. They invited us to have Girl Scout cookies and wine with them (Who would’ve thought to pair thin mints with merlot? Try it!). They’ve both lived in CO most of their lives, so they gave us detailed information about every place on our route in this state. They were real sweethearts.

Okay, I’m going to briefly depart from my Pollyanna-like chipperness to complain. If you’re living vicariously through us, and you don’t want to hear any negative information, I would advise that you skip this paragraph and sing a song instead. I’m not going to complain about the lack of showers (I like the way I smell) or the saddle sores (they’re kind of like big zits) or the heat (102 here feels like 90 in Gville) or the cold (32 here doesn’t last very long) or the tan lines (I think of them like tattoos, and tattoos are cool, right?). The recipient of all my rage and anger is the headwind. Riding in a headwind is like struggling to open a jar of spaghetti sauce. The lid’s on really tight, and there’s no one to help you open it. What do you do? If you’re puny like me, you resign yourself to eating your noodles sans sauce. Depressing! It gets worse. Imagine having that banal Bob Seger song “Against the Wind” playing its already repetitive chorus in your head for hours at a time. Argh! Thanks for letting me vent.
Back to the good stuff: Joel’s parents met up with us in WY for a day. If you don’t know my in-laws, you’re missing out; they’re two of the coolest people ever. We had a great time with them. My aunt Kate, another one of our favorite people, drove up to Pueblo from her home in Santa Fe to see us. She took us to dinner and put us up in a hotel. We’re basically spoiled brats now after all this lovin’ from our family.
Joel named his bike Mountain Lion Cougar Trapper. I can’t think of a name for mine. Send me your ideas. If I christen my bike the name you suggest, I’ll send you a surprise in the mail. I’ll contact you by email to get your address if you’ve won.
Wanna see something that will make your day? Go to the donations page and see how generous people have been. Then donate a little sumpin-sumpin to the National Kidney Foundation.
We hope to post a slew of pictures soon, so stay tuned. Thanks for following our blog, and as always, we love your comments.

Ooo-whee, we just had the best night’s sleep we’ve had in a long time.  We’re staying with Joel’s cousin Josh and his lovely wife, Camille, who live about an hour from West Yellowstone.  Josh picked us up yesterday after we biked 45 miles into West Yellowstone, and he and Camille have showered us with hospitality.  They live in a beautiful home with a view of the Grand Tetons from their yard (!) and they have a big bathtub with jets (!!).  That’s sad that I’m more excited about the tub than the mountains, but hey, if you reeked and ached like I did yesterday, your priorities might be different, too.

Here comes the part where I gush about the state we just rode through (I guess I’ll do this with every state [maybe not Kansas]):

Montana is GORGEOUS!  Joel has almost wrecked into me several times because I’ve spontaneously slammed on my brakes to drool at the scenery.  A few evenings ago, we saw a double rainbow after a powerful storm swept over us.  We found shelter during the downpour on the porch of an abandoned building, so we were able to marvel at the rage and beauty of creation without getting soaked.  The riding in Montana has been fun, too.  We’ve done a lot of big climbs that drop quickly (30 + mph) into open valleys with 360 degree views of rugged, snow-capped mountains.

Our favorite small town in Montana is Twin Bridges.  They’ve set up a “bike camp” just for touring cyclists, complete with free showers, electricity, a spotless shelter, and a grill.  They even have a stash of gossip magazines.  Did you know that Brad and Angelina have been fighting? OMG! Everyone we met in the town was warm and welcoming–a very cyclist-friendly place.

Our first night out of Missoula, we stayed at a campground in Hamilton along the Bitteroot River.  There we met Curtis, an avid cyclist and college physical education teacher, his father, Hale, and one of his former students, Jason, and Jason’s sweet wife, Alyse.  They invited us to their campsite to share stories and strawberries and ice cream.  Curtis did a big tour a few years ago to raise money for his late wife’s foundation, the Teri Lynn Kuhlman Cancer Foundation (http://www.tlkcancerfoundation.org) .  We told them about how we’re riding to honor Jennie and raise money for the National Kidney Foundation, and these people whom we’d met not even an hour earlier donated.  We were extremely touched by their generosity.

We’re heading into Yellowstone in a couple of hours.  Josh and his rambunctious, lovable English bred chocolate lab, Becca, are going to drop us off in West Yellowstone, then they’ll meet us tonight at a campsite.  Josh has packed a huge cooler full of food and is going to practice his gourmet cooking skills on us every night.  It’s so much fun for me to observe Joel and Josh together: they act like brothers.  Josh has the same enthusiasm for life as Joel, and they get along super well.  He’s a ton of fun, and, as a game warden for the state of Idaho, is very knowledgeable about all things outdoors.

We wish we had time to respond to each of your comments.  We read and love every single one of ’em.

Here are just a few more pics of our trip up to this point.