Jeff started his ride on June 7 in Eureka, Kansas with a wee bit of trepidation. Morning thunderstorms and rain framed the opening act. Riding in the rain was welcome respite from sun and high temps the day before. But today was a 74 mile day, with a 40 mile stretch of farmland and no services for the last half of the ride. Finding a place at the ride's midpoint to refill water bottles and get a bite to eat was mission critical. Queue Jennifer and Rick, who bought the Cassoday Country Store in April 2018. The store was closed and they decided to buy it and bring it back to life. Both Jennifer and Rick love to cook, and Jeff feasted on their delicious lunch buffet before tackling that long, dry stretch to Newton, Kansas.
Benedict Kansas isn't the kind of place you'd guess to be a fishing paradise. Out in the middle of farm country, it's a tiny town of 96 people. The Verdigris River runs through Benedict, and there's not much competition for landing trophy size fish. As Jeff cycled through town looking for the community store to grab a drink and a snack, he asked a young man for directions. In return, the fellow asked "Hey, do you want to see what I just caught?" With a magician's flourish and from the back of his pickup truck, he produced a 30 lb. catfish! Now that's a good day of fishing.
Golden City was the last stop in Jeff's sojourn through Missouri. Cooky's is a small restaurant located on Golden City's Main Street. It came highly recommended by fellow cyclists and other random folks who knew that the Trans Am would be taking Jeff to Pie Heaven. Name a pie that you love and you'll likely find it at Cooky's. Greg has been the co-owner of Cooky's for 31 years. He's also the short order cook. Shanda has been a waitress there for 22 years. She says she loves to see Trans Am cyclists when they come to Cooky's. With few calorie restrictions, cyclists are some of Cooky's best customers. Jeff left with a belly full of Dutch Apple pie -- the perfect fuel to rocket him to Kansas.
To specify a starting place like Pennsboro, MO, you need to be on your toes. The town consists of the Pennsboro Church way out in the countryside, and an adjacent cemetery. On the morning of June 4, Jeff and Karen parked in front of the church to prepare for Jeff’s ride and and that’s where they met Jaylon. He pulled up in front of the church in a beat up old red Nissan sedan, got out of his car in green hospital scrubs, and walked toward them without hesitation. He introduced himself and told Jeff and Karen he comes to the Pennsboro Church every morning to pray, read the Bible and seek the Lord’s guidance. He works at the Missouri Veteran’s Home and he shared that he’s been clean on drugs for three years. Jaylon’s ambition is to be a preacher. He wants to travel the country sharing the Lord's word. He considers himself a healer and shared some of the miracles he has asked for and witnessed. Jaylon asked if there was anything Jeff and Karen wanted him to pray about that morning. They asked him to pray for their safety as they continue their journey. All three bowed their heads and Jaylon prayed for just that.
Day 33 of the Trans Am Trail and Jeff has almost made it through Missouri. Mileage pedaled to date = 1,400+ or 1/3 of the way to Florence, OR! The kind of riding it takes to throw down that many miles in a short period of time means that Jeff has already worn out one chain. Taking a day off the Trail to celebrate his 12th wedding anniversary, Jeff took Karen on a romantic getaway to a bicycle shop. There they met Scott, the shop manager for A & B Cycle in Springfield, MO. Within close proximity to the Trans Am, Scott is knowledgeable about the mechanics of this ride, and he and his crew performed a complete tune up on Jeff's bike, putting him back on the road and ready to go the distance for another month. Be careful what you ask for, but Jeff is looking forward to the flat expanse of Kansas after conquering the Blue Ridge, Appalachian and Ozark ranges.
On June 1, Claude saw Jeff riding through Hartville, MO and tracked him down at the Town & Country Grocery Store where Jeff was filling his water bottles with ice to combat the 90 degree heat (and perhaps he was buying a candy bar too). Claude is 70 years old and he rides his bike every day. He works out of his home making custom moccasins. He's a Jehovah's Witness and he likes to talk to people about his religion, although he did not attempt to bring Jeff into the fold during this encounter.
On May 30, Jeff took on southeastern Missouri. Just when he thought he had left grueling climbs behind in Kentucky and Virginia, he met the Ozarks. On a 90 degree day, riding 61 miles with 4,000 ft. of climbing requires frequent stops to cool down and carb up. That's how he met Susan and Bill. Riding into Centerville, MO, he spotted the only grocery store/gas station. When he pulled up in front of the business, he was disappointed to see a sign "Opening June 1." Out came Susan with a reassuring gesture, inviting him inside. She offered him a cold iced tea and homemade chocolate chip cookies -- as many as he wanted. Little did she know the relationship between Jeff and cookies. He politely ate just one and Bill, a Centerville local, also joined him. Bill was born and raised in Centerville. He worked in a sawmill all his life. Jeff asked him if he had all ten fingers, and Bill demonstrated he came out with all digits intact. Susan claimed she's not photogenic, but Jeff disagreed and snapped her photo and thanked her for providing a much needed asset to this little mountain community.
While dining at a local hamburger joint, Hunts Dairy Bar, in Farmington, MO, Jeff, Joe and Roger were joined by Brian, a fellow bicycle enthusiast. Joe met Brian in 2012 when Joe rode the Trans America Trail the first time. Just when you think you're doing something epic, you meet a guy like Brian. He participated in the Race Across America, an ultra marathon bicycle race that leaves from Oceanside, CA and ends 3,000 miles later in Annapolis, MD. Yes, he rode from coast to coast in 24 days, 16 hours. A sobering record on this, Jeff's 29th day on the Trans Am. Brian says "There's no better way to see America than from a bike seat."
The solitary life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Having now ridden well over 1,000 miles solo, Jeff met Joe and Roger, fellow Trans America Trail riders, on the Chester Illinois side of the Mississippi River. As they collectively viewed that wide, muddy flow separating Illinois from Missouri, the threesome were also contemplating, with some trepidation, the narrow, two lane bridge spanning the river. Joe and Roger went first, braving the 18-wheelers whizzing by in a light morning drizzle. Jeff got a van/trailer escort, with Karen holding up westbound traffic behind him. Fifteen miles into Missouri, Jeff caught up with Joe and Roger and rode with them to Doe Run. That was a fortuitous alliance, as Jeff had his first flat of the trip, and his fellow riders helped fix it. Joe is a retired Pastor who rode the Trans America Trail in 2012. This is his second time across the country on two wheels. Roger is a retired farmer and pilot making his first Trans Am trek with Joe. Both men are riding self contained.
Six weeks on the road, heat and high humidity all converged on May 27 to create some desperation in the "I really need a haircut" category for Jeff and Karen. Spying a Great Clips franchise in Marion, IL at the end of Jeff's ride between Eddyville and Carbondale, a collective "let's check it out" rang out in the chase vehicle. One additional criteria, on a 90 degree day Buddy had to be allowed inside. Given the thumbs up from Brittany and Amanda, the stylists on duty, Jeff and Karen emerged with much more manageable manes. Brittany recently moved from Chicago and has only been in Marion for two months. Her bumper sticker proclaimed: "Peace, Love, Rescue," explaining the pet friendly attitude. Amanda was born, raised and currently lives in Carterville, IL, a community a few miles up the road from Marion. Amanda has worked at Great Clips for three years, and is a dog owner and lover too.
When a guy is riding his bicycle across the United States and he decides to take a day off, where does he go? To a bike shop, of course! Looking for some minor tweaks and replacement of handlebar tape already worn from gripping so hard on punishing uphills, Jeff sought out Carbondale Cycle Shop in the college town of Carbondale, IL. That's how he met Chano. Chano has worked at the shop since 1985. His uncle has owned it since 1971. The shop was well equipped and Chano was an excellent mechanic. He got Jeff back on the road in short order at a very reasonable price.
Problems are just opportunities in the rough. When you start Saturday morning in Eddyville, IL, hanging out in a fragrant horse camp because it's Memorial Day weekend and there isn't a campground available anywhere, and you see water pouring across the floor of the trailer from a faulty water pump, it demands action. In simple terms, that means "a day off" and a search for an RV supply store. Luckily, you are near a town of reasonable size, Marion, IL, and you meet a really nice and knowledgeable person like Katie. Katie's family has been in the RV business her whole life and she knows this specialty inside and out. The Black Diamond RV Superstore has only been open in Marion a few weeks, and she was part of the start-up team. Katie's helpfulness extended to offering Jeff and Karen to plug into the store if they couldn't find a place to camp. Now that's above and beyond!
Jeff is playing daily bicycle tag with a couple from the southern Netherlands. Anita and Herr Fischer traveled to the United States with their bicycles and are riding the Trans America Trail self contained. This means they are carrying all of their earthly possessions in a series of packs or panniers and chugging them up and down the same steep hills Jeff is climbing daily. Anita says she is doing this because she loves cycling. Herr Fischer says he is doing it because he wants to meet "real" American people. Jeff and Karen worried about them the night of May 25 during a severe thunderstorm in Eddyville, IL, because Anita and Herr Fischer are camping in tents. However, they survived the night, because Jeff and Karen saw them the next day riding through Carbondale with cheerful waves and smiles.
Never having learned to swim packing a bike on his back, Jeff took a ferry across the Ohio river to Cave-in-Rock, IL and said goodbye to Kentucky. It's a short crossing, but afforded just enough time to meet Merrill and Hazel from Crofton, KY. During this 15 minute nautical adventure, Jeff learned that Merrill is a retired machinist and Hazel retired from the school district. They spend six months in Kentucky and six months in Florida. Why Merrill was on his motorcycle and Hazel was in her car we will only be left to imagine.
Jeff's and Karen's last night in the Bluegrass State proved to be one of warm welcome. Arriving in Marion, KY and anticipating Jeff's arrival from Utica, Karen first encountered Bob, who cordially offered to back her trailer into a tight spot in Marion's only little RV park. Bob and Melodie are full time residents here, living in their Class A motorhome with three small dogs. After a lifetime in heavy construction, Bob (an ex-Marine), is suffering from COPD, with only 4% function remaining in one lung. Years of inhaling concrete dust from rebuilding the nation's interstates took a toll on his health. Melodie works in the county detention center, supervising the kitchen. Their hospitality was genuine, a wistful reminder of the many kind and generous people Jeff and Karen met throughout Kentucky.
May 24 and as of today, Jeff has officially logged 1,140 miles on the Trans America Trail, one pedal stroke at a time. More than one quarter of the way west! He leaves Kentucky on May 25, riding a ferry across the Ohio River to enter the State of Illinois. As a parting gift to trading the Southern diet for Midwestern cuisine, he stopped for a cheeseburger at Classic Cafe in Dixon, KY. This restaurant specializes in fried chicken, meatloaf, hamburgers and Hoagies. There he met Roy and Ronnie, about to enjoy lunch together. Roy just left his doctor's office complaining of recurring chest pains and his heart condition.
Expertise at outrunning dogs is Jeff's hidden talent. On May 23, he only had to outpace four. His ride from Madrid to Utica, KY was pleasant after a severe thunderstorm the day before. The terrain in far western Kentucky is changing. Miles and miles of cornfields. Pedaling into Fordsville, KY, Jeff stopped at the Marathon Mini Mart to grab a cold drink. Inside, he met James Earle or "Jimmy." Jimmy is 45 and has lived in Fordsville all his life. He is an artist, and his work lines the walls of the mini mart, with the consent and encouragement of the owners.
As of May 20, Jeff has now logged over 750 miles on the Trans America Trail. Riding from Berea to Burgin, KY, he met up with Karen at the Chimney Rock RV Park at Herrington Lake. While enjoying lunch together, Jeff and Karen struck up a conversation with David and Ann, seasonal residents at this lakeside village. David owns an Airstream trailer he keeps at Chimney Rock. He is a craftsman and calls himself a Hippie who has lived around the country but now lives in a cabin in the woods near Lexington. Ann is a professor at the University of Kentucky, specializing in research and prevention programs addressing sexual and domestic violence.
Bluegrass and Appalachian music are both traditions of Kentucky. The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in Mt. Vernon, KY honors famous musicians like Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, Crystal Gayle, and the Judds who all came from Kentucky. Jeff and Karen stopped by the museum to take in this history, and were rewarded by an afternoon concert with two local musicians - Sam and Deborah. Sam plays banjo and guitar and has a beautiful voice and obvious love for traditional mountain music. Deborah plays fiddle, sings harmony and has a beautiful voice of her own. Their music makes you want to jump up and dance.
Jeff and Karen took a day off on May 19 and discovered a gem of a place - Berea, KY. Located 35 miles south of Lexington, Berea is an arts centered community with a youthful vibe. That's largely because of Berea College. Berea is a small, liberal arts college that was founded in 1855. It provides free education to students and was the first college in the Southern United States to be coed and racially integrated. The Berea Tourism Bureau is located in a converted train station in the arts district, and Maya greeted Jeff, Karen and Buddy when they stopped in. She was a wealth of information about the town, and is also a "Warm Showers" host for the Trans America Trail. She takes cyclists into her home at no charge and offers them a bed and a shower. She presented Jeff and Karen with t-shirts commemorating their quest.