Hot Diggity Dog (With a Nacho Twist) is one of the interesting food options on the main street of Saratoga, Wyoming. The proprietors are a mother and daughter duo, Darlene and Sophia. At 10:30 a.m. on June 25, Jeff was riding through Saratoga and hunger had already set in. He stopped for a hot dog snack, opting out of the jalapeño twist. In addition to its gourmet hot dogs, Saratoga is also known for its hot springs. It's a tasty and soothing destination for hikers, bikers, fishermen and outdoorsy folks visiting this very scenic and rural outpost in Southern Wyoming.
Anyone who knows Jeff understands that he is meticulous with his possessions, planning and processes. When he met Jack and Nate, who were traveling together East on the Trans Am, he had to concede there's more than one way to approach an epic task. These two young men were riding old touring bikes loaded with their possessions. They had discarded their front panniers and opted for stacking and strapping items all over their bikes. Rather than bicycle helmets, their headwear consisted of hipster hats. Jack chose flip flops for his cycling shoes. And yet, they were making great progress as they pedal across America. Jeff wished the pair best of luck as they continue their journey.
The Summer Solstice has passed, and with it, like two wheeled ships sailing the highway, lots of cyclists taking to the road on the Trans Am challenge. With warmer temperatures, Jeff is seeing more cyclists heading West to East. On June 23, he met Keith, who started the Trans Am in Astoria Oregon. Jeff and Keith were headed in opposite directions, each one questioning the other about what lies ahead. Keith was riding a bicycle fully contained but a little unconventional for this type of long distance touring. The two cyclists met near Willow Creek Pass between Granby and Rand Colorado, yet another line of demarcation for the twists and turns of the Continental Divide. In jest, Keith offered $20 for the other half of Jeff's PB&J. A commonality for all Trans Am riders -- bottomless appetite.
Guffy, Colorado, population 98, rests in the Rocky Mountain clouds at 8,658 ft. As Jeff followed the Trans Am route toward Brekenridge on June 19, the turnoff to Guffy was off route, and promised another 1.4 miles of climbing. But Guffy's Rolling Thunder Cloud Cafe had come highly recommended for its baked goods and atmosphere, so Jeff took the right hand turn and headed up the mountain. There he met the owners, Wayne and Geordi, who retired from southern California to Guffy and bought the cafe, a home and 22 acres nearby. They run the cafe in the summer, and spend winters at their home in Pahrump, NV. Wayne is a retired motorcycle racer, bicycle shop manager, raconteur and (now) cook. Geordi is a retired music professor, who still puts her PhD to work by playing tunes on a piano for guests in the cafe.
Under normal circumstances, most of us try not to make eye contact with State Troopers. Why test your luck? However, when you're riding a bicycle, odds are you aren't exceeding the speed limit or disobeying any traffic laws. When Jeff met Daniel, a Colorado State Trooper, he discovered a really nice guy who enjoys his job because he likes to help people. Daniel admitted he sees a fair number of cyclists on the highway near Sugar City, Colorado. However, he had never actually talked to one. Jeff was the first, and Daniel gave him good advice about who to call when cycling on Colorado highways if he ever needed help.
A sad addendum to this post about John Egbers. Later in the day of June 14, after Jeff photographed John for this blog, John was hit by a car near Scott City, Kansas. He was hit from behind, and sustained considerable injuries, including multiple broken bones and a collapsed lung. Please see the Facebook page for the Trans Am Bike Race for more information. A Go Fund Me site has been established to help John and his family with medical and travel expenses. https://www.gofundme.com/john-egbers-medical-expenses
On day 45, Jeff is now riding in the eastern plains of Colorado. Over the last several days, bicycle riders have been whizzing by heading East. Who are these people on sleek bikes, traveling light? Turns out they are competitors in the 5th Trans Am Bike Race which began June 2 in Astoria, Oregon. While Jeff has maintained a slow and steady mantra, these cyclists are smoking it. The leader is at at mile 3,327 on day 13 of the race! They will end in Yorktown where Jeff began his ride. The rules of this race say that riders must be self supported with re-supply allowed only from resources on the route, available to all competitors. Each rider carries a transmitter that allows race officials and family members to know where they are at any given moment. Jeff encountered John on the ride route, and he was willing to stop long enough to share that this is his second attempt at the Trans Am Bike Race. Last year, he attempted it but crashed and broke his wrist. This year, he is hoping to average around 200 miles a day. John is 64 years old and lives in Saint Cloud, Minnesota.
On June 13, Day 44 of the Trans Am, Jeff cycled out of Kansas. Imagine riding your bicycle across Kansas. If you’ve ever seen a dog trotting with its nose to the ground, you will understand that riding a bicycle allows you to experience perfume of a different order. New mown hay, stockyards, livestock transports, oil storage tanks, roadkill, asphalt and dust from blowing topsoil. Your near vision, far vision and peripheral vision reveal miles and miles of flat landscape. The unobstructed view ahead is cornfields and hayfields on one side, wheat fields on the other. Occasionally, a mirage glimmers in the distance. A farmhouse in the middle of seeming nothingness. Oil wells dot the farmland. Humans taking everything from Mother Earth. The wind blows constantly. It plays a wicked game by changing directions, with gusts occasionally sending your bicycle a couple of feet sideways. Open fields, ready for planting, stir up frequent dust storms, forming a canvas for stark white grain elevators rising like Transformers in the distance. Goodbye Kansas. Jeff rode into the arms of Colorado, and he’s back in the West!
When a hungry cyclist rolls into Dighton, Kansas and he only has a few moments to spare, he hopes he won't strike out in his quest for food before he has to split. Where do the locals send him? To the Dighton Bowl and Diner! At 9:30 on the morning of June 12, Regina (who was born and raised in Dighton) presented Jeff the menu options -- breakfast or breakfast. Curtis flips the flapjacks and is a skilled juggler. After all, in addition to his job as a cook at the Dighton Bowl, he's also a county commissioner (up for re-election). Doyle is the jovial owner of the bowling alley. No pins were falling on a Tuesday morning in early June. Too many folks working their fields. Come winter, the bowling alley really heats up, providing entertainment and comfort food to the good citizens of Dighton.
So you're riding out of Newton Kansas at 6:00 a.m. to beat the predicted 100 degree temps you're going to encounter by Noon. Your goal is to ride to Sterling Kansas, about 60 miles away. You meet a guy by the name of Kevin, decked out with a head lamp, riding at the crack of dawn. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and he loves to meet Trans Am cyclists and help them find their way out of the twists and turns of Newton. Eureka! Kevin is a triathlete and father of two. He led Jeff for five miles to Hesston, where he then bid him a fond adieu.
Another day off, another bike shop. But, Holy Cow, what a bike shop! The Bicycle X-Change in downtown Wichita, Kansas is considered one of America's top 100 bike shops. The inventory is massive, including hundreds of bikes and thousands of accessories. Jay is one of the friendly and knowledgeable employees at Bicycle X-Change. Small world -- Jeff and Karen learned that Jay received his PhD in Neuropsychology from the University of Nevada, Reno. What better evidence of his loyalty to the Pack than an official Wolfpack tattoo. Jay is a Professor of Psychology at Bethany College in Wichita. During his summers off, he works at the bike shop to "support his cycling habit."
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.