Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 9, 2012: PAP Day 15, Morrilton to Little Rock, AR

After my long nap yesterday afternoon and a full night's sleep, I felt pretty good this morning. Last night we came up with a change from our original plan for today. Fred had decided that he wanted to drop his bike at a bike shop to get it packed and shipped. One of the candidate shops was along our route, just a couple of miles from The Big Dam Bridge, a must-do for me since our first visit to Little Rock in 2008. There were no shops convenient to our hotel near the airport, so we decided to finish the tour at the bike shop after riding across the Big Dam Bridge. Instead of me riding the additional 10 miles to the hotel, we would just catch a cab from the bike shop. In the end, that is exactly what we did. The cab ride was a high-speed, harem-scarem adventure that seemed far more risky than the 970 miles we had ridden on our bikes!

An hour or so after we started today's ride, I had a flat -- the first and only "mechanical" on the entire tour. I had picked up a one inch nail, so I can't really fault the tires. They have rolled over a huge amount of debris, gravel, glass and more without complaint.

North Little Rock: We like bikes, but not teens.

The other big event of the day, of course, was The Big Dam Bridge, which is a bike/pedestrian trail built on top of a dam, hydro-electric power generator, and shipping lock. The trail is almost 5,000 feet long and most definitely worth a visit if you are biking in the area. Here are some photos:

Fred and I agree that the Plod Across the Plains was a most worthwhile endeavor. It was, as expected, a challenging ride, though we were really quite fortunate with conditions. Yes we had headwinds most every day, but they were not as strong as they easily might have been. In addition, we did not have any super-hot days. In fact, I don't think the air temperature made it above the high 80's or low 90's. We had only one rain day, and thankfully it happened to be one of our short days. The big fear, tornadoes, never appeared, though we saw that people living here are keenly aware of the possibility. It is much more of a presence in their lives than are hurricanes for Floridians. Our conversations with the tornado survivors in Greensburg won't be forgotten any time soon.

End-point of the Plod Across the Plains
We learned first-hand that Oklahoma has an eastern section that is far from flat, and western Arkansas has plenty of ups and downs as well. We did MUCH more climbing than we expected. As on our other trips, we had some wonderful encounters with local residents. We got a first hand look at the mind-boggling scale of the food production in our nation's central plains and at the people who scratch out a hard existence to assure that we have food to eat. There is more here than farming, though. The region is being resurrected by a new wave of oil production and by a vibrant new industry related to wind farms.

In terms of our bike touring, we decided that rolling rest days are nonsense. At least for guys our age, a day off the bike at least once each week is a necessity. Finally, once again, I was reminded that foul weather can occur even when it seems very unlikely, so the packing list should always include clothes to keep you warm and dry on the bike.

The stats for the entire tour go something like this:

Count:15 consecutive days of riding
Distance:967.36 mi
Time:77:27:52 h:m:s
Elevation Gain:18,620 ft
Avg Speed:12.5 mph

Friday, June 8, 2012

June 8, 2012:PAP Day 14, Paris to Morrilton, AR

Just to prove that this tour has not been all wheat and corn fields, here is a nice Ozarks photo from today:

We left Paris, Arkansas at about 7AM. Most of the ride was the normal up and down, but toward the end it flattened out for quite a while before slapping us with a couple of climbs to get to our hotel. The flats were not all good news, because that is where we encountered the most wind of the day as well. Nothing terrible, but enough for us to take turns up front.

Apparently all the physical challenges of the past two weeks caught up with me today. I was really pooped by the end of the ride -- so pooped, in fact, that I slept for three and a half hours after returning from lunch! A nap of any kind is an extreme rarity for me, so it underlined what I am feeling in my legs. I am always sad at the end of these adventures, but my body will be very happy to have the opportunity to recover.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 7, 2012: PAP Day 13, Ft. Smith to Paris, AR

Today was a "rolling rest day" so we got up later, took advantage of the hotel's breakfast buffet, and finally started riding a few minutes after 9. The route was a straight shot east on highway 22, through a series of small towns, to our next overnight in Paris, AR. Apparently there is also a London, AR in the area.

We did as well as we could to take it easy on our legs but we still had to make headway, and we had both the hills and headwinds that have been a feature of the past five or six days. In fact, it dawned on me today that we are now riding over the rolling floor of a valley in the Ozark Mountain Range. We most definitely are no longer in Kansas, or Oklahoma, for that matter. Looking at the route for the next (and last) two days of the tour, we will be threading the needle between mountains, which surely will mean lots of climbing. I can feel twinges in my calf and knee just thinking about it.

Back to today, though. A few miles west of Paris we spotted Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyard. Fred suggested that we stop to check it out and I readily agreed. It turned out to be an award winning little winery, but also the site of a little chapel and bell (think church bells) collection. You can see and hear the bells in action in this youtube video. Our tour of the facility was certainly the high point of the day, and a very nice surprise.

Proprietor's house and wine shop.

Fred tries his hand at ringing one of the larger bells.

The interior of the lovely little chapel, almost complete and ready for use. The pews, alter, and crucifix were all hand-made.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 6, 2012: PAP Day 12, Muskogee, OK to Ft. Smith, AR

Today was scheduled to be A long ride, but not THE long ride of the tour. After some route adjustments last night, and a wrong turn early in the ride, it turned into the longest distance, the longest saddle time, and the most climbing of any PAP Tour ride to date: 91 miles, 7 hrs 53 minutes, and 2500 feet, respectively. In addition, virtually every mile of the 91 was into a 10 mph headwind. making for slow progress and a challenging day.

This time last year, I had conclusively demonstrated how unsuited I was to the high altitudes and cold temperatures of Colorado and Wyoming. This year it is Fred who is suffering in the high 80's and low 90's we have been experiencing for the past few days. He is dumping water over his head at every opportunity, while I stand by, barely sweating and not at all uncomfortable. Probably also related to the heat, Fred is experiencing cramps in one of his calves.

Today's route was especially challenging for me to create. I was trying to keep the distance in check, piecing together portions of routes suggested by Google and by Garmin's MapSource software. I am pretty much ready to give up on the former, as it has consistently put us on unpaved roads that are not suitable for my touring rig with 28mm tires, much less Fred's 23's. When we got screwed up today, a local was able to put us back on track, but our wrong turn added at least six miles to a day that was already going to be long enough.

There isn't much more to say about today. Toward the end of the ride, I drank one and a half of those monstrous plastic cups of Cherry Coke at a Hardee's ("No, we don't have the fish sandwich any more.") About an hour later I chased it with a regular 12 oz. can of Vanilla Coke at a convenience store. Perhaps it was just psychological, but the jolt of sugar and caffeine sure seemed to push aside the weariness and I finished with energy to spare.

Back in Arkansas, where the adventure began!
Tomorrow is our second planned "rolling rest day." The last one, you may recall, turned into a nasty, cold, wet ride. The weather forecast for tomorrow looks good at the moment, so we are going to sleep in (like to 7:00 AM or so) and take it easy for the 44 miles to Paris, AR. At least, that's the plan.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June 5, 2012:PAP Day 11, Sand Springs to Muskogee, OK

We left the hotel in Sand Springs (a Tulsa suburb just west of the city) at what has become our customary time over the past five or so days, 8AM. Yesterday I had looked up the Tulsa bike trails map on the web, and a young woman at one of the very few still viable K-Marts (next to our hotel) confirmed that we could pick up the trail just a couple of blocks away. That information turned out to be entirely accurate, so we were riding along on fresh asphalt, under a tree canopy, within two minutes of departure (shown just below). Once on the trail, the map made it look like we would be able to follow one or the other part of the trail system for at least the first half of today's 60+ mile ride to Muskogee.

According to the trail map, each trail we were taking should have merged seamlessly with the next, but at the end of the first trail we ended up off-trail in the city of Tulsa.Within a few seconds two local female riders appeared to provide the needed directions, including what to do if we were blocked by a train on the normal route, which we were. Initially we thought we would just wait for the train to pass, but after a while it stopped completely. 

We decided to backtrack and try the alternate route. It was only a few blocks out of the way, went under the tracks, and soon we were on Tulsa's magnificent River Park East trail. The northern part of this trail was most impressive. It even had separate trails for bikes and pedestrians.

The left side shown here is for bikes and the right is for walkers and runners.

A little overlook alongside Tulsa's River East multi-use trail.

The river you see in the above photo is the Arkansas. It is very, very low, with as many dry areas as wet.

One thing that did not impress us about the Tulsa trails, however, was the typical attitude of the cyclists we encountered on them. Very rarely would we get any acknowledgement to our greetings. The Tulsa riders make the Orlando crew look like they mainline happy juice, by comparison.

The trail follows the river around the western edge of the city. Once clear of Tulsa proper, it joins with another trail that heads east. After 30 miles, our route and that of the trail system diverged, so we got off. We were now faced with either letting Garmin guide us, or following the bicycle directions that I had imported from Google Maps as a track on the GPS. The latter had put us on a dirt road back in Kansas, so we were a bit gun-shy of Google routing. On the other hand, Garmin had us going miles in the wrong direction in order to get on a highway. The area we were in was country, but not like in Kansas, where we were routed onto the dirt road, so we decided to give Google another chance, and rode off -- up a steep hill, of course.

Shortly, it occurred to me that I had selected "fastest" rather than "shortest" on the GPS, so I recalculated using the "shortest" option and it came up with a route similar to the one suggested by Google. I have the GPS "avoid unpaved roads" option set, so the fact that the GPS route matched Google was encouraging. We ended up using a combination of the two routes and had no further difficulties finding our way here.

The weather today included a fair amount of headwind, a bit of happy tailwind, pretty intense sunshine, and high temperatures. We had no overcast at all, so by the time we got in at around 2PM, we were pretty hot. We agreed to get going a couple of hours earlier tomorrow, which is our last long day (76 miles). If the wind gods are agreeable, we should be able to get off the road by 1 PM.

At one point in today's ride, we stopped to refresh our sunscreen. During that procedure I removed my watch, laying it on top of one of my panniers (saddlebags), making a point to remind myself to put it back on when I was done slathering my arms. You already know what happened. About 20 minutes later, I went to check the time and my bare wrist looked back at me. I instantly remembered -- that I DIDN'T remember  -- to put my watch back on. I slowed down and when Fred pulled up, I told him I had lost my watch. He then pulled it from his back pocket. I thought he must have caught my mistake when it happened, pocketing the watch to teach me a lesson. In fact, however, my watch sat happily on top of my pannier for quite a few miles, finally bouncing off a mile or so before I noticed it, whereupon Fred stopped to pick it up. He had fallen behind as a result, and I stopped to wait for him, but I figured he must have caught a light or something as we rode through the little town we were in. I am very grateful to have not lost the watch, and treated Fred to a fine meal at iHOP (money was no object!) while we waited for our rooms at the hotel to be readied.

The last bit of news for today's post is that Fred's replacement Droid X (the original apparently having been killed by our ride in the rain a few days back) was here at the hotel. Of course, Oklahoma is US Cellular, not Verizon turf, so he had to get to the appropriate support tech at Verizon and go through a magical process to (partially) activate the replacement phone. He was told to wait until he is back in Verizon country to enter his Google Account credentials. That makes zero sense to me, but whatever!

Monday, June 4, 2012

June 4, 2012: PAP Day 10, Stillwater to Sand Springs, OK

We got back on Highway 51 at 8 AM and headed due east, our destination today being Sand Springs, a western suburb of Tulsa. As you can see from the ride profile below, it was pretty much a roller-coaster series of climbs and descents until we got within ten or so miles of our hotel for the night. The climbs were longer but most were less steep than yesterday. The wind never became an issue today, in part because this region of Oklahoma is most definitely not flat, and the great open fields have been replaced by lots of trees -- even forests -- that provide a wind break. Given the light wind, easy climbs, warm temperature, and slight overcast, we had a very pleasant ride. At this point in the tour, a 61 mile ride, even with hills, is just another day at the office, as long as the wind behaves.

Within a mile or so of starting out, I noticed a credit card lying in the street. I stopped and stuck it in my pocket, figuring I would call it in later. Another mile down the road I found a new-looking Liz Claiborne women's wallet, containing just a credit card and a $25 gift card. I added it to my stash. When we got to our first rest stop, I compared the name on the loose credit card with the credit card in the wallet and was not surprised to find that they matched. Apparently this poor woman's wallet was either lost or stolen, and probably the latter, given the absence of cash or ID. Later in the ride, I picked up one of those little metal miniature cars, so it was really quite a day for roadside finds.

When we reached our hotel and I had cleaned up, I called Chase (the issuing bank for both of the credit cards) and told them the story. The have a policy that prevents them from giving me any of the card-owner's information (expected) or from giving my contact information to her. They were grateful that I reported the cards, and told me to cut them up and dispose of them. After mulling it over, I think I will send the wallet to the Stillwater police department. Perhaps there will be some fingerprints or something that might help them catch the creep who stole the contents of the wallet. At the very least, they can return it to its owner.

*   *   *

Fred: "I recently went to Boulder for a structural equation modeling conference..." (A minute or so passes while cars and trucks go by.)

Seth: (grinning) "So, are you just going to leave me hanging?"

Fred: (makes rude gesture involving a single finger.)

Both: (laugh)

Now for some bird stuff: While out in the country here in Oklahoma, you often see the State bird, the Scissortail Flycatcher. I was hoping that Reinhard had a photo that I could include here, but I guess he has not yet been to this part of the country. There are lots of great photos of this bird on Flickr, however, such as this one. He would be a beautiful little guy even without his fantastic, long tail. Below is a flock of swallows foraging near a bridge over a river. There has been a similar scene, different only in scale, wherever we passed over even the smallest stream, starting the first day of our tour. I think they are Northern Rough-winged Swallows, but I'm not 100% sure.

Five miles or so from the hotel, we stopped at this roadside shrine (below) for a pair of local cyclists who died at that location.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

June 3, 2012: PAP Day 9, Enid to Stillwater, OK

We left Enid at 8AM, hoping that the local TV weather forecast would be more accurate than the one from Weather Underground. If so, the rain would hold off until late afternoon, as would the higher winds.

Before we turned the first pedal, I noticed that the GPS on my bike was pointing us north rather than south. A continuing issue with Garmin is that the routing algorithm used by the Garmin MapSource software is not the same as that used by their portable GPS units. The only way to assure that the same route will show up on the GPS is to plant a bunch of via or way points between the start and end points. I neglected to do that last night, hence the confusion.

For once, Fred and I remembered the beginning of the computer route the same way, so we headed south and made the first turn, onto a paved, but narrow, road that quickly took us out of the city and into the vast fields of wheat and corn that have become so familiar to us now. There was a light, variable wind and overcast skies that did not seem to hold any threat of rain. The first hour or so we made excellent progress without excessive effort. Our road finally ended at a "T" and Garmin wanted us to turn north, away from our destination. We stood in the road, hemming and hawing for a moment until a local resident appeared and we (meaning Fred) flagged him down. He eventually mentioned a choice of two paved roads to the south that would take us to Covington, a town we knew to be on our route. We happily turned south, cranked back up to a respectable pace, and after a few miles hit an intersection with a paved road heading east and a small sign showing it to be the way to Covington.

We took a little break at a convenience store when we reached Covington, then picked up the route to another small town called Perry. When we got there, we were about 20 miles from our destination for the day.

Somehow we missed this lovely inn at the Perry, OK truck stop while planning our trip. There is a sign that promises rooms for $29.95, and I am sure they are worth every penny!

 Although technically a highway, this next leg was another low traffic, narrow, paved road. A difference we quickly noticed, however, was that this one started out with a series of 5% hills. Actually, it was nothing BUT 5% hills! For the next 11 miles we were either going up or going down one of them -- into a headwind, of course. All the bicycle riders reading this know how discouraging it can be to finally crest a long hill, only to see another series of two or three ahead of you. Today our eyes beheld such a sight dozens of times. Looking at the total ascent of just 1,687 feet, it doesn't seem like much, but it felt like twice that.

Eventually we reached highway 51 -- at the top of a long hill! Fred took the placement of the intersection as a cruel joke, courtesy of the highway department. The same thought had occurred to me as well. This was the final turn and would take us the remaining 9 miles to our hotel. The pavement was smooth, the wind was at our sides rather than in our faces, and although it did start raining very lightly a mile or two short of our destination, we did not get that wet. There is even a well regarded Mexican restaurant right across the street and I was able to get a very good "Fajita del Mar" that hit the spot after the dietary wasteland of the past few days.

Viva la Fajita del Mar
 OK, one more thing - a Super Walmart is within walking distance, though they did not have my favored brand of sunblock (Ocean Potion), which is stocked by our stores at home. I managed to find a few things to make the walk worthwhile anyway.