One of the biggest mistakes that I bike tourer in the US or Canada can make is to assume that the same road conditions will prevail on the next day of riding. Right out of the bat this morning, after less than 1 mile, the road shoulder on US Hwy 36 disappeared. After 100 good miles the day before. How foreign is biking in the US Midwest?? When I stopped a deputy to ask about the shoulder for the next 30-40-50 miles, he said, ‘Nonexistent. Good luck.’ Actually my luck was pretty good…I bailed into the gravel a few miles before talking to the officer, when a lady driving an Infiniti crossed the white line. In retrospect, it was an act of civility on her part to turn around and explain to me that she never saw me. I explained to her, in rather terse language that I don’t use in front of my girlfriend, my boss, or my dog, that if she hadn’t been tailgating the truck in front of her and playing on her phone that her vision may have worked quite a bit better.
So I found myself getting off of Hwy 36 ASAP. I found some back roads that were dirt, dusty, hot, and very hilly. And that just crushed my legs. When I finally found another paved road I was way off course and landed in the tiny town of Bendena. The heat, a major force to reckon with in my R4R, found me once again. In Bendena I was pretty desperate for cold liquid and food. From a couple hundred yards off I spotted a Pepsi machine. When I approached it I noticed that a little 300 square foot grocery store was open. At that moment I felt immense relief that I could pack my gullet with something other than warm water from odor-retaining bike bottles and peanut and jelly sandwiches. I held on as long as possible to the dead-end conversation with the shopkeeper lady inside, relishing the AC. Somehow I rallied and pushed slowly towards the state line after crushing my lunch in the meek shade of an old ice machine on the side of the grocery store.
I finally got the Missouri late in the day. I crossed the big Missouri River right at the impoverished and aging mill city of St. Joseph. It’s hard to believe that exactly one week ago I was watching some technical climbers scale a rock wall in the beautiful Cache La Poudre River Valley in Colorado. Now here I was in 90 degree heat dodging an utterly unbelievable amount of trash in the breakdown lane. How much trash? I dodged a pair of vise grips, pliers, sockets, enough stuff over 5 miles to fill a tool box. Enough trash that on 3 stretches I walked my bike, fearing that some sharp object would finally puncture a tube with my weight on the machine. I didn’t take any shrapnel to the tires in this stretch but an hour later got a 16 penny nail completely through the back tire. I pulled the bike over to an abandoned piece of farm machinery and pretty much expected to hear a fizzing sound of a blown tube when I pulled the nail out. To my amazement, the tube escaped puncture. At this moment, and many others, the Schwalbe tires are worth their weight in gold. This is a brand of heavy German-made touring tires that seem to repel the punctures in those instances when the rider has the least time to deal with them. In my case I was fighting daylight so, sans puncture, the only thing I had to deal with is a crumbling shoulder like looked like a hangover from a 1950s experimental road building project in the Soviet block. Make no mistake about it…biking is a foreign sport in the American Midwest!