Vesuvius VA – Boston MA

The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.”

Mark Twain

I don’t remember being that keen on history when I was at school. Perhaps I was put off by being made to learn date charts by Mr Simons at junior school. I suppose dusty text books aren’t the best way to captivate a distracted schoolboy.  One thing this journey has taught me is that there’s no substitute for standing on the soil where great events took place to fire up your imagination and your curiosity. Over the course of the TransAm we’ve traced the routes of the Nez Perce Tribe, of the Lewis and Clark expedition and of the early settlers as they moved west. Riding those same trails and reading about their stories along the way has allowed me to fill in some large gaps in my knowledge of American history.

Closing in on the final leg of the TransAm also brings us into the territory where the first chapters of this country’s short history were played out as we ride though the battlefields of the American Civil War and the War of Independence. It’s also a trip back in time for Kirsty who lived in Virginia from 1982 – 1986 while her father was seconded to work at the MOD in Washington. This is the first time she’s stepped foot in this state for 30 years!

Virginia is the state for lovers

21st October 2016 – 1st November 2016

The TransAm Trail is now old enough to have its own history and one key player in that story is June Curry. Her house sits at the top of a long hill in Afton. During the inaugural Bikecentenial ride in 1976, June and her father encountered many tired and hungry cyclists hauling themselves up past her front door and needing sustenance. She decided to help them out by offering them home-baked cookies which earned her the nickname “The Cookie Lady”. As the years moved on and the route became more and more popular, she set aside an entire house that she owned nearby as a residence for weary cyclists. It has now become something of a museum having been filled with memorabilia and messages from the estimated 14,000+ cyclists that have visited. 

Inside ‘The Cookie Lady’s House’

Water from both ends of the TransAm route

Our contribution to the collection

Sadly June passed away in 2012, but her legacy lives on through the facilities offered by the house and also by the June Curry Trail Angel Award. Presented each year by the Adventure Cycling Association, this is given to people who have gone above and beyond to look after TransAm cyclists. 

Tribute to June Curry and her father

We pay our respects and leave a small memento of our own after a night in the fabled “Cookie House”. It would be easy to lose our own kit in amongst all the other items decorating each room. As we’re heading east the challenging hill that westward bounders had to tackle provides a speedy start to our day. We drop down onto a quiet road through orchards and vineyards. Huge houses peer out from the end of long drives, all of them have a grand facade with rows of classical-style columns framing the entrance. Grandest of them all is Monticello, the former home of third president of the USA Thomas Jefferson, where we are shown a video about some of the good things he did with a slight nod towards the not so good things too.

Monticello

We had thought that we’d left Jim somewhere behind us but he makes a late night appearance at the church we end up staying at in Palmyra. He tells us about his epic 150km day of getting lost but still managing to ride all the way from Vesuvius to make it here in one day. It turns out Jim isn’t shy of a challenge so we won’t be surprised if he now beats us to the finish line. 

It feels a bit disorientating to be riding through more and more densely populated areas after so long in some of the more remote regions of this country. Towns are bigger and busier and the roads are filling up with impatient drivers. Grinning, orange pumpkins are perched on almost every doorstep and those who don’t have one yet queue up to pick their own at enterprising farms. 

A night at Mineral Fire Station

Riding through the Richmond battlefield area the road is flanked by cannons hinting at the carnage that took place here 150 years ago. With confederate flags flapping over the scene we can almost hear the cries of “The Yankees are coming!”.

Richmond Battlefield

Malvern Hill

After a night in Glendale Methodist Church eating pie and chatting to Jim (we caught him up again) we venture out for a momentous day on the road. This would be our final leg of the TransAm. The Capital Trail leads us through more battlefields on a purpose built route just for cyclists and walkers. It takes us past colonial houses and plantations and on to Jamestown then Williamsburg. We’re reaching further back into history now visiting the sites of the earliest English settlements and also the battlefields of the War of Independence. These historical towns have been recreated as living history theme parks to give visitors a rather sanitised experience of life back in the 1600s for the early settlers. 

Quote posted in the window of Willis Methodist Church

On to the Capital Trail

While posing for a photo with a chap in a tricorne hat we’re approached by Greg. On discovering that we’re English he asks if we know someone called Sarah Outen. We know her by reputation and in fact we’d just bought tickets to hear her speak next February. Sarah managed to circumnavigate the world purely by human power, using rowing boats and kayaks for the wet bits and a bike when on land. It was a monumental adventure and puts our own efforts into a gentle perspective. It turns out that Greg hosted Sarah when she was riding across the States so we promise to pass on his best wishes when we meet her [she was really pleased to hear of our happy encounter and we can recommend her book if you need some inspiring reading material].

Williamsburg resident

There’s now just 20km of the TransAm left to ride, and with a helpful tail breeze we make rapid progress towards the finish line. The York River sits on our left and is broadening out as it makes its approach to the Atlantic Ocean. We get our heads down and work at pushing the pedals round. We speed through the outskirts of Yorktown with its white, wooden houses and tree-lined avenues. The salty smell of the sea is in the air. I reach for the gears as our route turns onto the inevitable final climb of the TransAm. This is the culmination of 78 days on the road, with 6804km passing beneath our wheels since leaving the Pacific Ocean at Astoria. We’ve crossed 10 different States each with jaw-dropping landscape, challenging us with high passes, windy plains and incredible national parks. But most memorable of all are the dozens of communities filled with some of the kindest and most generous people the world has to offer. These beautiful characters have made our coast to coast ride a truly humbling experience with unexpected surprises every step of the way. 

We try to take in each moment as we roll up to the Yorktown Monument, the official finish line of the TransAmerica Trail. The bike gets parked and we enjoy a big hug. This is the end of another eventful chapter in the story of our own life history.

Yorktown Monument

A well earned rest

Shortly afterwards, Jim arrives and enjoys his own finish line celebration, then we all head down to find a cold beer by the seafront. This is our first view of the Atlantic for over 2 years and it feels great to take a dip in the chilly water. The Grace Episcopal Church provides our accomodation for the night in a house overlooking the bay. Ironically Yorktown is significant in US history that it saw the defeat of the British towards the end of the War of Independence. We get our own back by enjoying a piece of British tradition with fish and chips for dinner.

Back in the Atlantic!

Sunrise Over the York River Estuary

This may be the end of the TransAm but it’s not the end of the road for us just yet. Jim joins us for the first day of our ride north up to Washington where we’ll be meeting an old friend. It’s strange not to be following the Route 76 cycle route signs and we now appear to be more of a curiosity as we ride through towns that aren’t used to seeing touring cyclists. An uneventful day is brightened considerably when we arrive in Tappahanook. While weighing up our camping options we meet Mimi who invites us to her coffee shop Java Jacks. The coffee is excellent, as are the local oysters and while we sip and scoff she calls the local fire station to ask if we can camp there. She explains that she takes any opportunity to help strangers after the local priest donated a kidney to her husband, saving his life.

Kirsty with Mimi and Jim

Before she can finish the call Officer Dave steps in having seen our bikes parked outside. He immediately takes control of the situation and escorts us to the fire station where he sets us up in their brand new bunk room, issues us a mountain of ration packs and drags poor fireman Lee over to sleep in the building with us to make sure we stay safe. It seems Dave can’t do enough to help us, but when the conversation moves to guns and politics we feel less comfortable. He’s amazed when we tell him British police officers don’t carry guns “I would never work there!” he tells us with his hand casually resting on the handle of his pistol. After a speech extolling the virtues of Donald Trump he leaves us to it as we look at each other in bewilderment. 

Officer Dave

A new recruit at Tappahannock Fire Dept.

The road continues north through Gloucester and Dumfries. Officer Dave’s self heating rations keep us well fed although there’s no way we could carry the entire box that he was trying to give us. We stop briefly at Mount Vernon to see George Washington’s house, but Kirsty is more interested in a house a short distance further on. The suburb is Alexandria is full of familiar sights for her. “I used to swim there!”, “There’s my old school!”, “A friend used to live there!”. 

figuring out the self-heating ration packs

We stop at the end of a driveway in front of a smart detached house on Whittington Boulevard. Two rocking chairs sit on the veranda with a well kept garden surrounded it. “This is my old house!”. Sadly the current occupants aren’t home so we don’t get to look inside, but standing on the porch brings back lots of memories for Kirsty. She snaps away with the camera to show her mum and sister.

Kirsty’s Old House

Kirsty on the porch in 2016

Kirsty on the porch in 1983

The last stretch into Washington DC is increasingly busy. Capitals are always such a contrast compared to most of the rest of the country and DC is no different. We follow the Potomac River on a cycle path into the heart of the city. The needle-like Washington Monument juts out of the ground in front of us and we swing round onto Pennsylvania Avenue to take a look at one of the most famous addresses in the world. Armed police are everywhere and don’t look too pleased to see our huge bike with overloaded bags approaching the gates of the White House. We pause briefly for a photo and then keep on moving before any of them get too anxious. 

Washington Monument

They don’t like tandems outside the White House

When we last saw Chris it was on a sunny afternoon in Dushanbe, Tajikistan the previous summer. He was wearing a sun-bleached t-shirt and shorts and pushing his travel-weary bike out into the city to continue his ride to Europe. The man who walks into the coffee shop on that dreary afternoon in Washington looks completely different. A smart suit and shiny shoes compliment his tidy haircut and clean shaven chin. It’s always odd to meet people in a completely different context, but as soon as his grin spreads across his face we recognise him as the fellow cycle tourist we’d shared a few days with the year before.  

Chris has swapped pedal power for horse power

Chris takes us back to his home nestled in the woods in Bethesda where his landlord Ralph and fellow lodger Mike meet us. This will be the first time we’ve had more than a single day off the bike for over three months, and Chris and Mike make sure we get the best out of our visit to the capital. In amongst the museum visits we’re invited to join in a demonstration at the Trump hotel, sing karaoke with some of Chris’s Korean friends and I meet up for a run with the White House Hash House Harriers. One of the highlights is a behind the scenes visit to Washington Cathedral that culminates in a very rare performance of Toccata by the organist. “I don’t normally play this but it’s a special treat because it’s halloween” he tells us.

Touching a piece of the moon in The Smithsonian Museum (again)

Capitol Building

Inside the Capitol Building

Lincoln Memorial

Washington Cathedral

View from the roof of the cathedral

The mighty pipe organ

Our faithful guide: Mike

Running underground with the White House Hash House Harriers

By very good fortune we receive a message from another cyclist that we met in Dushanbe, Amer who happens to be visiting Washington at the same time as us, so we meet him for dinner one day. Although our time together in Tajikistan only numbered a few days we still feel a great connection through our shared experience in that extraordinary country. That seems to be how life works as a cycle tourist, interactions with other travellers are often fleeting but always leave a lasting bond. [Amer later made a video about his round the world trip that you can watch here.]

It’s all too soon before we have to leave. With a last hug we leave Chris by the roadside and wonder where and when we’ll meet again. We can see that the spark of wanderlust still shines in his eyes so it seems unlikely that he’ll be stuck here for much longer [he now lives in South Korea giving us a fine excuse to head east again one day].   

After some persuasion we convince the train guard to load our bike though he’s very unhappy about it: “That ain’t no normal bike, it’s too big brother!”. He’s not impressed by the huge tear in the back of my trousers either: “You need to get yourself some new pants!”. Eight hours later we’re sleepily turfed out onto the platform in Boston. 

Hello Boston

How to summarise our time in the States? I’ve already written something in this blog post and looking back at it from 2020 all of the sentiment holds true. It’s a country that has changed direction in the meantime, but I’m certain that at ground level it remains much the same, making it one of the finest places for anyone to spend time riding a bicycle. 

All wrapped up and ready for departure

Boston feels hectic, frigid yet familiar given it’s our second visit, but we’re not stopping for long. There’s enough time to buy some new trousers before heading to the airport for our flight back to European soil. Ultimately we’re aiming for Lisbon, but we’re being dropped off on the Azores for a few days of recuperation first. As the wheels of the plane leave the runway Kirsty looks down at her watch and realises we had exactly 1 hour left on our three month visas. I think we can safely say we got good value out of them.

Wise words from Will




Marion KY – Vesuvius VA

“How good one feels when one is full — how satisfied with ourselves and with the world! People have tried to tell me that a clear conscience leaves you very happy and contented but a full stomach does the business quite as well and is cheaper and more easily obtained.”

Jerome K. Jerome – Three Men in a Boat (1889)

I have a well travelled friend who is a self-confessed Kentucky Fried Chicken addict. Wherever in the world he visits he will seek out the ubiquitous grinning image of the bogus colonel and dine out on a bargain bucket. Even in Reykjavik where his favourite delicacy was reassuringly expensive he still insisted on walking past the local seafood restaurants to tuck into something that he could have bought just 1.5 miles from his own house. I have to admire his dedication but for me one of the great pleasures of travelling is trying all the weird and wonderful local food that I might not have experienced before. Why have generic fast food when you could be tucking into a battered tarantula or some boiled offal

There’s only one part of the world where Kentucky Fried Chicken might be acceptable and we had just started riding through it. 

7th October 2016 – 20th October 2016

We leave Charlie at the Marion Methodist Reform Church for what will probably be our last goodbye as he now veers north towards Pennsylvania. We’re asked to take a polaroid photo for the guestbook which is a great idea as we can put a few of the faces against names we’ve been reading in guestbooks up to this point. The church has been hosting cyclists from when the very first riders took on the TransAmerica Trail so their records go back 40 years.

Kentucky Plate

Roadside Flora

One of the main industries on this side of Kentucky is tobacco and there’s an unmistakable smell when we pass big wooden barns with hundreds of leaves hanging up to dry inside. The barns are decorated with colourful geometric patterns that they call barn quilts. Each one is unique, like a signature for that particular farm. 

Drying Tobacco

Barn Quilt

Barn Quilt 2

Barn Quilt 3

Neat little baptist churches appear by the roadside with surprising frequency making us wonder how there can be enough of a congregation to fill them all? As we’ve seen all along the TransAm, these tiny communities are all keen to encourage cyclists to stop and support their towns, so a lot of the churches have opened their doors for travellers to spend the night. However Sebree First Baptist Church has taken their hospitality to a whole new level. 

Sebree First Baptist Church

When we arrive at their Cyclists’ Hostel we’re met by Tony who gives us the guided tour. “Here’s the games room, there’s a laundry over there, you can use the kitchen and this is a room full of spare parts if you need to fix your bike”. It’s an amazing facility that has been set up specifically for touring cyclists.  When we ask if we can make a donation Tony holds up his hands and says “There’s no need, we are doing this as a service to the people and to serve God”. 

Sebree Cyclist Hostel with Chris and Amina

When I walk into the Sebree post office the lady behind the counter asks “Are you Marcus? We have something for you!”. With impeccable timing our repaired front wheel arrived that morning now sporting a brand new hub thanks to a generous warranty from Son and the speedy services of Peter White Cycles. The trusty stand-in wheel we had been using for the last week gets added to the spare parts cupboard back in the hostel and we roll away with dynamo power restored. 

Following Route 76

The brutal hills of the Ozarks are now far behind us, but Kentucky still has its fair share of climbing as we find ourselves in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. It’s very much an agricultural landscape, with enormous tracked machinery working the vast fields. We stop at dusty ‘Old Time’ stores where we have to ask the friendly proprietors to repeat themselves several times until we can understand them. The Kentucky accent is a strong one.

Kentucky Style

There’s been an increase in the number of Confederate flags fluttering from garden flagpoles with Vote Trump signs perched alongside. For breakfast we can now get the staple of biscuits and gravy, a type of savoury scone with white sauce. While staying at one church we read an article about the appearance of a burning cross outside a black family’s home. This is very much a ‘southern’ state. 

IVIS Church

Biscuits and Gravy for Breakfast

Hauling up one hill we’re glad to find a reason for a rest at the top. The little cupcake stall draws us in like a siren. Mary has only been open a week and has a huge variety of coloured cakes on offer. We’re invited to try one. She tells us that she found baking was a great distraction and helped give her focus after a nasty accident. She’s now taken the bold step of venturing out with this new business. We tell her it’s a great spot as she should find a steady trade from passing hungry cyclists like us. We buy another couple and continue on.

Mary’s Cupcake Shop

Through Madrid then on to Ohio county where we change time zones and lose an hour. We see distinctive horse drawn carriages and bushy beards in Amish communities like a step back in time. In amongst the Baptist churches a huge Catholic monastery looks incongruous, even more so with the whisky distillery just down the road. 

An Amish Couple

Makers Mark Distillery

Then we arrive in Springfield, which could be the home of the Simpsons if it weren’t for the fact that 31 other states also have a Springfield. By now we have a routine and head straight for the Baptist church, this one a huge and grand building in the middle of town. Inside Jamie and Tommy greet us enthusiastically and are keen to help when we ask if we can spend the night there. Their first idea is to let us use a nearby safehouse but rule that out as it is full of rehabilitating drug addicts. Not so safe for us. Instead they decide to book us into a hotel and pick up the tab. This is far more than we expected and we feel embarrassed that they’ve even suggested it, but they won’t accept our refusal. Before leaving us they offer some prayers for our safe onward journey and present a small pocket bible. “Jesus sent you to us and in that book you’ll find true beauty, better than anything else we’ve seen” Jamie tells us. We feel forever indebted to these amazing people but restore a small portion of our karma by releasing a trapped raccoon from a bin later that evening before heading out for some fast food. Some burgers from Wendy’s are just what we needed. 

Members of The Springfield Baptist Church

Trash Panda

Raccoon Rescue

As we ride east we seem to climb into autumn. The rolling countryside is preparing itself for its most impressive annual display. Leaves are beginning to curl and move into shades of yellow and red. Our quiet roads wind through tunnels of trees alongside crystal clear creeks before taking us up and onto ridges with panoramic views of the valleys on either side. The temperature is a perfect 25 degrees but we’re losing light fast now with sunset closing in by 6pm. 

Kentucky Countryside

A Curious Groundhog

As we descend one of these ridges, the sun is already setting on our backs. We begin to eye up potential camp spots but then we spot a small inviting sign that reads “Bicycle Campers Welcome”. Rick and Donna have opened up a field for passing cyclists to use complete with al-fresco shower and a cool box full of useful supplies. I hike up to their house to say thanks and ask for water and end up with an invitation for us to stay in their horse box instead. It’s one of more unusual accommodation options but offers a very cosy night’s sleep. The neighbouring Texas longhorn cattle greet us in the morning as the sun rises over the hills. Rick tells me to watch out for the vultures that have been known to take newborn calves.

Shower with a view

Home for the night

Rick and Donna

A Nosy Neighbour

We ride into the Daniel Boone National Forest where the autumn colours have been turned up a level or two. The houses in this region are little more than permanent mobile homes and the level of poverty is very clear. Beaten up trucks with bad drivers make our roads more treacherous than we’ve been used to for a while. Old sofas litter front lawns surrounded by ever more elaborate halloween displays. 

Kentucky Trailer Park

Autumn Is On Its Way

Halloween Is On Its Way

We stop in Buckhorn to send a post card from the tiny post office but this request is met with a puzzled look by the girl behind the counter. “We don’t send many postcards from here”. She makes a phone call to find out what she should do but the person on the other end of the line isn’t sure either. We ask her to put a stamp on and hope for the best.

Local Store in Kentucky

We’ve now left the tobacco plantations of the west side of the state and are moving into the coal mining regions of the east. It seems that Kentucky’s industries are a few decades out of date. It’s no wonder that the number of roadside Trump signs has increased several times here after he promised that he’ll restart the coal industry. We stop to chat to some loggers who fell trees for $7/hour. They warn us that this area is very depressed and full of crime. “Be sure to lock up your bike!”.

Kentucky Loggers

Can you dig it?

The Appalachian mountains have now begun in earnest, so each day we find ourselves tackling several steep hills before plunging down cambered descents alongside deep gorges. We have our last chance for some fast food before leaving Kentucky so tuck into milkshakes at a Dairy Queen before we cross into our final TransAm state of Virginia.  

Pause to Admire the View

His and Hers Outhouses

The only sign of Colonel Sanders that we saw in all of Kentucky

All this time we’ve been looking out for Oli the walking Slovenian that Jeanmarie had told us about back in Kansas. We keep thinking we must have passed him by now, but then find his name in the guestbook of the next store. When we arrive at Elk Garden Methodist Church we spy a bright yellow pushchair parked up outside and inside we find Oli. With him are several other cyclists, Fred, Jackie and Nancy who are riding to the Ohio river. 

Elk Garden Methodist Church Hostel

Oli is as pleased to see us as we are to see him. “I’ve heard about you crazy Brits on a tandem!” he shouts. We quiz him about why he’s walking so fast. “I had planned to take a year to walk the TransAm but when I arrived they only gave me a visa for 6 months”. All his plans went out the window and he was suddenly on a mission and had to clock up 20-30 miles a day. His pushchair had gained a bit of attention particularly when we was doing a late stint on main roads. “People kept pulling over to ask what I thought I was doing pushing a baby on a hard shoulder at night”. He now has a big sign that says ‘No child on board’.

Oli the Walking Slovenian

We’ve got used to not having most of the things that we missed from the UK but we’ll always have a hankering for Marmite. It’s with great delight then that we find a jar in one of the cupboards in the morning to add the taste of home to our breakfast. Our housemates are less convinced. Oli sets off early with aching legs to try and get another good day’s miles in. It takes us an hour and half to catch him up as he’s faster than us up the hills but we make better progress going back down again. He sings cheerfully to himself and waves when we eventually pass him. Clearly a man enjoying what life has given him.

[After finishing the TransAm Oli became a national hero in Slovenia. He then took on an even bigger adventure walking the length of the Americas. He’s currently back in Slovenia but will pick up the trail again once it’s safe to return.]

A Curious Groundhog

Following a Creek in Virginia

The Appalachians are best known for the world’s longest ‘hiking only’ footpath: the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail. A rite of passage for any keen hiker, around 850 people walk its entire length each year. Some even turn around and walk back again. This is the third of the Triple Crown of Hiking trails that we’ve encountered after the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail.

Crossing the AT

We cross the AT at Trout Dale and spend the night in a cabin chatting to some hikers. Like cycle tourists, long distance hikers have a particular vocabulary and enjoy chatting about their kit. One thing that differs though is that through-hikers like to give each other trail names. Caleb has been christened “Jetpack” on account of the excessive amount of fuel for his stove that he likes to carry. His adventure sounds wonderful with stories of days in remote forests, wildlife encounters and new friendships forged in the tiny huts that are provided along the route. Another journey to add to the ever increasing ‘must-do’ list.

Caleb AKA Jetpack

We drop down from the ridge and into a wide valley that marks the divide between the ‘new’ Appalachian range and the ‘old’ Appalachian range. A strong tail wind and a respite from the steep hills helps us make good progress. Up ahead we spot another cyclist who turns out to be Jim, a friend of Chris and Amina. Jim had to leave the other two as he had a shorter window of time to complete the trip. We’d keep seeing him at various roadside stops for the next few days.

A Lone Sunflower

This stretch of the TransAm has provided some of the most diverse range of places for us to stay. As well as the numerous churches, we’ve slept in small huts, been offered the floor of fire stations, camped in town parks and been invited into luxurious houses thanks to generous WarmShowers hosts. Just before the final big climb of the Appalachians we find the best place we’ve spent the night so far.

A Night at Troutville Fire Station

Mick and Lee who hosted us in Radford VA

We’d contacted Meghan though Warmshowers and although she wasn’t going to be there she had offered use of her cabin for the night. We arrive late in the day and almost miss the subtle track into the woods that leads up to her property. Pushing up through the trees we’re not sure we can be in the right place as the track becomes more and more vague. We round a corner and then there it is. Meghan and her partner have built this 160 square foot cabin themselves from salvaged materials and it forms a beautiful structure in a peaceful clearing. Mismatched windows compliment the reclaimed wood paneling. Inside we find a basic kitchen area and a stove that soon heats the tiny space up.  A heaving bookshelf includes titles about self sufficiency and low impact living. There’s no running water, mains electricity or bathroom and certainly no wi-fi

Meghan’s Cabin

It may have been the cumulative effect of the last few weeks of riding or the hearty supper we had cooked ourselves but in that tranquil little space we both sleep better than we have for a long, long time. Easing my eyes open in the morning and looking out into the woods I smile contentedly. This is a very special place and we can see why Meghan has decided she will move here permanently. It gives us lots to think about regarding how we might want to live when we eventually return home and we hope that we can borrow more than a few ideas from this place. 

Room with a View

Cooking in the Cabin

We know that today will be a challenge with the tough climb up Vesuvius to tackle that will bring us onto the final ridge of the Appalachians. We pack up and reluctantly leave the idyl of this woodland clearing. We need to get our minds ready for the challenge ahead and with bellies full of porridge we swing onto the foot of the climb. It quickly steepens into double digit gradients as I work down through the gears to find our granny ring. We grind, grunt and gasp for 5km. The fire in our lungs is matched by the intensity of colour all around us.  The road sweeps up to the sky through a towering forest that is now resplendent in all the shades of autumn. The experience is an intense assault on the senses as our legs scream for mercy while we blink sweat out of our eyes to take in more of the surrounding view. 

Climbing out of Vesuvius

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway

We eventually find ourselves on top of the world at the Blue Ridge Parkway. Below us lies the flatlands of eastern Virginia with a patchwork of forests cascading down the hillside. We’ve timed our arrival perfectly with this being the most spectacular season to be here. In the far, far distance we’re sure we can see the Atlantic Ocean. The finish line for the TransAm is somewhere over there, almost in sight. Beyond that, across the water lies Europe and home but surely it’s too soon to be thinking about that? We gently make our way along the ridge, teasing out the lactic acid in our muscles. We’ve conquered the final big hurdle of the TransAm and we’re ready for the final leg into Yorktown. But first it’s time for lunch.

The End of the Appalachians

A Curious Groundhog

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Newton KS – Marion KY

Newton KS – Marion KY

Being under lockdown rules has the useful effect of making you realise how valuable the freedom to travel actually is and how much we all probably take it for granted. I’m sure lots of people are already planning some big adventures for when it’s safe to get out and about again. My brother has been looking for advice on touring bikes and there’s been talk of exciting journeys on the Karakorum Highway or perhaps into the Pamirs. How much better will it feel to finally get out there after all of this?

In the meantime we’ve been very grateful for the little adventures we can safely do at the moment. An hour riding on lanes with more cyclists than cars and more pheasants than cyclists. A sunny walk across the fields watched carefully by a herd of young calves. Running through woods carpeted with bluebells. I even climbed a tree the other day. We’re incredibly fortunate to have so much space around us here in The Vale of Evesham compared to other people’s lockdown environment and we’re trying to make the most of it. 

Bluebells in the woods on Bredon Hill

As well as travelling I’ve also missed competing. Last weekend I was supposed to be running the London Marathon wearing a tap costume to raise money for the charity WaterAid. Instead I ran 45 laps around our farm on a tap-shaped course. This was harder than I’d anticipated, but it was a fun challenge to satisfy my competitive urges. The best bit though was the amount of support I received from friends and family via the wonders of an online stream on Facebook. It made it feel like a proper event even though there were actually more four-legged spectators than people. If you’d like to make a donation to WaterAid, who are needed now more than ever before to help provide clean water and decent toilets to areas of the world that need it most, then please click here: www.tiny.cc/FastestTap.

The Tap Shaped Marathon

24th September 2016 – 6th October 2016

In Britain if you refuse to go out cycling when it rains then your bike will stay indoors for most of the year. Pull on a jacket and get on with it is the best policy. The rules in Florida and California are slightly different, so when we check the weather forecast for the day and see pictures of small grey rain clouds Dan and Charlie start to look nervous. “I think I’ll take a day off today” Dan tells us. “There’s a chilli fest in town that we could check out?” suggests Charlie. We dig out our waterproofs and leave them to it.

A big rig and a large truck

America does all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets better than anywhere else in the world. By the time we’ve finished in The Bread Basket Cafe it feels like we’ve got enough fuel on board to power us for the next week. The road out of Newton gives us a panoramic view of the storm clouds rolling across the plains. We manage to avoid the first one as it rushes across a few miles in front of us leaving soaking tarmac and that unmistakable smell of summer rain.

Storm clouds over the plains

We’re not so lucky with the next one and get caught by the edge of it with a refreshing shower. The rain is heavy but warm and is fun to ride in. Wild horses graze the fields alongside the road and are just as unfazed by the weather. We pull the zips on our jackets up to our chins while the peaks of our caps act as a gutter to keep the worst of it out of our faces. While stopped at a cafe some concerned drivers ask if we’re OK to be out on the road in these conditions. “It’s only a bit of rain!” I reply. Despite our British attitude to the weather we’re still glad to find shelter in a church that James in the bike shop had told us about. During the night the rain continues to fall outside and thunder and lightning shakes the windows in the early hours.

And so it pours

It’s clearing up ahead

Wild Horses

We stand, dripping in the corner of a grocery store in Eureka the next morning. Clutching warm coffee in our cold hands, there’s already a wet floor sign by our feet. The rain has got progressively heavier, the temperature has dropped and we’re not feeling so happy about being out in it any longer. The next customer to come through the door is Robyn who immediately assesses our situation and leaps into action. “Follow me!” she cries.

A soggy cyclist

Soon we’re in warm, dry clothes eating sloppy joes and sipping on root beer floats. Robyn has a house that she lets cyclists use when it’s not being rented out and lucky for us it’s currently empty. She lets us use the shower and dry our clothes while making arrangements for somewhere for us to stay that night. 

We feel recharged and reinvigorated when we eventually leave. The rain clouds finally blow over revealing a rolling road in the Flint Hills that takes us onwards to Toronto. Robyn had told us about the tornado that had wrecked several homes in Eureka last year and we can’t help but think about the opening scenes from The Wizard of Oz. It’s an appropriate thought when we roll up to the house of Robyn’s friend Jeanmarie. To say she’s a fan of the film is an understatement, even her number plate says Oz Bcoz! It’s the end of yet another tough day that has been saved by a fortuitous meeting with some very kind and generous strangers. Jeanmarie drives us out to watch the sunset over a lake before chatting all evening about life in the Sunflower State. She has hosted dozens of TransAm cyclists but recently had a more unusual guest. Oli was from Slovenia and has been walking the route while carrying all his gear in a pushchair. “He can’t be more than a few days ahead of you now so you should catch him up soon”. We promise to say hello from her if and when we see him.

There’s no place like home

Sunset in Toronto (KS)

Super host Jeanmarie

We’re approaching the edge of Kansas now and the plains are starting to ruck up again into increasingly steep hills. Huge cobwebs hang in the trees catching the morning light and a few unlucky tortoises lie by the roadside. One of the more fortunate ones gets some assistance from Kirsty to get safely to the other side, at least she assumes that was where it wanted to be.

The Sunflower State

Tortoise Rescue

In the small village of Benedict a hand painted sign invites us to stop at the community store where we encounter another TransAm legend. Pastor Joe is an ex-serviceman full of stories about delivering furniture to John Wayne and falling off scaffolding in Germany but his specialist subject is conspiracy theories. While being plied with free ice cream we’re educated on various devious plots by Russia to otherthrow the USA using submarines hidden on each coast of the continent. We mock incredulity and try to nod and shake our heads at the appropriate places.  Armed with two DVDs that he promises will teach us more, we eventually say our goodbyes and pedal out of there at full speed!

Benedict Community Store

Pastor Joe

Pastor Joe’s Card

We hadn’t expected to see Dan and Charlie again but when we arrive in Pittsburg a couple of days later we’re surprised to see them riding down the main street towards us. We all pitch up at the town’s community campsite where they tell us that the rain wasn’t all that bad after all. We’ll have them touring in the UK one day. They’d also made use of Robyn’s house in Eureka.

Parklife

Pittsburg serves as a vital pitstop for us with our front dynamo hub needing an overhaul. It’s a specialist job so the wheel gets boxed up and sent off for repairs and we buy a cheap, used option from Tailwind Cycles to use in the meantime. We’ll catch up with the repaired wheel at a post office in a few days’ time, all being well. 

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Cooky’s cafe is famous on the TransAm for serving the best pies on the entire route. We find it shortly after crossing into Missouri and as soon as we step through the door the smell of fresh baking has us salivating. I press my nose to the glass of the counter to study our options but it’s no use, all the pies look incredible so we’ll have to work through the entire menu. 

Cooky’s Pies

Charlie and Dan’s Pies

Luckily Missouri takes up where Kansas left off so we can justify the calorie intake as we begin winching up and zooming down the never ending sets of humpback hills. There’s a competition amongst cyclists on this road to take a photo of as many if the roller coaster hills in one shot as possible. We manage five which won’t win any prizes. The fields around us are now grazed by cattle and the palette of greens would start to look more like an English countryside view were it not for the large red wooden barns. 

A five pointer

Missouri or the Mendips?

We continue to meet up with Dan and Charlie at the end of each day in parks, huts and sports fields across Missouri. Dan is blogging every day so has to make use of free WiFI where he can keep it updated. It’s a big commitment and contrasts with Charlie’s approach which is to keep his stories to himself for now, to be told over a drink with his friends when the time is right. 

Dan conquers another hill

Stopping for lunch

We all arrive one evening in the confusingly named Houston in the county of Texas, Missouri. It’s a town full of big people in big trucks with big tattoos and it happens to be the day of a big college american football game. It’s an important event for the town with a large crowd gathering to support the home team. Even the local fire brigade have turned up to sound their sirens whenever their boys score a touchdown. I have no idea what is going on and there seems to be a lot of standing around and not much playing. The marching band at halftime is good though. Houston lose 18 – 40.

Coffee in a diner

Come on Houston Tigers!

Our road is taking us through the Ozark hills which lack the altitude of the mighty Rockies but make up for it with severity of gradient. The Mark Twain National Forest covers most of Ozark county with tall trees now lining the road and filling the view all around us. The drivers behind us wait patiently as we inch our way up and over each crest before gathering as much momentum as possible to get us part way up the next rise. It’s always disappointing to see how quickly the heavy bike slows from 40 to 4 mph though. Each of the small shops we stop at have a guest book so we scour the names above us to look for Oli-from-Slovenia’s name. He still seems to be a few days ahead of us so must be putting in some huge mileage days on his feet.  

Cats Eye Flea Market, MO

River valley in the Ozarks

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

Elephant Rocks State Park

We’re feeling weary when we arrive in Farmington so we spend two nights in the local jail. It’s been converted into a cyclists’ hostel with such luxuries as sofas, a washing machine and a PC. It’s just what we need to recharge our batteries both literally and metaphorically before we ride on into our next state. 

A night in jail

The Mississippi river is another major landmark as we cross this vast country. A broad expanse of chocolate-brown water flows slowly under the bridge that takes us into Illinois. Some of this water will have made its way down from the river Missouri that we’d crossed weeks ago in Montana. Somewhere that seems impossibly far away now. An adventure for another time might be to build a Huckleberry Finn style raft and spend some time following this great watercourse.

The Mighty Mississippi

Our time in Illinois is relatively brief and features the replacement of some more bike parts and a night in the beautiful handbuilt home of Alan and Anne. All of the logs and stone used to construct the building were sourced locally over many years and you can sense their hard work and love woven into every detail. 

Chester, IL. Home of Popeye.

On our way to our next river crossing we stop at some road works. One of the workers rests on his shovel and uses us as an excuse for a bit of break and a chat. “It’s a different way of life over here.” he tells us “All of my kids had a horse, a motorcycle and a gun by the time they were 16”. Denim and dungarees are becoming the standard uniform and we encounter our first chasing dog for many months. 

Missouri Locals

A business opportunity

The River Ohio is even larger than the Mississippi at this point but the two merge just downstream and continue together down to New Orleans. We hop on a little ferry as the sun hangs low in the sky. It’s now October so the days are getting shorter but the temperature is still very pleasant. We’ve been passing an increasing number of “Happy fall y’all” and Halloween displays in peoples’ gardens. We can buy pumpkin lattes and pumpkin ale to wash down the pumpkin pies that are on sale everywhere. . 

Ferry ‘cross the Ohio

Happy Fall Y’all

Once deposited on the far bank we find ourselves in Kentucky, our 10th state. We hadn’t seen Charlie for a few days but just before the ferry crossing he’d come past at speed. He had met up with his wife Anna who is now following him in an RV. His panniers now hang empty on his bike so he still looks like a ‘proper cycle tourist’ but without the inconvenience of the weight of their contents. He and Anna meet us at the methodist church in Marion where we’re all spending the night along with some more cyclists, Chris and Amina from Spokane, WA. It’s Charlie’s birthday so we all help him celebrate with cakes and singing and a mississippi mud pie. 

Charlie’s Birthday

It’s great to share this part of the journey with other cyclists as we each experience each day in a different way. Everyone’s reasons for riding are different, but we all enjoy the little details that are unique to travelling by bike. We compare notes to see what we might have missed. Most interesting of all though is the conversation with Anna, Charlie’s wife. She is originally from Tajikistan but her family fled to all corners of the world during the civil war after independence. She’s happy to hear how much we enjoyed visiting her home country and confesses that she sometimes pines for the Soviet era days when things were more stable there. 

Chris’s Trek

We’re into the last two states of the TransAm route now with the finish in Yorktown edging ever closer. Given the time of year we don’t expect to see too many other cyclists on the route but we are curious to know what has happened to Oli the Slovenian walker that Jeanmarie had mentioned. He’s obviously making phenomenal progress but surely he can’t reach the end before us?!

Bike art by the River Ohio




Walden CO – Newton KA

It’s tempting to look back on our journey with a filtered view, imagining that it was non stop smiles and enjoyment. Flicking through the diary pages for this next section helps me remember that amongst the great times there were some low times too as the strains of over two years on the road were really taking their toll on our bodies, bike and most crucially our relationship. 

11th September 2016 – 23rd September 2016

The thick sleeping bags that Melanie had leant us were very much appreciated during another freezing cold night. We have to reluctantly hand them back though before rolling out of town. Walden is supposedly the moose capital of Colorado so we scan the plains all morning but they must be on holiday somewhere else.

Moose sighting

It’s a big day for our riding stats today as, after reaching the brow of the next hill our speedo clicks over to 40,000km for the trip so far. A bit further on we reach 40,030km, now having ridden the equivalent to the distance around the equator. We give each other a big hug and the tandem gets an affectionate pat too, all three of us have made it this far together and it’s an emotional moment.

40,030 km: Equivalent to once around the equator

An unlikely place for a yacht club (probably why it’s for sale)

All the way from the Oregon coast the landscape has been like a creased bed sheet with rows and rows of mountains and hills taking us higher and higher into the Rockies. We’re approaching the highest ridge now and the landscape around us is a lot more how I imagined the Rocky Mountains to be with swathes of dense pine forests and towering cliffs. After summiting the Willow Tree Pass we ride alongside the Willow Creek in a wide valley. This is one of the head waters that feeds into the Colorado River so this unassuming stream will eventually help carve out the mighty Grand Canyon. It’s a gentle descent that requires no brakes but offers plenty of free speed so we can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Descending from the Willow Tree Pass

Then there’s a commotion in the trees to our left and a moose bursts out onto the road. With long, gangly legs it clumsily gallops to the other side and clambers up the bank and back into the forest. 

We finish the day at Hot Sulphur Springs. A man in a 10 gallon hat directs us to Pioneer Park where camping is allowed. I’m hoping for a good night’s sleep as I’ve been feeling grotty all afternoon but the camp site sits near to a level crossing. It’s compulsory for trains to honk their horns day and night and it’s surprising how busy that line is at 3am. It’s also surprising how loud those horns sound when they’re within 20m of your head.  

Will someone shut that train up!

There are two services that have particularly impressed us in the US: Their post offices and their libraries. Even the smallest, most remote towns are likely to have one of each, providing a vital lifeline for communication and information. In the unlikely named town of Kremlin we arrange to ‘bounce’ a parcel that had arrived in Walden after we’d left. It’ll now overtake us so we can collect it in Pueblo in a few days time instead. This is a free service that you can use as often as you like so some people bounce parcels all the way across the country until they need their contents. We hoped to be able to use one of the computers in the library but it’s shut so we join a small handful of other people making use of the free WiFi that broadcasts to the immediate vicinity. 

The valley out of Kremlin

We have been collecting an interesting list of races that “we should do one day” during the trip that has included various ultras and marathons in the Himalayas, Angkor Wat and Japanese Alps. Before setting up camp near Dillon Lake we see posters advertising the local triathlon claimed to be the highest in the world. Definitely one to add to the list.

Lake Dillon at dawn

Mountain peak at dawn

We’re now approaching the heart of the Rockies’ ski area so the towns smarten up and the log chalets increase in size accordingly. A well made cycle path allows us to climb up to Breckenridge away from the busy main road. The trees up here are already showing their autumn colours and provide a blazing tapestry of oranges, yellows and reds on the side of the mountains either side of us. 

Colours of Colorado

Breckenridge is a friendly, bustling  resort town and provides everything we need. From a new spoke, tyre and gear cable for the bike to a pair of shorts from a thrift store [still in use to this day] and plenty of food to fuel us for the last climb of the day. The winding road stretches 15km from Breckenridge to the top of the Hoosier Pass, the highest point on the Transam, standing at 3,518m. This marks our 9th and final visit to the Continental Divide so in theory it’s all downhill to the Atlantic from here…

Ski shop in Breckenridge

Hoosier Pass, the highest point on the Transam

It starts to snow so we pull on jackets and begin the speedy descent down into South Park. My frozen knees turn numb and I hunch down over the bars with Kirsty sheltering behind my back. The road eventually levels off across the high, desolate  plains. A few houses dot the horizon, standing alone high up here with their occupants choosing a life of solitude and hardship in return for the stark beauty of their surroundings. 

Dropping down off Hoosier Pass

Storm clouds and sunshine

We spend the night in Hartsell, a tiny town of just 40 residents. The official campground has been closed down after some cyclists made a nuisance of themselves, but the saloon offers a patch of ground out the back for us instead. We’re soon joined by a fellow Brit when Andy from Reading arrives. He’s been riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, a spectacular, 3000 mile ride from Canada to the border of Mexico along the Continental Divide, a journey prompted by voluntary redundancy from his job. This is one of the few points where the Transam and the GDMBR intersect and it’s interesting to compare our experiences. His route has largely been on very remote trails away from any civilisation. It’s also great to find someone who speaks the same language as us after so long away from the UK, so we all pile into the Hartsell Saloon for the evening. 

Hartsel Jail, Colorado

“When a town is this small we all just  have to get along”, Kat tells us from behind the bar. Everyone does seem very friendly, from the local pot dealer (Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012) to the girl who is planning on hitching up to North Dakota to join in an oil pipeline protest. We’re invited along too but have to make our apologies.

Kat in the Hartsel Saloon

In the morning a heavy mist drifts through the town off the surrounding mountains. Andy spends an hour stuffing things into the variety of bags attached to a variety of different bits of his bike before rumbling off towards the gravel roads. We clip our panniers on and zoom off down the road. We’re now crossing the base of an ancient volcanic caldera, bubbling with hot springs. Once over the opposite rim the road takes us down for several miles. The trees begin to thin out with ochre cliffs and sparse scrub replacing the verdant shades we’d enjoyed higher up as we drop into Royal Canyon. 

Andy, a Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Rider

Royal Canyon

In Florence, after being woken twice by automatic sprinklers washing our tent in the night (again) we’re woken again by stall holders setting up for their farmers’ market. Once we emerge, bleary-eyed from our tent we’re approached by Larry who introduces himself as the deputy mayor and asks if we’re enjoying our stay? Deciding not to lodge a complaint about the sprinklers we begin to chat about what we’re up to. When we mention that we rode through China he asked if we visited Xi’an which of course we did. “You must come and visit my home then!” he cries without explanation. With some curiosity we take up his invitation, pack up, pick up some fruit from one of the stalls  and head over to his address. We climb the stairs to his flat and are greeted first by his wife Beryl but peering over her shoulder are two chinese soldiers and a horse. Where most people would buy a small model for the mantlepiece, Larry and Beryl have had exact, life sized replicas from the Terracotta Army shipped over after a visit to Xi’an. It’s an impressive and bizarre sight to find in a small Colorado town.

Beryl with their replica Terracotta Warriors

Even more impressive and somewhat more chilling is the enormous prison complex that we pass a few miles outside of Florence. Known as the Alcatraz of the Rockies this ‘Supermax’ facility covers a vast area with rows of fences and concrete walls protecting the buildings in the distance. Some of the country’s most notorious inmates are housed here in solitary confinement including the Oklahoma Bomber, Uni Bomber and a certain Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the remaining brother responsible for the bombs in Boston in 2013. This is the second time we’ve been within a few hundred metres of that last character and we’re glad that this time he’s behind bars and concrete, and fences and more concrete, and barbed wire….

‘The Alcatraz of the Rockies’ Not somewhere you want to end up

The road rolls over increasingly dry scrub land, the high mountains now filling the view far behind us. We eventually drop down into Pueblo for a couple of days’ rest with Warm Showers host, Mike.  Pueblo is another milestone as it marks the halfway point of the Transam route. It’s a funky little town with plenty of street art and we enjoy a guided tour with Mike. He’s an enthusiastic character that seems to have been given a new lease of life after a recent separation. His current project is to run for state governor representing the ‘No Party Party Party’. He’d get our vote without a doubt. 

Pueblo by night

Street art in Pueblo

As well as a place to rest, refuel and reset, Pueblo is the pickup point for our parcel which has arrived safely from Walden courtesy of USPS. We have a good sort out of the panniers and manage to find 8kg of kit and souvenirs that we no longer need so box it up to be sent home. If only we’d done that before tackling all those hills.

Vote Mike for Governor!

Mike has become something of a stalwart host for Transam cyclists and tells us about another ‘superhost’ for the following night. 85km further east, we find Gillian, a relocated Kiwi who has a small holding in the small town of Ordway. Her offer of accomodation in her caravan comes at a small price as everyone who stays is assigned a task to earn their keep. Kirsty gets to walk her pack of dogs while I’m given a bundle of paracord to unravel. It seems like a fair deal.

Kirsty and Gillian

The last couple of days in Colorado shake out the final ruffles from the mountains with some very gentle hills before we hit the flatlands that form the central regions of this continent. With the reduction in altitude comes an increase in temperature with the middle of the day peaking at 35°C. We seek shade under trees when we find them at tiny settlements with a population of 9 or 10 people, 1 horse and 100,000 flies. 

Abandoned train, outside Ordway

Nearly home to Bristol ?

We cross into Kansas and with it comes a new time zone and a new challenge. The road straightens out in front of us as a never ending grey line disappearing into the horizon. The fields of wheat either side rustle in the wind and predictably bend in our direction as the strong easterly blows into our faces. 

Entering state number 7

I try various things to help the kilometers pass, mostly involving distraction techniques. I spend as long as possible focussing on the white line at the side of the road as it flashes by. I try not to look up at the grain silo that isn’t getting any closer. I try not to look down at the speedo to see the distance clicking over all too slowly. Is it even working?

A typical day in Kansas…

…what’s that up ahead?…

….another grain elevator!

The plains of Kansas are feared by Transam cyclists just as much as the mighty hills on either side. It’s a mind game as much as a physical test so if your head and your legs aren’t feeling strong then the plains will give you a very hard time. 

Big skies over Kansas

We’re sharing this stretch with Charlie, who has ridden his beautiful, white, steel bike from Sacramento, California and is on his way to Buffalo, New York. He shows up to camp at the same water towers as us each evening then spends the day travelling at his own speed. The towns in Kansas don’t mind us using their parks but in some we have to register our presence with the police. In one we forget to do this and get a visit from a patrolling officer who is just happy to have an excuse to stop for a chat. It’s a welcome break from chasing kids who are breaking curfew. Here under 15s have to be home after 10pm while 15-18s can stay out until midnight.

Camping at Leoti, Kansas with vultures roosting on the water tower

We can see the grain elevators shimmering in the distance from about 20 miles away, the only tall feature in any direction. Crickets chirp from the grass and at one point make a mass exodus across the road, bouncing off our panniers and sounding like popcorn. There are also nodding donkeys working away amongst the fields and the smell of crude oil causes us to gag whenever we find ourselves downwind of one. It all makes the taste of a cold, fizzy drink all the more refreshing and when we find a drive (ride) through burger restaurant with milkshakes we might as well have arrived at Nirvana.

Oil and agriculture

Decision making at a drive through burger bar

At this point in the trip Kirsty and I seem to have fallen into a resigned acceptance of each other. Spending 24 hours a day within a metre of each other for over two years makes for an intense situation to test any relationship. We share the same ambition to complete this ride but it’s clear that the current difficulties of the ride are bringing our frustrations with each other to the surface. There are a few mornings with breakfast eaten in complete silence. Somehow we need to hold it together for a few more weeks and that means trying to keep each other happy and trying not to forget why we’re here. After all, a bad day on the bike is always better than a good day in the office.

Kansas parking lot

Harvest time

Way back in Oregon we took a photo of a sign advertising Newton Bike Shop, “An oasis in the grassy desert”. That was 1510  miles ago and it seemed ridiculously far away at that point. A lot has passed under our wheels in the meantime but now we get to walk through the door and spend the night in their cyclists’ hostel. We’re joined by Charlie and also meet Dan from Florida who is also easing his way along the Transam. It’s just the evening we needed as we sit down to watch the film ‘Inspired to Ride’ following riders on the inaugural Transam Race.  We stuff ourselves with pizza and are given free use of the shop’s beer tap by the owners James and Heather who leave us to it.

These gloves have ridden over 40,000 km

Time for some new ones

James and Heather at Newton Bike Shop, Kansas

The film is a great chance to appreciate what we’ve already achieved and what exciting adventures are still to come and it suddenly all comes back into focus. We’ve come this far so surely we can finish the job? The three of us: two crew members and a bike all have our grumpy days but surely the good days far outnumber them? So long as we continue to function as a team we can get through the worst of times and that’s why I’m sure we’ll make it to the end. After all there are only 1700 miles left to go.

A fitting sign in Newton Bike Shop




West Yellowstone, MT to Walden, CO

The events in this blog happened 3.5 years ago at a time when the current news unfolding and unravelling around the world were unthinkable. But amongst all of the troubles and losses caused by the pandemic some little gems are emerging as people use their forced isolation to be creative, connect with people, help their communities or just have a bit of a tidy up.

For my part, this week I’ve dug our vegetable patch, taken part in an online dance party and decided to start filling in the gap in our blog that somehow never got written. Some of the details will no doubt have been lost in the fog of my memory but I’ll try and tell the story of our journey from Wyoming to the finish line in installments over the next few weeks.

2nd September 2016 – 10th September 2016

On our first night in Yellowstone we’re treated to a talk by Ranger Jack who tells us a bit more about the park. “There are 10 wolf packs and 250 grizzly bears but these animals tend to stay well clear of visitors. You’re much more likely to be gored by a bison, burn to death in a boiling mud pool, drown, get crushed by a dead tree or fall off a cliff. A lot of of these things happen to people while they pose for a selfie.”

Entering Yellowstone Park

Elk stopping for a drink

We’re now in Wyoming, our 5th state

We emerge from our tent the next morning after a sleepless night worrying about the old, creaking tree next to our tent. We rescue our food and stove from the steel bear box provided to stop inquisitive bears stealing visitor’s pic-a-nic beaskets. Or stealing visitors.

Bear Box

There’s a rule in the park that you should not get any closer than 100 yards of bears or wolves and 25 yards of all other animals. What they don’t tell you is what to do if the animal approaches you. So when an enormous bison ambles up to our tent as our porridge bubbles away on the stove we sit tight and hold our breaths. He’s a colossal animal but seems entirely uninterested in our breakfast so we breathe a sigh of relief when he continues on into the forest.

A visitor for breakfast

Ahead of us lies 2.2 million acres of forest, mountains, rivers and lakes all supercharged by one of the largest areas of geothermal activity in the world. We’re sharing it with a convoy of tourist buses as we’ve managed to arrive for the Labour Day weekend, a national holiday. Despite the crowds, it’s a very impressive sight. We spin up to the lower geyser basin for our first views of boiling hot ponds, bubbling mud pits, steaming fumaroles and spitting geysers. The smell of sulphur lingers in the nostrils everywhere we go.

Kirsty at The Blue Lagoon

Petrified trees with white ‘bobby socks’

Further up the valley we find the Grand Prismatic Spring, an enormous, rainbow coloured, steaming phenomenon spilling into the hot river that we’ve been following. I’d seen photos of this many times and was suspicious that it could actually be real but here it was before our very eyes in all its multi-coloured glory. The early explorers had the same problem when they reported their findings back to Lewis and Clarke for the first time. Their tales of 100 foot geysers, volcanoes and hot rivers surrounded by beasts of all shapes and sizes were initially laughed at as being the stuff of fantasy.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Visitors on the boardwalk

The main event for many is Old Faithful and the park authorities know it. They’ve built what amounts to be a small stadium around the geyser behind which are hotels, restaurants and fast food cafes. We all gather on the benches ready for the next performance which takes place every 90 minutes. As the time ticks by the crowd gets restless and I half expect someone to shout “Get on with it!”. Then there’s a short spurt of water from the crater as everyone gasps and moves a bit closer to the edge of their benches. Another spurt and another collective gasp. Then WHOOOOOSSSSHH! 30,000 litres of boiling water launches 50m into the air and we all “ooh” and “ahh” as if it’s a firework. In typical American style there’s a round of applause for the geothermal feature. Thank you Old Faithful, that was truly impressive and the extra 10 minutes we had to wait meant that it was bigger than average.

Waiting for Old Faithful

Thar she blows!

On a plateau like this it’s easy to forget how high up we are so it comes as a surprise when we winch up the next couple of passes and see that we’ve crossed the Continental Divide for the 2nd (2515m) and 3rd (2556m) time. Our campsite for the night is next to Lewis Lake and we cross the divide once again before spinning down to find a spot for our tent. People used to use the ‘cook on the hook’ fishing technique here where a freshly caught fish would immediately get dunked into a boiling pond. They’ve since realised that fish probably don’t enjoy being boiled alive so the practice has been banned.

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone was always going to be hard to beat so it’s with some disappointment that we drop down out of the park the next day. Large swathes of charred trees line the road. We’re lucky to get out this way as wild fires had closed the south entrance until 4 days ago.

Passing the remains of a wild fire

We’ve only just begun exploring Wyoming and it’s a state that has plenty more to offer. Not least of which are the Teton Mountains that come into view just in time for us to admire them over a lunchtime picnic. We could have sat there all day but we have to turn our backs on this magnificent view as our road turns east and we begin our next big climb. Togwotee Pass tops out at 2900m and it’s too much for today so we’re forced to camp a few hundred metres from the summit. We’d passed a camp site further down that didn’t allow ‘soft sided shelters’ and the bear warning signs have been becoming more frequent. Our roadside clearing doesn’t have the luxury of a bear box so I collect all our food and cooking gear into a bag and climb a tree to suspend it from a high branch. Every crack of a stick and rustle of leaves has us tense up as we spend most of the night wide-eyed and nervous.

Grand Teton National Park

Getting our food out of reach

Overnight our tent is battered by wind and rain but thankfully no bears and I’m pleased to see our bag still dangling from the tree in the morning. It’s freezing cold so the last few kilometres of climbing to the top of the pass are very welcome to build up some heat. The ridgeline still wears a blanket of snow and huge jagged peaks stand all around us. Coming the other way we meet several other cyclists including Mya from Burma who is writing a cookbook for cyclists and Tim and Jimmy from Colorado who interview us on the hard shoulder for their newspaper.

Another visit to the Continental Divide

Mya on her way West

The descent off the top is a cyclist’s dream. Smooth roads and sweeping bends have me whooping with delight. The landscape begins to change with lush green trees giving way to arid red and orange rocks with painted ranches dotted alongside the huge meandering loops of the Wind River. We’re now in the Wind River Valley and it lives up to its name as a strong breeze helps us on our way to Dubois.

Dropping down from Togwotee Pass

Ranch in Wind River Valley

We spend the night at the Dubois Episcopal Church and are invited to dinner by the caretaker, John. His wife Julie happens to be a baker so we have to be polite by accepting her offer of tasting some freshly made cakes and leaving with a bag of tasty muffins. The church itself resembles a log cabin and proudly claims to be ‘very old’ having been built in 1910. John is a very proud of this until I tell him my home village has a church dating from the 12th Century!

Dubois Episcopal Church Est. 1910

The Wind River Basin is home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Native American tribes in the huge Wind River Indian Reservation. We roll into Fort Washakie to find a very run down town completely at odds with the smart little settlements that we’d passed through further up the valley. A large gift shop touts predictable souvenirs with hundreds of dream catchers, animal hides and t-shirts with wolves howling at the moon. The problems inherent in these communities are well documented but there seems to be little evidence of a solution.

Wind River Valley

As if to highlight the contrast between life inside and outside of the Reservation our next stop is Lander, a bustling little town that is popular with adrenaline junkies who enjoy climbing up and throwing themselves down the surrounding mountains. We find ice cream parlours, thai restaurants and a busy high street of shops that makes it feel like another country compared to Fort Washakie. Once again we’re incredibly grateful for our privileged position of being able to make the choice to keep on riding through all these places and to be looked after by kind hosts like Lydnsey and Mike. Lyndsey is another baker so when our bread gets eaten by one of their dogs in the night she replaces it with some fresh banana bread.

Drive through off licence in Lander

Lander bike frame fence

Lyndsey and Mike, our Warmshowers hosts in Lander

Wyoming is the size of the UK but has a population of just 500,000. This leaves some huge open spaces. It’s a 100km ride between Lander and the next town of Jeffrey City and apart from an RV park and a Mormon Handcart Visitors Centre there’s not a lot of life in between. Other than an angry rattlesnake makes its presence known with a furious shake of its tail as we climb up to the top of Beaver Rim. We’re nearing South Pass on the Oregon Trail that was a pivotal junction for the early settlers. At this point they had to decide whether to take the trail south to Utah, South West to California or North West to Oregon. Lives would be defined on this huge expanse of nothing.

Another day in Wyoming

Roadside rattler

Somewhere back in Oregon we’d been given a piece of paper by a Westbound Transam cyclist with recommendations for our route ahead. One line that stuck in our minds was that we must “…find the mad potter in Jeffrey City. We stayed with him and the night ended with him trying to put a fire out on the roof. It was wonderful”. Jeffrey City is a ghost town with a population of just 58. A far cry from its boom times in the 60s when thousands moved here to work in the nearby Uranium mine. A huge high school was built, several churches and even an Olympic sized swimming pool. But when the Uranium market collapsed in the late 70s almost everyone moved away, some even taking their houses with them. What’s left are a few hardy souls who like solitude, and some enormous buildings that stand empty.

A Church in Jeffrey City

Abandoned buildings, Jeffrey City

Closed cafe, Jeffrey City

The Monk King Bird Pottery is easy to spot by the side of the road so we park up and poke our heads through the door. A scribbled sign instructs us to make some noise and if no-one appears then try the bar across the road. “Hello?” I call out. There’s a murmur from a pile of blankets in the corner and a bearded face pears out. This is Byron, the potter and Transam legend.

The Monk King Bird Pottery, Jeffrey City

He rubs his eyes and begins to take in the two people standing in front of him. “Ah, you’re bicyclists! You can stay in my bus!”. The pottery is a complete mess but there are plenty of finished articles for sale. His best sellers are a range of mugs with bullet holes in them. Tourists on their way to Yellowstone shoot them when the clay is still wet and by the time they come back Byron has fashioned them into a useable mug.  “But why is it called the Monk King Bird Pottery” we ask Byron. “I wanted it to be called the Mocking Bird Pottery but the sign writer misheard me”.

Byron, the potter

‘Shot’ Mugs

Settling in to Byron’s partially converted bus

Byron introduces us to his neighbour Chuck who lives in a tiny house next door. He moved the house from the mountains a few years ago. Chuck is a colourful character who served in the Vietnam war, worked as a cowboy, as an actor and in the uranium mines. He now spends his days as an artist and keeps his severed finger on a keyring. This is a town that seems to attract real characters.

Chuck

Chuck’s unique keyring

The next couple of days take us over the wind blown expanse of the Great Divide Basin and onto Rawlins where we’re kicked out of a park by an apologetic policeman. Some towns encourage camping in their parks while others don’t and this is one of the very few times in the entire trip where we’ve been asked to move on.

Split Rock

We love strong winds

As we begin our last day in Wyoming we leave our secluded camp spot behind a church just outside of Riverside. It had been a chilly night with outside temperatures dipping to -5°C so both of us are tired and tempers are on edge. To make matters worse the bike has been moaning too with a broken gear cable needing to be replaced before we can set off.

Riverside Christian Community Centre

We stock up in Riverside then venture out onto the Skyline Road. A steady climb takes us into a sparse landscape that has become the default view for this state. Suddenly the chain jams and upon inspection I see that the cage of the rear mech has cracked. I try to bend it back into shape but as soon as we try to pedal again the chain jams again and drags the mech into the wheel to break a couple of spokes. Dammit!

As we contemplate our next move a ranger’s truck pulls over and Melanie jumps out to see what the problem is. She rummages in her truck to find a hammer which I use to try and bend everything back into a useful shape but it’s not looking good. She explains that it’s 100 miles to the nearest bike shop and then spends half an hour ringing round everyone she knows to see if someone can help. It turns out that a man called Jeb can. He speeds over to collect us and takes us back to his house a few miles away. In his enormous workshop stands an old mountain bike that he offers as a ‘donor’ bike. I immediately set to work transplanting the necessary parts onto our bike and replacing our broken spokes. Before long we have a working bike again. Jeb is not only a keen climber and occasional mountain biker but also happened to be a former State Senator. He’s more than happy to help and refuses payment for the parts so we promise to send a gift from the UK once we get home.

Ranger Melanie, our road angel

Former Senator Jeb

He drops us back where we left off and we continue up and over into our next state of Colorado. As we spin along the long, straight road chirping prairie dogs warn the rest of their village of our arrival. By 7pm we’re in Walden and are joined for dinner by Melanie.who has kindly brought some super warm sleeping bags to borrow for the night. She’s in charge of controlling a nearby wildfire where another 30,000 acres are currently burning. Just another normal day for a Wyoming ranger.

The road is long, with barely a winding turn.

We toast the sheer luck that she happened to be passing when she did as at earlier today we didn’t imagine we’d have arrived here by bike. The road has treated us very well in Wyoming but now we have the last of the Rockies to contend with along with the highest climbs of the Transam. Let’s hope our luck continues into Colorado.

Colorado. Put your snow plow away.

You can find a few more photos in our Gallery




Good luck America!

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson, April 22, 1800

A few weeks ago we were sat in the back of Newton Bicycle Store in Kansas watching the film ‘Inspire to Ride’ which follows cyclists during the inaugural TransAm Bike Race. There’s a scene where a bleary eyed Mike Hall is sat outside the very same shop that we were in having taken just over 9 days to cover a distance that we’d been working on for 6 weeks. He went on to win the 4253 mile race in an astonishing 17 days 16 hrs and 17 mins. We went on to finish the same route in 78 days, possibly with some hours and minutes to add too.

James and Heather at Newton Bike Shop, Kansas

It’s a great film that for us served as a high speed review of of the roads that we’d already ridden and a fast forward preview of what was still to come. In a way it’s a shame that the TransAm racers don’t get to see more of the amazing places that they’re passing through as it really is an extraordinary route. Even at the relatively sedate pace we’re travelling at it feels like we could be spending more time exploring.

Bicycle Route 76 – The Transamerica Trail

From the endless sandy beaches of the Oregon coast, over the lava fields of the Cascade mountains. Open desserts, vast wilderness forests, prairies. Rising up to the mountains of the Continental Divide, and criss-crossing it nine times. Volcanic Yellowstone Park with its azure lakes, boiling mud and geysers. The massive Rocky Mountains then onto the painfully flat and breezy Kansas plains. Then painfully steep and frequent hills of the Ozarks before crossing the Mississippi and hitting the Eastern States. Autumn taking hold to decorate the Appalachians just in time for us to enjoy a colourful final run to the Atlantic. The TransAm trail can’t fail to impress every inch of the way.

Yellowstone Park, Wyoming

The highest pass on the route, Hoosier Pass, Colorado

Long straight roads.

Twisty roads too

But in that clip with Mike Hall it’s not the scenery that he talks about, it’s the hospitality and help from the people he’s met that he’s enjoying most. For us too we’ve been amazed by the kindness and friendliness that small town America has to offer. The TransAm bypasses the big cities and instead we’ve been visiting tiny towns and self-sufficient communities often miles from the next place. There’s an old-fashioned feel to these towns where everyone knows one another and a stranger is seen as someone who needs help and should be welcomed. And welcome we were. City parks on the route (usually) let us camp for free, chucking in a complimentary tent wash when the automatic sprinklers come on too. I’ve lost count of how many church floors we’ve slept on and how many different denominations of Pastor and Priest we’ve made friends with. A bus, several fire stations, an off-grid cabin in the woods, an old caravan, a horse-box, plenty of warmshowers hosts all provided a bed for the night. A ranger lent us warm sleeping bags on a particularly cold night in the Rockies while a former state senator rescued us from the side of a road and gave us a new rear derailleur to replace our broken one. America is a great place to travel through on a bicycle because you get to see the side of the country that is rarely captured by hollywood.

Pastor George. Palmyra , VA

Jeb, Riverside, WY

Officer Dave.  Tappahannock, VA

First Baptist Church, Sebree, KY

Horse box near Lancaster, KY

But although the old saying goes “Never talk about religion or politics over dinner”, when writing about America it´s hard to avoid either. Having spent three months cycling across from Washington State to Washington DC so much has changed in terms of our surroundings the people and the cultures but two common themes tying it all together have been the big white churches we’ve been staying in and talk of who will next take the keys to the big White House.

Trump Towers or Clinton’s Castle?

No doubt everyone is tired of hearing about the imminent election but I thought I’d chuck in my two penneth worth based on what we’ve seen and before the votes are counted. So as not to confuse i’d better explain that this post is being written after we’ve finished the TransAm but I will go back and fill in the gaps between Montana and Virgina with some more details. I just haven’t got round to writing them down yet due to all the pedalling we’ve been doing.

Since we crossed from Vancouver Island we’ve been counting the road side signs for each of the presidential candidates. The final scores were as follows:

  1. Trump 345
  2. Clinton 76
  3. Johnson 6

Whether this reflects the final result remains to be seen but it does show that Trump supporters are shouting loudest along the route we followed, (or like road signs more). Almost every conversation we had eventually turned to the election so we heard plenty of opinions and predictions and like the stats for the road signs the Trump supporters were the most enthusiastic. “Build the Wall!”, “He’ll shake things up!”, “Let him rebuild the country!”. contrastingly Clinton supporters would generally hold their heads in their hands and admit that they had to vote for her as she wasn’t Trump. Plenty of Trump huggers but not many true Clinton lovers it seems. However for most people the fact that these were the best two candidates that America could offer was the biggest sore point. There was a feeling that they deserved better and for that we offered our deepest sympathies.

As Brits, finishing the TransAm in Yorktown, Virginia has a certain sense of irony as this is the place where the British surrendered at the end of American Revolutionary War. From Yorktown we rode up to Washington DC where we saw the original copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Looking at these documents and then watching the news it’s hard to imagine that a country built on such fine principles that were hard-fought for could possibly be passed in to the hands of someone with apparently no principles whatsoever. Surely we’ve met enough reasonable people who will stop that happening?

“Keep Trump’s finger off the red button” rally in DC

I truly hope that things work out for the best after next week’s election as this has been a country that we’ve enjoyed visiting a great deal, on the most part due to the amazing people we’ve met and they deserve a bright future. For our American friends who are following our progress, get voting, tick the right box and good luck! For everyone else, if you can liberate three months from your busy lives and have a bicycle and a tent I can thoroughly recommend taking on the TransAm. Do it soon though.

(Oh and if anyone is keen to see the US at speed, the Transam race 2017 is now taking entries…)




Halfway, OR – West Yellowstone, MT

20th August – 2nd September 2016

Hell’s Canyon provides everything you’d expect from its name. The air is hot and dry with the sun beating off the sides of the red rock walls on either side of the road. We disturb some vultures who have been feeding off an unfortunate raccoon in the road. They then circle overhead while we roll past, no doubt eyeing us up as their next course. The Snake River glimmers blue and inviting and provides life to a narrow strip of greenery on its banks.

Approaching Hell’s Canyon, OR

As we progress along the valley a shirtless cyclist approaches from the opposite direction. Justin is on his 5th crossing of the States and took part in the very first TransAm back in 1976 when 4000 riders blazed the way in its inaugural year. “You’ve got a long hot climb ahead” he warns. We duck into the river to cool off before crossing the state line into Idaho and taking on the hill up and over into Cambridge. We lose an hour in the process as we move to the Mountain time zone.  On the way down the road is thick with dark locusts that seem intent on hopping under our wheels despite my best efforts to avoid them.

Justin, A TransAm veteran

Cooling off in the Snake River

State #3 – Idaho, The Potato State

Suicidal locust

Cambridge sprang to life in 1900 as a base for fur trappers and miners who arrived to claim the plots of land that were up for grabs on a first come first served basis. All these small towns seem to have their own museum and we get a tour of Cambridge’s own collection of artifacts by Del Ray who offers to open up and gives us a private tour. It’s a fine display of beaverskin hats and giant chainsaws and an interesting glimpse of how the pioneers set up their new lives in the wild west.

Only 700 years younger than Cambridge University in the UK

Cyclists camping is provided under the Cambridge water tower

Cambridge water tower by night

We’re now gradually gaining altitude and as a result there’s more forest and less desert in this part of Idaho. The gaps between towns is getting greater too with plenty of time to enjoy the unspoiled landscape as we rise and fall over the hills with glimpses of deer amongst the trees. That increase in height has only knocked a degree or two off the daytime temperatures but early mornings in the tent are now frigid. It seems ages since we had to layer up for bedtime but we’re back to emptying the clothes bag to stay warm until it’s time to get up again.

Crossing the 45th Parallel

The road south of New Meadows

No trespassing

Ace Saloon, Council, ID

Hot dogs

We drop down to The Little Salmon River where adventure seekers ride the rapids through Riggins and we meet some adventurous Canadian motorbikers who are riding from New Mexico to Banff offroad.  We reclaim our lost hour by crossing back into the Pacific Time zone and need every minute of it when the massive White Bird pass looms up ahead with our road snaking it’s way up and over it. Before we tackle it we decide to fuel up on huckleberry ice cream in White Bird Village, a tiny town of 150 residents that somehow requires 3 churches. The cafe owner advises we use the old road as, although it’s longer it’s less severe. This turns out to be sage advice as the shallow hair pins allow us to winch up the 800m climb in relative comfort compared to the more direct main road. Our only issue is staying upright against the gusting headwind that threatens to blow us all the way back down again. By the time we roll into Grangeville the effects of the ice cream have long worn off and only a large pizza (each) and a beer are capable of recharging our batteries.

Following the Little Salmon River towards White Bird

Climbing White Bird Hill

Evening sky on the approach to Grangeville

Shadow riding

Grangeville is a good place for a rest day, mostly because there’s very little to do so there are no distractions that could take us away from the important task of doing very little. Even the swimming pool is shut as the summer season is over. Like all the towns in Idaho we’ve been to so far they also offer free camping for cyclists in the city park which is handy.

Resting in the Grangeville park with the locals

The Blue Fox cinema, Grangeville’s only form of entertainment

With refreshed legs the next day we continue out through huge golden wheat fields and then drop steeply down to the town of Stites and the Clearwater River. This stretch of water will be our guide up towards the Bitteroot mountains for the next couple of days. We stock up in Kooskia knowing that there will be little by way of shops or services for a while now and begin spinning up the valley.

The Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness is a protected area covering 1.3 million acres of glacially carved hills without a single building or paved road and restrictions on any form of motorised transport.  It’s a popular place for hunters to track down bears, elk, moose, mountain lions and wolves. Hunting is an important way of life for most people round here and every town has a ‘sporting goods’ store where we could buy rifles, pistols, bows, knifes and all the camouflaged paraphenalia that goes with it. It’s such a far cry from the British elite hunting scene of red coats, bugals, beagles and tweed.

Fields of gold

Approaching the Clearwater valley

Stites Grocery store has all the essentials

But how far to the next cake shop?

The valley is pristine with only our stretch of tarmac disturbing the natural wonder of the crystal clear river and thick forested hillsides. We stop for a swim in the river one day then for a dip in a natural hot spring the next bringing back memories of Hokkaido in Japan. (Only here they keep their clothes on.) The river gradually gets narrower which can only mean that the end of the valley must be getting closer. Sure enough, after a night on the lawn of the Lochsa Lodge we’re faced with the Lola Pass up and over the granite ridge in front of us. The top sits at 1600m and marks our entry into the next state of Montana as well as losing that hour as we change time zones yet again.

Clearwater river

Clearwater River

Weir Creek hot spring

25 while we were there

State #4 – Montana, Big Sky Country

There was smoke in the air near the Lochsa Lodge and as we descend off the Lolo Pass we pass through large areas of burnt trees that have been engulfed in previous years, sometimes worryingly close to buildings. Our historical journey continues as we now follow the route of the Nez Perce Indian tribe who were chased from Oregon into Montana during the summer of 1877 by the US Millitary. In a bizarre and terrifying journey they were pursued for nearly 1900km and were within sight of the Canadian border and safety when they were captured and driven back into a reservation.

Burnt trees coming down off the Lolo Pass

Montana residents

Looking at the map it seems that we’ve come a long way north on a journey that is supposed to be taking us east. There are several reasons for this not least of which being that the route is designed to show us some of the best bits of the country but it’s also making sure we pass by the Adventure Cycling Association’s (ACA) head quarters in Missoula. These are the guys who set up the Transamerica trail in 1976 and have since become the country’s expert in long distance cycle touring. When we arrive at their offices we’re given a warm welcome and a complimentary cold ice cream. The ritual for TransAm riders includes having our photo taken and added to the wall of fame and a tour of the building. It’s a surprisingly busy place with tours and holidays being orgainised in one room, a magazine being produced in another while several people sit at PCs pouring over Google Street view to make sure all their maps and guides are up to date. Not a bad job really planning the best cycling  routes in the country for a living. The Association has come a long way since those early days and the founders must be proud of what has been achieved through the success of the TransAm and everything that has been born out of it.

Adventure Cycling Association HQ, Missoula, MO

A vintage touring tandem at the ACA HQ

The latest addition to the wall of fame (bottom right)

A new sticker for the bike

You don’t have to be mad to be an adventure cyclist but….putting a sticker on your head definitely helps

Missoula is a quirky town and we’re pleased to find they have a music festival taking place on the night we’re there. While jiving to the sounds of The Lil’ Smokies and their funky bluegrass sounds the mayor interrupts the set by jumping up on the stage. Dressed in denim shorts and a Hawaiian shirt he rallies the crowd by declaring that Missoula must be “The best darn place the universe!” before flicking a peace sign and letting the band continue. Would the mayor of Bristol get away with that and still look cool? I doubt it. Even Bruce, our Warmshowers host is as laid back as they come with the door to his house always open to cyclists and musicians passing through the town.

The Lil’ Smokies. Finger pickin’ good

Did I ever mention how the wind has a grudge against us. I’m sure I must have. On the way into Missoula we had a headwind and now retracing back along the very same road the wind is in our faces again. How does it know? What have we done to offend it?  We’re now travelling down the other side of the Bitteroot mountains and that fire we’d seen hints of has grown in size with a haze of smoke now wafting across the road. We ride into Hamilton where we stop for the night exhausted from battling the breeze. Our tent gets another nice wash from the auto sprinklers in the park and I get a refreshing bath when I hop out in the middle of the night to unsuccessfully stop them from working.

Red sky at night, wildfire in sight

A Pontiac TransAm AKA Kitt from Knightrider

Pontiac TransAm

Amongst wealthy ranches we pick our way along a gravel track to Darby but as the valley narrows it can only mean that things are about to head back towards the sky. We rejoin the nice smooth road and spend most of the afternoon winching up to the top of the Chief Joseph Pass, another nod to the Nez Perce tribe who were led over these hills by this determined chief. We’re now at 2200m and at this point straddle the Continental Divide for the first time. Rain falling here will either run down one side to the Pacific or the other side to the Atlantic with this ridge splitting the country in two from Canada down to Mexico. It’s not the last we’ll be seeing of it either.

Climbing up to the Chief Joseph Pass

Relatives of the Nez Perce?

Our first visit to the Continental Divide

Woodland and wilderness pass by in a blur as we speed down past the Big Hole battlefield where Chief Joseph faced one of his fiercest and most bloody battles. We end up in Wisdom, a  tiny remote town without neighbours, claimed to be one of the coldest places in the country recording freezing temperatures for an average of 277 days of the year. We shiver the night away in a hut provided in the memorial park just outside of town. Again a facility that welcomes cyclists in return for a donation.

Past Big Hole on the way to Wisdom

Cyclist’s accommodation in Pioneer Park, Wisdom, MO

Evening view from Wisdom

There’s not a lot out here. It’s a barren, open plain surrounded by stark mountain ridges where cows, horses and hay are the only ways to make a living. That and hunting of course. People seem to be making a go of it and even nestled in an otherwise deserted valley next to the Pioneer Mountains there’s another ranch all on its own with signs that someone is in residence and somehow surviving.

Enormous livestock trucks in Wisdom

Wide open space outside Wisdom

A silence seeker

Hunter’s bar in Jackson

Hotel in Jackson

Jackson Main Street

Gateway to the Pioneer Mountains

Haystack making device and the cows it will feed

With Big Hole Pass (2255m) and Badger Pass  (2042m) climbed we’re made to work against the wind down into the town of Dillon which now feels like a city by comparison to the half deserted places we’ve just come through. Our search for a park to pitch our tent in is about to begin when we’re approached by Mark. He’s familiar with the look of a tired and hungry cyclist and guessing our next move he offers his front lawn for us to camp on.  It’s a real treat to be able to make use of their shower and in the morning we’re invited in for breakfast. Mark and Tammie worked as missionaries in Brazil for many years before moving to Montana where Mark took up the post of Baptist pastor. He’s now retired from helping people in a spiritual sense but still enjoys offering physical help like this. Being on the TransAm route gives him the chance to look after riders that are passing through so we’re not the first to have occupied his lawn. Clean and full we leave with grateful souls and make our way onwards with only a brief stop to load up the panniers and drain the credit card in the all too tempting Patagonia clothing outlet store.

Mark, our host in Dillon, MO

Camping on Mark and Tammie’s lawn

Dillon Historic Downtown

Passing Beaverhead rock we’re reminded that Lewis and Clarke witnessed these very same sights and used this distinctive feature as a waypoint as they pushed West. We also think about how many cyclists have enjoyed this road over the years. The Adventure Cycling Association estimates that up to 1200 people now take on the challenge each year and that amount of passing traffic can have a useful impact on some of the small towns along the route. Twin Bridges is one town that wanted to capitalise on this so they have set up a Bike Camp with a cozy hut, shower and work stand for bike fettling in their park. If it encourages more cyclists to stop here then that could really help the local restaurants and stores. It worked for us as we stock up with food and use the local library before retiring to the bike camp. In the grocery store there’s a wall of pictures showing proud hunters with their trophies and in the library there’s a stuffed lion from a former resident’s more exotic game hunting trip. In the camp we also meet Jeff, who is piecing together a unique route from the north down into Utah. Many of the Adventure Cycling Association routes intersect allowing people to be creative by combining and linking parts of various longer routes. In Jeff’s case he’s taken the Northern Tier, The TransAm, the Rocky Mountains ‘Great Parks South‘ Loop and the Western Express and come up with what looks to be an amazing trip.

Beaverhead Rock

Proud trophy hunter

There’s a lion in the library!

Bill White Bike Camp, Twin Bridges, MO

Bill White Bike Camp, Twin Bridges

Twin Bridges

Not all towns are as enterprising as Twin Bridges. This is an old gold mining area, an industry that is long past its boom times leaving behind deserted streets at Nevada City and a restored theme town in Virgina City. These 2 ghost towns that have retained a few breaths of life thanks to the tourists that come to visit them. Away from the main road other clumps of houses are left decaying and unloved, fading back into history.

Nevada City and Virginia City, MO

Nevada City. This town’s becoming like a ghost town.

Nevada City Saloon

Cash Converters, Nevada City

We seem to be riding over endless ranges of hills, the land ruffled up by the colliding tectonic plates and getting larger as we get nearer to the main part of the Rocky Mountains. After another steady winch we arrive in the Madison Valley and speed down into Ennis following signs to Willie’s Distillery. Could it be possible that there are two distillers of good whiskey in this country? Sadly not as Willie hasn’t had the same education that Chuck had had the benefit of back in Washington and has ruined it with various sweet additives. We are surprised when the barmaid asks if we’re the British couple of the tandem when we walk into the tasting room. Surely we’re not that famous? No, Jeff had arrived 3 minutes before us and told her to expect us. We find him camped behind the distillery and although it’s tempting to stop there too we make the decision that we should push on a bit further.

Looking down into Madison Valley

Willie’s Distillery delivery truck

The wind has other ideas. Try as we might we can’t get the bike moving much above 10kph and by the time we arrive at Cameron, the next tiny one horse town we’re wiped out. We set up the tent in as sheltered a position as we can and eat like a horse that’s been on the stage coach run before collapsing into bed. Again I may have mentioned this before but hills are hard work but rewarding so I don’t mind them too much. A headwind on the other hand is hard work with no prospect of a view or a swooping descent. I hate it.

Fields near Cameron, MO

Prong horned antelope

There’s no hiding from the now howling gusts the next day either and we continue to crawl along at maximal effort and minimal speed. We stop for a break at Windy Point boating area with no explanation needed as to how it was christened. Jeff catches us up and is glad he’s not alone to be suffering today. “I’ve been shouting at the wind all morning!”.

Big Sky Country

We ride together for a short while but his light load and young legs mean he’s soon off up the road without us. His route takes him back down into Idaho anyway so we let him branch off while we head on to Earthquake Lake.

In 1959 this area experienced a huge natural disaster when a massive earthquake caused the side of the valley to collapse taking the lives of 28 people. The landslide dammed the Madison river forming Earthquake Lake while upstream, Hebgen Lake tilted causing flooding on the north shore and leaving boats high and dry on the south side. A lot of the results of that fateful night are still visible as we ride through the valley past partly submerged trees and strewn boulders. It’s a striking example of the power of earth and how little we can do about it.

Approaching Earthquake Lake, the landslide took out the road ahead

Drowned trees in Earthquake Lake

We camp next to Hebgen Lake and sleep restlessly on constant alert for any tremors. Then it’s a short ride down into West Yellowstone, the town that forms a gateway into the world’s first national park. At 2.2 million acres, the same size as the States of Rhode Island and Delaware combined this is a part of the journey that we’ve been really looking forward to. It’ll also be the point that we cross into our next state and in Wyoming open space is due to take on a whole new dimension. The TransAmerica trail continues to carry us on  its meandering journey east, but that’s a story for another blog.

Nearing Yellowstone where the beasts will be big

Hebgen Lake

There are plenty more photos in the USA Gallery.




Port Angeles, WA – Halfway, OR

I always used to find it amusing that American films had to put Paris, France or London, England when captioning a location. To us it seems obvious where these places are but of course in the USA London could be any one of 5 different places in any one of 5 different states before even considering the original one across the pond. In our first 2 weeks in the States we’ll be passing familiar sounding towns like Olympia, Aberdeen, Melbourne, Dundee and Monmouth. The early settlers clearly weren’t the most imaginative people when it came to naming their towns.

4th August – 20th August 2016

At 5:45am we arrive at the ferry port in Victoria and after a bit of chit chat we’re stamped, cleared through customs and a man checks our tickets before allowing us on board. The ticket bar code reader makes a gunshot sound as if to say ‘welcome to the home of the free and the land of the armed’.

State #1 – Washington, The Evergreen State

A hearty breakfast awaits us in Port Angeles on the other side with pancakes, eggs and unlimited coffee being served up in a nearby cafe. This is a nation that knows how to kickstart a day. We then ride out alongside the sea on the Olympic Discovery trail, a dedicated traffic free path that we share with other cyclists and a few horses. The Olympic Peninsula is a particularly fitting place to be on the day that the greatest show on earth kicks off in Rio. Unfortunately we’re not going to have much time to sit in front of a TV to watch much of the action from the games given the length of the road ahead and the limited time we’ve got to ride it.

Topical location

After a night in the Olympic Forest we continue down route 101 with the Puget Sound on our left shoulder and hills and trees to our right. A sign for a distillery catches my eye and calls for a stop to investigate.  Americans are very good at ruining whisky so it’s with some trepidation that I accept a sample that the distiller proudly offers to us. Luckily he’s been taught by a master distiller from Scotland and been given strict instructions to keep it simple and ‘not add any extra rubbish’. The result is a fine tipple and we work our way through several other botanicals and aquavits just to make sure we’ve sampled the whole range. We leave with a bag of miniatures and decide it’s probably time for some lunch rather than get back on the bike straight away.

Riding alongside the Puget Sound

Chuck at the Hardware Distillery, Hoodsport,WA

Once our heads have cleared we work our way south again and then turn onto the 108  away from the Puget but toward the Pacific. The roads are wide and busy but there’s a good size shoulder for us to use so the traffic doesn’t feel too intimidating. Being mid-summer and a weekend there seems to be plenty going on. There are yard sales on every block, marshals are out for a running race but we seem to miss the race itself. In Elma we find ourselves in the middle of a classic car show and while inspecting the immaculate vehicles someone asks us if we’re part of the show too. The bike isn’t quite up to concourse condition so we decide against setting up our own exhibit and continue on.

Elma car show

Elma Car Show exhibit

This region is noticeably more rundown than the smart towns we’d left behind in BC. There are trailer parks and beaten up pickups amongst small single storey wooden houses. Patriotism is high though and the stars and bars fly from every other garden. We’ve seen the first signs of the upcoming presidential election too, mostly in support of Trump. We’ll be leaving the States just before the election itself which could be a good thing if this is any indication of the way the result may go.

Patriotic truck

Trump supporters. Keen on helping the disabled but not keen on cyclists.

In Raymond we get to enjoy a small festival where a local band is playing while kids are being towed in oil barrels on wheels behind an ATV. A  good time is being had by all and the temptation is to spend longer in these places but with plenty of daylight left we prise ourselves away and wring out a few more miles. Despite there being plenty of open countryside around us, very little of it is suitable for camping being either too boggy, or fenced off. We resort to stopping at a campground but when we discover that the cost  for 2 people and a tent is the same as that for an RV with 5 people we dispute their pricing policy. “We can soon fix that” the attendant tells us before snatching back the registration form and telling us in no uncertain terms to find somewhere else to stay.  A little taken aback we follow his advice and find a nice patch of ground a bit further on that is occupied by a large RV. A quick chat to the occupants, Cindy and Randy and we’re given the all clear to make use of a quiet corner of their plot.  It may lack the facilities of the campground but the much warmer welcome makes up for it.

Beautiful but too boggy for camping

Rose Ranch, WA

As we approach the coast we enter the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, a large area of wetland where we spot otters scampering across the huge mud flats. Then we arrive at the edge of the Pacific with 50km of sandy beach stretching off into the hazy distance, the adjacent town imaginatively being named Long Beach.  We’re now at the southern edge of Washington State and just need to cross the Columbia River to get into Oregon. It’s a big river at this point as it’s widening out into an estuary but the 6.5km long Megler bridge spans the crossing to the town of Astoria on the other side. There’s no cycle lane and there’s a vicious cross wind which calls for slow progress but we manage to stay upright and out of the water to roll down into our 2nd state.

Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

Otters in the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

Our first view of the Pacific from this side.

Crossing the Megler Bridge into Oregon

State #2 – Oregon, The Beaver State

Megler Bridge, Astoria, OR

Astoria has many claims to fame including being the setting for such classic films as The Goonies, Free Willy 2 , Short Circuit.  Kindergarten Cop and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. For us though its importance lies in the fact that it’s the official start (or finish) for the TransAmerica Cycle route. The Adventure Cycling Association’s original coast to coast epic route has seen cyclists leaving this point in increasing numbers over the last 40 years. It consists of 4300 miles of back roads, small towns, hills, mountains, parks, plains and prairies that take intrepid riders on a journey from one side of the country to the other. We expect a grand starting line commemorating this auspicious place and a crowd of people eagerly waiting to cheer off the next adventurous couple to take on the challenge. What we find instead is a large anchor on a quiet jetty with some ominous grey clouds gathering in the sky. There’s no mention of the TransAm or even any clues as to which direction we should be starting in. But perhaps this is more appropriate for something that is really just a personal adventure, a self-supported challenge that only those who have ridden it or have dreamed about riding it can fully understand.  We snap a photo, swing our legs over the bike, clip in and begin pedalling.

At the start of the TransAmerica Trail

The Oregon coast is a beautiful place. Enormous beaches are only broken up by the occasional rocky outcrop and the road we’re on stays within view of the water for most of the next 2 days while it rises up and down each headland. There are a couple of longer climbs, one with a tunnel part way up that includes a handy safety feature for cyclists. On the approach there’s a button to press that activates some warning lights so that motorists know there’s a bike up ahead. Given the number of huge RV’s, trucks and careless holiday drivers anything like this to make the road a bit safer is very welcome. At the highest point the best view on the entire coast is hidden from us by some thick sea mist giving us a good reason to come back here one day and ride the full length of the Pacific coast (another popular ACA route).

The beach at Seaside

Lewis and Clarke statue in Seaside. We’ll be following in the footsteps of these two for much of our route.

Haystack rack. One Eyed Willy’s ship wasn’t sailing on this day.

Windswept houses in Seaside

Push the button and the lights flash so cars know there’s a bike in the tunnel.

 

These two were enjoying riding the entire Pacific coast down to Mexico but I think she wasn’t pedalling on the back.

Although the TransAm continues further down the coast we choose to turn inland at Tillamook and head towards Portland. But not before stopping at the famous Tillamook Cheese Factory. Something we really missed during our time in Asia was good cheese so to be in a part of the world that appreciates tasty dairy products again is a real treat.

Long vehicle. And a logging truck.

Tillamook cheese factory.

Cheese!

There’s a climb up to 1550 feet through the Tillamook Forest Park and we seem to have left the holiday traffic behind so can enjoy the easy gradient in a bit more peace.  Our destination for the day is Hillsboro just outside Portland, where we’re greeted by Hal and Kat, our WarmShowers hosts and told to pitch the tent next to ‘the ladies’. In the back garden we find that ‘the ladies’ are a small forest of marijuana plants standing seven feet tall and occupying a good portion of the available space. Oregon is one of the states that has legalised the drug so, within certain limits, smokers can happily cultivate plants for their own purposes and Hal has become something of an expert. He’s also an expert witness for litigation cases involving cyclists which keeps him busy when he’s not occupied by his horticultural activities. Accidents are almost always followed up by some form of court case to apportion the blame and Hal’s expert judgement can help to decide who foots the bill. It’s not always the driver at fault either.

Tillamook Forest Park

Enormous flag in Forest Grove

Camping with the ‘ladies’

Hal and Kat our hosts in Hillsboro

Passing through Hillsboro the next day we stop off at the office of my former employer Hydro Intentional to say hello, much to their surprise, before we make our way into the center of Portland. This is a city that has a reputation for being a hive of cycling activity and we’re soon in amongst bike lanes filled with mothers on cargo bikes, hipsters on fixies and day to day commuters. Like Vancouver, the level of activity and general atmosphere makes it an attractive city and again it’s one of the more sought after destinations in this part of the world.

Old Town Brewery Portland

Bike friendly Portland

Portland also has plenty of food carts

The Cheezus. A burger with toasted cheese sandwiches instead of buns. We’ll burn off the calories in no time.

There are loads of bike shops so our mission to find some new tyres ought to be simple but the fickle nature of the bike industry has thrown a spanner in the works. Once again our ‘industry standard’ 26″ wheels are now not as standard as we thought. Over the course of the last few years 29″ and 27.5″ wheels have become more popular to the extent that even here in Portland few shops stock the 26″ tyres we need. Eventually a small shop in the suburbs comes to our rescue and the friendly mechanic in Joe Bike wrestles a brand new Schwalbe Marathon onto our rear wheel for us. Wheels and tyres have been our biggest headache during the trip so far and it seems even here our worries are far from over.

Joe Bike in Portland to the rescue

The extended tyre search means it’s too late to get clear of the city limits so we find a riverside park to hide in for the night. However we’re discovered not by the police but by Hein, a keen cyclist who spots the loaded tandem and comes over for a chat. He’s apologetic that he can’t offer us a bed for the night which is fine as we’re happy to make use of the park. But to make up for it he returns a bit later armed with wine and snacks which we gratefully accept in return for an evening chatting about our travels. After the ‘American war’, he and his family escaped from their home in Vietnam and landed here in America where he’s lived ever since. We encourage him to take his bike back to south east Asia as we’re pretty sure he’ll be amazed by how much has changed since he left.

Hein, our generous wine supplier in Portland

Americans are certainly the most forward nation of people we’ve met. After climbing out of Portland we stop for a picnic and Jackie approaches us, curious about our bike. Before long she’s pouring out her heart while we nod and smile with typical British awkwardness. Two cultures divided by a common language as the saying goes. She seems to draw some inspiration when we tell her about our trip and we wish her luck in finding her own adventure.

Riding south of Portland

The day heats up and we discover that it costs 99¢ for an iced soda regardless of the size of the cup in most gas stations so of course we go for the largest. A 60oz hit of freezing cold, sugar-loaded fizzy drink really hits the spot though the size of the cup is really quite ridiculous.

The farmers are making good use of the sunshine with 7 combine harvesters working an enormous field. We pass hazelnut orchards and stop for fresh peaches. The air is full of sweet smells when the road takes us past a peppermint distillery. Then as the day begins to draw to a close we spot a big sign for the Polk County Fair and Rodeo. We shrug and decide it’s probably worth a look. The wholesome evening’s entertainment includes tough guys hanging onto violent bulls, tough cowgirls racing round barrels and tough kids clinging onto charging sheep. The latter, known as mutton bustin’ provides the best spectacle by far.  We decide to pass on the offer of paying a dollar for a photo with a cardboard cutout of Trump and ride into the dark to find a quiet park to camp in nearby Monmouth.

Industrial scale farming

Fresh and tasty peaches

The Rough Stock Rodeo

Buckin’ Horse

Hold on tight!

Mutton Bustin’

The champion’s technique was to ride the sheep backwards

We skirt round Eugene to rejoin the official TransAm route and begin heading up the McKenzie Valley following the beautiful crystal clear river with the occasional covered bridge crossing over it. This is the start of our first proper climb and the road picks up a few notches on the gradient scale as the view ahead becomes filled with the Cascade mountain range. We winch up through the forest then the trees suddenly give way to a mass of jagged black pumice. We’re passing through an enormous lava field laid down 1500 years ago when the nearby Belknap Crater blew its top. Around us are the peaks of Mount Washington, Mount Jefferson and, peeping out from 86 miles away, Mount Hood. We crest the summit of the McKenzie Pass at 5335 feet then dive down to the quaint little town of Sisters.

Goodpasture Covered Bridge

Goodpasture covered bridge over the McKenzie River

 

Sisters Mountains

Riding up through the lava fields on McKenzie Pass

Feeding the chipmunks

Belknap Crater

Mount Washington

Summit of McKenzie Pass

The difference from one side of the mountains to the other is huge. The lush greens of douglas firs have been replaced by arid browns and sparse lodgepile pines. The fertile arable fields are now dry prairie with cows nibbling at the tough desert foliage. Huge irrigation rigs are trying their best to make the ground more usable. In a riverside park we set up camp on some suspiciously healthy grass only to find out why it’s so green when the automatic sprinklers hose down the tent at 2 in the morning.

Descending into Sisters

Cattle ranch

Steve, who finished the TransAm recently and kindly stopped to buy us a coffee

It’s a landscape that holds its own kind of beauty though. A hot sweaty climb takes us through more woods that have recently been ravaged by wild fires over to Mitchell where we glimpse the edges of the painted hills with their bands of orange, yellow and green etched into the rocks. An art project that has taken millennia to form. Mitchell is a tiny town that would be easy to pass by, but a big barrel of water by the roadside accompanied by a sign welcoming cyclists makes sure that we stop. The barrel sits outside a white weatherboard church that has been turned into a hostel for cyclists and inside we find rows of comfy looking bunk beds and Elainie wearing a big smile. She offers us a shower and dinner which seals the deal that we’ll be staying the night. Jalet bought the church last year and after a winter of renovation began taking in passing travellers. They hope that money raised from donations will help to pay for a full time pastor for the town. A neat solution to help both the town and those passing through.

Cooling off in Ochoco Reservoir

4/10

On our way into Mitchell

The Spoke’n Hostel, Mitchell

Mitchell locals who told us the road would ‘go up for a long stretch and then get kinda crooked.’

The long climb out of Mitchell

The TransAm is full of nice surprises like that. We sleep in another church the following night in Dayville that has been hosting cyclists since the 70’s. Hundreds of people have made use of its floor space and tonight there are 3 more to add to the list of guests. We’re joined by Chris whose story would make for a good episode of Jerry Springer. After a complicated relationship with his wife, children and the father of his wife’s other children came to an end he took off on a Walmart bike from new Jersey and pointed his front wheel in the direction of Seattle. Along the way he’s acquired a trailer and tent, given by sympathetic folk he’d met. It’s not been an easy journey but he’s into the final stretch now so it looks like he’ll soon be making his fresh start in a brand new town and can pursue his goal of finding his ‘true love’ (although he seems to have eyes for Kirsty and then for her stoker’s seat after I let him have a ride on the back of the tandem).

Bedding down in Dayville Presbyterian Church

Horsehoe cross in Dayville Presbyterian Church

Chris heading West again

Dayville Post Office

Dayville olde stores

Wild country

Ranch outside Dayville

The mercury is over 40°C during the day now so any rare chance to find shade is taken. This is rugged, wild west countryside and the map is full of evocative names like Rattlesnake Creek, Smoky Boulder Road, Big Lookout Mountain and Hell’s Canyon. The people we meet ‘sure do like our accent’ with the way we say the word water (wor-ter instead of wah-da) being a particular favourite. “It sounds way cooler the way y’all say it! Which part of Australia are you from?”. In the distance massive plumes of smoke are pouring up into the air. We later learn that close to 30,000 acres of wilderness are currently on fire, started from a lightning strike and an annual occurrence in this area. It’s been burning for a week and has been growing by the day.

41.7°C

Grabbing rest in the shade where we can

Thank the irrigators too

Wildfire near Prairie City

Wildfire at Sunset

Outside the grocery sure In Prairie City we bump into a chap called Chuck who turns out to be a bit of a local character. His life story includes fighting in the Korean war, learning to diffuse bombs in the Philippines, being a property mogul and his current occupation is as the owner of several gold mines. Unprompted he tells us how he believes Trump should build the wall across the Mexican border and that he believes only Fox news is telling the truth. It’s a story that we couldn’t have made up, but we suspect Chuck might have exaggerate some of the finer points. I guess our story is no less bizarre as we set up the tent in a quiet corner of a cemetery for the night.

Prairie City Mural

Chuck: soldier, real estate tycoon, gold miner, local legend

While we ride up and down several hills on our way to Baker City we pass clumps of deserted houses, ghost towns that haven’t survived after the local gold mines ran out of the shiny stuff. Baker City offers a nugget for us as we pick up two new tyres from Falstaff Cycles and a bucket of fried chicken.

These hills must have been full of promise in those early days but couldn’t support the huge increase in population for long. Our route follows several historically significant trails including the path led by Lewis and Clarke when they set out to explore the unclaimed lands in the West. The famous Oregon Trail that carried thousands of hopeful prospectors and settlers into these new lands in the mid 1800’s runs over the hills near Baker City and we stop to take a look at the still visible waggon tracks.

Covered waggon with views to the Strawberry Mountains

Cattle ranch near Baker City

Original waggon tracks of the Oregon Trail

Modern day Oregon Trail carrying RVs into the ‘new territories’

Road down into the desert after Baker City

Another casualty of the heat

Grocery store ornaments in Richland

The amount of open and apparently unused space gives the impression that most of this land is still unclaimed but a closer look reveals that it is fenced and the No Trespassing signs warn off even the stealthiest of campers. We’re now nearing the edge of Oregon and spend our last night in Halfway. A town whose name has no bearing on how much more of the TransAm we still have to ride, which is plenty more than half. Oregon has been a state with plenty of contrast. To think that only a few days ago we were wrapping up against the cold sea mist, then up through rain forests and over snow topped mountains to arrive in a baking dessert with parched and burning wilderness. Already the TransAm has been full of surprises. Next we’ve got the hot rocks of Hells Canyon to negotiate before we cross into Idaho whose first town will be Cambridge. Now there’s another name that sounds familiar…

Climb before Halfway

Halfway by name but not by nature

Halfway Church

There are plenty more photos in the USA Gallery.