We made it! San Francisco to New York City

We made it! Yeeee-haaaa!! Four thousand miles. From The Golden Gate in San Francisco California to Battery Park Manhattan, New York.

OK, we did get to New York a little while ago, so we should apologize for not saying something sooner but once we got to New York we needed to do some serious “vegging out”. Nothing like a few days on the beach and a lot of home cooked meals and to help us readjust to life off the bicycle.

Now that have finished the trip, it is hard to believe that something that was such a huge part of our life for the past year is now over. With all of the training, the route planning, the shopping for gear, etc, etc, this has been our “purpose in life” for the past nine months. We are still kind of wondering what the next big thing will be. Hmm … Gabrielle keeps talking about riding from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg.

For those of you following us on our web site, we are sorry for not keeping up to date. After riding all day, day after day, it does get to a point where even the best riding becomes a bit of a grind. At some point (like when we hit Missouri) keeping up our site just became a lot of work. We really did intend to get it back up to date but … Oh well. We will post our photos and the rest of our journal soon.

We send our thanks and love to everyone for their encouragement, prayers, email and assorted good thoughts.

The Middle of the USA

The Salt Marsh near Newton Kansas is about as close to the geographic center of the USA as we will ever get.

Day 39: Newton to Eureka
72 miles

Our ride to Newton passed as close as we are going to the geographic center of the continental USA. Near this point there is a great salt marsh that is the last remnant of some ancient sea. Strangely, there is a kind of land locked white pelican that still lives here. We saw a group fly over us as we passed and couldn’t believe it, pelicans so far from the sea.

At the same time we bumped into a couple cycling from Massachusetts to Oregon. They left the East Coast the same day we left San Francisco. How funny. We bump into a cyclist a week and just happen to meet this couple dead center in the trip.

Mennonites originally settled the area around Newton. There are still many that live in the area and there is a Mennonite college in Newton as well. Newton was a breath of fresh air to us. We found a great health food store there and stocked up on tasty snacks. The owner of the health food store recommended a restaurant for lunch that is in a yoga studio. How cool is that for a couple of yuppie Californian’s in Kansas. It was really good.

The scenery is starting to change. We are seeing small hills now and more water. Eureka is nothing to write home about so we won’t.

Yee-Ha!!! A Waterslide

Chanute Kansas has one of the best public pools we have ever seen. And a great waterslide too.

Day 40: Eureka to Chanute
63 miles

This was the prettiest day in Kansas yet. We encountered trees, hills, rich pastureland and even a lake. We hit two real hills today and had to drop into the granny gear for the first time in over a week. And what goes up must come down. Yee-haaa!

Along the way we bumped into a Scotsman and an Irishman cycling across the USA heading west. They raved about the pool in Chanute we were heading that day. They said it was the best pool they had ever seen and … IT HAS A WATERSLIDE!!!

The thought of an afternoon at the pool pumped us up and we made it to Chanute in no time. We checked in, showered and jumped on the bike in search of food and the pool. After an OK lunch we set out for the pool. We were not disappointed. It was a very hot day and there were a lot of kids at the pool. The pool is huge and the water clear. And there at the far side, in the deep end, stands the water slide. It is big, about 30 feet high with four hairpin turns. Yeeee-haaaaa! We must have gone down that slide twenty times.

That night, back at the hotel, we were treated to a great Kansas light show. A big thunderstorm brewed up in the west and rolled into Chanute shortly after sundown. It was a sight to see.

Crossing the Great Plains

The Great Plains are vast and we hit them during a heat wave. Up at 5 and on the road by 6 to beat the heat, we crossed the as fast as we could.

Day 32: Pueblo to Ordway
50 miles

Day 33: Ordway to Eads
62 miles

Day 34: Eads to Leoti
80 miles

Day 35: Leoti to Ness City
83 miles

Day 36: Ness City to Larned
68 miles

Day 37: Larned to Hutchinson
72 miles

Day 38: Hutchinson to Newton
46 miles

Heading east from Pueblo (the locals say PEE-blo) we descended into The Great Plains. Pueblo is still at a pretty high elevation but the Plains drop ever so slightly as you head east. The grade is so slight that you really cannot tell that you are loosing elevation. For the first morning, we could see the San Juans to the West but sometime during the day they just disappeared into the western horizon and that was it, no more mountains.

The territory changes ever so subtly as you cross the Great Plains. The western Plains in Colorado are very dry, almost a high desert (many ranchers sold water rights to Denver). As you head East, you begin to see immense wheat farms that stretch as far as you can see and eventually as you get into wetter country East of the 100th meridian, you begin to see more variety in the crops and a few trees. This change occurs very slowly over a few hundred miles. So while Eastern Colorado is vastly different from Eastern Kansas when traveling by bicycle the change is so gradual that the overall effect is that the entire route is just one very long stretch of road.

Mostly cycling across the Plains was very hot, very windy and very flat. We quickly fell back into a routine similar to Nevada where we would wake a 5AM to be on the road by 6 to beat the heat and winds. Leaving at 6AM we would normally hit our destination by 1PM, check into a motel and hide with the air conditioning on until around 6 or 7 in the evening. Unluckily, when crossing the Plains, we hit a hot spell and it was over 100 every day, usually over 105.

Cycling through Eastern Colorado and Kansas was kind of a blur to us. We didn’t take a single rest day in an effort to push through to more hospitable climates. One day blended into another so that it now difficult to remember where a particular hotel was, or where we ate a certain meal, etc. What does stand out though is the immensity of the landscape. You can tell you are approaching a town when you can begin to make out the local Co-op grain elevator 10-15 miles in the distance. Over the next hour the elevator slowly appears larger and larger until finally you can read the writing on the side and you are there.

The Plains remind me of the ocean in their unrelenting monotony. I used to have dreams of sailing off the edge of the ocean. In the dreams, when you got to the edge, you could see that there was another ocean about 500 feet below the edge of the earth and water just pouring over the edge into the lower ocean. The Plains gave me a similar sensation. Looking out to the horizon in any direction, I felt that I was always just an hour’s ride from falling off the edge of the world.

If we happened to be in a slight depression, I got the sensation of being a dust particle sitting in an enormous dinner plate that curves ever so slightly up at the edges. If we were on a slight rise, I felt like a dust particle in the middle of the biggest stack of pancakes in the universe, puffy in the middle and sloping off before dropping at the edges.

We happened to be going through The Plains during the wheat harvest in one of the biggest wheat production years in recent memory. Apparently everything went right this year and created ideal conditions for the Spring Wheat. It was a record crop.

The harvest is pretty impressive and definitely broke up the monotony of the landscape. There are many, many workers that head into the Plains for the harvest, in some areas you will see huge rigs pulling extra wide harvesters which take up the better part of the two lane highway. There are also rigs pulling 5th wheels and full size mobile homes that are used to house workers and for temporary offices.

What makes it even more impressive is that driving down the highway, you can still only see a small portion of the plains. Often you will come across a dirt road with a sign with an arrow saying something like this: “Thompson Farms, Five miles East, Three North”. You look, you can’t see a thing, but it is out there.

The people of Kansas are great. So far they were the friendliest and most courteous people we have met. Every driver gives you room and waves and everyone wants to know your story. After cycling across the Plains, we developed a tremendous respect for those people. It is a tough place and a tough life but where and what would the rest of us be without the wheat farmers?

Sangre de Cristo

The Sangres are the last mountains we will see for a long time and they are beautiful.

Day 30: Salida to Westcliff
64 miles

One more full day in the mountains and this one was a good one. The road from Salida follows the Arkansas River for a few miles before heading away from the main highway and South along the Sangre de Cristos. Along the river, we pass by so many whitewater river outfitters that we wonder how they can all make a living.

After a while we climbed from the Arkansas River Valley up a steep secondary road to Hillside in the Wet Mountain Valley. This is gorgeous country! The Sangre de Cristos are every bit as awesome as the San Juans but much more uniform. Where the San Juans are jaggedy and twisted, the Sangres line up in a straight line, one 14,000 foot peak after another.

Early in the afternoon we rolled into Westcliff (there is no cliff) and we love it instantly. It is a small town in a beautiful green valley about five miles from the base of the Sangres. There is another set of mountains to the East which are the last mountains before the Plains. The town itself only has a few hundred residents but has a lot going on. There is a concert series, a rodeo and an art festival each summer and it has a cosmopolitan feel for such a small town.

That night we stayed at the Courtyard in right in the center of town. John Johnston who we also took an immediate liking to owns the Courtyard. John and his wife Laura are recent (three years) transplants from Ft. Worth Texas who seem to have landed in paradise. John is also a real estate broker (Custer Freemont Realty) which he runs out of offices in the front of the building. They have had the hotel for just a few months and are still in the process of renovating it.

We had a very nice conversation and a couple of beers with John and Laura and they give us a great alternate route to Pueblo the next day that took an unpaved county road through the mountains via an area called Rosalita.

Day 31: Westcliff to Pueblo
66 miles

The alternate route that John gave us was a perfect way to end our time in the Rockies. There were wild flowers everywhere and we finally saw the fields of Columbine that we had been looking for throughout Colorado.

After a final climb to about 9500 feet, it wasn’t long before we were tearing down the final descents of the Eastern Rockies and into the Plains. The sky opened up like we had never seen before with the horizon seeming to just drop off the edge of the earth.

Four thousand feet lower, twenty degrees hotter and a couple of hours later we were in Pueblo and The Great Plains. And so ended the beautiful mountainous western portion of our trip.

The Continental Divide by Bike

We did it!!!! We crossed the Continental Divide by bicycle!!!

Day 29: Gunnison to Salida (sa-LIE-da)
65 miles and the crossing of the Continental Divide

That is how they pronounce it here, sa-LIE-da. But we kept calling it sa-LEE-da like the Spanish do. Whatever.
Anyway, this was a really big day for us, monumental in fact. From the Pacific Ocean to the Continental divide by bike!!!!! Yeeeee-haaaaaaaa! Monarch pass is one of our major milestones along with the Mississippi river and the Atlantic. We took photos, bought souvenirs in the gift shop, smiled a lot and gave each other great big hugs and kisses.

From there it was a very fast descent into Salida where we had two great meals (lunch and dinner) at The Country Corner café and tasty beers at the local brew pub. It was their annual “Art Walk” in downtown Salida so the town was jumpin’ with energy. The Arkansas River roars right through the middle of town and they really took advantage of it. There is a very nice park along the river in town and also a white water park right in the river. We got some great photos of some freestyle kayakers rolling and flipping in an area where they created a little wave with rocks. (insert link…).

We had a lot of fun but somehow missed the Thompson’s. We cycled with them for a couple of hours before ascending Monarch pass but after a snack break we never saw them again. We wish them tailwinds and good luck.