One of the greatest things about a journey or a dream lived is being able to share the experience through pictures. Others may not feel the same way about the moments you captured but they sure are excellent reminders and great proofs of that time in your life that you never want to forget. Here are some of my favorite moments from “Feeling Free on the MRT”:
LOUISIANA (May 14th to 17th, 2014 – 187 miles):
DAY 1: The excitement begins in New Orleans, LA where I stayed with Warm Showers host, Erin and Bill. They are a very generous couple who met each other in Seattle, WA during the STP (Seattle to Portland) ride with the Cascades Riders Club. During my two day stay, they shared enchanting and inspiring stories of their past tours together and about other cyclists that have stayed with them before me. After giving me solid tips and pointers for my journey ahead, I left their home and began my trip on May 14th against headwinds and flat roads. By day 4, I was experiencing severe pain in my left knee which almost caused me to give up and go back to Seattle without finishing. On top of that, I had my first flat tire on day 1 and my second flat on day 3 of my ride so my spirits were low. Fortunately, I was greatly helped by fellow motorists (Terry, Wayne and Dee-Dee) who gave me a hand and shared their stories with me. The last night I spent in Louisiana was with another wonderful couple, Maria and Kevin, who took me in because there weren’t any campgrounds in the area to stay at. They were impressed by my solo endeavor and encouraged me to keep going when I was at my lowest lows on the road. A warm “Thank You” to everyone I met in Louisiana: a place that will always feel like another home to me.
MISSISSIPPI (May 17th to 24th, 2014 – 373 miles; 560 miles total):
I crossed the Louisiana and Mississippi border where I met Rolf Stengl in Natchez, MS. He became my traveling companion for three weeks teaching me how to efficiently ride long distances while giving me simple reminders about life. From Natchez we rode to Vicksburg, MS and met campground host, Annette M., who gave us a tour of Vicksburg and then took us out to dinner at a New Orleans style restaurant where we feasted on crayfish. She was a wonderful addition to the connections we made on the road, reminding us of the happiness achieved in living a simple life.
More road shots on the Mississippi Highway before settling down at another campground at Chotard Lake. Our tents were becoming our home away from home.
Woke up early to ride 57 miles to Chatham, MS where we rested for 2 days at Roy’s Store Campground.
Rest day #2 was spent on Lake Washington fishing with a family I met at breakfast. The next day, we pedaled 61 miles to Rosedale where we were treated to another boat ride on the Mississippi River. This time by the grocery store owner of Piggly Wiggly, Forrest. He took us in for the night when we discovered that the area’s campground had been shut down due to flooding. On top of that, an amazing customer at the Piggly Wiggly’s grocery store had anonymously and graciously bought our food for the day. This was the start of paying it forward…
While riding from Rosedale to Tunica Resorts (an 86 mile day) we crossed paths with our first cyclist – Bob Gailey. He was doing his tour from north to south along the Mississippi River and was a few days away from finishing.
I introduced the snack combination of celery and peanut butter to Rolf and he loved it! We were trying out all sorts of ways to eat on the road in order to maintain our energy and this involved some trail and error. Peanut butter, tuna and avocado, bananas and chocolate milk became a staple for us. We also wanted to take pictures from different perspectives to capture our ride on the road so this involved some creativity. In Memphis, we stayed with Warm Showers host, Dan Phillips and his two basset hounds, Cody and Cassie. He is a music director at the university and once led Adventure Cycle Tours across America. As a result, we heard a lot of amazing stories during our two day rest.
We crossed the border of Tennessee and Kentucky – the shortest state that we rode through. Here we took a break or two at railroad crossings which was a good excuse to soak up the day and to slow down.
We arrived in Illinois – the longest state that we rode through. Here, we experienced different types of terrains. From dirt roads…
to beautiful waterfalls, to historical covered bridges and many more…
We also crossed paths with other cyclists on the road. Near Chester, IL (the home of Popeye) we met Larry and Rex from Bellingham, WA who were both riding coast to coast from east to west. Then, outside of Pleasantville, IL we met Theresa (from Alaska) who was riding solo along the Mississippi River from north to south. She had plans to stop in Missouri to ride on the Katy Trail and was going to loop back up to Iowa to complete the RagBrai Bike Tour. It’s hard not to be inspired by these people!
We arrived in Missouri to visit St. Louis for a three day rest. Rolf and I stayed with separate Warm Showers host. Mine was a comfortable and fun couple, Dana and Jerry, who I felt like I had known for a long time. They showed me (and I tasted) their honey harvest from the bees they kept in their backyard as well as enjoyed their homemade granola for breakfast. And I was their score keeper for their Monday night Ultimate Frisbee game – a sport I wished to play too. Most of all, my last night stay was a night to remember. We made dinner together with their friends and played music while drinking wine and telling great stories. They gave me the nickname, Amelia Earhart, since I was their first female solo rider that they’ve hosted over the years!
All that said, St. Louis was also a place where I faced some complications: 1) A broken rear rack, which I was able to replace at a local bike store. 2) A new rear tire replacement since getting a piece of glass lodged in the original tire on day 1 while riding on highway 61. 3) A need to rest my hands. As a result of riding long days and gripping on a flat bar, I had lost all gripping power in my hands and couldn’t eat food with a spoon, fork, or chopsticks. I also couldn’t open or close the snaps on my panniers and my helmet, or zip up my shirts or pull up/tie my pants, much less hold a phone to my ear to call a friend or write in my journal. Thus, I upgraded to ergonomic handlebars and this saved my life.
Here, we rode over the longest bridge in the world designated for walkers and bikers only! This was just outside of St. Louis, MO which crossed over the Mississippi River back to the Illinois side. Later, we crossed a bridge over to Hannibal, MO to visit the home of Mark Twain.
IOWA (June 7th to 8th, 2014 – Keokuk; and June 10th, 2014 – Quad Cities, 13 miles total):
We had rainy days here which changed the pace of our ride. Later on, I got caught fixing a flat. This time it was with my front tire and it was number 5 of 6 flat tires encountered on the road. My last flat tire occurred on the last day of my ride on Highway 61 in Minnesota – the same highway I got my first flat on day 1 in Louisiana. Thus, a great example of coincidences. I also stopped riding with Rolf on June 10th in order to apply what I had learned from him and do the rest of the ride on my own. We still keep in touch since parting ways that day.
WISCONSIN (June 12th to 16th, 2014 – 272 miles; 1640 miles total):
Riding in Wisconsin was difficult but fun and gorgeous at the same time too. I faced over 200 miles of headwinds and serious hill climbs that tested my strength and stamina. I took lots of water breaks while looking back on what I just did and it was exhilarating! And then I was always rewarded with great sights. The picture above was taken right outside of my tent where I camped at Rieke’s Lake Campground in Alma, WI. This was also the last night I spent in my tent on the road before finishing the tour. But before Rieke’s Lake, I stayed with a Warm Showers host in LaCrosse, WI – the Hoffmann’s. They met me on their tandem bike and rode the last 5-8 miles of that day back to their house where I washed up and enjoyed a night on the town with their friend’s, Ben and Kelly. Splurging on ice cream after dinner, they gave me a tour of LaCrosse and were great examples of the expression: “Paying it forward”. I later met up with their son, Jake, in Minneapolis, MN after finishing up my MRT tour. We went out for breakfast and he shared his adventures of hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and riding his bike from the Florida Keys to Seattle, WA.
MINNESOTA (June 16th to 17th, 2014 – 148 miles; 1788 miles GRAND total):
In Red Wing, MN I stayed with my last Warm Showers host, Katelyn Swanson, who rode her bike with a friend along the western coast from Vancouver, BC to Los Angeles, CA. She took me out on a hike up a bluff that overlooked the town before I was introduced to her friends at her favorite restaurant. Back at her home we reminisced about our lives on the road by bikes and she inspired me to plan my next trip from Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA while I hope I inspired her to ride along the Mississippi River one day too. The next morning I finished up my MRT tour while taking in one last sight – Lake Pepin. I arrived in Trish and Rob’s driveway at 3:50pm on June 17th, 2014 – commencing my “Feeling Free on the MRT”!