San Francisco to New York to San Diego

May - July 1990

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Week 3

28 May - Monday - 0.7 miles/871 total
Pine Mountain State Park

Morning, and our campsite was soaked.  My tent seams were not cooperating - they had let in just enough water to make me uncomfortable and to dampen the foot of my sleeping bag.  My tent was half in a puddle of water on the sandy campsite.  It was still raining hard, so we decided to take the day off. In the hope of keeping our gear from getting wetter, we moved everything except tents over to the pavilion, trying to avoid getting wet sand over everything.   So far the two days we had taken off on our own, in campgrounds, we took off because of rain!  So that morning we read, and watched the struggles of other campers in the rain. 

Lunch was spaghetti; we pooled our pastas and sauce and came up with enough to eat.  Afterwards, I took a walk down to the main lodge, which was fairly nice.  There were two stories of rooms, a gift shop, and a restaurant; somewhere also there were separate cabins.  I hung out on the veranda and read for a while, watching the generally middle aged and elderly guests stroll around when the rain stopped.  

I walked back up to the campground to collect Chris; we then went back down to the lodge restaurant for dinner.  I made the mistake of ordering off the menu; Chris chose the buffet, and even though he stuck with vegetarian items, he got a lot more to eat than I did! The restaurant looked out over a descending, steep wooded valley that must have produced some respectable thermals; we spent dinner watching hawks circle over the valley.

Altogether the state resort park was a nice place, in spite of the rain, and definitely a cut above the average state park.  The map showed that there were other resort parks across the state, apparently with lodges and restaurants, and in places we would likely be passing near, so we resolved to stay at as many as we could.

29 May - Tuesday - 74.5 miles/946 total
Pine Mountain State Park to Blue Heron Campground

Once again it was raining as we got up.  Dragging everything to the pavilion to pack, we were soon ready to go, and having no real excuse not to start out, coasted downhill to Pineville, where we found a laundromat. 

This was our first go at a public laundromat on the road.  Before, we had used laundry facilities at campgrounds; unfortunately, Pine Mountain had none.  As we were dressed in riding clothes that we wanted to wash, we wound up changing in the tiny rest room at the laundromat; then changing back after everything was clean.  This left dirty only the shorts and shirt I wore during the washing - not a big deal. The manager gave us directions to the nearest Pizza Hut, and we headed there as soon as our clothes were dry, as it was on our route.  This Pizza Hut was the first in a long line of Pizza Huts, although not our first pizza restaurant; the main advantages of Pizza Huts, their acceptability to a vegetarian (Chris), and their salad bars, made them a natural stop for us when we came across one at meal time.

That part of Kentucky was supposed to be full of coal trucks, and we certainly came across some.  And they barreled by at high speeds on shoulderless roads.  But we got lucky as there weren't as many as we were afraid there were going to be.

Arriving in Pine Knot, we found that the state campground marked on the map, and which we had been heading toward, Alum Ford, was down a gravel road and had no toilets or showers We heard, though, about another campground farther on in the Big South Fork Recreation Area.  I was a little dubious about whether it really existed, as what we heard wasn't very specific, but we went on, and eventually found a sign pointing the way.  The Blue Heron campground of the National Forest Service was seven miles off the main road, and the route there was a bit hilly, but it was worth it.  The facilities were modern and mostly deserted.  We staked claim to a nice large grassy plot with RV hookups and took long showers in a huge shower and toilet area. 

The store in Pine Knot that we had stopped at had only minimal supplies for dinner, and it turned out there was no open supermarket around.  This meant pasta again, and some unexciting supplies for breakfast.  But Chris found some marshmallows, and building his usual campfire, got them toasted.  The campsite had a hook on a steel pole meant for hanging food, and we used it, packing all our food into a couple of bags after dinner.

30 May - Wednesday - 127.2 miles/1073 total
Blue Heron Campground to Barren River State Park

Having gone seven miles south, off the main road that was our route west, we had to retrace our steps, over some fairly steep hills.  We had got a late start, but we decided to push for high mileage.  With an occasional exception, the terrain was less and less hilly and the going fairly easy, rolling without long climbs.  The coal truck traffic had petered out at last and there wasn't a lot of other traffic.  Gradually we saw signs that we were reentering civilization; the towns looked more prosperous, the accent was more easily understood.  One very obvious sign of where we were, though, was the huge number of churches we passed, almost always some variety of Baptist.  In fact it seemed that it was only in the larger towns that we saw any denomination other than Baptist. 

Somewhere along in this area a spoke broke, the second of the trip, as I had broken one the day before.  Both were on the rear wheel, and I hadn't bothered to bring any spares with me.  After the second spoke went, I unhooked my rear brake, so that the wheel, which was now pretty far out of true, would be free to turn.  Luckily there were no long downhills to worry about, and I had no braking problems.  But I knew I would be unlikely to come across a bicycle shop anytime soon, so I was very careful about potholes and curbs.  Three spokes gone on my thirty-six spoke rims would have been a major problem.   

I was hoping to find a bicycle shop in Glasgow, but since we didn't get there until after six, there was really no point in looking around for one.  Bowling Green, though, was sure to have a shop, as it was a major university center. 

Glasgow was a real town, complete with town square with a courthouse in the middle, and shops all around.  But everything was closed except the ATMs. 

From Glasgow we turned south toward our campground for the night, Barren River State Resort Park, where we arrived at dusk, not too long before the lodge restaurant was supposed to close.  So we let the ranger at the campground gate know we would be back, and headed down to the restaurant.  Once there, we managed to change, into street clothes. This place was quite a bit nicer than Pine Mountain; there was a large pool, the rooms seemed more modern and there were more of them, and the customers seemed a bit more upscale.  This time we went for the buffet, which wasn't bad and where we could eat all we wanted.  One disadvantage of these resort park restaurants is that you can't buy a drink, not even beer; but I wasn't too worried about that as alcohol just dehydrates me when I'm riding long distances.

31 May - Thursday - 129.4 miles/1203 total
Barren River State Park to Lake Barkley State Park

Getting up reasonably early, we rode south along the lake a bit, then cut west across it and into Bowling Green.  This was a breakfastless morning; Bowling Green was a thirty mile ride, and I always have difficulty riding more than a few miles without food.  But we saw no place to stop on our route.

There we at last found a serious looking bicycle shop.  I pulled off my wheel and brought it in, but learned that their wheel person was off having his eyes examined.  A bad omen.  But we took the opportunity to shop a little, and I found a yellow jersey to wear in place of my dark blue one on sunny days.  I also bought a spoke wrench - the wrong size, as it turned out.  Chris bought a flashing taillight which needed what turned out to be an almost impossible to find battery, the flat Polaroid kind.  
Meanwhile we walked down the street to the nearest Pizza Hut for some lunch, where we gorged ourselves.  That was followed by an attempt by me to find some clip-on sunglasses (no luck).  When we got back, the wheel person was working away, truing the wheel after having replaced the spokes.  I got some spare spokes from him, but as it turned out later, they were the wrong size, and unusable.  Chris then asked to use their compressor to pump up his tire, and destroyed the tube in the process.  So he had the mechanic put a new tube in, and we were ready to go.  Finally on the road, it was two o'clock. 

But our aim was to make Lake Barkley State Resort Park, a hundred miles west.  So we pushed hard, on through Russellville (a quick stop for a milkshake) to Hopkinsville.  The route between the two towns - we took a rural alternative to the main road - was full of dogs.  Chris didn't get along with dogs, and he would get off his bike and try to reason with each one that approached him.   

Meanwhile in Russellville, heading west from the center of town, we met a bicycle commuter.  He came up behind me and said hello, catching me completely by surprise, as another bicyclist was totally unexpected in this part of the countryside.  He was on his daily commute to his house a little way out of town, and as it happened to be on our way, we followed him a mile or two. 

We pushed on, drafting for about the only time on the trip, averaging probably eighteen miles an hour for more than an hour.  Just before Cadiz, it was nightfall, and we turned on the blinkers.  I was exhausted, but we finally made it to the general neighborhood of the state park, where we stopped at a small store and deli for some sandwiches. With plenty to eat, we continued on the last few miles down the main highway, then up a few miles of gentle hill along the campground access road, and so to our campsite.

1 June - Friday - 0 miles/1203 total
Lake Barkley State Park

We had planned for some time to take this day off, and we did.  Our campsite was far from the lodge, but we decided to walk over and spend the day there.

It turned out that the lake water was very high, flooding the beaches, so they and their parking lots were closed.  Apparently with the heavy rains of the previous weeks, the Ohio and Mississippi were high, so no extra water could be released from the brimming lake.  Thus the flood.  This made it a little difficult on the path to the lodge, which followed the edge of the lake; a few times we had to strike out through underbrush to avoid a swamp. 

When we arrived, we found the best Kentucky resort lodge we'd come across so far.  It was certainly the biggest, there was a very nice pool, and a very nicely designed and large dining room, complete with a huge stone hearth.  One funny detail was a copper still, taken from an illegal backwoods distillery, displayed on the main staircase - funny because of the impossibility of getting a drink anywhere nearby.  We arrived just in time for the brunch buffet, at which we loaded up plate after plate of eggs, hash browns, grits, sausages, ham, fruits, cereal, and probably  other stuff.

After brunch, I went out on the veranda to read, and Chris went below to swim.  After a while I got tired of reading on the veranda, and went down by the pool to read.  This was all very relaxing, and just what I needed.

For dinner we went back on up to the dining room, where it was apparently a major anniversary for the lodge, and the buffet was set out as a celebration.  There was an amazing  variety, and it was all pretty good, too.  There were shrimp, and chicken wings, and a carver cutting a roast of beef, and one cutting a pork roast, and catfish, and sole, I think some duck, a big variety of fruits and vegetables and cheeses, and a huge dessert table.  So once again we stuffed ourselves - nothing less than we deserved, of course.

Then we walked back to the campsite, on the road this time.  This took nearly an hour, as the route was not very direct, and it was dark when we got back.  In fact, we had hardly seen our campsite during daylight hours, except that morning for the time it took us to shower and leave.

2 June - Saturday - 77.4 miles/1280 total
Lake Barkley State Park to Columbus

The road out of the park was down hill, of course, but as we turned west onto the main road, we were hit by a strong headwind.  The route across Barkley lake was a long, two lane, shoulderless steel truss bridge; crossing this into a gusty headwind was a little uncomfortable.  The railing by the side of the roadway was not very high, and the gusts hitting my front panniers made the front wheel behave unpredictably.  On such a narrow bridge, there was little room to maneuver, especially when large trucks went by. 

On the far side of the bridge was the Land Between the Lakes, the area condemned and bought by the army corps of engineers when they built Kentucky and Barkley lakes. There wasn't a lot of it, but it was deserted an dank, and not very inviting.

Another bridge, this one across Kentucky lake and identical to the one we had just crossed, and then we were traveling over bland terrain that rolled gently the remaining sixty or so miles down to the Mississippi.   

My Kentucky map showed ferries across the Mississippi in a couple of spots, as well as the bridges at Cairo.  The best route for us looked like the ferry at the center of Kentucky's frontage on the river, at Columbus.  As there was a state campground there as well (just a campground - no resort park!) that's where we headed.  The first thing we found on our arrival, though, was that the ferry had not been running for four years. 

The park was small and pleasant, up on a bluff above the river, with a good view down river.  The area had been the site of a Civil War battle that somehow involved a giant chain across the river that the Confederate army hoped to control river traffic with.  So the park had the traditional groomed battlefield look, with spiked cannons and historical markers.

There was one restaurant in town, a fried fish place recommended by the locals, but there was nothing there for Chris (the vegetarian) to eat, so we bought some pasta at the local grocery.

As darkness fell, the strong winds we had ridden against all day picked up, and there was a nearly full moon shining on spectacular masses of clouds, with big flashes of lightning from time to time. It turned into a wild night - but there was no rain, even though it felt like it was just about to start pouring.  We heard that there was a tornado watch in effect for the area; in the morning we heard of several deaths from tornadoes not very far to the north.  All night we could hear the engines of tugs pulling big rafts of barges up and down the river.

3 June  - Sunday - 103.7 miles/1384 total
Columbus to Poplar Bluff MO

There was bad news this morning.  I called the Coast Guard to ask about ferries, and they told me that the only other ferry we could have taken was closed because of high water.  The banks on the Missouri side had washed over, and the roads were flooded well back into the countryside.  Our only choice, then, was to ride north to Cairo and cross the bridges there. This meant a twenty mile detour. 

As we approached the Ohio river and Illinois, I began to see the extent of the flooding.  The road was built up on fill, and the fields and scrub land on each side were under water.  The Ohio bridge was a long two lane span, shoulderless and old, very high above the water.  We were lucky to have hit it on Sunday morning; otherwise we would have been swamped by traffic.  This was the only bridge into Illinois from Kentucky for several miles. 

We never saw Cairo itself; the bridge dropped us onto a broad, flat area of land where there was only an Illinois state police barracks.  We turned ninety degrees to the left and were immediately heading across the Mississippi bridge, almost identical to the one across the Ohio, or so it seemed to a bicyclist pedaling as hard as possible. 

Once in Missouri, we felt we had passed a major milestone.  A few hundred miles back we had passed the thousand mile mark.  At about the same time we had crossed into a new time zone.  But having now made it across the Mississippi, we felt for the first time that we had got seriously into the continent. 

Once again, the road was set up on fill, and for several miles there was flooding in the fields on either side.  We were pedaling into the stiffest headwind we'd had so far, and that wiped out the huge advantage the completely flat terrain would otherwise have given us.  Every mile was a struggle. 

After a while, we were on some of the worst stretch of road we'd been on so far.  US 60 between Dexter and Poplar Bluff was mostly concrete two-lane, without a shoulder and in bad repair.  The traffic was thick and fast.  The headwind seemed to get worse and worse.  At one point where I stopped, a woman pulled over just to let me know how dangerous the road was - a bicyclist had been killed there recently.  Just what I needed to know. 

A few miles before Dexter I discovered that I had broken another spoke.  Trying to repair it, I found that the spokes I had bought back in Bowling Green didn't fit the nipples already on my rim, and naturally, the Bowling Green spokes had not been supplied with nipples.  And while trying to bring the wheel into better true, I succeeded in puncturing the tire.  The replacement immediately blew - it looked as if the rim valve hole was burred, and the burrs were cutting the valve stem.  It turned out later that I had bought Schwinn tubes with defective valves, and that this was the cause of my problems, but not knowing this, I tried to deburr the valve hole with sandpaper before going on. 

Approaching Poplar Bluff in twilight, my rear tire flatted again.  I had only one spare - it was a patched tube that leaked, and on this I limped into Poplar Bluff where I found Chris worried enough at my non-appearance to have called my answering machine to leave a message about where to find him. 

As it was dark, and we were in the middle of a small city, there was no question of finding a campground.  Chris had been talking to some fire fighters  who pointed us toward a cheap motel, where we checked in, and a Pizza Hut, where we ate.

Week 4