[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
ARTICLE: A Plains-Ontario Loop
On this half of my bicycle camping trip, I was short on money and unsure of where I was going; nonetheless, I cycled from Alabama to Texas, then north across the Great Plains all the way to North Dakota.
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A Plains-Ontario Loop

Before making this journey, I told my Texan friend Jack that I would come to see him, and I mentioned in the newsgroups that I would be making the big loop. I did make a big loop, but not the one I had intended.

A rough map of my 1998 trip.This trip ended up being my longest -- and perhaps my best -- to date.  The fact that I had cycled nearly every day for a year and that I had made three in-state trips in October, November, and April made a real difference.  While I had some poor days on the trip, they were due to excessive wind and/or heat and not due to fatigue.  Because I was in good condition, the excessive heat that I encountered did not bother me unduly.

I was under extreme financial restraint this time.  I took only $145 in cash and $400 in traveler's checks, plus I couldn't use my credit card much since I had no job to return to and very little cash in the bank.

Day one:  My route from Gadsden to Scottsboro was as follows: Starting from near Noccalulu Falls, I climbed to the west edge of Lookout Mountain, dropped down and followed the valley northeastward along highway 11, crossed over a high, narrow ridge seven miles up the road, traveled about a dozen miles northeast again, turned west and climbed Sand Mountain (a very steep grade), then crossed Sand Mountain (a wide plateau which is hardly flat), descended the mountain at Guntersville Lake and followed the river/lake northeastward, finally crossing it more than 60 miles from my starting point and headed toward Scottsboro, less than five miles away. After stopping for food in Scottsboro, I had an almost flat ride for ten miles to the northwest, where I climbed to my cabin.

I did not show any signs of tiring, although my speed was down. The sun did not really start to bother me until the middle of Sand Mountain at Geraldine, where I got water and food. Beyond Geraldine was a series of dips and climbs, gradually getting deeper and hotter. I was suffering on the last of these and very happy when I finally was able to descend to the lake.

At the store at the bottom of the mountain, I picked a place in the shade and ate a slow lunch. Afterwards, I felt cool enough to continue, so I traveled another dozen miles, gradually getting overheated again. However, I reached a spot on the lake, rested in the breeze off the water of the huge cove, then waded into the water to cool off more.

When I got back on the bike, I was cool enough to travel through an open area until I reached shade again. When I reached some wooded shores, I was feeling quite tired, so I found a place to stop and took a nap. After I woke up, I debated camping there next to the lake for the night or going on to the cabin, and I finally decided to go on.

I reached the cabin after dark, feeling I had done well for a first day, even though I had been pushing against a mild head wind, which kept my speed low. I had a low resting heart rate, and I slept well.

Gadsden - cabin, 78.9 miles, 11.5 mph, June 1. 

Rest day: The next day, I rested in the morning, rode into town fairly late, got my traveler's checks, checked my web site, and returned to the cabin. I was surprised at my low speed on this day, and the weather had become even hotter.

Cabin - cabin, 26.3 miles, 12.2 mph, June 2. 

Day two: Although I woke very early, I seemed more anxious to finish reading a book than to begin. I finally left at 8:30, pushing my bike up the first half mile, which is very steep, and then zooming to the bottom of the mountain. I chose to follow pleasant back roads, and I anticipated a very pleasant ride.

600 X 400 My First Camping Sites
Instead, I found one of the worst riding days I can remember in North Alabama. The weather was extremely hot and extremely windy, a combination that never happens in Alabama. Whichever way I was traveling, there seemed to be a headwind. Just before lunch, I took a wrong turn; however, I used the opportunity to stop to rest and eat in the woods next to a cemetery. Before leaving, I had to repair my rear tire which had picked up a thorn.

By the time I reached Hope, I was completely out of water, and I could find no tap in that small town. Finally, I stopped at the gas company and gulped down water from a flower bed faucet. Then I traveled on towards Huntsville.

I decided to stop before reaching Huntsville, and I found a very nice patch of woods on the other side of the road from the river. The heat did not bother me that night, and I slept well.

Cabin - Hobes Island, 46.3 miles, 11.4 mph, June 3. 

Day three: In the morning, I decided to continue on to the bike shop in Huntsville that I had intended to reach the day before. When I reached the shop I found that it was closed until ten, and since I would not wait that long, I had gone ten unnecessary miles. I then crossed the Tennessee River south of Huntsville, and turned west, traveling on roads with moderate traffic.

I was worried about a repetition of the heat, but instead I received showers. For the rest of the day, I was hit by one short heavy cloudburst after another. While this was not my preferred weather, it certainly was an improvement over the day before. I ended up seeking shelter eight times before I lost count, once at a woodcutter's house, once at a flea market stand (where I bought a book to read), once at a store, several times at churches, and other times against the sides of buildings. Even though I was having to stop frequently, I had plenty of time in which to ride, so my distance was not hurt for the day.

In the late afternoon, the rain finally let up, and as I was going over a hill, I noticed a patch of woods that had recently been logged for cedar (that is, most of the trees were undisturbed). So, I had a second excellent camping site.

Hobes Island - Newburg, 75.9 miles, 12.3 mph, June 4. 

Day four: I awoke in the morning during heavy winds that wanted to carry the tent away. For several days, I saw the destruction caused by this morning's storm, but it caused me no problems at all. Of course, I had checked overhead for dead limbs before pitching my tent, as I always do.

I traveled on to Russellville, where I bought some bread, chicken bologna, tomatoes and fruit, a new rear tire, and some soap and suntan lotion. While washing my clothes inside, I dried the tent and changed the tire outside, which got a very angry manager yelling at me (the only person who has every complained about my drying a tent or changing a tire). Her husband explained that I should have dried the tent in their drier, and I told him that they would not want the dirt and dead leaves from the tent inside their drier. (Besides, there is a danger of the tent being damaged.) Before I left I took a wrong turn, so the sheriff carefully explained the route that I needed to follow to Red Bay, using a napkin to draw on.

Although I had been anxious to put on suntan lotion, the weather turned cloudy again as I was leaving town, and I found myself more than once seeking shelter from the rain again. Rain made the road dangerous, since there was no shoulder and cars were reluctant to slow down. Fortunately, traffic was light.

The rain let up towards evening, and the sun came out hot. I stopped in Red Bay for some food and then crossed into Mississippi. I camped in some nice woods near the entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Newburg - Dennis, Mississippi, 56.4 miles, 11.4 mph, June 5. 

Day five: It was cold and rainy in the morning, so I stayed in my tent until ten. This was the latest I started on this trip (with one exception not my fault) and may have indicated my "down" period (on all of my trips, I have noticed a time during the first few days when I felt like turning back). However, cold, gloomy weather always makes me feel like staying in bed.

It was overcast and cool most of the day, but there was no rain.

The parkway was pretty, usually with woods on both sides and gentle hills. A motorist told he that he had seen a group of cyclists traveling the same direction about ten miles ahead of me. I stopped at an information center and learned that 1) all the campgrounds on the parkway are free, 2) there were five additional special bicycle campgrounds so cyclists would not have too far to pedal, 3) the fine for camping on the parkway in an unauthorized spot was $150.00, and 4) the rangers would be willing to "work with" cyclists who could not make it to the next camping site. These policies are all much more favorable to cyclists than those on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I rode into Tupelo, trying to get to the bike shop before it closed for the weekend, but the closing hours had been changed, so the trip was a waste of time.

Leaving Tupelo, I traveled through heavy traffic due to a concert at the park. Leaving the main road for a while, I searched for a camping site with no luck. However, I intersected a new road and was immediately able to find a patch of woods on a road embankment, surrounded by farmers' fields.

Dennis - Thaxton, 67 miles, 12.2 mph, June 6. 

Day six: This morning was also cold, but I had no trouble getting going. I stopped at one small store, but the prices were high, so I bought only a pack of cookies. However, the woman came outside and gave me a pint of milk to drink as well, so I was touched.

I reached Oxford by ten, and I stopped to eat some peanut butter and crackers in the courthouse square, a very picturesque setting. Later, I stopped along the highway, spread some damp clothes in the sun to dry, and made some banana sandwiches.

I had a fair breeze behind me, and the road was flat with little traffic, so I made good time during the day (as in Alabama, there were no paved shoulders). On the map, I noticed a rest stop at Marks, so I decided that I would try to camp there. However, the rest stop was undesirable, and I heard that the hotel in town "charged by the hour."

I then traveled on a light-duty road northwestward, heading towards my Mississippi River crossing. As I was in the Delta, the ground was flat and close to the water, and I did not see a place to stop. I stopped and asked a Black man for advice, and he suggested that I check with the deputy in the next town. The town was all-Black and not doing well economically, but the people were friendly. The deputy introduced me to a friend, and I went to his home, talked with his children, and camped across the street on the lawn of his church.

Thaxton - Jonestown, 85.8 miles, 13.4 mph, June 7. 

800 X 586 Bald Cypresses in Moon Lake
800 X 495 Another Bald Cypress Photo
Day seven: I started early, and passed through a town much more economically depressed than Jonestown. I also passed Moon Lake, a former bend in the Mississippi, where bald cypresses were growing along the shore. Then, after a short trip northward, I crossed the Mississippi at Helena.

Stopping for travel advice, I was surprised when the woman advised me to stick to the main roads, but on leaving Helena, I saw why. The main roads in Arkansas are mainly two-lane roads with wide, well-paved shoulders. Wherever the road changed to a four-lane, the shoulders disappeared, but the motorists always gave me the entire lane. The only places where I had trouble was in construction areas where the shoulders disappeared or were inadequate; then the cars and trucks failed to slow adequately.

Today the wind really pushed strongly to the NNW, thus giving me a strong speed in the morning. However, after I turned west, the benefit was small, and when I started traveling to the southwest, I was fighting a crosswind.

The real surprise for the day was after leaving Clarendon. A man stopped me just as I was leaving and warned me about the bridge, suggesting that I even get a police escort. What I discovered was a series of long, winding, very narrow bridges, the most dangerous crossing I have ever made. Fortunately, traffic was light in both directions when I crossed.

Riding into the wind in the late afternoon, I saw a rare, suitable woods and stopped for the evening. My location was right under the turning point of an airplane that was spraying or fertilizing a field.

Jonestown - Roe, Arkansas, 78.1 miles, 13.9 mph, June 8. 

Day eight: This is one of the least enjoyable days of the trip. I was pushing against a headwind, and most of the towns that I passed through looked run-down rather than prosperous. It was not a problem of lack of civic energy; towns were neat, even when most of the stores were boarded up. The Delta is an extremely important food area, with wheat and rice fields and grain mills everywhere, but for some reason the successful production of food was not having a strong economic impact on the inhabitants and communities.

Burning the Wheat
I did enjoy seeing how my favorite foods are produced. The ground was flat with occasional wind breaks (trees) but was mostly filled with brown wheat fields and flooded green rice fields. In a few places, the wheat was being combined, but most of the fields had recently been harvested. Very dramatic was the burning of the wheat (considered wasteful farther north).

After crossing the Arkansas River into Pine Bluff, I left the Delta behind. On the edge of town, I noticed a nice tract of woods between some small industries and stopped to camp for the night.

Roe - Pine Bluff, 55.7 miles, 10.2 mph, June 9. 

Day nine: In the morning, I left Pine Bluff, heading northwestward on light-duty roads with the trees blocking the winds. It was fortunate that I had camped where I did because, while I was riding through hardwoods and pines for most of the day, the woods were mostly marked "no trespassing," with the hunting club names.

I stopped for lunch at Jenkins Ferry State Park, but it was extremely run down, the flush toilets no longer working, but full anyway. In spite of the condition of the rest rooms, the state was still cutting the grass and emptying the trash. There was also a good spot to bathe in the stream here, my first opportunity since leaving home. I also used this opportunity to adjust the front derailleur, which was not allowing me to shift to the largest chainring.

In the afternoon, I traveled through areas with fewer trees, and therefore I faced more hot weather and winds. I frequently stopped at churches to rest. I also encountered steeper hills as well. After five, my average speed began increasing again, but I was noticeably tired. After checking several times on camping sites, I encountered a narrow windbreak, far from anyone's home. It was a perfect place to camp.

Pine Bluff - Gum Springs, 79.2 miles, 11.6 mph, June 10. 

Day ten: This morning, I started after seven and was tired when I began. At Prescott while I eating on the bench outside the grocery, a man sat down who also enjoys riddles. With one of them, he placed three quarters on the bench and said that they were just two quarters. He asked, "Would you buy me a soft drink if I'm wrong?" I agreed, and he said, "You're right, I am wrong, and now you owe me a soft drink." A good example of how we don't really listen to what other people are saying.

I then went by the library and read until two. The people were extremely friendly. I assumed that I would feel stronger when I returned to riding, but I was not.

In the evening, I found some low-lying woods in the Red River valley well away from any house on broken and stick-covered ground and with poison ivy wrapped around every little tree. However, the worst problem was the mosquitoes, which gradually increased in number. Unfortunately, I did not see them as a problem and therefore didn't put my rainsuit or clothes for the next day inside the tent before I crawled in.

Gum Springs - Fulton, 60.6 miles, 10.8 mph, June 11. 

800 X 550 After Crossing into Texas
Day eleven: In the morning, I was attacked severely by the mosquitoes, and I had to leave without changing clothes.  It was some time before I found a tiny spot in which to change, so I was glad I had stopped where I did.

I crossed into Texas at Texarkana, unaware when I crossed the boundary. After leaving Texarkana, I found myself traveling on high embankments above water-filled areas.

The Texas roads were much like the Arkansas roads (with the nice paved shoulders); however, the drivers tended to be more aggressive. I read in the paper about one woman who had gone off a bridge in her car, but no one knew it for days because her car had jumped completely over the guard rail (a tire-smudge was found on the rail). On the front page of some newspapers was the picture of a crumpled car: that vehicle had passed a tractor-trailer on a bridge (illegally), hit a second truck head on, and then been hit in the rear by the first.

Towards evening, I saw some good camping areas before leaving the Sulphur River area, but I wanted to travel farther for the day, so I continued on. Unfortunately, I found no more camping sites. After it had already turned dark, I reached a rest area, uncertain if I could camp there. The woman across the road was good enough to call the police to check for me, and so I passed a quiet night.

Fulton - Cookeville, Texas, 69.2 miles, 10.5 mph, June 12. 

Day twelve: Today I followed the interstate on parallel roads and service roads. I was still pushing a head wind, and the weather was hot. Whenever I found a shady place, fire ants would attack me; even when I used the table at a rest stop. For the most part, this was not a day to remember.

In the afternoon, I entered Sulphur Springs, very thirsty. I stopped at Jehovah's Witness Church, and the man watering the yard was happy to give me water. I also discovered that their church was bilingual, with services in both Spanish and English, and I talked in Spanish and English with the people there.

That evening, traveling on the service road, I saw some motorists from the interstate getting help from a resident, so I decided to pick on him as well. He let me swim in his hidden pond and camp in the woods behind his home.

Cookeville - Cumby, 67.3 miles, 10.9 mph, June 13. 

"Wild" Bees
Day thirteen: In the morning, I continued to follow service roads to Greenville and then highway 66 from there to Dallas. The highway was not in good condition. At one place where I stopped to rest, I discovered some bees had built an open-air comb in the bushes.

I called my friend Jack a couple of times, hoping that he would cycle out to meet me, but he was exhausted from a ride the day before.

Because of the heat and the wind, this again was a very tiring day. I just paced myself, stopping to rest whenever I had opportunities, such as a little bit of shade where I could lean the bike and sit.

After crossing a lake, I entered the Dallas area. Unfortunately, the road was extremely narrow, due to construction work, and I added to my exhaustion by trying to maintain a high speed to avoid delaying the traffic. After I switched to a less-busy street, travel was easier, except I still had to deal with some climbs. Past the climbs, I found the wind was no longer an issue, and my average speed started increasing. I arrived at Jack's house very glad the day's ride was over.

Cumby - Irving, 78.6 miles, 11.1 mph, June 14. 

Rest day: Jack wanted for us to visit some bike shops (he needed spokes; I wanted a larger rear freewheel) and then meet his wife for lunch. Very noticeable was the politeness of the drivers. I enjoyed the ride with Jack, but I found myself tiring very rapidly. Four days of cycling into a head wind, plus pushing my limit on the fourth day had left me quite weak. Jack therefore had his wife join us, and our bikes were placed in the van.

I couldn't help but notice how thoroughly covered with bites I was from cycling to Texas: chiggers, mosquitoes, fire ants, and biting flies had all had a picnic on me. I have never been bitten so often while on a cycling trip.

Within Irving - Dallas area, 16.5 miles, 13.3 mph, June 15. 

Day fourteen: After a second day of rest, I resumed my trip. The wind was pushing strongly towards the north, while I wanted to go to the northwest. Looking at the map, I decided to head north for a day or two before turning more to the west.

Most of the day, I was traveling in urban areas. In Denton, near the university, I noticed some weird bike lanes: both directions were on the same side of the street, and the lanes were raised above the road, like sidewalks. I ignored them.

Someone had stolen my one water bottle in the morning, so I bought a second one in Denton, even though I little voice told me not to. Twenty minutes later, I found a better bottle along the road. I carried it full of water as a spare until I reached Canada.

Beyond Denton, I found it very difficult to travel west or even northwest because the wind was so strong. I asked in the gas station at Forestburg about camping in the town park, which I hadn't seen. The friendly people suggested that the park was unsuitable, which it was (too small, no trees). Descending a hill, I saw an excellent spot with nice trees. I stopped to check with the man living next to it, and he told me that it was the old town park and suggested I camp there.

Irving - Forestburg, 84.1 miles, 13.5 mph, June 17. 

Day fifteen: I travel on to Montague in the morning, an impressive courthouse surrounded by a dying town. Then I zigzagged up to Oklahoma on several roads, again encountering strong opposition from the wind to any move in the westward direction. This part of Texas is rolling and fairly dry, with rain a major topic of interest to the farmers.

Crossing the Red River, I entered Oklahoma. I found a good park to stop for a long rest from the midday sun at Ryan. After I started out, I found myself racing a storm, but I arrived at a gas station just as the rain began.

I went on to Comanche, where I decided to camp. In the town, I had trouble finding the police (in the fire station) to ask permission, and then I went back to stay at the park. But I did not camp right way. Strong winds attacked the trees, and heavy storm clouds passed nearby, full of thunder and lightning (donner und blitzen). It was quite a display, and I waited for heavy rain, falling tree limbs, and nearby lightning strikes, none of which happened (to me). Then I pitched my tent and went to bed.

Forestburg - Comanche, Oklahoma, 77.9 miles, 13.2 mph, June 18. 

759 X 600 Camping in Snyder
Day sixteen: There was only a light breeze in the morning, so I decided to head west. I made good time as far as Walters, but then the wind started blowing stronger to the north. At the next intersection, I turned north to Lawton, and found myself once again being blasted northward (22 mph on flat ground).

I read a book in the Lawton library, and then I once again tried going westward at four. The winds were not so strong, but I quickly drank up all of my water in the intensely hot afternoon air, so I stopped and refilled from a homeowner. As I traveled along south of the Wichita Mountains (800 x 518 Wichita Mountains), the temperatures dropped, I began to enjoy the ride. There are some interesting stony hills here that seem quite out of place in the otherwise flat plains.

I stayed at the town park in Snyder, but not without a little trouble. The police were puzzled that I would want to stay there, checked my ID, and tried to contact every public official. However, there was nothing unfriendly about their behavior, and people at the park did not seem uncomfortable with my pitching a tent there.

Comanche - Snyder, 79.7 miles, 12.2 mph, June 19. 

Day seventeen: The next morning was very pretty, and I had a pleasant ride westward to Altus. After I ate my lunch, the wind was blasting north again, so I traveled northward at a high rate of speed for fifteen miles. However, I had to turn west at that point, and proceeding even a short distance was exhausting. Near an intersection, I found a tree where I could eat and rest under. Since the wind did not let up, I decided to travel north to Granite before heading west again, rather than traveling west and then north through a much larger town.

On the way to Granite, I crossed McClellan Creek and noticed that I could go swimming there, so I had a pleasant dip drenched my shirt before leaving. But the shirt dried out in minutes.

In Granite, I couldn't get any drinkable water except from one fountain in the park that barely tricked and could not refill a bottle. I waited until five to leave, but the wind did not let up. Traveling westward with the wind blowing north, I found myself traveling slowly and rapidly becoming exhausted. I had to stop and rest three times to cover seven miles. In addition, my arms felt as if I was holding them over a fire, due to the heat of the sun above and the heat of the pavement below. My water was too hot to drink. I looked at my thermometer, and it said 112 degrees (others reported 115 degrees the same day). Then, when I finally turned north, the wind did not seem to help.  I felt weak and barely able to continue.  Finally, I found water at Willow, and I camped for the night among the trees of a windbreak.

Snyder - Willow, 66.5 miles, 13 mph, June 20. 

Day eighteen: After my heat exhaustion of the day before, I decided to spend the day resting. I traveled to the park at Sayre, which only seemed to offer a few covered picnic tables in the hot sun, a golf course, and a large pavilion was some group was using. I bought some food at the grocery and cooked a meal. In the early afternoon, a woman stopped to inform me that there were more comfortable places farther back. When I walked back into the park, I discovered a swimming pool, a camping area, and lots of shade.

During the day, I pondered which direction I should go. My original intent had been to cross into the panhandle to cross Northern Mexico and Arizona, and Southern Nevada and California to the West Coast. From there I would travel north to Canada and then return home. However, I had found three major reasons for changing my plans.

First, my original assumption had been that if I was very careful with my money that I could get by on less than six dollars a day. Instead, I had been spending nearly ten dollars a day, and not due to lack of care on my part. Food prices, especially fruits and vegetables, were extremely high. This was not a problem of high prices in small stores either: generally during my trip, the groceries had lower prices than the supermarkets. As a result of my higher costs, a trip of 90 or 100 days was impossible. In fact, even to continue, I would need to reduce costs, so I decided to depend on rice and eggs for my primary meal (first, I cook rice, then I drop in eggs to cook in with the rice, and finally, I add honey for sweetness and flavor).

Second, to get to California, I needed to travel due west for another thousand miles or so, but the winds were making even short distances westward very difficult, or even dangerous, due to the high heat. I knew that I would be getting into the mountains after I crossed the panhandle, meaning lower temperatures and, hopefully, winds. But I would also be traveling into a drier climate, with longer distances between food and water. Considering my lack of funds and the unusually hot weather, would that be wise?

Third, from a phone call to my dad the day before, I learned that I might need to return home to help him. Continuing west would make the return trip longer and more difficult.

But what else could I do? A trip straight back to Gadsden would be a real let-down. However, when I visited the plains eight years earlier, I had thought that a trip from south to north, taking advantage of the prevailing winds, would be a lot easier than traveling east to west. And I had been wanting to return to Northern Ontario for many years. Traveling on this smaller loop would keep me within two or three weeks of Alabama should I need to turn back.

Willow - Sayre, 19.5 miles, 10.9 mph, June 21. 

Day nineteen: The next day did not start with a bang. I discovered two punctures in my front tire from thorns before I left the park. Then I found the winds were blowing west. However, I persisted in traveling north, and soon the winds were blowing my way.

The trip to Cheyenne was rather pleasant over some hilly plains. I believe it was on this morning that I saw my only sage brush on this trip ( 600 X 150 Sage). At one point, I stopped and went swimming in a small lake. At Cheyenne, I had pleasant conversations with others in the park while resting during the noon heat.

800 X 481 Deer in the Canadian River
After I left Cheyenne, I had the problem of afternoon heat again. A coke at a restaurant and an interesting conversation helped me when the heat was too much, then I took a picture of some deer in the Canadian River, and rested in the trees at the top of the hill (800 X 370 photo back down towards Canadian River). However, I still had to battle westward a short distance in the afternoon.

When I asked about camping in the town park at Shattuck, the police officer was puzzled, "Why would you want to camp in our park?" However, he found no rule against it, and told me OK. Before I set up my tent, one of members of the town council stopped to talk to me and told me one other cyclist had once stopped there.

Sayre - Shattuck, 80.7 miles, 13.1 mph, June 22. 

Day twenty: In the morning, I had a high speed trip into Laverne. There I washed my clothes, mailed some cards, and rested in the park. Unfortunately, I left my bandana in my pocket, and it blew away somewhere, and a search could not locate it. None of the local businesses could sell me a bandana either.

800 X 539 A Ranch that I Passed
In the afternoon, I started playing a game with myself. When the wind would get behind me and push, I would find myself moving over 20 mph, so I pretended that I had a star ship and Scotty would announce, "Approaching the warp field, captain." "Ship warping out of control!" "We've reached hyperdrive (20 mph), captain!" "Warp speed one (21 mph), captain." Many times on this day and the next, I hit 25 mph or faster on flat ground without pushing.

However my average speed for the day is much lower as traveling even a short distance east or west was a slow process and as I was often climbing hills.

I stopped at a very friendly town in Kansas where no on was puzzled by my staying in the park, although I was offered a free motel room, which I refused.

Shuttuck - Minneola, 90.9 mph, 16.1 mph, June 23. 

Day twenty-one: In the morning, I rocketed over to Dodge City, often traveling at 24 mph. Nonetheless, my average speed was just 18.6 mph.

Everyone was very friendly in Dodge, at the supermarket, bike shop, and at Wal-Mart. I replaced both tires, although the rear tire still had some miles in it, because few towns would have replacements.

As I traveled between towns, both on this day, the day before, and on many days after, I was able to watch the combines harvesting wheat. On the plains, the farmers don't bother to buy combines and trucks for their wheat harvest. Instead crews of workers travel northward with trucks, combines, and sleeping trailers, harvesting the wheat as it ripens.

Again I had trouble traveling against a cross wind and problems with heat and lack of water in the afternoon. A storm caught me at the end of the day's run, hit me with a strong cross wind and rain, and I staggered into Ness City, a town I had visited on my 1990 trip.

Ralph and Janet
While waiting for a traffic light to change, I was approached by a pedestrian couple, who asked me about my bike trip. Lo and behold, Janet and Ralph were also touring cyclists, following the Bikecentennial route from coast to coast, so we had a lot to talk about. They told me they had met a number of eastbound and westbound cyclists and had heard from them of others.

That night, I watched a girls' softball game in the park, saw some preteen girls swinging and talking in the park late at night (little danger or worry in the small towns on the plains), and talked for a good while with a fellow who had been camping at the edge of the park all summer, who couldn't figure out what to do with himself.

Minneola - Ness City, 82 miles, 16.2 mph, June 24. 

Day twenty-two: I was up early, but Janet and Ralph had left earlier. I found myself riding against light head winds all day. I was fortunate enough to find a tap in a church yard in the morning, because there was no other place to get water otherwise.

600 X 600 Kansas Is Not Flat!
For lunch, I stopped, cooked, and napped at Wakeeney. Many of these rest stops, including this one, had a roofed shelter, surrounded by shrubbery. Some of them even had electricity for my laptop. Most -- but not all -- had water. More often than not, however, there was no outhouse, perhaps due to vandalism.

I fought a head wind to Hill City in the afternoon. When I got into town, I asked where the police were located. When I explained that I wanted to check about camping in the town park, the woman asked me, "Why would you want to ask?" I thought her question contrasted nicely with the question I had been asked in Shattuck. Taking her advice, I didn't bother to check with the police again until I reached lower Michigan.

Ness City - Hill City, 67.1 miles, 11.4 mph, June 25. 

Day twenty-three: I had a long ride to Norton in the morning. While thinking about my previous trip to Kansas, I remembered one woman saying, "We're glad to have bikers crossing in Kansas, but we wonder why you don't wave back." So I started looking at the drivers of other vehicles, and almost every motorist and half of the truck drivers were waving to me! Even one trucker who ran me off the road!

When I got into town, after visiting the supermarket, I spent time in the library, and then I spent additional time at a rest stop. I delayed leaving because I found that the road was closed straight ahead, and I would have to travel eastward or westward, fighting heavy cross winds.

Looking at the map, I had to make an important decision. Should I travel west, so I could tour the Bad Lands and the Black Hills? Or should I travel east, so I would have shorter distances between towns and a shorter distance home? Due to the still hot weather and my skimpy budget, I decided to follow the second route.

However, my progress was certainly not rapid in moving northwestward. although my speed had been excellent in the morning, I seriously doubted my ability to reach Alma while fighting cross winds. While passing one small town, I noticed an excellent rest stop, and so I decided to stop while I had a good place.

Hill City - Almena, 48.3 miles, 13 mph, June 26. 

Day twenty-four: In the morning, I struggled with the wind again until the road turned north. Then I rode into Alma, spent some time at the library and ate my meal.

Alas, the wind changed directions before I started, and I therefore had a hard afternoon ride to Holdrege. This town had an RV park where I camped.

Almena - Holdrege, Nebraska, 53.3 miles, 10.3 mph, June 27. 

Day twenty-five: The head wind was light as I pedaled north to Elm Creek, another town where I had camped in 1990. On the way, I stopped at the Platte River, where I noticed bird nests built of mud underneath the bridge (600 X 379 Bird Nests). After eating and resting in the park, I headed east up the Platte River valley. On this ride, there was a light crosswind.

At one point, I met a woman who was cycling at about my speed to Kearney, and we cycled near each other for several miles, but she did not seem to want to talk.

Quite a bit of work was being done on the railroad, with the crews working late on Sunday afternoon and with trains of more than 50 cars backed up for miles. While it was clear that the tracks were being upgraded and improved, I wondered if a third track was also being added as an express lane (the tracks were being moved sideways, which wouldn't seem to be necessary to just upgrade them).

I found a town park where I could camp after asking information from an eccentric individual who could not stop talking (and more or less to himself).

Holdrege - Gibbons, 52.4 miles, 11 mph, June 28. 

Day twenty-six: This morning, while riding east, I met Gary riding west. While he was only carrying one small pannier, he explained that he was touring as I was, only his wife was sagging for him during part of the trip. He said that she was spending the day shopping while he rode, not the cheapest way to travel across country.

I spent part of the day in the library in Grand Island, reading about the history of cycling.

In the evening, I found a small bike shop with a retired postmaster as the owner. Basically, he was repairing and restoring inexpensive bicycles and helping the local children keep riding.

Camping in the park, I found myself being drenched by the sprinkler early in the morning. After moving everything, a different set of sprinklers came on, and everything was soaked again.

Gibbons - Central City, 55.7 miles, 11.8 mph, June 29. 

Day twenty-seven: Before I started, a woman thanked me for bringing cooler weather (by encouraging wind from the north). It is true that my adverse winds did cause lower temperatures, and that favorable winds caused higher temperatures.

I turned north once again, pushing against a heavy headwind all day long. As I expressed to someone later, on the plains, 12 mph uphill is disappointing with a tail wind, and 12 mph downhill is thrilling with a headwind. Twelve mph was a high speed on this day.

About the nicest moment of the day was when I ate some peanut butter and banana sandwiches in a laundromat. I did not speak more than a few words to anyone for most of the day.

I liked the park at Albion, but I was asked to camp with the RV's, which meant a soaked tent in the morning (a single-wall tent needs to be pitched under trees to avoid the dew).

Central City - Albion, 46.1 mph, 9.9 mph, June 30. 

591 X 300 Nebraska Wasn't Flat Either
Day twenty-eight: Today I had a break. There was no wind when I started, so I traveled north to Neleigh without trouble. I ate and rested, staying in the park until three, my usually practice to avoid the worst of the sun and heat.

When I started again, traveling to the northwest, I found I had a flat road and a strong breeze behind me, so my average speed began increasing. There was a bike trail along the Elkhorn River, but I never saw anyone on it.

O'Neill had a nice area set aside for campers, but I went over and sat on the bleachers to watch rodeo practice while eating my dinner.

Albion - O'Neill, 79.7 miles, 12.8 mph, July 1. 

Day twenty-nine: In the morning, I first had to seek shelter from a heavy rain, and then I benefited from the wind turning north, for a while. The road was fairly flat and then descended into a valley, where there was a badly leaking dam.

800 X 541 My Camping Spot in Andes
I stopped to eat at Spencer in the town park, next to the swimming pool. I tend to idealize these small towns, but while the kids were taking a break from the pool, I heard a twelve-year-old boy loudly make a very crude proposition to an even younger girl, a statement that none of the girls seemed to react to.

The wind was lower in the afternoon but weakly blew in my direction. Some long climbs slowed me down, however. I crossed the Missouri River at a long dam (800 X 363 Missouri Dam) and found a camping site at Andes Lake, with the help of the local people. I pitched my tent under a shelter, which was a good thought, since it rained that night.

O'Neill - Lake Andes, South Dakota, 64 miles, 13.9 mph, July 2. 

Day thirty: In the morning, I found large numbers of carp tightly massed together, feeding along the shore, probably due to the rain the night before. At times more than a dozen would be tightly bunched together, their backs half out of the water.

The wind was blowing hard to the east today. The first ten miles was easy, and then I struggled to Armour where there was a lovely park, and used much of the morning working on my computer. In all the towns in the plains, I saw the children traveling everywhere by bicycle, but I seldom saw adults. Here, a woman rode her bike into the park and, during our conversation, told me that she rode about 30 miles a week.

800 X 533 Looking Back in a Sea of Mud
800 X 532 Looking Forward in a Sea of Mud
In the afternoon, I started again, fighting heavy winds. When I reached Corsica, I was advised by a man not to ignore the detour, but when I reached the detour sign, I found I would have to ride nearly triple the distance. If a clear sign had been posted back at the turn near Armour, I could have avoided the construction easily by turning east instead of west for a few miles. Since no one would be working today, I decided to continue straight ahead.

Most of the road was paved, and there was no traffic, so only the wind slowed me down. However, after I had covered most of the distance, the pavement vanished, and I found myself in a sea of wet and dry mud. After a mile or so of that, I discovered a huge hole in the road ahead, so I detoured onto a small dirt road. Fortunately, that enabled me to get around the bad spot, and I rode into Stickney. Because of the nice park, the bad winds, and being tired, I decided to camp early.

Lake Andes - Stickney, 47.7 miles, 10.7 mph, July 3. 

Day thirty-one: In the morning, I found myself fighting a head wind, but then it shifted to a cross wind and finally to a tail wind. At the interstate, I bought lots of food even though the prices were high because I knew that might be my last store for the day.

I rode from that store to Wolsey, stopping along the road and using whatever shelter I could find. While I was cooking my meal in the park at Wolsey, a family with a dog stopped, and the dog was pretty much all over the place. The owner caught the dog and was trying to keep it near the car when an older man drove by and called, "No dogs in the park!" The man with the dog then became furiously angry, shouted that his dog wasn't in the park, and ordered his family into the car, and they left. I went down to where he had been struggling with the dog, and a large, clear sign said, "No dogs allowed in the park!"

I then traveled on to Redfield and camped in their park on the edge of town. I learned that 50 cyclists had passed through the town the same day (probably an MS tour) and had been in the Fourth of July parade asking for donations. Also, a single cyclist had been seen traveling westward. I had a good time here, first talking with a corrections officer and two young men fishing and later talking with a friendly family and their grandfather.

Stickney - Redfield, 91.8 miles, 13.2 mph, July 4. 

Day thirty-two: In the morning, a good breeze was helping me get to Aberdeen, but I ignored an oncoming storm until too late, and I was thoroughly soaked due to the force and volume of the rain, in spite of my rain clothes. After the rain let up a little, I started again, but then hail began to fall. I saw an open barn and took shelter, feeling very much like a trespasser. I wrung out my clothes and left as soon as possible. At Aberdeen, I headed for the laundromat, of course.

After leaving Aberdeen, the wind was not as strong, but I still made good time. In Ellendale, I ran into a "problem" that I encountered in all the North Dakota towns. A sign said that I must pay $6.00 to camp, but no one came by to make sure that I paid. This created a dilemma for me: 1) on the plains, I had nowhere else to camp except in the parks, and 2) I did not have enough money to pay $6.00 a night for camping. (In fact, I ended the trip with just ten dollars in my pocket.) Also, were the camping fees intended for RV's, campers, and other motorists, for which special facilities had been made, or were they to include cyclists? At any rate, I soothed my guilty feelings by reminding myself that I was not creating any additional expenses for these towns, although I could sympathize with their need for additional revenue.

Because I was thinking about fees, I computed my expenses and found that I had been spending $8.69 a day so far.

Redfield - Ellendale, North Dakota, 84.7 miles, 14.1 mph, July 5. 

Day thirty-three: In the morning, I pedaled into moderate headwinds to Edgeley, a nice town with its stores on one street. I tried to nap in the park, but the flies kept biting me (these small flies, that look like houseflies, bothered me for 3/4ths of the trip). Some small children came into the park and seemed to consider me a hobo.

After I left town, I reached the best-built "rest" area of the whole trip, with automatic eyes to cut off and on lights, flush toilets, and operate the hand dryers (but with no outside faucets or picnic facilities). I caught a nap on the bench on this overcast morning.

During the afternoon, the headwinds gradually diminished. I followed the signs to get to the camping area at Jamestown, but I told the attendant that I could not afford the $9.00 fee. She was very kind and mapped out my route to some lakes where I could camp free.

However, the site on Pipestem Lake was a poor one. The lake was ugly, the water bad, and the site poor. The only shelter was a shed roof over a concrete picnic table, and I got the only site with a good roof. Heavy winds and sweeping rains plus rocky and muddy soil in an exposed position made me unwilling to pitch my tent. So, I ended up sleeping on the picnic table, at first in my rain suit, moving occasionally due to the direction of the rain, sometimes having to treat myself with repellent because of the insects, and getting to sleep in my sleeping bag towards morning. It was a bad night. Ironically, the "information center" at the lake would have been a lovely place to camp, since it was on well-drained soil and surrounded by trees.

Ellendale - Jamestown, 78.8 miles, 11.7 mph, July 6. 

Day thirty-four: This was a rough morning for me. I did not sleep well the night before, I was riding into a head wind, I was almost out of food and water, and I ran into more construction work. I found water on two occasions, but the taste was terrible. At one point, I stopped at an idle restaurant, had a Dr. Pepper for a dollar, and talked with the friendly owner.

800 X 434 Working on the Railroad
I finally found a tiny patch of woods where I could cook out of the sun and wind, but there I was attacked by hordes of mosquitoes while cooking. On up the road, I found a tiny park (but no water) and napped. Then I watched some track work on the railroad (800 X 533 Tracklaying Machines at Work 800 X 533 Another Tracklayer).

In the afternoon, I stopped to rest at Carrington before going on to camp in the corner of the park at New Rockford.

Jamestown - New Rockford, 61.6 miles, 8.9 mph, July 7. 

I had now come 2,357 miles in 34 days; my trip was half over -- in miles, days, and dollars.  But the best part of the trip was ahead.

A Plains-Ontario Loop, Part II

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