Day 23 Livingston to Greenville AL

Keeping up with Gerry

Today we rode 129 miles from Livingston to Greenville, Alabama. It was the last really long day, however the roads were smooth so the ride went quickly. Only four more days left.

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First of all, I would like to say how nice Alabama is, with nice people and drivers (all the recent states could teach Masshole drivers a thing or two), good pavement, clean yards and nice houses. Sorry, I prejudged the state – it seems very pleasant.

Today I decided to take the Jay Train again, not just for a few stops like yesterday, but the whole way. That man can fly down hills and build up to a very high speed on the flats. This was one of the few times that I actually got ahead of him, crossing over the Tombigbee Waterway Bridge, with Herb in the back. (Note my PMC 2013 jersey!)

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Our first water stop was next to the Jefferson Country Store with an old guy in a rocking chair and modern touches like an owner taking our pictures to post on his Facebook page. Does anyone know what is Hoop Cheese, Souse, or Rag Bologna?

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There were lots of trees to shield us from the cross winds and when the road pointed in the right direction we were pushed along by a tail wind, and Jay’s strong legs. Before I knew it, we crossed the Alabama River and had a cookout in the state park, with both carrot cake and chocolate cake. Life is good! By noon we were back on the road, with Herb on the Jay Train too.

Back home, riding a century in one day is a big deal, but on the PAC Tour that only gets you to the last water stop. This was in the cute little town of Pine Apple, by Banana St., around the corner from Cherry St. Check out Town Hall, below. I peeked inside to inquire about a bathroom and met the town administrator who explained the building was so small she just went to her home next door.

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She directed me to the general store where I met her husband. I complimented him on such a pretty town and he described the civic association that gets everyone to clean up their yards. From what I saw, people take a lot of pride in their hamlet, and rightly so.

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While taking pictures of the horses below, we met their owner who jokingly offered to trade one for a bike. When I inquired, he said that no, the horse could not travel 100 miles a day like we were doing. (Also, I doubt the Holiday Inn Express would let me bring a horse into my room.)

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Herb bonked a few miles back, so Jay and I rode together for the last 30 miles. We saw Gerry in the distance and chased him for 5 miles before we caught up, at the base of a hill. Gerry said to me, “Put that Seven to work” (we both ride the same brand bike) and took off so fast we were flabbergasted. He quickly became a small green dot in the distance that we could never draw closer. Did I mention that Gerry is 76?

My feet have been bothering me for a few thousand miles on this trip and today is the day my replacement shoes were supposed to arrive. I spent big bucks on the shoes plus the special delivery to my hotel, and they were not there! Wait – the PAC Tour switched hotels at the last minute, so I hobbled over to the original hotel and found my box. Lon installed the Speedplay cleats and Tuesday I will see if these larger shoes eliminate the “hotfoot” that has numbed my toes since California. Wish me luck!

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 22 Kosciusko MS to Livingston AL

Sweet Home Alabama

Today we rode 116 miles from Kosciusko MS to Livingston AL.

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First, the weather. Yesterday the forecasters blew it and it never got warm. Today was supposed to start cool, then the sun was going to come out mid-day and warm us to 70 balmy degrees. Didn’t happen. I started with arm warmers and a vest in 52 degree weather – fall has come to the south. When it got over 60 I left my vest in a PAC Tour van and quickly regretted it. Overcast and low 60’s makes for a chilly ride.

Next, the motel flat. The bad news is that my rear tire was flat when I took the bike down to the start. The good news is that I could use my stash of tubes to fix it, and the PAC Tour pumps to inflate, so I hardly minded. Much better than the flats in the middle of nowhere.

Most of today was going up and down the hills of eastern Mississippi. It seems that there is not a flat spot in this half of the state. Very few steep or long hills, just the same thing over and over, rolling past pine trees and kudzu spilling down hillsides like a flood of green.

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At the first water stop we got to meet the local sheriff who ask Susan who all these cyclists were cluttering his back roads. Luckily he didn’t spot any of us “emptying the coffee” by the side of the road. Susan told us that she hoped we got thrown in the pokey, and hopefully our roommate too so that she wouldn’t have to pay for our hotel room. Lovely woman.

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Not all the cars in the state looked as shiny and clean. I think this is a 1963 Impala.

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We rode through Philadelphia, MS.

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This is the city where three civil rights workers were killed in 1964. We stopped at the courthouse where . Ironically, this is the only place where I saw the MS flag with its Stars and Bars.

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The city is also the seat of Neshoba County, including the local high school. Click on the photo below for a larger image.

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The roads in this part of the start were not only hilly but also covered with chip seal, which is a layer of tar and rocks. Big rocks. The type of rocks that hammer your hands, feet, and backsides for dozens of miles. My legs were sore from the constant vibrations, not the repetitive climbs.

I rode with Jim S, Jim M, and Lynn until lunch, when we became separated due to limited facilities. Jay from Sleepy Hollow was heading out so I took another ride on the Jay Train. Unlike my previous time, we talked for 15 miles then hammered the last few miles in. This is NOT the Jay Train, just the first time I have seen this maintenance vehicle.

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We passed a house with the Ten Commandments displayed in the front yard. This is a sign that we were getting close to Alabama. (I asked several people if they took a photo, and all were concerned about agitating the owner.)  About 50 feet later, with little notice, we crossed the border. Nothing special, really.

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But on the other side of the street was the matching MS sign, which was a real collectible as there was no sign when we entered the state.

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Jay immediately put on “Sweet Home Alabama” as we pedaled away on smooth roads without chip seal.

Now that we have left MS, I can bring up the topic of dogs. Jim S had a book about a guy who rode solo following much of the same route as us, and he was literally hounded by dogs across Mississippi more than any other state. When I rode in a group, a half mile behind Jay, the dogs were all lethargic and not interested. Jay said the reason was that they were all tuckered out from chasing him! I guess the dogs prefer to chase solo riders instead of a pack.

In western states we often followed a road for 40, 60, or even 80 miles during the day. Now out east the roads have more twists and change often, so the PAC Tour has started spraying arrows on the roads. Keep them from having to find lost riders scattered across several counties.

Lastly, I had a nice dinner at Pizza Hut with cousins who are circumnavigating the US, and re-arraigned their trip to meet me in Livingston. It was nice to see a friendly face and catch up on family. (Their names are being withheld until they return home, safe and sound.) Only 5 more days until we finish in Savannah!

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 21 Indianola to Kosciuszko MS

Entering Paris

Today we rode 100 miles from the King to the General. No, not Elvis or anything to do with the Dukes of Hazard.

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The day started chilly and never got above 60 degrees. Yesterday’s sunny and blustery day was replaced by clouds and a steady wind out of the north. After a double breakfast, I joined with my mates and we rolled out of town at 7:30am. Hope to get back here soon to see the B. B. King Museum and all the Blues Trail sites.

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This is the 21st day of the PAC Tour Southern Transcontinental trip. If we were riding the Tour de France, the 21st day is the big finish in Paris after 3 weeks of racing (plus two rest days). We have pedaled about the same 2200 miles, with no rest days, at half the speed of the professionals. We did get birthday cake for lunch, almost as good as EPO.

After yesterday’s punishing winds we were nervous about today, however the north wind pushed us along at over 20mph. We visited a lovely little place named after my sister.

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Didn’t get a chance to go into this place – worried that it might be an on-line trap.

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The halfway point today was the Hillside Wildlife Refuge. This has a long road going through woods and swamps, and the bridge in the middle is closed so we had no traffic. On the far side is the first real hill in days, at the edge of the Mississippi flood plain.

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We were warned that dogs in MS were notorious bike chasers, so why did most of them just chill in the front yard? Arkansas had more “runners” and they were still not too bad. I just yelled at them and most gave up the chase.

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Many of the fields were filled with cotton plants, ready for the picking, and giving off balls of white fluff that got stuck in surrounding yards and bushes. To harvest this crop, you are going to need a big tractor, and perhaps a classic Lexus too.

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We stopped in Ebenezer at Siddin’s Country Store, the oldest in the county. Everyone was very nice to our group of sweaty, neon Lycra clad cyclists. Inside it was a combination convenience store, grill counter and swap shop.

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They helped me learn how to pronounce our destination, Kosciusko, named after the Polish general Tadeusz Kościuszko who helped the American colonies during the Revolutionary war.

The dreaded headwind never appeared and we finished at a reasonable time, so we can now do laundry and contemplate what attractions and dining possibilities are within walking distance. No way I’m going to climb back on that bike until tomorrow.

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 20 Monticello AR to Indianola MS

My Head’s in Mississippi

Today was the flattest day of the PAC Tour, so why do I feel exhausted? We rode from Monticello AR to Indianola MS.

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Things got off to a bad start when I only ate one breakfast instead of my usual two. I was preoccupied with trying to order new bike shoes and getting them express shipped to a hotel on my route. Not a good way to start the day. We rolled out at 7:30am in chilly, 55 degree weather with lots of wind gusts. Strike two.

After the first water stop we had a great 8 mile section with a great tailwind, scooting me along at 22-25mph, probably the same as the wind. The pavement was smooth as a pool table, perfect conditions. Then we took a left turn onto broken pavement with the same wind now hammering us from the side, and my speed dropped in half.

We went by a very nice lake with cypress trees, and miles of very nice homes. On the other side were cotton fields, so the well manicured lawns had tufts of cotton that looked like melting snow, in the 70 degree sun.

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Cotton is king in Arkansas, the highest quality in the world. Here you can see a field with the Rt. 82 bridge in the background, crossing the Mississippi.

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The bridge was nice to ride over, not steep and narrow like the Bourne Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal.

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The whole time I kept singing to myself ZZ Top’s “My Head’s in Mississippi”.

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Sorry, there were no “Entering Mississippi” signs, just a casino before we turned onto a narrow road with a crosswind so strong it blew several people off the road. Just to go straight I had to lean my bike over. Sorry, no picture, as it was not safe to ride with one hand, rumble strips on the right and semis on the left. We turned off the road and only had to dodge combines.

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The last 25 miles seemed like constant headwind or unrelenting cross wind, slowing us to 10-14 mph blowing across the open farmland. The only break was crossing a bridge under construction.

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Just a few miles later we were suddenly in downtown Indianola. We heard sirens and saw flashing lights. Was there an accident? No, it was the Gentry High School Homecoming Parade.

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Every club, every class had a float or car with young men in tuxedos and ladies in white dresses. We felt very out of place in our sweat-encrusted lycra togs, walking though the crowds. We missed the B. B. King museum as it closed before we could get there. Now i have a good excuse to return.

After cleaning up at the hotel, Jim and I were so tired and hungry that we had to have a McDonald’s shake before we had the strength to walk to Wendy’s for dinner. Now I have enough energy to type up this blog then snooze in front of the TV.

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 19 Arkadelphia to Monticello AR

Rode 2000 miles before lunch

Today was a fairly easy day, flat, some tailwinds, and nice roads though central Arkansas.

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The service by the PAC Tour people is great. Rebecca gave me a wonderful reflexology foot rub last night and noted that the ball of my feet were being squashed by my shoes. This morning her parents were both helping me with loaner shoes, tweaks to my existing pair, and lots of advice. I tried to order new shoes but either they arrive in the final days of the tour or I pay as much for shipping as for the shoes. Guess I’ll suffer a few more days.

At the start this morning Eddy from Belgium gave me a wink and off we went. We do 2:1 where he pulls for two miles and I struggle for one. Even when Tim helped for a few miles, I was watching my heart rate slowly creep up. By the first water stop I knew this was unsustainable and begged for mercy.

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Eddy agreed to dial it back and off we went. This part of Arkansas has a lot of tree farms which means lots of logging trucks. All were excellent drivers, very courteous, giving us a wide berth.

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The logging trucks were headed to this mill.

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The second water stop was at this pretty Baptist Church in Ramsey.

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Who says Baptists don’t have a sense of humor? This sign was a few towns later.

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Not long afterwards we passed the 2000 mile mark, in total since we left San Diego. No Pretenders here – we ride EFI (Every Frigging Inch).

Funny thing about Eddy – he has a good old boy heart from living in South Carolina for four years. Forget Belgium, he wants to retire down south, buy a house near a pond, drive a pickup truck, shoot guns and listen to country music. This house seemed particularly attractive.

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The rest of the day past quickly. We entered Cleveland County and saw these signs that reminded me of my lovely wife.

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And this store could only be in Arkansas, right Caile?

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Tomorrow is the flattest day of the tour, plus we cross the Mississippi River.

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 18 Talimena Lodge to Arkadelphia AR

Never knew what was hurting until I stopped

Today was a recovery day that I didn’t know how much I needed. Tuseday’s ride on the Talimena Scenic Drive was very steep, over and over, in the afternoon sun. Looking back, it was a great ride, incredibly scenic, and really only possible with the support of the PAC Tour.

Today we rode 99 miles from the Queen Wilhemina Lodge to Arkadelphia Arkansas. Still no tailwind, so we had to settle for winds out of the north east.
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The start was a few more up and downs on the Talimena Scenic Parkway before plunging down to Mena AR then a gradual downhill for the rest of the day.
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My point-and-shoot camera has a nice timer function and a mind of its own. It took a very artistic shot at the Blue Haze Vista, or was that Purple Haze?
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Here you can see Jim M, Lynn, and Jim S before we rolled down into Mena.
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After a day up in the mountains, seeing homes was very puzzling. This corner of Arkansas was scenic with field, forests, and a nice little pond. Still saw a few ex-armadillos, but no live ones.
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I’m eating many types of food that I would never have at home. At water stops I am drinking coke and gobbling mesquite Pringles plus smoked almonds. At my request, the PAC Tour has provided Halloween Oreos and chocolate wafer cookies. Laura – please do not let any of this in our home.

For Arkansas, Susan managed to find some appropriately themed treats for the water stop – Southern Biscuits and Gravy potato chips and banana Moon Pies. The chips tasted like sour cream and onion ones, with a strange gravy twist.
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The PAC Tour warns that you should never bring any equipment that can’t be fixed in Norman OK. While we never made it there, we did visit its Arkansas cousin.

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Lunch was hamburgers cooked on the grill, served by the side of the road. Dessert was pumpkin pie, sugar cookies, and carrot cake. I only had room for two.

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At the end we rode past De Gray Lake and a huge dam.

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Rebecca, daughter of the tour organizers, gave a wonderful reflexology massage of my hands and feet. Afterwards I was ready for bed, even though it was only 5:30pm. My stomach had other plans. Dinner was across the street at Fat Boy’s BBQ which was close, tasty and cheap, always a good combination. Ribs, pork, BBQ beans, and green beans cooked with bacon.

The number of days left in the tour are down to single digits and a hurricane is headed to the east coast. Stay tuned…

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 17 McAlester OK to Talimena Lodge, AR

Return to Arkansas

Today we rode from the low lands of McAlester, Oklahoma up to Talimena Lodge, AR. Doesn’t look too bad, right?

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Well, have a look at the profile. This puppy has 7500′ of climbing, the second most of any day on the tour, and most of it comes on the Talimena Parkway.

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The rollers started a few miles out of town. I tucked in behind a couple on a tandem as they crested a hill. They pulled at first, then the road flattened out so I sprinted to catch back up with them. We lasted until the next climb, and I didn’t see them for the rest of the day. The first water stop had some of these fruits under the bushes – does anyone recognize it?

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After the second water stop at 60 miles, things started getting vertical. Marcy was ahead of me going into the park. The boring flat stuff was over, now the challenge started.

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The sign says 10-13% grade, however several people reported seeing 14% on their GPS.

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We climbed up and up and I struggled to keep 5mph, then we plunged down and hit 46. The Talimena Parkway goes along the ridge of the mountains, so you often see the next leg going up the following ridge.

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I was riding solo today as I climb at my own pace. Jim S, Jim M and Lynn came into lunch as a well-oiled team.

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Here is the view at lunch.

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The up and down climbs went on for a dozen miles or two. Just when I was about to rate the road an 8, it switched to a rough chip seal, and then went up for 3.5 miles at 13%. Ouch! On the downhills you could ride on the top of the rocks, but the grind up was painful.

Close to 15 years ago my sister left Arkansas to become a professor in Boise, so I thought I would never set foot in the state again, Wrong! Best of all, once you cross the border, the chip seal ends and the road goes back to smooth asphalt.

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Now today’s ride is coming to an end.The penultimate cue on the route sheet said to look for the steam locomotive.

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We are staying at the Queen Wilhemina Lodge, which was funded by Dutch railroad investors. Now you know the rest of the story.

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The view  up here is tremendous, take my word for it. A photo from the balcony does not do justice.

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Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 16 Purcell to McAlester OK

Coming around second base

In the words of my very patient roommate, we are in the third week of the PAC Tour, which is like rounding second base. We have passed the halfway mark, and still have more work.

Today was supposed to be relatively easy with only 3500′ of climbing, compared to yesterday’s 5000′ and tomorrow’s 7500′. Before I started this tour, I would not have said that any day with 114 miles is easy.

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People are riding all sorts of contraptions. A recumbent bike is very comfortable, but does not climb well as you can’t stand up. Likewise, it is harder to climb with a tandem bike as coordinating two people is a real challenge. Not sure how these riders did.

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It was a cool morning, Monday in the real world.Carol and Dennis Tumey got to ride together – normally he is working while she spends the day on her bike.

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Oklahoma no longer looks like dry dusty Texas and now has a more wooded feel, and we passed through several horse farms.

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We also passed a nice herd of goats, protected effectively by dogs so this was the best shot I could get.

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We stopped at a grocery store in Konawa to use the facilities, and what was parked out front? S2K! Joy said she had 171,000 miles on it and had just replaced the convertible roof. Always nice to meet a fan.

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Before long we were headed to Ada. We passed by several oil rigs, both classic and modern.

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The landscape is looking more like New England with leafy trees providing welcome shade, grass and low bushes, and even some poison ivy to make me feel at home. The squashed armadillos are the only discordant note.

At lunch my team of Lynn, Jim, and the other Jim needed to make one more pit stop, just as Jay was headed out. He is a tall guy, broad in the shoulders, and punches a huge hole in the air that just pulls along anyone who is behind him. I wanted to ride the Jay Train! For three miles I chased him, little Elenore, and Herb, before catching them. Now the view in the Jay Train is fairly boring as you squeeze between the rumble strips on the right and the white line on the left. Hit the strips and your bike vibrates with an electric intensity that pops the bottles out of your frame and twists your handlebars. Too far to the left and you are mixing it up with pickups and semis, who do not appreciate people with Lycra shorts in their lane. And you need to keep this balance at 18-30mph.

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The final rest stop was at 92 miles. Here you can see Jay in front of the Stuart Hotel / City Hall. On the last leg of the Jay Train I even pulled a few miles, but he did the fast work.

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Tomorrow we enter Arkansas!

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

Day 15 Weatherford to Purcell OK

A Roller Coaster Day in Oklahoma

We rode from Weatherford to Purcell OK today. The route looked good, and the forecast was sunny with a light 5-10mph SE wind, so we would have a mild headwind. Compared to previous days, I’ll take it.

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The elevation profile looked easy, though it contained a secret. The route has 5000 feet of climbing over 112 miles. What does that really mean to non-cyclists? If we started at sea level, we would have made it as high as Denver. In the rolling terrain of Oklahoma, where most of the hills seemed to be 100 feet high, we rode up at least 50 of them, or one every other mile. That gets a little old. So the elevation map looks okay, however all those little bumps hurt!

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We started at sunrise. Here is our support Caravan, loaded and ready to meet us at the first water stop.
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After the last few days of bumpy, poorly paved Rt. 66, we started off with 17 miles of pretty good concrete. I could almost see driving the route, except that it is barely wide enough for two sedans, little less two modern pickup trucks. Not only is it missing a breakdown lane, but actually has a raised shoulder so that if you nod off while driving, you will be pushed back into opposing traffic. Not cool.

We did go by a little fairgrounds in Hinton with a small Ferris Wheel, but no roller coaster visible. Here is a shot of Lynn and Marci coming up a hill. You can see the long straight road heading to the horizon.

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We had the usual animal activity. The buffalo were too far away to capture, but this rattler posed for a shot.

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Most of the cows ran away when we approached so we had to sneak up on them.

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Lunch was by the side of the road. Oklahoma’s finest thought we were blocking visibility at the intersection so we all picked up the entire cookout, tents and all, and moved it to the other side of the street. You can see the cruiser parked in the background.

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I noticed that my rear tire looked worn, even though it had just 2 weeks of wear, which is about 1500 miles. A half mile after lunch, I got a flat and had to use my last tube. At the next water stop I pumped it for good luck, and by the bottom of the next hill, hiss, down it went. So I bought a new tire and a few tubes from John, the always helpful PAC repairman. Maybe I should have been riding this instead.

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Now we are at a very worn out motel that looks like a place you go to check in but never check out. We made the most of this by getting sandwiches from Subway and fresh food from the Walmart next door and having a little al fresco dining experience. Here is Lynn and Jim – note the towel tablecloth.

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The one good thing about the motel is that they don’t have a lot of double rooms, so Jim and I each have singles. Last night I snored so bad that he yelled at me, threw a pillow at me, and finally got up and hit me with a pillow. Only fair as I did the same thing to him last week. Now we can have some peace and quiet.

PAC Tour trivia time. One of the riders works at Industrial Light and Magic and has created special effects for Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, Shrek 4D, Iron Man, and the first Star Trek reboot.

Lastly, here is a shot from earlier in the week, two cowboys making a binding agreement, photographed by our NYC judge.

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Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim Salvie’s blog

 

 

Day 14 Shamrock TX to Weatherford OK

Oklahoma is OK

We reached the halfway point between San Diego and Savannah, so it is all downhill from here. So long as it is downwind, I’ll be happy. Today we rode 104 miles, mostly on old Route 66.

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This route was laid out in the 1930s and for forty years was the most famous highway in the USA. This two lane concrete ribbon, known as the Mother Road stretched across 3 time zones from Chicago to Santa Monica. Little towns blossomed and business boomed. Then the interstates came along and bypassed all of this and many of the towns withered.

Today we went to Erick OK, home of the Roger Miller museum and the 100th Meridian museum. (West of the 100th, you could not get a bank loan as it was considered desert.)  We were glad to see Erick as the ride started with pouring rain and sleet, so the organizers moved the water stops to come more frequently.

The National Rt. 66 Museum is in Elk City OK, and is a collection of building about the highway and local history. Lynn shocked me in the following picture.

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Later she spotted the original car used in the Grapes of Wrath movie. Next, Robert looked in the window at the Mercantile.

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Jay peeks out from the rain at the drug store.
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The rain stopped and we rode on to Clinton, over concrete and bad asphalt to the Oklahoma Rt. 66 museum. This is focused just on the road known as America’s Main Street, with more detailed displays. Not that you can tell from the following photos showing me and several Jims.

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Nostalgia is alive and well out here, including Lucille’s Roadhouse where we had a nice, non-steak dinner, including a chocolate milkshake.

My lovely wife said that many of you are asking how I am doing. I am seeing dozens of places that I would never experience any other way, and meeting some real bike fanatics. One unnamed rider’s first job was a stripper at the wiener tunnel at an Oscar Meyer factory. The trip is exhausting, however my saddle sores have given up and let me ride for 8-10 hours a day. Most people ride cross country Pacific to Atlantic to catch the prevailing west winds, but we have had headwinds almost every day. I’ve learned more about our country and the some crazy history, like the cross country foot race in 1928 where participants ran 40 miles a day for a $25,000 prize. They don’t teach that in your high school.

Please support my ride to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Chris Spear

P.S. Check out Jim’s blog