I had been looking forward to this multi day velomobile adventure for months! (A velomobile is basically a recumbent bike with a lightweight aerodynamic shell.) The questions about the possibilities of the improved route between Colorado and Florida would soon be answered. I had spent hours trying to determine a better course than I had traveled between these two points twice before. I changed the course to avoid country roads full of potholes in Mississippi and Alabama that I had ridden twice before. The flatter terrain versus crossing of the Ozarks along the Trans Am route in Missouri was a change from the ride west I had done with John Schlitter in the spring. I would be better prepared with much more cold weather emergency gear and a total of 4 spare tires for the front and 2 for the rear. Heavier but better prepared. And in spite of personally being 10 pounds heavier than my best riding weight and having trained very little for 6 months, I was beyond excited and feeling positive about the upcoming journey! Maybe I will be able to make it faster than 12 days it had taken on the previous two trips, I thought.
The night before departure!
After going to bed at 11, I woke at 2:30 a.m. with so much excitement that the trip would begin. I methodically closed up the house and loaded up the velomobile with plenty of snacks for the day and all the luggage that was already prepared. Finally out the door at 5:20 a.m. into a chilly 38 degrees I made sure that I wouldn’t get too cold by wearing a lightweight wool base layer, lightweight down coat and gloves for the initial descent. After a cold descent, as soon as I began climbing, I was ready to ride in shorts due to the warmth of being enclosed.
Heading east towards the sunrise!
The miles flew by easily as I was powered by months worth of stored up adrenaline being released by the excitement of finally being on the road traveling from Boulder to Osprey. The only mechanical issue I encountered was the need to slightly tighten the barrel adjuster of the rear derailleur. It was a wonderful day.
I couldn’t help but ride like I was racing, pushing perhaps harder than what was sensible and taking very few and hurried breaks.. Crisp cool air and sunshine everywhere. I made my way out of the Denver metro area on a practiced route happily before any traffic appeared as it was Sunday morning. I had decided to take the shoulder on I 70 from Strasburg to Seiburt to avoid the large expansion cracks and huge hills along the section of 36 that is typical for bicycle travel between these two towns and how I had traveled in the past. I had scouted this vicinity of 70 during a 200 mile recon ride a month prior and was not disappointed with how it flowed well and the lack of debris on the very large shoulder.
Climbing on the shoulder of I-70
The frontage road from Seibert to Goodland, Kansas was easier than expected in spite of the many punchy hills and less than perfect surface. My friend John Schlitter and I had started occasionally exchanging texts at noon. He had mentioned in the days before that he would be tracking me. I was grateful to have him ‘dot watching’. Before I knew it I was heading south along the very nice bit of road in Kansas from Goodland to Tribune.
Sunset in Kansas!
This is a beautiful stretch with some long climbs and descents with very little traffic and a clean smooth shoulder. In the midst of this section darkness fell and the temperatures began to drop quickly. At a water stop at the gas station in Tribune I was shaking with cold as I struggled to put on layers when getting out while explaining the velo to some interested motorists. I successfully contacted the Scott City Inn at this time and reserved a room for the night and quickly got on my way. It was to be my latest arrival at nearly 10:30 pm. I was fully exhausted when I arrived. I still felt OK to do the routine laundry washing in the shower and arranging for drying on the heater and then setting up the recharging of electronics (Garmin, headlight battery, 3 taillights, and phone, before making it to bed. Mandatory every evening activities.
Summary: Boulder,CO to Scott City, KS. 335 miles, 6058’ climbing. 14:36 moving time. Avg. speed 23.1mph.
Day 2: I woke somewhat early and was rolling by 6:55 although to me it felt like 5:55 because of the first time change. It was still dark and very cold. My Strava file said “feels like 24 degrees” for the morning temperature.
I began with base layers up and down, a lightweight down coat and wool gloves. The hard effort during these first couple of days was happening because I was trying to get as far across Kansas as possible due to the forecast of strong southerly crosswinds for midstate and west starting mid week. Crosswinds are great for going fast but they can also be a bit dangerous when gusty and definitely cause tires to wear very quickly. My legs and all else felt pretty good considering the previous day's effort so I decided to push it a bit and hold an average of about 31mph to the next town. I arrived in Dighton as the sun was rising and stopped at the first convenience store to buy some water. On the way out of town I saw a Dollar General and stopped to stock up on breakfast bars. It was already time to take off the down coat. These stops were fairly short and I was back on my way east to Rush Center. I kept focusing on keeping my speed up and stayed close to 30mph until the first 87 miles was done and it was time to head south. It felt so good to be close to 100 miles already in less than 4 hours. Thank you Kansas! It had warmed up significantly when it was time for the climb out of the Walnut Valley after I turned south as a text came in from John wishing me an enjoyable climb. The interior mirror I had installed just prior to this trip worked well to see any traffic approaching from behind with the hood open and the cool breeze felt awesome.. It was turning out to be another great day.
The new interior rear view mirror for climbing worked great!
As I made my way across this huge state in the coming hours some tenderness in my left achilles tendon, an old injury, became noticeable. I backed off the intensity a bit and started focusing on pedaling as smoothly as possible. This seemed to work well and I was able to keep going at a reasonable pace. The dreaded 30+ mile section of very rough road between Larned and Nickerson arrived quickly but didn’t seem that bad. Then, as one of the high points of the day, was the privilege of going over the new bridge just east of Nickerson. John and I had to find a way around this as it was under construction when we were heading west in the spring. With almost no traffic the top of the bridge on the wide shoulder was a great spot for my first real break of the day at about 175 miles. It also felt good to be through the 30 miles or so of rough road that was between Larned and this point.
Lunch break and drying out my jacket on the bridge.
John texted that from here the two choices for a hotel would be Newton or Eureka with not much other than a lot of miles in between.
The friendly and curious staff at a Dollar General.
At Newton I decided to go for Eureka which then ended up seeming like a very long ride. Thankfully there was a long descent into Eureka which I had forgotten about and although it was very dark my headlight provided great road view and there was little traffic.The Blue Stem Inn ended up being one of the best motels on the journey. Another great day. This day had brought forth many memories from both the TABR and my trip with John which kept my mind busy. The first stretch in the morning between Scott City and Rush Center I had ridden three times So nice to be on familiar roads in a fast velomobile. To quote a very cool and talented retired pro cyclist and friend Shawn Gravois, “A little course knowledge goes a long way”
Day 2 Summary: Scott City, KS to Eureka, KS 301 miles, 3262’ climbing. 12:36 moving time. Avg. speed 23.9 mph. https://www.strava.com/activities/8050455903/overview
Day 3: After the first good night’s sleep since days before I had begun, I awoke feeling mentally great but my body was super sore. It was tough to get out of bed! I took my time getting ready and finally rolled out at about 8. I was into Kansas hill country now, (yes, there is such a thing), and would be traversing some very rolly and rural country roads that morning. This would mean beautiful scenery but lower speeds. It was humid and warmer with a south wind greeting me every time I turned to its direction. Fortunately I had achieved my goal of beating the strong winds that had been forecast for the roads behind me. I could take it a bit easier now and that was a very good thing because I was feeling more tendon soreness in general than yesterday. There was no choice other than to ride with less effort. The miles went by slowly but the memories of the ride in the spring with John and the TABR ‘18 kept my mind busy until I left the Trans Am route and headed south on 59 towards Oklahoma on the first 'new to me' road of the journey. My first miles down US 59 were fine and I was cruising close to 30 mph for much of the time. There was a fair amount of traffic but, as always, drivers saw my triple double tail lights from far back and gave me plenty of space. There was just enough shoulder at first and then I was on fresh asphalt with a huge new shoulder. It was awesome! It was a fun cruise and then a stop waiting for the oncoming wave of traffic to pass through the one lane section where there was road construction.. Then the flagman turned the sign and it was sprint time until I was past the construction. Afterwards, the shoulder was still smooth until I came to a detour where I was unable to turn left staying on 59 as I had planned. It took me quite a while dazing at Google Maps Street view to realize a shorter detour than the one advised would work just fine. I turned west and then after only a couple miles was able to turn south at Altamont. This put me on a very rural but smooth road with no traffic for about six miles. It was really nice. I then reached Hwy 166 and headed east to Chetopa to get back on course. This highway also had enough shoulder, light traffic and gently rolling hills. It was hot outside now and the temperature in the cockpit was approaching 90 degrees. The cold was now behind me for the rest of the journey. It felt good to be almost done with Kansas and heading for what I hoped would be a quick and smooth passage through NE Oklahoma. The huge and smooth shoulder on 59 continued to Welch, OK where I began riding route 2 south. Very light traffic but no shoulder at all. Fortunately my hope that the low traffic volume here would render the absence of shoulder acceptable was realized. I still was inspired to push it up and over the hills quickly for visibility safety. I arrived in Vinta around 4:30 to fairly heavy local traffic during rush hour but the cruise through town went fine on the large and smooth concrete shoulder with little debris. It was looking like the new ride through Oklahoma would be perfect! I traversed highway 60 west to begin riding south again on the large concrete shoulder of highway 69. There was a mild rumble strip near the white line but plenty of room to dodge debris as there was a bit more to avoid now. It was cooler and the traffic on the highway was heavy due to it being rush hour. No danger as I was way over on the shoulder but the relaxed atmosphere I had enjoyed for the trip thus far was gone. And there were a lot of semis! I checked my speed to the lower 20’s as I picked my way through the debris composed of more and more gravel and rock that had been thrown off the gravel trucks by this section of damaged concrete highway. I was grateful to be on the shoulder because the traffic lanes were full of holes. After crossing through the small town of Adair there was even more gravel and rock. It was becoming really challenging to find a clear path for all three of my tires! Shortly after leaving Adair there was a semi pulled over on the shoulder. I checked my rear view and was clear to head around him in the slow lane. When I was almost past him I slammed into a hole in the road that I didn’t see. As soon as I passed him I felt the left front had flatted! It was my first flat of the trip. I pulled over about 50 yards in front of the truck and began the involved process of dealing with a flat. The truck driver kindly walked up to check out the velo and offer assistance. He had a huge smile showing off an all metal “grill” on his front teeth. He was a super nice guy and said I could wait for his repairman if I wanted to save my CO2 cartridges. “Thank you but I’ll be OK”, I responded. I checked the tire and thought that perhaps the impact had just blown the seal and the tire might still be fine. I decided to risk one of my six CO2 containers to see. Bad choice. The slice in the tire which I hadn’t seen became clear to me as the CO2 blew out of it! So it was time for a new tire. I was feeling grateful that I had decided to travel heavy but safe with four spares for the front tires and two for the rear.. The new tire went on smoothly and with sealant added it inflated perfectly and I was done. Phew! The trucks and traffic had been whizzing by and I was anxious to be on my way. The truck driver walked back again as his repair man had arrived and kindly offered the air assistance again. I thanked him and explained I was good to go so we fist bumped and wished each other well and I was on my way. The rock and gravel was getting even thicker on the shoulder and dusk was approaching. I encountered a relatively clear section and started cruising again only to have to slow down again because of the rock everywhere after a few miles and then again the awful feeling of another front flat. I pulled over and changed another tire. Three CO2’s left and two front spares left. Not the cushion I was hoping for for most of my trip! I decided to run at slightly lower tire pressure in hopes of not getting another flat. I began picking my way through the rock and gravel and immediately again a flat! Now I was completely freaked out! I pulled over on a side road and had a conversation with some kind locals about getting to a hotel in the next town of Prior without proceeding on the highway shoulder. John and I had talked after the second flat and he kindly had found a hotel with availability and had investigated the route the local had mentioned. With all the stress I had to go to the bathroom too! Fortunately I had a bit of TP with me and left the velo to squat in the ditch next to the highway but out of view. What a nightmare! As I walked back to the Milan I wondered if my trip was nearly over as I only had one spare left. I slowly made my way to the hotel in the cool darkness and was grateful, as always, for the comfort of the room. I inspected the last flat I had gotten and realized that the sealant had all dried during the inflation when the edge beads of the tire were setting and the hole was small enough for sealant to plug. Also definitely small enough for a tire boot and tube if necessary. So I still had two front spares left. I was grateful to have avoided the tire wear that would have happened if I had gone slower during the first two days and had encountered strong cross winds in central KS. I spent some time before sleep figuring out the quickest and safest way from Prior, OK into Arkansas, the land of mostly beautiful roads with mostly big shoulders. Sleep came quickly.
Day 3 Summary: Eureka, KS to Prior OK 190 miles, 3274’’ climbing. 9:29 moving time. Avg. speed 20.1 mph. Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/8055652480/overview
Day 4: I purposely got up before 5 to get an early start on what would be some potentially busy roads without shoulders. I began rolling in the dark at 5:30 knowing that navigating would be tougher today as there was no set route stored in my Garmin providing an easy line and arrows to follow. I had memorized the roads I decided upon the night before as well as I could but would be frequently pulling over to check my location and the location of the next turn. It was a chilly 50 degrees with high humidity and almost foggy. The roads out of Prior were acceptable but there were already many Oklahomans on their way to work. All were very courteous and waited until it was clear to pass me, giving me plenty of room. As soon as I was heading east, having left the town, the road conditions were pretty rough. Damaged concrete with large holes here and there. My bright headlight was adequate to spot the damage and I was able to pick my way along while monitoring the headlights coming from behind. I rode by a power plant and what seemed to be a chemical plant. Ah, the joys of industrial areas. The hills were significant and punchy. I was working hard to make good time and at the same time trying to be gentle with the many sore tendons that were reminding me of my lack of training. As the daylight arrived I was moving along what I knew would be a fairly busy two lane road: The Dan P. Holmes Memorial Highway. This road runs parallel to the Cherokee Turnpike but because the Turnpike is a toll road there was fairly heavy traffic. Lots of small hills and no shoulder at all. I think the posted speed limit was around 55 or 60 mph but all the traffic saw my tail lights from far away and there were no issues. Still the 600 feet of overall elevation gain felt like a lot. I just felt guilty slowing people down on their way to work. I pulled over a few times when climbing if there were people waiting to pass. At one stop a really nice guy stopped and was so curious about the velo. He offered water at the shop he worked at up the road but I assured him I was OK and needed to press on. He explained that most of the traffic was school related and it should let up shortly. Around 8:30 I was ready to turn north off of the busy road. I had only traveled 37 miles in 3 hours. The road heading north to Cloud Creek was US Highway 59 and Oklahoma Route 10. There was very little traffic with a small shoulder and very smooth asphalt. This and gentle terrain made this 2 miles a great reward for a tough morning. I was so happy to be off of the damaged road. I turned east again onto the rural state route 16 and soon found a Dollar General to resupply. It was warming up and felt really nice outside.
The Milan soaking up some sun at the Dollar General. 🌞
This was a sweet country road with beautiful scenery that took me into Arkansas after about 10 miles. I encountered Arkansas 43 shortly after crossing the border and was elated. The surface was like glass and there was an ample shoulder. Time to pull over and celebrate with a non moving snack.
The beautiful surface in Arkansa!
43 south to Siloam Springs was fun and fairly empty. I enjoyed cruising into the city so much that I went a bit too far east and ended up staying on a truck route through town after turning south. I had to pull over and figure out where I was which I should have done upon entering town. No worries though as the shoulder wasn’t too cluttered and it would be a short trip to get to Arkansas Highway 59. 59 would take me the very hilly 60 miles across the southern Ozarks to the Arkansas River valley where I would join my original route in Van Buren. Soon I was taking the exit that looped me south on 59. It was nearly void of traffic with a reasonable shoulder. The six hours that began the day had been tough but I knew what was to come would be a challenge as well. Noon was near and there was a lot of climbing ahead of me. I met a local sheriff early on 59 who said my choice to head south on that highway was good as the traffic would be light. He was super nice and we talked for a while about the velomobile. He warned me of the many climbs ahead. The steep climbing began and my left achilles tendon really started hurting. I decided to take it super slowly and almost all of my power then came from my right leg. It was a nice day and enjoyable to be climbing with the hood propped up. The rear view mirror I had mounted inside the hood was working really well and allowed me to relax while climbing like a snail.
Some climbing competition on 59!!
The descents were awesome! There’s nothing like the rush from dropping a couple hundred feet in a minute or so on a winding road reaching 60 mph at the bottom to fly across a bridge and then an open valley or to roll up most of the next hill with all the momentum! Velomobiles are so much fun! The afternoon wore on as I crept southward on this remote stretch of picturesque highway through the Ozarks. I would like to return and ride this highway again, I thought. It was a really nice ride and due to the soft pedaling some healing occurred during these lazy hours. My time on 59 wrapped up with a fun 1,000’ descent in about 10 miles. I dropped into Van Buren after nearly eleven hours in the cockpit having only traveled 125 miles. But I was about to be back on course. Yes!
I pulled over and plotted a route along the outskirts of town which ended up working out well and kept me away from the stress of rush hour. Soon I was back on the original course on the huge shoulder of US Highway 64 cruising mostly flat terrain at 30 mph. It occurred to me that had I been able to continue on my original course through Oklahoma to this point I would have been here in the early morning. So much for trying for a super fast overall time to Florida but the absence of that pressure was welcome. I was back on course and the tendons were no longer painful. Highway 64 runs next to Interstate 40 across half the state and for the most part is a light traffic frontage road. I pressed on, happy to be cruising at a higher speed along the gently rolling Arkansas River Valley. I was so intent on watching the road and my mirror that I missed the cue for a left turn that would have taken me on my planned route to avoid a series of many100’ climbs on 64. “Why not do a little more climbing?”, I thought, when I realized my mistake and was too far to make going back a good choice. Besides, this way I could stop a bit earlier in the town of Ozark for the night. I enjoyed a phone conversation with John during the final few climbs of the evening and rolled into Ozark at about 7:30 after 14 hours in the cockpit. What a day!
Day 4 Summary: Prior OK to Ozark, AR 158 miles, 7,194 climbing. 11:02 moving time. Avg. speed 14.3 mph. Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/8060422705
Day 5 Sunrise in Arkansas!
Summary of days 5-9 coming if there is any interest. Please let me know!