Three more days of riding hills and headwinds, then a flat dash across the coastal plain brought us to the Atlantic Ocean. I stopped writing posts a few days ago because they were becoming repetitive. All we did was get up, eat breakfast, ride, eat, sleep, repeat. That’s the magic of Pactour.
Martha and I spent yesterday relaxing on Tybee Island. Most riders have departed by now, probably most are home with their families. I miss them.
Lon and Susan have been running Pactours for 35 years. At three rides each year, that makes this the 105th Pactour. I’ve done eight of them. Now I’m John Darling. Martha is Wendy. Lon and Susan are Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Pactour is Never Never Land.
Headwinds and hills for 128 miles, just get it done. No stops for pictures, just ride the bike. Tiger Tom and Doc Don escorted me out of Livingston. Then I traded a few pulls with Eastside Ernie and Jukebox Jerry, until we caught another group ahead of us. Ernie and Jerry dropped back, and I rode up to the first sag in an ad hoc pace line – three of the Tacoma-Steilacoom boys, Big John, Winchester John and Seattle Gary. They stopped at the sag, I kept going; I also blew past the second sag, and finally they caught me right before lunch. Rather than stopping to eat, I poured some tomato soup in my water bottle, grabbed half a grilled cheese to eat while riding and headed down the road, not fast, but at a steady pace. About 20 miles outside of Greenville, the same pace line caught me again and I let them go. Eventually QB Ken caught me, and we rolled into Greenville together, both happy to have some company.
For a final test of my platform pedal hypothesis, I switched back to Speedplay pedals with Specialized shoes for the ride to Greenville. After happily riding platforms for over two weeks, I wanted to see if the Speedplay pedals offered any advantages. Much as I would like to say there was no significant difference, I cannot do that. I liked having my foot locked in to the pedal, especially at two points on the stroke – about 1 o’clock and about 7 o’clock. Also, I was able to sustain standing on a climb longer and more easily with the Speedplays. Overall, my perception was they provide a small increase in power – maybe 5 – 10 percent. That’s not much, but for a long day it is significant.
Final analysis – platform pedals have all the advantages I mentioned in my earlier post. Riding with sandals is incredibly comfortable. For a self-contained ride, you don’t have to carry extra shoes. For tour rides shorter than 100 miles, unless you have your mind set on beating your friends to a motel or campsite, I suggest giving platforms a try.
Outskirts of Livingston, not much here. McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Taste of India. Martha and I didn’t want to risk Indian Food in ‘bama, so we went for the King. My whopper had too much ketchup. Big John and Debbie went for McD’s. They were out of ketchup. Doc Jon went for Taste of India, said it was good. I forgot to ask if they had ketchup. Karen Ann and Brent chose subway, which they ate in the motel lobby. I told Karen Ann, “look like you’re happy, even if you’re not.” She laughed.
Brent and Karen Ann inspire me. They ride this tour together most of of the time, with smiles on their faces, seeming to savor every moment.
Brent’s rear derailleur broke today. He’s riding the rest of the way to Savannah with only his front triple. Tomorrow will be a good test – 128 miles, and hills.
Just for grins, riding out of Indianola, I decided to stalk the Nutter gang and maybe discover some of their secrets for having so much fun together on this trip. Riding south on 49E, Seattle Gary came flying by me about five miles out of town. Ten minutes later, along comes the rest of the gang, Waukegan John, motoring them up to Sea Gary’s wheel. He got down on his aero bars and pulled the whole gang for maybe ten miles, while Ma Karen sat on Stigman’s wheel at the back. The winds kicked up a notch and the gang started trading pulls, eventually forming a perfect double echelon when the wind was blasting from the left. I hung back a couple hundred feet, smiling and admiring until they reached the first sag stop and I rolled slowly by.
Leaving the Flood Plain
After riding fifty odd miles, we began climbing a sequence of stair steps, leaving the cotton and rice fields behind us. The landscape changed dramatically to rolling hills, forests, pastures, picturesque houses and occasional dogs. At supper tonight, Charlie admitted to priming the dog pump, being the first to ride by them all. By the time I reached dog alley, they had me dialed in. My Strava power graph spikes for each of my dog intervals. On one particular occasion, two dogs teamed up: first a yellow lab came at me from the right. Just as I had managed to outrace him, his black lab buddy comes charging from the left.
Dogs were my only motivation to ride fast today. Otherwise I enjoyed a slow meander over the rolling hills of eastern Mississippi.
Mississippi. Deep South, Dixie’s Heartland. We arrived yesterday. I don’t live here. I can observe, ask questions, take pictures, even write a blog, but no way I can claim to understand what lies deep within Dixie’s Heart.
Yesterday at breakfast, I chatted with MI Broh, who grew up in Texas. In the late 1950’s, before the Civil Rights Act was passed, he traveled by car with his family passing through Mississippi. The age of segregation. Restaurants, bathrooms, drinking fountains he visited were for whites only.
Yesterday we set up and served lunch beside a small church. One of the deacons arrived and he invited Martha and me inside to see the sanctuary. Simple wooden pews had pockets holding well worn versions of old King James Bibles. No hymnals. The deacon said everyone just sang along with the choir. The deacon was black and I asked him if the congregation was all black.
Yes, he replied, but people bring white visitors. Anyone is welcome to attend.
After supper, several of us attended the nearby high school football game. Two private schools were playing – Indianola Academy and Greenville. The game was much larger in scale than last week’s game at Shamrock. Larger crowds, more players on the roster, bigger linemen, louder music. People in the crowd cheered enthusiastically and I saw Tiger Tom chatting amiably with several of them.
Most of the football players were white. Over 90 percent of the crowd was white. Indianola is 80 percent black. Was there was another football game in town?
Wondering what barriers prevented others from attending Indianola Academy, I looked up the schools website. Annual tuition is $5485, plus an expected donation of one or two thousand to the annual fund. About 7K total. That’s about what it costs to do a Pactour transcontinental. We don’t have any black people in our group either.
While I was driving the lunch truck, most riders rode in pace lines, battling headwinds across the Mississippi delta. Flat roads crossed acres of cotton fields and rice fields. As the road approached the Mississippi, it circled the perimeter of an Oxbow Lake, formed many years ago when the Mississippi decided to cut itself a new channel.
Shortly after lunch, Tucson Bill took a spill, hitting a log in the road. We picked him up, took him to the ER, and I understand he is back at the motel this morning. At this time I don’t know the extent of his injury.
Last night because Martha and I were busy prepping Pop’s Macaroni Slop, aka PacTour Goulosh, to server for lunch today, I didn’t have time to post anything. Here’s what I remember from yesterday.
I think we all rode easy – only 98 miles, little climbing, winds light and variable. Quiet country roads through eastern Arkansas, small towns, pine tree farms, deciduous forests cornucopia of tree species. Spent the day being lazy, just being nature’s friend.
I was the last rider to leave Arkadelphia and allowed James and Daniel to pace me for 15 miles until we caught up to Brent and Karen Ann, then Young Ian and Captain Jack. After listening and digesting more words of wisdom from the Captain, I blew off the first sag, then rode slowly allowing other riders to catch me.
A fifteen second stop at the second sag allowed me to continue riding slowly and also hang briefly with groups of riders as they later passed me. Any one of these groups would have happily allowed me to glom onto their wheels, or ride in with them, but this day I preferred to noodle along slowly, enjoying the scenery, lost in my own world of thoughts.
I thought about the riders, this group, what an extraordinary privilege it is to ride and hang out with them for nearly a month. Each individual speaks kindly, acts graciously, rides straight, steady and strong. Bicycle angels in cycling heaven.
After reading my blog post from several days before, Captain Jack gently corrected some of my statements about musical acoustics. If you want to learn about music, don’t rely on my blog. Talk to the Captain.
As a crew member, I spend some time shopping and waiting in lines at places like Walmart. Back home, everyone waiting in line is doing something on a cellphone. Here in the South, people are talking with each other.
A few weeks ago, I whined about lousy layouts in WordPress. Turns out I didn’t know how to use the gallery feature.
QB Ken showed us a link from the Shamrock, TX newspaper. Tonight in Indianola, he says there’s another game, and both teams are undefeated.
A 1500 descent along the Talamena Parkway hurled us into the heart of Arkansas. Narrow roads wound through acres of yellow pine, which Bill said is harvested for pulp. We crossed and re-crossed the same creek, which apparently fed a large lake near Arkadelphia.
We’ve arrived in the old south, though not quite the heart of Dixie. The first town we entered was in a dry county, so no beer or hard liquor for sale there. However, they did sell daiquiri sour mix. Arkadelphia does sell beer, just not good beer and not on Sundays.
We ate lunch in a vacant lot next to a small country Store in the small village of Alpine. I chatted with the proprietor, Wilma Buck. She and her husband Troy have owned the store forty one years. Several years ago, she said they tried to close it down, but the community raised a ruckus and they decided to keep it open.
Tonight we’re staying in a Days Inn Motel. The room smells of antiseptic. Two copies of the same picture hang on the recently painted walls. Across the street sits Fat Boys Fine Food, where I remember eating eight years ago and eleven years ago. The first time I ate there it was called the Pig Pit. I bought my daughter a T-Shirt there. I tried to buy a tank top for myself today, but the only sizes are X-Large and XX-Large.
Four hundred million years ago, the South American Plate slammed into the North American Plate to create an east-west fold called the Ouachita Mountains. Today we rode along the ridge of these mountains on the Talamena National Scenic Parkway, leaving Oklahoma behind and saying hello to Arkansas. Total distance for the day was only 99 miles, but the 7500 feet of climbing with grades of 11 – 13 percent tested everyone’s legs.
Blue sky with puffy clouds, temps in the 80’s, no headwind, mostly smooth road surface, birds chirping, acorns falling from oak trees, wide open vistas to the north and south, what more could a rider want?
Speaking for myself, a little less body fat and stronger legs would have served well. My goal was to “ride into” this tour in time to ride strong on the Talamena, but there’s only so much you can do with only two weeks of training. The guys who did their homework motored by me.
Indeed, the steep hills fractured most of the groups who had been riding together. I started the day riding in with the Nutter gang for a few miles, and saw how gaps were forming as they climbed the rolling hills before the Talamena. On an early climb, TC Tom and Larry came motoring by me. Their buddies Phil and Paul were way ahead. Eastside Matt also came flying by. “Where’s Rich”, I asked.
“Back there somewhere.”
I’m amazed at how well old guys can climb. Eastside Ernie (70), Fast Phil (67), Tiger Tom (65), Dr Don (65), Tucson Bill (68), NY Richard (61), MI Jerry (69), MI Mose (64) all rode by me, attacking the hills with Gusto. Wild Wes (60) the youngster may or may not have passed me; my eyes were glazed over much of the day.
Road surface gradually became rougher as we reached the eastern extremes of Oklahoma. I tried riding a smooth stripe that ran through the road, but it wavered too much to be useful. Perhaps other riders tried the same.
When we reached the Arkansas border, the surface changed to glass.
I stopped to snap a picture of the sign at the border when Seattle Gary came flying by. He slowed down and we enjoyed riding the final few miles to Wilhelmina Lodge together.
Like many cyclists, I confess to being self-absorbed on rides like today, absolutely focused on the climb, what my body is doing. Talamena provided a pristine setting for riding. The magnificent vistas, diversity of plants, trees, wildlife I hardly took Time to notice. Thanks to Winchester John for reminding me to listen to the bird calls and the sound of acorns falling through oak leaves and striking the forest floor.
One hilight of the day was strolling with Martha after supper along the path outside the lodge. She showed me a fat walking stick carrying a baby on its back. Then she noticed the nuts on the ground. She dropped a rock on one to crack it open and get the meat. It was hickory. We shared a few bits of dessert together.
The great plains fell behind us today as we headed for Arkansas through the woodlands and pasture of eastern Oklahoma. Hills were more gentle than yesterday, the winds were behind us and most of the riders were smiling coming into lunch. It was my day to grill hot dogs again.
At lunch I had time to chat and snap pics of a few more riders. I’ve known Xenia Brent for several years from Pactour Desert Camps. He’s riding his first transcontinental.
Karen Ann also is riding her first transcontinental, even though she has her name on the trailer, having ridden 10,000 miles with Pactour at Desert Camps.
Dr. Jon, hailing from Australia, is riding his 15th transcontinental. He and I first met in 2004. The guy is a locomotive, the wheel you want to find in a headwind.
The Nutter gang is named after a famous Oklahoma merchant who stood up to outlaws invading his store. They coalesced on perhaps the third day of this tour and have been riding together since then.