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Day 47: The Hardest Day?

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

I woke up early because I wanted to be packed and out of there before someone came to open up the church. I had to wear the clothes from the previous day since my other clothes were still wet from the rain. Both sets of clothes were wet though, as the clothes I wore no longer dried overnight from my sweat. It's really gross when you can easily see the patches of salt on your clothes, but I didn't have much of a choice. It did give me the motivation to make it to a Warmshower's host that night no matter what.

Yesterday, I broke from the Transamerica route late in the ride to stay north. This was because I was determined to ride through as much of the Mark Twain National Forest as I could. The forest has an interesting layout where it is broken up into several chunks and by breaking from the Transamerica route I would be able to ride through more sections.

Now I know absolutely nothing about the forest, but I love Mark Twain and his writing. That was the only reason I wanted to ride through the forest. I guess I'm a sucker for Mark-eting (okay, that was terrible).

Having never heard of the forest before map scouting for my trip, my expectations were pretty low. But even from looking at maps of the US with my dad back in California, I had decided that no matter what, I still wanted to go. Even if it wasn't especially impressive. I wouldn't be able to ride through any of the forest today, but I did need to continue staying north of the established route and there was only one Warmshowers host in the area, which was 160 miles away. I reached out and they said they would be happy to have me. I believe I was only their second guest ever, since it was hard to reach them, and there wasn't a lot out there in Salem, Missouri. It was good I got my early start though, because I had a lot of miles to make.

I got breakfast at a small restaurant in the town I stayed the night in. It was full of farmers and they were pretty confused about having someone they didn't know coming in for food at 6 AM. But I got to order some cheesecake, so I was happy.

I ate fast, but now it was time to pound out some miles. Riding in Missouri was almost immediately different from Kansas in one major way, now I had hills. Tons of hills... The Ozarks are super old mountains, so they're quite low in general, but they are incredibly steep and close together. So I began riding up and down and up and down. I could look at my speed chart for the day and it looked like a wicked saw blade due to the rapid variation in my speed from high to low as I got over one hill and hit the next.

The other issue I contended with was the shoulders (or lack thereof). Either the roads had no shoulders or the shoulder would have thick rumble strips, leaving me with almost no space to ride. Cars were also not used to bikes on the roads (for good reason), so it was a little worrying because I was constantly in blind spots either just over a hill or around a corner (yes, the roads even turn in Missouri, which was another big change from Kansas).

You can see how this isn't conducive to pleasant riding. The Transamerica Trail itself utilizes the best roads in Missouri. I hear it's still pretty tough going, and Claudia texted me when she passed through Missouri about how tough it was. Luckily, when I have to choose between two types of hills, steep and punchy or long and lower grade, I like the steeper hills, so I didn't mind the Ozarks that much. Hills usually didn't last more than 10 minutes, which was much better, in my opinion, than the hour long passes I would climb over in the Rockies.

Despite not being used to cyclists (or maybe even because of it) cars were generally pretty respectful of me. They rarely, if ever, passed me on one of the blind hills. I think the people in the Ozarks know how dangerous that can be as they have to drive them every day. Basically, everywhere east of the Rockies you get coal-rolled a few times a day. For those who don't know, coal-rolling is when big trucks will gun it right as they pass you and leave you in a cloud of smog. It's not especially pleasant, but it was a fairly universal experience in all the states I would be passing through from here on out.

I had just rode 210 miles a week ago, so I felt that 160 miles should be pretty doable, but really, I think that today may have been the hardest physical day of the trip. Climbing adds a ton of difficulty to the ride where in Kansas I almost looked forward to the hills for variety's sake. Here there we so many steep hills it really took it out of me. Especially combined with the less bike friendly roads of Missouri. Numerous donuts helped me power through.

I would ultimately burn over 5K calories on this ride alone, so despite this diet, I probably still ended up in a calorie deficit for the day. I swear, that's one of the aspects about cycle touring that I miss the most... I could eat as much of whatever I wanted and it wouldn't matter at all!

My other motivation in riding hard all day was that my Warmshowers host had a new baby that was only a couple months old. When I heard that, I couldn't believe they were even open to hosting me, but I really didn't want to make them stay up for me at all, as I was sure they were already exhausted. In addition to their newborn, they also had another son who was only a couple years old. Maybe they were just used to sleep deprivation already, but I didn't want to make it harder than it had to be. I wanted to get there before dark. My 210 mile day took 11 hours 59 minutes of riding time. I couldn't take that long today as I finished the double century at 11 PM, and that wouldn't be acceptable this time.

The hills were brutal, but I was making good progress. Fueled again in part by Red Bull, Monsters, etc. The nice part about riding out in Missouri is I was more likely to come across towns I could stop at to get water and some food than in Kansas. It was only towards the end of the day that I had a patch where I began running low on water. I wasn't stopping as often since I needed to be quick and misjudged how much water I needed to drink between towns. I began cramping on the hills, but at this point I was only 30 miles from Salem, and I knew I could make it.

I found one more gas station to refill my bottles at and grab a bag of chips for salt and really dropped the hammer for the remaining miles to Salem. You can see here on my elevation chart the type of terrain I was dealing with.

There were so many up and down hills all day it caused me to fatigue faster than on my 210 mile day, but I think I was also more trained because I arrived in Salem at dusk (just before 10 PM) and got to meet my host, Sarah, and her husband. They had a big meal all made up. It's so nice to be hosted by people with touring experience as they know what you really need at the end of the day! I could also see several cans of Monster Energy around the house, so it seemed like they weren't immune to their newborn after all. I was just so thankful to be able to wash myself, and also my clothing, and that they would even consider having me with their two young children as well. Dinner was delicious stir fry and quinoa.

Unfortunately, because I arrived somewhat late, we didn't get to talk for that long and they both were busy in the morning so they said I could just make myself breakfast and head out when I was ready. With that, I collapsed into their spare bed and promptly slept. I was going to make it to the Mark Twain National Forest tomorrow!

Salt sucker.

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