Day 28 – Elm Grove, LA to Carthage, TX – 70 miles
Leaving the beautiful place in Elm Grove was tough, but got back on the road and headed northwest. After a quick 15 miles, we arrived in Bossier City where Marcus grew up and where his family lives. His father works at the Air Force base in Bossier City, and he invited us into the base for a tour. We all met up outside of the base as he waited with boxes of fresh donuts. We were escorted by cadettes in a pickup truck through the base all the way to the museum. It’s a beautiful area and pretty quiet. The museum is made up of many retired airplanes used from the 1930s to the 1970s. Included was the B52 bomber, which is still used today. Marcus’s dad currently trains pilots on how to fly these huge airplanes. Impressive machines. How we can maneuver one of these is a mystery to me. It is absolutely massive.
He gave us a great rundown and history of each plane. He knows an incredible amount about these, and it was awesome hearing him speak. Just like his son, he’s an extremely inteligent, humble, and very friendly guy. It was a pleasure meeting him and going around the Air Force Base with him.
On our way towards the Texas border, several of us stopped at Sonic for lunch. They were nice enough to give us a 50% discount on the total bill, so I took down a double cheeseburger and fries. It always sounds great at the time, but getting back on the bike is a struggle with that much beef and potatoes in your stomach. That’s when it’s time to jump on the struggle bus.
We got to our host, who is also the father of a Bike & Build alum. We took the turn into his driveway and rode the final half mile on the gravel road enclosed by trees. Finally it opened up to a beautiful house along with the owner, Rob McPhereson, waiting for us. Along with Rob was plenty of snacks and coolers of beer. We pretty much just relaxed the entire night out on the porch or in the house. Rob’s son was talking about shooting guns, and someone asks, “Well, can we go do that now??” So they did. That’s what Bike & Build is all about…new experiences!
Was another great night at an amazing host. Just thinking of hosting 27 people is ridiculous, doing it is just crazy. Thanks again to the McPheresons for hosting us!
Day 29 – Carthage, TX to Athens, TX – 92 miles
The road was rough. Literally rough. The shoulders are finished with what they call chip seal, and it is not fun to ride on. Every part of your body is numb while riding on it, but there is no other way since the road is a 4 lane road with 70 miles per hour traffic. Add to the fact that it was hilly…not the steep kind but the long, endless ones that make you sweat. One time after another, I was going down to my easiest gear to grind out the hill. It was also not cold, as the temperature was about 95 degrees and very humid. To top it off, my growing knee pains were not helped by this. By lunch, I was having some real pain going up these hills. Luckily the second half wasn’t quite as bad. We did find that one of the roads was not safe because of a lack of shoulder and high traffic, so we were shuttled 15 miles forward before completing the final 5.
We arrived at the church and were immediately given sno cones, a great way to end a bike ride.
We all ate dinner at the church (burgers, beans, and fries…delicious), and then we were introduced to our hosts for the night. In Athens, they have a great thing going for hosting. They have about 10 families who volunteer to host us, rather than having us just stay at the church. I was introduced to my host, the Griffin family. So Jay, Marcus, and I jumped in. On the way, they said to us, “So I figure you guys are pretty tired and won’t want to do anything, but we live on a lake and have a boat.” Our eyes lit up, and there was no question we weren’t going to hop on that opportunity. So we got to the Griffin’s house and immediately dropped all of our stuff inside the house and ran out to the dock.
The Griffins are a family of four, Rick and Janice and their kids Davis and Mattie. Rick and Mattie took us out for the ride, but not before jumping over to the neighbors to get us a 3 person tube. So Marcus, Jay, and I hop on the back of this tube to see what we’ve got. This is Marcus’s second time on a small boat (only on cruise ships before we were in Panama City, FL) and his first time tubing. It was definitely a night to remember. All 3 of us held on for life as Rick whipped us around on the tube. We all had the time of our lives on it. I hadn’t laughed so hard for a long time before that. He’d get one of us off and then come to pick up the weak one in the water. At one point, we were getting whipped around a wave, and all Marcus and I hear from Jay is, “Gentlemen, it’s been an honor” and then Jay was gone. After a good hour or so, we were told it’s the last run. And right off of his dock, Rick gives us a little umph and gets all 3 of us at same time. Pretty epic, and I am pretty sure Mattie got it on video with my Go Pro. Then we went on a boat ride around the lake as the sun went down.
After this, we walked over to the neighbors and jumped on their trampoline…also another first for Marcus. Then we went for a night swim in the lake. To cap it off, we had tea and fresh cookies out of the oven, followed by some hanging out time. We definitely didn’t get much sleep, as going to bed at 1:45am and getting up at 6:00am doesn’t go too well.
But the lack of sleep was well worth it for the great night.
A special thank you to the Griffins for some great memories and for being amazing hosts.
Day 30 – Athens, TX to Dallas, TX – 80 miles
After a nice breakfast with the Griffins, we headed back to the church andn then on the road to Dallas. It was a slow start with the lack of sleep, but Marcus and I powered through the miles. It was another tougher day with some hills, but we managed. Alongside the highway, we found a antique/random stuff store, so we set our bikes down and went in to take a look. The owner was an interesting fella: white beard like Santa Clause, carried a cane, and had some good stories. His attitude was very Texas. He told us that he’s surprised we’re not carrying guns with us on our bikes…since he carries a gun to work and only lives 30 miles away. One time he had a snake in his store that bit him twice without him knowing. Finally, Marcus asked how much this gas mask costs, just out of curiousity. The guy stops for a second and says to Marcus, “Do you smoke pot? That’s what they do, they light it up in the tank hanging down below the mask, and then just breathe it in.” Marcus just smiled, said no, and then we eventually left the store with a few funny memories.
Unfortunately, my knee got worse and worse, and it started getting harder to ride. I powered it out all the way to Dallas, but it wasn’t feeling good. I had high hopes that the 2 build days off the bike would let it heal up.
So we finally got to the legendary Sally’s place. From all of the alumni we had met before, they all had stories about Sally’s place in Dallas. Sally is a middle aged women from Sunnyvale, TX. She somehow met Bike & Builders in 2009 and has been hosting them since. Each year, she has the group stay at her house for 3 nights and treats them like royalty. Like seriously, royalty. Sally is a kind hearted woman who really believes in what we’re doing. She wants to give us the best experience we can before she supports us and the project. She has a huge house with a swimming pool, she cooks up the biggest meals (including BBQ brisket), lets us borrow her and her family’s cars to drive around (including a Ford Mustang, Ford Excursion, Ford F250, and a few more). Thinking about someone who does this, you might think of some attention addict looking for an ego boost. But Sally is one of the most genuine people you will meet and does everything from the heart. More to come on Sally.
At night, we all wanted to experience to Texas nightlife, so we headed to a Honky Tonk outside of Dallas. The place was huge, full of cowboy boots, cowboy hats, flannel shirts, and jeans/jean skirts. Us Northerners definitely stuck out with our shorts and tshirts. There was a live band, a mechanical bull, and plenty of people. It was just typical Texas. Big, stylish, and country. Exactly what we all wanted to experience.
Day 31 – Build Day in Dallas, TX
We all woke up and headed to our build site in Garland, TX, just outside of Dallas. The foundation had just been laid so we were set to complete the framing. Challenge accepted. I had never done much framing before, but I love it. Hammer a bunch of nails into boards, set them upright. Repeat. Hammering nails is pretty fun (and might be my in to the Bike & Build Olympic games we’ll be putting on soon). We were working with Sally’s husband, Peter, and his crew on the house. They were super organized and were not afraid to let us know what to do. They explained to us very clearly what we needed to do, and they weren’t shy on pulling us in when there was some standing around going on. I enjoy this type of leadership, since it keeps things moving and you will not get bored. We worked until 2:00pm and then wrapped up for the day since we ran out of the wood we needed.
Afterwards, Marcus and I went to the Plano Bicycle Shop to get our bikes looked at and get us fitted, something I hadn’t done before. These guys were great to us. The manager of the store took my bike and did complete maintanence on it, including lubing up the brake wire (which was corroding), fixing up the chain, cleaning up the tires and the frame, and more. I then went and got it fitted from the specialist, so he adjusted my seat forward and up to hopefully help with my pains. They also gave us a 10% discount on all parts/accessories we wanted. They are very knowledable and a great help to us. My bike felt pretty much brand new after having them take a look at it.
At night, we just hung around at Sally’s house and had a few beers taking in the warm summer night.
Day 32 – Build Day in Dallas, TX
We headed back to the build site in the morning and went back to framing. Even more smoothly than the day before, we got the framing nailed together and put up. We finished up at about 1:30pm with the final pieces.
Not only was it fun to work on the house, but the other workers/volunteers were great as well. There were several Latinos there, including a lady from Mexico who is living in Dallas. So with all these guys, I got to practice my Spanish a bit. The other volunteers and workers were very energetic and were awesome to be around.
Marcus, our fully bearded man who also races bikes at Purdue, decided to enter a Crit in Dallas. A Crit is a timed race going around a small track. So in his class, they were going for 30 minutes, and they announce when the last few laps are based on their pace.
So 8 of us hopped in the Excursion and headed over to the Crit. The girls bought some supplies at Wal-Mart to create our own Marcus Fan Club. They made signs saying “Fear the Beard” and “The Man. The Myth. The Beard”. They even bought some material so that we could each make and wear our own red beards. So Marcus raced for 30 minutes, pushing himself, and every time coming past us giving us a smile. Not really a normal smile. It’s the Marcus kind of smile that is tough to see through the beard. He did awesome…finishing 5th of 18. Not bad for being in distance shape and not short races. It was great to see him in his type of riding, though. We all enjoyed ourselves, and I think Marcus enjoyed his own Beard Club.
At night, Sally took us all out to a local Mexican restaurant call El Taquito. I got a Chile Relleno (stuffed pepper) and enjoyed every bit of it.
Because of the longer day coming up, we were in bed at a pretty decent time.
Day 33 – Dallas, TX to Decatur, TX – 92 miles
At our Bike & Build orientation, we were told by a Bike & Build leader that there are no bad days in this trip, just that some days are harder than others. This was definitely a harder one.
The first 35 miles were great roads leading out of the city. Nice, 4 lane city roads with not much traffic. The hard part is when you start getting flat tires and ending with 3 on the day. Along with broken sunglasses that just crumbled when I took them off. And bad knee pains (even after the previous days rest). And to top it off, the typical cycling saddle sores. It was a tough day.
When icing my knees outside after dinner, I heard a game going on. Naturally, I walked over to see what was going on, and I found a co-ed softball league going on. It was refreshing not just to watch some softball, but to have a glimpse of what the real world is like again. Our Bike & Build world is not real. We eat, cycle, eat, hydrate, sleep, cycle, nap, and cycle some more. Then build a day. Then repeat. We’re with the same group of people every day. We have Bike & Build problems…not real problems. So it was great to go see people with their kids, hearing people talk about work, all that normal stuff. I really enjoyed just sitting there with my Iowa Hawkeye shirt on and knowing that no one had any idea of who I was. And knowing that as soon as I walked away from the field, they would never see me again. There is something very satifsying to me knowing that this is how it goes. I think this started in South America in my travels when in every place I went, no one had a clue who I was, what I was doing, or where I was going. Not that many people around home have any idea either, but it’s refreshing to have that assurance that they don’t know. So I sat there for a while, watching some pretty good softball and soaked it all up.
Day 34 – Decatur, TX to Wichita Falls, TX – 76 miles
So I got back on the bike again, knowing that my knees weren’t feel the best. After just a few miles, I could feel a lot of pain. I decided it was time, so at mile 6 I called the support van to come pick me up. The way it felt so early on, I knew it was time to jump in the van.
We got to Wichita Falls early afternoon and got to The Y (formerly YMCA), our host for the night. The local Habitat along with an annual race organization (called the Hotter than Hell) set up a dinner for us at Fuzzy’s Taco House in Wichita Falls. They were very welcoming and excited about our project. They even invited all of us to come back and do the Hotter than Hell race in August and they would waive the entrance fee. This is one of the biggest races in the country, with somewhere around 15,000 people doing the 100 mile ride. Very nice offer of them. I know some are thinking of coming back for it.
Later in the evening, I went for a walk and found their local stadium used for hockey and other events. I walked around the corner and saw 4 people walking 10 dogs and also a bunch of RVs parked around. I had to ask what was up, and I found out there were dog agility time trials going on that weekend (obstacle courses). The best part is how they treat their dogs. I saw a few people walking some dogs, and the woman also had a stroller. I didn’t think anything of it until I saw a small dog pop its head out of the stroller. I guess they just want to rest up its legs but still get some fresh air. Pretty funny.
Day 35 – Wichita Falls, TX to Lawton, OK – 56 miles
cookieville, police escort, air force base
To try to rest it up a bit, I took another day in the van. From the van, things just aren’t as good. Obviously I am hear to cycle, so it’s difficult to sit in the van and watch everyone else out there.
They started with 15 miles and then got a police escort over the interstate to cross the border into Oklahoma. For lunch, we stopped in the town of Cookieville. Cookieville is literally 6 people in one house and a church. Nothing more. And we saw 2 of the 6 loading up the truck to go golfing.
Once we crossed the Oklahoma border, things really changed. It got flatter, more expansive fields, more bareness. And it seems to be getting hotter and the sun stronger.
The church we stayed with was also hosting a high school group who were helping build handicap ramps in the town. We got to have dinner with them and hang out afterwards. They are some cool kids. They’re anywhere from freshmen to seniors in high school and are here for a week with their project. Very energetic and refreshing to be around them. Because I was on dinner crew, my chore group gave a presentation to them about Bike & Build. It was pretty fun and relaxed, and many seemed interested in the idea. We even called Jessie up to show off her awesome tan lines…something to be proud of. I even got some of the high school girls to touch Marcus’s recently shaved legs. They were impressed that a guy had such smooth legs, and especially a guy with a beard like his. FYI, he shaves his legs to make it easier to clean out cuts, put on bandages just in case, and to put on sunscreen. It’s definitely a cyclist trick.
I went to urgent care in Lawton, and they told me that I have bursitis in my left knee. This means that the muscle going over the knee cap is swollen from overuse (obviously). They gave me some anti inflamatory medications along with some steroids to get it all healed up quickly. It’s good to know what it is, but it also means I need to rest it for a good 4 or 5 more days at least before getting back on.
Day 36 – Lawton, OK to Altus, OK – 57 miles
We woke up to a hot breakfast of biscuits and gravy, eggs, pancakes, and much more. Then on our way (for me, in the van). The scenery changed yet again, as there were some small mountains around and some long hill climbs. There were some hills made up of large rocks, and there was less and less as far as towns in between and even buildings in general.
We got to town and I went with Nate to watch the Spain vs France soccer match in the EuroCup. Afterwards, we all had dinner at a Mexican restaurant called El Rey that donated an enchilada meal to each of us in their restaurant. Crazy that a local place like this will donate all that food to us with just us asking. These types of things help our trip tremendously.
So far, the trip has been a great one. It’s been a challenge both mentally and physicially. Mentally because it is a very different kind of lifestyle. My life in South America was very unstructured. When volunteering, I had the ability to really work my own hours. When I was traveling, I had the freedom to do whatever I want on any given day. On Bike & Build, we have wake up times (and very early ones at that) and curfew times. We have eating times. We have chore groups that change each week. Everything is all planned out from us, including the direct route. As an indepedent person, it is a challenge to adapt to this lifestyle. Granted that it isn’t military strict, it is still a lifestyle change. The physical challenge is pretty self-explanatory. When you bike 92 miles one day, 80 the next, get an easy day at 55, then 65, then finish off the streak at 75, you are working your body pretty good. There is hardly ever a time that my body doesn’t feel sore. And with the knee troubles, that makes it even tougher. When we are cycling every day, our joints and muscles are hardly resting. We’ve now gone about 1,600 miles, not just a walk in the park. Most days are pretty challenging, but luckily some do feel pretty easy.
The beauty with Bike & Build is the simplicity of the life. You wake up, eat a lot of food, bike, eat a lot more food, bike, eat much more food, sleep, and do it all again. As riders, the main thing we have to worry about is getting to the destination safetly. That’s the number one objective by far. The problem this causes is what we call Bike & Build problems…problems that wouldn’t be problems in the real world since they are small things. Getting 3 flats in one day isn’t really that big of a deal since it only takes up 20 minutes of a day. But in my Bike & Build world, not much frustrates me more.
Between eating, cycling, bike maintenance, meeting hosts, and hanging out with teammates, there is not much time and energy for much more. I find myself extremely tired when I try to sit down and write a blog or pick up the phone to call someone. This is my main excuse for being so far behind on my blog, and I apologize for that. I guess the positive part about being in the van is that I have much more energy at the end of the day to do things like blog.
One thing we have all become experts at is napping. You give us any type of surface, and we will take a 15 (or 45) minute power nap. Honestly anything. Concrete, shoulder of a road, front porch of house. I guess that’s what happens when you are sleeping on a 1 inch thermarest every night…you can sleep on anything. We have found that grass in the south has an extreme number of bugs, especially bugs that bite, and especially fire ants. Finding grass free of bugs is tough to find, but it’s a privilege to nap there when you have that piece of grass.
Another thing I wish I could change is the amount of time at each place. When we stay at a place for one night, we usually get in at 4 or 5. By the time we shower and eat, you’re looking at 7 or 8. If you need to do bike maintenance, that’s your whole night. If not, you might be able to go walk around to see part of the town. Then wake up at 5:30am to leave for the next place. For me, it’d be great to stay some places longer to get to know the towns, the people, the culture. I understand why we have to go so fast, since most people are fitting this in a summer between semesters. So there is nothing I can do about it but wish that I could spend more time at these places.
In general, the build days have been excellent. With my lack of experience in construction prior to the trip, I have learned a bunch of new skills in building houses. Tiling, framing, baseboarding, shoe molding, and I have brushed up on my painting skills. It’s great to have a better understanding of how it all comes together. The workers at the sites are always very patient with us and seem to be happy to have us. I think our group does have a certain energy that is contagious, so some of the girls (Meghan, in particular) have the workers singing and dancing by the end of the day. Meghan sings and dances about 10 hours a day, so it’s nothing new for her. She also happens to know the words to every top 40 song that has come out since she was born. An impressive feat for a 21 year old.
As I have said before, our hosts have been amazing. Northwest Lousiana and Texas have been just incredible as far as hosts. Staying with all of the families has been a very personal experience. These people have such big hearts to open up their houses to let 27 sweaty, smelly, tan lined individuals literally take over their house. Trust me, that is a lot to handle. But we do a great job of picking up in the morning. We leave the place cleaner than when we got there.
I also wanted to take thank all of you who have donated and support this project. I completely believe in this project, and I couldn’t be prouder to know where your donation money is going. Seeing the look on Oliver’s face in New Orleans as we walked him through his house was priceless and something I will never forget. Or meeting and working with the future homeowner of the Habitat House we are working on. This project improves the lives of others. And it would not be possible without the donations you have given. I want to sincerely thank you for that.
So we’re heading back into Texas tomorrow. We have an off-day in Amarillo, TX in a few days, and I hope to be back on the bike right after that.
Thanks for reading!