Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day 46 - Day 52

Day 46
July 5, 2009
Captain: Rachel
Town: Eads, CO
Weather: Gorgeous, until about 4pm, when we were DUMPED on with rain and LIGHTENING
Where we slept: Traveler's Lodge

Amelia woke Kendal and I up about four times before either of us actually emerged from the Youth Group Room. Kendal was especially slow, so I turned on his new radio, which was on the Classical station, so we blasted a Handel oratorio from about 7:50-8:30.

Amelia had cooked us little individual bowls of oatmeal and made a pot of coffee. How did we survive before she was on the trip?? We hurriedly threw all of our wet clothes into our panniers, which had been hanging from every rafter to dry after yesterday's storm. We had just enough time for a quick refresher of last night's music rehearsal, which really only Kendal and I were conscious for. (We think Amelia was sleepwalking.)

A few older gentlemen poked their heads in to inquire after us and our muddy bikes in the foyer. They were very welcoming.

We went into the service and were introduced and welcomed by the whole congregation. Attendance was low that morning, as most of the congregants had experienced Jesus with BBQ and pyrotechnics the night before.

Pastor Wayne opted to skip one of the anthems, allowing us to sing the hymn "Never Grow Old" instead. After all of our visits to nursing homes, where you never really know if anyone is really listening, it was lovely to be able to sing for folks who were smiling and looking at us, vain though that may sound.

Pastor Wayne's sermon resounded very profoundly in us. He was preaching on a story from Mark 6, when Jesus goes to his hometown to preach, and is greeted by people who think they have him all figured out. They can't see past the kid they knew who grew up as a poor carpenter's son. They had him in a box, and couldn't get past it.

It served as a reminder of why we go on journeys. We all put people in boxes, and think we have them figured out. But the best thing about meeting all of these new people and being welcomed into their homes and church basements and nursing homes is that they rarely fit into these boxes. It is a sometimes difficult but beautiful realization.

Pastor Wayne announced that, although he had not discussed it with the board, he proposed that the day's offering would go to us, to support our journey. Kendal whispered to me, "Does that mean I shouldn't put this five in the plate then?"

After church, we stayed and thanked everyone we could and talked about our trip and handed out cards (for our website). We all felt so overwhelmed with gratitude, and so grounded and reaffirmed in what we set out to do.

We got our last soggy things together and hugged Pastor Wayne, and were about to set out when we realized we were missing our map! I ran out on my bike to retrace our steps from last night, and found it lying on the side of the road. When I got back to the church, I found Kendal rummaging through the church trash cans looking for the map.

Luckily, the map of western Kansas basically says, "Get on highway 96 and ride East. Forever." But it would've been VERY difficult to plan ahead for water breaks and food places without it.

We got on the road and biked into Ordway (15 miles ahead), just as Greg, who had spent the night in Ordway, was pulling into our destination for the night, Eads. We had a LONG ride ahead of us, but mission control Dale had set us up with a donated motel room 78 miles ahead, at the Traveler's Lodge, and we were gonna sleep in a bed tonight, dag nabbit!

The only scenery that changed for about 40 miles was the graffiti on the railroad cars on our left. For miles in every direction, corn fields stretched as far as you could see, and a 30-mile long train was parked parallel to the highway on our left.

About 30 miles outside of Eads, we saw a storm forming on the horizon. The wind was coming at us from the Southeast, but the storm seemed to fight it, running towards us from the north.

It was scary.

The whole sky seemed to rattle like it was collecting all the electricity it could hold until it burst. Our bikes felt very...METAL.

It rained so hard and the sky was so dark, I really thought that hell had come to Earth. And then I took off my sunglasses and realized that it wasn't actually that scary. But we were definitely dumped on by a LOT of rain.

Amelia kept shouting, "Is this HAIL?" But I think it was just really mean rain. We biked faster than we had all day, which was impressive since we had already but in about 50 miles.

We pulled into Eads, drenched and shivering. If we had not had the promise of a warm bed, I might have seriously considered sticking out my thumb and hitchhiking back to Pastor Wayne and the Lutherans in Fowler.

We called Greg when we got into town, who was at the bar keeping warm and dry. But outside the motel were parked four unfamiliar loaded bikes, and a guy named Mike stuck his head out of the room Greg had told us was ours. Mike and his buddies had started out in Yorktown, VA, a mere MONTH ago, and had already made it to Colorado, averaging about 80 miles a day. WHEW. Glad I'm not on their team. They were headed home, which was in San Diego, CA.

The rest of the clan, including Greg, returned from the bar, and we invited them to share our room with us, as it was about to start angrily downpouring again, and they were headed to the park to camp. The owner walked by and noticed our packed room (the door was open...8 stinky cyclists in one room...are you kidding?) and generously gave the boys their own room next door.

We spent the rest of the evening microwaving Tostitos and string cheese (aka gas station nachos!) and sharing stories with Mike, Jordan, Adam, and Jeremy. Check these speedy cats out at If nothing else, make sure to read their post about meeting us, here. If it doesn't make you chuckle, check your pulse.

Day 47
July 6, 2009
Captain: Greg
Town: Leoti, KS
Weather: Threatening Skies
Where we slept: Leoti City Park

After finally being reunited, we enjoyed a lovely night's rest in a real bed. It is funny how the things that matter on the road are food, sleep, and friends. But to be honest, what more do you need?

We said goodbye to our San Diego buddies and I headed out before the others. The ride was extremely nice and cool due to threatening skies, but the nice part about Eads is that it has a lot of natural vegetation. Most of Kansas is an Agro-tropolis so you don't get much of a sense of what the land looked like before commercial farming.

While rolling into Sheridan Lake (our last "major" town before reaching Kansas), I was greeted by a crop duster who flew over me by what seemed like 25/30 feet. It was really really cool.

I eventually got into Sheridan Lake and hung out at the gas station, where I ran into three recent Brown alums doing the Western Express (Adventure Cycling Route) for charity. It turns out one of the guys is from Ann Arbor. We end up eating a ton of food and sharing stories from our respective trips. Apparently one of the guys, Pete, I think, teaches in a charter school in New Orleans, like Amelia. Again and again, it's a small world.

When the rest of the team arrived they ate some lunch and took shelter from the sun. While we were eating, a couple sat down behind us and asked us ragtags what we were up to. It turns out the couple were from Rogers, 15 miles away from Fayatteville. Le Petite Monde.

We roll out, to cross into Kansas. We were ecstatic as we were approaching the border, where we came across another group of 4 who were doing a photo op as they crossed into Colorado. They apparently have never had state border pictures with all four members. Talk about good timing.

The horse flies were also very happy to have all that sweaty biker in one place. They feasted upon our bare legs and made chit chatting a lot less enjoyable. The rest of the ride was the first time in a long time that we all rode together. It was a nice change from the monotony of the open road. We were even echelonning four wide to counteract the crosswinds. [i.e. riding like geese fly in a "V"...only it looks more like a "/" with the wind coming like this: / <--- ] This took us into Leoti (pronounced "Lee-OH-tuh") where we were greeted with the Kansas gem: Free Public Pool!

We spent the remainder of the evening in a covered patio, bracing for a thunderstorm that never came. We all made phone calls home, sharing a case of Corona that Amelia had picked up from a gas station. Kendal had a long conversation with his Grandma and his Aunt Gobie, while Rachel talked for a good long while to her boyfriend Jay, who was headed off on a backpacking/camping/rafting trip in northern Alaska the next day.

Eventually, the kids who had been playing in the nearby park all went home, and we were able to get some sleep.

Day 48
July 7, 2009
Captain: Amelia
Town: Dighton (and Ness City), KS
Weather: HOT
Where we slept: Dighton City Park

Greg took off early and the rest of us were ready soon thereafter, but morale was low, and we decided to deal with it the Graber way---hashing it out for a few hours before hitting the road, over several rounds of breakfast. Our team had long been limping along as a 3 + 1 fractured mess, with different agenda and goals, and we decided it was time to really do something about it. We planned on having a much needed heart-to-heart when we got to Ness City that night.

It was nearly 10am before we were on the road to Ms. Anna Kelly's. Anna is the aunt of a member of the Lutheran church in Fowler where we stayed a few nights ago. Her niece stood up in church on sunday and announced the birth of her great-GREAT grandson! She approached us after the service and told us we'd be passing right by her Aunt Anna and that she would love to host us. (The Aunt of a great-GREAT grandmother? This we had to see...)

Scott City, where Anna lives, is only about 3o miles out from Leoti---not enough for a full day of riding---so we decided to pop in for coffee and a brief visit instead.

Ms. Anna lives in a little ranch-style house on a street called Antelope, with cinderblock planters in front filled with petunias and chicken-something-or-other plants that resembled artichokes. Beautifully tended rosebushes line the North end, still in full bloom. A tall white-haired lady met us at the door, leaning slightly on her cane, smiling.

We followed her into the living room and stood a moment, blinking awkwardly while adjusting to the cool, dim light. It was hot outside, and we sunk, speechless, into the shag carpeting, with cups of coffee and plates of those orange-vanilla wafer cookies that only Grandmas have.

Ms. Anna's wood-paneled walls were heavy with paintings; portraits of plains Indian chiefs, wintery landscapes, and quaint prairie farmscapes...all in a similar, almost sister-Moses-like style.

"Are these paintings yours?" We asked Anna, who was in the kitchen dishing up mountainous bowls of ice cream. They were.

She brought us out to a little sunporch in the back that had served as her studio for fifty-something years, and a new canvas sat on the easel, figures of ducks emerging from a green background. "I've been having trouble with my eyes," she told us, "and can only paint for a few hours in the morning when the light is really good. I'm having a heck of a time with this one," she motioned towards the easel. "Can't get my colors right... especially the greens."

The walls were covered with ribbons---mostly blue and red---for years of county-fair and state-fair art barns. We discovered that Anna was also a retired schoolteacher and restauranteur, which she and her late husband bought after an accident halted his postmaster career.

We didn't talk much beyond this. We were all a little unsure of what it was were were supposed to do together. Stevie Wonder was blasting from the TV back in the living room, and we all settle back into big comfy armchairs and realized that this glitzy televised concert was indeed Michael Jackson's funeral, broadcast live from L.A.

Starved for and equally disturbed by pop culture, we re-entered this world, guided by our 91-year-young host, who had been following the MJ drama for the past few weeks from her electrical lazy boy (it raised and lowered to help her stand). She knew a good deal about the commentary, the investigation, the scandals, etc. We spent the next two plus hours watching, intermittently offering commentary or questions about Anna's life, though we were all clearly fixated on the funeral, Anna included.

After MJ's daughter croaked the final punchline, we watched CNN commentary for a few minutes longer, and Anna turned down the volume. We were all kind of quiet, shaking our heads at the spectacle that had just taken place.

It was getting late, but Anna wanted to make sure the local paper editor got a chance to speak with us, but he was apparently caught up in a county commissioner's meeting.

Anna was reluctant to see us go, as was I. I felt strangely connected to this woman, who spent her days doing crosswords, painting, gardening, going to church, and listening to the local R & B station, largely alone. She had no children, and doesn't see her stepkids or nieces/nephews that often.

I wanted to learn as much about her as I could in the next few minutes, and she seemed equally eager to share... Wedding photos, drawings, a painting constructed from the memory of her childhood home in NW Kansas. I wanted to know if she was happy, how she fed herself, how she kept her mind so engaged, how much TV she watched, if she used the Meals on Wheels calendar posted on her bathroom wall. If aging is what it often appears to be from the outside, a slipping back, maybe, into simplicity---simple pleasures, simple fears---I felt a similar fascination and awe that I often feel around my students, or most children. The drama and complexity from our long conversation in the park this morning seemed, all of a sudden, not childish, but distinctively middle-aged, and silly.

It was time to go. We had 50 some miles left to go, and it was windy and hot. I felt like crying. "I just wish you could stay," Anna said with a tear in her eye, a little bewildered by our anxious haste. We took some pictures, still feeling much like strangers, and left.

I did cry, then, over my turkey and Kraft singles hoagie in the grocery store foyer. What was that all about? Waltzing in and out of this person's home, leaving so abruptly, forever, presumably? I had a distinctively bad tasted in my mouth. But why?

I realized that I would never again see MJ without thinking of Miss Anna and her house of paintings, and probably vice versa. And whatever that is---that was---is significant somehow. As much as I fancy myself a traveler, there is a good deal of sorrow in the transience for me... has always been. Dipping in and out of mini-ecosystems and always finding your own face---or other familiar people, stories, hopes, fears---leering back at you, unexpectedly. And then saying goodbye. Hitting the road, with only you, your friends, perhaps, and the road in front of you...

....which we followed, gloomily, to Dighton, realizing we couldn't safely make it to Ness City before dark. Greg had been in Ness City since noon. Mid-life crisis conversations would have to wait 'til morning. We ate our feelings away at Frigid Creme (DQ-style burgers and ice cream) and spent the night in the city park pavilion, listening for the storm that work us early the next morning.

Day 49
July 8, 2009
Captain: Kendal
Town: Larned, KS
Weather: It felt like we were running on a treadmill, wearing a wool coat, under a heat lamp, sucking air through a hair dryer.
Where we slept: The Award-Winning Rodeway Inn

How to begin? Today was one of our most epic so far. Having been separated again last night, the girls and I set our alarms for 6:30 am, hoping to get a move on and reunite the group ASAP.

When our alarms sounded, we were already stirring in our tents, due to the raging thunderstorm happening on all sides of the pavilion (and spritzing into my tent). Not about to get up and submit ourselves to the elements, we hit the snooze button and snored on 'til 8.

The storm passed soon enough, and Amelia went to a gas station to find us coffee---God I love her---to help our engines turn over. All things considered, we got on the road relatively early, before 9am, making the 32-mile trek into Ness City before noon.

We met up with Greg at the Frigid Creme Burger joint in town, where a delicious meal was generously donated by owner Susan Hoff. This Frigid Creme is not to be confused with the other Frigid Creme in Dighton where we supped last night---a totally separate business, despite sharing the same name, menu, building design, and habit of knocking on the window when your food is ready.

Here is were things started getting epic. We haven't talked too much yet about the tensions that have been brewing within the group. It may seem pretty obvious that in a trip so intense---24 hours a day, with a small group of young, headstrong personalities---would lend itself to a certain reality-TV-show-style drama. And to be fair, I think that our group tensions have been fairly tame compared to what they could have been.

The down and dirty version (more easily told in hindsight) is this: Greg's racing background and personality give him a strong desire to do thing quickly and efficiently. He likes to leave ASAP in the morning, ride fast and hard, and then have the rest of the day to relax.

Contrastingly, the other three of us (especially Rachel and I) have a much more stop-and-smell-(and maybe plant a few)-roses style. For us the cycling is very much secondary to meeting people, journaling, blogging, visiting nursing homes, etc.

Due to our two very different approaches, we tried to avoid conflict early on by riding separately during the day: Greg eaves whenever he wants, and the three of us brought up the rear once all of the duties of the day were done.

Over time, our team of four felt a lot like 3+1. Greg was always telling people about "the rest of the team behind me," while we joked about our "speed demon up ahead." We had such very different days, and priorities, hat it began getting harder to relate to one another. We started resenting one another's priorities, and subtly (and not-so-subtly) tried to make the opposite party behave like ourselves, on both sides.

Tensions came to a head when we reunited today in Ness City. Greg was upset that the three of us hadn't reached our agreed-upon destination the night before, leaving him alone to camp in the park. We resented Greg not being present for our meeting with Miss Anna yesterday, and our interview with the Scott County Record Newspaper, which were the reasons we were forced to cut the day short as night approached yesterday.

It turned into a two-hour discussion about why we were even still traveling together, if our goals were so different. It was suggested that we split up, tears were shed, and we eventually decided that it was worth traveling together because our mission to fight Alzheimer's was most important. Greg would ride with us again, and we would try to leave earlier in the morning.

It was a temporary solution to solve a pretty fundamental disfunction within the group. But, the overall conclusion was that the relationships in the group were too important to not fight to fix the situation.

With frazzled nerves and emotional resources wearing thin, we saddle up and headed east into a strong cross wind, riding another 50 or so miles to Rush Center, a very tiny town with just a post office and a bar, where we stopped for dinner, and where we also discovered that Rachel had broken a spoke.

On our way into the bar, a man shot out of a back kitchen door and barked at us, "You don't have GUNS in those bags, do you?," pointing to our very modestly-sized handlebar bags. Startled, we shook our heads and kept walking.

Over chicken fried steak (my very first and last encounter with this meal), fried jalepenos and beer, we gathered our last bit of strength to ride 20 more miles into Larned.

In retrospect, I don't know why it was important to do 95 miles to Larned, except that we had a short day yesterday, and I was anxious about moving on. But it was getting late, and the sun was setting before we even got within 10 miles of the city limits.

My dad called at that point, telling us about free Pizza Hut pizzas (we were already stuffed!) and a hotel (the Award-winning Rodeway Inn) awaiting us. So Greg sprinted ahead to pick up the pizza before they closed (God Bless our beloved Speed Demon) and the girls and I turned on our lights and rode into the dusky night.

At first, we talked about how dusk was our favorite time of day: It was cool, the wheat fields glowed in the sun's last rays, and all around us copious fireflies made the fields glitter like fireworks.

But then it actually got DARK, and with no street lamps to light the way, we got a little scared. We nearly ran over a huge snake warming itself on the road, and a raccoon-sized snapping turtle nipped at my wheels as we rolled past. I nearly messed my bike shorts when we approached the huge silhouette of a bison---until I realized it was just a very large lawn ornament.

We got checked into our hotel around 10:30, parking our bikes in the "game room" (which I learned was for hunters to clean their game, not for pinball, like I had imagined). We showered, ate pizza, and fell asleep by 1:30am.

***We fell behind a little bit in our journalling at this point, and then received the news about Jay. In the days that followed, Kendal kept himself busy by writing a few of the missing journal entries, which is why the following days are all told from his perspective.***

Day 50
July 9, 2009
Town: Hutchinson
Weather: Hot
Where we stayed: Zion Lutheran Church Bike Hostel

Even though we were up late last night, the continental breakfast downstairs wooed us out of bed before 8am. Greg and Amelia worked on Rachel's broken spoke replacement, while Rachel and I worked on the journal and ate waffles and cereal and biscuits and gravy and anything else we could get our hands on. (95 miles yesterday took a toll on our bodies!)

As we gathered up our gear, we couldn't help but notice the intense wind blowing out of the south. People coming and going from the hotel lobby kept saying to us, "I sure hope you're headed north today!"

Unfortunately, we were headed straight south for a few miles, right out of the gate, and then east.

Despite their best efforts, Amelia and Greg were unable to replace Rae's spoke, lacking the necessary tools to take off her rear cassette. (Of course the spoke HAD to break on the drive side of the rear wheel. Grrrrr.) Greg called ahead to the closest bike shop, which was in Hutchinson, KS, which was slightly off the TransAm, but on our way to Wichita. Greg asked if they had time to work on Rae's wheel, which they did, and they also told us about a church in town that ran a hostel just for cyclists crossing the country like us. The bike shop would leave the key for the church on the back door of the shop for us. Pretty sweet deal.

So off we went into the brutal heat and the wicked headwind. We didn't make it very far at all before the heat overwhelmed us. We took a break in the shade of a few trees in someone's front yard, eating our leftover pizza and reading the third Harry Potter book out loud, in Spanish, translating for Greg as we went. (What nerds!)

It was a great way to pass a lazy, hot morning, but it didn't get us any closer to our destination. Eventually, we got back on our bikes, and headed out into the wind.

About 10 miles further down the road, we stopped at a church (the only building we had seen for an hour) where we filled our water bottles at the outdoor spigot, and Amelia and Rae tried in vain to find a bathroom.

They noticed a parsonage of sorts next door, and tried their luck. When they knocked, a 14-year-old boy wearing only boxer shorts opened the door, bleary-eyed and yawning. Rae apologized for waking him, but he said he'd been up for a while. The girls used the restroom, and when they left, felt pretty sure that the kid and his buddy sitting on the couch were pretty stoned. You meet all kinds out here on TUJ!

While waiting on the girls, I talked to my buddy Joe back home, who was going to ship us some bike parts to Wichita. We decided to send them overnight, just to make sure we got them in enough time to get them all installed on Saturday, two days away.

The rest of the riding that day was pretty uneventful, except that we passed through a huge wildlife preserve, which gave us an idea of what the great plains must have looked like before the land was cleared for the mega agro-business that rules the land today.

Upon reaching Hutchinson, our first stop was at the grocery store, where we stocked up on REAL FOOD (i.e. not dehydrated food), knowing that we could take advantage of the kitchen at the free hostel that night.

Rachel looked after our bikes and talked on the phone with her mom, Martha, while the rest of us shopped. She told us later about a little boy of about 8 she observed arriving at the grocery store with his mom on his bike. He locked it to a railing outside the store, and then followed his mom in. A few moments later, he came back outside, unlocked the bike, wrapped the cable lock around the frame a few extra times, and relocked it. Rachel said that the care and concern he showed over his bike was more than a little adorable. She invited him on the trip with us, but he wasn't so sure he knew how far Virginia was, and declined.

While shopping, we met a lovely lady who told us that our story was so inspiring, it gave her goosebumps. At the end of a long day, it was nice to be reminded that our mission is important.

The hostel was pretty close to the grocery store, and Greg met us there after retrieving the key from the bike shop. The hostel was essentially just the basement of the church, equipped with the essentials that cyclists need: There was a cold shower (welcome on such a hot day), lots of towels and travel-sized toiletries, a full-service kitchen, coffee-maker, and places to charge cell phones. The stage platform at one end of the fellowship hall had been divided into two "rooms" by a curtain, each with a large bed and piles of fresh linens. Each "room" even had a TV, and we found two other cyclists zoned out on one bed, enthralled by HELLBOY 2.

We cooked a pretty amazing dinner--spicy spaghetti, a big salad, and grilled portobello mushrooms. It was a huge improvement from campsite food!

The movie finished in the other room, and the other cyclists emerged: Will and Trevor had just graduated from prep school, and were cycling the TransAm East->West before heading to Harvard and China in the fall, respectively.

The guys definitely enjoyed having two pretty girls to whom to tell their adventures, flexing their muscles as they lounged in just their gym shorts. And I'm pretty sure the girls didn't mind the attention!

We stayed up pretty late, sharing stories and writing post cards and thank-you notes home to friends and family. Will and Trevor told us about a guy they met on the trail who kept a giant hunting knife strapped to his bike, which he called "The Kentuckinator"---intended "to fend of the crazies that live in the mountains of eastern Kentucky." We also heard about Raoul, the Spaniard, who subsisted entirely on spaghetti, and was eager "to meet some sexy American ladies."

We went to bed at about 2am, grateful for the good conversation, but kicking ourselves in the butts for one more night short on sleep.

Day 51
July 10, 2009
Captain: Kendal
Town: Wichita, KS
Weather: Cloudy, with a few sprinkles of rain
Where we slept: Sam's apartment

There was a little rustling this morning as we snoozed in bed: Greg, Will and Trevor were up and at 'em way before the rest of us. Through the curtain dividing the sleeping areas, I heard Trevor say in an intentionally loud voice, "I guess OLD people just need a little more time to sleep in than we do."

Greg later said that he's never seen us move faster than we did after hearing that!

We cooked our favorite breakfast (Red Mill 10-Grain Hot Cereal), shared it with the guys, and got some coffee in our bellies, while musing over the "Bible Trivia" board game that had been sitting out on one of the tables.

Before we left, Will told us about his favorite gas-station pastry---the award-winning Texas Twist. He said we could find it in most gas stations around the country, and he talked it up so much, we just knew we had to find it!

We said our goodbyes, and headed out in opposite directions on highway 96.

We had a pretty strong headwind right out of the gate, so it wasn't long before we stopped at the gas station in search of the TX Twist. (Any reason to have a break from the wind!) We couldn't find the elusive Twist, sadly, and so we settled for leftover spicy spaghetti.

Halfway to Wichita, we started seeing signs that warned us of Amish buggies that might be sharing the shoulder with us. This was particularly exciting for me and my cousins, because we descend from Amish roots. (My mom and their dad were both born Amish.) We waved to a few Amish kids playing outside their farm house, reminding us of visits to Grandma's house in Central Illinois.

A few miles outside of town, we came upon a man who had pulled over to offer us a place to stay. He was the president of the local cycling club, and had all kinds of insights and places to work on our bikes, shop, and ride in town.

We rode the last few miles into town on a beautiful bike path alongside the Arkansas river (pronounced Ar-KAN-sas by the locals), which spat us out right near where my friend Sam lives.

Part of the reason we left the TransAm to reach Wichita (other than to break up the monotony of KS) is because of the summer theatre company there, Music Theatre of Wichita, which has strong ties to the University of Michigan, where I did my undergraduate degree in Musical Theatre. One of my professors, Mark Madama, direct many of the shows at MTW, and his partner, Wayne Bryan, is the artistic director of the theatre. A lot of Michigan students end up performing in their productions, and I was excited to make the Wichita detour to visit them.

One of those students, Sam Lips, is a really close friend of my little brother Joel, who is also studying musical theatre at Michigan. Sam was happy to host us, even though he was also hosting his parents and grandparents for the weekend. What a guy!

When we arrived at the apartment complex, Sam was out to dinner with his family. While we waited on his return, we easily found the pool and laundromat, which were enough to occupy us for a couple of hours.

We must have made quite a scene: We had stopped to do some grocery shopping on our way into town, so I had a bunch of bananas and a dozen eggs on the back of my bike. We rolled up to the clubhouse of the apartment complex, and changed into the only clothes we had that didn't need to be washed, which for me meant a swimsuit and a raincoat.

After dumping in a load of laundry, we realized that there wasn't any detergent for sale (usually there is), so I had to ask another family to borrow some soap. They didn't speak any English, but it gave me the opportunity to whip out my Spanish for a minute. I felt bad when I realized that they were just picking up their clothes, and they sent their little girl back to the apartment to fetch us some soap.

While we waited for our clothes to wash, Greg, Amelia and I took a dip in the pool, which hadn't been cleaned for ages. The water was... slimy... but we were too hot to care.

We must have looked practically homeless to the security guy, because he kept circling us in his golf cart, eyeing us suspiciously, and fingering his taser. He even asked Greg if he had jumped the fence to get to the pool---to which Greg responded that the door had been unlocked.

We then got a call from Sam that he wasn't able to come back to the apartment before his 8pm show---a show the four of us were planning to see. So I felt the need to make friends with our taser-happy security guard, who obviously took his job extremely seriously, and just needed to be respected and appreciated.

I asked him if there was a place to stash our gear and groceries (raw chicken being a major concern) during the show, to be retrieved later. He just didn't think that would be possible (looking around his incredibly large office, with a refrigerator in it), unless we were able to get ahold of Sam and get his permission to enter his apartment.

By this time, 8pm was only 20 minutes away, our clothes were still in the dryer, and I was still wearing a swimsuit and a raincoat. Sam was obviously getting ready for his show, and it took a few tries to get him on the phone. But he answered the guard's questions, as the guy looked over the lease to Sam's apartment.

There some confusion on the phone: Sam's name wasn't on the lease. After a few questions, the problem became apparent: We had been at the wrong apartment complex the whole time!

So, with only 10 minutes to showtime, we loaded all our damp clothes on our bikes, quickly changed into damp, but socially acceptable clothing, and sprinted on our bikes to the theatre, a few blocks away.

The overture was playing when we entered the lobby, and the folks in the box office stared at us in confusion as we asked if we could roll our rigs into the lobby, bikes, bannanas and all. The girls asked the box office manager to put our chicken in the fridge, while I found the tickets that Wayne had set aside for us. (Thanks again, Wayne!)

We may have missed the opening number, but by 8:05, we were comfortably sitting in the air-conditioned theatre, thoroughly enjoying KISS ME, KATE, the Cole Porter musical based on THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

The show was absurdly funny: We particularly related to the running gag about having a butt too sore to sit on. The dancing was breathtaking, and the singers outstanding. It had been such a long time since I'd seen a show, and I felt so proud of all the younger Michigan kids who were featured in the production.

After the show, we hugged and greeted Wayne and all the UM kids, and had a pretty good laugh about all the strange glances hundreds of theatre-goers threw our way as the passed our loaded bikes in the lobby.

Greg had been a counselor at a summer performing arts camp recently, and was really surprised to see on of those students, Han Park, performing in the show. It was a very unexpected reunion for both of them.

It was getting to be well past our bedtime, so we cycled back to Sam's, found the REAL apartment (but not before knocking on the door of the WRONG apartment, at midnight...)

Since we didn't have much time to eat anything substantial before the show, we cooked up 3 boxes of Annie's Mac and Cheese and then hit the sack---exploding all over Sam's living room with gear, sleeping pads, and bodies.

Day 52
July 11, 2009
Captain: Kendal
Rest Day in Wichita, KS
Weather: Clear and Hot
Where we stayed: Sam's Apartment

The show certainly kept us up past our bedtime last night, so we were mighty glad to have a rest day lined up today. We all slept in pretty late...except Greg of course, who was up at 9 and chomping at the bit to get breakfast. Before too long, the rumblings of Greg's stomach woke the rest of us up, and Amelia cooked up a delicious egg-scramble feast unlike any other.

Our primary objective for the day was to get our bikes tuned up and drive chains overhauled, using the bike parts my buddy Joe had overnighted from home. To that end, I headed across the parking lot to the mail building in search of our package. As is wont to happen when you need something right away, the package was nowhere to be found.

Stumped, I returned to Sam's apartment to figure out a next move. Rachel needed to get her spoke replaced regardless, so she headed straight to the bike shop in town to get started on that project. Amelia and I heard there was an internet cafe near the bike shop, which seemed a good place to start making calls to track down our package.

Joe helped me find the UPS tracking number, and it didn't take too long to figure out that I had been given the wrong address for the mail building near Sam's apartment, and the package was being held in a warehouse south of Wichita, which of course, was closed all weekend. BLAST.

UPS was happy to have the package delivered to an alternate address at the beginning of next week, and so I set about trying to figure out destinations where we might encounter our poor wayfaring bike parts. Usually, we have our mail delivered to post offices, general delivery, and just pick it up when we get into town. But UPS of course can't deliver to a post office. We knew we'd be seeing my Aunt Ellen in about a week's time in Gravois Mills, MO, but she has a P.O. Box address...and of course UPS can't deliver there, either!

Mental gears turning, I turned my googling fingers towards Golden City, MO...our projected destination a few days ahead. 'Maybe a church will receive a package for us,' I thought. I called all 10 churches that came up on my google search before someone picked up. The cleaning lady at the Baptist Church in town picked up, and handed the phone over to the flustered preacher's wife, who had just walked in the door from a retreat she had been on.

Granted, my request was odd: "Could you receive a package for a traveling bicycle troupe?" But FPW (flustered preacher's wife) was a little less than understanding of my predicament. FPW told me it wouldn't be possible, said good luck, and hung up. Ouch.

Suddenly, I remembered a cafe that Will and Trevor had told us about, that boasted the best pies in all of Golden City, MO. A few moments later, I was chatting with a waitress there about how the reputation of her pies had reached as far as Hutchinson, KS, and that we'd surely be passing through to eat heartily, and would they mind receiving our package of bike parts. After checking with the boss and chuckling a bit, she said they'd be happy to. God bless Cooky's Cafe!

Rachel joined us shortly thereafter, with her spoke fixed and fresh tires on her bike. The shop had outfitted her with the fattest tires they could, since we were planning to leave the TransAm route in Missouri and ride the Katy Bike Trail (unpaved) instead. Greg joined us, and together, the four of us rode over to Mothers and Others, an assisted living community across town.

Right away, we knew something was different about this community. At first, we went to the wrong address, landing at a large apartment complex instead of the care center. Realizing our mistake, we looked more closely at the map, and saw that Mothers and Others was actually just an unassuming house with beautiful gardens, trees, and chickens everywhere!

We were welcomed by smiling, young nurses who served us up bowls of delicious, hot chili from a real kitchen in the back corner of a large, communal living room. Plants and homemade quilts hung above comfy recliners, circled cozily around a TV screen. We sat at a dining room table set with placemats and a wooden chicken centerpiece, to chat with a woman we'll call Alice, one of the home's 8 residents. Alice was a circus performer for many years, married an innovating young magician, and worked as a trapeze artist with some of the day's most famous acts.

A nurse dug out a few old photos of a foxy twenty-some year old Alice in sequined leotard and top hat, and pointed to black and white newspaper clippings of her exploits, hung proudly on the living room wall. She can't move like she used to, she told us sadly, but she likes to stretch and can still touch her toes!

Greg and Amelia visited awhile with Maxine, a delightful 80-some year young resident; a former lear jet administrator, trombonist, and sports enthusiast. She was the first to tell us how Chuck and Karen, the founders and current RN at the home, had built the place several years ago on an empty lot to house their own mothers and a few other folks that Karen had been doing home visits for.

Soon after, Chuck and Karen popped in from downstairs, where they live and administrate the place. They told us that they had designed the building with the help of an architect friend, complete with a private bathroom for each resident, and bells and whistles that only a RN would be able to think of. Chuck and Karen were warm, huggable, homey people, proponents of gardening, holistic healing, and good eatin'.

It was easy to see how the physical space they had created was perfectly suited for caring for seniors in an environment completely opposite the sterile, forlorn facilities we had seen elsewhere on our journey. Each resident was so happy to be there: We were told over and over again that they felt completely at home there, not in a home.

Before we left, Karen and Chuck introduced us to their pet chickens, which enjoyed being held and petted. It was starting to get late, so K & C loaded our bags with holistic vitamins and supplements, a very generous financial donation to our trip, and several garden-fresh cucumbers. They hugged us like old friends, we took a few extra pictures and videos, and hit the road.

As we cycled back in the direction of Sam's apartment, we were all BEAMING. So often, we leave the nursing home visits feeling drained and overwhelmed. It feels like there is something so WRONG about the way our nation's health care system deals with the end of life.

But Mothers and Others showed us that there's a much better way to do things. It really made me believe that it is possible to spend the end of life in dignity with a strong sense of community and personalized care. I imagine there are other places like it, but there is certainly a glowing, positive energy in that place, unlike any I've ever seen.

On our way home, we had a Mary Moment. We saw a Sonic just off the main drag, and having just received some Sonic gift cards from my friend Nancy in St. Louis, couldn't help ourselves.

We ordered cherry-lime-mocha-something-or-others, enjoying the cool of the evening. After a bit of discussion, Greg decided that we ought to invest in a mini-laptop as a group, to make it simpler to post on the blog more frequently. He headed off in search of a new computer, Rachel headed back to the internet cafe to type up more of the journal, and Amelia cycled back to Sam's to cook up some cajun-style grub for the crew.

Just as we were about to leave, I got a call from Mark, my professor from Michigan, inviting us all to a cookout at his and Wayne's place for the cast of KISS ME, KATE. The others were pretty wiped (and it was almost 10pm by then anyway), so I headed out on my own.

I hadn't seen Mark for a few months, and we had a great time standing by the grill, chatting about the bike trip, and the magical marinade he special orders from upstate New York.

It was a lovely evening, swapping stories with the cast, and watching some of Mark and Wayne's favorite theatre blooper reels. (They can bring me to tears, every time.)

By 2am, it was time to say goodnight. I cycled back to Sam's, sure that I would find an apartment full of snoring teammates, who would chastise me in the morning for staying out so late.

Turns out, they were all still up, eating Amelia's amazing grub, and futzing over Greg's new computer. We told stories and laughed for a little while longer, and then crawled into bed, ready to get back on the road in the morning.


That was the last "normal" day of our trip, before we got the news about Jay. Since then, the trip has been on hold.

Greg went home to Texas, and then to Arkansas, where he is getting ready for graduate school auditions.

Kendal, Rachel, and Amelia all went to St. Paul, where they spent 2 weeks celebrating Jay's life with family and friends. Rachel will stay with her parents in St. Paul for a while, heading to Lawrence University in Appleton, WI in the fall. Amelia will fly back to New Orleans on Tuesday, to prepare for the school year, which starts on August 6th for teachers.

Kendal is on the road to Wichita with Dale and Martha, where he'll meet up with his dad, Rich, and resume the journey on Sunday.

Thanks to all of you for your love and support through this difficult time. It really means so much to us.

That's all for now. I must get some rest...TUJ Phase 2 starts very soon!

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