Week 5 – Bike & Build

by Andrew Stein

7/14: Salem, IL
Mileage: 61
Host: Grace United Methodist Church, 116 E Schwartz

The road to Salem is relatively short and flat, and we take full advantage. We lounge at every stop, nap under many a tree, and get to our host site early enough to enjoy some personal time or some time at a great nearby swimming pool.

During one of my several naps today, a local bicyclists passes by and stops to learn about what we are doing and where we are going. We learn that this young man, probably in his mid-thirties, also traversed America via bicycle going from west to east along a more southern route. His experience, however, was drastically different from ours because he chose to go it alone. So much of our trip is dictated by the people we are surrounding ourselves with, and as a result, I could not image trying to bicycle close to 4000 miles all by myself. As an aside, he also had to carry all his gear with him, and I am also very happy for our sag wagon carrying all of our things.

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7/15 – 7/16: St. Louis, MO
Mileage: 82
Host: University of Missouri, St. Louis

Despite it being a long ride, incredibly hot and humid, my body behaves itself and I feel okay. At each gas station, I would refill my bladder in my camelback with very cold ice water that would make me feel like it wasn’t so miserable outside. Riding through East St. Louis is also a bit of an adventure. Several of us at different points are talked to my local police asking what we are doing in this area and if we know where we are. As it becomes apparent, East St. Louis is not the safest of areas and stopping for a break or water whilst riding through is not a good option.

I know that I am feeling a little better when I arrive in the first riding group to get to the host site. Then to add to that feeling, my scab from the divot in the side of my thigh naturally falls off during my afternoon shower. It is easy to say that things are looking up.

The build day is also of note because we get to put up walls. There is something very gratifying about being able to erect a wall. What used to be a platform quickly starts to take on the shape of a home, progress is easily measured as each wall is pushed up, and lots of hands are needed throughout the process of preparing, lifting, and then securing said walls.

Throughout our time in St. Louis we get to explore the city. We check out the restaurants and bars around Washington University, and we do the obligatory journey to the base of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, which surprisingly was even more impressive than I had expected.

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7/17: Belle, MO
Mileage: 100
Host: Belle High School, 504 West Third St

The day again is quite toasty outside, but this weather has become the rule and no longer the exception. And not only is it hot, but the humidity feels like we are sitting in a recently finished dryer cycle just waiting for someone to come and open up the dryer door and collect us so that we can breathe again.

That said, today I can’t really complain because my escape from this oppressive weather was inside the van. It is one of my van days. I still wish that I am out there riding with everyone in solidarity, enjoying the sites, smells, and feel of the road, but occasionally as I feel the A/C on my face, I recognize the advantage of riding the van. I have some company as well. Alex, who has been riding in the van since her injury a little while back, is very helpful when it comes to coordinating the day for the riders.

We arrive in Belle, MO just at the tail end of a parade, put together a dinner from donations from a couple pizza places, a sandwich place, and fruit and veggies from Walmart, take showers that only come in the temperature of scolding hot, and then break for the night. Some venture over to a town fair that features very competitive events such as tractor pulling, and some just fall asleep from the exhaustion of the day.

7/18: Lake Ozark, MO
Mileage: 87
Host: Faithbridge Church, Osage Beach, MO

Again, to no one’s surprise it is another hot and muggy day. I ride with Kaitlin and Sarah, and we dance our way through the day. Dancing is not meant figuratively to depict the fervor in which we ride, but it is in fact intended to mean that we take many a break to dance.

Another highlight of the day is stopping at a town called Meta, MO for lunch where we found a very reasonably priced diner and probably ate too heavily given the day to come. Nonetheless, we enjoyed ourselves and still survived the afternoon even if with a couple extra GI exclamations.

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7/19 – 7/20: Springfield, MO
Mileage: 95
Host: South Street Christian Church

This day had all the makings of an awful, challenging day. I was riding sweep, which meant that me and another rider had to be the last two riders of the pack. The temperature was in the 90’s with at least 90% humidity. The ride was close to 100 miles. And it was our third such bicycling day in a row meaning that many of us are wearing down a little. Having to remain in the back of the pack as the group and their bicycles begin to get a little tired might not always be preferable. That said, Kaitlin (the other sweep rider) and I had an awesome day and probably one of my more memorable rides of the trip.

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