Swissvale to Villa Grove - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

June 18, 2014

Swissvale to Villa Grove

If you're looking for a helpful, friendly and talented bike shop in Salida, then this is the place to go. I recommend it
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"YOU GO right at this next intersection," the slender woman said in the first streets of Salida, "and then take a left and you can have breakfast by the river. And it's right next to a good bike shop."

It was a good bike shop, too. I didn't need much done but there are always jobs fiddly to do on the road that a bike shop can do in moments without dropping nuts and washers into the grass.

"Go and have a coffee," Riley said, smiling as always. "When you're finished, I'll have it done."

Men at work
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I asked how much I owed him.

"Oh nothing," he smiled once more. "Only took me a moment and I'm excited for your adventure."

"You want a picture of two handsome men?", they asked. Riley and Roland, helpfulness personified
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Climbing to more than 2 000m out of Salida, high enough for the temperature to fall and the air to thin
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The shop has been there four years, in the sort of town where people think nothing odd of riding bikes or running or rambling in the hills.

"And Adventure Cycling have opened a new route, the Continental Divide, and we're right on that, so we get to see a lot of folk because of that." And when we arrived, indeed, a lanky guy was outside with the back wheel out of his mountain bike, having spotted Riley slipping into the shop and persuading him to replace a spoke before he was open for business.

The altimeter on my bars clicked over languidly as we rode out of town towards the junction on the outskirts, and then more purposefully as we began the 12km climb to the summit at more than 2 000m. That's high enough for the temperature to fall, despite the climbing, and for the air to grow thinner. Passes at that height are a landmark on any journey, even though I know there is higher to come.

First big climb of the trip - more to come
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We sat and ate sandwiches, watching cars and trucks come up one way and then drop in the other. To their drivers, it was no more than cresting a hill which had caused no effort. To us, it was a triumph, a moment to savour. And, to be honest, a few people recognised that. A driver offered to take my picture beside the sign. A motorcyclist gave a thumbs-up. And we got a wave and a tootle on the horn from a white car pulling a trailer.

"You never know who's a cyclist but driving a car," Karen said. And nor, of course, do you know whom you're inspiring as you ride however slowly to the top. When we reached the Orient Land Trust, the hippie-like place at which we'll spend two days, the phrase of the afternoon was "Hey, we saw you two on the climb!"

Melissa: riding home alone from Spain via much of Europe, Australia and much more
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But our ride was nothing compared to Melissa's. We'd just solved our food problem thanks to the folk who ran the tiny café and little-equipped grocery at Villa Grove, at the end of the dusty road to the Orient, when she arrived on a Surly surrounded by yellow panniers.

There was a purposefulness to her as she swept in and hurried about the place taking this and taking that and organising her life.

"Where did you start?", we asked when we finally had a second with her. "Barcelona," she said, as though it were a town three days down the road.

"Barcelona, Spain?"

"Yes, Spain."

Her story was that she had been living there for 11 years and teaching English and the time had come to return to the USA. So she'd ridden north into France, then east to Italy, through a handful of countries "until I realised that I wasn't going to get through the Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan region with an American passport. So I flew to Australia and rode round there and..."

And so the story went, in a matter-of-fact but breathtaking delivery, ending with "and tonight I want to get to Salida." Just another hitching post on a wriggling ride around the world followed by a wriggling ride around America.

We felt inadequate.

Views along the way...
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Today's ride: 70 km (43 miles)
Total: 3,846 km (2,388 miles)

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