Hello from Batesville, Mississippi! Sorry to have missed a few days, but with the riding schedule and Rachel's vacation schedule, we keep doing our best.
On day 9 we rode across OK into Ada. One thing we all noticed out on the road that day was that there were a lot of tarantulas, turtles and armadillos. I guess I never knew there were so many tarantulas in OK! I found the OK countryside very pretty. There's been a lot of rain there, and the rolling hills are very green. The best part of the day was when I was riding up to the motel, and Eric and Cathy Barr were standing out front waiting for me. What a wonderful lift that gave my spirit! They treated me to a wonderful dinner and Cathy even provided some snacks for the rest of the bike trip. They even got up early in the morning to see us all off. Getting the chance to see them and visit with them for a little while validated the reason for this trip.
On day 10 we rode from Ada, OK to Mena, AK. The most memorable part of the day was riding the Talahina Parkway. While the Parkway is absolutely beautiful, the riding was absolutely the hardest I've ever worked on a bicycle. There were hills that had grades of 13 to 15 percent and the road just kept going up and down, up and down... There was one hill that was 3.5 hours long, where I was working as hard as I could and riding the bike at 5 miles per hour. A couple of the guys actually got off their bikes to rest, but when my legs got tired I chose to zig-zag across the road a few times to give them a break. It was simply gruelling. One of the guys said that Lance Armstrong had done some training here. During all this climbing it was very hot and humid and I was thinking a little rain might not be bad to cool things down. But be careful what you wish for...
As I was nearing the high point of the parkway, a huge storm came in. There were big gusts of wind, and driving rain and hail (!) We were later told the temperature dropped from 93 degrees to 63 degrees in a very short period of time. Some guys decided to call it a day and packed into the vans, but for those that wanted to continue, Lon made impromptu rain jackets out of garbage bags. I didn't take my rain jacket that day, thinking I would never need it, but the garbage bag really did the trick. It kept me warm for the remaining climb and descent into Mena.
On Day 11 we rode from Mena to Pine Bluff. There's really going to be one thing I remember about that day, unfortunately. My rear shifter broke very early in the morning - which essentially meant that my bike was turned into a 2 speed. There were some pretty tough climbs that day and I had no low gears:( So I just had to stand up on the pedals and mash as hard as I could. That's usually pretty good winter training, but not something very fun to do in the middle of a ride like this. My knees really took a beating, and by the time I got to Pine Bluff, I had to ice my knees. That's really the only day I haven't enjoyed something about the ride. Riding in just those two gears made the whole day pretty exhausting. It was one of those days when remembering who I was doing this ride for got me through it. Luckily, another rider - Stuart Levy - brought along a spare set of shifters and wheb I got in at the end of the day, Lon put it on for me.:) It was nice to be finished with that ride, because a lot of the guys knew I was struggling with the two gears. They gave me a little round of applause and now I have a nickname - "two gear Waugh". I was one of the last ones in that day, but I still made the time cut-off.
Today we rode from Pine Bluff to Bateseville, Mississippi. This is a day I really needed after the two previous exhausting days. The ride was only 158 miles and relatively flat. I guess everything's relative, isn't it? The 158 miles seemed easy and the flat terrain gave my knees a chance to recover. I feel so much better than I did 24 hours ago and the shifter worked perfectly all day. The big event today was crossing the Mississippi river. We are staying at a motel on the outskirts of town, but to get here we rode through downtown Batesvill, which was really charming. With only 5 days of riding left, I'm starting to feel like I'm over the hump. 10 riders have left the tour since it began, some due to unfortunate injury, and some due to exhaustion or lack of motivation (surprisingly). Yesterday I heard that there were only 18 riders left that had ridden every mile. I feel somewhat lucky to be one of them. Some have missed some of the miles because of illness or injury, but so far I've been fortunate to avoid both. When I first talked to Lon about this elite tour, he said one has to think about it in terms of survival. Now I know what he means. Because we don't take any days off, nagging injuries never have a chance to heal. My knees hurt and I have this nagging pain in my right lower leg that feels like a shin-splint, and I know I'll just have to deal with it until the end and hope it doesn't get worse. But in spite of my aches and pains, there is still so much I'm enjoying about the trip. Lon's route has us on some beautiful country roads and the company of the guys is fantastic - better and better each day.
I send my deepest gratitude and appreciation for all the cards and emails I've received. Although I can't answer them now, please know how much your words raise my spirits. In fact, I'm getting teased and have been nick-named the "king of mail".