Day 9, Across the Canadian Border

<Note: blogger.com had a problem this week and as a result this entry vanished. It may get restored, in which case this will be a duplicate. Fortunately, I still had a browser open with the entry so I copied the text to a file.>
Amazing how time flies… I had meant to write something each day, or at least most days. Instead I’ll try to put together a trip report after the fact, since I’m now back home sitting in my study.

The weather was cool and wet to start and by the time I got to Arkansas it was hot and mostly sunny. The only time it rained on me down in Devil’s Den (where I camped in Arkansas) was on the Thurs. afternoon shortly after the pros had finished their time trial. By the weekend it was up to around 30ËšC in the day and a comfortable 20 at night. As for driving, it went smoothly with very few hiccups. Long though… I didn’t dawdle much and it took me 3 days each way. The camper ran well, with around 3000 miles added to her on this trip. Still a little bit of an oil leak so there’s some spotting on the back however she’s not burning any oil and I didn’t have to add much. I had the knob for the lock on the slider fall off and was afraid I’d lost it after searching for a while… not a real problem, just not easy to replace. It turns out it had fallen into my cycling bag, so all is back to normal (I will put a drop of “Loctite” on it now that I’m back). The other minor thing that’s happening is the glow plug light comes on when there’s no reason. I suspect it’s electrical and probably a poor ground. I’ve had no problems starting the next day so it’s only a nuisance, rather than a problem. So… Babe has been a good friend on this trip, no doubt about it.

On the way down, I posted a couple of photos so I won’t go back that far and I’ll pick up the thread in Devil’s Den which was my destination and “home” during the race. The State park is about 30 minutes south of Fayetteville and was the setting for the first stage of the race (an uphill time trial). Driving there was really a trip, and I was very spent by the time I got there… so having a little time to relax once I got there was good. It didn’t last long, the little time I had meant a lot though. And this photo is one I like from that little window… the river was flooded a week before and still high when I took this photo…

Base camp at Devil’s Den State Park

I booked a site in advance and because it was over a weekend the only site I could get that had electricity was in the full service area and cost a little more per night. It was a nice spot though and during the week it was mostly empty. Once the weekend arrived though, every site was occupied.

One advantage to camping here was being right in the middle of the first stage of the Joe Martin Stage race; a 2 short hill climb time trial. So I was able to go back and forth very easily and even checked the course out by bike before the race to find good spots to shoot from. One disadvantage to camping here was that it’s at the bottom of a valley surrounded by steep hills (the Ozark mountains) and I couldn’t get any WIFI or cell phone coverage. In order to file my photos and talk with Andrea I had to drive up and out of the park to a lookout spot. That was one thing I should have thought about… it was a real nuisance to pack up the camper every night and drive for 5 minutes, then do my thing and drive back down. It made for a grumpy part of my day, as Andrea can attest to.

The race itself was well organized and I enjoyed covering it. My photos are up on both VeloNews.com and CanadianCyclist.com, these links will get you to the galleries. There was only one other cycling journalist; Lyne Lamoureux of PodiumInsight.com who I’ve met at a few races. Local photographer Tom Ewart was also shooting for the race organizers and I see his photos made it to cyclingnews.com. The road stages were a challenge to shoot, with the Friday one being the most difficult. It was one long loop with the men and women on the course at the same time but with different start and expected finish times. So it was only possible to get to a couple of spots to get photos, and to still get to the finish. This is a photo of the women’s finish, with Canadian Lex Albrecht finishing 2nd.

After Sunday’s criterium all the racers were in a good mood… a combination of relief at having done the race and joy at having some time to relax and party.
Here are a couple of podium pics that didn’t make it to the official galleries that show a little of the party mood. The Colavita team didn’t need any podium girls to get things happening up there, while Frank Pipp used the oversized GC leader’s jersey to ham it up a little.

Lyne and I sat and had a beer at a local brew pub before heading our separate ways. We had lots of good conversations about the business of covering bike races as she is also relatively new at doing it full time (about a year ahead of me). A lot of it has to do with building relationships with the teams, and I can see how important that is. I look forward to seeing how she makes out, and I definitely like her approach. Once on the road, I made my way north and east, meandering through the countryside expecting to find some nice place to camp for the night. Instead I ended up in Missouri and back on an interstate where I “camped” at the first rest stop I came across. So much for that idea. And to top it off I had crappy wireless coverage so it was hard to have a conversation with Andrea.

The next day (Monday) was a nice sunny day and I drove until I found a place to have breakfast. I ate, sorted photos, drank lots of coffee, and when I was done I hopped into the camper and used the WIFI to send in my galleries… job officially done (I will submit my invoices today). Then back into the camper and off I went. I didn’t have a destination in mind, I just figured I’d go as far as I could and still leave myself time to find a nice campground and have a relaxing evening. After crossing the Mississippi at St. Louis I got off the interstate and took smaller roads to find a place to spend the night. I noticed a state park ahead and thought it looked good. The park surrounds a lake with a big dam, and at first I went to the part above the dam (Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area) however… remember I mentioned the Mississippi? Well, flooding was very real and the campground was under water and closed.

So I went around the lake to the South Shore State Park (below the dam) and it was great! A small campground with 15 sites in total, the best spots by river were taken however the other loop only had one trailer in it. $12 for the night, including electricity, so I paid and parked and popped the top.

Johnny, Dana and me

The wireless connection was good, so I got a cold beer from the fridge and called Andrea on skype. We were having a great chat when I noticed something… a Bay window westy pulled into campground! I hopped out with my computer to show Andrea and had a chuckle over it, I hadn’t seen many westies this trip at all. I waved, they waved and I got back into Babe and chatted some more. Then they pulled up in front of my site and hopped out. Holy SH!T, there’s Johnny standing there holding out his hand! We had met at a bike race in April up at Mansfield (where he lives) and here he is in the middle of nowhere Illinois. What are the odds of that! After the initial surprise at the meeting, they also parked and had some dinner and settled in for the evening. I let them know that I had firewood so they should wander over later, which they did. We had a great evening chatting about life and campers and travel. It turns out that Dana and her partner’s house had burned down, and along with it their fully restored camper which was in the garage. Johnny was helping them replace the camper and he and Dana had flown down to Santa Fe to buy the ’73 shown in the picture. They were just driving it back to Ontario and happened upon the same campground. I’ll have to check to see if they made it back.

Metamora-Hadley Campground

We talked about places to stay the next night and Johnny mentioned that he usually goes up through Flint Michigan, and that there’s a nice campground just past Flint. They didn’t expect to make it that far the next day however Babe has been running well so I thought I might try for it. After taking the group photo I hopped into my camper and started on the road. The forecast was for rain however I didn’t get any, maybe I was just ahead of it. At least it wasn’t as windy as it had been the day before so it was a much more relaxing drive. I found the campsite (Metamora-Hadley State Recreation Area) and it was virtually empty (a Tuesday night in May in Michigan… I was glad they were even open). Here’s the view I had out the slider… it was a nice spot.

 A good sleep, a shower, and on the road before 8AM. Traffic was good, and I cruised at around 65mph all the way back to Toronto… even made it in time to have lunch with the gang at the pub 🙂

In total: 1 province, 6 states, 9 days, 106 gallons of diesel, 2,739 miles (almost 4,400 km) and 4,061 photographs… not bad for trip #2!

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