Martyn Hollingworth

Documentary Film Maker

Jane Tomlinson: Across the USA

Blog for the Sky News website: Week 4

The daily blog from the 64-day challenge to ride from San Francisco to New York. (Words and pictures by Martyn Hollingworth.)

See the diary from Week 9 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 8 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 7 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 6 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 5 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

Three for the road
Three for the road

Week 4: Big Journey

Updated: 11:40, Monday July 31, 2006


Day 30 Eads to Tribune
57.7 miles

We are back at Eads at 6am for the ride into Tribune. Similar to yesterday, the route gently winds its way across the High Plains, with an ever-present grain mill on the horizon. These mills are all connected by a railway, now overgrown with a carpet of small sunflower-like plants.

The Cheyenne tribe of Native Americans used to live here. The lands were also once teaming with herds of buffalo; early explorers reported seeing herds so huge that they "blackened the prairies in every direction". White hunters took just over a decade to wipe the landscape clean of the herds, killings the beasts for hide and destroying the Plains Indians' way of life. The landscape we are left with seems devoid of much visible life, even the present day towns seem wiped clean of people.

The road surface in places is appalling, with deep cracks every few meters that the cycle wheels fall into with a jarring "bang-bang" The impact goes right through the bike and causes Jane a deal of discomfort.

Once over the state line between Colorado and Kansas, the road surface changes to smooth tarmac that seems to glide away under the wheels. We are soon in Tribune.

Day 29 Ordway to Eads
60.9 miles

We are still in Colorado but the geography of the area has changed into what we have been told to expect in Kansas; vast expanses of gently undulating lands swept by winds.

In principle it sounds easier to cycle than the mountains but generally flat land offers no respite in coasting down hills.

The route from Ordway to Eads runs through a generally empty area of grasslands punctuated with small towns dominated by grain mills. The impression is of once busy, thriving places now becoming ghost towns, in a strange way reminiscent of the old mining towns of Nevada where their reason for existing had vanished.

Names such as Sugar City testify to the past aspirations of these settlements but the remaining huddles of trailer parks and broken buildings fall sadly short of city status.

Towards the end of the ride, the wind begins to gather pace as the heat builds. In the distance a small thin plume snaking into the sky; is that the beginnings of a tornado? It survives a few minutes and melts away back into the sky.

Jane is pleased with the progress into the plains today and calls for an early start in the morning as the forecast is for stronger winds.

How to spot a tornado
How to spot a tornado

Day 28 Pueblo to Ordway
55.4 miles

Although yesterday was a 'rest day' there is always work to be done. The heat and dust of Utah had taken its toll on the bikes; the expansion and contraction of the components meant each machine needed a thorough overhaul.

I also felt I needed an overhaul. Knowing it was going to be hot again in Kansas I decided on a haircut.

A shop selling cowboy boots and offering haircuts was admittedly an unusual combination. On stepping inside the smoothly bald headed man who was eating a pie revealed he was also the hairdresser as well as the boot fitter.

Although he looked busy with the pie he said there was a customer in five minutes and could I come back at one. "I would  like to cut your hair,sir" then a slight pause and a menacing lean forward "? no I would REALLY like to cut your hair?" I found an alternative salon.

Jane had been to Denver to say goodbye to her daughter Rebecca and friend Jody who had been traveling with us for a few weeks.

The journey was apparently dreadful and by the time I met with Jane in the afternoon she was recovering from migraine like symptoms and severe sickness.

Our meeting was to discuss possible route change through Kansas and the subsequent journey to allow for extra rest days, which Jane feels she needs without adding on extra overall time into the schedule, by reducing unnecessary distance.

This morning we headed out of Pueblo along highway 96. It was like riding along the hard shoulder of the M25.

Eventually we turned off onto a smaller side road through the small town of Boone. A gulf war veteran, now running the grocery store offered us a leaflet explaining the clouds to look out for signifying tornadoes.

It was a sobering thought that we were now entering a zone where things like that actually happen.

Jane had taken it steadily and arrived in Ordway in good cycling shape despite the pain in her back and pelvis. We had chatted as we cycled about how she kept going despite her condition.

"It's my determination and Mike's support that keeps me going every day" she said.

Day 27 Rest Day

Leaving the Rockies
Leaving the Rockies

Day 26 Westcliffe to Pueblo
55.9 miles

Starting from three miles short of Westcliffe, Jane knew that she would soon be down from the high altitudes that are causing her to experience sickness.

Riding along Wet Mountain Valley, at Westcliffe a turn is made due east along highway 96. Behind are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and ahead is one last climb to just over 9000ft.

This summit is the last of the Rocky Mountain passes, soon we were plunging down into the hotter plains on the approach to Pueblo.

It was almost unbelievable glancing back and seeing the mountains receeding into the distance.

Flying over them in the plane they seemed to be an insurmountable barrier, but yet here was Jane Tomlinson, the woman I had seen crying as she looked down through the aircraft window at the mountains, finally having beaten them. It is an incredible achievement.

With a population of 102,121 Pueblo is by far the biggest city for many miles. Tomorrow will be a 'rest day' offering a chance to recuperate but also repair the cycles, which are showing signs of fatigue like the cyclists themselves after a total distance of 1,606 miles.

The rock on the road
The rock on the road

Day 25 Salida to Westcliffe
52.4 miles

Every time it is supposed to be an easy day you just know it won't be.

With a gradual descent from Salida through Wellsville and Howard to Cotopaxi, things were looking good.

A short coffee stop followed by more downhill with a delightful river at the left side, only the river should be on the other side. Maybe the map was wrong, maybe the climb shown on the ride profile was a mistake too.

Five miles after the turning we should have taken, we realised the mistake was ours. We had added on 10 miles of climbing to reach where we should have been.

On rejoining the correct route a woman shouted over to be careful about the rattlesnakes. Apparently, normally one rattlesnake a week is caught on their ranch, this year it's one a day.

"I don't know where they are all coming from," she said with a nervous glance around. I wanted to make a low "ssssss" noise but thought better of the joke.

It should have been easy from there on in to Westcliffe but the clouds were gathering and it looked like lightning was on the way. Unexpectedly on the road ahead one of the support vehicles pulled up fast. "Mike's been in a crash," Cindy shouted.

Jane's face broke into tears as we bundled the bikes into the vehicle and headed to the scene. We knew  that Mike, Steve, Becca and Jody were not injured which slightly alleviated some of the concern.

On arrival it became apparent a rock had tumbled from the cutting onto the road, the RV tyre had burst on contact.

Some time later the vehicle was roadworthy and nerves calmed we headed in convoy back to Westcliffe, where the ride was adjourned until the morning due to the surrounding lightning storms.

Nice to have an easy day once in a while.

A dramatic sight
A dramatic sight

Day 24 Gunnison to Salida
64.4 miles

Since Montrose we have been back on highway 50, but its character has changed totally since the 'loneliest road in America' stretch a few weeks ago.

Today it gradually climbed for over 30 miles through the hamlets of Parlin, Doyleville and Sargents.

Approaching Sargents, the valley contracts and the hills close in either side, eventually there is no other option but to scale the mountains.

Monarch Pass is the route over the high ground, and of the entire journey this is the highest at 11,312ft above sea level.

Jane was feeling nauseous and the prospect of the ascent was making her nervous. It was a grinding climb with more and more hair pinning snakes of tarmac rearing up into the wooded slopes. There was a distinct feeling of breathlessness at such an altitude.

Eventually we reached the summit pass, but rather than being just another summit to have attained despite being the highest, there was another important factor to savour.

This is our crossing point of the Continental Divide. Rain falling on one slope ends up in the Pacific, a few feet away it will end up in the Atlantic.

We celebrated with a trip in a cable car to a viewing tower on top of the mountain. It seemed like a good idea, until we were stranded, unable to get back down due to a power outage as lightning struck all around and finally the tower we were in.

With the cable cars inoperable we were finally brought down by 4x4 to the safety of the pass.

See the diary from Week 3 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 2 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 1 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

View the documentary (Flash video)